Speech to the Adelaide International Women's Day Breakfast - Adelaide Convention Centre, Adelaide - 8/03/2024

08 March 2024



I too begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the lands we meet on today, the Kaurna people, and pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.

I thank Elaine Magias for her warm welcome - and acknowledge Rosemary Wanganeen, who usually gives our welcome to country – but is still healing after the Voice referendum.

[Acknowledgements omitted.] 

This is the twenty-second IWD breakfast I have hosted here.

Today we have a record 3,076 people among us, including students from 33 schools.

And many more are joining us online, including at satellite events on Kangaroo Island, Mount Gambier and in Norwood.

There are a number of reasons why this breakfast keeps growing.

Meredith, from my Adelaide office does a marvellous job in organising it along with the committee – thank you.

We have also been bestowed a largess of brilliant speakers.

But the biggest reason this breakfast keeps growing because we share a great hunger to acknowledge women’s struggle, to celebrate women’s success, and to honour those women who have shown us the way.

As Foreign Minister I am deeply conscious of the hardship that women are experiencing around the world – disproportionately because of their gender.

The higher rates of poverty and disadvantage; the lack of legal and political rights; the impact of conflict and war on women and girls, when sexual violence becomes a weapon of war.

I am determined to ensure Australia’s contribution to the world is a contribution that advances the rights and aspirations of women and girls.

This includes insisting 80 percent of our international development investments include a focus on gender equality.

At home, we are working to improve opportunities for Australian women, including -

Expanding paid parental leave to six months by 2026.

Paying superannuation on Government PPL payments from 1 July, next year.

Publishing the pay gaps of Australia’s biggest employers.

This has shown that six in ten employers a gap of more than 5 percent, in favour of men.

I don’t usually make political remarks at this breakfast, but I was unimpressed that a senior member of Mr Dutton’s team called that “useless data.”

There is much to say about the big picture for women in Australia and around the world.

But today I want to focus more on the women in our lives who have shown us the way.

There are the women on the national and global stage who inspire us, pioneering in new fields of endeavour, expanding the reach of equality and of our imaginations.

And there are the women in our own lives who model what - and who - we can be.

In the past year we’ve lost some of the women who were role models for me.

Lowitja O’Donoghue, Peta Murphy and Linda White.

Peta Murphy and Linda White were two colleagues who dedicated their lives to advocating for working people, and were champions for women.

Peta would have been one of the greats – with her uncommon ability to connect with people.

So too Linda White, who achieved so much for working Australians before she even made it to Parliament.

Later today, Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue will be farewelled here in Adelaide.

I had the honour of working with Lowitja on Women for Wik.

She shared stories of her life with grace and generosity that few of us in would have conjured if faced with the same circumstances.

Lowitja didn’t know that was the name her mother had given her until she was in her 30s. She had a chance encounter in Coober Pedy with an aunt and uncle who saw her family resemblance, who exclaimed: “That’s Lily’s girl!”

Following that encounter, Lowitja’s mother waited for days by the side of the road, in the Oodnadatta dust; waiting for her daughter to come home.

But when she did, after thirty years apart, they discovered that they had no language in common.

They could only speak to each other through their eyes.

Because Lowitja had been stolen from her mother when she was two years old.

She was raised by missionaries who underfed her, tolerated only the English language, told her she would amount to nothing, and forbade any discussion of her family.

In those formative years, Lowitja would ask herself:

… where is my mother, why doesn't she come for me, doesn't she love me?

When they finally met again after thirty years, Lowitja said:

it was far too emotional to talk about …

Lowitja confounded a lifetime of prejudiced expectations.

She was the first Aboriginal nurse at the Royal Adelaide.

A leader in the Aboriginal legal and land rights movements and head of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission.

She negotiated groundbreaking legislation with the Keating Government.

She became the first Aboriginal Australian to address the United Nations General Assembly.

And she played an instrumental role in the National Apology to the Stolen Generations, which I hope brought some catharsis.

Lowitja was an icon and role model for so many of us, and especially for First Nations women around Australia, for what could be achieved and also the way to achieve it.

But she could never regain a childhood with the singular and profound love of her own mother.

Many of you are here with your mother or daughter.

My mother would usually be with us at this breakfast, but today she cannot be.

And as I pay tribute to great women, who have inspired and shaped me, there is none more than Jane Chapman.

Jane married my father, a Malaysian man, at a time when the White Australia Policy was still in place.

Jane is a woman of arresting, penetrating intellect; of mischievous wit; of deep compassion and principle.

And she gives expression to her compassion through unsurpassed courage and determination for justice, qualities that have steeled me through all my life’s challenges.

Jane is a mother whose love is always present, always felt.

Through her work, her choices, her courage and her deeds, she showed me a path, and she showed me that my destiny was mine to shape.

Friends, sisters -

Each of you will have women in your life, maybe even some at your table, who have shown you a path.

And each of you have a role in helping the women and girls who may be looking to you to show a path.

I conclude by introducing to you one more woman who has played that role for me.

My friend and colleague, Linda Burney.

We sit together at the Cabinet table, where she is the Minister for Indigenous Australians, for whom she advocates with her encyclopaedic mind, deep insights, and her gentle but powerful voice.

I learned a long time ago that when Linda speaks, we should listen.

And so it is my great pleasure that we have the opportunity to hear from her today.

Thank you all.

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Foreign Minister's Office: +61 2 6277 7500

Authorised by Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia.