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Tuesday, 8 March 2005
Page: 22

Senator PAYNE (2:04 PM) —My question without notice is to Senator Patterson, the Minister for Family and Community Services and the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women’s Issues. Given that today is indeed International Women’s Day, can the minister advise the Senate of the government’s achievements for women in Australia and how the government’s strong economic management is providing increased opportunities and choice for women? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women’s Issues) —I thank Senator Payne for a positive question about women in Australia. As I said before, through strong economic management, opportunities and choice for women have significantly increased under the Howard government. There have been more jobs—and this is something Labor does not want to acknowledge. Since 1996, the Howard government has created more than 1.5 million new jobs and 800,000 of them have gone to women.

Senator Crossin —Tell us how many are permanent.

Senator PATTERSON —Labor does not want to hear this. Female unemployment has fallen to 5.3 per cent from a high under Labor of 10.2 per cent.

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator PATTERSON —Shout all you like. You do not want to hear the good news. In 1996 fewer than 50 per cent of Australian women were in employment. This has now risen to a clear majority of almost 54 per cent. Full-time adult ordinary time earnings for women have increased in real terms—that is after inflation—by $152 per week. Under the Howard government, real earnings for women have gone up 2.2 per cent each year. Do you want to know what happened under Labor? The annual rate was only 0.6 per cent, or almost four times lower.

I would like to take this opportunity to expose the fallacy and the misinformation that is being put around in Labor’s claims regarding the difference between men’s and women’s wages. Women’s earnings have increased as a proportion of men’s, rising from about 83 per cent in February 1996 to almost 85 per cent today—a closing gap. Through this government’s strong economic management, Australian women have now reaped the opportunities and choice and the benefits of work force participation. One other great achievement is that we now see women heading six federal Public Service departments. Eighteen of our diplomatic posts are headed by women, compared with six in 1996. These steady increases over previous years will continue. As I said before, women now account for one-third of Australia’s 1.6 million small business operators.

The Howard government’s super co-contribution scheme has allowed women to grow their retirement savings faster. $244 million has already been paid to the superannuation accounts of 450,000 eligible Australians earning under $40,000, and 63 per cent of recipients have been women. So 63 per cent of the 450,000 eligible for benefits under the superannuation bonus have been women.

I also note Labor’s recent feigned interest in skills for the Australian work force. Improving vocational training has been a high priority for the government and an area of great success. Apprenticeships and traineeships for women have increased by 500 per cent. The Howard government is about choice. Support for families with children has enabled many women to choose to balance work with caring for children. The $3,000 maternity payment has gone to all women, not to nine out of 10, and it does not depend on when you have the baby.

An 83 per cent increase has occurred in the number of child-care places, to over 563,000 places. We have introduced the 30 per cent tax rebate for out-of-pocket child-care expenses for approved facilities. We will spend over $8 billion in this and the next three financial years to support child care—an average of over $2½ thousand per child in child care per annum and double what Labor was spending.

We have increased the family tax benefit part B, which Labor was going to get rid of. In their ramshackle family policy, they were going to have single parents with children losing out. Low-income families would be losing out under their family policy. That is the record of Labor. To sum up the achievements of the Howard government is simple: there are more jobs for women, higher earnings, better support for families and a tax system that allows Australians—men, women and families—to keep more of every tax dollar they earn.