Page 809 - Week 03 - Wednesday, 9 March 2005

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I therefore second Ms Porter’s proposal that it is important to recognise the outstanding contribution, which Canberra women regularly make to both the local and global communities. I simply add the rider that we might in future note that such outstanding contributions might one day permeate the locker rooms of the Australian Labor Party.

MR GENTLEMAN (Brindabella) (4.32): I too endorse Ms Porter’s MPI. I appreciate this opportunity to speak about International Women’s Day, an important day, as we have heard, for the whole community to reflect on the status of women in our society.

Since the inception of International Women’s Day early last century, women’s issues have been subject to many ebbs and flows on a political agenda. Over the years these issues have included pay equity, the right to vote, the rights of indigenous women, peace, childcare, access to education and reproductive health. Except with the right to vote, all these issues continue to be major topics of debate and concern for women.

One of the major issues facing women today is balancing work and family, and this is a key area identified in the ACT women’s plan launched by Minister Katy Gallagher last year. However, it is a complex issue. This issue has recently been highlighted at the national level with the announcement last week of a federal parliamentary inquiry. Our government in the ACT recognises the importance of employees balancing their work and personal life. The recent ACT public service certified agreement has formalised many flexible work arrangements.

Women’s labour force participation has significantly increased over the past few decades. However, large numbers of women are in the part-time and causal work force and the role of women as carers certainly impacts on this. Women in casual and part-time work often miss out on entitlements such as annual leave, sick leave and superannuation. Women often choose to work part-time or casually or to job share so that they can have the flexibility to meet their caring responsibilities. Some women have no alternative, as it is the only type of paid work they can access.

Fifty-seven per cent of employed mothers are part-time workers, and 66 per cent of part-time jobs are casual. Labour force participation amongst women with children aged zero to four is at 49 per cent. Participation by ACT women in the work force remains the highest in Australia at about 66 per cent. There are 2.3 million Australians caring for someone because of a disability or age. Women perform 88 per cent of informal aged care. In 2005, it is still true in our society that the emotional work as well as the physical work of caring is considered a woman’s domain. A sex discrimination commissioner’s recent findings show that men are more likely to take bereavement leave than take time off to care for sick children or aged parents. Unquestionably, women do a large amount of paid and unpaid work.

Many women feel that balancing work and maintaining relationships, caring for children and family, is becoming increasingly more difficult. Workplace changes need to be flexible and work with respect for those choices of women, and for their individual needs and circumstances. Policies to support women to integrate their family and work responsibilities need to recognise the diversity among women. We need to engage men in this important debate. A study of 1,000 Australian fathers showed that 68 per cent felt they did not spend enough time with their children and 53 per cent felt their job and

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