Speech to Adelaide International Women's Day Breakfast - 05/03/2021

05 March 2021


Thank you Sonya (Feldhoff).

I acknowledge this land that we meet on today is the traditional lands for the Kaurna people and that we respect their spiritual relationship with their country.

I also acknowledge the Kaurna people as the custodians of the Adelaide region and that their cultural and heritage beliefs are still as important to the living Kaurna people today.

I also pay respects to the cultural authority of Aboriginal people joining us from other areas of Australia.

And I want to thank Rosemary Wanganeen for her warm welcome to country.

If there ever was a time we need that powerful, sacred woman healing energy, it’s now, so thank you very much.

I want to express my appreciation to all of you who are joining us this morning at this first virtual Adelaide IWD Breakfast.

For years the Adelaide community has been coming together to make this the biggest IWD breakfast in the country, and this year, because of your commitment, and because of the dedication of the team that puts this breakfast together, we have been able to continue to make the claim to being the biggest IWD Breakfast in the country – despite all the uncertainties of the pandemic.

The planning for this event starts a long way out.

At the time planning began last year, we had no idea what restrictions we might face.

So the IWD Breakfast Committee determined to take the breakfast virtual, meaning we could plan with confidence, and also reach an even bigger audience outside of the Adelaide area.

We have women watching around the country, including in Kimba, Kangaroo Island, Victoria and New South Wales, and with our steadfast partners at the Women in Business and Regional Development in Mount Gambier – which is hosting two breakfasts this year.

We have watch parties from groups as diverse as the Adelaide United Womens players, Chooks SA – a women’s social enterprise group, and the United Workers union, and many more.

So despite the logistical challenges and uncertainties of COVID, we are continuing to raise funds that are more needed than ever this year.

In fact, our committee chair, Ann Morgan, has some exciting news later on how much we’ve raised through this virtual breakfast.

But I’m going to drop just a small hint, with her permission.

Our sponsors have generously contributed $39,000 that will go to the vital work of UN Women Australia, supporting women’s rights and gender equality in the Pacific and around the world.

I want to particularly mention the hosts of our livestream today, Adelaide University. Adelaide Uni is a Gold Sponsor of this breakfast.

I want to thank the committee: Ann Morgan, Aste Corbridge, Hean Bee Wee, Lidia Moretti, Alexis McKay, Sarah Hart, Larissa Harrison and Nadia Clancy.

And I want to pay tribute to all my staff, particularly Meredith Boyle, my intrepid office manager here in Adelaide, who is the glue that holds this event together year after year.

Can I say to you all, without Ann Morgan and Meredith Boyle, this event would simply not happen – so thank you both.

There are a lot of reasons this year’s breakfast has special meaning for me.

First of all, since we last got together we have all been through a lot. We’ll never take anything like this event or so many others for granted again.

Secondly, I’m so pleased to have Natasha Stott Despoja as our guest speaker.

Natasha and I went to uni together – here at Adelaide University – where we were occasional adversaries in student politics.

But we have always been allies in feminism.

Natasha was recently elected to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women – which is the international body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

So, when it comes to International Women’s Day, she really has all the bases covered.

I'm really looking forward to her talk this morning.

The third reason why this year’s breakfast has special meaning for me is because just this week the South Australian Parliament has finally decriminalised abortion.

I pay tribute to everyone who worked for so many years for South Australian women to be trusted to make choices about their own bodies.

The final reason why this year’s breakfast has added significance for me – and I’m sure for many of you – is because of where we are as a country right now.

It’s been a hard few weeks.

For survivors. For those who love them.

For women in politics and women in leadership everywhere.

For women across our community.

There would hardly be a woman in this country who is not either a survivor of sexual assault, or who knows someone who is.

So this has been a distressing time for so many of us.

I’ve described this as a time of searing national reckoning.

A reckoning demanded by the courage of so many.

Of Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins and many more.

To find our way through this requires listening and it requires action.

Leaders have to listen, even to messages some don’t wish to hear.

We have to support those who have the courage to come forward.

And we have to change the culture, in our Parliament and across our nation.

You see, change needs more than talk.

It requires action and for this, we can draw inspiration from the next generation of leaders.

We are all in awe of the work of Grace Tame, who is showing survivors everywhere the power that is within them – the power of their voice.

And Chanel Contos, who has single-handedly spurred a conversation about consent education – using her voice to encourage thousands of others to tell their stories of sexual assault during their school years.

Ms Contos said:

“I want this to continue to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind, the government’s mind, because we need educational reform and societal reform. Everyone needs to be conscious of their contribution to rape culture,”

Her work is prompting some young men to ask questions about their own assumptions and behaviours. For example, year 12 student from Sydney, Asher Learmonth, who told his peers:

“Don’t lie to yourself. Don’t make excuses. Instead, identify this sexist and reductive attitude within yourself, within the boys you go out with. Change the way you view women.”

Chanel Contos said this week she felt this could be a massive tipping point in our society.

Let’s prove her right.

The first step in changing culture is accountability.

There must be consequences for behaviour that is inappropriate or illegal.

The culture of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ must end.

And another part of this shift is making sure there are more women at the table.

One of the things I’m most proud of in my time in politics is securing a change in Labor’s rules that truly changed the party.

In 2003, I worked with my friend Sharryn Jackson to ensure more talented women got into parliament.

Labor now has more women than men in the Senate, and that is the reason why the majority of senators are women, for the first time in Australian history.

This International Women’s Day, I call on all Australia’s political parties to mandate targets for equal women’s representation.

Last year, Labor and the country farewelled an icon for women in Australia, Susan Ryan.

She was the unstoppable force behind the Sex Discrimination Act, and other nation-changing reforms as a minister in the Hawke Government.

Before the Sex Discrimination Act, it was not unlawful to discriminate on the basis of sex in employment, education, accommodation and the provision of goods and services.

A woman’s credit rating and earning capacity weren’t enough to get a loan from a bank. She could only secure credit if a husband or a father took responsibility.

Landlords refused to rent homes to single mothers.

Community clubs throughout the country were able to bar women. Women were sacked because of their age, marital status or pregnancy.

When she ran for the Senate, Susan Ryan’s pitch was: “a woman’s place is in the House…. And in the Senate.”

I’m sure a lot of women may have been discouraged from public service and political life because of what they’ve seen in recent times.

But my message this IWD to Australian women is you are the change that the culture needs.

Thank you and happy International Women’s Day.

Please find a link to a stream from the event here.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.