Bill's Speeches

ADDRESS TO INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY PARLIAMENTARY BREAKFAST - CANBERRA - THURSDAY, 15 FEBRUARY 2018

*CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY***

Good morning everybody

First of all I'd like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet and I pay respect to their elders both past and present.

And I think this week, when we’ve talked about Closing the gap and the ten-year anniversary of the Apology to the Stolen Generations we should also acknowledge all of those Aboriginal mothers and grandmothers who had their precious children taken away from them, unimaginable. 

I acknowledge the Prime Minister, Senator Di Natale the leader of the Greens party and all of the Members of Parliament here.

If I could be excused a little bit of pride - I would, in particular, like to acknowledge Senator Wong, my Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek and all the Labor women members of Parliament. 

When I look at so many Labor women Members of Parliament here it reconfirms to me my conviction in the wisdom of targets. Targets in political parties because a leadership has to be prepared to be accountable and to be judged and when Julia Gillard and others, and Joan Kirner back in 1994 said that Labor needed to have targets we were about 14 percent and now we're on our way to 50 per cent - and a good election result next year will get us over the line. 

I think this morning is an opportunity for all of us in this place to celebrate the contribution women make in our lives:

As civic, community, corporate and media leaders, as role models and sporting heroes, as Australians of the Year and as our mothers and daughters, sisters and partners.

And I think it's also a chance to reflect on where we can improve, as a nation: in our support for women around the world, particularly in developing nations where too many women are denied basic human rights and essential services and safety.

Of course, a morning like this lets us reflect on where we can improve here at home:

  • the elimination of family violence and violence against women and children.
  • greater opportunities in education
  • affordable and accessible child care
  • choice in healthcare
  • and respectful workplaces, free from discrimination and harassment.


This morning though I just really want to talk about one big, long-overdue idea: equal pay for the women of Australia.

It was about fifty years ago - that a young union advocate, out of university, presented a wage case to then Arbitration and Conciliation Commission he said:

 “The differences in wages paid to men and women are simply outmoded relics of assumptions and conceptions dating from the beginning of the twentieth century.” 

Now that union representative’s name, that stirrer, was Bob Hawke.

Two decades later, as the Prime Minister who led landmark reforms for women: the Sex Discrimination Act and the Affirmative Action Act, Hawke said:

“Women workers stand on the verge of a new era of industrial progress.” 

Yet today, we confront the reality that the gender pay gap in this country has barely moved on the dial in 20 years.

When you think about the profound economic and industrial and workplace change that Australia has been witness to in the past two decades, it is staggering to think that the inequality between men and women remains so stubbornly unmoving. 

It is mid-February, it might feel a bit longer already, yet the gender pay gap effectively means that the women of Australia have worked every day since the first of January for nothing, compared to their male colleagues.

Why should our daughters grow up and have to work, essentially for free for up to two months of the year, compared to our sons.

And unless we actually intervene – not just leave it to the market to sort it out – the gender pay gap is going to get wider.

The biggest source of employment growth is feminised industries - from education and training, to healthcare and social assistance.

It is these industries, dominated by women, that the Australia of 2020 and 2030 will depend upon.

  • As more of us see the ‘fourth quarter’ of a century of life, we’ll be relying on the skill and care of more healthcare workers and more carers.
  • As the National Disability Insurance Scheme continues to empower the lives of people with disability and the people who love them, we will need an army of carers and healthcare workers to deliver those individualised packages of support that are so important.

Last year one of the key drivers of jobs growth was in healthcare and social assistance sectors - more than100,000 jobs.

As people would be aware, almost eight in every ten of those jobs were filled by women – more than 86,000 all told.

Put another way, we're getting some good jobs numbers at the moment in the nation and we should be saying thank you to the women of the nation because they're the ones driving it.

And what’s our response and our reward to women working in more numbers than ever before? Lower pay.

The gender pay gap is not moving and the problem is, or the challenge is, or the opportunity is depending on the sunniness of your disposition - the number of women in an already underpaid industry increasing actually widens the gender pay gap. 

And that of course flows into superannuation, meaning working women who take time out of their career to raise a family, have less security in retirement.

So if we’re going to address this: the pay gap which does exist, the lack of retirement income, which does exist, we need a national shift in our perspective.

Caring is work. Carers are workers.

You can bet that if healthcare and social assistance was a male-dominated sector it would be more highly-paid.

We need as a nation to start valuing emotional labour, much better than we currently do.

I've represented shearers and oil rig workers and gold miners - they didn't have to go to work and be emotionally engaged with their task. But there are so many people in caring professions who have to commit of themselves not just intellectually and physically but emotionally.

The families, the ill, the kids at school, they take their cues from the contribution and the work of the adults and the carers who work with them.

I think we need to put real economic weight, not just platitudes or gratitude, behind our words. We need to have wages that reflect the hard work of the women of Australia.

This is not a challenge that we can pick up and discuss at one breakfast, one day of the year. It has to be a national priority.  

There is a great discussion in this nation, that with the improvement in some of our economic headline statistics there is a dissatisfaction that the benefits aren't being equally distributed. That the economy is not working in the interests of the people working in the economy. 

One proposition, and I'll finish on it this morning, is that if we can be better at the levers which decrease the gender pay gap: better at pay equity cases, better at ensuring that feminised professions get improvements in their wages and conditions - then we can deal with one of the great dissatisfactions in contemporary society.

And if we are a nation which does nothing else in the next 15 years but delivers the equal treatment of women in Australia, we will be the richest and most successful country in the world.

Good morning.


Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.