Address to the National Council of Women of Australia Triennial Conference 2012

Thank you Ms Findlater-Smith and good morning everyone. It is a pleasure to be here today to open the National Council of Women of Australia’s Triennial Conference on behalf of the Minister for the Status of Women, Julie Collins. Before I continue I would like to say thanks also to Mrs Jannette Phillips for her Welcome to Country. I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today, and pay my respects to their Elders, past and present.

The Prime Minister has asked me to convey the following message to you today:

I am delighted to send my best wishes to everyone attending the National Council of Women in Australia’s Conference this weekend. The National Council of Women in Australia has been a united voice for the rights of Australian women for more than eighty years. The women’s equality movement owes a great debt to the Council for its dedication and passionate advocacy, both past and present. The theme of your conference – “Women – on the way but still work to do” – is a practical reflection on where we are today on the journey to gender equality. Australian women have every reason to be proud.

We have the freedom to chart the courses of our lives like never before. We have grasped the opportunities laid out for us by our mothers and grandmothers, reaching new heights in every endeavour. Yet there is more to be done. For too many women, barriers to equality are still to be overcome. We must continue to work together to break those barriers until every woman can fulfil her brightest potential. Joining together today is a wonderful opportunity to strive for even greater things – not only for ourselves, but for the women of the future. Our commitment to equality today is their reward tomorrow. I commend the National Council of Women in Australia and wish you all a successful and rewarding conference.

Minister Collins has asked me to extend her apologies as she is unable to be here with you today, and to pass on the following message: Gender equality delivers better outcomes for women, their families, and the Australian community and economy more broadly. The Australian Government is committed to achieving gender equality and to working towards this goal with organisations like the National Council of Women of Australia.

In the five years of this Labor Government, we have invested over $86 million in initiatives under the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. This investment is essential to improving the lives of women who have experienced violence and, most importantly, to stop violence from occurring in the first place.

Important steps we have taken to improve women’s economic security include:

  • more affordable and accessible child care
  • our historic Paid Parental Leave scheme
  • superannuation changes to boost women’s retirement savings
  • reforming the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act to remove barriers to women’s workforce participation and to promote pay equity and workplace flexibility

Our commitment of around $3 billion to meet our fair share of funding for Fair Work Australia’s historic Equal Remuneration Order will give pay rises of between 23 and 45 per cent to 150,000 of Australia’s lowest paid workers – 120,000 of whom are women. We are also progressing well to our target of minimum 40 per cent women on Australian Government Boards by 2015. It is currently at an all-time high of 35.3 per cent.

The hard work and dedication of community organisations and individuals is helping make change happen. The women’s sector advocacy for gender equality within their communities and with governments at all levels, is providing momentum for change and influencing policies.

Dedicated groups such as the National Council of Women of Australia and the National Women’s Alliances are bringing the voices of Australian women to Government. The Australian Government values the contributions of the women’s nongovernmental sector and looks forward to a continued consultative relationship for the future.

I wish you all the best for a successful Triennial Conference.

For the first time in our country’s history, we have a female Prime Minister, a female Governor General, a female Attorney General - and now the highest proportion of women in the Ministry. Supporting women’s leadership is about empowering women to achieve their full potential, by removing barriers to women’s leadership and supporting women’s participation and decision making at all levels.

During her recent visit to Australia, Michele Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women, recognised this and congratulated Australia for being a leader for women and equality. Ms Bachelet stated that having more women in leadership positions reinforces women’s civil, political and economic rights and makes communities and nations are healthier and stronger. Ms Bachelet also emphasised the importance of women’s political participation and leadership and advancing women’s economic empowerment.

We must work to promote the increased representation of women in politics in the interest of gender equality and women's empowerment.

Women currently hold 38.2 per cent of seats in the Senate and 24.7 per in the House of Representatives. The Australian Labor Party is doing its bit – meeting the target of 30 per cent of women in parliament in the Beijing Platform for Action from the Fourth World Conference on Women.

Ms Bachelet’s message on the importance of women’s equal participation in politics is remarkably cogent for our situation and reinforces our focus on breaking down barriers to gender equality and supporting and encouraging women’s economic empowerment.

The Australian Government is committed to improving women’s leadership opportunities because doing so is fundamental to gender equality.

The Australian Government’s strong commitment to achieving a target of at least 40 per cent women and 40 per cent men on Australian Government boards by 2015 was recently commended by Ms Bachelet.

Research has shown that boards with more equal representation of women outperform those with fewer women. The Gender Balance on Australian Government Boards Report 2010-2011 showed encouraging signs for women’s representation, with women holding 35.3 per cent of Government board positions at 30 June 2011. We anticipate even greater gains made towards the target in the upcoming 2011-2012 report, reflecting the hard work and commitment of Ministers and their portfolios.

To support portfolios in reaching the gender balance target, the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Penny Wong, announced the launch of the Women on Boards Network, which will provide more opportunities for women to be appointed to their first board position. In addition, the Australian Government Office for Women and the Department of Finance and Deregulation are developing a whole-of-government website that will facilitate the advertising, application process and reporting of Government board appointments.

The Australian Government recognises the valuable contribution women make in owning and managing small businesses. As part of the work being undertaken by Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) economies, we are working with the United States to share best practices, case studies, and in-depth practices and procedures, on how to provide services to build capacity of women entrepreneurs regarding government procurement and contract participation.

We are also implementing a range of initiatives, across numerous departments, to assist with supporting women-owned and operated enterprises, including:

  • a Small Business Support Line to provide advice and referral services on a range of issues that affect small businesses;
  • the Small Business Advisory Service program in the 2012-13 Budget, providing low cost advisory services to small business across Australia; and
  • appointing Australia’s first Small Business Commissioner in the second half of 2012.

This Government is determined to improve leadership opportunities for women, and is pleased to see women’s representation in leadership roles improving both in the public and private sector. The Government works collaboratively with a range of stakeholders and is encouraged by the work others are doing to ensure real action is taken to improve women’s representation in leadership roles.

In the private sector, the Government is working with the Australian Institute of Company Directors to increase the representation of women on Australian boards through the provision of Board Diversity Scholarships. On 15 June 2012, the Prime Minister announced $225,000 towards a further 70 scholarships, on top of the 70 that were awarded last year. Applications for the second round of scholarships opened on 21 September 2012 and will close on 11 October 2012. This further investment is designed to ensure that more women will move through to the boardrooms of our nation.

The Sex Discrimination Commissioner’s Male Champions of Change initiative brings together high-profile male leaders who aim to use their influence to ensure women’s representation in leadership is elevated on the national business agenda.

In addition to this, the ASX Corporate Governance Council amended its guidelines (1 January 2011) to encourage publicly listed companies in Australia to set measurable diversity outcomes and make progress publicly known. An independent report on these guidelines found that 98 per cent of the 211 sampled ASX-listed companies had established a diversity policy or had an explanation for why they had not.

Encouragingly, the number of women in ASX200 boardrooms has risen to 14.6 per cent as of 7 September 2012 (Company Directors). Change in the composition of boards can be a gradual process, but change is achievable and the Government is committed to fostering this change.

The Australian Government continues its efforts to break down economic and political barriers that separate women and girls from reaching their full potential in all fields of endeavour. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has declared our commitment to the world by signing up as a founding member of the Equal Future Partnerships. As part of this announcement, Prime Minister Gillard emphasised that this Government will be working to strengthen the pipeline of female talent in traditionally male-dominated industries.

We have already commenced work on a suite of projects and services aimed at bridging the gender pay gap and supporting girls and women in the workforce and the community.

As an example, we are creating new opportunities for Australian women in the Australian Defence Force (ADF). We are removing gender restrictions on the remaining ADF combat role employment categories for which women are currently excluded, including Navy Clearance Divers and Mine Warfare and Clearance Diving Officers, Army Infantry and Armoured Corps and some Artillery roles, and Air Force Air Field Defence Guards and Ground Defence Officers.

A comprehensive review of the culture within the ADF and the Australian Defence Force Academy has been undertaken and is an important step in removing obstacles to women joining and staying in the ADF. In June this year, Minister Collins announced a joint project with the Australian Human Rights Commission aimed at boosting women’s leadership in male-dominated industries. This project will focus on strengthening the ‘talent supply pipeline’ through mechanisms for recruitment and retention.

The Government has also provided the National Resource Sector Workforce with $534,000 over three years to establish the Australian Women in Resources Alliance to help enterprises improve their attraction and retention of women. We are committed to supporting girls to enter some of the male-dominated industries such as engineering by providing $54 million over four years to improve participation in the study of mathematics and science at school and university.

The Australian Government is working across to identify obstacles to gender equality and to respond to them. We are committed to working with the women’s sector, National Council Members and the broader Australian community to take the next steps to gender equality.

Thank you again for having me here today.

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