Speech by The Hon Julie Collins MP

UN Women Parliamentary International Women’s Day Breakfast, Parliament House, Canberra

Location: Parliament House, Canberra

Good morning and welcome to the UN Women Parliamentary International Women’s Day Breakfast.

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 UN Women Australia for the opportunity to co-host this bipartisan International Women’s Day event with the Opposition Shadow Parliamentary Secretary, Senator Michaelia Cash.

Welcome also to my Parliamentary colleagues from all sides of politics here today.

UN Women Australia has done an admirable job in staging a series of successful International Women’s Day events and in promoting this year’s theme ‘Supporting Women’s Economic Empowerment’.

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 now the highest 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 there is still unfinished work.

At a news conference just last week during proceedings at the Commission for the Status of Women, Michele Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women, emphasised 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.

Women in Parliament

Women’s representation in our Federal Parliament is, in fact, stagnating.

Women hold 38.2 per cent of seats in the Senate and 24.7 per 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.

On this point, I’m proud to say the Australian Labor Party is doing its bit – meeting the target of 30 per cent of women in parliament in the Beijing Platform for Action from the Fourth World Conference on Women.

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 smaller representation of women in the lower house shows women are still missing out on safe or winnable seats.

Women’s total representation in the lower house fell from the record high of 27.3 per cent in the previous parliament to 24.7 at the last election.

Michele Bachelet’s message on the importance of women’s equal participation in politics is remarkably cogent for our situation.

It reinforces our focus for today – and for every day – and that is, the breaking down of the barriers to gender equality and supporting and encouraging women’s economic empowerment.

Gender equality goals

International Women’s Day has always been an important date for me.

This has been a particularly significant week of celebrations as I have participated in my first International Women’s Day as the Minister for the Status of Women.

I am excited to be here today to be a part of vigorous discussions about how we, as women – leaders in fact – can do more to recognise and celebrate women’s achievements and promote gender equality.

Of course, men and boys have a role to play in gender equality alongside and in partnership with women and girls.

The outcome of the 23rd special session of the UN General Assembly of 2000 stressed the need to increase research on men’s and boys’ roles and stereotyping of girls and boys.

It emphasised that men must take joint responsibility with women for the promotion of gender equality.

This issue is sure to be among the focus of discussion at the recently announced 5th World Conference of Women in 2015.

We have fought for equal voice on the right to vote, justice, pay, privileges in marriage and divorce, and rights to property, to name a few.

And women in every part of the world continue to be largely marginalised, often as a result of discriminatory laws, practices, and attitudes, and due to poverty disproportionately affecting women.

In 2012, we continue to face the same or similar challenges.

Many women experience financial insecurity throughout their lifetime.

We know women’s lifetime earnings are generally less than men’s, and that they are much more vulnerable to poverty in retirement.

And unfortunately, in 2012, women still struggle to gain senior leadership positions, earn less pay, have less superannuation, and do more than their share of unpaid work.

Recent research has found that closing the gap between women’s and men’s workforce participation rate could increase Australia’s Gross Domestic Product by 13 per cent – so it is also an economic imperative.

Government’s reform agenda

This Government is committed to advancing gender equality by supporting women’s economic empowerment.

The recent introduction of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workforce Bill into Parliament is the latest example of the significant inroads we are making though our progressive reforms.

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

It will help increase women’s participation in the workforce and their economic empowerment by addressing the unequal burden of caring responsibilities.

Both women and men will have equal options to balance their paid work and caring obligations.

It also focuses on equal remuneration, recognising that closing the gender pay gap is central to achieving equality. That gap, for the record, remains one of the highest in three decades at 17.6 per cent.

This Government introduced Australia’s first Paid Parental Leave scheme – giving families the flexibility to make their own decisions about balancing paid work and family life. Around 150,000 families have now accessed the scheme.

We have also increased the rebate for out-of-pocket child care expenses from 30 to 50 per cent – which is now benefitting 800,000 families.

This reform is having a significant impact in the take home wages of women returning to work.

In 2004, the out-of-pocket costs for a family with one child in long day care and earning $55,000 a year were 13.2 per cent of their disposable income – by last year this proportion had fallen to 7.5 per cent.

We have also made a commitment to achieve pay equity. The historic decision of Fair Work Australia to award equal remuneration to Social and Community sector workers is a significant advance for women.

Other achievements include amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act to make it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of family responsibilities, and the introduction of a new Superannuation Roundtable to improve retirement incomes and superannuation.

I was also extremely proud to launch Australia’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security at Sydney’s Garden Island on International Women’s Day.

Australia will do more as a global partner to ensure the rights and voices of women and girls are protected and promoted.

The Plan will also work towards the full involvement of women in the peace process.

This Plan is the result of a combined effort by the Australian Government and non-government organisations.

UN Women also has a key role to play in promoting gender equality and empowering women.

The Government remains a strong supporter of its advocacy and development operations worldwide and is providing $9.2 million in core funding to support the work of UN Women.

Support for survivors of human trafficking

But just as we celebrate advances – we are all too often reminded of how far we still have to go for women and girls to receive the respect and be treated with the dignity they deserve.

This morning I am announcing that the Australian Government is providing the Australian Red Cross a further $1.2 million to help victims of human trafficking, under the Australian Government’s Support for Trafficked People program.

The tragic reality in 2012 is that trafficking exists and we must ensure survivors receive the compassionate and practical care they need to help them heal and rebuild their lives.

Most victims have been women working in the sex industry but an increasing number are being brought to Australia for forced marriage.

Forced marriage has no place in Australia and that is why my colleague, the Attorney-General Nicola Roxon, is introducing laws into Parliament to criminalise the practice.

I thank the Australian Red Cross for the remarkable job it does in helping victims recover from the trauma of human trafficking.

This extra funding brings the Gillard Government’s support for the Red Cross program to $4.22 million over four years.


It’s exciting to see my peers and colleagues here today to celebrate what women have achieved.

We are together to generate discussions on what more can be done – and there is much more to be done.

Our challenge is to keep the momentum going with a combination of symbolic and practical steps forward.

I look forward to working with all of you to promote and advance gender equality for all women in Australia.

Thank you.