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Tuesday, 8 March 2005
Page: 38

Senator JACINTA COLLINS (3:12 PM) —Reflecting on how these issues regarding women were canvassed in question time today, I think the critical issue that needs to be raised is the quality of this debate as a whole. Senator Humphries talks about the need to look at the total picture—that there have been substantial advances. To be frank, reflecting on the indicators that have been canvassed during this debate and during many of the discussions and reports in recent times, I think they themselves make you seriously concerned about the quality of this debate.

Government senators highlight changes in employment, but we have seen opinion pieces and articles, time after time now, highlighting the fact that it is not just employment itself but also the quality of employment that is very critical to women. If they cannot balance their work and family lives with employment that is suitable and that fits their needs, the problems facing women will continue. Many indicators suggest that, if anything, those problems have been becoming worse. This government’s mantra about flexibility in employment has really been about employer prerogative and flexibility for the employer, rather than women being able to make more appropriate choices about how they combine work and family.

This is why new catchphrases such as ‘baby strike’ have arisen. Why can’t we encourage young women these days to have children? Because our society is not providing them with the wherewithal to be able to do so. This is what is getting worse for the vast majority of Australian women. It is one thing for the government to talk about the number of women ambassadors and women in senior government appointments, but we need to look at the issues that the vast majority of Australian women face. The vast majority of the Australian women who work in the corporations that Senator Patterson highlighted today have made little, if any, progress in the representation of women within their ranks. The vast majority of Australian women do continue to suffer a significant wages gap.

During question time today I asked Senator Patterson and Senator Abetz if they would provide the indicator they were relying on for their claims that the wages gap was improving, because I am very clear and very sure that indicators measuring the deregulated enterprise bargaining that occurred under the Howard government were highlighting that the wages gap was going backwards. Like many commentators in this area, I am aware that there are many indicators of the wages gap. You need to carefully and quite analytically eliminate the factors from those indicators to know exactly what you are talking about. Senator Abetz stumbled for a while and then came up with the indicator he had actually been given so that we could at least trace the source of the particular indicator he was relying on.

His flippant disregard for the issue in referring to me as a ‘quota girl’ amused me significantly. I came into this place as the only female Labor representative from Victoria. I am very pleased that today that situation has changed significantly. But I did not come here as a quota girl. There were no quotas in relation to our parliamentary representation. I think that flippant remarks by Senator Abetz about such things discredit the whole day. Today is the day to celebrate International Women’s Day. It is not the day to have banal arguments about whether quotas are targets or targets are quotas or how we can ensure that appropriate representation of women is achieved in this place.

We are doing much better in parliament. Senator Patterson raised that point today. We are doing much better through a variety of different means and they seem to be working across political parties. I will be pleased to see that, in another generation or two, women will be much better represented, and they will be represented with a solid base and background in political participation within their parties that will make a difference to the policies we make in this place. They are the bases that have been established. That is what the work on International Women’s Day has been able to achieve.

Later this year I will be celebrating what I think Senator Faulkner alluded to in his notice of motion as the 30th year of International Women’s Day. Some of us have a careful and close regard for many of the indicators of women’s participation and involvement in society and the community and of their general wellbeing. The quality of the debate that has occurred here today, I must say, is insulting. It would be good to see a clear and frank discussion of valid indicators about women’s progress, not the flippant disregard that occurred in the discussion in question time today.