Release type: Speech


Address to the National Press Club - International Women’s Day


Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash
Minister for Employment
Minister for Women
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service
Senator for Western Australia

International Women’s Day - 8 March 2016
National Press Club, Canberra
Ladies and Gentlemen - Good afternoon.

It’s fantastic to be back at the National Press Club for International Women’s Day.

As I look around the room I see so many of you who for decades - have worked to ensure that when we say - men and women in Australia are equal – they are – and I pay tribute to you and look forward to working with you to continue to build on everything we have achieved to date.

I also see many business leaders stretching across industry who have said – enough is enough to gender inequality.

These are leaders who have embraced gender diversity, understand the benefits it brings to their workplaces - and - are actively implementing policies to bring about real change.

Recently we have seen two notable policy announcements from business.

Rail giant Aurizon’s innovative “Shared Care” policy challenges cultural norms!

“Shared Care” is about giving Aurizon families a new choice when it comes to considering who takes on the child care responsibilities.

It incentivises Aurizon men to take on primary care of their child and benefits Aurizon women by reducing the potential career and financial impacts of un-paid parental leave and periods of part time employment.

It was - in part - inspired by comments of former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Liz Broderick who said: “……if I could choose one thing to change, it would be for caring responsibilities to be shared equally between men and women.

I also acknowledge representatives here today from the Australian Computer Society.

ACS represents over 20,000 employees in Australia’s IT sector.

ACS recently launched their own diversity report which outlines challenges within their industry when it comes to gender balance.

This is an organisation that commissioned extensive research to better understand the issue of gender diversity in their workplace and is now outlining what it will do by way of implementing practical solutions.

As we all know - you don’t know what you don’t know - and understanding the problem is the first step towards addressing it with well-designed and targeted policies.

Australian Governments have long recognised the issue of gender inequality.
In his 1949 election manifesto, Robert Menzies wrote:

Consider the matter of working hours. Is it not true that as men have worked shorter hours women have worked longer, and that as men have gained more leisure their wives have enjoyed less?
It is true that such problems as these cannot be completely solved by Act of Parliament. But it is indeed high time that attention was paid to those matters of interest to women.

I cannot disagree with what Sir Robert Menzies wrote 67 years ago - other than – these are not just “matters of interest to women” but, rather, priorities for us all: government, employers and the community.

Identifying an injustice however - and doing something to address it - are two different things.

History shows that Governments, communities, and employers are rarely - if ever - at the same point when it comes to addressing cultural change.

However, the world is increasingly self-aware when it comes to gender inequality and is doing something about it.

Inevitably, some will be further along the path than others - but the important thing is that it now appears more obvious than any other time in history that we are moving in the same direction.

For example, the key sponsor of today’s event, Westpac Bank, has been ahead of its time in terms of identifying areas of gender inequality within the organisation and implementing practical solutions which have made a difference.

In 1995, Westpac was one of the first publicly listed companies to provide paid maternity and paternity leave.

In 2008, Gail Kelly became the first women to lead one of the big four banks.

And in 2012, Westpac announced a 50 per cent target for women in management – a target they are well on their way to reaching.

As Minister for Women, I feel both an immense privilege and responsibility, to use my time in this position to make an enduring difference in the lives of women in Australia.

Australia needs to be – moreover we have a responsibility to be - at the forefront of implementing policies that will do this.

Today, on International Women’s Day, I want to give an insight into why I am so passionate about making a difference.

I also want to highlight the action this government is taking to ensure we are implementing an agenda that makes a tangible difference in the lives of Australian women and girls - and ultimately all Australians.

Quite simply – we need to reach a position so that when we say “women and men are equal” – they are.

The three themes I want to discuss today are respect, participation and representation: These are the three broad areas where we, as a government, can, and are, showing leadership which will make a lasting difference.

The first pre-requisite for equality is that women are treated with respect and that they are safe.

For me a pivotal moment occurred early on in my political career, when I was at a women’s shelter in my hometown of Perth.

I was visiting and speaking with the women who - at that difficult time in their life - called the shelter home.

I met a young woman who was 7 months pregnant.

She was covered in bruises.

Her arm was in a sling.

She shared her story with me.

I became emotional listening to what this young woman had been through.

She took my arm - looked me in the eye and said – “it’s alright - don’t worry, my baby is OK.”

“My baby is OK.”

I would dare any person to stand in front of her and not be moved by her physical and mental pain but, at the same time, incredible selflessness and inner strength.
I have never forgotten her holding my arm - or the sadness in her eyes—or, the fact that she felt a natural urge to console and comfort me.

But, it was at that precise moment that I thought—this is not OK.

And since then I have done what I can to bring this issue to the forefront of government policy.

Women and children in Australia should be safe.

Safe at home: safe on the streets: and safe online.

The manifestations of gender inequality are varied and profound.

Domestic violence - perhaps the most extreme and obvious symptom -has been at the forefront of the Coalition Government’s agenda since we came to office in 2013.

Things have changed - what was previously described as ‘Australia’s dirty little secret’ is now well and truly in the spotlight.

People now openly talk about domestic violence and are joining together to seek solutions.

The work of the Government - COAG - the advocacy of 2015 Australian of the Year Rosie Batty - and many other advocates and leaders - many of whom are here today - has placed domestic violence at the forefront of our national conversation.
So it is fitting that the UN Women Australia’s theme for International Women’s Day is “Change her future: Together we can stop violence against women and girls”.

  • How we stop violence against women:
  • How we discard entrenched and harmful attitudes directed at  women;
  • How we speak about women

are topics now constantly discussed across the media.

There has also been a discernible shift in thinking.

The public’s increasing awareness of the level of domestic violence in Australia has sent positive shockwaves through our community.

We now admit we have a problem that needs a solution - and - a well-co-ordinated and very public one.

Women’s safety and the issue of respect - is now getting greater attention across the board.

The first decision of the Turnbull Cabinet was to endorse the $100 million Women’s Safety Package.

Importantly, this was not a package designed by Government alone.

We took advice from our expert Advisory Panel - chaired by former Victorian Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay - with Rosie Batty and Heather Nancarrow as Deputy Chairs.

The Panel advised the Government and COAG on where there were gaps in policy and what we can do to better protect women and the practical steps we need to take.

The Safety Package therefore focuses on:

  • practical immediate action to keep women and their children safe;
  • improved training for frontline workers;
  • enhancing service delivery in critical areas; and
  • providing the best educational resources to parents, teachers and children to change attitudes of young people.

However, for all the good work that has been done, for all the initiatives that have and will continue to be rolled out and for all the positive momentum we have built, it’s still clear that we need to do more to address this problem at its root cause – disrespect.

As the Prime Minister says – Not all disrespect ends in violence against women, BUT all violence against women begins with disrespect.

And that means we must challenge and change the attitudes of Australians.
Alarming research has been undertaken by the Government - which reveals that adults and young people - excuse disrespectful and aggressive behaviour towards women and girls, often without being aware that they are doing so.

During the course of the research, participants were presented with a scenario where a young boy threw a plastic bottle at a young girl.

Both were about 14 years old – and they had never met before.

Participants were asked to comment on what they had seen.

The three most common responses were alarming.

The first most common response was – ‘what did she do’, in other words, the victim, not the offender, was to blame.
The second most common response was – ‘it wasn’t that bad, it’s not like it was a glass bottle or anything’, in other words, it is okay to minimise disrespectful and potentially harmful acts.

Finally, people said ‘he’s a teenage boy, that’s just what they do’, in other words, because he is a boy, it is acceptable.

These are the kinds of attitudes we need to change.

Why - because we now know that disrespect in peoples’ formative years can often develop into increasingly damaging attitudes that condone or excuse abusive behaviour later in life.

This research is the basis for a $30 million national primary prevention campaign soon to be launched by the Commonwealth in conjunction with the States and Territories.

We must challenge these attitudes and that is exactly what the primary prevention campaign will do.

A massive shift in relation to violence against women has occurred in Australia.

We now publically acknowledge the problem - we are harnessing the momentum of the community - and we are implementing co-ordinated policies across government to address the issue.

My second theme for today is participation.

We all know the now famous saying – It’s the Economy Stupid – well sometimes something as simple as those four words says it all!

Consider this – you run a business – I come to you and I tell you that I have a solution as to how you could boost your bottom line.

You would sit me down and at least give me hearing!
Well guess what – government is a business - and we do have a way to boost GDP by as much as 13%.

Increasing women’s workforce participation!

This is an economic and social priority for the Turnbull Government.

The female participation rate currently stands at 59.4 per cent, which is lower than the male participation rate which stands at 71.2 per cent.

Numerous studies have shown the benefits to the economy of getting more women into work.

No responsible Government can be immune to such an enormous potential for economic growth and then ignore ways in which can be realised.

This economic imperative is why in 2014, under Australia’s presidency, G20 leaders agreed to the goal of reducing the gender gap in participation rates by 25 per cent by 2025.

In Australia, this could result in up to 200,000 additional women in the labour force, above OECD projections.

To achieve this – which we must - strong leadership by government, employers and the community will be required.

Increasing women’s workforce participation will also help to achieve important social equality objectives, such as:

  • strengthening women’s economic security; and
  • reducing their vulnerability to poverty, homelessness and family violence.

As the Minister for Employment and the Minister for Women - this is where the synergies between my two portfolios become truly exciting.
To lift that many women into the workforce is not just something to widen the eyes of Treasury officials - the benefits are far greater than just fiscal consolidation.

Financial empowerment is true empowerment, regardless of gender, and the best way to achieve this freedom is through employment.

But the fact remains that workforce participation remains significantly lower for women because of the structural and cultural barriers that disproportionately impact on women.

As a Government our duty is to remove these barriers so that women and ultimately men - can make the choices they want to make rather than take the options that they are forced to take.

  • If our childcare system is not flexible, accessible or affordable, women will be disadvantaged;
  • If workplaces remain inflexible, and mothers remain the primary caregivers of children, women will be disadvantaged.
  • If women are not encouraged to enter occupations that are traditionally male-dominated and attract higher incomes, women will be disadvantaged.
  • If men are not encouraged to enter occupations that are traditionally female-dominated and attract lower incomes, women will be disadvantaged.
  • And if we fail to address cultural barriers like gender bias in the workplace, women will be disadvantaged.

 As Minister for Women and Minister for Employment - I am in a unique position to not only promote for the benefits of greater workforce participation for women, but to steer our work in making it a reality.

So what are the policy levers that government can pull to increase women’s workforce participation?

There is consensus that a major impediment to increasing workforce participation is the lack of more flexible, affordable and accessible child care.

There is also consensus that Australia needs a better childcare system that’s less geared to 8 to 6 institutional care.

As I have travelled around Australia meeting with mums and dads for a number of years now, the number one concern raised with me is “I would like to go back to work but what do I do with my kids?”

The Government has recognised these concerns and is seeking to address them.

Over the next four years, the Government will invest around $40 billion in child care and early learning support - including more than $3 billion in additional funding - under the Jobs for Families Child Care Package, to provide greater choices for families.

Almost one million families will benefit as a result.

The Package - as you know - was developed in response to the findings of the 2014 Productivity Commission Inquiry into Childcare and Early Learning.

The Commission found what so many parents already know to be true – the current child care system is unnecessarily complex and fails to target
support where it can have the biggest impact on supporting parents into jobs – especially mothers.

We have been innovative in our response and have been prepared to trial new programmes to ensure families can received the right support to meet their needs and move from the institutionalised 8 to 6 child care.

For example – our Nanny Pilot Programme.

This will help many families who work shifts, or live in regional Australia to return to work.

We are focussed on providing the right support for families to meet their needs.

This is a policy priority for this Government and society - and I say to all Parliamentarians: If you are serious about increasing women’s participation in this country, get serious about childcare reform and get on board with this significant reform.

As a policy maker, one thing that excites me is the innovative initiatives that are developed by non-Government organisations to increase women’s workforce participation.

One initiative that has been developed in partnership between the Government and UnitingCare Australia is: The UnitingCare Springboard Project.

This project is about providing training to women who have been out of the workforce for several years to enable them to re-enter the workforce in the ‘caring professions’ such as aged care.
It enables women to have a clear pathway back into the workforce whilst also helping us to meet the increasing demand for new skilled workers in these fields.
I am excited by this project – why?

  • It goes beyond the norm.
  • It thinks outside the square; and
  • It delivers: This is a project that will give a person - a skill - a qualification and a job.

And this idea could not have come to fruition without the commitment and passion of Lin Hatfield-Dodds from UnitingCare.

And it is wonderful to have Lin here today and to be able to publically recognise you.

This programme is designed for women who have obtained caring experience at home - in an unpaid role - to acquire the necessary skills to succeed in the workplace.

Across the country I speak to so many women who tell me about experiencing a loss of confidence after taking time out of the workforce to have children.

They worry that their skill set might not be as relevant as it once was, or that they have not kept up with advances in technology.

They also tell me that they want flexibility in the workplace so they can pursue a career but also take care of their family.

This project ticks all of the boxes!

This project will give women the opportunity to train and build a career, while also providing the flexibility to still care for their families.

Given the projected growth in these sectors, this project will ensure that women are well placed to make the most of emerging employment opportunities.

This Friday, I’ll officially launch the Project in Perth and I’ll get a chance to meet the first graduates who will be part of the Uniting Care Network.

UnitingCare’s Springboard Project is the sort of forward-thinking, demand-driven programme we will need to implement with other employers if we are to lift women’s workforce participation.


To build a more innovative economy and support productivity, Australian women will need to work in a diverse range of roles and industries, including those in which they have been traditionally under-represented.

This presents exciting opportunities.

To enter the labour market of the future, Australians will need to be literate, numerate as well as digitally literate.

These capabilities will be threshold requirements for most jobs.

The importance of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics will change.

It is estimated that STEM knowledge is required for 75 per cent of the fastest growing occupations.

However, currently 11 per cent fewer year 12 students are studying Maths than in 1992, and there has been a 35 per cent drop in domestic enrolment in information technology subjects at universities since 2001.

And we need to address the gender imbalance in STEM fields.

Women make up only 34.4 per cent of STEM graduates.
Women occupy fewer than one in five senior researcher positions in Australian universities and research institutes, and around one quarter of the STEM workforce overall.

Only one in four IT graduates, and fewer than one in 10 engineering graduates, are women1.

We cannot risk women missing out on some of the best paid and most exciting jobs of the future.

That’s why the Government is investing $48 million over 5 years in the National Innovation and Science Agenda to support STEM education at all levels of society.
This includes investing $13 million over five years to encourage more women to choose and stay in STEM research, related careers, startups and entrepreneurial firms 2.

New industries and careers are going to emerge!

This is exciting for women and girls given that the number of women operating businesses in Australia has already increased by almost 50 per cent over the past two decades.

The new flexible, technology enabled ways of working have great potential to give women more control over their careers and draw them into the workforce.

When we talk about flexibility - we need to ensure that it’s the norm rather than the exception.

This applies to both men and women.
Research shows us that Australian men want to work flexibly, but are almost twice as likely as women to have their request for flexible work declined.

Working full time and being the primary breadwinner is too often seen as a ‘choice’ that men make in the same way that working part-time is seen as a ‘choice’ for women.

But neither is a genuine choice.

Men and women are ‘funnelled into’ these choices by societal and workplace expectations of women as the ‘ideal carer’ and men as the ‘ideal worker.’
It is only when we notice these “norms”, which we are now doing - we can challenge them and replace them with something better.

And talking about challenging “norms” - despite the fact that we are in 2016 – women still face barriers when they are applying for jobs because of their gender.

In 2014, Hays and Insync Surveys asked 1,000 hiring managers—men and women—to review the same CV.

Half of the CV’s were presented under the name ‘Susan’ and half under the name ‘Simon’.

The results showed that the more people the manager recruited per year, the more frequently they recruited, and the bigger the organisation, the bigger the bias towards hiring men.

And it must be said that some of the recruiters were women—proving we are not immune to bias.
Whether it’s choosing a career path to follow; deciding whether to go for a promotion at work; or choosing whether to work part-time, gender should be invisible - but it’s not.

We all need to take a good hard look at practices that hinder women’s workforce participation and change them!

This is a fundamental ingredient if we are going to affect real cultural change.


Another fundamental ingredient of cultural change is to increase female representation. My third theme for today!

As the Male Champions of Change acknowledge - having more women on boards, in senior management and across organisations makes good business sense for a number of reasons - least of all that research proves time and time again that having women in the leadership mix fosters innovation and improves organisational performance.

The business case for increasing the number of women in leadership is strong, but translating it into outcomes is where the real challenge lies.

The Government is taking action. It has set a gender diversity target of men and women each holding at least 40 per cent of Australian Government board positions.

It is vital that the Government demonstrates best practice on gender balance on boards, as we need to lead by example in order to drive change in corporate Australia.

So today, I am pleased to announce that the Government will now commit to increasing this target to 50 per cent representation across all Australian Government boards, with a minimum of 40 per cent on each board.
Correcting the imbalance will require concerted efforts by all portfolio Ministers, including myself.

I am very confident that with pro-active efforts by all Ministers, we can achieve this target.

The Government is taking a whole of government approach to increasing the number of women on boards.

The Government’s BoardLinks programme adopts Champions from different sectors to promote the benefits of increasing women’s representation on both public and private sector boards.

We have recently appointed additional BoardLink champions including Paris Aristotle, Catherine Livingstone, Elmer Funke-Kupper, Lucy Turnbull and Amanda Mostyn - to name just a few – eminent Australians who will join Ministers and Departmental Secretaries in nominating female candidates and helping them become board-ready.

In politics we are not immune from the need for improvement in gender representation.

We are however making progress.

Australia’s biggest champion of change for women is our Prime Minister.
For the first time, two key ministries, Foreign Affairs, and Defence, are occupied by outstanding women, Ministers Julie Bishop and Marise Payne.

There are now 6 women in Cabinet.

And Senator Fiona Nash is the first woman elected to a leadership position for the Nationals – as Deputy Leader.
In my role as the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service - I am pleased that the Public Service has long been regarded as a pace-setter in workplace equality for women – although like many employers - we have room for improvement.

I’ve been working with the Australian Public Service Commission to make sure that the APS will keep pace with the ground-breaking gender-equality initiatives of some of our leading corporates.

I have recently had a sneak preview of the sorts of initiatives the APS is committing to and it’s very exciting.

Already there has been some good work done in traditionally male-dominated workplaces such as Treasury, Defence and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

And there will be more in coming months on service-wide initiatives.

I can say that the APS leadership’s commitment to change the status quo is ambitious.

It includes initiatives like unconscious bias training, reviews of recruitment processes, reporting on pay equity and designing positions in the public service that are flexible by default - where-ever we can.

These initiatives will be at the forefront of the sort of changes that need to happen across all Australian workplaces.


Let me close by making the concept of gender equality personal.

I have spoken before of my now 16 year old niece Aleisha.

She is a huge part of my motivation to make a difference in my role as a policy maker.
When I say to her that the world I envisage for her is one in which men and women are equal, I don’t hope that will be her experience – I want to have done something to make sure that that is her experience.

I don’t want her to be forced to make choices because of barriers that still exist.
When Aleisha chooses a study path, I want her to embrace the thought of choosing STEM!

When she graduates, I want her first pay to be on par with men in the same field.
When she interviews for a promotion, the fact that she may be of child-bearing age should not even cross the minds of the panel.

If and when she becomes a leader, or sits on a board I want her to be a peer among equals.

If she chooses to start a family, I don’t want her career to face a penalty for it.
And of course when she does retire I want her financial security to be on a par with that of men.

The Government is providing the leadership to drive gender equality through respect, participation and representation.

However the Government can’t do this alone. We have to work together - government, corporate Australia and the community.

Pursuing gender equality is not something we can confine to the too-hard basket.
Nor should we accept a slow pace of change.

The financial benefits - let alone the social dividends - are simply too large to neglect.

Let’s continue to work together to realise important changes across Australian workplaces.

Let’s drive transformation not only at work, but in life - in our homes and our communities.

Thank you to everyone in this room - who has been - and will continue to be part of this change process – And Happy International Women’s Day!