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Short changed again: women and the 2001/2 Federal Budget.

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Short Changed Again - Women and the 2001/2 Federal Budget Friday, 25 May 2001

Short Changed Again

Women and the 2001/2 Federal Budget

Labor's Response

May 2001

A Message to Australian Women ● Welfare Reform Family Tax Benefit and Parenting Payment ❍ Parents moving in and out of the workforce ❍

Estimation of Income in advance ❍ Shared Care ❍ Child Support ❍ Mutual Obligation ❍

The Working Credit ❍ Transition to Work Program ❍ Assistance for women with disability ❍


Measures for Older Women ● Health Increasing the cost of basic medicines ❍ ●

Aged Care Aged Care - A Gender Profile ❍ Not enough beds ❍ Waiting, waiting... ❍

Nurses and Care Workers - A Tough Shift ❍ Labor's Plan for Quality Aged Care ❍


Child Care A Trail of Destruction ❍ ●

Introducing Child Care Benefit and a new risk to families ❍ The Labor Vision for Child Care ❍ Education ● Superannuation

Hurting the Over 55s ❍ Cutting the Co-contribution ❍ A Review is Required ❍


Justice Legal Aid ❍ Family Court Cutbacks ❍ Proposed legal information service - a 'Hotline to Nowhere' ❍

Attacks on Community Legal Centres ❍


Rural and Regional Australia ● Women in the Workplace ● Listening to Women ● Labor's Agenda for Government

Medicare ❍ Quality education for all Australians, not just the rich ❍ Better living standards for everyone, whether they live in the city or the country ❍


A Message to Australian Women

The Howard Government's sixth Budget contains very little for the majority of Australian women, whether they are struggling to balance work and family responsibilities, are supporting themselves or their children in education, or those relying on public hospitals

While there are some measures to assist single mothers, the extra assistance under the guise of 'Welfare Reform' isn't being made available soon enough and the government has provided no guarantees that the arrangements won't conflict with their parenting responsibilities.

There is some expenditure for small programs to combat sexual assault against women and some money to replace the National Women's Funding Program, but there is nothing to assist those community women's groups which have had their operational funding abolished over the past five years.

But the Government's major women's initiative for this year - a National Conference for Women to be held in August - will charge women up to $545 for participating in a forum designed to assist the government in policy making.

Women seeking appointments to Commonwealth Boards and bodies also do well, with $2.4 million allocated for the development of an executive search database but there is nothing targeted for women in regional areas under this initiative. Just as there is nothing to stem the crises in women's legal services

and women's refuges.

In this year's Budget there are also some measures to implement Labor policies. Under the Welfare Reform agenda, the Government has announced it will implement work credits and training credits, although these will not be implemented until September 2002. The Government will also restore Labor's Jobs, Education and Training (JET) programme, which was slashed in 1996.

While there is nothing for women who might be struggling in this Budget, big business can look forward to $5 billion in tax cuts.

This Budget Response outlines initiatives in the 2001-2002 Budget that are directly relevant to women and places these measures in the broader context of the Howard Government's attack on social programs. It also provides some details on how a Labor government would begin to repair the damage, if elected at the next federal election.

Kim Beazley Carmen Lawrence

Leader of the Opposition Shadow Minister for the Status of Women

Welfare Reform

Family Tax Benefit and Parenting Payment - No measures to address the problems

When the Government made changes to family payment rules prior to the introduction of the GST, Labor and others warned that the design of these payments would hurt women.

The 2001-02 Budget provided the Government with an opportunity to address the worst aspects of the new payments system but nothing has been done.

The three biggest problems with the new array of payments are:

An annual reconciliation of income which punishes women who move in and out of the workforce during the financial year; ●

The requirement that families estimate their yearly income in advance with the potential for debts to be raised as soon as income changes by as little as a dollar a week and; ●

Provisions which strip family payments from custodial parents where the care of children is shared with non-custodial parents ●

Parents moving in and out of the workforce

Any parent who works for part of a financial year, and earns above $10,416 will be ineligible for Family Tax Benefit Part B. Under the old rules income was tested fortnightly and therefore once a parent started earning income above a set level benefits would be withdrawn.

However the annual income test will ensure that every year the Family Tax Benefit Part B will be cut off for every carer who expects to earn more than $10,416 in a financial year.

In families where each parent spends time during the year out of the workforce caring for a child, but part of the time working, the benefits will be withdrawn.

Estimation of Income in advance

Prior to the GST, most families' eligibility for family payments was determined by an estimate of previous income. There was also a ten percent margin of error to protect families where income was subject to fluctuation as a result of overtime or casual employment.

Now the rules require families to estimate their income a year in advance. This has meant that even where a family immediately notifies Centrelink of a change in income, they can be caught with a debt. But, these debts won't be reconciled until tax time, so there is no opportunity for families to even start paying back the Government.

The Federal Budget provided an opportunity for the Government to respond to the feedback it has received from many families and adjust its rules. It has taken no action.

Shared Care

The Howard Government's system of family payments for families also includes rules that disadvantage women who share the care of a child with a non-custodial parent.

Custodial parents (nearly 92% are women) must declare a shared care arrangement in excess of ten percent when applying for family payments. Previously the threshold was 30%.

Under the new system if the non-custodial parent have care on alternate weekends, (around 14 percent of a year), the custodial parent must notify Centrelink and immediately their Family Tax Benefit A and Family Tax Benefit B is reduced by the percentage of the non-custodial parent's care.

This new rule has lowered the income of single parents at the same time the GST was imposed. It therefore stripped away any GST compensation provided to families.

In addition, the new shared care rules have been poorly administered by Centrelink and, as a result, many women will face substantial debts at the conclusion of this financial year. For example, some women have been actively encouraged not to disclose shared care arrangements.

The Budget contained no measures to address the problems arising from its shared care rules.

Child Support

This Budget reintroduces measures proposed in the last Federal Budget in relation to the Child Support Scheme. Two additional measures have been added to the original package:

A measure which will allow the Child Support Registrar the discretion to direct the Department of Family and Community Services to pay an individual's Family Tax Benefit entitlement to the Child Support Agency in order to discharge that individual's Child Support debt.

A measure that will permit a non-custodial parent who has care of a child between 10 and 30% of the time to waive their eligibility to Family Tax Benefit.

The original measures, reintroduced in the current Budget include:

A proposal to allow a child support payer, exercising contact with their children between 10 and 30 percent of the nights of the year, to reduce their child support formula percentages. ●

A proposal to lower the income cap on payer income subject to child support assessment. ●

The new measures, while proposing relief for separated women caring for children, fail to confront head on the problems of bad payers or the limitations of the government's approach to the issue of shared care.

Both these measures and the ones proposed in last year's Budget fail to address the issue of the high incidence of poverty of sole parent families headed by women. The Labor Party has consistently advocated the need to prioritise the welfare of children in developing effective child support policy. This requires that the living circumstances of children come first. The Government's approach, which continues with this Budget, undermine the welfare of children and put at risk the economic circumstances of many single parent families.

Mutual Obligation

The Government's welfare reform package seeks to apply mutual obligation to parents in receipt of parenting payment when their children reach the age of six. In summary:

The Government will require parents to attend a yearly interview once their child turns six; and ●

Require parents to undertake part time activity requirements (150 hours every six months) once their youngest child reaches age 13. ●

While Labor supports measures that genuinely assist parents to re-enter the workforce, our concern is to ensure that these arrangements do not conflict with women's parenting responsibilities or result in a cut to their income.

The Working Credit

The Working Credit will assist workforce-age women on income support to take up full-time, substantial part-time or irregular casual work by allowing them to keep more of their income support payment while working.

When a woman gets some work, their earnings will be offset against the Working Credit they have built up. This means less income will be counted under the income test, and the person will keep more of the payment than under the current rules.

For example, someone who has no income in a fortnight will automatically build up her Working Credit by $48 in that fortnight. If they earn $24 in a fortnight their Working Credit balance will increase by $24. For each fortnight their income is less than $48, people will continue to build up their credit to a maximum of $1,000. When they subsequently report income to Centrelink, this will first be counted against their income test free area, then their Working Credit balance, and then against the income test taper rates (40%, 50% or 70% depending on their payment and level of earnings).

Labor supports the Working Credit proposal. This scheme operated under Labor as the Earnings Credit

Scheme and was axed in 1997 by the Howard Government. The scheme's reinstatement recognises the importance of assisting women to keep more of their income support when undertaking irregular or part time work.

Transition to Work Program

The transition to work program for parents is designed to meet the criticism that the Government's extension of mutual obligation to parents might not be matched by sufficient resources to assist them to find work.

The package includes:

training, employment and child care help for parents ● Centrelink Personal Advisers ● community work placements for parents ●

While Labor supports the additional investment in the transition to work package, it is disappointing the bulk of funding is in the out years.

One of the key concerns of the McClure Report is the growing number of families in which neither parent has work. Labor's concern is that this escalation in jobless families has come as a result of the withdrawal of labour market programs and the Government's decision to force programs such as JET to provide assistance to more people with fewer resources. In this context an upfront commitment of funding was required.

Assistance for women with disability

The Government has committed to providing $177 million over four years to assist the 200,000 women with disability receiving a Disability Support Pension. However in the first year the commitment is a paltry $6million - too little considering the huge cuts to social services made by the Howard Government since 1996.

The Government's welfare reform package promises additional employment, vocational education, training and support places for women with disability, which are welcome. However, the number of places remains insufficient to meet demand.

Labor is also disappointed nearly 100,00 women aged between 50 and 65 who receive a Disability Support Pension, will miss out on the Government's one-off $300 bonus for older Australians.

Measures for older women

The focus of the Budget has been on the measures it extends to older Australians.

However, the package, designed to address the impact of the GST on older Australians is not as generous as the Government is trying to make out.

Women currently aged 61 and half and over and receiving a pension will benefit from a one off $300 bonus. Self-funded retired women, aged 65 and over will see the tax free portion of their income will rise from $15,970 to $20,000. Some will become eligible for telephone allowance and other will gain access

to a health card.

While the $300 one off payment is supported by Labor, it is not sufficient to compensate older women from the impact of the GST on their weekly budget. While the $300 is a one-off, the GST is forever. Further, the payment comes after a two percent clawback of pension income on March 20 that removed nearly $8 a fortnight from a full aged pensioner.

The Government's Aged Person Savings Bonus, a $1000 payment promised to all women aged 60 or more to compensate them for the GST, found its way to considerably fewer than promised, with approximately 40% of women receiving no money at all. The Government's failure to pay the $1000 bonus as promised will leave many pensioners who receive the $300 one off payment wondering where the other $700 is.

For women aged between 50 and 60 who are looking forward to reaching age 61 and a half to receive some of the benefits extended to self funded retirees will be disappointed to find out that the eligibility goalposts are being shifted on them.

The pensionable age for women, which determines eligibility for the tax rebate, telephone allowance and seniors health card measures announced in the Budget, is gradually being lifted to 65 forcing them to wait longer to receive any benefits.

Not only will women aged 50-61 miss out on the Budget measures, Labor also expects as few as one or two in ten self-funded retirees to receive some benefit from the measures offered by the government.


Women take a very active role in their family's health care and rely heavily on our public health system. Women are therefore concerned about the increasing pressure being placed on public hospitals due to inadequate funding by the Howard Government.

This budget has failed to relieve the stress our hospitals are under. The Independent Inquiry into public hospital funding found that the Howard Government has consistently short changed public hospitals. To meet its health obligations the Howard Government should have committed an additional $215 million for our public hospitals in this budget. Instead, there is nothing new.

Public hospitals are under great stress but this budget offers no sign of relief.

Increasing the costs of basic medicines

Since 1996 we have seen the gradual Americanisation of the health care system with the underfunding of our public hospitals and pushing costs onto consumers - especially medicines. Increasing the cost of basic medicines threatens the health of all Australians, who may simply have to go without.

John Howard thinks that 65,000 people with high cholesterol are 'lazy'. They have an 'indulgent lifestyle' and should not be eligible for subsidised cholesterol-lowering medicine.

This Budget will force tens of thousands of patients to pay between $30 and $114 per month for the medicine that had previously been available to pensioners for $3.50.

Over one million Australians are prescribed cholesterol-lowering medications but we don't know who

will be eligible for the subsidy. We only know 65,000 Australians will be forced to pay more.

The restriction on cholesterol lowering medications is in addition to restrictions on 60 other medicines including nasal sprays and antifungal skin creams. The Howard Government has taken items off the PBS on financial grounds since 1996. These budget cuts have already saved the Howard Government approximately $115 million and an additional $160 million will be cut from the PBS by July 2004.

Medicines and doctors' bills have continually gone up under the Howard Government and there is no relief from the previous harsh measures that have shifted more and more costs onto consumers.

Aged Care

The availability and quality of residential aged care has important implications for the wellbeing of women. It is important to older women requiring care; to women caring for an ageing parent or partner; and to the predominantly female nurses and carers who comprise our aged care workforce.

The manifest failure of the Howard Government's aged care reforms has had a disproportionate impact on women. It is women who are bearing the burden of:

Growing bed shortages and longer waiting times; ● The failure to ensure universal quality care and to adequately monitor care standards, and ● Reductions in staffing levels as aged care funding is squeezed. ●

The $71 million cut from aged care subsidies in the 2001 Budget will make these problems worse not better.

Aged Care - A Gender Profile

In June 2000, there were nearly 100,000 Australian women living in residential aged care facilities and an additional 11,700 receiving community aged care packages.

The majority of residents (72%) in nursing homes and hostels are women. Female residents stay longer in care and are older than male residents. They are over two times more likely to be widowed and over two times less likely to be married than men their age.

Not enough beds

The Howard Government has failed to plan for the ageing of the population, and to allocate sufficient beds to the majority of aged care planning regions.

Measures announced in the 2001 Budget will deliver a few extra bureaucrats but not a single extra bed.

The Government's planning ratio says - that in each region - there should be 90 residential aged care beds per 1000 people aged 70 and over. At June 2000, there was a national shortage of 10,500 aged care beds relative to the government's own target.

Shortages exist in every state and territory and the problem has grown every year since the election of the Howard Government. It will take up to two years for beds allocated by the Government in 2000 and 2001 to become operational. Even when they are up and running we will remain below target level.

The bed crisis is most severe in regional and rural Australia where there is an accompanying lack of community care options. The shortage of 8700 rural and regional beds has forced many older women to leave their local communities so they can access the aged care services they need.

Waiting, waiting...

The shortage of aged care beds has been reflected in longer waiting times. In the last three years, the average waiting time for a nursing home (high care) bed has grown from 31 to 55 days. In rural Australia it has grown from 56 to 74 days.

A growing proportion of women assessed as needing nursing home care are waiting more than 3 months to find a bed. It is often daughters and daughters-in-law who are then placed under pressure - not only to provide care but to visit facilities and add their names to more waiting lists.

Many women are struggling to care for ageing parents who need access to the specialised medical, nursing and personal care provided in residential facilities. Industrial Relations 'reform' under the Howard government mean fewer working women have access to provisions like Carer's Leave.

Nurses and Care Workers - A Tough Shift

The nurses and care workers who care for our frail aged are charged with valuable and important work performed under increasingly difficult conditions.

The Howard Government has not increased the daily care subsidies paid to aged care providers in line with the increased cost of providing care. With funding squeezed, many providers have reduced staffing levels or substituted untrained for trained staff.

This has placed enormous stress on remaining nurses and carers who are forced to rush from one resident to the next without any time to provide the emotional support residents need.

Qualified and experienced staff - unable to cope with declining care standards - are leaving the industry in droves. At a time when residents are increasingly frail and dependent we cannot afford to lose anymore aged care professionals to call centres and cafes.

Labor's Plan for Quality Aged Care

At the heart of Labor's plan is a commitment to a National Benchmark of Care, which will place 'care' at the centre of the aged care-funding model. The Benchmark will set standards for the level and nature of the care to be delivered to all residents in aged care facilities, and providers will be funded to achieve these standards. The introduction of minimum staffing guidelines will ensure that our National Benchmark is delivered and that nurses and carers have time to provide the care and support they are trained to give. Care standards will be monitored and residents protected by surprise inspections of all aged care facilities, the appointment of an Aged Care Ombudsman, and tougher penalties for sub-standard nursing homes.

Child Care

Peter Costello failed to mention child care in his 2001 Budget speech. The omission confirms the

Howard Government's complete disregard for the needs of Australian women struggling to balance the demands of work and family life.

The 2001 Budget does nothing to improve access to quality child care for children from low-income or jobless families. It does not offer a stable and sustainable future for the child care sector or defuse the Child Care Benefit debt bomb. And it does not contain any vision for supporting parents and children in the 'early years' of life.

For the predominantly female child care workforce there are no measures to improve employment conditions and to halt the exodus of qualified and experienced staff.

While the addition of 5,500 outside school hours care places is a modest, albeit welcome, change they will be quickly absorbed by parenting payment recipients required to undertake mutual obligation activities when their children start high school.

That the Government cares little for child care will not surprise those familiar with the Howard Government's track record.

A Trail of Destruction

Child care on the Coalition's watch has been characterised by instability, funding cuts and the withdrawal of low-income families from children's services.

In its first four years, the Howard Government stripped $850 million from the child care budget and froze indexation of Child Care Assistance. As gap fees soared, 8500 children from low and middle income families were 'frozen out' of child care and 400 centres in poorer areas were forced to close their doors.

Introducing Child Care Benefit and a new risk to families

The Government correctly argues that the introduction of Child Care Benefit (CCB) on July 1 2000, has increased utilisation rates, particularly for long day care. However, what is claimed as an 'increase' in CCB largely represents indexation due between 1997 and 2000 paid three years too late.

We are yet to see any evidence that it is children from low income families who are returning to child care.

The income estimation system for Child Care Benefit has exposed parents to a new risk. Families are now required to provide an estimate of their annual income when claiming CCB - a particularly difficult task for the many women in part-time and precarious employment whose income varies week-to-week.

When a family submits their tax return, estimated and taxable income will be compared. Parents who have inadvertently under-estimated their income will then receive a CCB debt notice.

The Department of Family and Community Services has confirmed that 100,000 families are likely to acquire a CCB debt ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. This represents 20 per cent of families claiming CCB. Many Australian women will struggle under this debt burden.

Child care centres are concerned that families have been using more child care hours than they can afford and that when the debt notices arrive demand will fall. Services cannot provide the best growing and learning environment for children while they operate in a stable and uncertain environment.

The Labor Vision for Child Care

The Howard Government does not have a considered public policy framework to support and promote the well-being of families and children. It has made no response to the understanding of child development, which has emerged from neurological research in the last ten years. This charge will not be leveled at a Beazley Labor Government.

The critical message from research on the early years is that we must focus on providing all children with the best possible start in life. For Labor broadening access to quality child care will be a principle means by which we reach this goal.

Broadening access to child care is a priority because the current system caters - almost exclusively - for children whose parents are in the paid workforce. The 860,000 children currently living in jobless families - and children growing up in circumstances of socio-economic or locational disadvantage - are missing out on the developmental opportunities offered by high quality child care.

We know that it is often those families most in need of support who are the least connected, and whose children could benefit most from early attention to health, behavioural, and developmental problems. It is likely that many of these families would access support services or child care if they existed in their local communities and if they were able to afford them.

The second part of our vision is to make child care a key part of an integrated approach to early intervention. Labor sees child care as a key platform from which parents can gain advice and information, and make contact with other health, education and community services, which support and foster the wellbeing of children.

A Labor Government will act to ensure that all Australian children grow up in a healthy, stimulating and safe environment. Under the Howard Government, too many of our children have been living some place else.


This Budget provides very little for women who are trying to get an education or assisting others to do so. With the possible exception of a postgraduate loans scheme, there is nothing to support women with educational aspirations for themselves or their children. Significantly, there is nothing to redress the gross imbalance of funding between private and public schools. The Budget provides some scholarships for regional universities. However, the allocation of $35m returns just one sixth of the funding cut from regional universities by the Howard Government in 1996. Australian women will continue to feel the effects of the harsh measures contained in the Coalition's first Budget. In 1996, one billion dollars was cut from university funding, and changes made to HECS increased student payments by more than a billion dollars over four years. Women have been especially hard hit as they are more likely to be mature-age students. Applications for university places by persons aged over 20 have fallen by a massive 19 per cent since the Howard Government increased HECS charges and lowered the repayment threshold to around $22,000. The Budget contains some new money for education but most of it merely restores funding stripped away in previous Costello budgets. The 2001/02 education budget:

Re-announces the innovation statement, putting back just $3 billion of the $5 billion that the Howard government has cut from universities and research and development. Most of this money ●

is not scheduled to flow for four or five years.

Announces $230 million of new funding for TAFE, which is less than the amount which the Government cut in 1996 and 1997; and ●

Announces 670 extra university places a year when the number of Australian students at university fell by more than 3,000 last year. ●

In doing this, John Howard has admitted that he was wrong to cut universities and research and development by $5 billion; wrong to cut TAFE and VET funding by $240 million; wrong to attack government schools and wrong to drive Australian university student numbers down.

This Budget contains no vision for investing in the future, and no plan for increased opportunities for Australia's children.


Since coming to office the Howard Government has made harsh cuts and changes to Australia's retirement incomes policy. These changes have put a secure retirement out of reach for many Australian women.

While this Budget has some measures to assist older Australians, most are focussed on those able to live off their investments.

Labor's world-class retirement income policies developed during the 1980s and 1990s have benefited women in a number of ways. The introduction of the Superannuation Guarantee and other measures have resulted in a massive increase in the number of working women who are now using superannuation to save for a better retirement. When Labor came to office in 1983, less that 40 per cent of the workforce received superannuation. When Labor left office in 1996, around 90 per cent of the workforce received the benefits of saving through superannuation. Part-time and casual workers were particular winners from Labor's retirement income policies.

Hurting the Over 55s

The 1996 Budget saw the Howard Government include superannuation benefits in the means test for persons aged over 55 who received a Commonwealth income support payment. That means people aged over 55 had to run down their super - their retirement income nest egg - before they were able to access Commonwealth income support payments. This has now been reversed, but only after nearly 5 years of pain, and only because this hugely unpopular measure would have caused a serious problem in the coming election campaign.

There is no compensation for those who have suffered under this measure.

Cutting the Co-contribution

The Howard Government's 1997 Budget cut over $100,000 from the retirement income of a working Australian woman on average earnings.

Labor had planned to introduce a superannuation co-contribution. Under this scheme, workers on average earnings who made a contribution to a superannuation fund would receive a matching

Government contribution. This policy would have boosted the retirement income of women workers by up to $100,000, depending on the number of years in the workforce. But in May 1997 the Government cut Labor's co-contribution policy and introduced a flawed savings rebate that lasted 6 weeks before it was dumped.

In just two Budgets, the Howard Government cut over $5 billion from the retirement incomes of Australian workers. These cuts were particularly detrimental to women with fragmented work histories which had limited their super contributions.

A Review is Required

In commenting on the Budget, the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees, called for a broad ranging review of superannuation. They argued a review was needed to tackle concerns about the taxation of super contributions and the provision of adequate retirement incomes for low income workers. Many women, who spent years out of the workforce caring for family members, have missed out on super contributions.

Labor supports an independent inquiry to deal with these complexities and to ensure that Australian women can rely on adequate and fair retirement incomes. The need for this inquiry is made more urgent by the failure of the 2001/2 Budget to address key shortcomings in existing superannuation policies. It is a Budget bereft of any measures to assist Australian women to prepare for their retirement.


Legal Aid

The 2001 Federal Budget provides no assistance to Australian women who are unable to afford the cost of legal services. Commonwealth funding for legal aid this year remains static.

Since assuming office in 1996, the Howard Government has slashed the Commonwealth funding for legal aid. In the last year of the previous Labor government, Commonwealth spending on legal aid was $160 million. But in 2001-2002, the Commonwealth will spend only $114 million on legal aid.

The Budget's forward estimates contain a real cut to Commonwealth legal aid funding in excess of $402 million.

As a result, fewer Australians are able to access legal aid than ever before - and it is increasingly difficult for women to access legal assistance for family law matters.

Family Court Cutbacks

Budget cuts in previous years have eroded the capacity of the Court to provide timely and efficient justice to parties before the Court. Counselling and dispute resolution services provided by the Family Court have been progressively reduced over the last 12 months.

The Family Court's circuit counselling programme has been decimated - with many regional centres throughout Australia no longer being visited by Family Court counsellors. Once again, people living outside the metropolitan areas have been left worse off.

Since 1 July 1999, the number of full-time equivalent counselling staff in metropolitan Family Courts has been reduced by 20%. The number of regional counsellors has been reduced by 27%.

Over the same period the number of hours of circuit counselling in the regions has declined by 26% - and counsellors no longer visit the towns of Nowra, Orange, Parkes, Bourke, Lightening Ridge, Muswellbrook, Tenterfield, Glen Innes, Inverell, Ayr, Bowen, Emerald, Mt Isa or Griffith.

Circuit counselling and in-house dispute resolution services are particularly beneficial to women as they allow matters to be resolved before they proceed to an expensive trial. Given the immense value of providing facilities for the early resolution of family court matters, the decision to cut back on these services is very unfortunate.

Proposed legal information service - a 'Hotline to Nowhere'

A new telephone hotline to be staffed by Centrelink officers - and which will provide legal information on family law matters - is due to open on 1 July 2001.

Of more than $6 million which was committed in the 1999 and 2000 budgets to establishing the service, less than $750,000 will actually go to increasing the availability of legal advice. The rest has been wasted in consultant's fees, establishment expenses and the costs of employing legally untrained Centrelink staff whose primary role will be to refer people to existing legal services.

The new service will create an extra layer of bureaucracy with no appreciable benefit. People will still need to access existing services which are already attempting to address their needs. These include state and territory legal aid commissions, community legal centres and private practitioners.

The average caller to this service will only receive five minutes of attention from a Centrelink staff member before being told that he or she should contact some other organisation for assistance.

No provision has been made for ongoing funding of the service after 2002-2003 , leaving the future of the service under a heavy cloud.

Attacks on Community Legal Centres

During the year, three community legal centres in South Australia were closed as a result of the federal government's decision to fund services elsewhere in the State.

Most community legal centres have been built from the ground up by local communities who have identified the need for them. They rely on the support and goodwill of local legal practitioners, law students and others in the community who give of their time for free. That community support base is not transportable when a decision is made in Canberra that a legal centre is not ideally located.

The damage having already been done in South Australia, the review of funding arrangements is now focussing on Victoria and will be extended to New South Wales and Western Australia later this year.

In the forthcoming financial year, only $21.8 million has been allocated for community legal services - a decrease of $3.9 million from 2000-2001. This leaves open the possibility of further budget cuts to existing centres which are already struggling to meet increased demand caused by the harsh legal aid cuts.

Rural and Regional Australia

This Budget is a serious disappointment for women living in rural and regional Australia. The specific programs in the Transport and Regional Services portfolio that address the concerns of women in regional Australia - namely the Rural Domestic Violence Program, the Regional and Rural Women's Unit and the Regional Women's Advisory Council - have received no new money in this Budget.

The Office of the Status of Women has no measures to assist rural women. Even the new money for a women's leadership programme has no focus on regional areas. Those women who hold communities together through their volunteer work and leadership are likely to go unrewarded.

There are some scholarships for regional universities, but this $35m returns just one sixth of the funding cuts the Howard Government made to regional universities in 1996.

This Government has not delivered. Women in rural and regional Australia, in work, at home and on the land are all feeling the pinch.

This Government just isn't interested in rural and regional Australia.

Women in the Workplace

Women workers are subject to systemic discrimination in the Government's industrial relations 'paradise'. This Budget does nothing to change that situation.

The Government has allocated $3.1 million to reduce compliance and administration costs accrued by small business in meeting their equal opportunity requirements, but provides nothing for women who face discrimination in the workplace.

The Government has yet to replace the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, who ended her term in April.

Action on industrial relations is needed because women are disproportionately reliant on awards for pay and conditions. Forty two per cent of female workers rely on awards against 26.9% of males, but the Government's award simplification legislation has limited allowable award conditions. As a result: (a) the elimination of the gender pay gap has stalled and (b) the elimination of women-unfriendly working conditions is harder to achieve, especially in industries classified as highly feminised.

That the elimination of the gender gap - begun in the equal pay cases in 1969 and 1970 and continued into the 90s- has stalled is evident in:

average weekly ordinary time earnings (AWOTE) for women declining compared to those for men ● average annual wage increases (AAWIs) for women from enterprise bargaining falling ● women earning only 43.7% of the over award/agreement rates earned by men. ●

A major objective of the Government's industrial relations legislation has been to limit the conditions which can be put into awards. This has had particularly adverse effects on women workers. Award conditions which are now no longer allowable include working hours, shifts and other arrangements to make work flexible and convenient for workers with family responsibilities.

Listening to Women

Since coming to office five years ago, the Howard Government has systematically destroyed the methods and mechanisms used by the previous Labor Government to listen to women and include women's voices in decision making.

There is some expenditure this election year ($16.5m) for programs to combat sexual assault against women and some money to change the National Women's Funding Program, but there is nothing to assist those community women's groups which have had their operational funding abolished over the past five years.

Even the Government's major women's initiative for this year - a National Conference for Women to be held in August - will charge women up to $545 for participating in a forum designed to assist the government in policy making.

$5.5 million has been allocated for a Women's Information Strategy, but there is nothing to suggest that this is anything other than a public relations campaign for the Government.

Women seeking appointments to Commonwealth Boards and bodies also do well, with $2.4 million allocated for the development of an executive search database. The Government has already spent money on outsourcing this activity through the Executive Search Project. However the Budget has no plan for the real problems facing Australian women:

the need to balance work and family responsibilities, ● meeting child care and education expenses, ● providing good quality health care for themselves and their families and ● investment in the future ●

If women's business is everyone's business, as the Minister says, then these problems should have been addressed.

Earlier this year the Minister suggested that Howard was 'the most female friendly PM', but if the Prime Minister were really friendly to - and listening to - women he would not have presided over many policy failures. These include placing a GST on baby products, breast feeding and sanitary products.

This Government needs to consider all Australian women when developing policies not just the few who can get the government's attention. As Dr Carmen Lawrence said “If this is a 'female-friendly' prime minister leading a government sympathetic to women's interests, I shudder to think what our enemies would look like.”

Labor's Agenda for Government

If Labor were to win the next election, Australians would see a serious commitment to those areas required for our future success; health and education ● research and development ●

ensuring no Australian is left behind in our nation's progress ●


At the heart of Labor's health policy is a commitment to Medicare. Australians know that their health is covered when the health of all Australians is covered. This is what Medicare is all about.

In Government Labor will rebuild Medicare and stop the Americanisation of our health care system.

Labor will shift the focus of health policy back to the main game - to where Australians want the focus to be - on the public hospital system and access to GP services through support for bulkbilling and improved after hours care.

Labor has announced two important health policies. The Medicare Alliance and Medicare After Hours will provide the mechanism for a series of initiatives to solve long-standing problems in the health system.

Quality education for all Australians, not just the rich

Labor believes that all Australians deserve a decent education, not just the rich.

Labor has already committed to additional funds for public schools, teacher development contracts and scholarships to ensure that the very best teachers are helping our children learn. Our Education Priority Zones will make the very poorest schools excellent places to learn.

We have outlined plans for a Learning Gateway which will improve teaching in secondary schools, more research places in our regional universities, fellowships for our best researchers and bold plans for the University of Australia On-Line.

This is just the beginning of the creation of a Knowledge Nation, where we invest in the skills and knowledge of all our people.

Better living standards for everyone, whether they live in the city or the country

Labor is committed to ensuring that all Australians share in the nation's benefits. Whether this means making the GST fairer and simpler by removing the tax from women's sanitary products - or improving services like Australia Post and Telstra. - Labor will ensure that all Australians enjoy a better standard of living.

We look to a time of greater prosperity for all Australians-those who live in the cities and those who choose less travelled roads. We look to a future in which our people's health care is provided by virtue of citizenship, not their wealth. We look to a future of quality education for all, not just the privileged. We look to a future as one of the world's leading knowledge nations, harnessing the new age of progress for the benefit of all our people. We look to ennoble the soul of our nation and our people through genuine reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

Kim Beazley Leader of the Opposition May 2001


Authorised by Geoff Walsh, 19 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600.

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