Transcript by The Hon Julie Collins MP

Women on company and government boards, AFL Community Action Grant on reducing violence against women

Program: Sky News

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ASHLEIGH GILLON: Changing tact now and the glass ceiling in Australia’s political sphere certainly has some huge cracks in it. But when it comes to the business world, women are still struggling to win much sought after board positions. Joining me now is the Minister for the Status of Women, Julie Collins.

Julie, you’ve announced today that when it comes to government boards, women represent about thirty-five per cent of executives, but in the corporate world it’s less than fourteen per cent. Is there any sign that that figure is actually improving and it if doesn’t soon, would you consider mandating quotas?

JULIE COLLINS: We’re certainly working very hard in terms of the Government for our 40:40:20 election commitment and I released the last annual report today for the 2010/11 financial year and it does show that we have had an improvement, that women on government boards and bodies is now over thirty-five per cent. We have four government agencies over the forty per cent and around eight between thirty and forty per cent. So the Government in terms of our target is certainly on track to meet our commitment by 2015.

When it comes to corporate Australia and the private sector, clearly there is more work to be done. But there is a lot of work being done in the corporate sector. I’ve been talking to a lot of people here in Melbourne today about the work that’s happening. The ASX 200 and the ASX now have introduced a new principle from January last year about employing more women on boards in corporate Australia. I think that they will begin to do so, particularly as they start to see that not only is this about fairness and gender equity, but it’s also about good economics. We know that companies where women are on the boards perform better. We know that they show better returns for their shareholders. So I think that it will be the community that drives this cultural change.

The Government also – and I’ve spoken to Sky before about our Equal Opportunities for Women in the Workplace Act, where we are looking at companies with more than one hundred employees and changing some of the reporting to make it easier for business but also to get some real, true gender equality indicators.

We’re asking businesses how many people do you employ, what number men, what number women, what do you pay them, at what level, so we can actually get the data to see what is happening in corporate Australia for those organisations with more than one hundred employees.

We do still have, as was in the previous Act, some stick in terms of access to government contracts and in terms of naming and shaming. But what we want to do more is drive cultural change and work with industry and work with businesses to actually achieve gender equality in Australia.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: So would you rule out mandating quotas in the future if we don’t see any change? Because it seems to me that we’ve actually been talking about the need for change for so long now and it seems to be happening at a very, very slow rate. If it doesn’t change, is there a point where you would say okay, quotas are the only way to make sure this happens?

JULIE COLLINS: Well, what we’ve set at the moment is targets. We want to work with corporate Australia in terms of education to achieve those targets. We’re certainly saying that we want to see an improvement when it comes to corporate Australia. We’re not ruling anything in or out at this stage. What we’re saying is we’re happy to work with corporate Australia. We’ve doubled the funding to the – what will become the Gender Equality Agency to educate and work with Australian businesses and corporations, so that they can improve gender equality on their boards and in their senior management.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Today you’ve been in Melbourne announcing funds to be used by the AFL to help stop violence against women. How much is the Government contributing and why should taxpayer funds be used for this? The AFL has pretty deep pockets, doesn’t it? Isn’t it – isn’t there an argument that this is a problem that the AFL has, that should be spending its own money on?

JULIE COLLINS: What we’ve done is announced one of seventeen community action grants today as part of our national plan for reducing violence against women and their children. It’s an $86 million dollar plan, working with state and territories. But we also need to work with the local community. We’ve announced the action grant today with the AFL. It’s $244,000.

It is for the AFL in terms of distributing some of the material and some of the hard work that AFL is already doing in terms of trying to drive that change early on in terms of respectful relationships. Because what we know about domestic violence and violence against women is that we actually need to stop it from occurring in the first place. So we need to go in there early. This material will be for 16 to 25-year-olds and it will be distributed, particularly, to local community AFL groups.

So it’s right across – national. But it is right down to the very local community level for the AFL to distribute that material and to work with local clubs to really drive that respectful relationships from an early age.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: We hope it works. Minister for the Status of Women, Julie Collins. I appreciate you talking with us this afternoon. Thanks.