Community Affairs Legislation Committee
Estimates hearings, 28 May 2012
CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon.
Senator RHIANNON: Critical to your important work is thorough data, and the government is obviously awash with data. To what extent are you advocating for more gender-based matrixes in terms of how data is assembled by different government departments?
Ms McKenzie : We advocate strongly for departments to compile gendered data. We think that being able to have a strong and sound evidence base is a very important tool.
Senator RHIANNON: How successful have you been? Can you give me some examples of how you have been able to change it?
Ms McKenzie : What we would say is that we have talked to a range of departments about the importance of collecting data, and some departments are moving towards that. The Office for Women, along with the Select Council, funded the Australian Bureau of Statistics to provide the national gender equality indicators which are another way of getting at data at the very highest level.
Senator RHIANNON: I was particularly interested in the area of housing. Have you been successful there in terms of gender-based equity in relation to how women are impacted by the shortage of affordable housing, such as gender disaggregated data in relation to the outcomes of the National Affordable Housing Agreement, the National Partnership Agreement, the National Rental Affordability Scheme and the Social Housing Initiative?
Ms Carroll : Some of the specifics around what has been done in that area would be covered under the Housing Outcome later today. More generally, certainly it has been something that has been talked about with officials at the state level. The issue for women in particular around housing, certainly we are quite aware of it and have been talking to the state government officials around that. One of the areas is also considering homelessness, because there has been an increase of older women who have been becoming homeless.
Senator RHIANNON: It has been talked about and you say there is more awareness. Have you actually advocated or even provided suggestions on how they change their current assembling of the data?
Ms Carroll : I do not have the right officers here at the moment but in the Housing Outcome we could come back to that question or I could take that on notice for you.
Senator RHIANNON: Could you take it on notice because I am not sure that I will be here for Housing.
Ms Carroll : Thank you.
Senator RHIANNON: Maybe this is one for Housing but I will ask it specifically. Staying with the issue of homelessness, I imagine that you are aware that there have been suggestions about redefining primary homelessness to include equally the experiences of men and women to enable accurate data to be obtained and to also look at primary homelessness and secondary homelessness. Is this a level of detail that you are working towards?
Ms Carroll : I could take that on notice for the Housing people.
Senator RHIANNON: Has the Office for Women advocated that the government take into account the reality and needs of ageing women and carers? I am particularly interested in this in the context of the recommendations of the Productivity Commission's report Caring for older Australians.
Ms McKenzie : The Office for Women has a very strong role not only in advocacy but also, to the greatest extent possible, in providing tools and assistance and support to departments to collect relevant information to be able to do the relevant gender analysis. We talk to departments in a range of ways. We talk to them, they engage with us about issues and ideas they have. We also have a gender panel where they can get expert advice to enable them to do the analysis. We also have an IDC where we discuss the issues relating to gender across the Public Service. We very strongly advocate for women's issues to be taken into account in both policy and programs.
Mr Pratt : If I could just clarify something and I may have misheard you, in which case I apologise. While we advocate strenuously with other government agencies, we do not of course advocate to government itself. We provide advice to ministers on these issues.
Senator RHIANNON: That is what I am trying to actually understand. It is crucial that all the policies are analysed from a gendered perspective. I think we agree on that. I am trying to obtain the examples of it. In this case it was with regard to the Productivity Commission's report Caring for older Australians. Has there been any specific advice on that report?
Mr Pratt : Yes, we would have provided advice to government.
Senator RHIANNON: What was that advice, please?
Mr Pratt : That is the issue. I will not talk about the nature and the content of our advice to government.
Senator RHIANNON: With regard to the Henry report, did you analyse the Henry report?
Mr Pratt : Yes.
Senator RHIANNON: I was specifically interested in recommendation 99 of the Henry report. This is one combining the calculation of the childcare benefit entitlement and the childcare rebate into a single benefit without reducing childcare benefits to lower income households. Was that touched on?
Ms Carroll : The broad analysis that would have been done by the Office for Women within the department looked across the whole report and would have been in an advice to government. The very specifics of that policy would sit with DEEWR. As Ms McKenzie indicated, in the idea of gender mainstreaming we would be encouraging that department to look at those recommendations from that perspective.
Senator RHIANNON: With regard to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, gender and acknowledgment of the needs of women with disabilities are explicitly mentioned as part of describing how the NDIS will enable access to and collaboration with mainstream services. That has been strongly suggested by a number of women with disability who are working in this area. Could you explain how you are taking this work forward in terms of representing women's interests, please?
Mr Pratt : Once again, we can generally address the issue. The next outcome is in fact looking at disability issues generally and the NDIS in specific, and it may be more appropriate for us to deal with that then
Senator RHIANNON: I may not be here for that. I will try. If I am not I will come back to it then.
Senator McLucas: I can confirm that the specific issues affecting women with disabilities are very much part of the consideration of the government in the design of the NDIS.
Senator RHIANNON: With regard to the budget statement that came out this year, the Women's Statement 2012, I could not find any mention of sole parents. Is that the case or have I just missed it?
Ms McKenzie : I cannot specifically remember the phrase 'sole parent', exactly where it is, but I would have to take that on notice to be sure that there was not any.
Senator RHIANNON: As there are so many people here, because I did want to take that up, I imagine there would be someone who would remember it. I just did not find it. I read it fairly thoroughly. When I got to the end and I realised I had not found it, I was not able to go back. Would somebody be able to check on that, please?
Ms McKenzie : Yes, we could.
Senator RHIANNON: So I can ask you now. I imagine there are people here who have worked on this very thoroughly and must know it inside out and would be able to answer that question.
Ms McKenzie : I am sorry; unfortunately we are unable to recall at this stage whether the words 'sole parents' are used in the document or not.
Senator RHIANNON: Just to ask it in another way, are issues that are relevant to the needs of sole parents, particularly considering the majority of them are women, single women, covered in the document?
Ms McKenzie : We would certainly suggest they are covered in the document because it is looking at supporting working Australians and their families. It is looking at issues about a new Australian economy and it is looking at supporting community strength. So those issues would be relevant to sole parents.
Senator RHIANNON: Specifically in terms of the entitlements that sole parents rely on?
Ms McKenzie : Ms Steele has just pointed to page 7 in the box where it is talking about the jobs, education and training, childcare fee assistance. It does mention 'single parents'.
Senator RHIANNON: That is one mention and that is with regard to childcare assistance. In terms of the level of entitlements and also the issue of considering how they are going to lose their entitlements much earlier, in what context is that being handled? This is a group of women that is increasing in numbers in our communities. I would have thought it would have been given some emphasis in a document that is specifically about women.
Ms McKenzie : This particular document looked much more at the measures and the initiatives that government has agreed over the previous years. If you look at something like early childhood, education and care, obviously that is important to sole parents. Obviously changes to family payments are important. The National Carers' Strategy is important. Mental health is important. The range of issues that have been addressed in the document relate to the situation of sole parents as much as they relate to women in other circumstances.
Senator RHIANNON: On page 4 of the document, in the second last dot point in the first column, it says: 'We are giving priority to gender equality as a critical cost-cutting theme of our foreign aid program.' Could you give us a brief on how that actually plays out—some details on it, please?
Ms McKenzie : That is obviously the responsibility of AusAID but Ms Steele may be able to provide some information.
Ms Steele : Later, on page 21, we also talk about helping women globally. As Ms McKenzie says, the prime responsibility for our overseas aid effort in the area of gender equality is the responsibility of AusAID.
Senator RHIANNON: I appreciate that AusAID is responsible. That was why I was very pleased to see that you were featuring it there. When we do question AusAID specifically about sexual and reproductive health within the foreign aid program they so often revert to speaking about maternal health programs which are incredibly important but are not sexual and reproductive health. Why I was asking the question was not for it to be flicked to AusAID but to understand it, because you are saying here that we are giving priority to gender equality as a critical cost-cutting theme of our foreign aid program, and this does need to be given attention. That is why I am trying to understand. Is it just being left up to AusAID or are AusAID getting support so that they are recognising that these gender equality programs are not just about women and children, they are also about the important area of sexual and reproductive health?
Ms Carroll : As Ms McKenzie said before, we have a range of processes that we do engage with the different departments, like the women's IDC, where we provide them with support, we give them additional resources—we give them not additional resources but some advice and support on analysing things. I do know that AusAID has been attending the women's IDC and we have regular engagement with them.
Senator RHIANNON: Have the issues that I made reference to with regard to sexual and reproductive health been covered?
Ms Steele : These are issues that, yes, are covered particularly in the context of the annual Commission for the Status for Women conference in New York. The overseas aid policy in regard to those two issues does not actually sit with the Office for Women, although we engage with AusAID and obviously DFAT when we are engaging at CSW. The Office for Women basically has responsibility for the domestic policies rather than the aid or foreign policies.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.