Speech by The Hon Julie Collins MP

Australian Services Union Tasmania women’s lunch, Tasmania

Location: Hobart, Tasmania

Good morning and thank you for the kind invitation to join you all today.

I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

I congratulate you for developing local women’s events and activities. I understand that since the merger of your Victorian and Tasmanian branches this has become a priority for you.

I also congratulate and give my best wishes to your members taking part in the Anna Stewart Memorial Project – a great ongoing initiative.

Milestone achievements

Equality and advancing the status of women are at the heart of the Australian Government’s commitment to building a strong economy on the back of a fair and just society.

The women’s movement and labour movement have been partners in a long history of fighting for equality and fairness.

Today, I would like to reflect on some of our recent achievements. They deserve to be celebrated.

Fair Work Act

The Australian Labor Government’s introduction of the Fair Work Act is, of course, a major milestone.

There has been no greater boost to working women’s economic security than the Act’s removal of the Coalition’s Work Choices.

A key principle underpinning the Fair Work Act is equal pay for work of equal or comparable value for women and men.

The Fair Work Act has restored the momentum towards equal pay.

Equal pay for Social and Community Sector

The Act provided the basis for the Social and Community Sector (SACS) equal pay case – which the Australian Services Union pursued with great determination.

I won’t say much here as Lisa Darmanin will be covering the latest updates.

I am very pleased, as Minister for Community Services as well as the Minister for the Status of Women, to be coordinating the consultations on implementing the Commonwealth’s supplementation.

I have been meeting with stakeholders in the sector to talk through which organisations and workers will be in scope under the Equal Remuneration Order and to discuss the Government’s approach to providing supplementation for its share of the wage increases.

Negotiations with the States and Territories are underway and we will work with them to determine the costs related to funding through national agreements.

The Prime Minister’s announcement in June of an additional one billion dollars brings the Australian Government’s contribution to fund wage increases for the sector to $3 billion.

I congratulate the Australian Services Union on the work you have put into this case. It will deliver real – and deserved – benefits for your members.

Amendments to Sex Discrimination Act

Advancing equality is the right thing to do – and necessary for economies to grow and prosper.

We want to create the legal and cultural environment that enables workplaces to grow and prosper on this basis.

And to help achieve this goal, we have reformed two other important pieces of legislation.

Last year we amended the Sex Discrimination Act.

This Act now applies equally to women and men and extends protections from discrimination on the grounds of family responsibilities to all areas of employment.

Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act

Earlier this year, I also introduced amendments to strengthen the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act.

This Act has been in place since 1986 and is a valuable complement to our human rights and workplace relations framework.

The Australian Government wants this legislation to achieve cultural change – to make those employers still lagging behind in promoting gender equality in their workplaces recognise the benefits they can reap from making the most of everyone’s talents.

It requires all non-public sector employers with 100 or more employees to take proactive measures to remove obstacles to women’s employment and to gender equality.

With the new amendments employers will not only have to demonstrate actions, but also outcomes.

We worked very hard with employers, unions and the women’s sector on this legislation.

Consultation with employees is stipulated as a new gender equality indicator under the legislation and there is an enhanced role for unions.

The name of the proposed new law – the Workplace Gender Equality Act – reflects our objective for equality between women and men.

It includes men and recognises their needs, especially in caring responsibilities as parents.

The House of Representatives passed the Bill enacting the legislation in June.

I’m disappointed that the Coalition voted against the Bill despite our considerable consultation with business, employee organisations and the women’s sector that led to this balanced legislation.

I look forward to the legislation passing through the Senate as soon as possible.

Paid parental leave

A momentous achievement for working women is this Government’s introduction of Australia’s first paid parental leave scheme.

More than 160,000 Australian families have claimed Paid Parental Leave since it started in January last year.

It is having dramatic results. A report in May (The Baseline Mothers Survey) found that before its introduction only about half of working women had access to paid maternity leave.

Now, 95 per cent of working women have access to paid parental leave – either from the Government or their employer or both.

Child care funding boost

Another way we’re creating the flexibility for more women to join the workforce or to work for as long as they want is better funding of child care.

We will invest a record $19.9 billion in direct child care assistance to parents over the next four years – more than triple the investment of the former Howard Government during their last four years in office.

Labor’s decision to increase the Child Care Rebate from 30 per cent to 50 per cent of out-of-pocket costs continues to reduce the cost of child care to families.

Families can now receive their Child Care Rebate payments fortnightly, instead of having to wait until the end of the year for this critical assistance – making it easier to balance the family budget each week.

As a result of Labor’s increased investment in child care, out-of-pocket costs for a family earning $75 000 a year has reduced from 13 per cent of their disposable income in 2004 to 7.5 per cent in 2011.


Finally, I would like to talk about women in leadership.

This is a big focus for my women’s portfolio and a large part of the Anna Stewart Memorial Project.

Women in unions

This project is a response to the uncomfortable truth that women are still under-represented in trade union decision-making structures. And that’s despite the large numbers of women joining unions.

Women are very well represented at delegate level and as Branch committee members.

But the ACTU’s 2011 Women in Unions Report found they are generally under-represented at federal executive and council level and made up just one third of senior officials.

We know that organisations where women are in senior management roles perform better than organisations without women at the top.

This is equally true for unions, as well as for the public and private sectors.

The Women in Unions Report has recommendations on how unions can act to remove the barriers preventing women reaching more senior levels.

I congratulate you for engaging women members in events like this and supporting them to take part in initiatives such as the Anna Stewart Memorial Project.

These are essential to meeting the aim of promoting more women unionists to senior leadership roles.

Networking, mentoring and a commitment to development and training, all things demonstrated here today, will provide tangible benefits for women in unions.

Women on Government Boards

The Gillard Government is also intent on looking at its own backyard.

We have committed to a target for women to make up at least 40 per cent of positions on Australian Government boards by 2015.

The latest annual Gender Balance on Australian Government Boards Report, which I released in April, shows we are on track to achieving this goal.

Women are becoming more influential on Australian Government boards with female executives filling 35.3 per cent of positions in 2010 – an all-time high.

Looking ahead, 11 portfolios have already awarded at least 40 per cent of their new board appointments to women.

And, finally, through the efforts of sustained advocacy and growing awareness of the benefits of gender diversity, progress is being made in the private sector.


This Government believes it is critical for all women to receive social and financial recognition for the work they do and the contribution they make to Australian society.

Unions and the women’s movement have played a central role in many of our proudest achievements.

This Government is proud of its ties to the union movement and we are committed to continuing to work with you to achieve true gender equality in the workplace.

Congratulations again to the members participating in the Anna Stewart Memorial Project and on the ongoing success of the merger between Victorian and Tasmanian union branches.

Thank you.