Launch of the Women's Statement by Minister Julie Collins

Minister Collins delivered the following speech at the launch of the Women's Budget Statement at Jessie Street National Women's Library on Tuesday 15 May 2012 - the speech is online here:

Good morning.

I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting and pay my respects to their Elders, past and present.

It gives me great pleasure to be here today in the Jessie Street National Women’s Library to launch the Women’s Statement 2012.

Jessie Street was a great Australian and a role model to many of us here today.

She fought for equality for women, for equal pay, for the rights of women to retain their jobs after marriage and for the appointment of women to public office and their election to Parliament.

She had an international vision for gender equality and was instrumental in establishing the UN Commission on the Status of Women. She was a volunteer - an activist - a mother – a would-be politician. She argued for child support and for women’s economic independence and security.

Her activism paved the way for millions of Australian women to break through the barriers put in their way by the attitudes and prejudices of a male-dominated society.

She had seen many changes for someone born in colonial India in the 19th century and who died in the pre-Whitlam Australia of 1970.

Despite her achievements and those of others who have followed her, there are still many barriers to women’s full and equal participation in the workplace, in the community and in civic and political life.

Women still spend less time in the paid workforce than men and even those who are working the same hours as their male counterparts, earn less money.

This means that they are less financially secure than men and are more vulnerable to poverty as they grow older.

We have a female Prime Minister, a female Governor-General and the highest number of women in the Federal ministry.

Yet, women remain underrepresented in leadership positions – both in public life and in the corporate sector.

In the Federal House of Representatives, 37 of the 150 Members are women. That’s only 24.7 per cent.

And, as of last week, only 14.2 per cent of members of ASX 200 boards are women - this is an improvement, but there is still a long way to go.

And rates of domestic violence and sexual assault remain alarmingly high.

Women’s Statement 2012 and Government achievements

I’d like to think over the past five years the Labor Government has achieved much that would make Jessie Street proud.

As Minister for the Status of Women, I want to get those achievements on the record.

Today I’m launching the Women’s Statement 2012. It is a new look statement, co-signed by Prime Minister Julia Gillard, that this year goes beyond the measures announced in the Budget.

The Government has been proud to continue Labor’s long legacy of reform to advance the status of women, building on the infrastructure put in place by previous Labor Governments.

This Statement sets out what our Government has done to improve the lives of women, underpinned by our broader reform agenda of:

  • Supporting  working Australians and their families
  • Building a new Australian Economy and
  • Strengthening our Communities

We have also driven some targeted work to improve equality of outcomes between women and men – addressing the gender gaps that are of most concern.

Our achievements include:

  • The historic introduction of Australia’s first national Paid Parental Leave scheme.
  • A record investment in quality early childhood education and care.
  • The introduction of the Fair Work Act, which has provided fairness and flexibility for women in the workplace, and includes provisions for equal pay for work of equal or comparable value.
    • The historic decision of Fair Work Australia to award equal remuneration to Social and Community sector workers is a significant advance for equal pay for women.
  • Tripling of the current tax-free threshold, which will improve the rewards for work, particularly for women – as many are part time or casual.
  • Setting a target to achieve a minimum of 40 per cent women on Australian Government boards – and we are tracking well towards this target, with 35.3 per cent of positions being held by women as at 30 June 2011.
  • The National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children 2010-2022, which we are implementing in partnership with states and territories and the non-government sector, and gives effect to our zero tolerance policy to domestic violence and sexual assault.
  • We have also introduced a suite of initiatives to:
    •  recognise and support key groups of women in Australia,
    • improve women’s health,
    • support women overseas, and
    • further protect and promote human rights in Australia.

This is a pretty substantial list and one that our Government is, and should be, proud of.

Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Amendment Bill

There is one reform that is particularly relevant and currently underway – the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Amendment Bill

As many of you would be aware, I introduced the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Amendment Bill into Parliament in March.

The Amendment Bill recognises equal pay and access to flexible work arrangements for both women and men as central to achieving gender equality.

Under the Amendment Bill, employers will be required to lodge an annual report containing information on gender equality indicators in their workplaces.

These indicators will include such things as the gender composition of the workforce, the gender composition of governing bodies and who is getting paid what by gender.

The Act will require the chief executive officer to sign the reports - ensuring management at the highest level is involved in the issue of gender equality.

The Bill is about supporting businesses, especially those that need it most, to make their workplaces more gender equal.

It is well over a decade since the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999 was last reviewed. In that time, a lot has changed in Australian workplaces and society more broadly.

With this legislation, we are delivering on our 2010 commitment to reform the Act and the Agency. 

We have consulted closely with industry, employee organisations and the women’s sector in the development of the Amendment Bill.

We believe the Amendment Bill reflects a balance of the views of each of these groups.

The aim of the proposed legislation is to educate and support employers to drive cultural change in their organisations.

The proposed legislation isn’t about punishing employers or setting standards that they can’t meet.

It’s about identifying which employers need the most assistance to improve gender equality in their workplaces – and providing them with this assistance.

The proposed legislation will also reduce red tape for employers by making reporting easier.

The focus will shift away from lengthy descriptions about workplace programs and uncertainty about what to report on or what constitutes compliance.

Reporting will now be standardised, based on gender equality indicators and will be industry specific.

Employers will be able to lodge their reports online – as they’ve requested.

We are absolutely committed to continuing to consult with key stakeholders, including industry, employee organisations and the women’s sector in the implementation of the legislation if it is passed.

Next steps

In the context of our broader reform agenda, the Government recognises how important it is for women and men to have equal opportunities to participate in the workforce. It is also important for family life and for the Australian economy.

Workforce participation can ensure women are not vulnerable to poverty as they become older.

It is also central to a strong economy.

It is estimated that closing the gap between women’s and men’s workforce participation could boost Australia’s Gross Domestic Product by up to 13 per cent.

The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Amendment Bill and a lot of the achievements I listed before are about supporting women to participate - on equal terms – in Australia’s economy and community life.

Conclusion

The Government is committed to add to this list of achievements for women.

We will do so with a strong focus on increasing women’s participation in the workforce and their economic security.

We will work together across our Government and with states and territories to identify obstacles to gender equality and to respond to them.

We will be focusing on areas of work like skills development, employment opportunities for Indigenous women, superannuation and retirement incomes, housing affordability and community-based mental health.

We will work to strengthen the capacity of policy makers to incorporate gender equality considerations into policy development and evaluation.

We are also committed to working with the women’s sector and the broader Australian community to take the next steps to gender equality.

I hope that we can mark each Women’s Statement over the years with greater achievements in gender equality. Thank you.