Page 1851 - Week 06 - Thursday, 5 May 2005

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MS GALLAGHER: Mr Speaker, I listened to opposition members in silence and I would really appreciate it if they could just shut their mouths and let me speak.

The ACT government supports the promotion of policies that address work and family collision in both the public and private sectors. We have done so over the past term in office through improved conditions in the ACT public service, through cooperation with unions and businesses to see improving work and family conditions, through submissions to national forums, including the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, on the work and family test case and the national living wage case, and through reforms to areas such as long service leave.

While much media attention is focused on caring for children, elder care is also an issue for many workers. Some of the interest in the issue is driven by families wanting greater access to quality childcare and a greater balance in their working lives, but others are interested because of the declining fertility rate in Australia. This decline, combined with the retirement of the baby boomer generation, means that there has been a decline in the number of potential workers available and policies are needed to address this trend.

People in Canberra have the highest levels in Australia of participation in the work force. For males, about 78 per cent participate in the labour force, compared with 72 per cent nationally. For females, about 67 per cent participate in the labour force, compared with 56 per cent nationally. For women with children aged less than five, Canberra again has the highest level of engagement in the work force, with about 60 per cent participating in the work force, compared with about 50 per cent nationally. This makes these issues particularly pressing for the ACT community.

It is for all of these reasons that the ACT government considers work and family a priority and why our Chief Minister, Mr Stanhope, has called for a COAG summit on the issue. We recognise that the challenge for our government and our community is to put in place new ways to plan, develop and manage the ACT to create a place in which all people have an opportunity to make a contribution and share benefits.

Social investment—that is, investing in people—is a requirement of a healthy and well-balanced society. At a national and international level, the interrelationship between social and economic issues is well recognised. The ACT government understands this connection and values its greatest asset, our people. The social plan is our commitment to the principles of access, equity and participation and it is our genuine attempt to make sure that every Canberran can share in the good fortune of our city over the coming decade.

There are, however, other influences on how Canberrans will fare. Australian government policies, particularly changes and potential changes in industrial relations and to commonwealth-state financial arrangements, have an effect in the ACT not only on working families but also across the board. The Australian government, while experiencing record taxation gains from its own sources, has undertaken a program of cost shifting to the states and territories on the pretext of the states experiencing windfall gains from the GST.

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