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Monday, 23 October 2017
Page: 11683

Ms BANKS (Chisholm) (17:59): by leave—This initiative, supported by our esteemed foreign minister, the Hon. Julie Bishop, has been a fantastic initiative to address the gender equality divide. The announcement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs was so welcomed at the United Nations General Assembly. As Australians we should be proud of this Women's Leadership Initiative. There is work to do around the world in relation to equality for women. Gender inequality is something that has not been fully addressed across the world—indeed, in western democracies and in the Pacific. This initiative will absolutely consolidate and support gender equality.

This is a five-year program to support emerging women leaders in the Pacific and to help participants selected from Australia Award scholars. This initiative will enable them to fulfil their leadership potential and drive ideas and reforms in their communities. The initiative contains the essence of key elements which will seek to narrow the gender divide.

The Women's Leadership Initiative, launched in September, is a five-year program. One of its key foundations is about empowerment for women and girls in the Pacific. The program will help participants selected from Australia Award scholars to fulfil their potential. Having worked in the corporate world for many years, and having sat on many diversity councils and women in leadership councils, we know that in our country, in Australia, the issue of gender inequality needs to be addressed from both an unconscious bias perspective and from a discrimination perspective. While we have antidiscrimination laws in our country, it's really important that initiatives such as this are embraced around the world. I am truly proud of this Women's Leadership Initiative. Women in the Pacific, specifically, continue to be under-represented in leadership positions. I've always been a strong advocate for gender equality. My view is that the meritocracy argument is flawed. The reason for that is that there are two things that get in the way of meritocracy: discrimination and unconscious bias. Those things prevail in the corporate workplace and in our communities in Australia and across the Pacific.

Having worked in the Asia-Pacific area and in Australia, I have seen gender inequality come to prevail consciously, overtly and covertly. This initiative will provide participants with the tools to navigate barriers that might impede pathways to leadership. One of the important tools is role models and mentors. Role models and mentors are so important because younger women and young girls can be what they can see. It's really important for us as women leaders to communicate this to them. I'm particularly proud that this initiative will see Pacific women mentored by successful female leaders, including Australian Indigenous leaders and leaders from the private sector and pioneering leaders from the Pacific. By forging links between emerging women leaders in Australia and the Pacific, the Women's Leadership Initiative will deepen our longstanding relationship with our Pacific neighbours. The empowerment of women and girls is a priority for Australia's development assistance and is a key pillar for our increased engagement in the Pacific.

As part of our aid program the Turnbull government is investing in neighbouring countries and in women throughout the Pacific so that we see better outcomes for people throughout our region. The New Colombo Plan is something that again forges ties with women in the Pacific. The Turnbull government continues to support Australian undergraduates to study in the Pacific, with 1,100 participants in the region under the New Colombo Plan in 2018. The benefit of that experience, the cross-cultural experience, the cross-working experience, and the mentoring and leadership that will continue within the realm of the New Colombo Plan is very, very encouraging. We want to encourage more frequent cultural exchanges and closer ties between Australian and Pacific communities, businesses, sporting clubs and schools across the Pacific.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Price ): The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.