Speech by The Hon Julie Collins MP

Announcement of recipients: Board Diversity Scholarships

Location: Hobart

Good morning and thank you all for being here.

Thank you for the warm Welcome to Country, Leonie.

And I take this opportunity to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

This event builds on the success of the first Board Diversity Scholarship Program in 2010.

The Prime Minister and I announced in June that the Government would provide $225,000 towards a second round of scholarships, with matching funding from the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

I am really pleased to be able to announce the 70 exceptional Australian women who have been accepted into the second round of the Scholarship Program.

These two rounds have now seen more than 3,500 applications from across Australia – with 1600 highly talented and experienced women applying for these current scholarships.

We are committed to working with Company Directors on this Scholarship Program as we continue to make equality a central objective of Labor Government policy.

Women’s Economic Security

This Government is determined to remove barriers to women’s economic security and workforce participation.

We are equally determined to ensure that Australian women and men receive recognition for their contribution and hard work and are offered the same genuine opportunities.

These priorities are reflected in our commitment to ensuring our laws and our institutions are both progressive and responsive.

We have introduced reforms across a range of portfolios to establish the necessary foundations to tackle gender inequality across all parts of Australian society.

In recent years we have transformed the workplace relations landscape to restore lost rights and to get the balance right in promoting fair and just workplace practices.

We have delivered on our commitment to reform the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act. This will drive cultural change and genuine and sustainable improvements in gender equality in Australian workplaces.

Gender equality

This Government continues to believe strongly in the critical importance of gender equality to the greater wellbeing of the nation.

This is why we have made significant investments in a wide range of areas to drive better economic and social outcomes for women.

Our Government recognises that more balanced sharing of paid work and care enables greater workforce participation for women, improving women’s capacity to provide for themselves and their families and to save for a financially secure retirement.

We are investing a record $22.4 billion over four years in early childhood education and care.

This includes increasing the number of quality childcare positions to assist women re-entering the workforce.

And we have increased the childcare rebate from 30 to 50 per cent.

This Government’s historic Paid Parental Leave scheme aims to increase women’s workforce participation.

It encourages women to stay connected to the workforce while providing Australia’s working mothers the support to stay at home to care for their newborn.

More than 225,000 Australian families have already benefited from this scheme.

We are making substantial investments in skills, education and training, enabling more women than ever to improve their skills and qualifications and increase their economic security.

We are making these investments because we know that the benefits of gender equality for the Australian community and economy are immense.

While these reforms are directly aimed at the genuine and sustained removal of barriers to women’s participation in the workforce, this Government is committed to doing more.

Women on Boards

When it comes down to the real experiences of women in the workplace – in obtaining key decision making positions, in being promoted to CEO, in being offered board positions – Australian women are not getting the opportunities they have earned and so richly deserve.

On this front, Australia ranks well below our OECD peers.

While women represent 46 per cent of the labour force, according to real time data compiled by Company Directors, women hold only 15.2 per cent of ASX 200 board positions.

The 2012 Australian Census of Women in Leadership showed only 12 of the 278 executive directors in the ASX 200 are women – and only seven of these are CEOs.

This is an unacceptable situation in modern Australia.

These figures are disappointing, but the good news is they are the highest they have ever been.

Since the Government joined with Company Directors in the first scholarship program in 2010, the percentage of women on ASX 200 boards has almost doubled – albeit from a very low base of 8.3 per cent – to 15.2 per cent.

In the public sector, we have seen that change is more than possible, it is, in fact, happening at a faster pace.

In 2010, the Government committed to achieving a 40:40:20 gender balance target on Australian Government boards by 2015.

Last month, I released the 2011-12 Gender Balance on Government Boards report which showed we are making strong progress. At 30 June this year, the percentage of women on Government boards was 38.4 per cent – this is an increase of 3.1 per cent on last year’s result and the highest ever.

The Government wants to ensure we have practical, beneficial and equitable policies and practices in place along with a co-operative relationship with the private sector.

We are committed to working with the private sector to tackle the remaining barriers and obstacles to women’s full and equal participation in Australian workplaces.

Also last month, my colleague the Minister for Finance, Senator Penny Wong and I launched BoardLinks – a network to support more Australian women into leadership positions.

BoardLinks’ focus on appointing women to their first government board role will expand the pool of women who can be appointed to board positions in the corporate sector.

BoardLinks will provide more opportunities for women to launch and further their directorship careers.

Along with an associated website, BoardLinks will support women by providing a range of information on Australian Government boards.

I applaud the employers, companies and corporations that support the principle of gender equality in their workplaces and that have the policies in place for women to be recognised for their true abilities and promoted into their leadership ranks.

These organisations are benefitting from the full talents and capacity of half the population.

This makes sound business sense – there is a strong body of evidence that shows organisations with a diverse mix of skills, backgrounds and experience on their boards improve their performance and benefit significantly.

There are many corporate organisations and individuals who deserve recognition for embracing and working towards gender equality. Their ranks are growing – I just wish it was happening a bit quicker.

Significantly, the improvement in outcomes in both the private and public sector show that policies and programs aimed at driving cultural change, such as the Board Diversity Scholarship Program, are breaking down barriers to gender equality.

Board Diversity Scholarship Program

The Board Diversity Scholarship Program represents an important collaboration between the public and private sectors with the aim of increasing the representation of women on not-for-profit, public and private sector boards across the nation.

This second round of Scholarships will build on the success of the first by allowing more women to fulfill their potential, providing Australia and the Australian economy with the benefit of their skills and expertise.

A focus for this round has been on diversity – the 70 recipients come from a wide range of backgrounds, with experience spanning the corporate, public and not-for-profit sectors in a variety of national and international roles.

Today’s recipients also are from a diverse range of fields, including manufacturing, health and traditional male-dominated industries such as mining and construction.

There are six Indigenous Australians and 12 from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds among the recipients.

I would like to congratulate Kate Cuthbertson and Elizabeth Swain, the two Tasmanian Scholarship recipients who have joined us here today.

Liz is from Launceston and a former senior executive at Rio Tinto. She is currently on the Board of Ben Lomond Water and a member of its Audit and OHS Committee.

Kate is a barrister based here in Hobart. She’s currently a member of the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal and Mental Health Tribunal, is on the Theatre Royal Management Board, and a board member of Cosmos Incorporate and Contemporary Art Services Tasmania.

As a proud Tasmanian, it’s great to see talented Tassie women as part of a new wave of women knocking on the door of Australian boardrooms.

I’m sure Liz and Kate will make full use of their substantial abilities and the opportunities provided by these scholarships.

Their drive is just what we need in our efforts to eliminate discrimination in the boardroom and in the workplace generally.

I wish you all the very best for your future endeavours.

I would also like to offer my congratulations to the other recipients who have been accepted into the second round of the program.

I am certain you will go on to be key decision makers in your fields, providing our nation with the benefit of your leadership.


Despite some gains, too many Australian women continue to be excluded from major decision-making roles.

These scholarships will allow more women to fulfil their potential, providing Australia and the Australian economy with the benefit of their skills and expertise.

The Government will continue to strive to ensure all Australians receive a fair dividend and appropriate recognition for their contribution and hard work.

We can achieve change in the composition of boards through cultural change in the workplace, commitment by government and business and through the efforts and example of women such as Liz and Kate.

I would now like to introduce Derris Gillam, Australian Institute of Company Directors’ Tasmanian State President.

Thank you.