Remarks, International Women's Day

08 Mar 2021
Prime Minister

Prime Minister: Thank you very much, and I also acknowledge the Indigenous owners of the land on which we meet as well as acknowledging any veterans and members of the Defence Force. 

Can I particularly acknowledge Marise Payne, Minister for Women. Minister for quite a few other things at the moment too. But I think to borrow Margaret Thatcher's line that if I have to turn to anybody at times where there are additional jobs to be done, I am very happy to turn to Marise. Marise is one of the foundation stones of our Government, she really is. Having served as the first female Minister for Defence, the second female Minister for Foreign Affairs and now, for a short time, both of those portfolios together, as well as being Minister for Women, a member of our leadership team. And you have to remind me, Marise, because I think the day has passed or is just about to pass, the longest serving woman in the Senate.  

So Marise in our Party, there are many amazing women in our Party who have broken ground in politics and some of you here this morning, you have followed the trail that has been left by those who have gone before you and there is none more significant than Marise. That is absolutely true and I say that as a longtime member of the New South Wales division of the Liberal Party and that is also true at the national level. And it is great to serve with you  here in the many things that we’re doing at the moment. 

And to you, Fiona, you’ve got off to an amazing start in your first term. You’ve gained the respect of your colleagues, you’ve gained the respect not only because I think beyond that, across the Parliament, across the Chamber, but most importantly in your community here. That’s obviously why I’m here and we see that constantly. I’m looking forward to the next election campaign here in Reid because it will be a further endorsement, I think, of the work you've been doing on the ground. Many of us know when we enter politics that when you come in as a local member, your first job and always your first job is to make sure you maintain the trust in your local community. And Fiona, you have started on exactly the right foot. I encourage you to keep going that way and I thank you all for the encouragement that you have given to Fiona in her first term.

So they say all politics is local, and that's true, but what's more relevant is all community is local. Community is local. And I want to thank you all for coming together today, because Fiona has told me a little bit about the sort of gathering that's here with us today. Women from all walks of life in the local community, serving their local community, making their families strong and making their community strong. Because, you know, in the Liberal Party, that's how we believe societies, strong societies, are built. From the ground up. If we are not strong in a room like this, in communities like this, whether they be in the inner western suburbs of Sydney or down my way in the Shire or out there in Armidale or up in the Northern Territory. If communities aren’t strong, then the nation can’t be strong. And so to come here today on International Women's Day and to honour leadership amongst women, I think it's quite appropriate that we're doing this in a community setting. Because I see that as the building blocks of how we build the type of community and the type of society we want to have. 

Now, over the course of the last year, we have learnt just how important community is. Things that perhaps we thought were important before COVID-19 hit, may be not so much. I think what we've learnt is we've come out and through COVID-19 is family and community. That is the essence of a strong society and that is the essence of a happy and fulfilled life. We've learnt even while having to keep our distance, we've learnt the importance of connection. And people have reached out for that connection, oftentimes through many of the services I’m sure are run and supported by you all here today. It's been done proactively, whether it's been online or  whether it's been assisting the elderly neighbour in our street or just ensuring that we're all OK. And this is incredibly important. 

And so I hope coming out of COVID-19 that this is not just something that we acknowledge in passing, but something we take as a legacy from this period of time in our country. Because I know it will make us stronger. I know it will make us incredibly strong. And it is true to say that as we’ve come through COVID-19, the burden of that has fallen predominantly on women in this country. Whether economic, whether in the many professions and areas of work that have been called on most, particularly in our health sector, it has been women who are working in predominantly in professional care roles, let alone in voluntary care, incredibly holding families together, holding communities together, and it has particularly been women who have carried the day for the strength of our society in our community.

And so I was happy and very pleased to come here today because this is predominantly where I believe that effort has been put in at a local community level. To ensure that this community has been stronger and has been able to come through and indeed the nation has been able to come through stronger. I have said many times that Australia has had and leads the world in our response to COVID, both in terms of the pandemic and the recession that accompanied it. And we are leading the world on the way out. And of course, the Government has done many, many things that has supported that. Whether it's in JobKeeper or cash flow boost for small businesses, the number of women running their own small businesses through that access. Cash flow supports or even when it came to JobSeeker and the change to the arrangements that enabled sole traders to be able to access these supports. Our view was that if we could hold the infrastructure together, if we could hold this community together, if we could put the supports in place that would help people get from that side to that side, then we knew their resilience would carry. And then after that, as those supports were no longer needed and we graduated from that period, then that confidence and that resilience would then kick up a gear and we’d be able to go onto the next phase of our growth.

And so, 90 percent of the jobs that were lost during the COVID-19 recession have been regained. More than half of those jobs have been women, just over 800,000 jobs have come back over the course of where job losses were and over 400,000 were women. We've seen the gender pay gap under our Government fall to its lowest level ever, ever, 17.3 percent down to 13.3 percent or roughly thereabouts. That is the biggest fall we’ve seen and it continues to fall, and I hope it will continue to fall, and I think the generational changes that are happening in our workplace will see that achieved.

But as we've come out of the recession, what we're seeing, I think, is a resurgence of that entrepreneurial community-based spirit, and that's what I think will take us into these many opportunities that lie ahead for Australia. And we will be at the forefront of that and we want women to be in the forefront. And that's why the Women’s Economic Security Statement, there are copies here that Marise took through this year’s Budget and championed that. It’s all about ensuring that self-starting women who want to start businesses, who want to make a difference to secure their own economic futures can have the opportunity to do that. And what it basically is, is an exercise of doing is going through and trying to remove as many obstacles that are in the way, and there are many obstacles. That is true. We acknowledge those and the more of those we can remove, the more opportunity there will be.

There are a number of other big challenges that go beyond that which I want to touch on very briefly. Fundamentally, I worry about the nature of respect in our society. Respect of women, absolutely, and I said this when I spoke in Parliament House a few weeks ago. In order to have a society that better respects particularly women, but frankly, all Australians, then we need to have a greater culture of respect in our community. We’ve seen it all too often - respect for elders and the elder abuse we see in the aged care the system and things like that. Respect for people with disabilities. Respect for veterans. Respect for parents. Respect for kids. Respect for one another. You don't have to spend more than about 30 seconds on social media to understand how that medium has corroded and denuded respect in our society and our community. And I see that as a real cancer in our community.

Our Government has taken such a strong stand on this, introducing new laws to prevent cyber bullying, whether it's on the internet or elsewhere, laws to target trolls, laws to take on the big tech giants and tell them that they can’t operate in some sort of, you know, Wild West world where there are no laws, no rules. We genuinely see this where children are abused online. Our Government is leading the world when it comes to taking on these issues, because we understand that one of the key things that is eroding our society is how these new technologies are undermining our society and the biggest victims of all of that are women. The objectifying of women, disrespecting women, that all stems from things like that. 

So they are important actions that we're taking as the Government to try and change some of the fundamental things that erode respect in our community. I want all Australians to be respected. Of course I want women to be respected, of course I do, because first and foremost, my fellow Australians, that's what it's about. A genuine respect for one another. And I fear that at the heart of this problem, that is something that we're losing sight of. And how do you change that? Marise and I can’t introduce a law which requires people to respect one another. No government can do that. But communities can. Communities can change that. You can change that. 

Today, we're launching a campaign, $18 million, the third in a series of campaigns about protecting women from violence. And it focuses on this issue of appropriate respect that needs to be in place and understanding that from a lack of respect, it can end in violence. It doesn’t always. But it always starts there. That’s always where it starts. And so addressing this issue, I think, is really important. And these things can be very, very, very powerful. I remember watching an ad about alcohol and it was about a father who asked his son to go to and get him a beer. You remember that ad? Now, I saw that many, many years ago. I can assure you I have never, ever asked one of my kids to get me - I should go and get my own beer, one, which I do, on most occasions - but the same thing is true. It starts with just those simple things. And I think this latest campaign that we're watching today really does challenge those notions. ‘You're playing like a girl’ and the dad who has yelled that out from the sidelines gets called out, that’s not OK. It's not OK, it’s not OK. And the challenging of these idea, are really important and that's how you can fundamentally change what is happening, in lounge rooms, around kitchen tables, around cafe tables, at the sporting field. That's where it really matters. That's where attitudes are framed. And that's where everybody is enlisted in achieving the change.

Governments should do what they should do. But, you know, as Liberals, I believe this fundamentally. You can't ever contract away a citizen's responsibility to the government. Government has to do their thing, absolutely, and that's why the next national action plan against violence against women, these are the issues that we're putting in place. The housing initiatives, there is a long list of them, the women's economic security and Marise can quote them chapter and verse because she has designed them all. But, fundamentally,  what needs to change in the way we interact needs to take place in communities.

I'm very pleased to be here amongst you today. To empower you to keep empowering your community to achieve these changes. I'll do what I can in our Government, everything I can. I am very committed to this. I'll do what I can in my community, I’ll do what I can in my family and around my kitchen table and all of those sorts of things, as each of us need to do. But it isn't just the Government's problem, it's all of our problem and it starts with, I think, really nurturing this notion of respect in our community. And if we can't respect each other on any number of issues, then how can we expect respect to come for one particular group of people in our society. Respect is something that needs to be a big well that we draw from. And we need to fill this well up for all Australians. And I think if we can achieve that, then I think women in Australia can look forward to a better future. If we fail in that task, I am not as confident. Thank you very much.