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Tuesday, 28 June 1994
Page: 2067

Senator KERNOT —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women. Recent Bureau of Statistics superannuation figures show that men aged between 35 and 55 are 40 per cent more likely to be covered by superannuation than are women and, on top of that, those women who actually do have super payouts in that age group will get, on average, one-quarter of the men's payout. I ask: can the minister confirm that the government is raising the women's pension access age to 65 while the superannuation access age will be 60? Can the minister explain why women like her and me who are in good superannuation schemes can access that money at 60, but so many others will have to wait an extra five years to get the pension? Can the minister explain to Australian women in low-paid, casual and part-time jobs why they should not see these policies as being one law for the rich and another for the poor? Finally, do these figures mean that women currently aged 35 to 55 will have to work until they are 120 years old before their superannuation catches up to men's?

Senator CROWLEY —It is important for Senator Kernot to be reminded that, while there is quite clearly a difference between superannuation for women and for men, there is a very big change happening and that change is to the improvement of women's access to superannuation and to their money.

Senator Kernot —They haven't solved the problem of an interrupted working life.

Senator CROWLEY —I would like to say to Senator Kernot that the other day Senator Lees, on behalf of the Democrats, was proposing that one way of solving this problem was to phase in the age pension for women over 40 years, that is, increase it to 65 over 40 years not 20, which indicates that the Democrats feel that the principle is okay and it is just the timing that is wrong. That is one option.

  In the end it becomes a matter of judgment between whether or not the payments of superannuation versus the prospect of women being in employment are able to be balanced against the 20-year phase for introducing the 65-year age for pensions. I remind Senator Kernot that the opposition was very inclined to do this but it wanted to introduce it over 10 years.

Senator Kernot —You are both wrong.

Senator CROWLEY —That is Senator Kernot's view. It is a matter of judgment. The Democrats say that we could do it by phasing it in over 40 years, which suggests, as I said, that we have the principle right and that it is a question of a balance between when the working prospects for women and their superannuation capacity are sufficient to justify their being able to retire at 65, not earlier than that.

  This government recognises that there is a matter of judgment in that phasing-in period and that is why it is doing it over 20 years. That is why, also on behalf of women, in moving to the 65-year phase-in it is saying that it more than appreciates the presence of women in the work force, that this is an option many women, particularly older women, want to exercise, but it also appreciates that while many women have that option, many do not. We have already seen that there are mature age allowance fallbacks for women who may find themselves not able to exercise their rights to work. So there are a number of very significant changes in this area, and it may well be that they are not all quite in kilter yet. What we have from the Minister for Social Security is clear evidence that he is very willing to listen to make sure that he has got the balance of these pieces correct. To come back to the first point, it is true that women now have access to superannuation in a way that they never did before and that that amount of superannuation is very significantly increasing.

  All women—or very large numbers of them—have it, but we admit that many of those women have access only to a very small amount of super. However, there are improved vesting provisions which mean that women can be out of work for a time and still maintain their access to super. We also note that there is still scope for improvement in the superannuation coverage for people in casual or part-time work. We know there is improvement needed there. None of that counters the fact that a 20-year introduction of a 65-year age pension is wrongly judged.

Senator KERNOT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister said that it is a matter of judgment. Who judges that one million Australian women must pay the price in the short term for long-term transitional change? Why that group in society more than anybody else?

Senator CROWLEY —I would urge a caution about those figures. There are a number of fall-back and safety provisions for women who are of that age coming into the pension and not able to either find work or continue in work. But there is obviously evidence of an increasing number of women of that age who would prefer to remain in work. The phasing in of the 65-year retirement, the phasing in of the introduction of the later age pension, Senator Kernot knows is a great leader to women and to industry about when women can retire.

  It is a matter of making sure that we get all those facts and balances right. One option, which was suggested by the Australian Democrats, is that we do not do anything and the second is that we do it over a 40-year phase in period. Neither of those options will assist women who now have access to the work force in much larger numbers, who have access to superannuation and whose superannuation would be much larger only if they stayed longer in work.