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Tuesday, 10 May 1994
Page: 495

Senator PATTERSON (3.16 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Family Services (Senator Crowley), to a question without notice asked by Senator Patterson this day, relating to the application of the Jobsearch allowance to women.

The question I asked Senator Crowley was:

Is it the case that, under the white paper 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?

She could not answer that question. In this chamber she represents the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women (Dr Lawrence) and the Minister for Social Security (Mr Baldwin), so I would have expected her to have known the answer to that question. We on this side know that in 1987 the government put into force legislation which meant that over time the widow B pension would be phased out. Senator Crowley reminded us that the coalition supported that legislation. However, I remind people that those opposite are in government. At the time, Mr James Porter, the then shadow minister for social security, in his speech at the second reading stage of that bill, said:

Again, the Government is acting against the woman who marries young, raises her children and stays at home to care for those children. Once the mother reaches the age of 50 or 55 and has little or no income—her children have grown older and her husband has died—the Government says that she should not receive a pension. She is expected to go back into the work force. Of course, she will have few skills to enable her to go back into the work force and, if she does not, she will have to go on to the dole.

We expressed concern at that time. Now the situation is that, with the phasing-in, as of 1994, a 58-year-old widow will have to go on a jobsearch allowance and be involved in the activity work test and all that being on the jobsearch allowance involves.

  With the new white paper, women who have a partner, either a spouse or a de facto, who are over 40 and who have not been in the work force or not had recent labour market experience will be eligible to take a partner allowance which would entitle them to $265.30 paid fortnightly. A widow or divorcee in her middle to late 50s who is on the widows B pension and who is in the same situation of not having any recent work force experience will receive $294.10 a fortnight and be on JSA, with no partner or spouse to assist her. Compare that with a younger woman in exactly the same situation—no recent work force experience but with a partner, a de facto or spouse—who will get $265.30 a fortnight. That is the issue I want clarified, because the documents are so detailed.

  How can the minister justify that significant discrimination against a woman who, through no fault of her own, has lost a spouse who has died? While the minister was on her feet, she was unable to explain why this anomaly exists. I found it amazing that she had to spend the whole of question time on the phone to find out what I thought she would have known—that widows with no recent experience in the work force now have to be involved in work activities under the jobsearch allowance and yet a woman who choses the partner allowance—she can choose JSA, as we read in the document; I do not know whether Senator Crowley would have been able to tell us that without briefing—gets a little under $30 a fortnight less than a widow gets.

  I want to know why the government did that. Why has the government got this complete anomaly? A woman in her early 40s is more likely to be able to find employment if she has been out of the work force for a while than a woman in her mid to late 50s. Surely the minister can understand that. I hope the Minister for Social Security addresses it soon because there is a grave anomaly here and the government should look into it immediately.