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Monday, 2 March 2015
Page: 1744

Mrs ELLIOT (Richmond) (11:10): I, too, am very pleased to rise to support this motion by the member for Newcastle. I commend her for moving this motion and I acknowledge the previous speakers as well. I, too, note that International Women's Day will be celebrated globally on Sunday, 8 March 2015. It is a day to celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women and to review how far women have come in the struggle for equality, peace and development.

On International Women's Day we honour women locally and from all corners of the globe for the unique contributions that they make. These contributions are equally important and wide ranging through so many different and diverse areas. In 2015 we also reflect on the Beijing Platform for Action—a very progressive blueprint for advancing women's rights launched 20 years ago. It is amazing to think it was 20 years ago that it was launched at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. At that particular conference, 17,000 participants and 30,000 activists went to Beijing for the opening in September 1995. They were an incredibly diverse and wide-ranging group coming from all around the globe. But they had a single purpose in mind, and that was about the empowerment of all women and gender equality.

The conference produced the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action—the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing women's rights. Indeed, the Platform for Action put forth a world where each women and girl can exercise her freedoms and choices and realises her rights—really important rights, such as being able to attend school and being able to earn equal pay for equal work. Hillary Clinton led the US delegation to China in 1995 and delivered a now famous speech on the treatment of women around the world. Twenty years ago in that speech she said:

If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all.

The 20th anniversary of Beijing opens new opportunities to reflect and generate interest and political will in the advancing of the opportunities and challenges that women face worldwide.

Everyone has an important role to play in progressing women's rights for our common good, for everybody. The evidence increasingly shows that the empowering of women empowers and strengthens communities, economies grow faster and families are healthier and much better educated. Women today occupy many leadership positions in our local community and in the business world, as well as performing vital roles in both the paid and unpaid workforce. I would like to pay tribute to all those women I know in my community who make a difference to the lives of so many.

Whilst we have achieved so much, there are still so many challenges that remain. Many of those issues first raised at the conference require significant action to address them. Despite continued institutional and societal reform to promote women within our communities and to protect their basic rights, women in many areas have been disadvantaged. There are still so many areas that need improvement. Women still disproportionately suffer from poverty and violence in our community. Pay and gender inequality is still a major concern. There must be greater access to health and education and, indeed, there must be greater protection of the human rights of women and girls around the world

I believe that a quality education benefits everyone—women and men. Quality is best achieved when we all work together. I am so proud to be a member of the Labor Party, which has always striven to promote the rights of women. We have introduced some policies that have really benefited women, such as the age pension, universal health care through Medicare, no-fault divorce and single parents pension, a paid parental leave scheme, changes to the Fair Work Act to provide greater equality and a national plan to reduce violence against women. We have also increased funding to increase access to education, particularly university education, providing greater employment opportunities for women. I am very proud of that record. Improving women's economic security and fighting to ensure women's equal place in society are very important goals.

I would like to congratulate the many groups in my electorate who really strive to improve conditions for women. Whether they are community groups, business groups, support groups or friendship groups, they play a vital role. Many of the emergency support groups play such an important role, but lately many of those important support services have had their funding cut by Liberal-National state and federal governments. It means that many women, particularly those fleeing from domestic violence, are not able to access the services that they and their children desperately need.

I know from my time as a former police officer how important these services are. The cuts to front-line services, including both community services at a federal level and domestic violence services at a state level, have devastating effects on many communities. Make no mistake: these are bad decisions by bad governments, just like their cruel cuts to health and education. The fact is investing in women and girls is good for societies and good for the future prosperity of countries. On International Women's Day we all have to recommit ourselves to a future of equality so together we can ensure that people everywhere have an opportunity to live up to their potential. In 2015, as we reflect on the Beijing Platform for Action designed 20 years ago, let us focus on advancing women's rights worldwide. Have a wonderful and inspiring International Women's Day.