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Survey axing draws feminist fire

Liberal Senator Michaelia Cash.

Liberal Senator Michaelia Cash. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The federal opposition has accused the Gillard government of paying lip service to women as the Australian Bureau of Statistics axes the Work, Life and Family Survey to save money.

The survey is the only evidence collected on the millions of hours Australian women put into unpaid household, voluntary and community work and is used to inform government policy on issues such as maternity leave, childcare, superannuation and work-life balance.

The ABS has axed this year's planned survey to save up to $1.4 million, meaning there will be a 13-year gap between the last survey in 2006 and the planned resumption of the survey in 2019.

Minister for Community Services, Status of Women, Indigenous Employment and Economic Development, Julie Collins.

Minister for Community Services, Status of Women, Indigenous Employment and Economic Development, Julie Collins. Photo: Peter Mathew

The office of the Minister for the Status of Women, Julie Collins, said the ABS was an independent statutory authority and the government had no control over the bureau's internal priorities for budget cuts.

But opposition parliamentary secretary on the status of women, Michaelia Cash, said: "It is alarming to say the least that in the lead-up to International Women's Day this week, the government has made yet another announcement in the interests of saving money that yet again demonstrates that its commitment to advancing the status of women is questionable.''

The decision has drawn swift fire from academics, social researchers and feminists, all of whom have questioned the validity of data impacting on government policy.

Feminist, author and professorial fellow at the University of Technology Sydney, Eva Cox, said the decision was appalling and her research into single parents would be compromised by the lack of timely data.

Senator Cash said the decision was "proof that the Gillard government has been strong on rhetoric but weak on delivery when it comes to policies that advance Australian women". Senator Cash said the survey gave an insight into the day-to-day lives of families, providing detailed information on their daily activities and patterns.

"As the ABS itself outlines, this is crucial to help analyse gender equality, care responsibilities, balancing family and paid work responsibilities and other indicators that affect Australian women each day. How can a government formulate evidence-based policy that will deliver choice and better balance for Australian women, and indeed the population more generally, when this kind of data won't be collected?"

Social researchers who have depended on data from surveys in 1992, 1997 and 2006 question whether the benchmarks and data series will have value because of the 13-year break in results. Professor Cox said: "I tie it back to the fact we have Julia Gillard banging on about helping families and dealing with 2006 data which is a really incomplete way of dealing with anything.''

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