31 January 2018
Speech - #2018002, 2018

Address to the MasterCard Women in Leadership Breakfast 2018, Sydney

**Check against delivery**

Good morning, everyone — it's a pleasure to be here, surrounded by leaders from the commercial and public sectors.

Women and men who are, without question, passionate about supporting women into leadership roles.

That is a passion I share, and will be a focus of mine in my new role as Minister for Women.

History of women in leadership

Now, over the summer break I had the opportunity to reflect on the history of women in leadership roles in Australia.

It is a history worth sharing — briefly — now.

Seventy-five years ago, in the devastating darkness of the Second World War, a light flickered in Canberra: the first women were elected to Australia's Parliament.

Their names were Enid Lyons and Dorothy Tangney — two trailblazers who, through their passion and perseverance, entered the House of Representatives and Senate respectively.

It was a welcome, and overdue, moment.

Australia has been a world leader in giving women a voice.

South Australia granted women the right to vote in 1895, while the Commonwealth did so shortly after Federation in 1902, along with the right to stand for Parliament.

But it took a further four decades before Enid Lyons and Dorothy Tangney walked through the doors of Parliament with Lyons a representative of the United Australia Party, the forerunner to the Liberal Party of Australia.

Moreover, it was another two decades — or 65 years after Federation — before Annabelle Rankin became the first woman appointed to a Cabinet position with her own portfolio in 1966. Again, another Liberal Party first.

Modern success stories

The road of progress for women in leadership has had dips and weaves. And that continues to be the case.

As Sheryl Sandberg wrote in her book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead:

"If a women pushes to get the job done, if she's highly competent, if she focuses on results rather than on pleasing others, she's acting like a man. And if she acts like a man, people dislike her."

It's a reality many women, regardless of their politics and regardless of their profession, have experienced.

But, even so, in 2018 we have a lot to be positive about in Australia.

Today, women stand alongside their colleagues at the highest levels of public and private enterprise.

The Turnbull Government, for instance, boasts the first female Minister for Foreign Affairs in Julie Bishop and the first female Minister for Defence in Marise Payne — both outstanding women and role models.

And in addition to my role as the Minister for Women, I am also responsible for a key economic portfolio of Revenue and Financial Services, the first woman to be given a Treasury portfolio in Cabinet.

These belong to a list of firsts that have been achieved across public life in recent times.

Last year, we saw the first woman, Susan Kiefel AC, appointed Chief Justice of the High Court. And this comes on the heels of numerous women being appointed to lead departments and agencies across the federal public service.

Eight of our 18 departmental secretaries in the Australian Public Service (APS) are women.

Women make up 59 per cent of APS employment overall, and 43 per cent of the Senior Executive Service.

What's more, we have seen women lead governments at state and territory levels, and women occupy both the Lodge and Government House in Julia Gillard and Quentin Bryce respectively.

The private sector, too, has appointed women to the highest echelons.

Right now, we have several women heading ASX-listed companies — from Sydney Airport's Kerrie Mather to Coca-Cola Amatil's Alison Watkins.

And this follows Gail Kelly's tenure as CEO of Westpac, where she was the first woman to head up a 'Big Four' bank.

Just last week Michelle Simmons was named Australian of the Year for her pioneering research and work in quantum physics. She is leading the way in what has previously been a male dominated field. Whilst at first, given her gender, some had low expectations for her – Professor Simmons has made sure that no one makes that mistake again.

We also saw Samantha Kerr, our Matildas superstar, named as the Young Australian of the Year. Samantha flipped the hearts and minds of those who didn't believe that women's sport could be just as exciting as men's.

Gender equity in leadership roles

Clearly, Australian women have made impressive strides.

That said, however, while we celebrate these successes the fact is that we have not reached gender equality in leadership roles.

That's something I want to expand on in the time remaining, as well as some of the other employment barriers for women.

And I'll begin by saying this: Complete gender equality in leadership roles isn't a matter of 'if' — it is a matter of when.

The Government is fully committed to supporting and encouraging women into leadership positions.

That's why we set an ambitious — but achievable — target of women holding 50 per cent of Australian Government board positions.

As of June last year, women reached 42.7 per cent representation on government boards.

And with women comprising more than 52 per cent of appointments made in the April to June quarter of 2017, we can see women's representation continuing to grow.

The numbers in the private sector are seeing a similarly positive trend.

According to research conducted by the Australian Institute of Company Directors, women now make up a record high of 26.1 per cent of ASX 200 directorships.

Women accounted for more than 43 per cent of appointments to manager roles in 2016–17.

However, while positive trends are being seen all across the public and private sectors, we can — and we must — do better.

Together, we need to ensure that leadership in Australia reflects the broader nation — not, I should say, with a handful of exceptional women but a truly equal number of exceptional women and men.

Reducing barriers to employment

So, with that in mind, the Australian Government has made it a priority to reduce the workforce participation gap by 25 per cent by 2025 for Australian women.

More women in the workforce means more women in the pipeline ready for leadership positions.

Our most recent budget had a number of measures to boost women's workforce participation.

We know that childcare is the most commonly perceived barrier to participation for women in the labour market, so we allocated an additional $2.5 billion for a number of child care initiatives.

We're also investing $430 million to support universal access to pre-school and $263 million for the national rollout of Parents Next.

And our commitment to boosting participation has seen encouraging results.

Since the Coalition was elected in 2013, around 570,000 jobs have been created for Australian women.

Of course, the private sector has shown itself to be ahead of the game when it comes to removing barriers and supporting women in the workplace.

For example, Westpac Bank introduced paid parental leave in 1995, and became the first publicly listed Australian company to do so.

There's a reason Westpac did that — and others followed.

Businesses understand the importance of sound investments — and supporting women employees is one of the best investments they can make.

Workplaces with women in leadership positions are, evidence shows us, more productive and successful.

That makes it more than just a sound investment.

It's a commercial imperative.

Women and superannuation

Another important area we must focus on is making sure that women are economically secure in retirement.

It's a topic that I am passionate about.

As we know, people take breaks from work or work part-time to look after family — whether it be young children or ageing parents.

And currently most of those people are women.

This means that women have lower lifetime earnings and lower superannuation balances than men.

Right now, women are retiring with, on average, 42 per cent less superannuation than men — which is, simply, unacceptable.

The Turnbull Government is making it easier for women to build their superannuation.

For instance, our Superannuation Tax Reform Package included the Low Income Superannuation Tax Offset, which directly helps more than 1.9 million low-income women to boost their retirement savings.

Furthermore, we extended the superannuation spouse tax offset — a move that will help women who are the secondary earners in their families.

As of July last year, we levelled the playing field so everyone — especially women — can take advantage of the $25,000 annual concessional contribution cap regardless of their employment arrangements.

And, commencing 1 July 2018, individuals with a super balance of less than $500,000 will be able to rollover their unused cap space from the previous five years to allow for larger contributions in later years. This will allow for 'catch up' payments.

This will ensure those with interrupted work patterns, including mothers leaving and re-entering the workforce, are afforded the flexibility to contribute to their super and benefit from the associated tax concessions to the same extent as those with more regular income.

But importantly, it will also allow this for men too. Because if we want to see women continue their careers after having children, then we need to see more men stepping up and taking on parental care responsibilities.

Attitudes towards women in leadership

Before I finish, I want to note that one of the barriers for women in leadership has been a negative attitude towards women having children during their careers, or while serving in public life.

It's a significant cultural barrier — and, in many respects, a double-edged sword: you're damned if you do, and damned if you don't.

Who could forget the fuss about Julia Gillard's empty fruit bowl; or, in 2016, the suggestion that Theresa May was less qualified to be Britain's Prime Minister because she had never been a mother.

Obviously ridiculous.

However, for women wanting to have children and a career, times are changing.

I said earlier that it took 65 years from Australia's Federation for a woman to be given a Cabinet position in her own right.

Well, it took another 50 years for a woman to give birth while serving as a Cabinet minister.

When I gave birth to my second child, Edward, in April last year, it was a significant moment — for me personally, and I believe more broadly for women in this country.

It was only a few months later that I took Edward into the Cabinet room in Parliament House and watched as the Prime Minister cuddled him before the meeting began.

It was wonderful. And while Edward may have been the first, he won't be the last.

The same shift in attitudes can be seen across the ditch.

A couple of weeks ago, New Zealand's Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced her pregnancy.

The overwhelming reaction across New Zealand and Australia was one of joy and support for the notion that no woman — not even a Prime Minister — should have to choose between a career and a family.

Jacinda didn't have to choose. I didn't have to choose. And nor should any woman.

Concluding remarks

So let me thank you all, once again, for welcoming me here today, and for your own commitment to supporting women into leadership positions.

As former US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has said:

"We need to move beyond the idea that girls can be leaders and create the expectation that they should be leaders."

As I've said today, we are making impressive strides — in both the public and private sectors.

There is much work still to be done — work I will lead as Minister for Women — but we must also celebrate our progress, too.

Australia is a different country to the one that Enid Lyons and Dorothy Tangney were elected to represent in 1943.

They cleared the way; they inspired. And it is up to all of us, together, to continue pushing boundaries across every sector, and creating opportunities for Australia's women.

Thank you.