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Guides Victoria mentor breakfast, Hilton on the Park, Melbourne, 15 May 1998: address.



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Media Release

 

Guides Victoria Mentor Breakfast

 

 

Address by the Hon Judi Moylan MP

Minister for the Status of Women

 

Hilton on the Park, Melbourne

 

Embargoed until 7.00 am, 15 May 1998

 

 

Well, the Budget speech has been delivered, the papers handed out. The media has had its say. As always, there are questions about the Budget -and I welcome this opportunity for us to discuss the impact of the Budget on Australian women, and I thank the National Council of Women for this opportunity.

 

The Howard Government has a strong commitment to women, which emanates from the highest level. The Prime Minister tells the story of the three women who have been the greatest influence in his life: his mother, his wife, and his daughter. He makes the point that in many ways, they’re very different -- for they were born at different times, in different circumstances and with different aspirations.

 

I know that the Prime Minister very much appreciates that like the women of his own family, Australian women are not a homogenous group -- and indeed their circumstances may vary a great deal as they go through life. I know that’s been the case for me!

 

The challenge to government is to provide practical policies that cater for this difference. Inevitably, the best policy alternatives are those emphasising choice for women.

 

Whatever policies are implemented for women, they will rely on a sound economic base -- as we can see with some of our northern neighbours, if economies are not healthy, governments cannot deliver adequate social policies.

 

An underlying budget surplus of $2.7 billion brings the Commonwealth back into the black for the first time in almost a decade. In achieving this, the Howard Government has delivered on its election promise to return to surplus in the first parliamentary term.

 

The Government’s improvement of the economy has resulted in:

 

* the lowest inflation rates since the early 1960s;

* the lowest bank mortgage rates since 1970;

* the lowest unemployment since 1990 -- and 280,000 new jobs since March 1996;

* lower small business overdraft rates;

* a strong economy better able to withstand the financial instability in Asia.

* I didn’t go to university until I was 40. I’d left school at 14 and had never sat a formal exam, so I was filled with self-doubt going into the first one. This wasn’t helped by a male lecturer who told me that he was sure I wouldn’t be back next year, and made it clear to me he thought I didn’t have what it took. It was the confidence of women mentors that gave me the courage to keep going. I’m pleased to say that I got a distinction for the subject in question -- and went on to be made the Valuation Student of the Year in my final year. I was so glad I hadn’t given up -- and it may have been easy to do so without the encouragement of my classmates and my mentor.

 

Like many women, my life could be divided into distinct phases. And in each phase, I’ve been influenced by a number of people. Each in their own way has given me the benefit of their knowledge and experience to help me develop an d refine skills. Most importantly they’ve given me confidence to keep going -- often in the face of fearful opposition. And without them, there are times when I might have given up. Their confidence in me gave me a boost at a crucial time.

 

To those of you fortunate enough to benefit from mentoring, remember what you’ve gained from this experience, and take the opportunity to mentor other women when you can. It doesn’t need to be a formal process -- it’s really about being supportive of other women, speaking well of other women, helping where you can, and passing on what you’ve learned.

 

There is not a person I know who hasn’t found the experience of mentoring someone satisfying and worthwhile. So remember as you get to know your mentors, they too are learning from you.

 

As a generation of young women, you have the opportunity to reach out and touch the stars. More often than not, the only limits you will find are those you place on yourself.

 

We’ve passed through an era where women have had to endure great inequalities. It’s not perfect yet, but many gender prejudices and barriers to women have fallen away in the decades since the suffragettes were fighting for the right for women to vote. Women mentoring women is so important for women who want to continue to achieve in all areas of home and community life.

 

Domestic violence has been a particular focus for the Government since its election. It’s an issue on which the Prime Minister has taken a strong personal stand. Initiatives since 1996 include the National Domestic Violence Summit, and Partnerships Agains t Domestic Violence.

 

From 1 July 1999, the Government will introduce a one-off payment to assist people who are in financial hardship and a crisis situation. This payment will help -- among others -- women who are forced to leave their homes because of domestic violence. I note that this initiative has been strongly supported.

 

The Government recognises that the needs of older women are extremely important. Women currently live longer than men. In ever increasing numbers, they live alone in their old age, have a greater reliance on the pension, and importantly, two thirds of the nation’s carers are women.

 

In March the Prime Minister announced that pensions will now be linked to a percentage of average male weekly earnings. This results in an immediate increase of $6.80 per fortnight. On Tuesday night the Treasurer announced that the Government is allotting $164 million over four years to adjust war widows’ pensions in line with increases in Age and Service Pensions.

 

Women are also the major beneficiaries of the Staying At Home package. This package provides $280 million over four years to enhance the care of older people at home and to provide greater recognition and support for carers.

 

The package includes:

 

* additional Community Aged Care Packages -- do ubling the number of people assisted to 22,000;

* expanding the number of Carer Respite Centres from 58 to 73;

* greater funding for respite care for those suffering from dementia;

* increased accommodation assistance for ageing carers looking after adult children with disabilities;

* reforms to income support for carers who are eligible for the Domiciliary Nursing Care Benefit;

* aged care assessment teams’ funding will be increased and indexed to growth in the older population.

* a further $20 million for nursing homes in need of upgrading.

 

From 1 January 1999 the income test for the Commonwealth Seniors’ Health Card will be eased, extending eligibility for the card to an additional 220,000 self-funded retirees. This will cost the Government $191 million over four years. The income limits will be raised to $40,000 for a single person (up from $21,320) and around $67,000 for a couple (up from $35,620).

 

For women, balancing the needs of their families is a challenge.

 

The Government will provide $8.6 million over four years to bring together information on services and benefits available to families in various government departments and other community services. When families need help, they usually need it quickly. We’re developing an easy to use system -- available on the internet -- providing information about family and community services.

 

This Budget also provides over $13 million over four years for the development of new business and community sector partnerships. This has been very successful already in other areas, such as the partnership against domestic violence.

 

The Government has also allowed an extra $6.1 million to foster positive, stable relationships. This is in addition to the 34 new and extended marriage and relationship education services launched throughout Australia in April 1997.

 

If women are to feel secure in their retirement, we need to address the issue of women and superannuation. This includes tackling the difficult issue of division of superannuation on divorce.

 

The Treasurer has already begun consultations in this area. Next week the Government will release a discussion paper which outlines proposals to reform the treatment of superannuation when a marriage ends.

 

Currently the situation lacks certainty and clarity. Research shows that a large number of separating couples don’t even consider division of superannuation --because their legal advisers never raise it. When superannuation is considered, the outcome is often a trade off between the marital home and super. Another problem is the value of superannuation -when a separating couple add it into their tally of assets, it’s often only on its value at the time of the divorce -- not the likely value on maturity.

 

The proposed reforms aim to:

 

* encourage couples to settle their own affairs,

* provide certainty in valuing and apportioning super assets built up during a marriage and

* greater choices to achieve settlements that better meet people’s circumstances and needs.

 

This will build on other measures we have introduced since coming to Government including:

 

* a $3000 contribution by a working spouse to a super fund for a non-working spouse with an 18% tax deduction;

* Retirement savings accounts;

* Legislation to give greater choice of funds.

 

Our Government’s commitment to women is demonstrated by practical, tangible policies and by a determination to include women in decision making at all levels of government.

 

This is a Government that respects the rights of women to choose whether they stay at home to care for children, participate in the paid workforce or combine these roles in any way they feel is right for them and their families.

 

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.