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Tuesday, 8 March 2005
Page: 21


Senator STEPHENS (2:00 PM) —My question is to Senator Patterson, the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women’s Issues. Is the minister aware that, of the 1.6 million workers whose pay is subject to the minimum wage under state and federal awards, 965,000 or 60 per cent are women? Further, is the minister aware that over the last nine years the Howard government has opposed every single wage claim for an increase in the minimum wage for these women? Minister, do you support the government’s proposal to change the mechanism for setting the minimum wage which protects the income of these low-paid women?


Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women’s Issues) —Despite my feelings sometimes for people on the other side of this chamber, I wish all the women on the other side and my own colleagues a very happy International Women’s Day. It is a special day on which we celebrate the achievements of women. We celebrate the achievements of women in Australia, where we have seen increased participation in the work force and, despite what the spokesman on the other side has been saying about average weekly earnings, we have seen a reduction in the gap between women’s average weekly earnings and male average weekly earnings. Last week we saw average weekly earnings of women increase at a higher rate than average weekly earnings of men.

Opposition senators interjecting—


Senator PATTERSON —I can hear people on the other side shouting, ‘That’s not the question.’ They do not want to hear the good news. They do not want to hear that more women are in education than before. They do not want to hear that more women are participating in the work force. They do not want to hear that there are fewer families with parents out of work. They do not want to hear that, because of strong economic management, we have been able to ensure that more women are in the work force and more women are receiving pay. We have seen, for example, with some of the initiatives we have put forward, particularly the superannuation bonus, that the people who have benefited most have been women. Labor do not want to hear that. They do not care and they do not want to acknowledge the achievements of women in Australia.


Senator Ferris interjecting—


Senator PATTERSON —Senator Ferris asks how many women were unemployed. The vast majority of those unemployed were women. Women have now increased their participation in the work force and increased their participation in apprenticeships. We have increased the number of apprenticeships significantly—I have forgotten the exact percentage, but it is an enormous increase—and many of the people in apprenticeships are now women. You want to talk about the minimum wage and the increase in wages. When we have a strong economy, businesses employing people and a third of people in small business are women, we are seeing women making economic progress. But Labor do not care tuppence about that.


Senator STEPHENS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, I did ask you whether you supported the government’s proposal to change the mechanism for setting the minimum wage which protects the income of these low-paid women. Doesn’t the Howard government’s proposal expose these 965,000 women, the country’s poorest working women, to even greater unfairness by threatening their minimum wage? In the face of your colleagues’ attacks on the minimum wage safety net, why have you done nothing to support and protect these women’s interests?


Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women’s Issues) —Senator Stephens is making assumptions about industrial relations changes—and it is a hypothetical question that she is asking me—but she is not interested in the fact that women’s position economically has improved significantly because of our sound economic management. Women’s savings for retirement have increased, women’s participation in the work force has increased, women’s participation in education has increased and women’s participation in apprenticeships has increased. Why don’t they celebrate that today rather than making hypothetical assumptions about our industrial relations policy, changes that may or may not occur? What they should be doing today is celebrating the achievements of women in Australia and women around the world.