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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2006 Week 2 Hansard (8 March) . . Page.. 509..

DR FOSKEY (continuing):

Mr Costello's line, which he gave at the end of his speech to the National Press Club, in which he was celebrating his decade as Treasurer. We must remember that at the same time Mr Howard was in the big house celebrating his decade as Prime Minister. Mr Costello knows how to take the wind out of Mr Howard's sails. He must have done that when he uttered this sentence: "We must look at how to improve the opportunities for women to create the most female-friendly environment in the world."What a promise, what a gift to women!

We all remember that just prior to this Mr Costello had contributed to the conscience debate on the abortion bill on RU486 and actually distanced himself from Mr Howard's position. We must remember that this is a man who has to find a constituency somewhere. It appears that Mr Costello has found women.

How is this going to gel with his government's and his fiscal policies? Does he know that he has let himself in for making sure that women are going to have real choice-that is right, real choice, not just WorkChoices? I mean real choices, not just reproductive rights and those good things, but the ability to make their choices and carry them out. That means that his government will ensure that women are able to rear their children in a community environment that is totally supportive, even if it is hugely expensive.

We know that Mr Costello is committed to a higher birth rate. Those who are able to are out there having one for themselves, one for their hubby and one for their country. But what do they do when they want to return to the work force? We all know that we all have to stay in the work force for as long as we can and that sole parents must not focus on their children; they should be out their working, too, and not living off the fat of the land, for goodness sake! Mr Costello will be planning to do something like the Swedish government does. We do not hear very much about Scandinavian countries here. They do very well in social policies, but our federal government tends to look towards the United States. Their social policies are actually quite abysmal.

Mr Costello will do differently to that; he will look at Sweden. In Sweden, compared to Australia where a level of 43.2 per cent of women with two or more children are in the work force, 81.8 per cent are in the work force. That is not just because they have to work, that is because they are supported to work. The Swedish approach to social welfare is a universal welfare system that supports all citizens throughout their life-from birth, possibly even pre-birth, to death and possibly after death as well. I do not know about that! The Swedish model provides government-mandated, paid parental leave for both parents, regardless of their employment status. This has helped to stabilise the Swedish birth rate in comparison with other countries where the birth rate is below replacement rate and still falling.

How do we do this? We have to ensure access to childcare and preschool education. One thing the ACOSS paper establishes-and Family matters research also shows it-is that early childhood education is of more value in families that are poor and where the parents do not have high educational levels as in wealthier families. So we have to make sure that those are the people that are getting those services. Mr Costello will be making sure that all those services are paid out of taxes and he will not be introducing tax cuts.

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