National Foundation for Australian Women 2022 Annual Dinner

Good evening and thank you for the opportunity to speak to you tonight.

It is great to be back at the National Press Club to discuss issues impacting women in Australia – tonight representing the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who regrettably wasn’t able to be with you.

I first want to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet – the Ngunnawal people. I pay my respects to their elders past and present.

I also acknowledge any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here today.

In the same spirit of respect and reconciliation, I’d like to reaffirm our Government’s commitment to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full, including a constitutionally enshrined Voice to our Parliament.

Just last week I was here at the National Press Club to speak about our National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children. It was my Press Club debut, so how lucky I am to be back here again twice in one week.

…that lifetime membership is coming in handy.

In a moment, I’ll speak more about the National Plan and our Government’s commitment to ending gender-based violence in one generation.

But I first want to talk about what we know the evidence shows us is one of the key drivers to violence – and that is gender inequality.

And the evidence shows us that women are not yet equal to men in society.

We’re putting some significant cracks in the glass ceiling. But the reality is it isn’t yet smashed.

The evidence is that this year – in 2022 – fewer companies have gender-balanced leadership teams than last year.

In the ASX300, 47 companies have no women in their senior executive leadership teams.

Not one woman sitting around the table having input in key decisions for the company they serve.

Around two thirds of ASX300 companies and around half of ASX100 companies have no women in line positions: the roles from which CEOs tend to be selected.

Meaning there is no pathway for women to even reach CEO level.

The evidence also tells us that women and men are still not paid equally.

The national pay gap is 14.1 per cent.

The average weekly earnings for men in May this year was $1872.90.

For women, this same measure was $1609.

That’s $260 less a week. Why? Because they are women?

In September 2022, the rate of women’s participation in the workforce was 66.6 per cent, compared to 71 per cent for men.

Women outnumber men as graduates and yet earn less at every point in their working lives, eventually retiring with half the funds of their male contemporaries.

There has been little progress in the increase of women’s full-time participation over recent decades, with Australia lagging 10 per cent behind the OECD average.

It’s clear that we have more work to do.

Gender inequality is holding Australia back.

Increasing women’s workforce participation and economic equality is one of the biggest economic opportunities available for governments looking to kick-start economies after the COVID lockdowns – and make those economies fairer for all.

It’s because of this that our first panel session on Day 1 of the Jobs and Skills Summit here in Canberra in September was on equal opportunity and pay for women.

We had 50:50 representation of women and men at the Summit, and gender equality was a powerful theme that threaded through the entire event.

Rather than being treated solely as a ‘women’s issue’ discussed at the margins – the gender equality conversation was front and centre.

As the Summit it was made clear that we need to better value care work – paid and unpaid, and that we desperately need that work to be more evenly shared between men and women.

Paid parental leave that encourages sharing of care was one of the most prominent calls from the Summit.

And we listened – announcing in last month’s budget a modernisation of Paid Parental Leave – expanding the weeks available and making it more inclusive so parents are can share the caring responsibilities. We know this enables women to remain, and advance, in the workforce.

I am not sure that in cabinets of old, with only men sitting around the table, that this decision would have been made.

I don’t need to tell you that having more women sitting around the decision making table led to tangible benefits.

I’m honoured to be part of the first majority female Government in Commonwealth history.

The Albanese Government has the largest number of women serving in our Cabinet.

Out of the 103 members in the Labor Caucus, 54 are women. And in Cabinet it is 50 per cent women.

When I entered Parliament 15 years ago, only about 25 per cent of MPs were women.

Of course since then we’ve also had our first female Prime Minister in Julia Gillard.

Julia broke many glass ceilings for women in federal politics and beyond.

Her words in leaving the Prime Ministership have stayed with me: “What I am absolutely confident of is it will be easier for the next woman and the woman after that and the woman after that, and I'm proud of that.”

In the 47th Parliament, women now make up more than a third of MPs, and more than half of current Senators.

We’re hoping to see that number continue to go up and have committed $5 million through the Budget for the Women in Public Office program to boost gender equality and diversity in Australian politics.

We want to equip and encourage more women across the political spectrum to run for public office at the local, state and federal levels.

Right now, the talents of women in Australia are under-utilised and undervalued – which does not mean women are twiddling their thumbs.

Women are exhausted. Women are working hard – we saw that all through COVID. But their work – paid and unpaid – is not well valued and women are shouldering the burden of care in this country.

And it’s time we shifted the dial.

We still have a way to go in addressing in particular the disadvantage faced by First Nations women, women from culturally and linguistically excluded backgrounds or those from migrant and refugee backgrounds.

We still have a way to go in addressing disadvantage by women with disability and older women.

The intersecting forms of discrimination and disadvantage these women face – in particular racism, homophobia, ableism and ageism – does impact their ability to fully participate in the workforce, their safety and their experiences of gender-based violence and health outcomes.

We also have to recognise that women shouldered the bulk of increased caring responsibilities during the pandemic and were hardest hit by job losses and underemployment.

I know my colleague, Senator Katy Gallagher, as Minister for Women is committed to real action and accountability in progressing the first National Strategy to Achieve Gender Equality – which will drive generational change.

As the Minister for Social Services among my varied responsibilities is the very important issue of safety of women and children.

Minister Gallagher and I work closely on addressing these issues. Because we both know a more equal society is also a safer one.

That’s why the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022-2032 specifically acknowledges that gendered violence is rooted in gender inequality, and is a result of entrenched gender roles and rigid masculinity.

In my address to the Press Club last week, I spoke about the role governments, workplaces, schools, media, parents, and communities have in ending gendered violence and the community attitudes that contribute to stereotypes about masculinity and femininity.

One in three Australians think it is natural for a man to want to appear in control of his partner in front of his male friends. While one in three young men believe that caring for children is best done by women.

It’s 2022, and one in three young men – probably a young man you know – believes that caring for children is a woman’s responsibility.

These attitudes are concerning, and as a mum to two young boys, Percy, 7, and Oscar, 3, it’s something that’s never far from my mind.

How my husband Tim and I raise our sons and role model respectful relationships is vitally important – not just to their lives but to broader society.

Kids take in everything.

That was evident when my son Percy as a three-year-old asked me why I was wearing “daddy’s pink gloves” and why was I was doing the washing up. Spoiler alert: I don’t really do the washing up that often.

At first I felt a bit guilty but in a few minutes I was pleased that we were challenging many norms he will encounter.

Little things matter.

Little comments and little actions matter. How parents and carers relate to one another particularly in domestic environments matter.

As parents and carers – the custodians of our next generation – we have enormous power here.

It’s important to keep this at front of mind as we work to target our responses to drive the generational change we will need to see to shift the dial on gender equality and gender-based violence.

The Albanese Government is taking our responsibility to drive this generational change seriously.

We have passed legislation to see ten-days of paid family and domestic violence leave a year – because no woman should have to choose between her job and her safety.

Our Government is committed to implementing all 55 recommendations of the Respect@Work report, including legislating a responsibility of employers to ensure workplaces are free of harassment.

These investments are part of our record $1.7 billion spend in the Budget delivered just two weeks ago today for measures to address gender-based violence.

We’re also re-introducing gender responsive budgeting to ensure the gender impact of decisions is central to the decision-making process from the beginning.

Gender responsive budgeting will ensure we are delivering better and fairer outcomes for all. And importantly that women, men and gender diverse people have equal access to opportunities and resources.

I want to acknowledge the work of the National Foundation for Australian Women in applying a gender lens to successive budgets over many years.

Your gender lens on the Budget has been a crucial document, holding governments to account and helping to explain why budgeting matters to gender equality. We welcome your analysis of Labor’s first Budget and look forward to continuing to improve how we do this.

We are committed to addressing the structural barriers to improve productivity and workforce participation along with social and health outcomes for women.

As I mentioned earlier, gender equality was front and centre at the Jobs and Skills Summit, cheaper child care and expanding Paid Parental Leave were centrepieces of the October Budget.

I am proud of Labor’s plan to make childcare more affordable and accessible – it’s an issue I’ve long been championing.

Ensuring that the cost of early learning and care is not a barrier to women working the hours they want.

As the former shadow minister for early childhood education and youth it was a proud moment for me taking our positive childcare changes through then shadow cabinet – and to the election for the public to overwhelmingly back it in.

Treasury estimates paid hours worked by women with young children will increase by up to 1.4 million hours a week in the first year alone of our changes coming into place.

That’s the equivalent of 37,000 extra full-time workers.

Along with our childcare investment, our Paid Parental Leave reform is an important mechanism for improving women’s economic outcomes.

It won’t be news to anyone here that treating parenting as an equal partnership helps to improve gender equality. That’s why we want to promote shared care through the Labor’s PPL scheme.

Not only are we increasing the length of Government-paid leave to six months by 2026, we are also making it easier for both parents to access.

Many men want to take more time off work following the birth or adoption of their child; we see that in the increasing take-up of parental leave by men in the private sector. Currently, men take Government leave at roughly half the rate of women.

Our changes make it easier for both parents to take Government leave by removing the current requirement that the primary claimant must be the birth mother and removing assumptions about who is a ‘primary’ or ‘secondary’ carer.

We are also expanding access through a more generous $350,000 family income test.

These changes will benefit hundreds of thousands of parents in Australia.

It’s in Labor’s DNA to pursue gender equality, whether through the labour movement and the power of workers coming together – or through the Labor Party in this Parliament and others across the states and territories.

The gender pay gap in Australia currently sits at an unacceptable 14.1 per cent.

Gender equity is at the very heart of our Government's agenda. We are leading a national push to close the gender pay gap.

The Secure Jobs Better Pay Bill is making gender pay equity an overarching object of the Fair Work Act, in the modern awards objective and in the minimum wages objective.

This will ensure that gender pay equity is central to the Fair Work Commission’s decision making. This includes when setting the minimum wage; when considering changes to awards; and in all other decisions it takes.

Our Government is also making it easier for the Fair Work Commission to order pay increases for workers in low-paid, female-dominated industries.

Labor’s Secure Jobs Better Pay Bill will establish a statutory Equal Remuneration Principle to help guide the way the Commission considers equal remuneration and work value cases.

This includes the removal of the current requirement for an appropriate ‘male comparator’ before the Fair Work Commission can make an equal remuneration order.

This has proved to be a significant hurdle for workers from low-paid, traditionally female dominated industries seeking an equal remuneration order, just because they could not find an appropriate ‘male comparator’.

This Bill also makes it clear that sex discrimination will not be necessary to establish that work has been undervalued. This will strengthen the Fair Work Commission’s ability to order pay increases for workers in low paid, female-dominated industries.

The workers in aged care, early childhood education, and the care and community sectors were the heroes of the pandemic – however we have undervalued this work in the wages we have paid.

It’s critical we recognise that women’s economic equality, women’s health and wellbeing and the safety of women and children are interconnected.

Time out of the workforce due to caring responsibilities or other reasons, as well the gender pay gap can have a cumulative impact on women’s lifetime earnings, with considerable implications for older women, including for their superannuation.

It’s my hope that when my boys, Percy and Oscar, are in the workforce they are remunerated fairly for the work they do.

But it’s also my hope that they are remunerated equally with their female peers.

I am proud that in Labor’s short time in office we have focused on providing support families and gender equality.

For first time too we have an Assistant Minister, Ged Kearney, who is focused on women’s health. One of her responsibilities is addressing the unconscious bias with in our medical system, along with promoting a national conversation about menopause.

I will conclude tonight with the final words from Former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick – a champion for gender equality in this country. She said five years ago: “the time for talking is over”.

In 2017 Ms Broderick said:  “There is not one single step that will take us there. It is about persistence; it is about countless steps that every one of us takes every day to build a more gender-equal nation. We need to start accelerating the pace of change”.

She was right then, and she’s right now.

I look forward to working with you and all interested stakeholders to build a more gender-equal society for all.

Thank you.