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Tuesday, 8 March 2005
Page: 42


Senator STOTT DESPOJA (3:27 PM) —The matter I wish to raise in the context of this debate is indeed covered by the take note of answers motion that the Labor Party has moved. I wish to refer specifically to the issue of the maternity payment, which has been mentioned by a couple of speakers in this debate, but before I do I want to wish my female colleagues and all women in Australia a happy International Women’s Day.

We have had many debates about the maternity payment in this place. Honourable senators would be aware of the Democrat preference for a system of national, government funded, paid maternity leave, preferably for 14 weeks, as is the ILO standard, and certainly, under the bill that I have proposed, at at least the minimum rate. In the context of today’s debate and a question that I asked the minister—and that is relevant to International Women’s Day—is the fact that adoptive parents are not entitled to access the maternity payment if they adopt children who are older than 26 weeks. I do not mean to reflect upon a decision or a vote of the Senate, because we know that this debate was in full fling last night, but the government—and I commend them, as I did the minister today in question time—have ensured that adoptive parents can now access the baby bonus, albeit retrospectively. The baby bonus has been replaced by the maternity payment, but the same changes have not been made. That means that we still have a situation where adoptive parents are discriminated against unfairly because they cannot access the maternity payment if their child is more than 26 weeks old.

I asked about this issue today in question time. A number of senators have commented on the issue of the maternity payment, but I want to draw the Senate’s attention to one blatant, discriminatory fact. If you are an adoptive parent in Australia today and you adopt a child of more than 26 weeks you cannot get that vital government financial support to which you should be entitled and, indeed, to which, as of last night, you would have been entitled if it had been the baby bonus. I know it gets confusing, but that is what happens when you are dealing with retrospectivity in legislation and when the government makes poor policy changes even when it has been forewarned of such an issue.

I put on record today the fact that this is discriminatory and the fact that most adoptions that take place, particularly those from overseas, are of children of more than 26 weeks of age. I call again on the government and specifically the Minister for Family and Community Services to rectify this problem with the maternity payment, as they did last night for the baby bonus. I do thank Minister Coonan for her work on this issue.

International Women’s Day generally is a great opportunity for us to acknowledge how far we have come, and I do not deny that. Both major parties in this place talk about the achievements, but we also need to talk about and assess the campaigns that we have left to fight. There are a number of outstanding issues in society today confronting women. Yes, industrial relations reform is one of them. Yes, the gender wage gap, to which Senator Forshaw referred, is another—the inequity in terms of pay rates; the unequal pay rates for men and women for the same work.

Domestic violence is an outstanding issue. Unfortunately, the Partnerships Against Domestic Violence program is due to run out in the middle of this year. I have heard no reports that it will be replaced or continued. I have looked at the forward estimates in relation to the National Initiative to Combat Sexual Assault and I cannot see that funding being anything but halved in future years. We have a range of issues, not the least of which is paternity and maternity leave. Let us not pretend that fobbing Australian women off with a $3,000 one-off payment is actually going to address the systematic disadvantage that women have in the work force—that is, women wanting to take time off at the birth of a child.

There are many other issues affecting Australian women. They are the ones we should be debating and discussing today in addition to celebrating our goals and achievements. I look forward to the day when we have better and perhaps proportional representation of women not just in this place but in executive power as well. I once again call on the government to end this blatant discrimination against adoptive parents with children over 26 weeks of age.

Question agreed to.