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Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Page: 5958

Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (16:24): I recently had the pleasure of attending the 100th birthday party of my constituent Mrs Lily Sladen. She told me that the major change in her lifetime could best be summed up by the congratulatory letters she received from the Governor-General, the Prime Minister, her federal member, the state Governor, the Premier, her state member and her city councillor—all of them women. She was delighted by this enormous shift in the place of women in our society. One month later, another important centenary was celebrated—International Women's Day. These two events brought into sharp focus the issue of true equality and reminded me of one area where there is still considerable inequality. In Australia women earn 17 per cent less than their male counterparts. On average, Australian women earn up to $1.2 million less over their working life than men. To properly assess the representation of women in the Australian labour force, it is important to look at two factors: the hours a woman works and whether or not she has children. Under our social structure and values a woman will generally spend a period of time out of the workforce having children, and her work flexibility will subsequently decrease over the next 18 to 25 years as she raises a family. This may seem to be a generalisation, but it is still a fairly accurate reflection of our current society. Women are still considered the primary caregiver and are even legislated as such under the new Paid Parental Leave scheme.

Of the barriers to women with children being an effective part of the workforce, child care is the obvious example. The Australian industry does not offer employed mothers flexibility. The result is that about 11 per cent of women choose not to return to work and have childcare fees erode their entire income. The result is fewer women in the workforce and less ability for those who are in the workforce to work the same hours as their male counterparts.

In Australia men work approximately 48 hours a week to women's 42. Put simply that is six hours more to be productive and to rise to the top of your profession. To support women's rights and equity, we need to look at why women are paid less. If having children, hours of work and occupational selection go some way to explain the discrepancy, we can find solutions. Increased access to flexible child care will help, flexible work hours will help and the provision of incentives for young women to enter traditionally male dominated areas of study will help. And women who have an equal or better pay packet than their partners will be able to afford to encourage fathers who wish to stay at home to raise their children to do so.

During this centenary year of International Women's Day let us celebrate women but keep in our minds what we are yet to achieve. If we do not, we will continue to underestimate this problem and, in doing so, undervalue women.