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Thursday, 1 March 2018
Page: 2577

Ms O'NEIL (Hotham) (12:24): I rise to make a contribution today which celebrates International Women's Day. It celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women around the world. I want to spend time today talking about some of those achievements. But first, I do need to reflect on the events yesterday on this very subject in this very building—that was, in estimates yesterday when the jobs minister threatened to name every woman who works for Bill Shorten who has been the subject of vile rumours in order to make some kind of political point. I have watched, in the roughly 24 hours since those comments, as the Minister for Home Affairs and other male members in the government have come out to diminish the significance of these comments, to excuse them in some way.

The women who work in this building on every side of politics are formidable, they are tough, they are determined and they are here in this building because they are trying to make this country better. They come to work every day in an environment that is dominated by men. It's dominated by men in the numbers of people that work in this building but also in the culture that governs this building. The minister's comments yesterday were not just an attack on Labor women; they were an attack on every woman who works in this building. And for the minister to threaten to spread some kind of sexualised rumours about the women that work for Bill Shorten, I just found reprehensible. I think there are some men in the building who are having a little bit of trouble understanding why women are so offended by these comments and I really want to encourage those men to use this as an opportunity to listen and to speak to the women in their life about why these comments are so guttingly offensive.

The inference that women use their sexuality to get ahead at work is an offence that is put on women and has been done so since the very beginning of sexism itself. This is the reflex that men and women in work places use to diminish the contribution of often young women to the work they do. I will not stand by while these things are said about the strong Labor women that I work with. I believe passionately that more young women need to get involved in politics. And I want to say to those young women today that there is a sisterhood here in parliament that wants you. We respect you and we will protect you when things like this are said.

Women have been fighting misogyny and sexism in the public arena for centuries. Today I want to pay homage to the thousands of suffragettes who paved a pathway for women like me to stand so proudly as we do in the House of Representatives. It's been 124 years since the introduction of equal suffrage across Australia. It started in South Australia in 1894 and reached my home state of Victoria 14 years later in 1908. Despite this historic event, it took another 41 years before the first woman was elected to the House of Representatives and another 19 years for Indigenous women to acquire the same voting rights. It was courageous and inspirational women whose agenda was seen in Labor's long-held commitment to policies that underpin gender equity because gender equity, as with all types of equity, is at the heart of Labor's mission.

I'm very proud to be in a political party that for 20 years has had affirmative action policies in place that mean that the party that I represent in this chamber has almost 50 per cent representation of women. I want to encourage those on the other side of politics to reflect on what it is that they can do to help their own party room resolve its gender problem. There are good people on the conservative side of politics, and I know many of those good people feel frustrated that just 21 per cent of Liberal Party members are female. We have to help the conservative side of politics resolve this problem because, although it's sometimes probably good for the Labor Party to have more women in parliament because we do look a lot more like modern Australia, it is just not good for the country to have so few women in the party room on the other side of the chamber.

We live in a country today that thinks of itself as being very equal, but, everywhere I look, I see gender issues, not the least of which is the somewhere around 15 to 16 per cent gender pay gap which hasn't moved in 20 years. We need a government that cares about these issues, that has a history of fighting to stand up for women on these issues. I believe that party's the Australian Labor Party and I'm proud to represent it in this parliament.