Speech by The Hon Julie Collins MP

Parliamentary breakfast for Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women Michelle Bachelet

Good morning.

Thank you Auntie Agnes Shea for that warm Welcome to Country.

I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting, the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respects to their Elders, past and present.

I am honoured to host this breakfast for my Parliamentary colleagues to welcome Michelle Bachelet.

Thank you to the National Committee for UN Women in Australia and AusAID for organising this event.

My respect for the Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women is immense.

In her current role, Ms Bachelet is continuing to contribute her considerable talents to the causes of women’s leadership, gender equality and the empowerment of women at global, regional and national levels.

It builds on a lifetime of championing democracy, human rights and women’s rights.

It is a pleasure to welcome her back to Australia – her refuge for a short time during her days of exile from Chile in the 1970s.

A warm welcome also to Jenny Macklin, the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and the Minister for Disability Reform; Warren Snowdon, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel; to all my other parliamentary colleagues; Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick; and General David Hurley, Chief of the Defence Force; and to Penny Williams, Australia’s Global Ambassador for Women and Girls.

I’d like to remind you of a message Michelle delivered at the Commission on the Status of Women this year on the importance of women’s political participation.

She stated that women’s participation in politics and the economy reinforces women’s civil, political and economic rights and strengthens democracy, equality and the economy.

Yet female representation in Australian political and public life remains well below an equitable level.

We meet here today when, for the first time in our country’s history, we have a female Prime Minister, a female Governor General – and the highest proportion of women in the Ministry, at 26.7 per cent.

But there is still a great deal of work to be done.

Women’s representation in our Federal Parliament has, in fact, stalled.

Women hold around 40 per cent of seats in the Senate and 25 per cent in the House of Representatives.

As a Parliament, we must work to promote the increased representation of women in politics in the interest of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Equal opportunity for women and men supports economic growth and helps reduce poverty.

This is as true in developed countries such as Australia, as it is in developing countries.

In Australia, closing the gap between women’s and men’s workforce participation could boost our Gross Domestic Product by up to 13 per cent.

Having an equal number of men and women in leadership positions leads to more informed decision making and better outcomes.

And if we eliminated violence against women, we would also save the Australian economy $13.6 billion each year.

Domestic initiatives

The Australian Government recognises this evidence and we have introduced initiatives designed to:

  • Support working Australians and their families.
  • Build a new Australian economy by making a sustained national effort to raise productivity and remove barriers to people participating in the workforce.
  • Strengthen communities by creating a fairer and more inclusive Australia.

Earlier this year, I worked with the Prime Minister to develop the Women’s Statement 2012, which outlines where we are going, and how the Australian Government will contribute to achieving equality and building a stronger and fairer Australia.

The Women’s Statement highlights the many achievements this Government has made to improve outcomes for women, including:

  • The historic introduction of the nation’s first Paid Parental Leave scheme.
  • A record investment to make quality early childhood education and care more affordable.
  • A commitment to a minimum of 40 per cent representation of women and men on Australian Government boards by 2015. The latest annual Gender Balance on Australian Government Boards Report released in April showed female executives filled 35.3 per cent of Government board positions in the 2010-11 financial year – an all-time high.
  • An $86 million commitment to initiatives under the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children. The National Plan brings together the efforts of all Australian governments, non-government sector and the community more broadly.
  • The Australian Human Rights Commission review of the culture within the Australian Defence Force Academy and Australian Defence Force (ADF). Phase Two of this Review was tabled in Parliament yesterday and deals with the treatment of women in the ADF. I am pleased to say the Government and Defence have agreed in-principle to accept the recommendations of the Review.
  • And the Australian National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, which I launched on International Women’s Day this year.

    • This National Action Plan is part of Australia’s ongoing commitment to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (thirteen twenty five) and related resolutions.
    • We know that around 90 per cent of casualties in recent conflicts have been civilians, with the majority of victims being women and children.
    • The National Action Plan recognises the disproportionate impact of conflict on women and highlights the critical role women can play in peace processes.

The Women’s Statement also reaffirms the Government’s commitment to equality with a strong focus on women’s workforce participation and economic security.

All Australian Government Ministers and Departments share a responsibility for delivering equality for women, and for considering the needs of different women, particularly those who may face multiple barriers to full participation in work and community life.

This is consistent with the Beijing Platform for Action, which is to integrate gender perspectives in legislation, public policies, programs and projects.

International initiatives

While progress towards greater gender equality is being made here and abroad, women in developing countries still face challenges that seem unimaginable to most of us in Australia. We know that:

  • The risk of a woman in a developing country dying from a pregnancy-related cause is about 25 times higher than for a woman living in a developed country.
  • Women in a developing country are much more likely than men to be illiterate.
  • Female-led households are often desperately poor.
  • Women political leaders remain a rarity in most countries around the world – and that right on our doorstep, in the Pacific, there is a critical lack of representation, where only three per cent of parliamentarians are women.

This is why Australia appointed a Global Ambassador for Women and Girls and why Australia’s aid program gives priority to gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Through AusAID’s programs, we help the poorest women increase their incomes, access education and health services, and take leadership roles in their communities.

We are working to end violence against women and girls in their homes, in their communities, and in situations of conflict and crisis.

The Australian Government is particularly proud of a number of new initiatives focused on women which we’ve announced in recent months.

Senator Carr announced last month that Australia would double aid funding for family planning services in developing countries, increasing our support to $50 million a year by 2016.

This increase in funding will help women in the Asia-Pacific access reproductive health services, family planning information and modern contraception.

Australia is also taking a lead in reducing domestic and community violence against women.

In Afghanistan, Australia has a $17.7 million program to help change community attitudes and reduce retribution attacks against women.

In Indonesia, Australia will help around three million women with jobs, family planning and increased protection against domestic violence, through a $60 million aid program.

Partnership with UN Women

Australia’s partnership with UN Women is an important part of our contribution to promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment internationally.

We will provide $48.5 million in core funding over the next four years to UN Women.

We are also looking forward to taking a seat on UN Women’s Board in 2013 and contributing to the organisation’s governance in this critical early period of the organisation’s life.

UN Women has only existed in its current form since January 2011 but it has already established itself as the key international organisation working to promote gender equality, through advocacy and practical programs around the world.

Under Ms Bachelet’s leadership, UN Women has built a strong foundation over the last year and a half.

I look forward to working with UN Women and all of you over the years ahead to deliver real results for the world’s most disadvantaged women wherever they may live, including here at home in Australia.

Thank you.