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Tuesday, 31 March 1987
Page: 1546

Senator NEWMAN(5.06) —Thank you, Mr President. As you were not in the chamber when Senator Tate got up to make his statement, you will not realise that he did so in an attempt to forestall my speaking. I am very flattered by the fact that he thought that he would cut off debate--

Senator Tate —On a point of order, Mr President: That is a complete and utter misrepresentation. I said that I did not want to halt the debate. I simply sought from the Opposition Whip the remaining speakers on the Opposition side. I specifically said that I was not trying to forestall the debate in any way.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order.

Senator NEWMAN —It is quite clear that there are two Ministers in this place who do not want the debate to go on tonight. We must wonder what their motives are in trying to forestall debate on a matter which the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) considers of major importance. Obviously the Opposition considers it a matter of major importance. So do Senator Harradine and Senator Haines. Yet all of a sudden the Government finds it a nuisance and wants it to go away. Well, we will not go away, Senator Tate. We will not go away, Senator Evans. We are here to debate the paper which the Minister for Education tabled only this afternoon. If the Government did not want the matter discussed this afternoon, why did it table it? Time was short. The Government knew that this matter was of major importance to us even it was not to it.

Government senators interjecting-

The PRESIDENT —Order! There are too many interruptions. I suggest that Senator Newman confine her remarks to the ministerial statement.

Senator NEWMAN —As it is such an important matter I do intend to confine my remarks to the statement as far as possible. However, a report that is as weighty and substantial as this deserves more attention. It would have been very useful to have a longer debate at another time but we were given no notice. This report was dumped on our lap and we were expected to come here and not have any meaningful debate on it.

When the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) announced this National Agenda for Women and a survey back in November 1985, he said that there were three principles on which the whole subject would be based. These were: Giving women a choice, giving women a say and giving women a fair go. The coalition parties believe that those are all very worthy principles and we support them. Let us make it clear from the beginning that we are not arguing about the principles but we are arguing about a lot of things associated with this report and the Government's handling of women's affairs.

We believe that women should be able to have opportunities opened up for them. We believe that they should go into the next century with status equal to that of Australian men. Certainly this Government is giving women a say. There can be no doubt about that. If there is not one survey going on, there is another; there is a constant stream of surveys. Giving women a say is okay; it is in giving women a choice and a fair go that the Government is not succeeding. Let us remember some of the surveys. Last year it was announced that $100,000 would be spent over five years. That was granted for a study into the stress likely to be incurred from completing household chores, for goodness sake! If the Prime Minister has his little group of Ministers looking at wasteful grants, let them look at that one. Just imagine a five-year study of the stress involved in completing household chores! I could give the Senate a burst on that in five minutes. I have done 26 or 27 years of household chores; I think that I am expert in that field. Perhaps some senators opposite could do with a bit of education in that area.

Yesterday Senator Ryan announced another survey. What was that survey? Seven hundred and fifty households were to be surveyed on the extent and range of unpaid work done by women at home. That has been announced just after this report on setting the agenda. Why does the Government need to survey another 750 households about the unpaid work that women do at home or how women spend their time in a 24- or 48-hour period? It sounds like the McNair ratings-`Fill in your diary of what you did every minute for the last 24 or 48 hours'. The Minister said that this survey would provide useful information for planning of all sorts of things. She said that we would get sound statistical information on the way work in the home is undertaken. She is very concerned to learn something about work in the home. Perhaps it would be a jolly good idea if she went home and practised and gave this place away. Perhaps that is not a very kind thing to say, but I suggest that if she needs to spend all this Government money to find out about work in the home, she really should go home and do a bit of in depth research herself. As I have said, I do not believe that this Government is giving women a fair go. I do not believe that it is giving a choice.

The Minister in her statement said that she had some major concerns about areas relating to women. I wish to canvass just a few of those rather than keep Senator Tate too long from his electoral paper. Let us look at the question of education. We on this side of the chamber are concerned, as I am sure are many on the other side, that girls must have the same opportunities as boys to participate in and achieve in all areas and levels of study. Great steps have been taken in this country over the years and girls today are faced with a much greater choice than our mothers had. But just as important in providing equal opportunities for them is the task of encouraging them to participate in all areas that are open to them. We all know that in many cases the only real barrier to girls entering courses which lead to professions such as engineering or carpentry is their own unwillingness to do so. There is male domination of classes, there are teacher attitudes, there are the perceived employment prospects but, above all, girls are often influenced by their parents to take courses which prepare them for the traditional female roles. This Government says that it is concerned about the education of girls, and what does it do? It has imposed a $250 fee which puts part time women and single subject women out of the opportunities for education.

Senator Crowley —What is a part time woman?

Senator NEWMAN —Part time women students. I thank the honourable senator; I am glad she corrected me. Her Government has managed to put these women out of the educational running. They are trying to improve their qualifications, trying to get out of the poverty traps. They are not all on welfare. Many of the women who are trying to get this part time education are not on welfare. They are dependent on a husband's maintenance or earnings. They need their income for themselves, and the Government is not giving them any help at all. It is no good paying the Australian Capital Territory teachers their $250 fee and not helping women who are studying part time, struggling along on their own. Let us not forget those nurses, who have to compete in a very tertiary-oriented occupation from now on, who were trained under the hospital system. The Government does not give them any help, but it pays teachers in the Australian Capital Territory to improve their qualifications while they are getting wages from the Government. Australian women are concerned about their sons and daughters not getting into tertiary institutions. There is an aspect of education to be concerned about.

The Minister also said that she was concerned about employment. So are we. What about the jobs for these women? What about the jobs for these women's children? That is what we are concerned about in the area of employment. The Minister seems to think that if we bring down legislation we deal with the problems of women in employment. Of course, we do not. Employers have to be educated, not compelled, away from an attitude against women employees. The most effective way for employers to learn about the qualifications of women is to learn from women themselves. If they are appropriately educated, if they are capable, if they are confident in their abilities, they will themselves bring about change, in a far more permanent way than legislation ever could.

Affirmative action legislation will increase the number of women in the work force in the short term but long term change will be brought about only by their performance. We cannot afford to rely on legislation to give us equal opportunity; we cannot expect to get the job because of our sex. Let us beware of the decision that was made in the United States of America last week. Women who succeed want to be able to take pride in their own achievements, achievements which they have gained through their own attainments and drive. We cannot allow this sense of achievement to be denied us by quota systems and the like. I do not believe that women want jobs at the expense of their self-esteem. Women who are appointed through quotas and who fail at their jobs jeopardise the future opportunities for other women.

The Government denies that it is introducing quotas, but the setting of `quantitative and other indicators' for assessment, and the comparing of statistics for effectiveness assessment, are only a euphemism for a quota. Let there be no doubt about it; that is what is happening with the legislation before the chamber now. Equal opportunity is supported by the coalition parties, but quotas and unnecessary regulation of business are not acceptable.

Senator Bolkus —Who wrote this speech?

Senator NEWMAN —The end does not justify the means, and if the honourable senator opposite does not know that he had better learn quickly. Businesses that go broke do not employ anybody, male or female. Let us be very clear about that. It is this Government that is sending businesses broke throughout Australia.

The PRESIDENT —Order! There are too many interjections. I ask Senator Newman to ignore the interjections and to direct her remarks through the Chair.

Senator NEWMAN —Yes, Mr President. I will be very happy to speak to you. You are obviously much more receptive than some of those opposite. I think the Government should be looking very much more closely at the high level of bankruptcies in this country, as was mentioned earlier today. It is very clear that the mismanagement of the economy by this Government is directly responsible for many jobs being lost. It is this area of jobs that we are concerned about, not whether women have to be put into jobs by artificial means. Let us get the economy right, let us get interest rates down, let us get taxes down, let us get the regulation of business down, then let us get employment up.

Senator Cook —Vote Labor.

Senator NEWMAN —If people voted Liberal we would not be in the mess we are in. It is because they voted Labor that we are in this hole. Another subject of concern to the Minister was women in the home. I am very glad that she considered that it was a matter of concern, apart from something to be studied.

Senator Bolkus —Mr President, I raise a point of order. I draw your attention to standing order 421, the order related to repetition. I suggest that if the speaker is not pulled up we will all be suffering repetitive stress injury from listening to her.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order.

Senator NEWMAN —Thank you, Mr President. If the honourable senator is not capable of learning and if he is finding it boring, perhaps he would be better to leave. However, maybe he is teachable and perhaps, therefore, it might be worth his while staying.

Senator Boswell —He is a slow learner.

Senator NEWMAN —Perhaps it is that he is a slow learner. The trouble today is that women do not truly have the choice of being women in the home. Women who have small children and who would dearly love to be in the home are being forced by this Government out into the work force. They are being forced because they cannot keep up with the cost of living that has been caused by this Government's mismanagement of the economy. This Government, over a four year term, has made no attempt to do anything about the dependent spouse rebate and no attempt to do anything about family allowances. Its only defence is simply to keep referring to years gone by. It has been in government now for four years and its record is rotten. The dependent spouse rebate is down 30 per cent in value from the time this Government came to office. The women of Australia do not need a survey to find that out. They know every week in their budgeting the net effect of having this Government in office. The Minister referred to a number of other matters. Because of Senator Tate's concern about the time, I do not want to canvass the entire report.

Senator Tate —Oh!

Senator NEWMAN —I am very tempted to ignore Senator Tate, but I am concerned to give my colleagues an opportunity to speak on this matter before somebody brings down a gag. One of the matters which the Minister did not canvass very much at all was the question of housing. While I will not take the time tonight to talk about important matters concerning income security, health, advertising, violence and other such matters, I wish to pay a bit more attention to the question of housing. If there is one thing that is important to the women of this country it is how their families and themselves are housed. In this area, this Government's record is rotten. With high interest rates, with changes to investment guidelines and with changes to the taxation rules, we now have over 700,000 families below the poverty line after paying their rent or their mortgage costs. How is that for a record? Fancy going to an election on that! Young families throughout Australia are living in caravan parks. Young women are sleeping on park benches. Rents are going through the roof in the private rental market and, as a result, we have young couples who can neither buy a home, as they cannot take up the options of the first home owner's scheme because they cannot afford the rest of the money required, nor afford to rent on the private market-and we are expecting by 1990, which is only three years away, to have one quarter of a million families on the public rental waiting list. How is that for a record?

Senator Boswell —Rotten.

Senator NEWMAN —Rotten, yes. I would like to conclude by just drawing some of these strands together and saying that this National Agenda for Women, according to the Minister's statement, is going to be finalised later this year. This is a bit like the child maintenance situation. Honourable senators will recall that the Government started off with I think a Press release late last year about child maintenance.

Senator Puplick —It all starts with a Press release.

Senator NEWMAN —It all starts with a Press release, thank you very much. A little later we got a nice little glossy pink brochure all about child maintenance, and that canvassed the issues too. That was put out for a bit of discussion so that people could have their say, although a lot of people said that they were not given enough time to have their say. Then what do we get? We get a piece of paper wheeled up which says: `These are the things we think we will do, and these are the things we think we will look at doing'. Once again it was just a stalling tactic by the Government just to look as if it were doing something. There was very little substance in the latest piece of paper on the child maintenance program. That is exactly what seems to be the case here with the National Agenda for Women.

We had a whole lot of publicity back in 1985, and the Government has bubbled along with its agenda meetings ever since, here and there, particularly with some of the party faithful. Then this lovely glossy brochure was produced but nobody has managed to tell us yet at what cost to Australian taxpayers it was produced. Now the Minister says that this is all going to be looked at and that the agenda for women will be finalised later this year. In view of the fact that it has just been pushed into the agenda for today, it looks to me as though it is a government rushing to get a few things cleared away, and I just have to wonder why.

Let us make it clear that this is government by survey, it is government by Press release, it is government by glossy publications and it is government by `sell the story', but do not put too much substance in it. The Government says that we do not need to put too much substance in it. If it is trying to sell something to the Australian people, what is inside does not matter. The packaging is all. Of course there are useful, worthy and interesting things in here. Most of us knew all of them all along. How much did it cost to find that out all over again?

The women of Australia and all Australians are much more concerned about unemployment. They are much more concerned about the fact that this Government has got the place in a mess, that housing is unobtainable and that the family tax policies are just totally unacceptable. I say to this Government: Get the running of the country right. Then the Women of Australia might take it seriously. It has given them a say. Now it must give them a fair go.