Since 1933, the Australian Women’s Weekly has chronicled the hopes and the aspirations of Australian women.
1977 - the year that I was born - was no different.
It rhetorically asked, “Can you imagine it – a year in which a female jockey brings home the Melbourne Cup, a woman becomes president of the ACTU, and another [becomes] Prime Minister?”
It then rather pessimistically answered, “Maybe not.”
Yet all of those things have come to pass – although not all in the one year.
Indeed, since then we have not only had our first female Prime Minister, but we have also had our first female Minister for Foreign Affairs, our first female Defence Minister, our first female Finance Minister, and Communications Minister, to name just a few.
We have also had our first female Governor-General and the first female Chief Justice of the High Court.
Women now run and chair our major public companies.
During the course of my lifetime we have seen extraordinary progress and achievement for the women of Australia.
Things that will be normal for my young daughter, would have been unthinkable for my grandmother.
For instance, for the first time we have an equal number of women leading Commonwealth Departments.
Yet women were once forced to give up work in the Australian Public Service when they married - “the marriage bar” as it was then known was a discrimination that was eventually remedied by a former Liberal Prime Minister and a predecessor of mine in the federal seat of Higgins, Harold Holt.
I am delighted to acknowledge here today two women who head up the department and office I am responsible for: Kerri Hartland, Secretary of the Department of Jobs and Small Business and Trish Bergin, First Assistant Secretary of the Office for Women.
Some people legitimately ask then, if we have been so successful why do we need a separate portfolio with responsibility for women?
My answer to that is, despite all of these historic advances and successes, there are still important areas that we need to address.
Safety is the most obvious one.
Women need to be safe in their communities, online, at home and in their workplaces.
We know that around 17 per cent of women over the age of 15 years have experienced violence from a current or former partner.
That is why, since coming to Government, we have had a particular focus on reducing domestic violence.
But there is also another type of security that is critically important, and that is economic security.
Financial empowerment, financial resilience and financial security give women real opportunities and real choices about their lives, and that of their families.
And I think that is what women want.
This is why I have initiated the first Women’s Economic Security Statement – to shine a floodlight on the barriers that might limit women building their financial security and focus on practical measures that can help to change that.
When women do well, their families do well, and our country and our nation prospers.
The measures that form the Women’s Economic Security Statement are important steps our ongoing journey as a nation to gender equality.
But it is important to understand what gender equality is, and what gender equality isn’t.
Gender equality isn’t pitting girls against boys, or women against men.
Gender equality is recognising that girls and women deserve an equal stake in our economy and in our society.
I have a three and a half year old daughter, Olivia, and an 18 month old son Edward, and I want both of them to do well.
I want both of them to be able to live their best lives.
I don’t accept the view that girls doing well must mean that boys do badly. Or that women achieving their goals and ambitions come at the expense of men.
Life is not a zero sum game. We are on life's journey together.
The new initiatives and funding contained in the Statement target key areas that promote greater choice for Australian women by:
- boosting their education and skills;
- supporting their financial capacity and empowerment;
- helping them to get a job or return to work;
- helping them to establish and grow their businesses;
- working with the private sector to reduce the ‘flexibility gap’ and gender pay gap; and
- importantly, helping improve their economic recovery if critical life events, such as separation or domestic violence, occur.
But before I outline the Government’s record, and spell out some of the specifics of our announcements today, I want to say a few brief words to Australian girls and young women.
Don’t leave your future to others.
Be deliberate in maximising every opportunity that is available to you.
There are no limits on what you can achieve with hard work and perseverance.
And when you inevitably get a setback, which everyone does, learn from it - but move on.
Call out bad behaviour, whether at school, at university, in the workplace or anywhere else.
But don’t allow society to define you as a victim, or limit your expectations as a result of your gender.
As a Liberal I believe in freedom of choice, in individual initiative. I believe in reward for effort and equality of opportunity.
I believe that Government should allow people to choose their own path and live their own lives rather than micro-manage and stifle decision making.
I believe that freedom allows us to grow as people, as a society, and as a nation.
I also believe that a civilised society provides a strong well-funded social safety net for those people who need a helping hand.
Today’s Women’s Economic Security Statement will build on the significant progress we’ve already made during our time in Government.
Today there are more women in full-time work than ever before with female employment at a record high of 3,214,100.
Over 1.1 million new jobs have been created under our Government and the majority of the new jobs created have been taken up by women.
The number of women in full-time work stands at a record high.
The gender pay gap has narrowed significantly from 17.2 per cent under the former Labor government to 14.5 per cent in May of this year - a record low.
Our Government also has a proud record of delivering real, tangible measures to help women to save for their retirement.
This includes the low income superannuation tax offset, which ensures around 1.9 million Australian women don’t pay more in tax on their superannuation contributions than they would otherwise pay on their take-home pay. This measure saves Australian women around $500 million a year.
We’ve levelled the superannuation playing field by scrapping restrictions on who can make personal deductible contributions, benefitting around 800,000 Australians, including in particular those women working in roles where they do not have access to formal salary sacrifice arrangements.
And from 1 July this year, we enabled catch-up concessional contributions, which are expected to benefit around a quarter of a million Australians. In particular, those women with interrupted work patterns or irregular income, such as those who have taken time out of the workforce to start a family.
The Government has also introduced unprecedented reforms into Parliament to make sure the superannuation system works to benefit the most important people, - the members.
This includes a specific package of reforms to stop the rorts and rip-offs in the superannuation system and better protect Australians’ hard-earned retirement savings.
This package will make a real and significant difference, particularly to the around 2 million women who hold low-balance inactive accounts, the 1.6 million women who are still contributing to low balance accounts and the roughly 1.3 million women who will have their retirement savings boosted by around $2.5 billion thanks to being automatically reunited with their accounts.
The Women’s Economic Security package invests an additional $109 million over four years to build on the existing foundations established by the Coalition Government and focuses efforts on three core pillars:
- Increasing workforce participation;
- Building financial security, resilience and independence; and
- Better earning potential.
One of the most joyous but also most demanding times for any family is the period following the birth of a new child.
And one of the most challenging issues is navigating a return to paid work.
Each year thousands of parents return to work having only accessed a portion of their Government funded Parental Leave Pay.
The current system is too rigid.
It doesn’t suit the needs of women who are self-employed, or who are small business owners who can’t afford to leave their businesses for 18 weeks straight.
It doesn’t support family arrangements where men and women want to alternate primary care responsibility and have the capacity to receive financial support at a later time.
We know that parents and families need the flexibility to choose what works for them.
Today I can announce that the Government will enable parents more flexibility in accessing Government-funded Parental Leave Pay (PLP).
For the first time families will be able to split their Government funded Parental Leave Pay into blocks of leave, allowing them to work in between.
This is a practical and common-sense move which will make returning to work much more flexible.
Families will have the flexibility to choose what works for them.
It will suit the needs of women who are self-employed, or who run or operate are small businesses.
We are also extending the work test rules for Government funded Parental Leave Pay so that some women currently ineligible are no longer excluded.
This includes women who work in irregular jobs, such as relief teachers, and women in hazardous jobs who have little choice but to leave their job early in their pregnancy, such as in mining and construction.
Despite the record number of women in work, women are still less likely to be in the workforce than men, spend longer outside of the workforce and work part-time at more than twice the rate of men.
Families must be free to make decisions about the arrangements that make sense for them. But it is hard to work, whether full-time or part-time if you don’t have access to affordable and flexible childcare.
I’m proud that our Government has taken a significant step towards addressing this issue the record $8.3 billion new child care system that started in July this year benefits the majority of Australian families balancing work and parenting responsibilities.
Just how they are balancing it though remains somewhat of a mystery since the Labor Government’s abolition of the Time Use Survey.
How can we understand the value of unpaid work, including caring work, if we are not measuring it?
How can we understand the impact of new technology and the digital economy on the way in which we work?
That’s why I’m pleased to announce that the Government will provide funding to the Australian Bureau of Statistics to reinstate the Time Use Survey, but this time it will be an electronic diary, so that data can be more accurately recorded and made available in a more timely manner.
The survey will help the Government design policies to fit the way people actually live their lives and ensure better service delivery by government. The data can also help business to solve some of the challenges that we face day-to-day.
We know that returning to work after a career break can be even harder for women in many rural and regional areas where there can be smaller and less diverse industries, and fewer opportunities for skilled employment.
Women in rural areas have lower rates of participation in the labour market than their city counterparts.
The Government wants to ensure that women have access to meaningful work opportunities no matter where they live in Australia.
The Career Revive initiative will help regional businesses identify and remedy barriers to women returning to work and to provide women returning to work with the support they need.
Our Government is also investing in streamlining data collection for the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.
This will reduce red tape for businesses that need to report, but more importantly, it will also allow access to more data to better identify issues and target solutions.
Next year I will be hosting the Reducing Barriers to Work Forum which will bring together a range of stakeholders including leaders from the business community, both big and small, to identify barriers to women’s workforce participation and identify better pathways going forward.
Business has a critical role to play in closing the gender pay gap and giving Australian women and men the opportunities and flexibility they need.
A key focus of the forum will be how to close the ‘flexibility gap’ where only 18 per cent of working men work part-time or flexibly, compared with 46 per cent of women. This clearly feeds into the gender pay gap, which will be another focus.
One important participant will be Kate Jenkins, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, who is here today and who will be able to provide important insights from her National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment.
Our Government is committed to helping Australian women build their financial security and achieve economic independence, particularly for women in difficult domestic situations.
It is absolutely unconscionable that women are having to factor in their financial situation when assessing whether to leave a violent partner.
Beyond the scars, beyond the fear, beyond the humiliation, we know that domestic and family violence also deeply wounds women’s economic security.
Family violence is one of the main reasons for women seeking homelessness services so that they may have somewhere to live safely for themselves and for their children.
Our Government will help women who are leaving abusive relationships to get the help they need to build their financial security.
We will continue to fund Specialist Domestic Violence Units and Health Justice Partnerships, and extend funding to include financial counselling.
Based on stakeholder feedback, we will extend early access to superannuation beyond terminal illness and severe financial hardship to also include those experiencing family and domestic violence.
And we’ll provide funding to Good Shepherd Microfinance to provide no interest loans to help 15,000 women experiencing family and domestic violence access finance when they most need it, without high interest. These loans can be spent on things like relocation, essential household items and rental bonds.
The Government will provide funding to Legal Aid Commissions to support changes to family law that will ban cross-examination in certain cases where women escaping family violence fear cross-examination by their ex-partner.
We’re also piloting quicker and simpler judicial procedures to distribute property valued under $500,000 to reduce the legal costs of separation in small claims situations.
The Government will invest in new services to support an additional 31,200 families to resolve family law disputes quickly through mediation programs.
These common sense changes will make a real difference to many women – with the impact of separation greatest, as we know, for women living with dependent children.
The Government will also develop an electronic information sharing mechanism between the Australian Taxation Office and the Family Law Courts to allow the superannuation assets held by relevant parties during family law proceedings to be able to be identified swiftly and more accurately so that women are less likely to settle for less than they are entitled to.
I’m pleased to say that we’re well on track to meeting our G20 goal of reducing the gender participation gap by 25 per cent by 2025.
We are heading in the right direction, but we need to think of new ways to bridge the gap between male and female earnings.
For example, it is a fact that more women than men in Australia have a bachelor’s degree or higher education qualification.
This has been the case since 1998.
While the gender pay gap has come down under our Government, it remains at 14.5 per cent in May this year.
There are a multitude of reasons to why this is, not least of which is women taking time out of the workforce to have children.
However, we also have to be creative in how we encourage women to future proof their career.
Women are underrepresented in STEM qualifications.
In the 2016 Census, just 17 per cent of STEM graduates were women.
And in 2017, there were still far fewer women than men studying science, IT, engineering and mathematics.
This can lock women out of the jobs of the future – many of which are in high-paying growth sectors like tech.
Some of the highest earning fields have both low levels of female representation and high gender pay gaps.
To help address this issue we are backing scholarships for women studying accounting, finance and economics-related fields to help more women who want to pursue a future in these professions. The financial services industry has the largest gender pay gap of all industries at 26.4 per cent. This measure will allow women in these industries to access opportunities to support their career development and build a pipeline for diversity in business leadership.
To encourage girls to train for the jobs of the future, today’s Package includes an expansion of the Curious Minds program, which has proven to be successful in encouraging interest in STEM at a young age.
From these acorns we should anticipate businesses to grow in the cities, but also in rural and regional areas in Australia.
Increased digitisation offers new opportunities for women to take advantage of the flexibility offered from self-employment and entrepreneurship.
It is disappointing, therefore, that women in Australia remain substantially underrepresented in business.
A recent survey of start-up businesses in Australia found that just over 22 per cent of start-ups are established by women, and around a third of all businesses are established or run by women.
Access to capital remains a significant barrier faced by women.
The Government is committed to supporting women in entrepreneurship which is one of the reasons why we are funding the Boosting Female Founders capital grants program.
Early stage direct co-funded capital grants to female founders and operators for business can help that business grow and access new markets, whether domestic or overseas.
Priority for the competitive grants will be given to women from groups that typically experience higher barriers to finance, including those women from rural and regional areas.
As I announced recently, we’re also establishing Future Female Entrepreneurs, a program for tens of thousands of girls and young women to encourage entrepreneurialism and self-employment.
These initiatives will harness the creativity and business acumen of Australian women and I can’t wait to see what comes out of them.
In conclusion, the causes of women’s economic insecurity are complex and they are cumulative.
There’s no one silver bullet, no one-size-fits all response that will cure it.
When we think about women’s economic security we need to think about women at different points of their lives, in different parts of Australia, and in different circumstances, and equip them with the tools and support they need to make the best decisions about their futures.
This may be the ‘Women’s Economic Security Statement’, but this is about all Australians.
When Australian women do well, we all do well and our nation prospers.
At the beginning of my speech I quoted a prediction in the year I was born about a day in the future when we would have women at the pinnacle of Australian life.
That prediction has come to pass.
Let me ask you to imagine a day when we will no longer need a Minister for Women, a day when there will be true gender equality in our country and true equality of opportunity for everyone.
That is a day that I think we can all look forward to.