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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 7906

Senator BARNETT (3:00 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Family and Community Services and the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women, Senator Vanstone. Will the minister inform the Senate of how the sound economic management of the Howard government has benefited Australian women and families? Is the minister aware of any alternative approaches to these important policy areas?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —Mr President, as this is the last question for this year, I would like to take the opportunity to wish you and all our Senate colleagues a very happy Christmas. I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on how much happier a Christmas everyone would be having if when we came to government in 1996 there was not $95 billion or $96 billion worth of debt that needed to be paid off. If we look back at what this government has done over the last four years, we can see how much better off Australians are. Let us look at jobs, for example. Jobs are really important and the best form of welfare is a job. Under Labor, unemployment peaked at 10.9 per cent—in those years no-one had a happy Christmas— but, of course, we have managed to bring unemployment down. We have created over one million jobs since we have been in government, and over 500,000 more women are working.

Let us turn to interest rates. Isn't it great that there is more money for Christmas presents for kids and more money for people to give to charities and that more people on low incomes can afford to buy a house now that interest rates are lower? Under good sound economic management, so many Australians are feeling more secure in their homes and more people are able to pay their rent. Sound economic management really affects low-income Australians and it affects women. Low interest rates are very important. They allow Australians to buy their own homes. They help small business to keep people in jobs. What chance did ordinary low-income Australians have when interest rates were around 17 per cent, when people on the other side were in office? Nobody had a very happy Christmas during those years either.

Let us look at what has been done for women. The reality is that women often bear the brunt of poor economic management, as do low-income earners. Under this government the wages gap has been closing and there is still further to go. This government has spent record amounts on child care—$8 billion over four years. That is more than $7 billion in the last six years. That is over 70 per cent more in real terms than Labor spent in their last six years in office. We spent over 70 per cent more in real terms on child care than you did in your last six years in office. So women are having a much better Christmas. The economy is good; they have got more chance of getting a job; there are more child care places. Things are really good.

I remember Paul Keating saying to people during the recession, `This is as good as it gets.' I tell you what: this is not as good as it gets. We are going to get even better. So stick around. Stick with us and things will be really good. All people need to remember, as they go around doing their Christmas shopping, is this: how much better could that government have been if they did not have to pay off in debt $60 billion? Every minister here looks over there and says, `What could I have done with my share of the $60 billion in my portfolio?' What could Senator Patterson do with her share of the $60 billion over six years? Or Senator Ellison? Or Senator Alston? Or Senator Minchin? You see? You borrowed from the future. You took money out of the pockets of hard-earning Australians and we have had to pay it back. So, thank heavens they are sticking with us. Jack Nicholson got it wrong. This is not as good as it gets.

Senator Hill —Mr President, I am sorry to do it, but I have to ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.