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Tuesday, 7 June 1994
Page: 1371

Senator KERNOT —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women. I, too, refer to figures released yesterday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics which show that men's wages are growing almost twice as quickly as women's wages, and that the average weekly earnings of women have fallen relative to male earnings. I ask: does the minister agree that these figures also indicate that, compared with men, women will continue to have access to reduced superannuation payouts for many years to come for a whole range of reasons? In the light of these figures, which clearly show that women in the work force continue to suffer such disadvantage, will the government move to cancel or, at least, defer its proposal to progressively raise the pension age for women to 65?

Senator CROWLEY —There is a fair amount in that question. Firstly, I will simply repeat what I was just saying in answer to the previous question. On the advice provided to me, I urge a caution on how much can be read into—at least in 1994—the relative loss of income in women's wages as compared with men's. As I say, the advice provided to me says that other more up-to-date ABS statistics indicate that there has been no significant decline in the relative wages of women during the period of enterprise bargaining. It depends on which figures are read. I am told that more recent figures say that there is relatively no significant decline.

Senator Knowles —Table those figures.

Senator CROWLEY —I said that I will do that as soon as I can. Secondly, the provision of safety net requirements, including the government's support for the second and third safety net wage adjustment of $8 per week, will also work to assist women, particularly at the lower income end, not to fall behind.

  The question of women's reduced superannuation does depend on whether or not Senator Kernot's claim on those figures is accurate. What is interesting is that since the government proposed changes in the superannuation area, women have access to superannuation that they did not have before. So, on the one hand, that is an increase. Senator Kernot's question on the fall of women's superannuation was premised on the fact that women's wages were falling behind. That, on the evidence provided to me, is not the case, so I cannot agree with Senator Kernot on that conclusion.

  Senator Kernot asked finally whether or not the government would, in the light of that possibility, be prepared to withdraw its proposal to move the age pension age for women out to 65. No. On no evidence to government is there any intention of removing that very slow phase-in of the extension of the age pension for women. The evidence given to the Senate committee examining this question the other day indicated that one should be cautious about this information. I have not seen the figures and special information that Senator Lees, for one, asked for at that Senate inquiry, and I have not seen the report from the committee, but on the evidence and advice I have, there is no intention by government to cease phasing in the age pension for women.

Senator KERNOT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister. I dispute her refutation of the ABS statistics as well and look forward to what she is going to table. But if women are earning less, if access to employment for mature age women is difficult and if access to superannuation has been difficult over the years, why take away the safety net of the pension at age 60?

Senator CROWLEY —It is not just taking away the safety net at the age of 60, it is extending the time for which women may be able to continue in the work force. It also takes account of the very dramatic increase in the number of women in work, particularly in the age group of 50 to 59—or it might be 45 to 55. According to the women who come to see me, I would say that there are very large numbers of women who want the opportunity to continue in the work force and contribute to the superannuation that they might retire with.  It is a question of balance. On the evidence provided to government, in the face of that changing work force status of women and in the light of other provisions for women if they are not able to get employment, the government judges it has got the balance best at this stage. (Time expired)