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Tuesday, 8 March 2005
Page: 40


Senator PAYNE (3:16 PM) —It was interesting to hear comments on the quality of debate from the other side. In fact, the material which Senator Patterson in particular put on the record in question time this afternoon, and to which I will refer in this debate, is relevant to precisely the sorts of people to which Senator Collins was referring. I note in passing that Senator Collins is keen to assure the chamber that she did not enter the parliament under any arrangement concerning quotas or targets or both of the above. I am sure it is important to note that for the record. But it is undeniable that those opposite in the Australian Labor Party do support a quota system that is not supported on this side of the parliament. If senators on the other side want to walk away from that now then perhaps that is an internal party matter they want to pursue. But it is a matter of fact and a matter of record that that is an arrangement in that party’s organisation.

What I want to say this afternoon is that this government, for its entire term since 1996, has supported a policy of both opportunity and choice for women, and for precisely the sorts of women to whom Senator Collins referred. We are committed to providing a range of measures that assist women in all of the roles that they fulfil as they move through their lives. That is part of recognising that there are different needs in relation to education, families, work and retirement, all at different points in their lives and all at different levels of the community. We well know, over the last perhaps 18 months to two years, the extent of the debate in the community about the challenges of balancing work and family life, trying to determine where the balance actually lies, working out it means to be in a partnership trying to do that and all of those sorts of issues. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and particularly the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Pru Goward, have done some exceptional work in this regard. I think a number of members of the Senate have had an opportunity to examine that.

I will now look at some of the fundamentals that people need in order to work through their lives and deal with some of those issues. I will start with child care. In pure financial terms this government has spent and continues to spend more on child care than any of our predecessor Labor governments ever did. In fact, in the six years to 2003-04, that amounted to around $8.8 billion in child care in this country. I remember very early in my role in the Senate participating in a community affairs inquiry into child care, where changes which were proposed by the coalition government were meant to bring an end to child care as we know it. That was clearly not the case.

Clearly there are ongoing challenges. We addressed those in a number of our election policies last year. Those were election policies which the Australian constituency decided they preferred over the election policies presented in this area by the other side. We use the family tax benefit to assist families with children. Around two million families in Australia, who have 3.5 million of Australia’s children, benefit from that family tax benefit. Changes introduced in the 2004-05 budget will enhance the level of support that is provided to most of those families. For example, there was the lump sum payment of $600 per child, which has been paid to families who receive or are eligible to receive family tax benefit A. There will be an ongoing $600 increase in the level of family tax benefit A payment per child. Also, from 1 July this year, secondary income earners who return to work after caring for a child will be able to keep the family tax benefit B received prior to their return to the work force. They are just a couple of examples. The chamber today discussed support for new mothers in the maternity payment of $3,000, which was introduced on 1 July last year. That payment assists with the costs associated with the birth or adoption of a new baby. That rate will increase from 1 July 2008.

Senator Humphries referred comprehensively to the participation of women in the work force as well. The government also pursues transition to work services particularly for parents, carers and mature aged people—overwhelmingly women, in this case—who want to return to or join the work force. That gives people guidance on possible career directions as well as help in areas like skill assessments, confidence and self-esteem issues. Whether it is career and training plans, information technology or access to training, it is all fundamental support for women who wish to continue in or return to the work force. They are baseline, important levels of support for people trying to achieve that family-work-life balance that we talked about. There is also a number of initiatives in relation to leadership. (Time expired)