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Wednesday, 29 June 1994
Page: 2334

Senator KERNOT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (5.49 p.m.) —Does the minister not think that she should be able to explain the rationale on which this policy change is based, right down to the assumptions that are made in the calculations? I think she should. I remember when we were discussing the superannuation guarantee charge. We asked questions about why the threshold was set at this level and what the assumptions were. We had a bit of a similar experience there, and it is a bit of a worry to me that we have elaborate explanations and we do not have the figures to back up the details. It leads to a lack of confidence in the rationale.

  We will accept those figures later, but I find it quite extraordinary that Senator Crowley's advisers have not brought such basic figures with them. I want to put that on the record. I also want to take up Senator Harradine's comment through you, Mr Temporary Chairman, to Senator Patterson who expressed some frustration about the length of this committee stage debate. I think that is a very unfortunate comment. Even after committee hearings have finished, more Australians are interested in the debate and sometimes bring further evidence or clarification of issues to senators as their representatives.

  In the meantime, of course, we have the announcement of the Treasurer (Mr Willis) on superannuation. The big claim was, `Here we are; we are solving the problems of women and superannuation here.' That impacts on the debate on the increasing of the pension age. It is not as if on the committee day that is the end of the story. I think that that was an unfortunate comment, but I actually think that it might also be a desire to cut the debate short because it draws attention to a policy failure on behalf of the opposition.

  I took part in a debate with Dr Wooldridge on Adelaide radio yesterday. I think the women of Australia would be really interested to know two points that came out of that debate. Dr Wooldridge said that women have some rewards and compensations, which mean that they do not need the lower pension age. They are that women have lower unemployment rates than men—that is a big compensation, a bit of an advantage—and that women live 20 years longer. That is a big reward.

  Here we are at the end of the paid shift, the unpaid shift, juggling all the stress and everything else that goes with the normal life experiences of a woman. We live 20 years longer; that is a big reward. We should not expect then to be paid an extra 20 years' pension. That is what was said in that debate yesterday. I think that points to a bit of a policy failure on the opposition's behalf as well.

  I say to the opposition that it should not forget the pensioner shares debate. After the committee stage, a lot more evidence came forward and the opposition reviewed its position. I think it should review its position on this piece of legislation as well. The minister said that this is a package. She said there are three important parts to this package: superannuation, industrial relations legislation changes, and education changes—which this government has brought in.

  I will take the first two to start with. On superannuation I can tell the minister that two years ago we on the select committee told the government that it needed to do something about the low income earners. It was my amendment which raised the threshold from $250 to $450 a month, but the government was not prepared to tackle what would happen to the small nest eggs of low income earners until two years later. Women have been disadvantaged for two years when the government knew the policy failure on that score.

  Yes, the changes are welcome. They mean that small nest eggs are not eroded by exorbitant fees; but the superannuation industry has not tackled that really hard issue of the interrupted working lives of women. So it might be good to have a thousand dollars in there and not eroding, but they are getting nothing when they are not working because they are being a full-time parent. Until we address that, it will be improper to suggest that we have solved this problem of superannuation for women. It will not be there for a huge group of women, particularly those 45 and over. They have had the interruptions.

  On the matter of industrial relations, the minister is saying that things are changing. Certainly they are. We have passed industrial relations changes in this place. But, as we have said in this debate, how do we know what the impact of these changes will be on women? Most of the evidence we can see from elsewhere shows that enterprise bargaining has assisted men in full-time jobs. There was not much evidence that it has assisted women clustered in part-time and casual work. They have to be there because there is no flexibility in the workplace to allow them to juggle their working and family lives sufficiently.

  Because nobody could guarantee that things were going to be better for women under the changes, the Senate agreed to the amendment to monitor this. We said, `Don't wait 10 years down the track and then say that, goodness, it did not happen.' I am asking the minister now: what makes her so certain that the changes that are going to happen under industrial relations reform are going to be for the benefit of women? What makes her certain that women are not going to remain clustered in part-time and casual work, where they will not have pro rata conditions or the same superannuation and savings opportunities as men?

  Does the minister think that in this mythological equality street of the future—the near future, because this is happening over the next 18 years—we will find 50 per cent of men who are going to choose to interrupt their working lives to stay home and care for children and for frail and elderly parents? When we argue equality, it is only equality one way.

Senator Panizza —Some have.

Senator KERNOT —Of course they have. But we are talking about equality; about equal numbers of men who are prepared to do this. In this future that the minister is talking about, where things are getting better, where is the industrial relations evidence that shows that things are going to get better for women? This is the minister's package: superannuation, industrial relations and education. Where is the evidence that it is going to be better, so we will have some faith that this change she is asking us to approve now will achieve the goal she has set for it?