Address to International Women’s Day Morning Tea

Women of Australia, one and all. Thank you Tanya and thank you Jenny. And as for the tie by the way, when you make any reference to my tie I always watch to see Therese flinch because it is usually not to do about the colour it is to whether I am wearing one that is stained or not.

It was in this Old Parliament House in 1943 that Australia elected its first women to Federal Parliament. Miss Dorothy Tangey was first elected as Senator and Enid Lyons was elected to the House of Representatives. And it was in this Old Parliament House that a Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam made history in 1973 by appointing Elizabeth Reid, adviser on matters relating to women which was the first such position in the world.

And this Old Parliament House was to be the place of another historic milestone a little over a decade later in 1984 when under the next Labor Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, Parliament passed the Sex Discrimination Act.

And I now, in the new Parliament House am proud to lead the first Federal Government to have a Deputy Prime Minister who is a woman.

I am proud to have four women in the Cabinet, seven women in the Ministry, the highest representation of women in any Federal Cabinet or Ministry.

I am proud of the fact that the Government I lead has within its senior ranks, Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries of the calibre of Julia Gillard, of Jenny Macklin, Nicola Roxon, Penny Wong, Tanya Plibersek, Justine Elliot, Kate Ellis, Maxine McKew, Ursula Stevens, Jan McLucas.

I am proud of the fact that one in three Labor members of Parliament are women, the highest representation of women in any of the major parties.

I am proud that nearly half of our Labor Senators are women. I am proud of the Labor Party’s recognition of the talents, ability and contribution of women.

In the Federal, State and Territory Parliaments across Australia, 37 per cent of all Labor representatives are women.

I am proud of the fact that our trade union movement today is led by a woman.

I am proud of the fact that in my home state of Queensland, Anna Bligh, an exceptionally capable individual who I have known for many years, is the Premier of that state.

I am proud of the fact that we are a Government of all the talents.

And I am proud of the fact that I am married to a woman who is independent, successful and definitely in her own right.

Our core organising principle as a Government is equality of opportunity. And advancing people and their opportunities in life, we are a Government which prides itself on being blind to gender, blind to economic background, blind to social background, blind to race, blind to sexuality.

We are proud of the fact that equality of opportunity means that all people, all people, all Australians, should have equal access to the opportunities which this great country provides.

We are committed to policies which recognise and advance the interests of Australian women. We are committed to improving the working conditions of women in particular through the abolition of WorkChoices and AWAs, which have unfairly penalised women.

We are committed to giving women more choice, in balancing work and family life. Parents with responsibility for children under school age would have the right to request flexible working arrangements. Employers will only be able to refuse a request on reasonable business grounds.

Each parent will be entitled to twelve months unpaid parental leave in connection with the birth of a child. This will ensure that families can have a parent provide continuous care for a child for up to 24 months after birth. And the Productivity Commission measures, which Jenny referred to before, are now on foot.

We are also committed to improving safety for women, and have introduced a national plan to reduce violence against women and children.

This Government, the Government that I lead, will embrace all necessary measures to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, any acceptable tolerance of violence against women, under any circumstances.

On an international front, we are also active in advancing the welfare of women in developing nations through the UN millennium development goals. These are important goals which go to the lives and livelihoods of women across the world, across the developing world.

We also want to progress the protection of women from sexual slavery and human trafficking.

These are just some of the policy initiatives the Government is implementing. The contribution of women, both to our Parliament and to the broader Australian community, I believe, should be celebrated.

And as I look into the faces of the young women here today, from various schools across Canberra, and like Jenny, I have encountered many across the many schools across the nation, it makes me enormously optimistic about the nation’s future, when I see so many talented, ambitious, broad hearted, clear minded young women wishing passionately to make a contribution to this nation’s future.

You do our hearts proud every time we engage you across the nation. And we encourage you in taking on the challenges of the nation.

I welcome the leadership of all those women who are here in so many ways and so many places and so many different times, because you have made a contribution to making this country a better place with a greater and more effective participation in the affairs of the nation. I congratulate you for it.

And I thank you very much for this opportunity to be among you today to celebrate the role of women in our life, our national life, today in Australia, and to advance further the opportunities of women in the period ahead.