Remarks, UN International Women's Day Breakfast - Australian Parliament House, ACT

13 Feb 2020
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Well, thank you very much, Janelle. It's great to see everybody here this morning and it's great to be here at the UN Women Australia Parliamentary Breakfast in honour of International Women's Day on March 8. Can I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal people and their elders past and present and, of course, emerging. The day before Australia Day, as I mentioned yesterday, we went down to the water's edge here in Canberra and were met there by the elders and Ngunnawal women who spent time with me and my family. I want to thank them again for the lessons we learned on that day and their great grace and kindness to me and my family.

I also want to acknowledge many veterans who are here today, serving men and women in our defence forces, and I want to say thank you for your service. And I want to say thank you to the tremendous service that women are playing in our defence forces. I'm sure the Chief of Defence Force who is here with me today would agree. Just seeing them out in the field, in operations all across the world and the tremendous work that women in our defence forces have done, particularly in recent months as part of Operation Bushfire Assist, they've done a tremendous job. And Angus, please pass on our great thanks to all of them.

To my many parliamentary colleagues who are here with us today, and, of course, including the Minister for Women, Marise Payne. She also happens to be the Minister for Foreign Affairs and she does a great job with both of those. And Marise, it's great to be here with you this morning and together with the leader of the opposition, Anthony Albanese and the shadow minister Julie Collins is here with us as well. Wonderful to have you here. There are so many of my female parliamentary colleagues from across the aisle and within the government and it's great to see so many of my female cabinet ministers who are here today along to be here to support this important event.

The story of Australia is, as much as anything, it's a story of strong women in our country. Courageous, trailblazing women. Women committed to their rightful equal place in society and prepared to stand up for that. Women who lead, as I said on the Australia Day weekend, I spoke about the all-Indigenous, all-women Lake Tyers Fire Brigade, led by a team of Gunaikurnai women in East Gippsland. Their brigade vehicle bonnet featured a colourful artwork entitled ‘Working Together’. And it strikes me that working together speaks directly to the generation equality theme of this year's International Women's Day. It sums up the efforts that you're all making and the government is making, along with the change-makers of all ages, all genders, all generations, to build a strong and powered future for Australian women and girls. This is what I believe. When women and girls have freedom of choice and opportunity, when they receive the same merits for their hard work and ingenuity as men and boys.

Recently at a memorial service I was at, my brother was talking about the day when my mum came home and she said she just got a job. And she said to my dad, ‘I'm going to get men's wages’. Now, this was a long time ago. This was several decades ago. And for my brother at that time, the idea that men and women, as a young boy, got paid differently  - he didn't understand it. And he talked to my mum about it and she recounted the story to me just the other week at my dad’s memorial service. A lot has happened since then. A lot's changed since then. And this is an issue that's been around a long time. When both men and women are on an equal footing as decision makers, when that happens, not just the individuals, but whole communities benefit. Societies are more cohesive, respectful, cooperative and peaceful. Economies are more productive, diverse and enlightened. Prosperity is lifted.

Here in Australia, there's much progress to celebrate in this year of generational equality. Under our government, we’ve created more than 1.5 million jobs through the hard work of Australians each and every day, the majority of which have actually been taken up by women. It's what a strong economy delivers, the jobs that create the choice and the opportunities for women to utilise their talents and skills and achieve their goals and for them to prosper. Women's workforce participation is at a record high of just over 61 per cent, and that gender pay gap is now at a record low of 14 per cent. And we've got a lot more work to do, though. We’ve achieved equal numbers in the number of women and men in the Australian Senate for the first time in history. And I'm very pleased to say we’ve moved within a hair's breadth of equal representation of Australian Government boards. As of June 30 last year, women held 47.9 per cent of these positions. That's an all-time high. This is now the highest percentage of women in government boards since public reporting began in 2009. Our women's economic security statement, which we introduced in 2018, will continue to concentrate us on the issues we need to keep working on. Backing women to start their own businesses, increasing flexibility through paid parental leave, supporting entrepreneurship opportunities for women and STEM programs for girls. My daughter told me this morning she gets her bunsen burner licence today and so perhaps a great career in science is about to start on this historic day.

We've also turned our attention to the changes and challenges of returning to the workforce after timeout for caring for family and children. We've committed $75 million over four years to our mid-career checkpoint, helping up to 40,000 people who've taken time out of their career to care for their family with tailored career advice, coaching and training. Many women, in particular, take a career break to start a family or care for older family members and are looking for that bit of extra help as they re-enter the workforce. The skills and experience gained in those unpaid family roles is regularly and often not properly acknowledged. This pilot will start with a thousand participants across the states, New South Wales and Queensland, from the 3rd of April of this year before the full rollout begins in July. It's two-tiered, designed to help those who are stepping back into the workforce, as well as supporting the career advancement of those who have already returned. In other words, stepping up their careers. So whether you’re stepping in back in or you're stepping up after time out of the workforce, as a carer we want to give you every persistence to make that transition. Because it's a good thing for yourself, your families, for our nation.

And yet there remains no greater imperative than the safety of women and children. We've made the largest ever Commonwealth investment of $340 million to support the Fourth Action Plan of the national plan to reduce violence against women and their children. Now, this was an initiative started by the previous government. This is an initiative that has shared commitment across this Parliament. The action plan process on the national plan to reduce violence against women and their children is one of the most important initiatives that we as a Parliament together have been journeying on now for many years together. And that must continue to be the case, because when it comes to violence against women, there can only one acceptable outcome, and that is for it to stop.

I want to thank the UN Women Australia for hosting this breakfast today and for your dedication to eradicating gender inequality in all of its forms. I've been so pleased to see the work that UN Women has been doing particularly within our Pacific family and with the support of DFAT. And I want to thank you, Frances, too for the great job you doing there with all our people at DFAT supporting this great work. Projects like Markets for Change in Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are helping make markets safer for the members, the vast majority of whom are women based in rural areas. They often travel long distances to sell their produce and crafts, which means they need secure accommodation. They need toilets, they need clean drinking water at these markets. These are very practical things. Making a living and participating in your local economy shouldn't come at the price of your health and your safety. So thank you to UN Women for working with the Australian Government to support that project, as well as the many others, including Safe Cities in Port Moresby and the Pacific Partnership to End Violence Against Women and Girls.

Back home, I want to assure you all today that as a government we will continue to create, prioritise and back pathways towards a safe, secure and fair and equal status for women in our economy and our society. It’s our stance. It's my commitment. I want to thank you very much for your attention today, and I wish you a great International Women's Day next month. Thank you.