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Tuesday, 31 March 1987
Page: 1536

Senator HARRADINE(3.52) —I think it is important that a document such as this is given a good hearing in the Senate. There is an understandable desire amongst senators to proceed with other business, but I think that this is an important document and should be examined. I will truncate anything that I say, bearing in mind that probably other persons who want to say things have just not had the opportunity to do so. That is what I gather from the conversations that are going on around the place, so I will be as brief as I possibly can. Nevertheless, this is a document which should be read by every senator, and read thoroughly. It is an attempt to express the views that were gathered as a result of the announcement that was made last year. Whether those views are the totality of views is another question, and there will be discussions about that matter later on.

There are three matters that I would like to deal with. The first is that we ought to understand that we should go to the causes of problems rather than throw money at the effects. I think there are a lot of problems faced by women in Australia, and the attitude of the Government really is just to throw money at those effects rather than look at their causes. The causes have to be examined, and examined very thoroughly. For example, I will deal with what is stated in the appendix about what the Government has done in various areas. I have also noted those areas, but the fact is that very few of them are going to the causes of the problems that are faced by women.

The Minister for Education and the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women (Senator Ryan) does say in her speech, as does the document itself, that `a significant area of concern is the status and image of women who work full time in the home'. One of the great problems faced by women is that justice has not been done to those who are full time home makers or who choose to be substantially full time home makers. A recognition is not really made of their contribution not only to their own families but to society as a whole. After all, it is the family which is the best provider of the services to the children, rather than the state being the organisation which would provide those services. I give two reasons for this. The first is that the family is the natural and fundamental unit of society to provide those services, and it can do it more efficiently. The second is that for the state to takeover those particular tasks would be far more costly and inefficient. They include, of course, child rearing-which is the responsibility of not only the women but also the whole family, including the parents-the development of the child and the care of the ill and the aged.

I noted that Senator Durack mentioned that the Liberal Government introduced the family allowance in 1976. I think the point that he made was valid; that is, that very often the tax rebate that was received largely by the wage earner, who in most cases was the husband, was pocketed. On that occasion the Government abolished the tax rebate for children, cashed it up and gave it to the mother in the form of family allowances. I applauded that situation then, but I warned that if the allowances were not going to be indexed-and I think Senator Grimes also warned of this at that time-this would create grave problems for families and for mothers. The situation is there before us: They have not been indexed.

What has occurred since that time has been the greatest robbery ever perpetrated against any group in Australia. Figures that were produced by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library statistics group show that $10 billion has been thieved from the purses of the mothers since that time by successive governments because of their failure to index family allowances. Now the Government suggests that there is going to be some sort of scheme of means testing of those provisions. That is part of the three-card trick, because it is not the Government's money; it is the money that the worker took from his hip pocket and put into the mother's purse. It was taken from his hip pocket by virtue of the abolition of the spouse rebate, and it was put into the purse of the mother because of the family allowance scheme. The Government is really robbing the mothers of this country of those funds, and it has to stop. In fact, that scheme has to be updated and its lost value restored, which would mean a restoration of about 35 per cent.

Another matter which was raised yesterday is the spouse rebate. Again, that is a recognition of the work of the woman herself, whether she has children or not, in the home. If the woman has children she receives $1,030 a year, but that should be increased to $1,851 a year just to take account of movements that have taken place in the tax rebate area. I believe that is a matter which ought to be given urgent consideration by the Government.

Two other questions need attending to, and I will speak very briefly on them. One cannot put everything in a document such as this-I acknowledge that and I acknowledge the difficulty that people had to face in drawing it up-but unemployment amongst young women is critical at present. It makes one's heart bleed to see a lot of these young women who have striven to do their best at school and who are unable to get jobs. They go to interview after interview. There are probably people in this chamber who have experienced that in their families. It is distressing for the parents and for the young girls as well. I think we have to consider extending affirmative action to those people who are out of work and who desire to contribute and to engage in creative work. We have to ensure that they have the opportunity of doing that work.

The pressure that is applied to so many women with dependent children to go into the paid work force is deplorable. That pressure should be taken off those women, and they should be given a true freedom of choice. I think freedom of choice is mentioned on a number of occasions in this document, and I welcome that. They should be given a true freedom of choice so that we go to the cause of many of the problems. The cause of a large number of the problems of young girls not being able to get jobs is the fact that their mothers are forced, because of economic circumstances, to stay in the paid work force to make ends meet. Then we have the establishment of a series of child care centres and the like.

The final thing that I want to mention is the status and the dignity of women. The appendix to the document mentions the introduction of the sex discrimination legislation. I know a large number of women who were very upset and insulted that the sex discrimination legislation gave a de facto or cohabiting relationship the same status as a bona fide marriage relationship. They were absolutely appalled that that was the result of it. That should be considered, and it should have been considered by the Parliament just before Christmas last year when I sought leave to move an amendment to that legislation to enable a conscience vote. I want to know when people in this chamber will stand up and ensure that that conscientious objection provision is included in the sex discrimination legislation. A large number of women are absolutely disgusted that the legislation places their bona fide marriage state on the same level as a cohabiting arrangement.

Senator Zakharov —I do not know of anyone who says that. Nobody has ever said that to me.

Senator HARRADINE —That is the effect.

Senator Tate —Don't lead him on.

Senator HARRADINE —Senator Tate says: `Don't lead him on'. That is the effect of the sex discrimination legislation when it relates to a number of questions, including the hiring of accommodation. That is the effect--

Senator Tate —There has been a full debate on that-that's all I am suggesting. We have other business this afternoon.

Senator HARRADINE —It is a very important question, and it is one of conscience when it comes to people wanting to choose whether they hire their premises to a married couple rather than a cohabiting couple. The Government is throwing money at the effects, for example, of what has taken place and what has been encouraged by governments over a period-that is, abortion, contraception, intrauterine devices and the like. The Senate Select Committee on the Human Embryo Experimentation Bill 1985 received evidence that the major cause of infertility in Australia is previous abortions, contraception, sterilisation and IUDs. Nothing in this document or the Minister's statement, unless I have missed it, goes to the question of infertility, which is very worrying to a large number of women throughout Australia. We have had enough of listening to what doctors have said because largely they have been the ones who have recommended abortions, IUDs, sterilisation--

Senator Walters —Come on; cut it out. Patients go to a doctor asking for them. Talk sense.

Senator HARRADINE —I am talking about the persons in the family planning outfits.

Senator Peter Baume —You said `doctors', Senator, and I take it you are referring to the lot of us. It is really unfair.

Senator HARRADINE —I am sorry; I am referring to the people in the context of what is contained in this document, which talks about family planning centres. It is the family planning outfits that I am concerned about. I know a large number of doctors who are very much opposed to that situation and who recognise that one of the major problems of infertility has been caused by what has been said to the people through the family planning outfits. It is those people about whom I am concerned, and I think that matter ought to be considered by the Government in relation to this document.