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Wednesday, 29 June 1994
Page: 2319

Senator CROWLEY (Minister for Family Services) (4.20 p.m.) —I apologise to Senator Lees for hearing only the last part of her contribution. I do not need to explain why I was late, but I think she might be interested to know that I just met with Dr Alavi, the woman member of the Iranian delegation. I have probably done no grace to either, but I suspect I understand what Senator Lees has been talking about.

  I think the most important thing to say is that it is undoubtedly the case that women do not yet have equal access to superannuation, equal access to comparable employment, equal access to equal pay or even equal pay for work of equal value. But the thing that worries me a little about Senator Lees's arguments, and Senator Kernot's for that matter, is that she is putting the case of the economic status of women now, and we are talking about moving to an age 65 pension for women by the year 2015.

Senator Kernot —But if you are 64 you are affected in the short-term.

Senator CROWLEY —It is very important that we do remember that it will not be fully introduced for another 20 years. It is also true, as Senator Kernot says, that women of that age will be having to wait another six months. That introduction is phased in very gently. But, as I have said on a number of occasions, it is a matter of balance. I do not know when those achievements will be reached, but what I do know is that they will not be without a commitment by this government to equal pay for work of equal value in the changes that have just been introduced by Minister Brereton in industrial relations, which changes I think go some considerable way to assisting equal or improved status for women in the workplace. It also fits with other policies of increased tertiary education and training opportunities for women. All of that is a process that is on the go.

  I do not find the Democrats' arguments persuasive. As I said to Senator Kernot the other day in relation to the Democrats' comment in the second reading debate, that one option might be to phase this in over 40 years because that would allow a longer lead time for opportunities, statistics and, I suppose, the real world to improve for women. If we had asked 10 years ago whether we expected women to have the status that they have now, particularly in relation to their economic status, we probably would not have got that right either. I think we have to acknowledge that there has been a dramatic improvement. The fact that we are still far short of perfection I do not believe means that we should take the understanding that, because we have not got it completed or that we are only on the way, we should not still set clear goals for where we want to be and what direction we are taking.

  The government judges that a 20-year lead time for the movement of the pension age for women from 60 to 65 is a very good balance and is very generous. It is certainly twice the lead time that the opposition was proposing for that change. Given that most policies of the federal government do not get thought of in terms of a 20-year lead time, I think it is extraordinary that we should be aiming to put in place a 20-year lead time for that kind of phased in introduction.

  It is also true that, while it may not be in this legislation, the government remains committed to projects, programs and policies to keep on keeping on with the improvement of the status of women in those other parameters. We touched on today some of the improvements in superannuation. Of course there is more to be done, and of course that is the case with equal pay for work of equal value. Of course there is a concern to monitor that women are not being disadvantaged under enterprise agreements. Of course there are all of these things, but it is a matter of moving those things on a number of planes at one time and, in keeping with that, recognising our encouragement for women to be able to stay longer in the work force, which is de facto what a later pension age does. It is very important that we keep in mind that comparing today's statistics with what will be the case for women in 20 years time means we could be skewering the equation.