Address, International Women’s Day Parliamentary Breakfast Australian Parliament House, ACT

25 Feb 2021
Prime Minister

Prime Minister: Thank you very much, Janelle, and thank you also to Debra. Can I acknowledge the Ngunnawal people and can I acknowledge you, Aunty Violet, and thank you for your very warm welcome to the country today. And challenge accepted, I was just trying to check what round Sharks and Rabbitohs meet. I know it’s not the first one, we’ve got the Dragons that is only two and a half weeks away. Looking forward to that. But hopefully you’ll be there on some other occasion. We’re all looking forward to that. But thank you for your welcome, on every occasion you are always so warm and provide the right settings. So thank you for that.

I acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, both past, present and emerging. Can I also acknowledge any veterans in the room today, particularly our serving members of the Defence Force and particularly the women in the Defence Force and the amazing job they do all around the world for us and here at home. I have no doubt the CDF is very aware of, as is the Minister for Defence.

Can I acknowledge, of course, my many colleagues here today, too many to mention by name. But of course, can I acknowledge the Leader of the Opposition, can I acknowledge the Deputy Prime Minister, the leader of the Greens. But can I particularly acknowledge Marise Payne, my dear friend, Minister for Women. She is in other ministerial portfolios, but particularly in this respect I acknowledge her today. Can I acknowledge Penny Wong, can I knowledge Larissa Waters. But the many other colleagues who join us here each and every year for this event.

This event we normally gather and I would normally like to speak of the many things that Janelle has already made reference to, which we can, of course, be very pleased about. But, of course, the events of the last couple of weeks I think provide me with a great opportunity this morning to share with you some of my own reflections.

This has been a very traumatic few weeks for the people who work in this place, but even more traumatic, obviously, for those who are the subject of those issues. So I just wanted to share with you my own personal thoughts about the very issue that brings us here together today, and that is women.

The three points I want to make to you today are about respect, protect and reflect, but even more traumatic, obviously, for those who are the subject of those issues. So, I just wanted to share with you my own personal thoughts about the very issue that brings us here together today. And that is women.

The three points I want to make to you today are about respect, protect and reflect.

My hope is that we will live in a society where we can truly say that women are respected. That is what we are trying to achieve, because from the disrespect of women or failure to respect women, all the other challenges flow. Violence, discrimination, deprivation, abuse, assault, lack of recognition, not hearing. It all starts with the failure of respect for women.

Now, I believe if we want to create a culture of respect for women, it must draw from a deeper wellspring in our society and our community of respect for one another. In this place, we deal with so many of the consequences that start with a lack of respect. Respect for the elderly. Respect for Australians who live with the disability. Respect for Indigenous Australians. Respect for elders. Respect for youth. Respect for one another. Respect is where changing the culture, whether it be of this building and all of us who work here, or outside of this building where we deal with the many consequences which stem from a lack of respect in the first place. Respect is where it must start.

Specifically, it stems from respect for shared humanity. A respect for the aspirations, the protection, the safety, the opportunity of each and every Australian. Particularly in relation to respect for women. Respect for the contribution. Respect for the recognition. Respect for the understanding that has brought the experience, the world view, the community view, the household view. Respect for the opportunity. Respect for the choices and agency. Respect.

So it's my hope and commitment that particularly as we move forward, whether dealing with the very traumatic and difficult issues that this place has been openly discussing these last few weeks, or indeed, the important work we have to do in addressing this culture of respect and that is in the formation of the next national action plan in relation to violence against women.

And what I love saying about that is it is the next one. It's not the first one. The first one started under the previous government under Prime Minister Gillard. And that work has been respected and continues, and it's not just the work of our Government or our Parliament, it is the work of every government in this country. It is a national plan which is shared right across our great commonwealth. And at the heart of that must be fostering a culture of respect for women.

Now, I said protect. And I know many in this room would rightly say to me, that protect, what are we protecting against? Well, I can tell you what we're not protecting against. We don't need to protect against the vulnerability of women. That's not the issue. We need to protect against those who would disrespect women. That's where the perpetrators are. That's what we have to protect against, it's not about - thank you - it is about understanding that vulnerability is not the issue here, or arguably, not even present. That is not the problem. That is not the issue. The problem is the lack of respect and the actions that are perpetrated against women, whoever they may be perpetrated by. Whoever.

And so protecting must be a key part of our actions if we are to respect women and protect against the consequences of disrespect. Now, that protection must take many forms. For the safety, for the safe shelter and housing, for the support that is necessary, for the equality of opportunity. I could speak of the Women's Economic Security Statement. I could speak of 1800Respect. I could talk of the Safe Houses programme. I don't intend to, only to mention them in passing because the protections that need to be in place are about bridging that gap that currently exists. And that should be the aim of the protections we put in place, whether it is the support for women, in particular, who may be victims of sexual assault and how they can speak up and take those matters forward and the support that is wrapped around them, or in any other set of circumstances in the workplace. Reducing the gender pay gap, creating the opportunities for women to forge forward in areas and industries where sometimes they don't have that opportunity, oftentimes. Protecting against that.

But it's also about ensuring that our rule of law and the way we administer the rule of law in this country is respected and protected as well, because there is no greater defence for the liberties and safety of every single Australian than the fact that we live in a country that is governed by the rule of law. And you only need to go not too far from this country, not too far to see when the rule of law does not operate in a country and it is not respected and its processes and those who are authorised and have the authority and the experience and the ability and the training to deal with these sorts of issues. Where that isn’t present, those who suffer most are women.

We must in this country understand that one of the key protections for women against the disrespect of women in this country is the rule of law. There is no substitute for it. There is no alternative justice system. There is no alternative law enforcement system. There is only one, and we must redouble our efforts to make sure it is as effective as possible.

In conclusion, let me talk about reflect. I've been reflecting a lot on this, as we all have, I think, in the last couple of weeks and for much longer periods. I reflect on the examples of women and in this last year, there have been many women, most, not least of all my own members of my own Cabinet, so many of them here today who I acknowledge, including Linda, who was not with us today, who would love to be with us today. And I want to thank all of those members of this place, from all sides of politics, who I know have reached out to Linda, particularly in these last 24 hours. I spoke to her last night and she is very appreciative of the support she's had from across the Parliament.

But I think of Kathryn Campbell. Secretary of the Department, of Anne’s Department. In the middle of the pandemic, as we saw the lines of those stricken by unemployment and desperate about their future, I turned to Kathryn Campbell, of course, through Anne and Stuart Robert, about how we were going to get the support to those Australians who needed it. And Kathryn, one of the finest public officials in our public service, was up to the task and she did an amazing job in completely reinventing and developing our systems at rapid speed to ensure that we could get that support.

Jenny Wilkinson, another Deputy Secretary at Treasury, one of the key designers of JobKeeper. I turned, Josh and I turned to Jenny and sought her advice and it was outstanding and she was recognised in the honours list this year.

I turned, of course, soon after I became Prime Minister to Christine Morgan, who has advised me over these many months on how we can do more to prevent death by suicide in this country. And she's been a constant source of expertise and strength and insight and understanding.

I turned to Caroline Edwards, the Associate Secretary of the Department of Health, and for much of that time during the early phase of the pandemic, the Secretary of the Department of Health. And I've often spoken to you about Professor Murphy or Professor Kelly. But I can tell you, Caroline Edwards has been an absolute champion of the work that has been done to ensure that Australia has one of the best records in the world on the health response in the pandemic. And all of the women, Rosemary who is here, of course, Frances is here. Strong women who know what they’re doing and making an enormous contribution to this country.

I reflect on Leila Abdallah, whose gracious act of forgiveness at a time when her children were stripped from her from an act of terrible violence and her capacity to process that and express forgiveness.

I think about a dear friend of mine who I celebrated her 50th birthday very recently and one of her greatest achievements, I have no doubt, together with her husband, they have raised their amazing son to respect women.

I reflect on that because, as difficult as the issues that we’re dealing with, the progress is occurring. We become despondent because of our failures. But let's not forget the progress and those who are leading it.

Let's not forget that during the middle of the pandemic where we surged support into organisations like Lifeline, but particularly 1800Respect. That the work of protecting against domestic violence continued in the middle of that, done by amazing people.

Let’s not forget the amazing work, particularly of women serving in the front lines of our health systems, our emergency services systems, and thank them and reflect on the fact that we are a nation that is blessed by strong women over our history.

And finally, I reflect on my own responsibilities, as each of us in this place must. I can comment, others can comment on what each of our responsibilities should be, but the best contemplation is when we reflect on our own responsibilities and we consider what we, each of us can do, to make Australia a better place to live. A place where women can truly grow and feel respected.