Release type: Speech


Diversity at Work Awards Dinner


  • The Kulin Nations, the traditional owners of the land we are meeting on this evening.
  • Ron Murray, Wamba Wamba Tribesman
  • Sir Bob Geldof
  • Mr Mark Heaysman, CEO of Diversity@Work
  • The Hon Kate Ellis MP, Minister for Youth, Minister for Sport
  • The Hon Bill Shorten MP, Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services
  • Mr Tim Costello, CEO, World Vision Australia
  • Lord Mayor John So and Lady Mayoress Wendy Cheng
  • Mr Graeme Innes, Human Rights Commissioner and Disability Discrimination Commissioner
  • Mr Anton Enus, MC for this evening
  • Award finalists, and
  • Members of the 2008 Judging Panel

I want to begin by thanking Diversity@Work for giving me the opportunity to speak here tonight.

As the late publisher of Forbes Magazine Malcolm Forbes once commented diversity is ‘the art of thinking independently together”.

Today Australian society is a wonderful diverse mix of people, all providing a valued contribution to its fabric.

And in many ways our workplaces are a reflection of the broader community.

Yet the Australian Government believes more could be done to make our workplaces a truer representation of this nation’s citizens.

Although representing half the population, Australian women are still largely absent from the boardrooms of our top companies.

In fact a recent report found just 8.3 per cent of Australian women held board director positions putting us behind USA, UK, South Africa and New Zealand.

There is also under representation of people with disability in our workplaces despite there being more than two and half million Australians of a working age with disability.

Labour force participation rates for this group were 53 per cent in 2003 compared to 81 per cent for people without a disability.

And despite many commonly held misconceptions, it also makes good business sense to employ people with disability

Last year a report from the Australian Safety and Compensation Council found on average, people with disabilities:

  • have a lower number of OHS incidents and have lower workers’ compensation costs;
  • Lower costs in recruitment and training
  • increased staff stability; and,
  • have lower absenteeism and higher retention rates;

Meanwhile employment for Indigenous Australians remains significantly lower than for non-Indigenous Australians with only 48 per cent of Indigenous Australians of working age employed in 2006 compared to 72 per cent of other Australians.

Employment – as many of you here tonight know – is the cornerstone of social inclusion and economic independence.

Having a job builds self esteem and broadens social networks.

Through its Social Inclusion Agenda, the Australian Government has committed to addressing the barriers that prevent many people from fully participating in our community.

Parliamentary Secretary Bill Shorten and I are developing a National Mental Health and Disability Employment Strategy to address the barriers faced by people with disability or mental illness, which makes it hard for them to secure or keep a job.

We’re also reviewing disability employment services to improve and tailor assistance to disadvantaged job seekers.

And during his historic apology to the Stolen Generation earlier this year, the Prime Minister made closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in the areas of employment, life expectancy and education within a decade a national priority.

While through the recently established Australian Youth Forum, the Minister for Youth, Kate Ellis, is ensuring that the Rudd Government engages and hears directly from the next generation and empower youth to respond to future challenges.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a big or small company, whether you operate in the private, public or community sector, or whether you are based in a capital city or a country town—you can do your bit to support and encourage greater diversity in the workplace.

Tonight we’re recognising, celebrating and promoting those organisations who are the 2008 champions of workplace diversity and inclusion.

On behalf of the Rudd Government and the Prime Minister, congratulations to you all.

Thank you.