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Tuesday, 8 March 2005
Page: 23

Senator CROSSIN (2:09 PM) —My question is to Senator Abetz, the Minister representing the Minister for Workforce Participation. Can the minister confirm there is no mandated training requirement in the work for parenting payment scheme, just as there is none in the Work for the Dole scheme? Given that skills development is acknowledged as a key factor in increasing work force participation, how does the minister justify a lack of mandated training in a scheme that purports to improve the employment prospects of sole parents, who are predominantly women? Does the minister expect sole parents to seek work force entry without skills development, be confined to low-wage, low-skill jobs and do nothing to ease the skills shortage crisis?

Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) —I thank Senator Crossin for her question because it will give me more time to deal with a topic that will be dealt with in the next question, so I thank her for her assistance in that regard. In relation to work force participation, we encourage the participation of all Australians who can work. That is a priority of this government, and we have been actively seeking to assist all people in the Australian population to get work. Of course, that includes sole parents and single mums.

The government was returned on 9 October on its record of running a strong economy and building prosperity through employment. However, there are still too many people, and that includes lone parents, missing out on the benefits that employment brings. The number of people on parenting payments, some 624,000, is now greater than the number of people on unemployment benefits.

People on parenting payments are eligible for a range of Job Network services. Those services are designed to take into account the preference of many parents for part-time work to fit in with their caring responsibilities. In our society, it is still largely women who take on that caring responsibility. Therefore, for them to be able to match their caring responsibilities with part-time work is part and parcel of this government’s approach. We can also help parenting payment recipients if they have a part-time job but want to find a full-time job. Those who have been out of the work force for two or more years can access Transition to Work services.

Often women do take time off work for two, three or more years whilst they have children and before those children start school. A lot of women make that choice for the benefit of their children, and then the transition back to work is a very real issue, and we as a government are addressing that as well. The Transition to Work program provides a range of flexible services especially tailored to parents, including training, financial assistance and advice on ways to get into the job market. Transition to Work is highly successful, with 44 per cent of participants getting an employment or education outcome. The government is committed to encouraging the economic participation of all people of working age according to their capacity, and of course that includes lone parents and single mothers.

Senator CROSSIN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, I actually asked you about the work for parenting payment scheme rather than anything to do with Transition to Work. I think I heard you mention the word ‘training’ once, although that was predominantly what my question was about. Let us have another go. Minister, if the government is serious about improving the employment prospects and outcomes of sole parents, who are predominantly women, how can the minister justify the lack of training opportunities open to them? In particular, how can the minister justify the fact that only two in every 100 sole parents access the JET program, which is supposed to help single parents enter the work force? Isn’t the government simply interested in reducing its welfare bill rather than easing the skills shortage crisis with Australian workers and building the skills and capacity of women and sole parents for successful work force participation?

Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) —It is one of the difficulties, isn’t it, when honourable senators opposite have their supplementary question written out before listening to the actual answer given? The honourable senator would have heard my references to sole parents.

Opposition senators—Answer the question!

The PRESIDENT —Order! I remind the senator of the question.

Senator ABETZ —The honourable senator opposite then asks a supplementary question about sole parents and training opportunities—exactly the matters which I canvassed in the original answer. We as a government make no apology for trying to reduce the welfare bill of this country by getting more people into employment—a task which the Labor government dismally failed in achieving and which we have a great record on. I look forward to detailing some more information about that with the next question.