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"Recognition for women in Australia" seminar

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Michael Lavarch, -

Members of the Parliamentary Committee, Ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you for the opportunity of speaking today to this seminar on Recognition for Women in Australia. In addressing you today I bring you the best wishes of my

Minister assisting me for the Status of Women, Wendy Fatin.

The House of Representatives Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs is to be congratulated for its unique approach to this Inquiry into Equal Opportunity - namely,

its decision to host a series of seminars on themes relevant to its terms of reference.

The seminars, I believe, will not only give this inquiry a deeper appreciation of the issues but will have the enduring value of having promoted discussion between the policy

experts and the broader community.

Whatever the particular interest or background of people present today, I believe all of us here are united in our commitment to one clear objective - greater recognition of the importance and rights of Australian women.

For my Government, this means three things: identifying and overcoming obstacles in the path of women, promoting the physical and financial well-being of women, and encouraging the involvement of women in effective decision making at all


Let me say at the outset that our work has proceeded on the basis of consultation - because consultation with women in government, in the bureaucracy, in industry and, not least,

in the broader Australian community, is the essential pre­ requisite to framing effective policies.

It was on the basis of extensive, and indeed unprecedented, consultation that the Government developed and is now implementing our strategy to improve the status and the recognition of women: the National Agenda for Women.




The National Agenda embodies our commitment to the goals of economic security and independence, equality of opportunity and freedom from discrimination for all Australian women.

Progress in achieving those aims is reported annually in the National Agenda for Women Implementation Report. A series of action plans enables us to monitor our progress simply and accurately.

The first set of action plans was developed to carry the Agenda from its launch, in February 1988, through to February 1993. Today's seminar is a fitting occasion for me to announce the development of a second set of action plans

to take the Agenda into a new era of reform and progress.

I am asking the Office of the Status of Women in my Department to develop these fresh action plans, following a process of targeted consultation, with particular emphasis on four areas:

. women workers, including those with family responsibilities; . women with special needs; . violence against women; and . women and the environment.

OSW's report on these new action plans will draw on input across all relevant portfolios in the Government. It will be considered by Cabinet in late 1992, in time to pick up where the first implementation strategy of the National Agenda leaves off in 1993.

The formulation of fresh action plans will ensure that the momentum of change is maintained. Recognition of Australian women, their concerns, their achievements and the obstacles

they still face in their pursuit of equality must evolve as the position and aspirations of women change.

While recognising the work yet to be done, I think we would all agree that as a blueprint for reform, the National Agenda has been very effective

Underpinning it is the legislative support provided by the Sex Discrimination Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Act and the Affirmative Action Act, and the administrative support of the Human Rights Commission and the Affirmative Action Agency - all the result of initiatives taken by this Government.

Our framework also includes formal consultative mechanisms. The most influential of these is the National Women's Consultative Council which, through consultation with women from around the country - rural and urban, young and elderly and from a variety of cultural backgrounds - plays a key role in channelling information between the Government and

Australian women.

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Through the Commonwealth/State Council on Non-English Speaking Background Women's Issues, established in 1989, the Government maintains a direct channel of communication with women of non-English speaking background.

Next month, I will be receiving from the Council a health strategy for women from non-English speaking backgrounds. It will make recommendations to overcome the particular

problems faced by these women, to meet their needs and to take into account their ability to take advantage of Australian health services.

The Government recognises that Aboriginal women provide the backbone of support for programs in their communities, including through taking on the prime responsibility for

providing care for families.

The Government has set up the Office of Indigenous Women, which gives Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women a mechanism to express their needs and to have access to the decision making process in Government departments. We are actively encouraging the appointment of Aboriginal women to

the boards and committees which it consults on Aboriginal issues.

One objective of the National Agenda to which I wish to make particular reference is the goal of equal representation of men and women on the boards of Commonwealth bodies by the year 2000.

The Office of the Status of Women is monitoring all appointments to Commonwealth bodies, and is preparing a benchmark report to be completed in September. On the basis of this report, I will be urging all Ministers to improve

substantially the rate of appointment not only of women but of other under-represented groups - Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders, people with disabilities, and people of non-English speaking background.

OSW will be making regular reports on progress both to me and to the Minister Assisting for the Status of Women.

We will also be looking to encourage the inclusion of more women as nominees to Commonwealth bodies by trade unions and employer groups.

For women in the workforce, the last decade has seen a transformation in Australia's recognition of their skills and value. But future planning must deal with the inequalities that persist.

Equal pay for women in the workforce is still an issue of enormous concern to large numbers of women, to the union movement and to the Government.

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On average, full-time female workers still only earn about 83% of the wages of their male colleagues. The Equal Pay Unit that we have established within the Department of Industrial Relations is examining and advising us on the

factors that influence this persistent and troubling disparity. * ■ - Another link in the chain of reform is the recognition of

the pressures being placed on workers with family responsibilities. Important areas for recognition in the workplace are parental leave, flexible working hours, work related child care and career paths for part time workers.

The Government has ratified the International Labour Organisation's Convention 156, and has provided for the establishment of a Work and Family Unit in the Department of Industrial Relations. We have also funded a three year

community education campaign highlighting the double load of paid and unpaid work.

But recognition in the home is of equal importance. Time Use surveys provide the best means of estimating the extent of unpaid work in the community. During 1992, the ABS will

be conducting a national survey to provide a basis for estimating the value of unpaid household work.

An analysis of the Bureau's 1987 pilot survey conducted for OSW under the title, Juggling Time, has brought women's unpaid work in the home under the spotlight.

The tremendous interest sparked by this report has highlighted the real need for greater recognition of women's work in the home.

And as crucial as this is, it is meaningless unless women are also afforded the basic right to live in safety, free from violence.

The National Domestic Violence Education Program highlighted for the nation the extent of women's justified fear in their own homes.

The new National Committee on Violence Against Women is building on these successes by developing a far-reaching strategy for the elimination of violence against women in this society.

I look forward to receiving this strategy from members of the Committee later this year and will be formally seeking the cooperation of Premiers, Chief Ministers, and the Ministerial Conferences in its implementation.

And so the process of reform continues. Our commitment to a vision of full and unequivocal recognition of Australian women is demonstrated through practical measures being developed and implemented around the country.


Let me conclude as I began: the Government's achievements in promoting greater recognition for women and our ability to plan for a better future depend on our capacity to listen to the women of Australia.

This Committee's Inquiry is already producing valuable results, as this seminar attests. I await w^th interest the tabling of your Report next year.

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