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Wednesday, 29 June 1994
Page: 2332

Senator CROWLEY (Minister for Family Services) (5.36 p.m.) —We cannot give Senator Harradine absolute numbers. Even if I could tell Senator Harradine the number of women aged 55 in Australia, it would not exactly be too relevant to the real question, which is: of that population of women aged 55, how many would be eligible for the age pension, much less want to take it up? And that data is not available either because a lot of the women of that age would not want to take the age pension and would not be eligible for the age pension. Indeed, some I know would want to stay working. So we do not have that data.

  But I can give Senator Harradine three out-years of savings further to the figures I am advised are in the explanatory memorandum. Those figures have been reached based on a set of assumptions. I have neither the assumptions nor the data here with me today—they cannot be provided. However, the explanatory memorandum says that in 1994-95 there will be a cost of $0.26 million; in 1995-96, savings of $14.53 million; in 1996-97, savings of $20.16 million; in 1997-98, savings of $38 million; in 1998-99, savings of $96 million; and so on until 2014-15 when there will be savings of $400 million. So I do not have the figures running from 1998-99 to 2014-15. However, one can see a gradual increase in the projected savings.

  It is important that we just be reasonable about this. In the end, Senator Harradine is arguing against a policy decision taken by this government to make this decision now. It is not as though the government has done this out of the blue. As I said, a lot of work has gone into this and there has been a lot of public discussion. I was a member of the retirement income committee which canvassed this very extensively during the 1980s.

  Also, we do have to admit that the world is changing for women. We cannot be absolute on whether the world is changing for all women; but I would agree with Senator Lees that there will certainly be some women who will not be in a position to take full advantage of an opportunity to stay in employment, however, increasing numbers of women are doing so. Regardless of whether we say women are allowed to continue working after they reach 60—and they may be able to do so—in the minds of most people in this society 60 is the retirement age for women and 65 for men. We know that is not an absolute but it is a fairly good guide and indicator.

  We are saying that, in this very gentle way, over 20 years, people in our society will come to appreciate that we are moving toward equality in eligibility for the age pension—this government is committed to achieving that. It is also true that, if people find themselves in difficulty, there will be payments to ensure that they are not dramatically economically disadvantaged.

  We also know that as women are becoming employed many of them are preferring to stay employed longer because they see the benefits to their superannuation. It may be modest, but it is better to have a few more years in employment than not. I think it is a matter of being reasonable about this. We can argue it at greater length, but in the end it is a policy decision taken by government on balance, holding its reforms in superannuation, industrial relations, education and so on as a package, or a picture, if you like, of society, including the women in that society.

  I do not believe that, once it is properly understood and people take up the options that are available, many of whom are exercising those options now, it will cause a very grave distress. We are not in the business of legislating for distress. Senator Patterson asked whether we would be monitoring this. Yes, very closely, of course, because it is a question of having the balance and the data right.