UN Women Australia, International Women’s Day event

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Thank you very much, Mel, for your introduction and thank you very much to UN Women for the opportunity to give this welcome address.

Your Excellencies, Governor-General, the Honourable David Hurley and Mrs Hurley, to our Australian of the Year, Grace Tame, to Elizabeth Broderick, Yasmin Poole, Peter King, Debra Eckersley and members of the UN Women Australia Board; the members of the diplomatic corps who are here today, to my team from DFAT, who is here today.

Can I particularly thank Aunty Ann for her strong welcome and acknowledgement. I also want to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet here today, the Gadigal People of the Eora Nation, and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. I especially acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and men who are present here today. I extend a warm welcome to all the women and men joining today’s International Women’s Day lunches across Australia, as Mel has told us.

This year, we mark International Women’s Day with the global theme, “Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World.” It gives me great pleasure to acknowledge so many Australian women leaders, including many of you who have joined today’s IWD lunches.

This year, we’ve seen four courageous women recognised for their leadership through the Australian of the Year awards; four women recipients for the first time, but I’m absolutely sure not the last. One of those women is, of course, Grace Tame, who will be here with us today for her brave work as an advocate for survivors of sexual assault, raising awareness and pushing for reforms that will protect other women and girls. I acknowledge Grace and her fellow Australians of the Year, Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann, Isobel Marshall and Rosemary Kariuki.

I’m very pleased to be here this afternoon, particularly with UN women. I acknowledge and congratulate UN women for the work that they do.

Putting women in our Indo-Pacific region and globally, front and centre, is a key to our economic recovery from COVID-19. Our international response, Australia’s international response on COVID-19, Partnerships for Recovery, prioritises the needs of women and girls. Women leaders across the world have stood out for their success in responding to COVID-19 as teachers, nurses, doctors, scientists, community workers and in unpaid caring roles. Women have been, and are, at the forefront of pandemic responses.

Over the past 12 months, I’ve been honoured to engage – virtually – with Pacific women leaders in particular, with women foreign ministers from around the world to discuss our practical efforts to prioritise gender equality in the COVID-19 response. For example, in the Pacific, where between 75 and 90 per cent of market vendors are women, we’ve collaborated with UN women and governments to deliver safer, healthier, more accessible markets. This has seen women vendors increasingly take on formal leadership roles and drive policies. Over the past year, they’ve had to adapt – adapt hygiene measures to ensure markets can remain open, safe and free, and reduce the risks of COVID-19 transmission.

In fact, on my last visit to Vanuatu in 2019, when travel was possible, I was pleased to officially open the new market at Luganville on Espiritu Santo, funded by Australia with UN women – category five cyclone standard construction, protected, clean, appropriate facilities for women and their babies and infants. The conversations I had with those women that day about the change and the empowerment that the changes in the markets gave to them left a real imprint on my mind – true, strong leaders of their communities. Women’s leadership and economic recovery go hand in hand. Supporting women to shape solutions is essential to achieve better outcomes for everyone.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve been in politics and in parliament for a long time. The events of recent weeks have been disturbing, distressing and horrifying to me and to so many Australians. But my concern, my distress, is irrelevant and nothing compared to the concern, the distress and the deep, deep damage done to those who have been assaulted or harassed.

As a workplace, the national Parliament is starkly, clearly not immune from these sorts of issues that have impacted workplaces around our country and, frankly, around the world for too long. But it has to change. It must change. And the only way it will change is if we, as parliamentarians, own the problems, own the failings, and make the necessary changes ourselves. By its nature, the Parliament is a highly politicised workplace, but I do know that the political system has the capacity to work together to address this issue and these challenges. And we will. And we cannot wait.

Like too many other workplaces – the corporate world, the judiciary, tertiary institutions, the arts, defence forces – we like so many of those, are facing these issues and we will deal with them. That it is a non-partisan, multi-party approach for an independent inquiry and review that has included the Opposition, the Greens, the independents and other minor parties, is absolutely essential.

Today, the independent review into the workplaces of parliamentarians and their staff has been announced by the Finance Minister, the Honourable Senator, Simon Birmingham. The aim of the review is to ensure all Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces are safe and respectful and that our national Parliament reflects best practice in the prevention and handling of bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault. The review will consider recommendations to ensure that the people who work in parliamentary workplaces are treated with dignity and respect and have access to clear and effective mechanisms to prevent and address bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault.

The review will be led by Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins. We will work together as a Parliament to address this. We will work together on change – on changing the behaviours of perpetrators, on a system that provides the sort of safe workplace to which every person has a right. We’ll do it for the future workers and indeed future members and senators. We will do it so that what has happened and been reported on in recent weeks does not happen again.

On International Women’s Day, we have a special and important opportunity to acknowledge the extraordinary work that women across the world and in this country do – the contributions that all women make – and to celebrate women’s leadership – as Aunty Ann said, strong women’s leadership. With women’s voices and with women’s full participation in all aspects of life, we can overcome the challenges that face us today and in today’s COVID-19 world.

You can’t be what you can’t see. Women in leadership roles are so vitally important across our communities, across our countries and across the world. And those of us who have the privilege, the responsibility and the opportunity to share in those roles, we have to continue to work together for a world that is more inclusive, where women are equal and respected leaders. And I wish you all a strong, positive International Women’s Day on March 8th.

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