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Tuesday, 4 June 2013
Page: 5223

Ms COLLINS (FranklinMinister for Community Services, Minister for the Status of Women and Minister for Indigenous Employment and Economic Development) (16:59): I thank the member for La Trobe for her very important question. Improving women's economic participation is very important for the Australian economy. Indeed, if we close the gap between women and men's workforce participation in Australia, we could grow the economy by almost $13 billion. So it is very significant indeed.

This year's budget does have some very significant measures in it which will benefit women's economic participation, particularly the two headline items of the budget, which are disability care and the National Plan for School Improvement. What we know about disability is that it affects everybody. The impact on carers and the community are very significant. Two out of three carers of people with disability are women. So women will benefit from this disability care policy that the minister beside me, the Minister for Disability Reform, Minister Macklin, has been championing. Women with disability are less likely to be in paid work than other women or than the general population. They are also less likely to be in work than men with disability.

We know that the caring also impacts not only on workforce participation but on social and health outcomes for women. Female carers of people with disability have, for instance, significantly poorer mental health than male carers and women in the general population. Disability care will be very significant in turning some of this around for men and women in our community, but particularly for those women who are carers.

I turn now to the National Plan for School Improvement. Women's earnings, post school education and workforce participation are critically dependent on their early schooling. We know that women earn less, that the gender pay gap in Australia is still around 17 per cent. Historically, over the last 20 years, it has been between 15 per cent and 20 per cent. So we do have a lot of work to do when it comes to closing that gender pay gap. But this government has done a lot of work.

The member for La Trobe referred to some of our pay equity measures. In last year's budget we had a measure to support the equal remuneration decision for social and community services workers. There is ongoing money every year out of a special account to support that decision. Around $3 billion has been committed by the federal government to pay our fair share of that very important decision to ensure that women—and men—in the social and community services are actually receiving those pay increases, which were awarded from 1 December last year. Of the community service workers affected by this decision, 120,000 of the 150,000 are women. That is very significant.

This budget also has the Early Years Quality Fund, which will provide $300 million over two years to support wage increases for workers in early childhood education and care. We know that women make up 95 per cent of the early childhood education sector. So, again, this is really important for closing that pay gap between men and women in Australia.

There are also a lot of new measures in the budget to support women's economic participation. To establish BoardLinks, $4.3 million is being provided. BoardLinks is about achieving our target of 40 per cent women, 40 per cent men and 20 per cent either gender on government boards. We have made improvements in that area. Last year it was 38.4 per cent. So we are slowly making our way. The target is to get there by 2015. We certainly hope we do.

There was also money in the budget for the personal safety of women—improving women's health and safety in Australia. In particular, $44 million was allocated to a number of initiatives to keep women across the country safer. Some $5.2 million over five years was budgeted to establish a national foundation to prevent violence against women and their children. This foundation will do really important community work, working with the government, the non-government sector, business and the community to raise awareness of the issues and to look at what will work in preventing violence against women and their children. We want to change social behaviour with this foundation and to change community attitudes. So it is a very significant initiative.

We have also invested $28.5 million in 1800 RESPECT, our national professional counselling hotline. Anybody in Australia can ring that hotline if they have been affected, or if one of their family members has been affected, by sexual violence. They can get professional counselling support. That funding has been extended until 2017. Again, that is very significant.

As you can tell, the budget this year does contain a lot of measures to support women and women's economic participation, but also, importantly, their social participation—things like disability care and the personal safety initiatives aimed at ensuring that all women in Australia can be safer into the future.