Speech by The Hon Julie Bishop MP

National Women and Mining Symposium

I am delighted to be at this women in Mining Symposium, and to launch the report Unearthing New Resources: Attracting and Retaining Women in the Australian Minerals Industry.

This publication has been made available through a partnership between the Australian Government and the Minerals Council of Australia, and through research undertaken by the Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining, and, Women in Social and Economic Research. 

Let me put this research into the broader context.

The mining industry in Australia has experienced strong growth over the last decade in particular and this has brought great benefits to the economy, the mining industry and individuals.

It is a success story for Australia.

It is an export success story, with mining industry exports reaching $110 billion this year.

This success story has been achieved through the efforts of employers and employees working together, with minimal union involvement or industrial disputation, earning record profits and record high wages.

While the rise of China and India are external factors which have underpinned the expansion of the mining industry, there are important internal factors which have been equally important.

The single most important factor has been that Australia is now a reliable supplier to these and other markets.

Prior to the Howard Government’s first wave of workplace reforms, the mining industry in Australia was plagued by work practices and attitudes that impacted on our international reputation.

Prior to 1996, buyers from Japan and other countries would come here and say they like our products but if there are stoppages, ships don’t sail, supplies don’t arrive on time, then Australia represents a risk to them.

International buyers were using some of these supplies to power their cities and industries and they could not afford to have interruption of supply.

Australia would have been sidelined during the current resources boom had we not reformed industrial relations in this country so that we could provide international markets with assurances about supply.

The Labor Party tries to paint the benefits of the mining boom as something which has happened by accident in this country, and that it would have occurred no matter what the state of our industrial relations laws.

This is absolutely wrong.

Consider that in 2006 the number of strikes in this country reached the lowest level since records were first kept in 1913.

This has enhanced our international reputation as a reliable place to do business.

A key part of the industrial relations reform process has been the introduction of individual agreements and Australian Workplace Agreements in particular.

And yet this key reform is at risk in the coming election.

Labor and the Unions have vowed to throw out AWAs “lock, stock and barrel” – the thought of an individual negotiating their wage without a union representative in the room is anathema to them.

According to Labor, individuals can’t be trusted to negotiate their own terms and wages, because ruthless bosses will exploit them.

Abolishing AWAs will take away the flexibility that employees in the mining industry enjoy, increase union involvement which will inevitably lead to industrial disputes and will pit employer against employee, putting our international success story at risk.

If you were ever in any doubt listen to the words of Kevin Reynolds as he relishes the thought of life under wall-to-wall Labor governments and the unions back in every workplaces.

AWAs offer greater flexibility and greater rewards, and are a breath of fresh air for the mining industry.

They provide legally enforceable terms and conditions that suit the needs of the employer and employee and can override inflexible and inconsistent or irrelevant terms of awards, collective agreements or State laws.

Flexibility has allowed mining companies to develop innovative solutions such as the now-common fly-in workforce and greater variation in shift arrangements that have greatly improved efficiency.

The Workplace Relations Act of 1996 provides a national regulatory framework for Australian workers, which offers flexibility and choice for employees and employers in agreement making.

Choice and flexibility is producing good outcomes for the economy, and good outcomes for the minerals industry, with sustainable and strong jobs growth and historically low unemployment a dominant feature of the economy.

Women stand to gain the most from our industrial relations laws, and stand to lose the most from Labor’s declared position to throw out the gains of the past decade.

Numbers speak for themselves.

Strong economic management and a flexible workplace relations system are delivering wage growth for all Australians.

Wages have increased by an average of 4.1 per cent across all sectors of the economy during the past 12 months.

Between March 1996 and June 2006, real wages have grown by 16.4 per cent.

Compare this to Labor’s record in government, when real wages actually fell by 0.2 per cent from March 1983 to March 1996.

Labor has a strange definition of exploitation, when they drove down real wages and oversaw conditions including record interest rates and more than 1 million people unemployed.

Today, Australia has an unemployment rate at the lowest levels in three generations – 4.4% in April 2007 is the lowest level since November 1974.

In the mining States of Queensland and Western Australia it is 3.5% and 2.7% respectively.

There are now more Australians in work than ever before, at a record high of 10.5 million people.

Overall, since the Howard Government came to office, more than 2 million jobs have been created, almost 1.2 million of which have been full-time positions.

Full-time employment has increased to a record high of 7.5 million, while part-time employment has grown to a record of almost 3 million people.

About 8.5% of the Australian workforce is now on an AWA – almost 750,000 people.

Part of the appeal of AWAs is that they are highly attractive to part-time and casual workers, many of whom are women.

They are attractive because, for example, working mothers can retain all the benefits of their employment conditions, such as flexible hours around schooling and child care, while obtaining certainty of employment that will allow them to obtain finance to buy a home or a car.

It is this flexibility that is attracting and retaining more women in the workforce, particularly into industries such as mining that have previously been bastions of male employment.

The Office of the Employment Advocate has said the resources sector has almost 52,000 AWAs, which is more than 37% of the workforce.

Over the past year, Rio Tinto has advertised 1000 vacancies for jobs that would be on AWAs and received a staggering 20,000 applications.

Another good news story is that the most recent ABS wage data shows a narrowing of the wage gap between men and women.

Wages data show that female earnings have outstripped male earnings over the past year and this is good news for working Australian families and demonstrates the benefits of economic and workplace relations reform.

The ABS data showed that women’s Total Earnings increased in real terms by 3.5 per cent over the year to February 2007, compared with a real increase for men of 2 per cent over that time.

The Melbourne Institute Wages Report for May 2007 showed that employees on individual contracts experienced the largest annual increases in their total pay.

These workers experienced an average increase of 6.8 per cent compared with an average of 3.4 per cent for those on enterprise agreements and 2.6 per cent for employees on the safety net or award.

Over the past decade female hourly earnings as a percentage of male hourly earnings have increased from 87.1 per cent 1996 to 89.4 per cent in February 2007.

In addition to the increase in real wages for women, the female participation rate is at the highest level on record at 57.5 per cent.

Of the 310,000 jobs created since the March 2006 amendments to the Workplaces Relations Act, 134,000 have been filled by women.

As you know, the Australian Government has introduced a fairness test which will apply to workplace agreements lodged on or after 7 May 2007.

The fairness test will apply to Australian workplace agreements covering employees earning less than $75,000 per annum.

Our industrial relations system now offers Australia to compete with the rest of the world.

The publication I am launching today contains three reports which examine the attitudes of women working in the minerals industry.

The research finds that while more women are working in the industry, many are still unaware of the opportunities available.

There is significant scope to increase the employment of women in the industry and the reports challenge the industry to make changes and implement strategies that will increase the number of women working in the minerals industry and thus benefit the industry overall.

I recommend this series of research reports to employers, to those currently working in the minerals industry, those thinking of working in this area and especially to women who have not yet considered a career in this sector and women from all backgrounds – and that is a vital point – The Minerals Industry can embrace diversity.

The report suggests that the sector is facing a shortage of people, not necessarily a skills shortage.

The minerals industry cannot afford to ignore the fact that over 50% of the population is female, and they need to utilise the available workforce.

The national participation rate for women in the workforce is 45% but for the minerals industry women make up only 18% of that workforce.

The minerals industry can offer a wide range of career options to suit women of all ages and backgrounds.

The research provides a blueprint on how to engage young women still at school to choose a career in the minerals industry.

This is of particular interest to me as within my portfolio of Education, Science and Training, there is a huge effort to get more students interested in maths and science, and more girls in particular.

For example, I recently hosted 100 women and girls at the first Women in Science and Engineering Symposium at Parliament House.

This Symposium brought together more than 50 of our leading female scientists, engineers and researchers, and 50 young female students from across Australia with an interest in a career in the sciences or mathematics, which could lead to employment within the minerals industry and related careers in engineering and technology.

Women continue to be under-represented in critical fields related to maths and science, and the forum was opportunity to encourage girls to pursue higher level science studies and science careers.

It established mentoring relationships between outstanding women working in science and maths, and with young female school students, which was one of the recommendations of the report I am launching today.

Always good to be ahead of the research!

Next week I am launching another initiative which also satisfies a number of the recommendations in the report.

It is important event for business and industry and is the inaugural Schools-Business Dialogue in Parliament House.

The Dialogue will bring together some of Australia’s leading business people with some of our leading educators.

The goal of the Dialogue is to build enduring links and greater understanding between education and business in this country.

We must ensure young people finish their schooling with the skills to hold down a job, and to undertake further education and training.

I hear many reports from employers that young people often do not have the necessary skills and this Dialogue will allow those concerns to be raised directly.

It will also allow educators to provide their perspective on how and what can be achieved within the limitations of the school environment.  I hope the recommendations from this Dialogue will be taken up by the minerals industry.

The report Unearthing New Resources: attracting and retaining women in the Australian Minerals Industry, has made a number of significant findings.

I note that the report found that 88% of women said they wanted a career that gave them the ability to