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Tuesday, 10 May 1994
Page: 479


Senator PATTERSON —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women. Is it the case that in the white paper's social security arrangements widows and divorcees aged in their late 50s will be forced onto the jobsearch allowance and required to look for work while spouses in their early 40s with no recent labour market experience will be eligible for the partner allowance and not required to look for work?


Senator CROWLEY —There are a number of different recognitions for women in the white paper. First of all, as I understand Senator Patterson's outline for women over 50 with children over 16, yes, they will—


Senator Patterson —I am not talking about people with children. I am talking about widows and divorcees in their late 50s. They have a different system.


Senator CROWLEY —Widows and divorcees are no different. They should not be expected, as is the case with our current payments, to decline forever on a life restricted to the pension or the benefits that they are eligible for, and that is all. It is an expectation and an encouragement for women at any age to exercise their options to participate in the work force.


Senator Woods —Why?


Senator CROWLEY —That is because we do not believe that women should be confined to definitions that may be out of date and, indeed, preclude them from choice.

  Opposition senators—Ha, ha!


Senator CROWLEY —Listen to those opposite howl. How many women of that age want to stay home, and how many want to go to work or university? How many want to take up the options? Our policies recognise choice for women at any age and are encouraging women to make that choice.

  Those opposite may argue, but our policies are about providing choice for women. It is about the expectation of women at whatever age not to be precluded or confined to one option. Women over 60 approaching eligibility for pension will certainly be able to have the mature age allowance if that prospect is something they prefer. That is available for them.


Senator PATTERSON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I will ask that question again because the minister is supposed to represent the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women. The question is: is it the case that widows and divorcees who are in their late 50s will be forced onto the jobsearch allowance and required to look for work while spouses in their early 40s or people with a partner with no recent labour market experience will be eligible for the partner allowance and not required to look for work? There are two groups of people—women who are older and women who are younger—who are treated differently. Is that the case under the new arrangements? The answer is yes or no, not some long lecture on choice. If there is a difference between the women in these two different age groups, why do widows have to go out and look for work and why do women with partners not have to go out and look for work under the government's new arrangements?


Senator CROWLEY —There are any number of details here. I will certainly check those out to make sure there is not anything I have missed.


Senator Ferguson —You don't know the answer.


Senator CROWLEY —That is not true.


Senator Woods —Tell us.


Senator CROWLEY —I will; and I will certainly make sure there are not details about this matter that I have missed. It is quite true that there is a difference between women who have a spouse and those who do not. The white paper makes it quite clear, as do the proposed changes in the parenting allowance, that those women will be eligible to go into the work force in their own right. They may have the option of taking the parenting allowance or seeking support through the work force, if that is what they want. Widows are also assisted to go onto unemployment benefits, to assist them to participate in the work force.