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Tuesday, 17 September 1996
Page: 3521

Senator MACKAY —My question is directed to the Minister for Social Security. Minister, do you recall saying on the 7.30 Report last Tuesday:

I have said it all along—and I continue to say it: we are about choice for families.

Do you recall, on the same program, Professor Peter MacDonald, of the Research School of Social Science at the ANU, saying that the budget `says to people—well, if you have children, then perhaps you shouldn't be working' and Professor Bettina Cass saying, `The bias against dual income families exists by making it more uncomfortable and difficult for parents to juggle work and family, and more costly for parents to juggle work and family'? Can you explain why there is such a stark difference between what you claim and what the experts say, namely, that the budget in fact reduces choice for women and families?

Senator NEWMAN —I am very interested that the senator has raised this question. She might be interested to know that the interview I gave for that 15 second grab was about 20 minutes in length, highlighting the difficulty that one has when trying to get a message across when a program perhaps has another line which they are wanting to run.

Unfortunately, I was very keen to get on the public record what choice for families really means from this government. It means the opportunity to choose whether one parent, not necessarily the mother, is at home when the children are very small, if the family chooses to do that. It means choice as to whether they provide child care themselves, whether they provide it through the informal sector, whether they provide it through family day care, whether they need out of school hours care or holiday care, or whether they choose to go down what has been the high cost option of the publicly funded community child-care area. In all these areas, we are giving families choice.

I notice that the opposition is only prepared to have a slash and burn where there are people on higher incomes who are being affected by the government's actions. We have made it very clear that battlers are the ones who deserve the greatest attention, support and sympathy from the government. It is battling families that were our prime targets for assistance through our family tax initiatives, which were not just for families where a parent stayed at home, but also where there was any dependent child. So in a very real sense, we were looking after families.

We were looking after people with work and family responsibilities through the industrial relations reforms which will give greater opportunity for flexibility of hours, which will give greater opportunities for permanent part-time work, which many of the unionists on the other side of the chamber would have spent some of their years making more difficult for women. Women trade unionists have told me over and over again of the lack of sympathy they have encountered in trying to make arrangements for more flexible working arrangements to deal with family responsibilities.

Through the retirement savings account, we have recognised that women will be in the work force as well as at home. What is not acknowledged by programs such as the one which the question was about is that women at different times of their lives have different needs. They may be young married women in relationships where there are two incomes; they may choose to stay at home for a little while when their children are babies and then they may be a one income family. They may go back into part-time work and then they are a one and a half income family. Later on, when the children are older, they will very likely go back into the full-time work force and be a two income family again.

That is up to the families to choose. It is not up to government to choose. We have been putting in place measures that make that real life cycle easier to manage. So we are not judgmental about whichever choice people make. We are trying to make it a fairer choice. Under the previous government we do not believe that the choice was as fair as it should have been.

Senator MACKAY —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. How do the government's initiatives on child care with regard to the budget actually enhance choice for women and families?

Senator NEWMAN —The measures that we are putting in place for child care maintain the opportunities for child care across all the various forms of child care that I enumerated in my previous answer. We have also put in place substantial funding which will assist families with children with special needs. We are putting in place additional funding for families in rural and remote Australia. We are putting in place measures to help those high cost community child-care centres re-adjust their businesses so they are more efficient. We believe through all these measures families will find that they are benefiting. In addition, we are committed to 80,000 more child-care places. What more can one ask of a family- friendly child-care policy?