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Monday, 8 March 1999
Page: 2408

Senator LUNDY (10:10 PM) —I rise to speak tonight in celebration of International Women's Day. When the Prince song 1999 was first released, my friends and I all calculated how old we would be in the year 2000 and speculated as to what we would be doing, where we would be living and how many kids we would have. It seems like yesterday and yet it was 15 years ago. The intervening years have taught us that the future does not just happen; we actually make it happen. We shape it through our actions, our decisions, conscious or unconscious. This ultimately determines not only our lives and our experiences but also those of our children.

Whether it is female intuition or a lifetime's experience of doing a hundred things at once, whatever the reasons, so many young women at the doorstep of the new millennium are feeling like they just got home. For 21st century women, the future is our comfort zone. I attribute my own optimism to an esoteric combination of having an interest in technology, being committed to exploring cyberspace and being thoroughly intrigued by the phenomenon that is Lara Croft. It is now 1999, a year of transition in which we find ourselves on the cusp of passing the generational baton. I have always felt that I have ridden the crest of the feminist wave, and I have spoken about this in this place previously. The realm of new opportunities open to women of my generation has been created by the activities of women from a previous generation. I would like to acknowledge them in this place this evening.

Just over the horizon is the year 2000 and it is presenting a new set of challenges in a completely new environment. Reaching the year 2000 is having a far greater impact on the way many people perceive the world and how they live their lives, far more so than I would have ever anticipated. It is forcing contemplation of the future in the context of the past. I keep asking myself: how can we, society in general and women specifically, do things a little better?

Whilst many older feminists may in fact believe that they are passing the baton to an unworthy generation, the reality is that today's young women are determined and focused. We do see what the past has brought us through the struggles of women previously. Regardless of how feminism defines itself in the 21st century, women will continue to make positive assumptions about their status in society and make life choices accordingly. The gains that women have already made in terms of gender equity will be challenged and transformed by the changing technological landscape. Those challenges will continue into the future as we have experienced them in the past.

The new millennium is more than just a date; it signifies a turning point in human history. The pressure is on this generation to find new ways of approaching the problems that plague our society. On the other hand, frustration is growing as things seem to be getting worse, not better. For example, the politics of globalisation represent not one single challenge but the context in which all decisions of government must be made. The greatest weakness we have is to confront these challenges with conservatism and linear, not lateral, thinking. What Australia needs is a vision, one that positions jobs, security and confidence as tangible expressions of our vision for social justice.

As we are part of a globalised society, this vision must be part of a world view that promotes global social equity. This may sound like lofty idealism; however, like many women I speak with, I do not empathise with the art of political understatement or seek refuge in economic-speak. Many women have a deep and compassionate attitude about what happens next and are ready and able to articulate a philosophical position on a range of social and economic issues. I believe that this will provide the motivation required for dynamic and progressive change.

The strength and number of women engaged in world peace, environmental and social equity movements are an indication of the depth of this motivation. Young women in particular are finding a profound level of personal satisfaction by involving themselves in focused causes. Such commitments usually outweigh the downside that comes from adding extra activities to already jam-packed time-critical lifestyles.

I have been asserting for some time that the Internet is facilitating a new level of global political activism. It is empowering a whole generation of young people, and women, in ways that mean little to the `unconnected' but represent a new way of life for those who embrace it. The recent Heywire initiative, an ABC sponsored radio mouthpiece for rural youth, highlighted to me the power and value in providing young people with a voice through our communications infrastructure—and I was truly inspired.

The Internet is one of the most inspiring advances on the technological front, not just because of its technical feats or even its central position amidst converging media but for its potential to empower global movements for progressive change. The Internet is resetting power relationships. It is a global electronic medium that will be a circuit-breaker for the frustration and cynicism felt by so many young people. It is a generational mouthpiece. For many women the Internet's chaotic overload of information and worldly scope presents not an intimidating technical mass but a glorious opportunity for us to put our intuitive lateral approach to life to work and good use.

In the past, new technologies have tended to be both fortress and playground for men; the Internet is different. Statistically, men and women are using it in almost equal numbers. This is not surprising in some respects, given that many women—in fact, more women than men—have the skills to access the technology.

However, equity of access continues to be a dream, and the high cost of computers and connections is keeping many people `locked out'. Outside of metropolitan areas, exorbitant connection costs and low bandwidth resulting in low quality service present a real barrier to many who seek to use the Internet, despite the fact that connectivity is clearly the key to creating regional employment opportunities and economic growth. It is for this reason alone that the level of access to the Internet for women in 1998 stood at only 21 per cent.

There is no doubt that the issue of access, and equity of access, to the Internet is one of the primary social policy challenges of the next century. Not to address this in a forthright and confronting way will be to produce a society of information haves and have-nots, with the resultant economic and social division that will entrench itself.

The ascendancy of the Internet also marks a turning point for modern society, a tangible generational change. We see many baby boomers reaching retirement age and decision making in our society is no longer the domain of, or indeed captive to, old guard misogynists. Young women have the opportunity now more than ever to map out the goals and objectives that they believe are worth fighting for. With growing numbers being represented in this place, and with the support of infrastructure and the society within which they are placed, women stand to lead this nation in an ever-increasing range of endeavours.

The Internet gives young leaders the opportunity to bypass the conservative establishment's pre-determined channels of communication. It will give a voice to youth culture, human rights activists and environmentalists the world over. It allows global movements to work cooperatively at a local level like never before. The turn of the millennium is therefore an opportunity to skip ahead in the attitude stakes and relegate sexism and misogyny to a 20th century `what's out' list.