Tanya Plibersek is Deputy Opposition Leader, Shadow Minister for Education and Training and Shadow Minister for Women
We are lucky to have in our midst today, the person Margaret Whitlam described as ‘the bravest woman in our land – now that Germaine Greer has left us to it.’
Elizabeth Reid was appointed by Gough Whitlam as the world’s first ever advisor to a Prime Minister on Women’s Issues.
In 1975, Elizabeth stood up at the UN World Conference for International Women’s Year and declared:
- We women will no longer be excluded from the sphere of decisions.
- We women will no longer be relegated either here or in our own countries, to a secondary position when hard politics are being discussed - as distinct from ‘soft’ women’s issues.
- We reject this distinction.
When Gough Whitlam won government in 1972, the women’s liberation movement was at full strength.
It was time for change.
In his first week in government, Whitlam removed the sales tax on ‘the pill’ and added it to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
He went on to introduce the single mother’s benefit, and establish women’s refuges, rape crisis centres and women’s health centres.
Labor re-opened the Equal Pay Case that made half a million women eligible for full pay and women’s wages rose by 30 per cent.
Women were calling for change and the Whitlam government took action.
Together, they transformed Australian society.
Australia has been a world leader on women’s rights.
But we’re no longer at the forefront of the battle for gender equality.
In the three years after Tony Abbott formed government – and made himself Minister for Women – Australia slipped 22 places down the global gender equality rankings, to 46th spot.
Progress is not inevitable.
It’s not consistent.
And it’s certainly not happening fast enough.
In 1979, Justice Mary Gaudron famously said: “Equal pay was ‘won’ in 1969 and again in 1972 and 1974. Yet we still do not have it.”
Almost 40 years later, we still don’t have it.
We’re not even close.
The Workplace Gender Equality Agency says it will be 50 years before we close the gender pay gap.
And that’s being optimistic.
The trend over the past 20 years has been for the gap to get wider not smaller.
Fair pay is not the only area where we still have a long way to go.
Women were granted the right to vote 116 years ago.
But at current rates, women won’t be equally represented in our Parliament until 2046.
Although as 47 per cent of Labor Parliamentarians are women, I expect we’ll have equal representation in the Labor ranks after the next election.
And it’s been 10 years since I established the National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children, yet one woman is still killed every week by her current or former partner.
It has got to stop.
We can’t wait 50 or more years to close the pay gap.
We can’t wait 30 years for equal political representation.
In 1972 we said “It’s Time.”
In 2018, women are saying “Time’s Up.”
Women are standing up and demanding to be heard.
In Australia, the #metoo movement has exposed how common sexual harassment still is.
Lisa Wilkinson’s decision to quit her job because of pay discrimination – and more recently, the failure of the equal remuneration case for child care workers – has triggered new scrutiny of the gender pay gap.
Through their unflagging efforts, the activists from End Rape on Campus, Fair Agenda and the National Union of Students are forcing institutional and cultural change in universities and residential colleges.
Right now, we have an opportunity to change workplaces, to change the media, to change universities, to change politics.
What you told us
Last year, on International Women’s Day, Bill Shorten and I announced that Labor would develop a comprehensive blueprint for gender equality.
Labor’s Status of Women Caucus Committee – led by Sharon Claydon and Emma Husar – spent 2017 hearing from thousands of women as part of our Setting the Agenda conversations.
We met with
- First Nations women in Alice Springs,
- professional women in inner-city Sydney,
- working mums in outer-suburban Brisbane,
- migrant and refugee women here in Canberra.
All over Australia, we spoke to all types of women.
Today I’m releasing a draft of Labor’s national gender equality strategy – the result of those conversations.
If Labor forms government at the next election, we want to be ready for action from day one.
Our strategy sets out five priorities for action – the things thousands of Australian women told us they need from us.
Through our strategy we will set targets, we will report against them and we will hold ourselves accountable.
Just as the Whitlam Government did in 1972, and as subsequent Labor governments have done, we need to set the agenda for change.
The priorities won’t come as a surprise.
To start, women need economic security and independence – this means closing the gender pay gap and working to narrow the gap in retirement incomes so older women aren’t falling into poverty.
It also means women getting a fair go in the workplace. A University of Sydney study released yesterday found less than a third of young women believe they’re being treated equally in the workplace and one in ten had been harassed at work.
Of course that’s unacceptable.
Second, we need to better value and share family and caring responsibilities.
We heard time and again in our consultations that Australia won’t achieve equality in the workplace or in leadership until we value and share caring responsibilities better.
Third, we need to address the gender gaps in health and wellbeing.
I’m particularly passionate about Australia’s unfinished business on reproductive health.
Recently, I was in Tasmania with Bec White and Catherine King to announce Labor’s commitment to provide abortions through the public health system in the state and to fund a million dollar Reproductive Health Hub.
But as I’ve said previously, reproductive health care isn’t just about access to safe, legal, affordable abortion.
It means better sex and relationships education for young people, access to quality contraceptives, including long-acting removable contraceptives, top quality maternity services and help for women who have difficulty conceiving.
Fourth, we need to support women’s leadership, representation and participation across Australia’s social, political, economic, cultural and sporting life.
This will mean working to shift gender stereotypes that act as barriers to women’s success.
It’s just not right that 35 per cent of young girls think their gender is a barrier to a career in politics.
We need to support respectful relationships education so students learn how to challenge the negative stereotypes, attitudes and behaviour that lead to discrimination and harassment.
And finally, we need to stop the violence, so women are safe in their homes, at work, on campus, online, and on our streets.
This will mean a renewed focus, long-term commitments, and working across state borders for change.
Terri Butler is doing great work in this area.
I can’t do justice to all of Labor’s priorities today and Bill Shorten has already made clear that reducing violence against women will be a top priority for a Labor government.
So today, I want to focus on women’s economic security.
I want to talk about the fact that as a nation, we don’t value the work women do the same way we value the work men do.
Marilyn Waring – the founder of feminist economics - once said, “What we don’t count, counts for nothing.”
The typical Australian woman spends up to 14 hours a week cooking, cleaning and organising her family.
The typical Australian man does fewer than five hours.
Women do three quarters of the child care, two thirds of the housework, and 70 per cent of caring for elderly or disabled family members and friends.
But Australia has no way of calculating the value to the economy of that unpaid caring work.
The last time we did the sums – back in 1997 – our unpaid work was worth $261 billion – equivalent to almost half of Australia’s GDP that year.
The Australian economy – Australian society – rests upon women’s unpaid work.
And for the most part, we don’t begrudge it – we love our families and we want to contribute to the society we’re part of.
There is joy in caring for those you love.
But that unpaid work is part of the reason older women retire with around half the superannuation of men and are the fastest growing group of people falling into homelessness.
Taking time off your job or working part-time to care for others is one of the driving causes of the gender pay gap.
Fortunately, parenting and caring patterns are changing.
Lots of men want to spend more time looking after their families.
They have realised that, however hard it is, caring for others is hugely rewarding.
But we make it difficult for men to take on what’s still thought of as ‘women’s work’.
Studies show men are twice as likely to have their flexible work request denied.
The root of the problem is that as a society we don’t place enough value on caring work.
We can start to make a change by acknowledging its economic importance.
To do that, we need to bring back the Time Use Survey.
Annabel Crabb once described the information in the ABS’s Time Use Survey as ‘a source of deep geek-joy’.
It’s also the only really reliable national estimate of work done in the home.
The last time the survey was done was before we had iPhones.
Yesterday, Andrew Leigh and I announced that Labor will commit $15.2 million dollars to bring back the Time Use Survey.
Understanding the economic contribution of caring work will help us
- better design policies that increase workforce participation,
- deliver high quality early childhood education and care,
- improve family payments and parental leave
- and it will help us better understand how government policies impact women.
Undervaluing women’s work
I’ve talked about the work we don’t ascribe any economic value to.
Now I want to talk about the work we systematically undervalue.
Last year, Labor Senator Jenny McAllister led a Senate Inquiry into Gender Segregation in the Workforce and its Impact on Women’s Economic Equality. It found that –
Women working in female dominated industries are paid, on average, $40,000 less each year than men in male dominated industries.
The injustice of this is clearly seen in the recent child care workers pay case.
97 per cent of early childhood educators are women.
They’re doing the hugely important, demanding job of educating and caring for our next generation.
They’re some of the worst paid workers in this country.
The child care workers’ union, United Voice, with the Australian Education Union and Independent Education Union, have been fighting for five years for equal pay for early childhood educators.
It’s a joke that an early childhood educator with Certificate III qualifications gets paid about $20 dollars an hour while a metal worker with a Certificate III gets paid about $40 an hour.
Women hold up half the sky… but they don’t get half the pay
Malcolm Turnbull is fond of a quote by Mao Zedong that “women hold up half the sky”…
Well they certainly don’t get half the pay, or half the superannuation, or half the seats in Parliament.
In a country like Australia, that’s not fair and it’s frankly not clever.
Mao proclaimed that “women hold up half the sky” as an argument that women were an economic resource and ought to be deployed outside the home as another unit of labour.
The government, similarly, says its number one priority in women’s policy is to get more women to participate in the workforce.
Labor also supports Australia’s G20 goal to close the gender gap in workforce participation.
We support it because a decent job means a woman is less likely to retire into poverty.
Having your own money also makes it easier to leave an abusive relationship.
But it’s vital that increased participation is not just in systematically undervalued, precarious, casualised industries or it won’t deliver to the extent that it should.
As well as supporting more women to work because it’s good for our economy, we need to make sure the economy works for the good of women.
We need pay equity and decent, secure jobs.
The pay gap has been stuck between 15 and 19 per cent for over 20 years now.
It shot up with the introduction of Work Choices.
It has tapered off a little since the end of the mining boom.
It has fluctuated up and down, but the trend over the last two decades, over the last ten years, has been for the gap to get bigger, not smaller.
Countries like Luxembourg, Belgium, New Zealand – when they’ve set their minds to it - have successfully closed their pay gaps by 40 to 60 per cent.
If we did the same in Australia, we’d be putting about $13,000 a year extra into women’s pockets.
Governments have talked about the gender pay gap on and off for decades.
But we haven’t successfully shifted the dial.
Labor will lead a national push to close the gender pay gap.
We will take measureable action and we will update Parliament each year on Australia’s progress.
We will build an industrial relations system that is properly able to address the gendered undervaluation of work done by women.
We will work with employers to make sure they’re eliminating pay discrimination.
We will make pay equity a focus across the whole of government.
I will continue to work with Brendan O’Connor on this important work.
I’d also like to touch briefly on leadership and representation and the need for targets to drive change.
Last time Labor was in government we set a target for 40 per cent representation of women on government boards and we met it two years ahead of schedule.
Representation slipped backwards again under the Abbott government and has only recently crept back up over 40 per cent.
If Labor is elected, we’ll get to 50 per cent and we’ll do it in our first term of government.
And our target will apply at a portfolio level so no department gets a free pass to avoid cultural change.
We’ll also set targets for:
- at least 40 per cent of Chairs and Deputy Chairs of government boards to be women by 2025;
- and for equal representation of women in senior levels of the Australian Public Service by 2025.
We’ll work with the private sector to make sure they’re meeting their targets.
And we’ll work to ensure Australia has a Federal judiciary that better reflects the Australian community.
Gender equity in all these spheres is just a question of political will.
Setting targets is an expression of that will.
Labor understands that targets work.
In 1994, Labor set a target for 30 per cent of winnable seats to be held by women.
As we met that target, we lifted it to 40 per cent, and now 50 per cent.
With targets, we raised the proportion of women in the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party from 14 to 47 per cent.
When Ged Kearney wins in Batman, we’ll be approaching 48 per cent.
I have no doubt that we will hit our 50 per cent target at the next election – six years ahead of schedule.
In 1994, the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party were also 14 per cent women.
Without targets, over the same period, representation of women in the Liberal Party has risen to only one in five.
They’re at 22 per cent.
We’re at almost 50 per cent.
Now don’t try and tell me that targets don’t work.
We need government leadership
The plan I’ve released today is just the start.
On top of the commitments we’ve already made, we’ll keep working throughout the year on new policies we will take to the election.
And if we win government, we’re committed to governing in a way that puts gender equality at the centre of our policy making.
Gender equality is a cornerstone of inclusive growth.
The OECD say that the benefits of growth are shared more evenly when we have more women sitting around the decision making table and when we consider the way our policies impact women and men differently.
This is exactly what Elizabeth Reid was talking about in 1975.
Very few government policies or decisions are gender neutral.
Mistakenly thinking that they are, is how inequality has become embedded in revenue and expenditure decisions.
Take the government’s tax cuts in the 2017 Budget for high income earners.
Three quarters of the beneficiaries were men.
This followed four attempts in four years to slash paid parental leave by vilifying mothers as ‘rorters’ and ‘fraudsters’ for claiming their workplace entitlements.
The same 2017 Budget introduced effective marginal tax rates of over 100 per cent for some women as a result of the increased Medicare Levy, earlier loan repayments for graduates, and other measures.
That’s what happens when you don’t consider the gendered impact of your policies.
Or take the tampon tax.
Australia levies GST on tampons but we don’t apply it to Viagra.
Only a bunch of blokes sitting around a table would come to the conclusion that sanitary pads are anything other than an essential good.
This was a dumb decision when it was made in 1999.
Twenty years later it’s still a dumb decision and we just have to fix it.
Policies that work for women
We need to do a better job considering the impact government policies have on women.
The IMF and OECD are calling for countries to take a ‘gender responsive’ approach to policy making.
Australia used to be a world leader on this front.
The Hawke Government was one of the first in the world to introduce a Women’s Budget Statement.
Now Australia is ranked the second worst country in the OECD for gender governance.
Labor will change this.
We’ll bring back the women’s budget statement and introduce gender-responsive budgeting practices.
We’ll consider the gender impact of our policies as we develop them – we’ve already started in Opposition.
And we’ll reconvene a Ministerial Council on Gender Equality so we can lead national efforts for change.
We’re under no illusions. Achieving equality won’t happen overnight.
This can’t just be a policy for the next Labor government.
We need a sustained and enduring commitment.
So we will explore options for a national Gender Equality Act so efforts to promote equality are more consistent across governments.
Everyone will benefit
Women make up half the Australian population – in fact, slightly more.
It is no longer acceptable that we don’t receive our fair share of power, prosperity or safety.
But it isn’t just women who will benefit from gender equality.
All Australians benefit from the increased prosperity and inclusive growth that gender equality brings.
And we all benefit from being freed from simplistic stereotypes.
Under the Whitlam Government, Australia was a world leader.
We have slipped down the global rankings and we need to catch up.
But we shouldn’t be happy just climbing back to 24th place.
There is no reason Australia shouldn’t be ranked first in the world.
That’s something worth fighting for.
This speech was given to the National Press Club on Wednesday 7 March 2018.