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Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP

International Women's Day afternoon tea

08 March 2016


Prime Minister



Well thank you very much Julie. It is wonderful to be a Prime Minister leading a Cabinet with six women. That is, they are all remarkable women and Julie of course was the first woman in the Cabinet since the election and now she has been joined by five others.

All of them are here with the exception of Michaelia Cash, who is the Minister for Women, apart from being the Minister for Employment, who has been speaking at the National Press Club. And I confess I didn’t see her speech but I will give you the headline announcement from that in a moment, but if we could just acknowledge again Marise Payne our Defence Minister, who was out with Christopher Pyne and I earlier today announcing the new centre for defence cooperation, industry cooperation, to be based here in Adelaide, and this is a very important part of our innovation agenda.

Marise has been leading this very big project, the Defence White Paper, re-equipping our Defence forces for decades to come and driving innovation and technology right across our country. What a phenomenal role model she is as the first woman Defence Minister.

Sussan Ley our Minister for Health is here as well. Fiona Nash the Deputy Leader of the National Party, here with the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, but Fiona, is, we now have in terms of the two, the four leaders of our two parties, two men and two women. That is again a very big first. Fiona is the first woman to be the Deputy Leader of the National Party. And in addition to that, of course Kelly O’Dwyer who is the Assistant Treasurer.

So five of the women in Cabinet Ministers are here today and of course some of us mere men have come along too. We won’t go through all of them. But, it’s been a terrific thing; I think a terrific example of role models and of course there are great role models here.

This is where gender equality is such a critical objective. It’s an ethical objective, it’s an economic objective, and it’s an economic imperative. You know the most valuable capital we have is our human capital. The best assets we have are those walking around on top of the ground, not the rocks under the ground.

So how do we maximise, how do we ensure that we have the benefit of all of our human capital? Clearly there should be no occupation, no goal, no role, no leadership position, no line of work, which a young woman, a girl cannot aspire to simply because of her gender. That is - gender equality is absolutely critical, and at the very foundation of that is respect.

You know Julie mentioned the theme or the agenda, focus of International Women’s Day this year, ending violence against women and girls.

My friends, not all disrespect of women ends up in violence against women but that is where all violence against women begins.  That is where all violence against women begins. So when we respect women, when we teach our children, particularly our boys, our sons, to respect their mothers and their sisters, we make our step towards ending that disrespect of women and ensuring we have that gender equality.

Now let me say a little about what the Government is doing and how things are going, a bit of a report card.  Female participation is at a record high. In fact it reached its record high in December, with 60,000 more women than men joining the workforce last year.

The gender pay gap is still too big, as we heard earlier. But it has fallen from 17.9 per cent in May – it’s fallen to 17.3 per cent I should say, from 17.9 per cent in May 2015 and all time high of 18.8 per cent in November 2014. So it is shrinking but too slowly and I agree with that – we need more, a stronger pace of consolidation if you like.

Now a very important part of what we can do as leaders is ensure that there are more women on boards and of course in senior positions.

Boards are very important, because boards obviously choose senior executives, they choose CEOs, they’re very visible, they’re great role models.

Now, we have a BoardLinks program that many of you would be familiar with, and you can access it on the web - it’s run by the Office of Women in my department, presided over by Minister Cash - but it is critical for meeting the gender diversity target which has to date been at least 40 per cent of Australian Government board positions should be women.

Well, that is now 50 per cent – we’ve increased that target to 50 per cent and Michaelia Cash announced that increase in the target at the National Press Club today.

The BoardLinks database is dynamic and we look forward to your contribution – a firm like Ernst & Young in particular is in a position to provide a lot of good insight, a lot of good proposals, a lot of good connections.

We have over 300 Government Boards, and around 2,500 positions available each year so there is a lot of opportunity for women of all backgrounds, with different skill sets, to secure a position.

Now we’ve had great examples of women inspiring us.

We’ve mentioned our Cabinet Ministers and of course our wonderful Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop.

But just consider the leadership of Rosie Batty, the former Australian of the Year. What a passionate, relentless advocate for cultural change she has been.

And consider other great women leaders Bess Price, Marcia Langton and Josephine Cashman, from Indigenous Australia.

And of course, who can forget Michelle Payne smashing the glass ceiling by riding to victory in the Melbourne Cup – and then providing a very pithy reaction to media inquiries that all of us in politics are tempted to do, but happily don’t.

And we just met here earlier – where is Eleni? There she is. Eleni Glouftsis, the first woman to be a field umpire officiating in a senior AFL match. Running, she said, running between 10 and 15 kilometres in a game – wow! So that is awe inspiring on every level – it’s so fantastic!

So, look, my friends, this is the most exciting time to be alive. These are the most exciting times in human history.

We have never seen so much economic change, whether it’s the scale of it or the pace of it and the opportunities are enormous. In all of that change and disruption the opportunities are enormous, but how do we achieve that? How do we take advantage of that?

We do so by [inaudible] competitive, by drawing on our best skills in every line of work.

And it’s not just technology – we were out, Christopher and Marise and I were out today looking at a company that is involved, you know, the Fugro company that is involved in sonar and very, very sophisticated, the world’s leading airborne sonar systems that enable you to measure the depth of the seabed in very shallow waters that are very hard to reach with vessels.

So, we were there in that technology area, but we see innovation in every area. 

Barnaby and I have seen fruit growers, horticulturalist like Anne Ruston who are using the latest technology to reduce crop losses; improve their productivity.

Right across the board Australians are becoming more innovative, but we need to draw on all of our human capital.

Women hold up half the sky. They hold up and will hold up half of our economic future as well.

So, as I said, ethical, social, political, economic – whichever way you look at it, gender equality has to be our goal.

My Government – my Government with so many outstanding women in our Cabinet – is absolutely committed to that.

Thank you very much.