Speech to the Powerful Women in Politics Breakfast
TUE 09 OCTOBER 2012
Can I thank Katy for her leadership of the ACT. As a part time resident in Canberra I am acutely aware that often we give your beautiful place a bit of a bad name.
When it runs around the country on the TV news as Canberra today has done this or that, what they’re really talking about is what happens in federal parliament.
On a morning like this the attractions of Canberra and the ACT are clear. And Katy and her team – women and men – have provided fantastic leadership of the ACT during a time of change, and I’m looking forward to seeing that leadership continue after the election, shortly upon us, in 11 days’ time. But no one’s counting.
I’ve been asked today to speak about the role of powerful women and what that means for politics and for the life of our nation.
In truth I don’t wander around thinking about myself as a powerful woman. I think about myself as a Prime Minister who’s got a job to do, who is fantastically supported by a great team.
But when I do stop and reflect about women’s roles in politics I don’t think of us – this generation – as the trail blazers. The trail has already been blazed by the women who have gone before.
The women who went before in times when women in politics were so much more unusual than they are today.
I think of people like Joan Child becoming the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Joan Kirner and Carmen Lawrence blazing a trail when it was truly tough.
Susan Ryan, of quitting her job as a minister when she truly alone, out trying to take that executive responsibility.
These are the women who have blazed the trail for us and we should be so thankful that they have done it.
The women of today’s generation, including me and the women in my team, I believe are in the mid phase of change. Women aren’t unusual in politics any longer, but we’re not half-half either. And we are still blazing some of those first trails, including being the first female Prime Minister.
But life for us is different from those early women, and we are a generation that is shaping more change. And I believe the ultimate end point to this generation of change – and I absolutely believe I’ll live to see it – is an Australia in which we don’t bother to reflect on how many men and how many women are in politics any longer because it is so routine for it to be half-half.
That we don’t bother to collect the statistics any longer about who is the first female Minister for Defence or any of those jobs because it is so routine for women to do them as well as men.
That we don’t bother any longer to collect the statistics on how many women prime ministers there have been or women premiers or chief ministers, because it is so routine for those jobs to be held by women.
I genuinely believe that we will get to that place; we’ll do it in my lifetime. But in order to do it we need to see further change.
One of the great delights of doing this job as Prime Minister is, I do believe, that around the country it’s made women and men stop and perhaps have a conversation with their daughters about their lifetime aspirations. And reinforcing to their daughters that there are no closed doors for them any longer. It’s a great delight.
Indeed a friend of mine who has a very young son told me about a conversation she had with her son where she said to him – talking about what you might want to do when he was a much bigger person, he was only four or five when this conversation happened – you could be Prime Minister. To which he said, “No I couldn’t mummy because you’ve got to be a girl to do that job”.
That’s not exactly the impression we’re seeking to leave but the impression we do want to leave for the girls and the boys of Australia is that there are no closed doors. That this occupation, all occupations are open to women and to men.
And yes, being the first female Prime Minister also attracts some commentary of the negative kind, and you know what I’m talking about when I refer to that. But that is I think a by-product of this generation of change.
And for me, that negative commentary has never detracted from the real delight of having the opportunity – not only to change perceptions – but to change the nation.
Because ultimately our mission isn’t about changing politics, it’s about changing the country we live in and ensuring that the country we live in offers the best of opportunity to women, to men, to girls, to boys, to people from all backgrounds and all walks of life.
Which is why we’re on a mission to do things like make sure that every child in every school gets a great education. To turn on its head the saying that demography is destiny. To ensure that poor kids get the same chance as children from better-off backgrounds.
I’m really proud of what we have achieved as a Government for women. It’s not only changing politics, it’s changing lives for Australian women.
Whether it’s the introduction of paid parental leave, the changes we’ve made to make child care more affordable and higher quality. Whether it’s the changes we’ve brought to the tax system so hundreds of thousands of women who work part time, often in low income jobs, don’t pay a cent of tax until they’ve earned over $18,200.
These are big achievements for women.
I’m also particularly proud of our workplace relations legislation, bringing as it did for the first time in this country a principle that would enable women to truly achieve equal pay.
And I’m proud that under that principle we are seeing change for women who do some of the hardest work in our society – people who work in the social and community services sector – in the women’s refuges, in the domestic violence counselling services, in the homelessness shelters.
Those workers, predominately women, are going to see their work revalued because of what we achieve through those laws, what we achieve working with the trade union involved, the Australian Services Union, and what we achieve through agreeing with them that this work shouldn’t be undervalued because it’s traditionally been viewed as women’s work.
And I am delighted today to announce at the start of a sitting week, that is this sitting week that will see us introduce legislation to put in a special account $2.8 billion which is the Commonwealth’s share of making sure that these workers, predominately women, are properly paid and properly valued in the life of our nation.
If you’re trying to bring change of this dimension you can’t do it alone and I do want to acknowledge today that Katy was amongst the first of the leaders of states and territories to say that she too wanted to see equal pay for these workers.
And one of the first to announce that rather than just good words, real money would be put on the table to make a difference for these working women.
I want to acknowledge the really genuine partnership I’ve had with Katy during the time I’ve been Prime Minister. Those exchanges around the COAG table aren’t always easy ones; sometimes ‘robust’ is a word that covers many sins. Sometimes they are very robust exchanges.
And whilst Katy’s always been a very strong advocate of her place, of the ACT, she’s been a progressive voice around that table for change.
Whether it be in health or education, whether it be justice for women workers; a progressive voice, a progressive advocate for change.
The women who will have power in this place in 11 days’ time are the women who take themselves to the polling places to go and record their vote: 125,000 of them.
In the ACT you get a very special power when you go and vote. You get to vote for the political party of your choice, but you actually – because of the magic of your very unusual voting system – get to select the candidates that you want to select.
And my message to people who go to those polling places – to women and men – would be, to vote for candidates that embody the values and power of this place, the ACT.
Vote for candidates with the values that you agree with and the track record of getting it done. And if you do that, I know that Katy, the women in her team, and the men who work alongside them will be returned in that election.
It’s great to be with you this morning and I’m looking forward to the conversation to come. I think we should all be a little bit scared of Jane though as she moderates it.
Thank you very much.