Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to be here this morning.
I want to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet. Acknowledge their elders, past, present and emerging.
I thank Aunty Violet for her Welcome to Country. Always a colourful Welcome to Country, never an inclusion of the Broncos either, Aunty Violet. I wait and wait and wait, but one day, one day.
I acknowledge the Prime Minister and thank him for his remarks. I also acknowledge my parliamentary colleagues here today. My Deputy Sussan Ley, to Minister Penny Wong, Minister Katy Gallagher.
To my many colleagues as I look around the room – Anne Ruston and others who are here in great number and it’s wonderful to see – so thank you very much for your commitment to being here for this very important breakfast.
I want to say thank you very much to Simone and her staff for all of the work – not just in putting today together – but in putting many functions together, creating awareness, driving causes and making a difference; so Simone, thank you very much for the work that you do.
Of course, to the Board led by President Georgina Williams. Georgina, again, thank you very much for your comments this morning and the work that you do in a very important role, including as a mum of a child who works at McDonalds – an experience I’ve had where you end up spending more money on petrol picking children up and driving them home than they’re actually earning, but that’s a different issue as the Prime Minister points out.
I want to also acknowledge all the public servants who are here today. People across the Public Service who make a real difference within their departments.
The secretaries, and in particular I want to acknowledge the presence today of Julie Inman Grant, who is here with us and has made a phenomenal impact on the lives of young women, in particular, those online who are suffering unimaginable abuse and characterisation, issues around body image, issues around the sharing of images and I want to come to that in a second.
I want to thank all of those who are on the front-line providing support to women who are facing domestic violence, in some cases on a regular basis and those women who are living in relationships where children are facing sexual abuse.
As a police officer, I worked on the front-line and I can tell you that those countless domestic violence incidents that I attended, the women that we took to shelters and provided for support during the court process, those images stick with you for a lifetime. To this day, the chilling screams for help from women and children have stayed with me.
I also saw the darker side of our country as Home Affairs Minister. The proliferation of child sexual abuse material online is truly horrific and heading in an unimaginable direction. The content is so heartbreaking that even the most seasoned officers and most front-line workers have been brought to tears.
Victims, as we know, can be little girls only a couple of years of age. It’s why, when we established the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation, we wanted to make a tangible difference in the lives of women, not just here, but across our region, and we’ve done that, including in the Philippines and across South-East Asia otherwise.
I acknowledge the work of the Secretary Mike Pezzullo and his staff, and the work of the Australian Federal Police – Reece Kershaw and his senior officers in their commitment to the cause.
It’s unacceptable that we see a higher incidence of sexual and domestic violence in Indigenous communities in our country in the year 2023. We join with the government in every effort to reduce the incidence of that violence.
We know that organisations across Australia are doing very innovative and important things to educate people and offenders to make sure that the court process allows for a fairer process, allowing victims to be heard and for their stories to be shared.
The theme for International Women’s Day is ‘Innovation for a gender equal future.’
Now, Innovation obviously is vitally important and Julie Inman Grant is showing the way and really blazing the way in that regard. But organisations across Australia are making sure that they can work to eradicate barriers and behaviours which will inhibit equality of opportunity.
But even today, in Australia, as Georgina pointed out before, we still need to get the basics right. Even today, in our country, some women are living in environments characterised by violence and predatory behaviours. It those environments which eradicate choice, which sap the spirit to work hard, which destroy dreams, and which extinguish equality of opportunity.
Safe and stable environments are the foundation of women’s empowerment and progress. That’s true anywhere in the world.
I want to acknowledge the significant loss of life in Syria and Turkey. There will be very significant numbers of impoverished women and girls who have lost their lives – thousands upon thousands and that tragedy continues to unfold. I applaud the work of the government in providing aid and support and the work that no doubt is under way by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Yazidi women were being subjected to the most heinous crimes imaginable from Islamic State in that part of the world. One of the proudest moments as Immigration Minister was overseeing the resettlement of 4,000 Yazidis into our country. Yazidi women now have lives in our country that they could never have imagined only a few years ago.
These are women who were subject to sexual slavery and servitude, who ultimately were killed in many instances, and it’s incredibly moving to see their newfound hope and aspiration in Australia.
They now have choices, they now have opportunities, and while Australia is one of the safest, harmonious, egalitarian and prosperous nations in the world, that is not the case for all Australians.
It’s certainly not the case for women who find themselves in dangerous environments, and many who do from lower socio-economic backgrounds have no means of escape.
The safety and protection of women is something that we’ve all strived for and must continue to strive for.
The Coalition will continue to push for improvements into many areas; in keeping women and children in Australia safe and stopping violence before it starts.
In improving health for women and girls in Australia. Many of my colleagues yesterday were present for the harrowing account of a young lady – 30 years of age who has a terminal diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Alisi left a lasting mark on all of us with her contribution yesterday.
I was proud as Health Minister that we established a $20 billion medical research future fund, which is providing tens of millions of dollars each year for research into ovarian cancer, breast cancer, other cancer types, all with a desire to improve health for women, girls and for all Australians
We’re also committed to improving online safety, particularly for our children, and in supporting women’s economic security. Seeking improvements in these fundamental areas transcends politics.
A second point on innovation: Today, we’re seeing women being more innovative than ever before. We focus on careers in STEM, and rightly so.
The Coalition’s continually delivered through the successful Future Female Leaders Program and the Academy for Enterprising Girls, but we also need to focus on the good innovation and how good it can be for Australian women as consumers and as adopters of technology.
In the online safety space, I am proud that we are world leaders and that we do have landmark legislation that prevent the sharing of intimate images online.
I’m proud to the work that ANROWS and the Australian Institute of Criminology are doing to develop innovative behavioural-based responses to hold perpetrators to account.
From the world first Gardasil vaccine, to ground-breaking reproductive and endometriosis research, Australia is continuing to lead the world, as I say, when it comes to shifting the focus to women’s health. These innovations allow Australian women to focus on what’s important to them – their career, their health and their family.
What matters is the policies that we can put in place which enable these choices.
We want desperately to see women and their families have even more flexibility to make the choices which are right for them.
The Liberal Party is the Party of the family, the small business and entrepreneurship, and we’ve got a strong record of supporting government funded paid parental leave.
We supported all of the measures the Prime Minister outlined in his speech earlier.
In February 2020, the Coalition introduced legislation aimed at better supporting working mothers and families to access their payment more flexibly.
In March of ‘22, we announced an enhanced paid parental leave scheme, and the government now has built on that, as I say, we’ve provided bi-partisan support in that very important area.
Our enhancements will support businesses to retain valuable staff and negotiate flexible working arrangements, especially smaller employers who may not be able to fund their own parental leave.
We’ve also supported many other measures over recent times which I think will make a tangible benefit outside the economic portfolio in women’s lives.
But there is a lot more to do. We should, at the same time, be reassured that women’s unemployment at 3.6 per cent in March last year – the lowest level on record – is a good indicator of things that are making a tangible difference in peoples lives.
Indeed, between 2013 and 2021 under the Coalition Government, female business ownership increased by 26 per cent – from 647,000 people to more than 815,000 women.
On International Women’s Day this year, I hope we don’t overlook our enduring duty to get the basics right.
Women are doing an amazing job, but they need significant support from everyone in this room, in this building and well beyond, to create the opportunities, to make the inroads, to help the achievements continue.
Perspectives that we all bring to policy making and politics need to be heard. Policies which promote more flexibility, more choice and more opportunity.
Thank you again to all of the decision makers for being here today, for lending your support and for making a difference, and Georgina thank you very much for having us here today.