Speech at CEO Challenge, White Ribbon Dinner

I begin by acknowledging the first Australians on whose land we meet and whose cultures we celebrate as among the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

As a Queenslander, it’s a great pleasure to be here tonight in this wonderful setting to mark White Ribbon Day and to celebrate Australia’s CEO Challenge for this year.

A Queensland original, the CEO Challenge is doing a terrific job of working with corporate Australia to reduce and prevent violence against women in this country.

What began as the vision of a few in this great state 10 years ago, has grown into an important organisation with more than 60 member organisations and 29 partnerships.

The CEO Challenge not only works to educate the wider community about violence against women and help break the taboo of talking about it, but it also provides vital fundraising for refuges and violence prevention services across the country.

In its 10 years of operation, it’s estimated that the CEO Challenge has contributed around $5 million towards the sector.

Last year it directly helped 678 women and more than 1000 children fleeing domestic violence.

Impressive stuff.

It’s good to see the calibre of organisations involved in the CEO challenge.

Those in positions of power and leadership have the resources and the influence to be heard, and with this comes certain responsibilities.

I’ve taken the challenge and made the White Ribbon pledge.

Tonight, on this White Ribbon day, I challenge other Australian men to do the same.

Perpetrators of violence against women are more often than not men.

Most men, of course, are not violent towards women and the majority of men abhor this behaviour.

One of the most significant issues that we face in this country is that too often sexist and violent behaviour towards women and girls is met with silence by other men.

Every man has a role to play in stopping violence against women.

This means speaking out when you witness this behaviour.

This means talking to your mates about it and spreading the word that violence against women is not on.

As I said on this day two years ago “silence is tantamount to tacit approval”.

As fathers;

As brothers;

As husbands;

As friends;

And as community leaders;

We should not be violent.

We should not be silent.

And we cannot underestimate how powerful any action, no matter how small, can be.

Take the very beginnings of the White Ribbon Movement.

What began 20 years ago as a handful of men commemorating the massacre of 14 female university students by one man in Canada, has grown into a world-wide movement.

It has spread to at least 60 countries across every continent, including countries as diverse as Pakistan, Laos, China, Armenia, El Salvador, Brazil, Lithuania, Denmark, Uganda, Sierra Leone and South Africa.

As men, we need to support our sisters.

We also need to act as positive role models for the younger generation of men.

And we must encourage action.

The challenge for all Australians is to see the end of violence against women in this country.

And to turn around what are truly horrifying statistics.

Almost one in five Australian women experience sexual violence in their lifetime.

One in three will suffer physical violence.

Indigenous women are 35 times more likely than other Australian women to find themselves in hospital due to family related assaults.

Around one in four children in Australia will witness violence against their mother or stepmother.

But less than one-third of victims report the violence.

In Queensland, quite alarmingly, it has been estimated that only one in ten women report attacks.

No woman should be in a situation where she has to decide whether or not to report violence.

It is every woman’s right to live a life free of violence and the fear of violence.

And violence has a ripple effect – not only affecting the victims themselves but also their children, their families, their friends, those they work with and, and at the end of the day, the wider community.

Besides the physical and psychological costs to women and their families, the cost to our community of this scourge was calculated by KPMG to be $13.6 billion in 2009.

If nothing is done, this figure will increase to $15.6 billion in the year 2021.

I commend the growing number of prominent men in Australia and in Queensland who have made the White Ribbon pledge.

Fellow politicians;





Joining thousands of other Australian men who have said enough is enough.

To those who are making the pledge for the first time tonight, you will be joining more than 16 thousand other Australians who have already done so.

But we still need to encourage more men to publically acknowledge their role in putting an end to violence against women.

And the work and commitment of individuals must be followed through by governments.

The Australian Government has teamed up with all state and territory governments to bring about sustained and coordinated action through our National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children – the first of its kind to work across jurisdictions.

Since 2009, as a part of this National plan, the Australian Government has provided over $86 million to programs that work to improve the lives of women who have been victims of violence and prevent violence from occurring.

We’ve helped provide, amongst a whole host of other programs across Australia:

  • Telephone and online counselling for women who have experienced domestic violence or sexual assault, people working with victims and those who are supporting their friends, sisters, wives and partners dealing with this type of violence;
  • An education program promoting respectful relationships with activities across all states and territories;
  • A social marketing campaign called “The Line”, promoting healthy, respectful relationships among young Australians;
  • Establishing a new National Centre of Excellence for Research into sexual assault and family and domestic violence;

The National Plan sets out a framework for action until the year 2022, underscoring the need for a sustained approach to tackle the problem.

It also underscores the long-term commitment that this Government has to stopping violence against women in Australia.

A commitment, that carries through to the rest of the world.

You see, my challenge, as Foreign Minister of Australia, is to ensure that Australia’s experience is shared with our international partners, and that we discuss ways in which we can turn around this appalling global problem.

As Australia strengthens its development program, with a commitment to reach 0.5 per cent GNI by 2015, we are putting women at the centre of our policies and programs, recognising that there is much work to be done to empower women around the world, from which everyone will benefit.

We are working with others to make sure that every girl has the opportunity to go to school and learn.

We are also working to increase women’s access to markets and capital and ensure that they are able to participate fully in the workforce.

We should not underestimate what removing barriers for female participation in both Australia and the world can lead to.

Narrowing the gender gap in Australia would boost our GDP by 11 percent.

It would increase the United States GDP by 9 per cent and the Eurozone’s by 13 per cent; And Japan’s GDP could be lifted by a substantial 16 per cent.

As The Economist points out, the increase in employment of women in developing countries during the past decade has added more to global growth than the rise of China.

It has been estimated that the Asia-Pacific region is short changed by more than US$40 billion a year in GDP due to the untapped potential of women and because of the restrictions placed on women’s access to employment.

Violence against women is one of the most important underlying factors that prevent women from fully participating in the economy in our broader region.

Australia is working with our Pacific neighbours to increase awareness of the problem and an understanding that domestic violence must not be tolerated.

To mark White Ribbon Day this year, Australian male Ambassadors and High Commissioners in the South Pacific have become White Ribbon Ambassadors.

They have pledged to work towards a world where women live without the fear of violence.

I hope their leadership will encourage other men across the region to take the White Ribbon oath to never commit, excuse or remain silent when it comes to violence against women.

In addition, Australia plans to introduce an award next year to acknowledge the work underway by the extraordinary people and agencies in the region to stop violence against women.

Pacific Island countries have also been a particular focus for Australia’s work with the United States to prevent violence against women in the Asia-Pacific.

Earlier this month, as part of the commitment I made with the United States Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to have our two countries work together on the issue, we co-hosted a policy dialogue with Pacific Island countries.

The dialogue gave us the opportunity to look at what has worked in the region and how successful programs can be replicated.

Australia’s work with Pacific partners is delivering real results in the region.

In Fiji, from 2009 to 2010, we helped provide counselling and support services to nearly 7,300 women subjected to violence through the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre.

With this support, we’ve helped inspiring women, such the Centre’s Executive Director, Dr Shamima Ali.

Dr Ali has shown incredible courage and determination in combating violence against women in Fiji, despite threats and intimidation from the country’s interim government.

In Papua New Guinea, we’ve helped more than 1,000 victims of family and sexual violence through sexual violence units in the police system.

We’ve also helped boost the number of female magistrates in the country’s village court system.

Just 7 years ago, there were only 10 female village magistrates in the entire country.

Today there are more than 500, with a further 200 being trained.

Our work in Papua New Guinea is supporting a growing movement, led by women themselves, to combat the scourge of violence.

On this, I’d like to note the work of Brisbane-born, Dame Carol Kidu, who is Papua New Guinea’s first and only female parliamentarian.

Her name has become synonymous with the fight against domestic violence in PNG.

Dame Carol has worked tirelessly, over many years, and often behind the scenes, to bring about real change and significant gains for women and the wider community in PNG.

She has been a key driver behind important legislative reforms, most notably a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing 22 seats to women at the next election which passed its first hurdle in the PNG parliament this week.

And actually visiting Port Moresby today is Penny Williams.

Penny is Australia’s first Global Ambassador for Women and Girls, and she is in Port Moresby, joining local men and women in their first ever White Ribbon Day march in the country.

In her role, Penny advocates internationally on Australia’s behalf on a number of key objectives, including eradicating violence against women and girls.

Much of Penny’s work so far has focused on the Pacific, not just because it is a region where the need is great but because it is also a region where Australia’s efforts can have the most impact.

During her visits to the Pacific, Penny says she has been struck by the bravery and dedication shown by individual men and women in combating violence against women.

Take her recent trip to Vanuatu where, in the remote Northern Province of Torba, she met a local chief, Greg.

Fed up with the high volume of violent attacks against women on his island, Greg became a male advocate five years ago for the local Women’s Centre, working to combat, and educate against, violence.

Greg said in the years that he has been working with the centre, every day has brought with it challenges in protecting women in his community from brutal, often permanently disabling, attacks.

That he walked eight hours from his village to meet our Ambassador for Women and Girls and share his story, has been a source of inspiration for Penny.

It should also serve as an inspiration for all of us here tonight in the challenge to end violence against women in this country, in our neighbourhood and in the world.

But I should also make clear, Australia’s work to combat violence against women also extends to the broader Asia Pacific.

And on this, I am pleased to announce tonight, Australian’s support for the Acid Survivors Foundation, which helps survivors of acid attacks with physical reconstruction, rehabilitation and legal assistance.

An acid attack occurs in Bangladesh every two days.

Over the past decade, more than 3,000 people have suffered acid violence in Bangladesh.

69 per cent of these are women – a quarter are children.

Throwing acid on someone is an horrific act.

The $600,000 that Australia will contribute to the foundation will help survivors of acid attacks by building the capacity of Bangladesh’s courts and law enforcement agencies, as well as raising awareness of acid violence.

It will help women like Asma, who at 13 years old had acid thrown in her face by a rejected suitor.

When asked what changed most for her following the acid attack, she replied, “there is no night when my pillow is not wet”.

When women are living fear, their capacity to function fully in society is significantly diminished.

Making sure your kids go to school.

Looking after your health.

Turning up to work.

Starting a business.

These things can become virtually impossible to any woman who lives in fear.


Putting an end to violence against women in Australia and around the world requires that every single one of us rises to the challenge and plays our part.

As Foreign Minister, I am making sure that Australia takes this challenge to the world.

As a man I have taken the pledge and I put the challenge to other men to do the same, to talk to one another and take action against violence.

And to those leaders who have participated in the CEO challenge this year, and to the two worthy finalists;

Today may mark the formal end to the challenge, but it also marks the beginning of a new challenge I’d like to set you;

That is for you to continue the leadership that you have shown and to carry it through to your day-to-day work in the future.