Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

International Women’s Day 2011 – Remarks to the Australian Council of Trade Unions and Victorian Trades Hall Council

Location: Melbourne

It’s great to be here this evening, to join so many fantastic women to celebrate the centenary of International Women’s Day.

Thank you Ged for that warm welcome and for your leadership.

Firstly I want to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we are celebrating here tonight, and to pay my respects to their Elders both past and present.

On this, the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, women in Australia have a special reason to celebrate. To celebrate an achievement close to my heart, and the heart’s of many other women here tonight – this year is the first year that Australian women have access to government-funded Paid Parental Leave.

Today is a day to celebrate the achievements of women who have campaigned for decades for a national Paid Parental Leave scheme. Of course Ged has been a huge support to me and a passionate campaigner. But I’d also like to recognise the efforts over many years of Jennie George and Sharan Burrow.

Women from across the labour movement, and throughout the community, who for a generation have fought to have access to paid maternity leave. There have been inquires and studies and reports, too numerous to mention. We held marches and organised petitions, chanted many slogans and persevered with the campaign.

Of course Tony Abbott once said paid Parental Leave would happen over his dead body.

Instead, on this International Women’s Day, more than 6,700 Australian women are right now receiving government funded Paid Parental Leave.

Finally we have caught up with the rest of the developed world.

This historic entitlement would never have been achieved without the commitment and determination of thousands of Australian women – many of them here in this room tonight.

And I want to thank each and every one of you for the part you played in delivering this reform for working women.

On 1 January this year, the Gillard Labor Government delivered a historic reform for working women and families – Australia’s first national Paid Parental Leave scheme.

Paid Parental Leave gives babies the best start in life and helps women remain connected to their workplace when they have a baby.

It will give working mums time the financial security to take time off to recover from the birth, and bond with their baby.

This new entitlement assists with the challenges and realities of modern family life, helping parents balance work and family responsibilities.

Paid Parental Leave is also good for employers – helping them retain skilled and valuable female employees. More than 3,000 employers have already registered to play their part in the scheme.

And we know the role of employers is vital to making sure that paid parental leave is not a welfare payment, but a part of a woman’s working entitlements.

A new entitlement for working parents that is especially benefiting low income women. In the past it has been low income women who have missed out on paid parental leave – only 17 per cent of women on very low wages had access to paid parental leave, compared to 70 per cent of women on high wages.

And I can tell you tonight that the average annual income of the 6,700 women currently receiving paid parental leave under our new scheme is $47,000.

These are the women you were determined to help, these are the women I was determined to help, and these are the women now benefiting from Paid Parental Leave.

Yet another example of this Labor Government delivering real reform for low income women.

Like the increase in the pension we delivered, particularly benefiting single age pensioners – three quarters of them women.

And just like this Government’s support for equal pay.

The current test case on pay equity for community sector employees is the first case relying on the more generous pay equity provisions that this Government introduced into the Fair Work Act.

We supported this case, and will keep working with unions and the community sector to address the implications when a decision is handed down.

Today we stand together to celebrate these achievements. On this the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.