Speech by The Hon Julie Collins MP

Australian Local Government Women’s Association – 2012 Balance the Imbalance Conference, Melbourne

Location: Melbourne

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Good evening and thank you for welcoming me to the 2012 Australian Local Government Women’s Association Conference.

I would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation who are the traditional custodians of this land and pay respect to their Elders past and present.

I would also like to acknowledge all of the mayors, deputy mayors and councillors here tonight.

The Prime Minister sends her sincere apologies for not being able to be here tonight.

She is looking forward to hearing back on tonight’s networking dinner and on tomorrow’s conference.

She has asked me to deliver this message on her behalf:

“I am delighted to be able to provide this message.

The Australian Local Government Women’s Association has been a leader in supporting women’s participation in local government since its formation in 1951, a year when there was but a single woman in Federal Cabinet, the only one in the whole first half-century since Federation.

Today, our nation has its first female Governor-General and Prime Minister, there are three women on the High Court, female First Ministers and Cabinet Ministers are common, and women serve with distinction on local councils in each corner of the land.

So above all else, let’s be proud of how far we’ve come since Dame Enid Lyons sat alone among that sea of suits in the Menzies Cabinet all those years ago.

I know from the title of your conference you feel – as I do – that so much more work needs to be done. That work will be achieved because it is an unstoppable journey as capable, confident women hold public office everywhere and young women see a sense of possibility in their lives futures as well.

So celebrate with joy and pride. And through our support of each other, let’s keep breaking those glass ceilings until none is left to break and the promise of equality that lies at the heart of our democracy is made real in the entire life of our nation.

It’s a thrilling journey and I know you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Have a great night!”

That the Prime Minister is a ‘she’ is a significant achievement, but as she says we must continue to work to break those glass ceilings.

In this role of Minister for the Status of Women I have enjoyed meeting some of Australia’s most influential and respected female leaders across government, business and the community.

You all represent what women are achieving at the community level and I congratulate you for your work in taking the concerns of local women around Australia to the national stage.

Women in Local Government

Local government has historically played a critical part in Australian life.

You are an integral part of the community.

You deliver infrastructure and services, local roads, community facilities, environmental services, child care, and health and welfare.

Women in local government led disaster struck communities through the floods heartache of earlier this year.

I recall listening to Phyllis Miller, Mayor of Forbes in NSW, leading from the front just over a month ago when her town was under threat from the Lachlan River.

It was also strong local Queensland women who led their communities through the devastation of floods last year.

Local Government is the frontline delivering for Australians – you get to see your actions make a real and practical difference to the lives of people around you.

Women in leadership

It is essential that women’s leadership is promoted at all levels of government and across the public, private and non-government sectors.

Historically, local government has been at the forefront of the movement for gender equality and diversity.

Women make up 30 per cent of the elected representatives, and around 20 per cent of mayors are women.

This is almost identical to women’s representation in the Federal Parliament – there are now 66 women in a total of 226 parliamentarians.

That’s 29.2 per cent – but there is a difference between the two tiers of Federal Parliament.

Of the 76 Senators, 29 are women – 38.2 per cent.

In the House of Representatives, 37 of the 150 Members are women. That’s only 24.7 per cent.

Women’s total representation in the lower house had been at an all-time high of 27.3 per cent in the previous parliament.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go as well as we’d hoped at the last election and some talented women lost their seats.

In the Queensland Parliament, women have gone backwards in a big way.

One of the unfortunate consequences of the recent Queensland election is that the number of women MPs has been halved.

And there are only three women in a Ministry of 19.

The Australian Labor Party is essentially boosting the average of female representation in our various parliaments, and is more than meeting the international target of 30 per cent, set at the Fourth World Conference on Women.

Under our 2011 National Platform, we are committed to equal numbers of men and women at all levels in the party organisation – meaning 40 per cent of positions will be held by women, and 40 per cent by men.

Of my party’s 31 current Senators, 14, or 45 per cent, are women and there are 23 ALP women in the House of Representatives, or 31.9 per cent of the party’s total number of MPs.

The Gillard Government also has the highest ever proportion of women in the Ministry, at 26.7 per cent.

This is better than the world’s average of 16.7 per cent.

But we can and should do better.

Leadership in local government is a great achievement – many outstanding women serve their communities this way.

They should be given greater opportunity to move into State or Federal parliament if they choose to.

Women on government boards

As well as promoting gender equality within the Labor Party, this Government continues to drive forward its election commitment of achieving higher numbers of women on government boards.

This morning, I launched the Gender Balance on Australian Government Boards Report 2010-2011 – a comprehensive gender analysis of Australian Government boards and public appointments.

This report is critical to tracking our progress in meeting the target of a minimum of 40 per cent women and 40 per cent men on public sector boards by 2015.

By setting these targets, we are improving the performance of our boards, improving their decision-making and providing leadership to the community.

The report shows we are getting closer to reaching the 40 per cent target by 2015.

At 30 June 2011, the percentage of women on public boards was 35.3 per cent-an all-time high.

Four government portfolios met or exceeded the gender balance target of 40 per cent.

And eight portfolios had between 30 to 40 per cent women.

The Workplace Gender Equality Act

We are also introducing reforms to promote women’s participation and leadership in the workplace.

The Workplace Gender Equality Act I introduced into the Federal Parliament is not about industrial relations reform – it is about cultural change.

This Act will play a role in increasing women’s leadership, through supporting women’s participation across all levels of the workforce, right up to senior management and decision making positions.

After more than 25 years of equal opportunity legislation, women are still paid on average 18 per cent less than men.

Around six out of 10 women are in paid employment compared to 7 out of 10 men.

It is crucial for our economy at a time of a skills shortage to increase women’s participation in the workforce.

Modelling has shown that closing the participation gap between men and women could boost GDP by as much as 13 per cent.

The Act requires businesses with 100 or more employees to lodge annual reports on their workplaces containing gender-based data – one third currently fail to meet this obligation.

We are making an existing responsibility, simpler, less onerous and more useful. Reporting will now be standardised, based on gender equality indicators and will be industry specific.

Businesses will provide key gender-specific information like the number of employees, their leadership level, their type of employment and what they are paid.

Another important new element is minimum standards – they will be developed in close consultation with employers and will be industry specific and be subject to scrutiny by Parliament.

The whole process of transparent reporting, peer comparison and education will drive sound workplace practices.

This is where the cultural change comes in. My aim and hope is that the transition to true gender equality in the workplace will be through education – through the benefits that will become obvious once employers can compare themselves to others in their industries.

Corporate action

I also want to note some of the excellent work happening in the private sector, independent of government, to increase women’s leadership.

Women make up only eight per cent of senior executives and 13.8 per cent of directors of Australia’s top 200 companies.

I’m pleased to say many parts of corporate Australia are stepping up.

The revised ASX Corporate Governance Principles and Recommendations came into effect in January 2011. They require ASX200 companies to set targets for increasing the number of women on their boards and at senior-executive level.

The Male Champions of Change initiative – convened by Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick – involves high-profile male leaders from some of Australia’s most influential private and public organisations.

These champions use their collective influence to drive gender equality at organisational and national levels.

Gender balance at Australia’s highest decision-making levels will ensure decisions are informed by a broader range of experience.

By having more women in decision-making roles – there is better management and improved profitability.

All of which will strengthen our economy.

Increasing women’s representation in government, business and other areas of the community is a necessary step to true equality.

Taking up leadership roles in local government, particularly in elected positions, is a positive pathway for women to progress from community leadership into influential and public leadership roles. The reality is women are still underrepresented at both the unelected management levels and in elected positions in local government.

It will change.

But we, collectively, have to change it.

The Australian Government is committed to supporting women to take up leadership roles in local government, both in elected and management positions.

The Australian Government Local Women’s Association 50:50 Vision: Councils for Gender Equality is a commendable goal and has wonderful potential for women across Australia.

The 50:50 Vision aims to encourage greater women’s participation in local government, both elected and employed, while promoting cultural change within local government to employ more women in decision-making roles.

Your 50:50 Vision is simple and clear – and I wish you all the best in achieving the change we need.

The Australian Government’s contribution of $8 million towards the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government is evidence of our commitment to supporting local government.

Your Association’s partnership with the Centre of Excellence for Local Government in delivering the 50:50 Vision Program shows how collaboration between federal and local government is helping to address gender equality issues.

And progress is being made.

As of November 2011, 146 councils across Australia signed up for the Bronze Award, a six per cent increase from the 2010 target of 20 per cent.

Eight councils have begun their accreditation for the Silver Award and two have already achieved Silver Award status.

A number of councils in the Northern Territory are advancing gender equality and encouraging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to be elected as councillors and employed as staff members.

The Councils of Tiwi Islands Shire, Darwin City, Palmerston City and Victoria Daly Shire (near Katherine) have all received their Bronze Award and are working towards accreditation for a Silver Award.

Congratulations on the great work.

New funding for ALGWA

All these councils, regardless of their size and location, have each made the decision to drive change.

We need to continue to encourage and support more councils across Australia that want to address gender equality.

We support the ALGWA’s in its efforts to drive this change, and that’s why I am pleased to announce an extra $250,000 over the next three financial years.

This extra funding will support the Association and the Australian Centre for Excellence in Local Government to establish partnerships with more local government stakeholders with the support of a project manager.

With this support, we will build a stronger commitment nationally to the Awards Accreditation project and to promote other gender equality initiatives being developed by stakeholders.


For over 60 years, your Association has been a leader in breaking down the barriers preventing women from full and equal participation in the economy and the community.

Over the past 60 years, thousands of women have sought your support, encouragement, and inspiration to do something good in the community, to make their community stronger.

I hope your reach, importance and achievements for women continue to grow.

I look forward to a strong, positive partnership now and into the future.

Thank you.