Address to the National Press Club

Release Date: 
6 March 2018
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Good afternoon everyone, and thank you for that warm welcome.

It’s wonderful to join all of you for my first major address as Minister for Women.

When I returned home to Melbourne last Thursday after a week of Parliament I had a late night conversation with my daughter Livvy who is nearly three.

We hadn’t seen each other for many days and she was full of questions, including about my flight from Canberra.

She knowingly told me that if I was on a plane then there must have been a pilot.  And then she said, “What was her name?”

I was literally lost for words – not at the thought of a woman pilot – but that my daughter had assumed that my pilot must have been a women.  The first name that popped into my head was Beth.

I don’t know if there is a Qantas or Virgin pilot out there called Beth, good luck to her if there is, but my daughter’s assumption that the pilot must be a woman struck me that there is a new way of viewing the world.

As a nation, we must demand a life for women where they don’t just survive, but they thrive.

Every woman should have the opportunity to fulfil her potential and to make meaningful choices about her life.

To put it simply – there should be no limit on what she can aspire to, and no limit on what she can achieve.

Not long after I was elected Parliament, I met with a female scientist who told me that she wasn’t able to apply for a NHMRC research grant because she was working part-time.

She had a young family, and the failure to get this grant was going to be catastrophic for her medical research and for her continued career.

She also told me that she could apply for the grant if she was working full-time, and then go part-time, but could not apply whilst already working part-time.

Perverse indeed – it seemed like such an artificial barrier.

I took up her cause with the minister at the time, but despite my best efforts, he would not engage with the issue.

So what I did instead was call up new Labor MP, Amanda Rishworth, and we joined together to form the Parliamentary Friends of Women in Science, Maths and Engineering.

By shining a strong light on this issue, by asking questions, we began to get real results achieving more flexible grant applications and more support for women at that critical cliff where career intersects with family life.  The NHMRC changed their research fellowships to allow part-time applications.

We later discovered that our group had attracted attention as the first gendered parliamentary group in Australia and one of only a few gendered parliamentary groups in the world.

Women are not, and never have been, a singular group. We have our own histories and have made our own journeys. We have individual aspirations, hopes and needs — for ourselves; for our families.

I see this as a portfolio for all women – women in the home; in the board room; in factories or remote towns; our young women and our older women; and critically our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women; women who are comfortable, and women who are doing it tough. 

I recognise that my own circumstances are very different to those of many Australian women.

I am lucky to have been raised by parents who instilled in me a strong belief that men and women are equal in opportunity and achievement.

It is this belief in equality that makes me proud to call myself a feminist. 

As the Minister for Women I will fight for an equal place for women in this country and will focus my energy on achieving practical positive outcomes.

To achieve gender equality, women must have real choices; they must have the same opportunities as their husbands, fathers, brothers and work colleagues; and the foundation for this is, of course, respect.

The Workplace

In the multi-millennial history of the dynamics between men and women, feminism is still, culturally-speaking, a relatively new phenomenon.

I was born in 1977 so modern feminism is in reality only a few years older than me.

Not that long ago sex segregation in the workforce was the norm, women were banished from the Commonwealth Public Service when they got married, and female executives and department heads were either tokenistic or an oddity.

Anyone who has seen Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Washington Post chief executive Katherine Graham in The Post would have been reminded how absolutely unprecedented – shocking even – it was to have a female chief executive of a US Fortune 500 company in the early 1970s.

But over recent decades, men and women working together in the workplace, as peers and colleagues, as bosses and workers, as friends and as partners has become the norm while also bringing with it associated complexities of human relations.

During that time we have had to work out what is unacceptable behaviour, what is discriminatory and what is outright illegal, but we’ve also had to navigate a new set of unwritten social norms. Because we also know that for most people their workplace is their most proximate social network, while many meet their husbands, wives and partners in their workplace.

It is in this context I want to touch briefly on the issue of the Prime Minister’s updated code of ministerial conduct and the press gallery journalists’ convention of generally not reporting on the private lives of politicians.

Some have tried to claim that the Prime Minister’s new addition to the ministerial code of conduct either opens the door to the overturning of that convention or worse, places a new obligation on journalists to start digging where they have not previously dug before.

It should be noted that the reporting on Barnaby Joyce predated the code of conduct so the idea that the code has created a new license for intrusion into politicians’ lives is nonsense.

Yes, the Prime Minister wants his ministers to adopt a higher standard of behavior because ministers enjoy privileged positions and significant responsibilities.

I don’t want to use this forum to re-ignite recent controversies, and especially do not want to cause any further pain to those directly affected by recent events.

But I do want to place on record my total support for the Prime Minister updating the Ministerial code to reflect common standards in relation to direct reporting arrangements that exist in the military, police force and professional firms, to name just a few.

So after the current period of feverish reporting has died down, and we refocus on things that really matter, like the economy and jobs, the deciding factor here will be common sense.

Common sense firstly by ministers to uphold the new higher standard imposed by the Prime Minister’s new code, and common sense from journalists.

It will be up to politicians to behave with the dignity, decency and decorum that befits the offices they hold.

And it will be up to journalists themselves to work out whether this recent period has been one of the acceptable exceptions of reporting the private lives of federal politicians, or whether their own convention is going to be overturned permanently.


We don’t admit it enough, but we build on the work of our predecessors in politics, and one of my key priorities is to continue the important body of work my immediate predecessor, Michaelia Cash, achieved in the area of domestic violence.

While we know that men are more likely to experience violence from strangers and in a public place, Australian women are most at risk from people they know and very often in the home.

And Indigenous women, who experience hospitalisation rates due to family violence-related assaults at 32 times the rate for non-Indigenous women, suffer immensely.[1]

The consequence of such personalised violence — the injury and death of women and their children — is horrific, and corrupts our communities and our nation.

It is a fundamental right of every woman to be safe in her own home, in her workplace, on the street, and also online.

Since 2015 the Turnbull Government has committed over $322 million to addressing women’s safety which includes front line services such as health justice partnerships to train nurses and other health professionals to recognise the signs of domestic violence and enable free legal advice at the hospital via a duty lawyer; as well as the internationally acclaimed ‘Stop it at the Start’ campaign designed to change young people’s attitudes to women and violence.

Just a matter of days after I was sworn in as Minister for Women we all learnt of the tragic death of 14-year-old Dolly Everett, and as a nation we were so saddened that a young person with so much to look forward to would take her own life, ostensibly at the hands of bullying and cyberbullying.

Through the age of the internet and the almost universal access to  mobile technology, we are living through unchartered social times, where young children can be exposed to all manner of dangers that can potentially scar them permanently; from cyber-bullying, identity theft, pornography, sexual predators; to the hyper-sexualisation of young girls, right through to perceived addiction to mobile phone use.

We need to think carefully about ways we can limit the harm to children without undermining the benefits online technology brings.

To this end the Turnbull Government established the eSafety Office in 2015, which is the only government agency in the world dedicated to looking after the online safety of its citizens.

This is not about censorship, nor about governments seizing control of the internet; it is about making sure our laws and safeguards and other protections are responsive to rapidly changing technology and usage.

This is something that deeply concerns me and that I am personally invested in.

I intend to work closely with my colleague Communications Minister Mitch Fifield and with leading internet providers to look at innovative ways we can work to make cyber space safer.

To this end I have asked Kate Jenkins, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, and Julie  Inman-Grant, the eSafety Commissioner to join me in regular meetings with Facebook, Google, Twitter, Microsoft and Instagram.

The Turnbull Government continues to be a world leader in the area of online safety with the establishment and work of the eSafety Commissioner. We know perpetrators of violence against women are using technology to control, coerce, stalk and harass their victims.

In today’s digital environment, instances of image based abuse are all too common with one in five women aged 18 to 45, and one in four Indigenous Australians experiencing abuse. Eighty percent of the image based abuse reports coming into the eSafety Office now are from young women, 40 percent of whom are under the age of 18.

Again the Turnbull Government has created the only government-backed image abuse portal and reporting tool which gives victims the ability to report instances of image based abuse as well as access to immediate and tangible support.

We have also introduced ground-breaking legislation to address the non-consensual sharing of intimate images (sometimes known as ‘revenge porn’). The Bill strengthens the powers of the eSafety Commissioner to get images removed and for the first time introduces civil penalties of up to $105,000 for individuals and up to $525,000 for corporations.

But this space is constantly changing, which is why with Julie, Kate and Mitch, I will work hard to remain ahead of the game and will not be afraid to further strengthen our laws if it will better protect all Australians.

Economic Security

Economic security for women is critical. And encouraging women’s participation in the workforce is a no-brainer.

The fact is that boosting women’s workforce participation doesn’t just increase women’s economic security and choices; it also has the potential to add significantly to Australia’s economy.

It’s the right move — a smart move — and it’s long been a priority for this Government.

Last year saw the creation of 403,000 new jobs, and over half were taken up by women.

Women’s workforce participation has been rising since late 2016, and is now at a record high of 60.5 percent. Encouragingly we are also seeing similar increases in workforce participation for Indigenous women – up from 51 percent in 2006 to nearly 54 percent in 2016.

Australian women make extraordinary contributions every day, to their families, to their communities, to their workplaces and ultimately to our nation.

There is a lot of interest in the Gender Pay Gap and with good cause.

It captures people’s attention.

Perhaps that is why, when trying to remake his image when it comes to women, Mr Shorten provocatively stated that the Gender Pay Gap is not moving.[4]

But the Gender Pay is moving and in the right direction – over the last twelve months it has moved down to 15.3 percent – a 12-year low.

While it is still too high, the fact is that under the Turnbull Government it has fallen by 1.9 percentage points.

It is a shame that Mr Shorten has sought to play politics with an important issue for women and one that demands sensible, genuine discussion not spin.


Now, as many of us here know, juggling work and family life is tough — whether that involves raising children, for example, or caring for a loved one.

With two children under three, I know what it’s like to try to squeeze every hour, every minute, every second out of a day.

And I’m one of the fortunate ones.

I have a brilliant husband, Jon, and wonderful parents.  I have an understanding office and — of course — a terrific boss in the Prime Minister.

What we need to do is ensure all Australians have the flexibility needed to fully participate in the workforce; we need to switch the setting where child care and family are automatically considered a woman’s principal responsibility.

The Turnbull Government has taken major steps by investing an additional $2.5 billion in child care assistance for about one million families. This means a simpler, more user-friendly system that particularly helps lower income families.[1]

However, there are still barriers and more needs to be done.

The number of men who work part time has changed little over the past 10 years.  According to the ABS, 10 years ago, 84 percent of men worked full-time and only 16 percent worked part-time.  Today the figures are 81 percent and 19 percent respectively – still a huge gap.[2] 

In 2018, of females employed, 53 percent were employed full-time while 47 percent were employed part-time.[3]

This is what I call the ‘flexibility gap’. 

We need to normalise flexibility for men.  Just like there are targets for women on boards and in leadership positions – why aren’t there targets for men working part-time?  What are the barriers?

The fact that more women take time out from paid work to look after family has a very real impact on their financial security in later life.

It means they have lower lifetime earnings and lower superannuation balances than men.

Right now, women aged 55 to 64 are retiring with 42 percent less superannuation than men — a gap that is far too great. 

That said, it’s an improvement of 11 percentage points on the 53 percent gap in 2013-14 — driven, in part, by the Government’s absolute commitment to making sure superannuation works better for women, and something I’ve been focused on as Minister for Revenue and Financial Services.

In 2016, we passed a Superannuation Tax Reform Package with a range of measures benefitting women.

There is the Low Income Superannuation Tax offset, which helps
low-income women increase their retirement savings.

From July this year, Australians with a super balance of less than $500,000 can roll-over their unused concessional cap contributions for five years. This will allow them the flexibility to make larger concessional contributions further down the track.

In other words, they can make ‘catch-up’ payments.

This is particularly helpful for women who have experienced an interruption in their work pattern. Crucially, it applies to men as well — thereby helping, as I’ve said earlier, to give families options and encouraging men to take on more parental care responsibilities. 

And finally, we have made it easier for women to make concessional contributions to their superannuation, no matter how they are employed, by scrapping restrictions on personal contributions and levelling the playing field. 

Sadly innovations to help women to save for their retirement are at risk under Mr Shorten, who has said that he would scrap the flexibility changes.

The Turnbull Government will continue to examine ways in which we can ensure women’s and low income earners’ retirement savings are working for them. 


When my daughter gets older, and stops assuming and starts seeing, what I want her to see are equal numbers of women in leadership roles across the spectrum of our society.

We need this in the private and public sectors; in politics, science, sport and the arts. And, of course, we need men to mentor and promote women, too — to be Male Champions of Change.

The Australian Public Service — another one of my ministerial responsibilities — is tracking in the right direction. Today, eight of the 18 departmental secretaries are women, as are 43 percent of the Senior Executive Service.

And I am happy to say that as of 31 December 2017 the number of women on Government boards is 44.5 percent. This is an increase of 1.8 percentage points since June 2017, and the highest overall result since public reporting began in 2010-11.

And women now hold 33.7 percent of Chair and Deputy Chair positions on Government boards.  This is an increase of 1.9 percentage points since 30 June 2017 – another record high.

Our target is for women to hold half of all Australian Government board positions.  And in order to maintain our focus we will publish our overall progress on our 50 percent target every 6 months in addition to reporting in detail in the Gender Balance of Australian Boards Report.

By contrast, women currently make up a mere 26 percent of ASX 200 directorships and last year comprised 35 percent of new appointments to ASX 200 boards.  We need them to continue climbing.

Given the current levels of representation on ASX 200 boards is 18.5 percentage points less than the Government sector, the private sector can, and must, do better.  They need to double down on their efforts by ensuring that have the right policies and settings to ensure women can build their careers and the pipeline remains full.

We need to strive for a future where, to paraphrase Sheryl Sandberg, there will be no female leaders, there will only be leaders.


Before I conclude I think it would be remiss not to make a few comments on the ‘me-too’ movement.  The ‘me-too’ movement has successfully used social media to send a message on the need to end harassment, in particular sexual harassment in the workplace.

Sexual harassment and violence against women must never be tolerated.

We have heard many prominent women tell personal and often shocking stories about established and powerful men in the Hollywood film and entertainment industry.

And we have seen the strength of that movement jump from social media into mainstream media reigniting an important conversation about conduct and behaviour between men and women at work. 

But as the ‘me too’ movement continues to sweep the world, we need to think about the implications, both good and bad, that come with the airing allegations in a public forum.

Social media is not a courtroom, and complainants, and those who are the subject of complaints, can be subject to trial by keyboard warriors.

Natural justice is a fundamental tenet of our legal system – it is something that we value in the land of the ‘fair-go’ – and it is often absent in the wild web.

We need to be careful that this public push doesn’t silence the very women it wants to help.

We don’t want women to be afraid that their reputation will forever be tarnished when someone types their name into Google.

As many people know, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner has conducted a yearly survey on sexual harassment in the workplace every five years over the past 15 years.

I acknowledge Kate Jenkins, who is here today, and who will soon undertake the fourth survey.

This important work needs to be updated to ensure we know how widespread sexual harassment is across workplaces and the nature of this harassment.

So the Government will increase the number of women involved in this survey from 2,000 participants to 10,000 participants because ‘me too’ has to include women from all kinds of workplaces, not just Hollywood.

Once the results of the survey are known, I will work with Kate Jenkins to ensure we examine how these workplaces are taking account of sexual harassment in the social media age: its implications for complainants and those who are the subject of a complaint; and how natural justice can be afforded to all.

This will be important, thoughtful, world leading research and analysis.

I am delighted that she is prepared to take on this challenge. 


So, to finish, I want to say again that every woman and every man should be treated equally.

That’s a belief that unites women; it unites us irrespective of our individual aspirations and experiences; our hopes and needs.

I want us to continue working to make sure every Australian woman feels safe and respected; to continue closing the workforce participation and gender pay gaps; to continue giving women the tools and the structures they need to be financially capable and create the lives they want.

And I want us to continue pushing to have more women in positions of leadership so that they can make a contribution at the highest levels

That is what motivates me.

I’m determined, and I’m looking forward to working with women and men so that we can improve the lives of all Australian women, and create a better Australia for all.

We need to Press for Progress.

My little daughter Livvy depends on it.

Thank you very much.  

[1]–report–2018.pdf p.120



[2] ABS cat. No. 6202.0 Labour Force, Jan 2018

[3] Ibid.