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Thursday, 22 August 1996
Page: 2944

Senator REYNOLDS(3.26 p.m.) —Senator Newman has made three statements that I want to comment on: firstly, she said that the budget is caring in the circumstances and, secondly, she said that the measures are tough. I ask: which is it; is it caring or is it tough? Thirdly, she referred to the books being in a mess as she did earlier in this place in regard to so-called housewives. I know that Senator Newman has a very busy portfolio but I am sure she would be aware that over 100 economists signed a letter to the Treasurer, Peter Costello, pointing out that the kinds of measures you have now taken in this budget would be inappropriate for the overall state of the health of the economy.

As we all know, economists do not usually agree, but over 100 economists did sign that letter about two months ago. I note that the government did not take any notice of it. It is distinctly untrue to say that the economy is in a mess, because we know that people do not believe this to be the case. There is a stable situation in this country. The kinds of measures that you have taken in cutting back—overwhelmingly in community services—are simply going to destabilise the economy, increase unemployment and have adverse effects on so many Australians.

I believe that I have the answer, if I can be so presumptuous as to suggest it, as to why there is such confusion here in this place on what the government has done in relation to the measures we have been discussing this afternoon. The answer lies here in your statement entitled More Choice for Women. You did table a statement—I am sure that is welcome in many quarters—but you did not maintain a 12-year precedent of presenting a women's budget statement that would have detailed to a considerable extent the measures of this budget and how they would impact on women and families.

I do not know whether you tried to develop a women's budget impact statement. It has become a tradition in Australia that has been admired internationally, that has been praised in the United Nations and that has been advocated by the Commonwealth Secretariat for all Commonwealth countries. Yet, on the first opportunity that you had as Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women, you abandoned this process of adopting a women's budget impact statement.

I know, having been where you now sit, that it is not always easy to win in cabinet and I sympathise with you in that regard. But I do say to you that I challenge the government to rethink its position. It is a very serious matter that there is now no document anywhere among the budget papers that actually demonstrates to us what the impact of your various budget measures is on 54 per cent of the population.

It is not too late to actually go back to your department about this. I know that the Office of the Status of Women has been subject to dramatic funding cuts. It is not too late to go back to the Office of the Status of Women and the various government departments that are responsible for many of the measures in this budget and ask them to do that analysis and then come back to this place and table a proper assessment of the impact of this budget on women. I would challenge the minister and the Prime Minister (Mr Howard) to allow this to happen.

While the document More Choice for Women contains measures that will be welcome in some sectors of the community it is not comprehensive. For example, there is no mention of women with disabilities. There is no mention of indigenous women or migrant women. There is no mention of the fact that you are introducing the user-pays principle in the area of family court counselling, as in many other areas. There will also be increases in user pays in other areas.