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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 13 Hansard (21 November) . . Page.. 3876 ..

MS GALLAGHER (continuing):

committee also met with members of the Ministerial Council on Women and representatives from Winnunga Nimmityjah, and received briefings from the ACT Office for Women.

Early on, the committee discussed how we could best use our limited time to produce a report that provided an honest and useful document to government to assist in future decision-making processes. I believe the report that we have tabled this morning does this.

To begin, the report details demographic information about women in the ACT. We look at what barriers exist to accessing programs and services. We make findings about gaps in current services and what areas should be a priority. Finally, we offer some comment on government's strategic directions in relation to the Office for Women and women's policy.

For the majority of women, the status of women in the ACT is good. Fifty-two per cent of the population here are women. There are high levels of women in education, high levels of women graduates and high levels of women in employment. Women have higher than average income in the ACT, above the national average. The health status of women is generally better than the national average, and ACT women are physically more active than the national average. However, for some women in the ACT, life is hard, it is tough, and it is these women that need government resources the most.

Before I continue on covering some of the findings of the committee, I would like to inform members of the key finding of the committee's investigation. The committee found that the needs of isolated women in the community are the most in need of a priority focus by government decision makers. The committee heard repeatedly from witnesses and submissions that isolated women were in great need, and that more services to women need to be provided by outreach services to ensure that these women are reached by government and government-funded services.

What we learned during this inquiry was that isolation is not restricted to particular women from particular backgrounds, be it cultural, economic or social. Rather, many factors can lead to women being isolated. The committee found that many factors can influence isolation for women in the community, including age, homelessness, poverty, substance abuse, health, and particularly mental health issues, disability, violence, caring responsibilities, indigenous background and other cultural backgrounds.

It is these women who find themselves isolated by one or more of these factors, which the committee believes should be the priority for government attention. In total, there are 59 recommendations throughout the report. I will not go into each one, as I am certain that my committee colleagues would also like to provide comment here. But I will mention a few. By doing this, I do not intend to give some recommendations priority over others. They are all equally important, and deserve to be treated as such.

Firstly, I will touch on the area of mental health. Almost all witnesses and submitters advised the committee that additional resources must be directed to the mental health sector as a matter of urgency. The committee heard that gaps in mental health services had meant that they had failed many women, especially those women who may be

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