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Tuesday, 31 March 1987
Page: 1763

Mr HOWARD (Leader of the Opposition) —by leave-On behalf of the Opposition I would like to welcome the statement by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and say that in very large measure the Opposition shares the analysis of the document that has been presented to the Parliament by him. I particularly welcome in his statement the identification of areas of concern that have emerged from the consultations involving some 25,000 women in relation to which the document he tabled contains a summary. I find it particularly interesting that on page 2 of his statement the Prime Minister says:

Issues associated with women's participation in the paid work force were mentioned in most of the submissions or reports of meetings which were received, and women responding to the questionnaire identified work related matters as among the more important issues on the draft agenda.

It does not surprise the Opposition that the Prime Minister should have identified that; nor, indeed, does it surprise the Opposition that later on the Prime Minister should have said:

It was apparent that most women work in the home caring for their families from time to time throughout their lives, most often for periods when their children are young. The status and image of women who work full time in the home emerged as a significant area of concern. Many women felt that the value of the contribution made by them to the family and the community is not sufficiently recognised, and that they often suffer from poor self-esteem and isolation. The extent and importance of women's voluntary work in the community and in caring for the aged and disabled was also highlighted during the consultations.

Those two excerpts from the Prime Minister's remarks, in my view, highlight the two major areas for action to improve in a pragmatic way, as distinct from a cosmetic or symbolic way, the status of women in our community.

The most common complaint I and honourable members opposite have heard in relation to the opportunities available to women who want to re-enter the work force is about our antiquated industrial relations system. The Government can produce all the glossy reports under the sun and the Prime Minister can beat his chest as much as he likes about the commitment of his Party to the equality of the status of women, but until the Government improves massively the opportunities for permanent part time work it will not really strike a significant blow for women in our community who want to re-enter the work force and also do justice to their ongoing family obligations. That is the single most important practical step that can be taken towards helping women who want to do justice to their family obligations and who wish to resume some kind of career.

I say with every good will towards the Government that a more modern, a more contemporary, a less regulated industrial relations system that provides greater opportunities for permanent part time work is the key because the great bulk of mainstream women who want to re-enter the work force, but who at the same time want to do the right thing by their families, complain repeatedly that opportunities for part time work are not available. I certainly share the Prime Minister's concern about women who from time to time feel that their efforts in the home are not properly recognised by the rest of the community and who suffer from low self-esteem and isolation.

That gives me the opportunity to highlight the commitment of the Liberal and National parties to a taxation policy-more details of which will be available shortly-which contains a bias towards families with dependent children. This society needs a taxation system and an industrial relations system which give to Australian women no less than to Australian men a choice to remain, without any condemnation or loss of self-esteem, as full time permanent homemakers, to pursue a career, or to try to combine both elements. What is lacking in our industrial relations system and in our taxation system is sufficient incentive and encouragement for that to occur. I suggest to the Prime Minister and to all honourable members that if there were a little less chest beating with glossy reports, and a little more commitment to pragmatic action on those two fronts, we would do a great deal more to contribute in a practical way to meeting the aspirations of the mainstream of women in the Australian community. Frankly, they are not interested in these symbolic debates about whether the pace of change has been great enough or whether it has been too great; they are interested in intelligent, practical, helpful government policies which remove the obstacles that prevent them combining their obligations as homemakers and, on many occasions, as members of the work force.

There are only two other things I would like to say about the Prime Minister's statement. The first is not to let pass without comment the Prime Minister's comments towards the end of his speech about the attitude of the Opposition to the legislation that was debated in this Parliament last week. I repeat what was said on that occasion by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr N.A. Brown): We voted against the legislation because it significantly departed from the principles contained in the earlier legislation which attracted our support. It was the introduction of pseudo-quotas, the application of the legislation to independent contractors, and the departure in other respects from the principles that underlay the Bill that was passed last year that led us to take the attitude we did. I repeat to the House and to the public that when the Government indicates its willingness to accept our amendments we will be ready to vote for the legislation in its amended form.

The Government has no credibility at all in asserting either here or anywhere else in the community that because we were unprepared to support the Bill in the form in which it passed this House that represents the Opposition of either the Liberal or National parties to the concept of equality of opportunity in the Australian community. The concept of equality of opportunity is demonstrated and supported by pragmatic action. It is not supported by high sounding phrases. I say to those opposite and I say in particular to the Prime Minister that if he believes that his credentials on equality of opportunity are as good as ours, let him examine his industrial relations policy, let him go and talk to the Australian Council of Trade Unions, let him get the ACTU to remove its historic objection to permanent part time work, let him get the ACTU to take a more innovative attitude to industrial practices, let him get the ACTU to remove some of the barriers that prevent women re-entering the part time work force and let him look at what his taxation policies have done to single income families in the time that he has been Prime Minister.

The honourable member for Braddon (Mr Miles) at Question Time reminded him that under the Hawke-Keating stewardship he has the proud achievement that the principal form of assistance to what used to be called the typical Australian family-that is, one breadwinner with dependent children and the other breadwinner at home-has declined more sharply than any other section of the Australian community. I say to the honourable member for Barton (Mr Punch) that if he happens to be out on the campaign trail over the next couple of months and if any of his colleagues in marginal seats happen to be there I can promise him and his colleagues in all those other marginal seats around the country that they will be hearing a great deal from the Opposition about what their Prime Minister and their Treasurer (Mr Keating) have not done over the last four years to help the typical battling Australian family. They will hear a great deal from us about the fact that the Government has left the spouse rebate unadjusted-its real value has declined by 16 per cent; they will hear a great deal from us about how the real value of the family allowance has declined by 20 per cent; they will hear a great deal from us about that same family-there are tens of thousands of families in the electorates of Barton and Herbert--

Mr Lindsay —Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. I draw your attention to standing order 85. I foreshadow that a motion will be moved that the honourable member be not further heard if he is to continue with the tedious repetition in his statement.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) — Leave has been granted.

Mr HOWARD —I know that holders of marginal seats on the Government side of the benches are very sensitive about the decline in family living standards under the leadership of their Prime Minister. We have had a very good demonstration. But we have just had a 10-minute speech from the Prime Minister in which he has carried on about the status of women. He has paraded himself as an Australian political leader who is interested in the lives and aspirations of ordinary Australian women and he is concerned about the contribution that they are making as members of families. I am saying to him that I share most of the stated aspirations set out in his statement. I have no argument with much of what he has said.

I welcome his statement on behalf of the Opposition. I corrected his monstrous distortion of the Liberal Party's attitude towards equality of opportunity, but I also take the opportunity of saying to him, and I will say it again-the honourable member may feel that this is tedious, but he will hear a lot of it over the next few weeks and months until the end of the year-that what the Government and the Prime Minister have done through their tax and industrial relations policies to the living standards of ordinary Australian families is absolutely notorious. Those things are important. I say to those opposite that taxation issues and industrial relations issues are far more important to the aspirations of Australian women than any of these glossy publications. Whilst the exercise may have been worth while and whilst I support the Government soliciting and obtaining the views of some 25,000 women, much of this document is filled with self-congratulation on the Government's policies and programs and too little of the substance of the document is devoted to addressing pragmatically the concerns of women.

I simply say again that if Government members are really serious about the aspirations of women in middle Australia, they should look at the impact of taxation policies on single income families over the past four years. They should look at the decline of $30 to $40 a week in the living standards and after tax take-home pay of a family with one breadwinner in the western suburbs of Sydney trying to support a wife at home with some young children. They should look at that and address the lack of opportunities for migrant and other women to get part time work and at the same time do the right thing by their children. A little less pious lecturing and chest-beating by honourable members opposite and glossy publications and a little more addressing of problems pragmatically through the taxation and industrial relations systems and they will strike far more realistic blows for the role and status of women in middle Australia than any of this nonsense.