Tuesday, 10 September 2019
Questions without Notice
Women's Economic Security
I thank Senator McAllister for her question. I think anyone with a basic appreciation of the trajectory of the gender pay gap understands—and I'll explain this for those opposite—that the gender pay gap, whilst still too wide, is absolutely heading in the right direction. The latest figures of the gender pay gap show that it has fallen to 14 per cent, which is a record low. Indeed, it's fallen by 3.2 percentage points since November of 2013.
It was only last year that, for the first time, the government produced a Women's Economic Security Statement, of which we were very proud, led by my former colleague the then Minister for Women, the Hon. Kelly O'Dwyer. That statement contained a range of initiatives to further close the gender pay gap by boosting women's earning potential. It provided $8.6 million in additional funding to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency to make workplace gender reporting easier.
You reminded the minister of that part of the question. With respect, I cannot instruct a minister how to answer a question as long as the minister is being directly relevant. In my view, discussing the issues of the gender pay gap, which you referenced in your question and which the minister is discussing in some detail, is directly relevant. But you've reminded the minister of the part of the question that you wish highlighted.
Thank you very much, Mr President, and I want to reinforce the statements I've made about the Women's Economic Security Statement, because what the statement contained—as I advised the chamber, but those opposite are apparently disinterested—was a range of initiatives to further close the gender pay gap by boosting women's earning potential.
The point of order is direct relevance. We're not disinterested in women's issues. We had a Women's Budget Statement, which you stole. We are interested in you being relevant to the question. Could the minister respond to the question, please.
As I said, Senator Wong, I think I cannot instruct a minister how to answer a question. In this case, it was a very tightly worded question. I am listening very carefully to the minister, and the minister has, as far as I've heard, for 1½ minutes spoken about the very issue raised in the question, that being the gender pay gap. I cannot instruct a minister to provide an answer that a question asker would prefer. I have to keep them directly relevant. In my view, the minister is being directly relevant.
Thank you very much, Mr President. I know those opposite don't want to hear about the successes that the government has had in ensuring that the trajectory of the gender pay gap is in a downward direction. Let me reiterate that it has fallen by 3.2 percentage points since November 2013. That means that under this government it has fallen by 3.2 percentage points.
They do indeed; the finance minister's quite right. They earn $1,100 more now than they did before thanks to the initiatives of this government, which were fought tooth and nail by those opposite. Indeed, since the coalition came to office, increases in the minimum wage have never dropped below inflation. When Labor was last in office, those on the minimum wage were hit by real wage cuts in three out of six years. The real wage cuts under those opposite—
On the point of order, this is a very tightly worded question that essentially seeks a factual answer. I will ask the minister, who has been given half a minute to address broader issues, to turn to the specific nature of the question.
Senator Wong should apologise for that reflection on Senator Payne just now. Senator Payne is answering in a way that is directly relevant and courteous—as she always does—not only to Senator Wong but also to the Senate. I would ask that you require Senator Wong to withdraw that imputation on a senator in this chamber.
I didn't hear an imputation. I will say to Senator Wong: I would appreciate it if you didn't characterise my rulings with terms like 'warning'. I would not characterise what I just said to Senator Payne as a warning. However, I will ask ministers, when they are asked for factual answers—
Senator Cormann interjecting—
Sorry, Senator Cormann, you're asking for something to be withdrawn?
Senator Wong knows precisely the imputation that she has made in relation to Senator Payne, and I would ask you to consider the Hansardhopefully the interjection was picked up—and come back to the chamber, because there has now been a barrage of disorderly interjecting on a continuous basis over the last 20 minutes. Quite frankly, I think what is starting to become unbecoming is the level of disorderly interjections coming from the other side.
Thank you, Mr President. If the President wishes to look at the HansardI'll always abide by the ruling you make, Mr President. So I'm happy for you to do so and I'll respond accordingly. I would make the point, for the benefit of the Leader of the Government in the Senate and perhaps for the chamber, that in large part the reason that you are seeing interjections is that senators on this side do not believe that ministers are answering questions, and I think that is objectively demonstrable. Question time is for a government to be held to account. The opposition is entitled to ask questions. I think that the Australian public and the Westminster system expect answers. Ministers are not answering questions, and you are accordingly seeing a response.
Firstly, rulings in relation to what is consistent with standing orders in terms of ministerial answers are a matter for the President, not for the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate—with the greatest of respect to my friend and colleague Senator Wong. Secondly, when there are clearly partisan political questions being asked, the Labor Party should not be surprised when they invite a somewhat more political answer than would otherwise be the case.
I appreciate your patience. The last comment that was made by the Leader of the Government in the Senate was that questions invited political answers. This, as you pointed out, is an entirely factual question about an amount, which the minister could have googled in the time that we've been arguing about the point of order.
So we have made some observations both generally and specifically. I will start generally. Senator Wong, complaints from the opposition regarding governments and question time are not unique to either side of the chamber. While it has been noisy in the last two days, since we resumed from the winter break, I haven't detected a noticeable difference in question time, other than the amount of noise. When I come to Senator Cormann's point about the claimed observation he wanted withdrawn, I didn't hear it. I'll look at Hansard and I'll approach senators. If there is something recorded that Senator Cormann may have heard—I'll see what I can find out.
On other questions today, there have been more-broadly-worded introductions to questions. This has, in my view, allowed ministers to be directly relevant to the question and to provide some of the comments that you've highlighted, Senator Wong, which you don't think are appropriate but I think are directly relevant. The way I have interpreted and recorded this particular question is that it was seeking a fact from a minister. To be directly relevant to a question like that, one must be speaking about the fact. One does have the right, as a minister, to provide some context around that, which is why answers are not just 10 seconds long; they can be a minute long. So I'll ask the minister and remind the minister of the specific fact sought by Senator McAllister in asking the question. Senator Payne.
Thank you very much, Mr President, and, if I had been allowed to finish my response, I was going to observe that the gender pay gap can be influenced by a number of factors, and currently all industries continue to have a gender pay gap in favour of men. What WGEA assesses, in terms of full-time average weekly earnings, is that FTAWE for women currently is $1,484.50 and for men is $1,726.30. (Time expired)
Data from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency reveals that the full-time total remuneration gap is 21.3 per cent, meaning that men working full time earn nearly $25,717 a year more than a woman working full time. Does the minister share the Treasurer's view that women earning $25,000 less than men reflects a pay gap that has closed?
I know that all members of this government are focused on ensuring that the gender pay gap is closing and is heading in the trajectory that I've described before, which is a 3.2 per cent closing since we were elected in 2013. That is in marked contrast to the efforts of those opposite. And, importantly, what we do in working with WGEA and working within government initiatives is to introduce new opportunities for women to engage in the workforce and new opportunities for women to advance in the workforce in a real and serious way, unlike those opposite.