Speech by The Hon Tanya Pibersek MP

National Rural Women’s Summit opening

Location: Crowne Plaza Hotel, Canberra

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  • Thank you Mrs Agnes Shea for your welcome to Ngunnawal Country.
  • Welcome to my Parliamentary colleagues, Kirsten Livermore, the Member for Capricornia, and to Senators Claire Moore and Trish Crossin.
  • Welcome also to the Chair of the National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women, Libby Lloyd.


  • Welcome to Canberra and to the National Rural Women’s Summit.
  • I am delighted so many women from rural and remote parts of Australia have been able to join us for this very important meeting.

The Rudd Government’s women’s agenda

  • Australia has a history of putting women’s issues at the forefront of Government.
  • Today there are four women in federal Cabinet, seven in the Ministry and for the first time in Australia’s history, the Deputy Prime Minister is a woman.
  • Since the election last year, I have been working hard to deliver on the Government’s commitments to improve the lives of Australian women.
  • We have prioritised the two areas of economic safety and security.
  • In relation to economic security, we are working on a range of initiatives to ensure that women are better able to be financially independent and economically secure through out their lifetimes.
  • Another issue I am determined to bring about positive change is violence against women.
  • Recently I announced the membership of the National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women.
  • The Chair of the National Council, Libby Lloyd will be speaking to you shortly about the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children that Libby and the council members are overseeing.

Contributions of rural women

  • The immense contribution of rural women to our economy and community is unquestionable.
  • It is often women who have kept rural, regional and many urban communities and families together, particularly during times of drought and adversity.
  • Regional women’s businesses generate more than $1.2 billion a year 1 – and we saw some wonderful examples of this at the Trade Show last night.
  • Even more significant is women’s contributions to the value of real farm income.
  • A report from ten years ago by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC)2  estimated that women do around 48 per cent of actual on-farm work, which includes their volunteer and community efforts.
  • I read recently Peter Holmes a Court described as son of deceased businessman, Robert Holmes a Court.
  • Surely this misses the point that Janet Holmes a Court, heads one of Australia’s biggest private companies 3 and is one of the country’s richest women.
  • It must be grating sometimes for women on the land to be described as ‘farmer’s wives’ when they are so clearly farmers too!
  • There are many stand out examples of women who are leading our rural regional economies.
  • For example, Ros Smerdon, an avocado, macadamia and custard apple grower from the Glasshouse Mountains in Queensland is a key horticultural industry leader.
  • She is Chairman of Nature’s Fruit Company, a grower owned co-operative, Vice President of the Australian Custard Apple Growers Association and President of the Jadefruit Marketing Group.
  • Ms Smerdon was recognised for her efforts this year and awarded the National Winner of the Australian RIRDC Rural Women’s Award 2008.
  • But rural and regional women are not only farmers.
  • Many are also retail operators, educators, community workers, health, police and legal professionals.
  • They are the glue that holds communities together.
  • For example, the Country Women’s Association’s ‘Birds in the Bush’ initiative has supported individual women affected by drought with a special day out.
  • I have fond thoughts of attending a forum on refugees near Cootamundra in 2002 hosted by Rural Australians for Refugees.
  • It was also warming a couple of years to see the open reception Afghan refugees received in the New South Wales town of Young.
  • So where would Australia and the Australian economy be without the contribution of rural women?

National Rural Women’s Summit

  • The Rudd Government is committed to improving women’s participation in rural and regional policy.
  • You are here today because we have followed through with our election commitment to ‘strengthen the voice of rural women in shaping rural and regional policy.’
  • This National Rural Women’s Summit is a forum to identify the issues which are important to you as representatives of rural and regional communities, and to determine processes for addressing these issues.
  • The Summit’s program contains a number of very relevant topics to discuss in your working groups covering a wide range of issues from health to climate change.
  • I know each topic will generate healthy debate and will have particular significance to the many sectors that make up the rural network, so I will not attempt to pre-empt your discussions.

Women’s involvement in decision making

  • I want to touch on women’s involvement in high-level decision making because it is the second part of our election commitment.
  • We are committed to strengthening the voices of rural women to inform government about the issues affecting women in rural and regional Australia.
  • What the shape of this process will be, and how it might operate, are issues which will require much consideration by you here this weekend as well as by government.
  • There are women here who attended the first rural summit in 1996. The challenges raised then are still current today – such as representation of women on government bodies and how rural women can have their voices heard.
  • In 2006, the former government commissioned a report into rural women’s representation called ‘At the table – getting the best people and making the right decisions for rural and regional Australia’.
  • Some of you would have contributed to that report which found:
    ‘Women’s representation on decision making bodies is still far too low. The lack of significant numbers of women on regional and rural bodies of influence is an opportunity cost for government, business and the community. We can cut that cost by tapping the talent of regional and rural women to fill positions on our boards, advisory committees and other bodies.’
  • The issue is clear.
  • How do we tap into this wonderful resource to get more women on decision making bodies?
  • An important feature of this Summit is hearing what you have to say on ways to strengthen the voice of rural women.
  • A little like the 2020 Summit, we are not just looking for a list of questions.
  • Certainly the issues need to be identified, but what we seek from you are creative suggestions for solutions to increase rural women’s participation in the issues which affect their communities.
  • What I and my Ministerial colleagues, Anthony Albanese, Tony Burke and Kate Ellis, are looking for is policy advice to inform our decision making across all the big policy and program issues for our contemporary society.
  • There will be an interim report in October this year providing you with feedback on the recommendations you make at this Summit.
  • This will be followed by a final report on the Government’s intentions produced by January next year.
  • This fits with a separate independent review I am conducting on the four National Women’s Secretariats, to find the best model to support the voice and influence of all women – rural and urban, young and old – into government decision making.


  • You have a very full couple of days ahead of you and a very ambitious program to get through.
  • I want to thank the members of the Advisory Group who have developed the program and whose guidance has shaped the direction of the Summit.
  • Their knowledge of rural and regional networks has been essential in ensuring the wide representation and quality of participants engaged in the Summit.
  • I also want to thank Anne Dunn who is facilitating the Summit.
  • Anne’s subject knowledge and expertise will ensure discussions are focused and relevant.
  • Unfortunately, I have to return to Sydney later this morning, so I will be unable to take part in all your discussions.
  • However, Kirsten, Trish and Claire will brief me and my Ministerial colleagues on the outcomes to assist us with our analysis of your recommendations.
  • Thank you for giving up your time to come to Canberra and thank you, in advance, for what I am sure will be your invaluable contributions to this most important National Rural Women’s Summit.


  1. Women in Business in Rural and Remote Australia – Growing Regional Economies Report prepared for RIRDC by Kim Houghton & Peter Strong,, September 2004,
  2. Missed Opportunities – harnessing the potential of women in Australian agriculture – Volume 2. Economic module – estimating the current and potential contribution of women in agriculture. Report prepared for RIRDC by Jane Elix, Judy Lambert and others 1998
  3. Heytesbury, a privately owned group of mostly agricultural companies.