Speech by The Hon Kate Ellis MP

Remarks at the ‘Accelerating Gender Equality: Introducing UN Women’ Summit

Location: University of Sydney, Sydney

Thank you for inviting me here today as you map your agenda for advancing gender equality as a new organisation.

May I acknowledge in particular, Ms Lakshmi Puri, Assistant Secretary General of UN Women, it is a very great pleasure to have her here with us today.

I am genuinely delighted to see so many of you here, with such a strong commitment to the empowerment of women and such an important program for discussion.

The work you are doing is critical, it is powerful and it is appreciated.

I am pleased to say that the Australian Government is committed to accelerating gender equality.

Over the past two years, our Government has driven some gender equality initiatives that I am extremely proud of.

We are investing in aid and development like never before.

Our aid budget has never been so substantial and so carefully directed at helping countries to build their own livelihoods and their own futures.

Of course, central to this is the high priority that we are placing on investing in gender equality – both here and around the world.

We know that women are at the heart of good development – at the heart of building communities, at the heart of building peace, at the heart of sustainable livelihoods and economies, and at the heart of good government.

We also know that, as a Government, it is one thing to invest in advancing women in other countries – but it is another to take a long hard look at our own country, at our own communities, at our own workplaces, in our own homes and decide that we need to take action to improve the status of women in this country too.

I am pleased to say this is a challenge we are not shying away from.

We have delivered some major initiatives to advance women over the past year – and I can assure you that there are more to come.

These reforms are part of a sustained commitment from this Government to make a difference in the lives of women.

I am delighted that UN Women shares our commitment to change and our drive to succeed.

We are certainly proud of UN Women as a partner for the Australian Government, both here and overseas.

And I am proud that Australia led the world in agreeing to provide multiyear funding for UN Women Australia – a contribution of $16.5 million over the next 2 years.

UN Women is an influential champion for women and girls, providing them with a powerful voice at the global, regional and local levels – and we are delighted to join with you in this important work.

So it is my great pleasure to welcome you here today – and to thank you for sharing this journey with us.

To achieve real gender equality for women, we need to make every effort to support women in the economy, leadership and education, both domestically and also through the work Australia undertakes around the world.

One of the most important aspects of supporting women to achieve, the most fundamental aspect of our work, is ensuring that women can live their lives in safety.

Providing this crucial basis for the advancement of all women is something that this Government is very committed to – and it has formed the centre-piece of our agenda over the past year.

As you may already know, earlier this year I launched Australia’s National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children.

This was a groundbreaking plan for Australia in many respects.

It was the first time that all of the States and Territories around Australia joined with the Commonwealth Government to say: we need to take action to prevent the largely-invisible crime of violence against women and children in this country.

It is the first time that we have made this commitment over 12 years, beyond the electoral cycle of just one Government.

It is also the first time that we have invested so heavily in prevention of violence – to ensure that harm does not happen in the first place.

The next frontier for this Plan is to take it out into the community – to ensure that women and women’s services know that we have heard their call and we have a Plan that they can own and participate in delivering

We need to ensure that the Plan has a life beyond the agreement of Government to act and that NGOs, community groups, activists and workers also feel a sense of ownership.

It needs to be real for people – and I would appreciate your help to do that.

When I launched this Plan internationally at CSW this year and I was delighted to have it endorsed by UN Women, and to have it included as an example of good practice in the UN Women handbook on preparing National Plans Against Violence.

Preventing violence against women is not just something that we are looking at in Australia. I am also proud of the work that Australia is doing internationally, to address the rates of violence in our own region.

Last year, Australia and the United States announced a partnership with several nations, including New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, as well as the World Bank Group, on a Pacific Women’s Empowerment Initiative.

Policy dialogues on women’s leadership, health and economic empowerment have already taken place in New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

Australia and the United States will be co-hosting the third policy dialogue in Australia in November this year.

The theme will be effective means to address gender-based violence and promote the empowerment of women across the Pacific region.

We’re matching this commitment with dollars, too.

In our recent Federal Budget, we announced a significant new investment of $96.4M over four years to prevent violence against women in the Pacific and support victims of violence.

I hope to be able to continue to work with UN Women on the further integration of strategies to reduce violence against women into Australia’s gender equality and aid agenda.

The threat of family and domestic violence is a blight on our community here in Australia and in our region.

By tackling this issue head on, we are investing in a brighter future for every community.

As I have said, as a Government, we are committed to improving the lives of women.

I am very proud to say, it is now one of the primary focuses of Australia’s aid agenda.

In July, this Government announced a new focus on gender equality and women’s empowerment in all of Australia’s overseas aid projects.

Under Australia’s new aid agenda, one third of the new development objectives will be centred on women’s empowerment.

The aid program will now work towards a number of specific gender targets including ensuring equitable access to health and education services; supporting women’s economic empowerment; and supporting effective international efforts to promote gender equality, particularly through UN Women.

We’re serious about our commitment to aid.

We’re serious about our commitment to women.

And we are now demonstrating our commitment to putting women at the heart of our aid program to ensure that it is effective and sustainable.

Of course, we’re demonstrating a commitment to effective and sustained action in other ways too.

Importantly, we are committed to taking our international obligations and incorporating them into the practices and policies of the Australian Government. We are making them real and tangible – so that we can drive change.

Last month, I launched Australia’s Draft National Action Plan on Women Peace and Security for consultation.

This Draft National Action Plan takes Australia’s commitments under UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and turns them into tangible actions – in policies and practices in Australia, and in our operations overseas.

Our Government is now demonstrably taking a comprehensive approach to peace and security, which is gender-sensitive, respects women’s and men’s rights and interests, and recognises the contributions of both men and women.

I hope that everyone here today takes the opportunity to provide feedback on the Draft Plan.

The consultations are open until 18 October, so go online, and let us know how we get more women in decision making roles in conflict and post conflict settings.

Of course, our commitment to advancing women does just not belong in our aid agenda or international security operations.

We are very serious about committing to advancing gender equality here in Australia.

I have already mentioned our Plan to reduce gender violence in this country.

We are also taking action to address the inequities were are still seeing in Australian workplaces

I am pleased to tell you that next month I will be introducing amendments to the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act.

In the last Budget, we doubled the funding for the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency – and now we are introducing legislation which will allow the Agency to collect information from business about contemporary issues such as pay equity, flexible work practices and the number of women in leadership positions.

These amendments will allow the Agency – soon to be renamed the Workplace Gender Equality Agency – to collect and report information about what is really happening for women and men in Australian workplaces.

This data will provide us with the evidence-based to deliver more equitable gender outcomes – and improve women’s workforce participation and representation more generally.

As you can see, this Government has an expansive agenda when it comes to gender equality – both inside our own borders and overseas.  And, I can assure you that we intend to continue to make more contributions throughout the term of this Government.

We need strong voices on this issue if we are to ensure better outcomes for women – both here and around the world.

I thank you, UN Women, for joining your voice with ours on the path to gender equality.

I wish you all the best for your Summit and discussions in the days ahead.