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Thursday, 30 June 1994
Page: 2449

Senator WOODLEY —I address my question to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy. Has the minister seen reports of recent remarks by the Chairman of the Australian Wheat Board that the proportion of women to men on Australian agricultural boards and communities is far less than the proportion who actually work in agriculture? Has he encouraged women to put themselves forward for these boards and committees? What is the approximate proportion of women to men on agricultural boards and committees? Will the minister undertake to liaise with rural women's groups and networks in order to identify women who would be appropriate for these boards, rather than women having to put themselves forward before they are considered?

Senator Kemp —How about a few men on the Democrats' front bench?

Senator COLLINS —I say to Senator Kemp that women do make and always have made a vital contribution to Australian agriculture. They are farmers in their own right; they are active partners in family businesses; their off-farm income is often making the difference between staying on the land or not—and this is particularly important during downturns; and, at the same time, they continue to carry family responsibilities. In fact, for most of my life, the greatest people that I have had consistent admiration for have been rural women.

  I am pleased to say in response to this question that this weekend Melbourne University is the location for the largest conference that the university has ever hosted and the largest agricultural conference that this country will have ever seen. To the best of my knowledge, this conference is unique in the world; I cannot find another one like it. It is the International Women in Agriculture Conference. I was advised by the organisers with whom I have had a series of meetings over the last six months that they had to cut off the registrations at 800. They simply could not take any more. Around 800 delegates from 25 countries are attending the conference to discuss three central themes: women in agriculture; production and the environment; and sustainable development and economics. I inform Senator Woodley that I am very pleased to be going to Melbourne later tonight to address this conference tomorrow morning.

  The government has provided a considerable amount of support to the conference: over $21,000 through the rural access program to contribute to conference planning, development and implementation; over $49,000 to fund Landcare representatives, and to ensure that Landcare objectives are considered by this conference; and $20,000 which I managed to get—I must say that I was very pleased to be able to get that, having received representations on this—through AIDAB to assist women from Africa and Asia to attend this conference. The Department of Primary Industries and Energy has also provided $10,000 to ABC rural radio in relation to the National Rural Women's Award, which is to be announced at the conference. Senator Kernot was there the night I made that pledge; I was sitting next to her. Well, I have delivered.

Senator MacGibbon —Stop acting like a puffed up bullfrog. You're spending other people's money, not your own.

Senator COLLINS —Do you object to that, Senator? I would like that interjection in Hansard—$10,000 contribution to the Rural Woman of the Year Award. I am sorry that has upset Senator MacGibbon so much. The government is conscious of the difficulties facing rural women and has recognised this for a number of years through the rural access program and its predecessor, the rural women's access grants. These programs ensure that funding is provided to rural women for projects which respond to community needs in the area of access to services. There is a great deal more I could say on this subject but I do not have time now.

  In relation to the first part of Senator Woodley's question, I advise him that in discussions with the chairs of the selection committees that operate in my portfolio, I have said to them each time I have met them that I would like them to prioritise the appointment of women where women of merit are available, because there is an under-representation on boards in my portfolio. I am pleased to advise Senator Woodley that only yesterday I supported the recommendation of the appointment of a woman to the Pork Corporation—Senator Baume should note that.