Speech by The Hon Tanya Pibersek MP

National Women’s Alliances Annual Meeting

Location: Manuka Oval, Canberra

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I wish to pay my respects to the traditional owners of the land on which we meet tonight, and to their elders past and present.

Recent milestones for women

It is great to be here again with the Alliances.

You are in Canberra at an historic moment in time.

I refer of course to the passage through the Parliament last week of our Paid Parental Leave scheme.

This is a great reform for Australian women and their families.

It is also a great tribute to all those women who have persevered for decades to ensure that, finally, we have caught up with the rest of the world on this issue.

As ever, with important social reform, progress has been incremental.

The first schemes were brought in the early seventies as a result of advocacy by women’s groups, particularly the Women’s Electoral Lobby.

It took forty long years for the scheme to be expanded and extended to achieve universal coverage.

It is a great example of that catch cry, Don’t Agonise, Organise.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank and congratulate all of the Alliances, but particularly the Economic Security for Women Alliance, on the role you played in getting Paid Parental Leave over the line.

To be a successful advocate it is essential to have clear aims and an agreed strategy to achieve them.

With Paid Parental Leave, the objective was legislative change.

Whereas, on Sunday, I launched a social networking campaign of particular interest to another of our Alliances, but where the objective is attitudinal change.

The campaign is called The Line.

It is of particular interest to WEAVE which as you all know is the acronym for Women Everywhere Advocating Violence Elimination.

The Line is an innovative social networking campaign aimed at reducing domestic violence by encouraging teenagers to develop life-long respectful relations.

The Line will be an important component of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women primary prevention strategy.

The National Plan is in the final stages of development in COAG and will be released soon.

Rudd Government Achievements

As you know, my main priorities are improving women’s economic security, reducing violence against women and ensuring women’s equal place in society.

A lot has been achieved for Australian women in the last two and half years.

As well as  Paid Parental Leave and the National Plan, the Government has also:

  • Introduced the Fair Work Act with national employment standards which make it easier for women and men to balance their paid work and family life, while also helping to achieve pay equity; and
  • Committed to major superannuation reform, including increasing the superannuation guarantee  rate to 12 per cent by 2020.

The Treasury estimates that as a result of the changes to superannuation, a woman aged 30 now on average weekly earnings with a broken work pattern will have an extra $78,000 in super to retire on.

Significant improvements to the pension system, which has seen the maximum age pension rate increased by around $100 a fortnight for singles and around $74 for couples, will also benefit women.

The Government has boosted the quality and affordability of child care and early childhood education. This includes increasing the Child Care Rebate to 50 per cent, up from $4,300 to $7,500.

The rebate can now be claimed quarterly – providing more timely assistance to families with their child care costs.

We are strengthening breastfeeding protections through the Sex Discrimination Act.

Gender equality across Government has been strengthened through the Office for Women and the Women’s Interdepartmental Committee.

On the international front, we have increased the development assistance budget to .33 per cent of GDP , with a special emphasis on maternal health and anti-violence against women.

And, as I hardly need to remind all of you, we have invested $3.6 million to boost women’s advocacy through the Alliances.

The Government is committed to evidence based policy making.

That’s why I am pleased to announce tonight that the Office of Women is working with the Australian Bureau of Statistics to develop a gender theme page on the ABS website that will include key national indicators on the status of women.

I am also looking forward to announcing the findings of the Equal Employment for Women in the Workplace Agency Review in the next couple of months.

The Alliances

I recognise that addressing these issues is very important to you and to your members.

The Economic Security for Women Alliance as I have mentioned already played a role in helping secure Paid Parental Leave.

The Alliance is also working with Women in Adult and Vocational Education to develop a national postcard campaign to outline the importance of vocational education and training for women.

This Alliance has funded Business and Professional Women Australia’s What Business Wants Report that I am pleased to launch tonight.

This report investigates the structural change needed so that small and medium businesses can achieve equal pay.

Congratulations to Sandra Cook and her team for writing the report.

The Equality Rights Australia Alliance has already launched a comprehensive and impressive election platform for the 2010 federal election.

My colleagues and I are working our way through their recommendations.

The tremendous work of this Alliance’s predecessor – Womenspeak – on ensuring the Henry Tax review heeded gender issues was an exemplar of how I hope to see the Alliances operate.

WEAVE have identified their top five priorities and I understand circulated them to all of you.

This Alliance has certainly got a huge task ahead working with governments around the country to help implement the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children.

I look forward to receiving their on-going feedback about the National Plan, and also about The Line campaign.

The National Rural Women’s Coalition and Network Alliance have committed to the big task of setting up a network with existing rural women’s groups to engage in policy debate affecting rural and regional communities.

We know that it is rural women who have the best understanding of what rural families most need and want.

We also know that rural women need more recognition by their city sisters.

There was a very good editorial in The Land last year which said:

Elizabeth Macarthur was probably the last woman in agriculture to get the full recognition she deserved – and most of that came more than century after her death.

I am confident this Alliance will secure more immediate recognition for rural women and look forward to watching it develop.

The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Alliance has already had an initial planning day to help begin the task of establishing and laying the foundations for the Alliance.  

They have lost one of their members – but to a very very good cause.

Megan Davis was originally to have been involved with NATSIWA but has since been elected to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

That gives you some idea of the extraordinary calibre of women involved with NATSIWA.

It is wonderful that the Australian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Alliance once again, have a national voice.

Although they did not have an existing structure to work on, they have brought together an Alliance with extensive grass roots support and have schooled themselves in advocacy.

I have told my colleagues to expect terrific input from this Alliance.

The coming months are a particularly significant time for the Alliances.

We are in the lead up to the one hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day on the 8th of March 2011.

The centenary of IWD is an important time to come together, reflect on what has been achieved and the challenges ahead.

That’s why I am very pleased to announce tonight that the Government will provide $100,000 to UNIFEM to help them organise a wide range of events and to develop a series of resources, including an internet page which will list IWD events around the country.

Each Alliance will also be provided with $35,000 each to celebrate the centenary.

This is a great opportunity for us to generate discussion in the Australian community about what we still need to do for Australian women.  

I would particularly like to see the lead up to the centenary as a time used for inspiring young women getting them involved in the Alliances and drawing them into the women’s movement.

I encourage you all to engage with UNIFEM and with each other in your planning for the 8th of March next year so that we can strengthen our calls for true gender equality and reach as many women as possible across the country.

I look forward to hearing everyone’s ideas on how we can celebrate the fantastic achievements of the past 100 years and inspire further reform well before the next 100!

Thank you for your skills and your dedication.