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Wednesday, 17 June 2020
Page: 4804


Ms LEY (FarrerMinister for the Environment) (15:46): I thank the member for Franklin for allowing me to explain further to the House and the parliament this government's very strong record when it comes to women's policy, whether it be women's economic security, women's safety, the gender pay gap, which was 17.4 per cent when Labor was last in government and is 13.9 per cent today and going down—that's roughly $1,100 a year that women are better off as a result—or access to superannuation. But, most importantly, the No. 1 thing that a government must do during a global pandemic—and the responsibility we have for women is the responsibility we have for every Australian—is keep people safe, build a hospital and healthcare system that looks after them and their loved ones, contribute to international research for a vaccine and a cure, make sure, as the health minister has done, that we have sufficient ventilators in place for the worst possible scenario and fund states and territories to do what they need do in response. This is not solely a women's issue; it is an issue for every Australian. I am certainly not going to underplay the challenges that this pandemic has delivered for so many people, whether they be women in their own particular circumstances or whether they be the elderly, the lonely or the people who have been impacted in ways that will only come to light later on when we consider the mental health implications. But what I want to say very, very strongly to the member for Franklin and members opposite is that we as Liberal and National parties have been here before as a government in delivering for Australian women and we will do this again. We have always led the way.

Central to our response is our $1,500 per fortnight wage subsidy, JobKeeper. I have countless examples coming to me from my rural and regional electorate about how this wage subsidy is supporting women, whether they be in the workforce or in small business, and keeping them connected to their employers, allowing them to contribute and being there for the great ideas and the great contributions that they will be ready to give on the other side. But the health of our economy is vital when it comes to the opportunities and the choices for women. The member ridiculed part of the announcement today. It's just come through, and I see that women in local government are delighted that they will share government funding to support women's economic security in the local government workforce. That came through just before question time. That is part of our response. But, more importantly, the women's economic security statement that this government delivered in 2018, that is still there and that will get a refresh, as the Prime Minister announced recently, is backing up so much of what is important. This is a $158.3 million initiative, and it has some key areas that matter to women—boosting their skills and employability, encouraging their return to work and helping them establish their own business.

Scholarships for women in business and finance were mentioned almost as though they were a nothing thing by the member for Franklin, which is crazy, because re-education and retraining is vital during this pandemic, improving the economic recovery following critical life events, such as family and domestic violence and separation. That is a women's economic security statement that responds to the needs of women. It's not just about the economy. I mean, it never is just about the economy, but it's vital for women in particular and it targets their needs. It is $158 million and it is underway. It was launched by this government in 2018.

It's important during these challenging times to face the issue of women's safety, and I want to do that with strong statements about the security that we have improved for women in their homes, particularly during this global pandemic. Now, we know that home has been a pleasant place for some people, but it's been pretty awful for others, and so we've announced and allocated $150 million for a COVID-19 domestic and family violence support package. We announced that on 29 March. One hundred and thirty million dollars will be provided to state and territory governments to invest in their specialist frontline services. Although she didn't directly mention it, I know, because I read the words of her MPI, the member for Franklin alluded to that. She certainly alluded to it in a press release issued earlier today, so I want to respond to that and reject, completely, that this government is not responding to women's safety, because we are. There's $150 million during the pandemic. I have a note from the New South Wales government that states:

Domestic violence victim-survivors will have more vital help available during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the NSW and Federal Governments today investing more than $21 million to boost frontline services and other supports.

We send this money to those frontline services through the states. We don't have the funding contracts directly, so, to get it out the door and get it delivered, we've given that money to the states. That's $150 million just because we recognised the issues during the pandemic.

That figure is in addition to the $340 million the Commonwealth has already invested in initiatives under the Fourth action plan of the national plan to reduce violence against women and their children 2010-2022. I hope people are getting the continuity here: by having a strong, determined women's policy that is resourced to a higher level than I've certainly ever seen from a Labor government, going into the pandemic, adding the supports we need to women's safety and women's economic security and JobKeeper to keep women connected to the workplaces, as we come out the other side—and we're not there yet—we know that we will be in the best possible place to support the women of Australia.

I'm constantly surprised at the tone that the opposition has. It tends to reinforce gender stereotypes, no more so than in the area of child care.

Ms Rishworth interjecting

Ms LEY: The member for Kingston is chiming in, and so I would expect her to do, but what has really been missed by the opposition in the childcare debate is that our rescue package funded childcare centres at 50 per cent of their revenue regardless of how many children attended the service, and it worked. Ninety-nine per cent of childcare providers are still operating. The message we had before we injected that funding was, 'My goodness, these centres are going to close!' Well, 99 per cent are still operating. How successful is that? Childcare attendance has lifted to around 74 per cent, and we've added $780 million in transition payments, frozen fees and guaranteed employment levels, because it is also about the early childcare educators. We built the childcare system for families and for children—

Ms Rishworth interjecting

Ms LEY: And, yes, we support our educators for the early learning that they deliver. Yes, of course we do, and we want to. The most important thing we can do is keep the centres open. By keeping the centres open we have families looking for child care for workforce participation. This is in addition to the $2 billion in the childcare subsidy that will once again go to eligible families from July. The system we've designed is all about increasing choice and enabling women to make different choices when it comes to their participation in the workforce. We know that for families—women and men; childcare is an issue for women and men—the hours of work and the flexibility around that that is being delivered through the latest childcare package is absolutely enabling more parents to go back to work in the way they want to go back to work. And families on JobSeeker will be eligible for a subsidy of 95 per cent of the fees, so we are making sure that, as we reopen our childcare centres, those on the lowest incomes get the best access and have the lowest fees. And that's exactly as it should be. But that's not what you hear from the opposition, because what you hear from the opposition is this long, ongoing, bleak, dreary narrative about entrenched disadvantage. And, you know, it's just so last century. I see the opportunities for women in the modern world, and coming out of this pandemic, as giving families and communities something that adds to their choices.

We've always seen women at the front line of modernising the workplace—flexible work practices, working from home. We know that, on the other side of this pandemic, they will be there with good ideas, with good initiatives, stepping up as leaders and stepping up for the leadership roles that we often see in our communities. And we wish women would step up for more of them, because they often don't know how strong they are in the work they do and in their advocacy—for example, in rural and regional Australia, their incredible cohesiveness in bringing their communities together. But I think there must be a change of heart from the Labor Party when it comes to this subject and a recognition that there are— (Time expired)