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Historic gains evident on International Women's Day.



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Senator Jocelyn Newman Minister for Family & Community Services

Minister Assisting the Prime Minister

for the Status of Women

 

7 March 2000 HISTORIC GAINS EVIDENT ON INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY

Benchmarks achieved on International Women's Day 2000 would have been unthinkable 20 years ago, let alone at the start of the 20th Century, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women, Senator Jocelyn Newman said today.

On the eve of International Women's Day 2000 (Wed. March 8), Senator Newman encouraged all Australians to take stock of achievements made in recent decades and emphasised historic gains made during the first and second Howard Governments.

"While the Howard Government's strong economic management has been unquestionably good news for women, we should not forget the gains made in other areas, such as employment, child care, superannuation, assistance to families and family law that have flowed since 1996,'' said Senator Newman.

"So tomorrow, on International Women's Day 2000, we should all celebrate the great strides we have made for women's health, financial security, independence and general well-being that we are now seeing.

"We don't deny that there is still a lot of work to be done, but the Howard Government continues to strive for all women, not by political grand-standing, but by making real changes to the lives of real women across the country.

"We won't hold our breath waiting for our political opponent and noisy minorities to praise this Government for lower interest rates and higher employment, but these real achievements are being felt in every Australian household.

"And while some choose to concentrate on the minor distractions, the New Tax System with its associated tax cuts and bonus Family Payments will beef up the disposable incomes of Australian women and their families.''  

Media inquiries: Richard Wilson (02) 6277 7560 or 0419 693092

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Good News for Australian Women

Employment

The participation rate for working-age women (15-64) reached a record high of 66.1 per cent in December 1999. Female unemployment is at a nine-year low and the gap between male and female

Average Weekly Ordinary Time Earnings is diminishing.

The Government has committed $24.2m over four years to a "Return to Work" initiative for people returning to the workforce after breaks from paid employment due to parenting or caring responsibilities. The Programme has already started in Tasmania and the Northern Territory and will commence in other States in March 2000.

Child Care

The allocation of a record $5.3bn over four years beginning in 1999-2000 shows the Government's support of the choice of women with young children to participate in the paid workforce and education, representing a huge increase over allocations during the previous Labor Government.

As part of the Government's A New Tax System, a new Child Care Benefit replacing current benefits will be introduced on 1 July 2000, providing an additional $600m a year in assistance to families in its first three years of operation.

The increase in popularity of child care in the last part of the 20th Century is illustrated by the increase in the number of child care places from 168,000 in 1991 to 400,000 in 1998. The increase in popularity is reflected in the growth in expenditure - from $244m in 1990-91 to a projected $1.13bn this financial year.

The Government now subsidises to the tune of about $10,000 a year a medium income family the two children in care, or $12,000 for a similar low-income family (based on average fees)

Older Women

In the 1999 Budget, the Government provided $41m over four years to improve health care for older Australians by simplifying access to community care services through single contact points, Carelinks, regionally across Australia.

The Government also announced a major package of initiatives to enhance primary health care for older Australians, people with chronic illnesses and those who require a range of different services to support them in the community. Further respite support for carers has also been provided. Older women and women who are paid and unpaid carers are the principal beneficiaries of these measures.

On 1 January 1999, income test limits for the Commonwealth Seniors Card were raised from $21,320 to $40,000 for single people and $35,620 to $67,000 for couples, allowing an estimated 200,000 more older Australians access to cheaper, subsidised pharmaceuticals.

1999 was the International Year of Older Persons. The Government's key policy response is the development of a National Strategy for an Ageing Australia, which will identify and respond to emerging issues related to population ageing.

Assistance to Families and Children

Families will benefit from around $12bn in personal income tax cuts from July 1, 2000. There will be an extra $2.5bn in assistance for families. Marginal tax rates will be reduced so that around 81 per cent of taxpayers will have a top tax rate of 30 per cent or less.

All income support recipients will get up front compensation for GST price impacts. All payments will increase by 4 per cent and rent assistance will increase by 7 per cent. For pensioners, this compensation will be paid as a supplement separate to their current pension, which will continue to be benchmarked at 25 per cent of male total average weekly earnings; an initiative legislated by the Howard Government.

Since July 1999, 160,000 mainly female parents with children in their care, who previously received no child support, will receive at least $5 a week. This measure reinforces the principle that parents

share the cost of supporting their children. This measure was part of sweeping improvements to child support laws.

To prevent marriage and relationship problems before they arise, the Government has delivered on its 1998 election commitment to provide a further:

●$6m over 3 years for additional marriage and relationships education services; and

●$16m over 3 years for additional counselling and mediation services to assist families resolve

disputes. This avoids costly legal fees and emotionally debilitating court proceedings.

●The Government has also provided $6m to increase men's access to relationship support services

and will provide $10.5m over four years to enhance family relationships.

Superannuation

On 30 March 1999, the Government announced that separating couples would be able to split their superannuation upon separation. This measure was hailed as a victory for Australian women, with statistics showing that women have a much lower share of Australian superannuation assets.

Community Contact

In 1999-2000, the Government provided $615,000 to women's organisations through the National Women's Non-Government Organisations (NGO) Funding Programme. Three NGOs (National Council of Women of Australia, YWCA and the Australian Federation of Business and Professional Women) are receiving funding of $75,000 each to provide national secretariat services. In addition, they will receive ongoing funding of $100,000 a year for the next two years. A further $265,000 has been provided to women's NGOs to undertake one-off projects that contribute to current or emerging policy priorities for women or which enhance women's organisations capacity to make a positive future contribution to the development of policies for women.

The Government also funds NEWS, a fortnightly apolitical bulletin and website for women's organisations to receive and share information on national issues and events of interest;

The Australian Women's Round Table (AWRT) is an annual two-day meeting attended by representatives of major national women's NGOs and prominent Australian women. The 1999 AWRT, held on 21 and 22 October, was attended by participants representing a diverse range of women including indigenous, rural, refugee, business, disability and older women, as well as women leaders from academia and the charitable, health and local government sectors.

The meeting provides an opportunity for Australian women to be informed first hand of government policies and programmes and allows them to provide direct input to government on the concerns of women in the community.

Women in Leadership

The Government is keen to increase the number of women in decision-making positions in the public and private sectors and is implementing an Executive Search Pilot Programme and an Early Warning System. Both aim to encourage an increase in the number of women appointed on merit to Commonwealth Government boards and bodies.

The Government has also provided funding through the 1999-00 National Women's NGO Funding Programme for three leadership projects - a leadership and mentoring resource kit and train-the-trainer workshops for women with disabilities; a national leadership kit for school students; and regional activities with current and future rural women leaders, including indigenous rural women leaders.

The Government has also funded: a series of training films on leadership and teamwork in the workplace; an annual scholarship for a mature age rural woman to participate in the Australian Rural Leadership Programme; and

a National Women's Leadership Project, managed by the Australian Council of Businesswomen, aimed at private sector boards.

Since this Government took office, 16 women have been appointed as Heads of Missions or Posts. Women have made a significant contribution to Australia's foreign service at home and overseas and the Government is committed to further enhancing women's role in the development of Australia's foreign and trade policies.

Regional Women

Since the 1998 federal election, the Government has strengthened the voice of women in rural and regional Australia through initiatives such as the establishment of a Regional and Rural Women's Unit in the Department of Transport and Regional Services in March 1999 as well as the Regional Women's Advisory Council.

Women in Small Business

The 1999-2000 Budget provided $6.4m over three years towards the Small Business Enterprise Culture Programme. The $2.4m women in small business element of the Programme aims to equip women with opportunities to enhance their business skills and networks. The Government will also spend $400,000 to address women's small business training and skill development.

Domestic Violence

The Commonwealth Government spends some $139m each year on the Supported Accommodation Assistance Programme (SAAP) which accords a high priority to women and children escaping domestic violence through the funding of refuges and related support services.

The Prime Minister's Partnerships Against Domestic Violence initiative is testing new approaches to prevent domestic violence. In the last Budget, the Government committed a further $25m to build on the outcomes of the Partnerships Against Domestic Violence Programme, bringing its total commitment to this initiative to $50m (to June 2003).

Domestic violence prevention is also one of the priorities of National Crime Prevention which was funded for $13m over three years to 1998-99. The Government has met its election commitment to provide an additional $13m over three years to establish a Building Safer Communities Programme, and a further $8m for a Youth Crime and Family Breakdown Programme.

Indigenous Family Violence

The Ministerial Council on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs has now agreed to develop a national strategy on indigenous family violence. Under phase two of Partnerships Against Domestic Violence, $6m will be committed to practical grassroots projects strengthening indigenous community efforts against family violence.

Legal Issues

The Government has taken a strong leadership role in reforms to laws of particular benefit to women. These include proposing uniform national domestic violence laws and introducing legislation to prohibit sexual slavery and servitude. The Government has also led the way to uniform national firearms control legislation. The National Firearms Buyback and uniform firearm laws resulted in the surrender of 640,000 firearms.

Legal funding for women and children at risk from domestic violence is accorded the highest priority in making grants of legal aid in family law matters under agreements between the Commonwealth and state and territory legal aid commissions.

The Government has also provided up to $50 million to establish the CRIM TRAC database, including two national databases on DNA and child sex offenders. The funding will also be used to

significantly improve access for law enforcement officers to existing databases such as apprehended violence order, person warning and missing persons.

Family Law

Services for parental contact arrangements improve the lives of the parents and children who use them. The Government has delivered on its 1998 election commitment to provide an additional $16m over four years for 25 new children's supervised contact services in urban and regional centres to assist parental contact arrangements, and $3m over three years for three national toll-free telephone advice services about family law, child contact and care arrangements, and child support.

Health

On 1 January 1999, the Government introduced a 30 per cent rebate on the cost of private health insurance, benefiting around 5.7m Australians. More women than men hold private insurance.

Commencing in 1999-2000, the Government will provide $8.2m over four years to establish the Rural Women's GP Service. The programme, formerly known as the Fly-In Fly-Out Female GP Service, will improve access to general practitioner services for women in rural and remote areas of Australia;

Female doctors will travel to communities with little or no access to female GPs and provide general practitioner services, including primary and preventative health care. The service will give women in rural and remote communities the choice to discuss personal issues of a sensitive and intimate nature that they may not feel comfortable discussing with a male doctor;

Another $4.1million has been committed over four years for support services for women diagnosed with breast cancer, particularly focusing on the needs of women in regional and rural areas who face barriers to accessing treatment options and support services; and a further $8.1million over four years will go to fund the National Breast Cancer Centre.

Education and Training

In 1998, the Year 12 retention rate for females (around 78 per cent) was higher than that for males (around 66 per cent). There has also been a steady increase in women's participation at university. In 1997, women made up 54 per cent of all higher education students, compared with 50 per cent in 1987.

Female graduate starting salaries are rising at a faster rate than that of males and are now almost equal to male salaries. Between 1997 and 1998, the median starting salary for female graduates rose by $1,500 (5.3 per cent) to $30,000, while starting salaries for male graduates rose by $1,000 (3.3 per cent) to $31,000. Female starting salaries relative to male starting salaries were at their highest level on record in 1998 (96.8 per cent).

The Commonwealth Government's New Apprenticeships Programme has been enhanced and expanded into industries with large numbers of female workers. Where State and Commonwealth Governments permit, women will also benefit from the New Apprenticeships Programme for part-time workers. These reforms have resulted in a 75 per cent increase in the number of women in new apprenticeships from 32,555 in 1996 to 57,000 in 1998.

Media inquiries: Richard Wilson 0419 693092