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Tuesday, 8 March 2005
Page: 64


Senator CROSSIN (4:44 PM) —International Women’s Day does provide us with an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women in this country. There are certainly many individuals who have achieved great things in this country, particularly women, no doubt and no less—for example, the women from Alice Springs who in the last fortnight won national awards for the outstanding work and contribution they have made to their community. But I think it is also a time for us to reflect on and look at the scorecard for the status of women in this country.

Just a couple of days ago, Minister Patterson tabled in New York a statement on the Beijing Commission on the Status of Women for the 49th session, or, as it is now commonly being called, Beijing Plus 10. It is a three-page document. What I want to do is make some comments about what is not in the document. There are a lot of statements in there that may look and sound fine in print, but if you look at what is not said and peel away some of the rhetoric then we really get to the truth. In the statement that was tabled in New York, this government says:

In Australia, we have made significant inroads across the Beijing Platform for Action’s 12 critical areas. … women have the same or better outcomes … in … education and health, and continue to make steady progress …

That is not the case. With regard to education, since 1996 the Howard government have slashed $5 billion from universities, and HECS fees have nearly doubled. Women now attending university will be paying an increase in their HECS debt, and of course, from this year, most of those women will incur a 25 per cent increase in their HECS payments. In last year’s budget there was no increase in funding above indexation for the 2.5 million children in government schools. There were no extra university places and there were no new TAFE places. So there are not enough TAFE or university places for women. In fact, over 20,000 women wanting to undertake further study are turned away each year.

With regard to health, this government has destroyed Medicare and bulk-billing. We know that women use Medicare services 50 per cent more than men, particularly during the years in which they opt to have children. Every year, 600,000 families, a third of them receiving payments from this government, also receive an average debt of $900. If everything was in fact bright and rosy in the garden in terms of women achieving the same or better outcomes in health, why is it then that, since 1996, the life expectancy of Indigenous women in this country has decreased significantly and is now 62.8 years?

This government also says that women’s participation in full-time and part-time employment has increased. Since 1996, the gap between men’s and women’s total average wage has grown by $91 a week. Australia lags behind all other OECD countries by not supporting maternity or paternity leave. The number of women in casual work has increased to 1.2 million, with no access to paid leave to look after their families while they are doing that work. Women’s earnings have significant implications for their immediate and long-term financial security which have not been addressed by this government. We know that 27 per cent of women aged between 25 and 54—the key child-bearing and child-rearing years, as I said—are in casual jobs and that women’s growing participation in the work force has contributed to massive increases in the tax revenue collected by this government. However, only around 12 per cent of women earn more than $52,000, leaving the tax cuts that were promised in last year’s budget out of reach for 90 per cent of working women. That was not said in the Beijing statement.

The statement by this government also says:

Australia attaches a high priority to combating domestic violence and sexual assault …

and:

Targeting family violence and child protection in Indigenous communities is a key priority.

What a joke! What an absolute joke! This statement does not talk about the $10 million last year that was taken out of money to prevent domestic violence—to pay for the security fridge magnets. This statement does not talk about the botched Partnerships Against Domestic Violence campaign or the No Respect, No Relationship program that was cancelled, rebadged, redesigned and then finally run in a less significant way. (Time expired)