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Wednesday, 29 June 1994
Page: 2322

Senator LEES (Deputy Leader of the Australian Democrats) (4.35 p.m.) —I wish to reply to a number of points that were raised by Senator Patterson. She referred to my comment that the first time that we heard about the raising of the women's pension to age 65 was in Fightback. I was specifically looking at any public discussion whatsoever. I am aware of reports. Indeed, I am also aware that the women's pension age has been raised in a couple of countries overseas. But I would point out that in this country we have not had a broad public debate. We have not looked at why we are taking this step for any other reason than economic expediency on the part of the government.

  Senator Patterson highlighted the fact that it would be expensive if we were to bring the men's pension age down. Looking at its logic of how men and women are now supposedly equal in status, we are simply offering the government another option, another way out, rather than putting so many women at risk on a considerably lower income. If they are to get the mature age allowance, they are looking at their being at least $12 a week worse off as well as having lower associated benefits.

  In moving our first request, we are saying that, if the government is only concerned about equity and equality and if it is to continue to insist that somehow or other men and women have this equal opportunity, surely there is a fairer way to look at this problem. I say that in view of the fact that unemployment is as high as it is, and bearing in mind the need for a mature age allowance for those men who in their early 60s are unable to enter the work force or, having lost their jobs, are unable to get back into it. Indeed, many of those jobs have disappeared. The mature age allowance was brought in with a sunset clause, which is now only two years away. If we look at what is happening in the Australian economy, I imagine we will see both men and women through to the year 2000 still on that mature age allowance.

  I wish to get back to some other presumptions and to examine the question of equity. The Democrats will continue to argue that on plain equity grounds it is not the time to look at changing the eligibility rate for women. I stress that Senator Crowley is missing my point that in 10 years we have seen no gains in average weekly earnings. What documentary evidence exists to prove that in 20 years suddenly there will be equity in pay? That relates back directly to superannuation entitlements.

  I looked at a recent report by the Australian Bureau of Statistics showing that men between the ages of 45 and 55 are 40 per cent more likely to be covered by superannuation than are women. I think that is the age group that we are discussing today. Certainly men have far greater access to superannuation than do women.

  In regard to the request, if the concern is only about equity, one other way of achieving it is to drop the age of pension for men to 60. There are other options which the government has not discussed in this debate. There is the option that would mean both sexes retiring at age 62 or indeed at age 63. However, the government has chosen the option that it believes will save the most money. The people who will now carry that financial burden are women between the ages of 60 and 64.