Speech by The Hon Julie Collins MP

Opening address at the national women’s alliances annual forum, Canberra

Location: Canberra

Good morning.

Before I begin I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting on today and pay my respects to their Elders, past and present.

My thanks to the National Women’s Alliances for the opportunity to speak to you today and in particular for the extraordinary work of the Alliances’ board members.

They are volunteers juggling their responsibilities along with paid work and caring duties.

I’ve met with representatives from each of the Alliances over the past months and I’m full of admiration for the hard work you do to make sure the voices of women are heard loud and clear.

And today is no different.

It gives me great pleasure to address such a diverse group of strong female leaders and inspirational women committed to achieving gender equality.

It is a cause I am passionate about and one this Government is committed to making a reality.

On this journey, we’ve passed several significant milestones over the past few weeks.

I had the pleasure of introducing the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Amendment Bill on March 1 and on International Women’s Day March 8, I unveiled Australia’s first National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.

In both these cases, the objective is the empowerment of women where they have been unfairly left behind.

The first initiative is about economic empowerment through equal workforce participation.

The second is about the full involvement of women in conflict and post-conflict settings – protection from the violations they suffer in the context of war and recognition they have a vital role to play if any peace process is to last.

Equal opportunity in the workplace

I draw your attention to the name of the Act that will replace the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act.

The new Act will be known as the Workplace Gender Equality Act. It fairly reflects our objective – equality for women and men.

The coverage of the Act is expanded to include men, as well as women, particularly in relation to caring responsibilities.

It is a significant package of reforms that delivers on a Gillard Government election commitment.

Gender inequality is a significant disincentive and obstacle to women’s workforce participation.

It has been estimated that closing the gap between men’s and women’s workforce participation could boost Gross Domestic Product by 13 per cent.

We have learned from the current legislative regime and from the trends in the workplace that in order to increase women’s participation, we need to address the unequal burden of caring responsibilities.

Men are less likely to be given flexible working arrangements to assist with caring responsibilities.

Men tend to do more paid work than women and are subject to gendered expectations to be career-focused and not family-oriented.

This is not good for men, but it’s not good for women either. It impacts on women’s capacity to participate equally in the workplace and on an equal footing.

The new focus on ‘gender equality’ complements the Fair Work Act 2009 and recent changes to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984. It ensures that both women and men have options to balance their paid work and caring obligations.

The new Act will cut red-tape by simplifying and streamlining reporting – encouraging change within business, without increasing the regulatory burden.

Organisations will be required to report on pay data. Salary data will be removed from the public reports.

More standardised data will provide insight as to where gender pay gaps are emerging or growing at the industry or sector level.

The gender pay gap in Australia is one of the highest in three decades, sitting at just under 18 per cent – so this new focus on equal remuneration is particularly important.

The new Bill will also allow for more transparency in reporting.

It will require the chief executive officer of an employer to sign the public reports – ensuring management at the highest level engages in the issue of gender equality.

Through improved workforce participation and workplace flexibility for women and men, the reforms are also expected to improve productivity and address current and future skills shortages.

The Australian Government looks forward to continuing to work closely with industry, unions and the women’s sector to implement the new framework.

I hope the Bill will be passed by the House of Representatives this week.

National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security

Improving women’s economic security is a critical part of gender equality, but it is not the only piece of the puzzle.

The protection of women is also a national and international priority.

This Government has always taken a zero tolerance approach to violence against women and now we join in an international campaign to protect and empower women and girls in fragile and conflict affected zones.

The Australian National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security is a first for this nation.

It represents a concerted effort by the Gillard Government and non-government organisations for the protection and empowerment of women and girls affected by conflict.

This Action Plan has been a long time coming – Australia first supported the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 in October 2000.

This plan identifies strategies and actions for Australia, both at home and overseas, to further implement UNSCR1325 and related resolutions over the next six years.

We made it an election commitment in 2010 and we are proud to unveil it now.

We now have a clear framework to respond to the needs and to promote the protection and participation of women and girls in fragile, conflict and post-conflict situations.

It will support more women in decision making roles. As I said at its launch on International Women’s Day: “Currently, the peace process is dominated by men. You could call it a boys’ club.”

Unfortunately, in many nations around the world, women are excluded from decision making processes around peace and security.

Fewer than eight per cent of women are represented in conflict resolution.

Yet, in recent conflicts, up to 90 per cent of casualties have been civilians and most of them have been women and children.

This National Action Plan will support the critical role women play in preventing conflict and building peace in their communities.

Women are powerful agents of change.

And that’s why we need to ensure women have every opportunity to participate, in all our peace and security efforts.

National Women’s Alliances

A key element of the successful implementation of the National Action Plan will be our ongoing partnership with the National Women’s Alliances and the women’s sector more broadly.

I look forward to you maintaining your strong engagement with the National Action Plan and promoting women’s meaningful participation and equality more broadly.

We want to ensure the voices of as many women as possible are heard when important decisions are being made – from Parliament, to the boardroom, to the community level.

As long as women continue to be under-represented in government and the corporate sector, there will be a need for organisations such as the Alliances to lobby and advocate for change.

It is the collective strength of the Alliances and the member organisations they represent that is their greatest asset.

Since stepping into the role of Minister for the Status of Women, I have been following your work with great interest.

I was pleased to see the Australian Immigrant and Refugee Alliance launch its ‘In Her Shoes’ project this month (2 March).

This innovative social media campaign is giving immigrant and refugee women the opportunity to tell their stories of life in Australia.

There are other alliances doing great work in the community.

Economic Security 4 Women have recently released the Career Pathways for Women & Girls: Emergent & Non-Traditional Occupations & Industries (Viable Work) report and the Attitudes to Gender pay equity in small firms report.

And of course, the Equality Rights Alliance’s ‘Settle Petal’ project is giving young feminists and their supporters around Australia an online space to network and draw attention to women’s issues.

I am also pleased to see the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance is continuing its work in the community and with the Government to support the implementation of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Alliance for its work on the constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians.

The National Rural Women’s Coalition is doing great work for women living in rural, regional and remote communities.

Their E-Learning and Leadership Program offers live webinars and online forum sessions to help build the leadership and representation of women in primary industries and strengthen the productivity of their businesses and workplaces.

The views of all your organisations take on added significance in the lead-up to the Budget.

And I know you have been working together to run a number of training sessions throughout Australia on the 2012-13 Federal Budget submission process.


Well done to all of you for your untiring work in the community.

You are champions of change in an age when change is still very much needed.

The Australian Government needs your support to achieve real gender equality in this country.

I hope you enjoy the Forum and engage in stimulating, constructive debate on gender equality and the important issues facing women.

There are still many questions to ask and inequalities to fix … too many in fact.

Why aren’t Australian women earning dollar-for-dollar for men, instead of the 83 cents in the dollar on average it is now?

Why isn’t the number of women on ASX 200 boards a lot higher than the 13.8 per cent of positions it is now?

How long must women suffer violence and harassment in their relationships, in the workplace and in the community?

I am committed to getting the community talking more about gender equality.

We need strong voices such as yours if we are to ensure women’s equal place in Australian society and around the world.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you all today.