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Tuesday, 10 May 1994
Page: 496

Senator HARRADINE (3.21 p.m.) —I am not critical of the government's white paper in this particular respect. However, I have some problems when it relates to the income of single income families. I agree with Senator Patterson about this question of the widow's pension. I opposed the legislation in 1987. On 23 November last year I asked a question of the minister representing the Minister for Social Security, and I referred to a particular widow in my constituency of Tasmania. That lady is 50 years of age and was recently widowed after 33 years of marriage. She nursed her mother, father-in-law and husband through their terminal illnesses. She has raised four children and has 11 grandchildren and is currently involved in community work. The Minister for Family Services talks about choice. Fourteen weeks after this woman's husband died she was forced out into the paid work force. She had no choice.

  The government repudiated what she had done for her own family and what she had saved this government. The government denied her the status of widowhood because it had introduced legislation which cancelled the widow's pension for her. For century after century widowhood has been a status which has been recognised by the community. But the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women, Senator Crowley, does not recognise that status for the first time in centuries. This government is not providing a choice for this woman or for thousands like her—and not only women in their early 50s but, as Senator Patterson said, in their middle to late 50s. The government is not giving these women any choice; it is forcing them into the paid work force. The government is forcing these women to compete for jobs with their own sons and daughters. Is that sensible? Is that fair? Is that just? It is crazy.

  It is time that the Minister for Social Security had a look at this. In answer to my question the minister said that the government would have a look at it. Then I received a response from Mr Baldwin emphasising that the government would have a look at it. Nothing has happened. The Minister for Family Services comes in here and in a supplementary statement says that the government is going to have a look at it. It is about time that the government had a look at it and restored that status to women. They should at least be given a choice. If they choose to go on JSA, allow them to go on JSA. If they choose to retain the status of widowhood for the purposes of the widow's pension, the government should restore that which it has taken from them. Women are very disappointed. I have had letter after letter from widows who are very concerned about this matter, and they feel cheated.

  Much has been said about what Ben Chifley did. I suppose I have had more experience of the Labor movement than almost anybody in this chamber and know a bit about what Ben Chifley said and did. I remind the chamber that it was Ben Chifley who, as Treasurer in the Curtin government in 1942, introduced the widow's pension. It is this government which has taken it away. I now appeal to the government to restore it in order to give dignity, choice and status once again to the widows of Australia.