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Speech by Senator the Hon Ursula Stephens

Third Sector Women’s Networking Lunch – Melbourne

Location: Melbourne

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I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of this land – the Kulin nation – and pay my respects to their elders past and present, especially the strong indigenous women who keep their culture and traditions alive.

I’d also like to acknowledge Anne Frankenberg, Strategic Partnerships Manager at the International Women’s Development Agency and Clare Martin, Chief Executive of the Australian Council of Social Services who we’ll be hearing from later this afternoon.

What an amazing woman Clare is – journalist, Chief Minister and now head of ACOSS. She personifies the rich experience and passion of third sector women.

And thank you to Third Sector Magazine, the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, and Enterprising Partnerships for bringing us all together today.

What a wonderful group of women we have in this room – women filled with passion and with a vision for stronger, fairer communities.

In fact, women have been sustaining the sector in Australia since very early times.

Perhaps the most famous of our early third sector women was the woman who used to grace our old $5 notes – Caroline Chisholm.

Caroline was an ideas woman – someone who saw need where others were oblivious. And she possessed a stubborn determination to fix the problems facing her society at the time.

The colony of New South Wales in 1838 was awash with new immigrants pouring off the boats in Sydney harbour with little clue about how to make their way in this strange new country.

Caroline saw the need for guidance and soon became a familiar figure on the wharves, meeting boats on docking, providing direction and advice to the new arrivals, finding positions for immigrant girls and even sheltering them in her home. And in the face of significant opposition, she eventually set up a Female Immigrants Home that was entirely funded by donations and at peak times housed up to 96 women.

I have this wonderful image in my mind of Caroline lobbying the governor of the day and his wife for use of the old army barracks – refusing to take no for an answer – and using her indomitable determination to finally convince the owners of the Sydney Herald to provide some financial start-up support.

It’s pretty clear that were she here with us today, Caroline Chisholm would be able to empathise with many in the room and probably provide some pretty good pointers on fundraising as well!

As we move a little further along in history, we come across Dr Lucy Gullett, whose biography says was – and I quote – “a generous supporter of stray animals, drunks and ex-patients from lunatic asylums to whom she devoted most of her inheritance.”

But there was much more to Lucy than this. Like Caroline Chisholm she too saw a need – in this case, the need for a women and children’s hospital in Sydney.

To this end, she founded the New South Wales Association of Registered Medical Women in 1921 and started out by operating a small clinic in Surry Hills. She and another female colleague shouldered the early financial burden of the practice, before it outgrew the Surry Hills house and eventually moved to larger premises in Redfern. Not content with having established a hospital, Lucy then went on to create a convalescent home in 1946.

These are both visionary women – women who identified a social need and then used their own resources, power of persuasion and, I imagine, a fair force of character to create the change that would make their communities a fairer place for people, particularly for those who were struggling.

And the third sector women of today are continuing this legacy.

Wasn’t it fantastic to see Ronni Kahn, founder of OzHarvest recognised on Australia Day this year with the Australia’s Local Hero 2010 award.

OzHarvest is a not-for-profit that rescues excess food and delivers it to people in need of a meal.

Ronnie started the organisation after 20 years in the hospitality industry, fed up with the amount of waste that is a natural part of the industry. She started up OzHarvest based on the AmericaHarvest model, and less than 6 years later has rescued almost 5 million meals – including from Parliament House.

Another recent example of sector women’s ingenuity and drive is the Women Mobilising Millions campaign launched last month.

The brainchild of Kristi Mansfield, Director of Greenstone Group, and Gina Anderson, CEO of Philanthropy Australia. It’s aimed at increasing levels of philanthropic giving for distribution to projects that benefit women and girls, on the basis of international evidence demonstrating that investing in women and girls has positive flow-on effects to families, communities and countries.

It’s modelled on the American initiative Women Moving Millions, which has united 185 women to join forces to pledge $1 million each to support the work of women’s funds across the globe. This amazing group of women, which includes three Australians, includes Jane Fonda, Jennifer Buffet and Anne Delaney.

As part of the Australian launch, the founder and supporter of Women Moving Millions – Helen LaKelly Hunt and Christine Grumm – came to Australia to speak at the Sydney and Melbourne launches. For those of you who were able to attend one of these events, I’m sure like me you were touched by the open honesty of their presentations.

Helen LaKelly Hunt shared her personal story of how women can so often be kept in the shadows of wealth – kept away from the financial decisions and management of money.

In her own distinct quizzical style, Helen spoke to us of her childhood explaining that it was a perfect depiction of the old nursery rhyme:

The king was in his counting house, counting out the money
The queen was in the parlour, eating bread and honey

She spoke of being kept away from the knowledge of her family’s wealth and how she only discovered her financial situation when flicking through a copy of the BRW rich list.

She also shared with us her joy when she discovered women’s funding organisations, and how empowering other women to be full players in economic as well as social life has become one of her life’s passions.

Her story was a salient reminder for me of the need for us women to always defend our worth and capability. This is especially true for women in the sector.

The recent Enterprise Care Not-for-profit remuneration report, which surveyed nearly 1 800 positions, discovered that female CEOs earn just 82% of men’s salaries in similar roles.

The reasons behind this are many and complex, including factors such as women’s choices of careers, jobs and work hours, consideration of caring responsibilities, women’s work motivations, bargaining power and appetite for risk. But we know the elephant in the room is that discrimination against women still occurs in the workplace.

As a government, we are determined to put an end to this and we’ve undertaken a large program of work to close the gap on pay inequity.

A central component of this work is the Fair Work Act, which includes the right to equal pay for work of equal or comparative value. As some of you may be aware, the equal pay provisions of the Act are about to be tested by a pay equity test case for the social and community services sector. This was recently lodged by the Australian Services Union on 11 March 2010 with support from government and we will follow this case together with much interest.

The act also provides for 12 months unpaid parental leave for new parents, and we will soon be introducing legislation into Parliament for the first ever paid parental leave scheme in Australia. A long overdue reform that Australian women have been waiting for for far too long. And it’s less than 9 months away now!

Women Mobilising Millions shows what we can achieve when women work together to support each other. As Dr Kathleen McCarthy from The Centre on Philanthropy and Civil Society has stated in the US:

For the first time women are combining both money and women’s rights to fashion a public sphere where women can thrive.

Making our voices heard in this sphere is vital and the government recognises that it too needs to play a role in supporting the voice of women’s advocacy.

Recently, my colleague Tanya Plibersek announced new funding arrangements around our government’s support to women’s organisations.

We are establishing six national women’s alliances that will share in $3.6 million over three years.

Each alliance has a specific focus: economic security, equality and rights, violence against women, immigrant and refugee women, rural, and Indigenous women.

Through these alliances, women and women’s organisations will share information, identify issues that affect them, and identify solutions.

The alliances will also engage actively with the Government on policy issues as part of better, more informed and representative discussions between women and government.

This new model of the women’s alliances is part of the government’s broader agenda to improve the working relationship between the government and the third sector.

Many of you who’ve heard me speak before would know that this is something about which I have a particular passion.

For the past two years, I’ve been talking with many of you in this room about developing a National Compact between the government and the third sector. And the past year has seen an intensive process of drafting, redrafting and consultations on the contents of the compact.

We are almost at the end of this development phase. And we have crafted a compact in the shape of a partnership agreement that will mark the beginning of a more trusting and respectful relationship, through which we can together better serve the Australian people.

In fact, today I’m a bit like a child on Christmas Eve because tomorrow is the official launch of the compact – the culmination of these two years of consultations and discussions between government and the sector.

Tomorrow at 10.00am in Parliament House, the Prime Minister on behalf of the government and 22 sector leaders, including Clare, will formally sign the compact to affirm their commitment to the compact principles and vision. Following the formalities, sector and government representatives at the launch will be invited to join the growing number of compact partners.

Even if you’re not able to make the launch tomorrow, you’ll be able to download the compact and join on line at the new compact website. All the details will become available tomorrow, so watch this space.

These are truly very exciting times for the sector – the National Compact marking the beginning of a new active relationship with government and the recently released Productivity Commission report urging us to engage in transformational change across the sector.

As third sector women with drive, passion and commitment, I encourage you to continue the leadership role that our sisters before us so effectively role-modelled.

Like Caroline Chisholm and Lucy Gullett, see the potential for things to be different, advocate for change and be part of the transformation.

I look forward to working together as we embark on this journey.