Speech to the Unions Tasmania Women's Conference - 20/08/2021

20 August 2021


Good afternoon everyone, thank you for inviting me to participate in the Unions Tasmania Women’s Conference.

I begin by acknowledging the traditional lands upon which we all meet. I respect their spiritual relationship with their country.

I also acknowledge Jessica Munday, Secretary, Unions Tasmania, Michelle O’Neil, President, ACTU, Georgie Dent, CEO, The Parenthood, Tasmanian Parliamentary Labor Colleagues.

I hope you and your families have been well and safe during these uncertain times.

I thank you all for the important work you continue to do in your respective industries, particularly throughout the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I’ve been invited here today to speak about an alternative government vision for women.

We have come a long way - let’s not forget that before the Sex Discrimination Act in 1984, it was not unlawful to discriminate on the basis of sex in employment, education, accommodation and the provision of goods and services.

Some of the women in the room may remember this – and to others, I’m sure it is difficult to fathom such a reality.

But before the Sex Discrimination Act, a woman’s credit rating and earning capacity wasn’t enough to get a loan from a bank – and landlords refused to rent homes to single mothers.

Women were sacked from their jobs because of their age, marital status or pregnancy.

The Sex Discrimination Act was championed by one of the labour movement’s great feminist pioneers, Susan Ryan, who was the first woman in the Federal Labor Cabinet.

While we have come a long way, gender inequality continues to permeate our social fabric.

Australia has slipped 26 places in the World Economic Forum’s gender ranking since 2013.

We are now in 50th place worldwide – the worst result ever.

In that time, we’ve seen cuts to family benefits, childcare, schools and Medicare.

Instead of giving greater support for women in crisis – we’ve seen suggestions from government that women should raid their own superannuation to help them escape a violent relationship.

We have seen an unprecedented demand for domestic violence and housing support services throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

And across the country, women are saying Enough is Enough.

Action around the country has been spurred by alarming reports of sexual harassment and assault in the federal parliament.

That such acts could take place in the building where all Australians are supposed to be represented is rightly shocking to so many Australians.

But I think women have responded so strongly – so stridently – and with such anger – because it is an experience so many of us have had.

Tens of thousands of women marched and rallied across Australia to stand against sexual harassment and gendered violence.

Because women have the right to be safe.

And women want a government that gets it, that is going to take responsibility, that is going to act and provide leadership.

Labor has always been the party of change and progress. Imagine an Australia without Labor Governments. It would be an Australia without:

  • Medicare
  • A social welfare system that supports older Australians and people with disabilities;
  • Affordable education and needs based school funding;
  • Paid parental leave;
  • Superannuation;
  • An Australia without a minimum wage or any fairness at work; and
  • Where WorkChoices would be the law of the land.

We create an alternate government vision for women by considering gender in all our policies.

When we were last in Government, as well as introducing paid parental leave, we also lowered the tax-free threshold and introduced low income superannuation contributions.

Both of these were fiscal policies which mostly affected women in insecure work and lower paid industries – and changed lives.

It’s also why representation matters.

Almost half of Labor party Senators and Members of Parliament are women, but only a quarter of Coalition MPs and Senators.

We saw how this has had a real impact on women across Australia, when in the middle of a global pandemic, the 2020 federal budget had no meaningful measures to address the problems facing Australian women.

The lack of support for women in Federal Budgets has prompted farcical defences from the Government.

One minister said that women were winners because a Budget increased spending on roads and women drive on roads.

And who can forget when my colleague Alicia Payne asked Scott Morrison about the lack of funding maternity services for women in Yass – leaving many women driving an hour to Goulbourn or Canberra and getting caught out giving birth on the side of the Barton Highway.

Mr Morrison’s response? “Well I’m pleased to let the member know that’s why we have committed $150 million to upgrade the Barton Highway.”

We know women have worked on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, often in precarious work, while also taking on more unpaid labour – such as bearing the brunt of child rearing and housework.

Unfortunately, Australia has some of the highest childcare costs in the world which were compounded by the loss of work and income for many Australians.

The way the current childcare system is designed means that many women actually lose money if they work more than three days a week.

Labor has repeatedly said that in the middle of a global pandemic, we shouldn’t be disincentivising women’s workforce participation.

This is an opportunity to create a better system for working families.

This is why Labor announced a childcare policy which will remove the disincentive to work more hours for parents returning to work.

Cheaper Childcare for Working Families will remove the disincentive to work more hours, by ending the annual cap on the childcare subsidy, lift the maximum subsidy rate to 90 per cent, and increase subsidy rates for every family earning less than $530,000.

KPMG estimated childcare reform could generate between 160,000 and 210,000 additional working days a week – the equivalent of 30,000-40,000 full-time jobs.

Grattan Institute research says women will increase their hours of paid work by 13 per cent.

These reports estimate that that reform of childcare could generate GDP growth of between 5.4 billion and $11 billion per annum.

This isn’t a social welfare policy – this is an important economic reform.

Making childcare more affordable will lift workforce participation and increase economic growth.

Labor’s Secure Australian Jobs Plan will also tackle the gender pay gap:

  • Companies with more than 250 employees to report their gender pay gap publicly.
  • Pay secrecy clauses will be prohibited and employees will be given the right to disclose their pay, if they want to.
  • Action will be taken to address the gender pay gap in the Australian Public Service.
  • And the Fair Work Commission will be given strengthened powers to order pay increases for workers in low paid, female dominated industries.
  • And Labor will legislate a right to ten days paid family and domestic violence leave.

And an Albanese Labor Government will strengthen laws to make it clear employers must take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment at work.

As the [email protected] report makes clear, existing laws are not working to protect workers and reforms are urgently needed.

An Albanese Labor Government will fully implement all 55 recommendations of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner’s ground-breaking [email protected] Report to help keep Australians safe from sexual harassment at work.

I also want to touch on what an Albanese Labor Government will mean for women in our region and beyond.

As Foreign Minister, rebuilding our aid program will be a key priority after eight long years of Morrison Government cuts, totalling nearly $12 billion.

These cuts have directly hampered Australia’s ability to help those most in need, particularly in our region, and have left vacuums for others to fill.

And we know it’s women and girls that lose out most – especially when we see the impact of the pandemic on women and girls and the development setbacks we’re seeing.

The United Nations Development Program estimates that for the first time in over 20 years, global extreme poverty is expected to rise in part because of the COVID-19 crisis, particularly for women and girls.

UNDP has estimated that this year, for every 100 men aged 25 to 34 living in extreme poverty, there will be 118 women, a gap that is expected to increase to 121 women per 100 men by 2030.

Empowering women and girls is not a priority for the Morrison-Joyce Government – both at home and abroad.

There’s no clearer demonstration of this than the recent United Nations Generation Equality Forum, which featured no high-level Australian representation, no policy announcements or initiatives – just a pre-recorded video of Marise Payne.

As Foreign Minister, this is a trend that I will reverse, by rebuilding our aid program to ensure women and girls’ development, empowerment and security is a priority.

And I will restore Australian leadership of gender and human rights issues in multilateral forums so that we can work with new and traditional partners to generate real progress on gender, security and development issues.

The trailblazing women of the 1970s did so much for the advancement of gender equality – and we must carry that mantle forward.

I am reminded of that Margaret Mead quote:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”

My call to you all today, as leaders, delegates, activists and women of the labour movement – is to continue to be that group of thoughtful, committed citizens.

I made a statement in the Senate last year following the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in which I said, “we cannot afford to look at the great achievements of human progress and be overwhelmed by their magnitude. We can't treat that progress as the work only of great figures of history, because we are not just their beneficiaries; we are the custodians of a constant project. We must, all of us, use what we know, where we are, to do what we can.”

And this means electing an Albanese Labor Government.

Thank you for the opportunity to address your conference today.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.