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Convention Centre, Melbourne, opening of the Liberal Women's Conference, 14 April 2000: transcript of doorstop interview [women in parliament; role of women; social coalition] \n\n

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14 April 2000




CONVENTION CENTRE, MELBOURNE Subjects: Women in Parliament; Role of Women; social coalition


Thank you very much Deirdre, to you Dennis, to Senator Jocelyn Newman, the Minister for Families and Community Services and also the Minister assisting me in relation to the Status of Women, my other parliamentary colleagues and fellow Liberals, and ladies and gentlemen.

This is fourth opportunity I have had as Prime Minister to address a gathering such as this and in a sense as you might expect it is a little bit different each year, because as each year goes by there is a proper questioning of the relationship between a section of the government, or a section of a political party devoted exclusively to issues of concern to women. And also the steady progress which is being made in providing full equality of opportunity for women within our party and within society.

The antecedants of the Liberal Party, were not quite as far sighted as Dame Elizabeth Couchman and Sir Robert Menzies when they struck that deal of which Dennis spoke so effectively. And one of the givens about the Liberal Party since its formation and certainly not least of all here in the state of Victoria, has been the role of women within the party.

And that role has inevitably changed as the role of women within our community has changed and one of the things that the Government has sought to do in the four years it has been in office has been to attack in a practical way areas of continuing discrimination against women within our community, but increasingly to recognise that the right solutions for the community as a whole are the solutions that women generally want.

I could go through a long list of statistics of percentage improvements. I could remind you for example that 35% of all small business operators in Australia in the present time are women - a significant change on what the position would have been twenty years ago. I could remind you that in 1996 we saw the biggest single flood of new women members into Federal Parliament that we’ve seen as a result of the 1996 election. And increasingly, as Dennis has pointed out, what he now quite rightly doesn’t call safe seats but seats that occasionally record higher Liberal votes than others. Just there are women increasingly occupying those sorts of seats in Victoria, so it is the case in the Federal Parliament.

And if I may say so that one of the distinguishing characteristics of the women members of the Coalition in both the Senate and the House of Representatives are their remarkable campaign skills. And any person who critically examined the 1998 election campaign would have to conclude that one of the reasons why the Coalition was returned with a comfortable majority were the remarkable campaign skills of many of our female members in many of our marginal seats.

But today’s conference, and indeed the conference over the weekend, the convention itself, will focus very heavily on social policy. Social policy of course is of equal concern to men and women. The notion that in same way, social policy is predominantly the concern of women is as wrong and as outdated as the notion that economic and business policy is predominantly the concern of men. Just as male politicians should have the same level of empathy with social challenges and social issues as female politicians, so it is within our community that men should carry an equal burden of the social responsibilities and family responsibilities that are carried by women.

The notion that parents have unequal levels of responsibility in relation to the raising of children and their responsibility for their upbringing is of course a now greatly discredited proposition. And the growing belief in modern society that children need adequate role models, both male and female if they are to enjoy the full benefit of their family upbringing [inaudible] widely share.

Our society is a society which gives to all much greater choice than was the case twenty or thirty years ago. The debate about what is the right role for women in relation to the caring of their children and whether it should be caring by one or other parent at home for a period of time, or through care or some other child care arrangement. That debate has now moved and I think very refreshingly from arguments as to who is right or what is the right arrangement to a robust recognition, but what we ought to be doing is providing as many parents as possible with the option of making the decision that they think best suits their particular family circumstances. Balancing work and family responsibilities is very much the preoccupation of parents in the twenty first century.

Of course the aspiration of women to maintain careers, the aspiration of women to not only maintain careers for the satisfaction that they give, but also for the social interaction that they entail is widely understood and is part and parcel of our modern life. But equally as we enter the early years of the twenty first century, there is a recognition that the quality of the upbringing provided by parents to their children still remains far and away the most formative influence on the development of young lives. And all of our preoccupation as politicians, as members of a political party, all of preoccupation with strong economies, with balancing the budget, with reforming the taxation system, with delivering greater international competitiveness to the Australian economy, all of those pale into relative insignificance compared with the quality of life that we create for our young and the opportunities that they give to them. And the responsibility of parenthood on both men and women remains the most important responsibility that most of us experience during our lives.

We are very much a party of choice. We are a party that does not try and dictate stereotypes. We are a party that doesn’t believe in quotas. We are a party that believes that people should aspire to achieve to the full according to their aspirations, according to their abilities and to their contribution and their performance. And the contribution that women have made to successive Coalition governments and the number of firsts that have been recorded by women on our side of politics is well understood, not only in the Liberal Party but in the broader political community. I want to pay tribute to the women of the Coalition Government elected in March of 1996, they have played major roles in shaping the direction of many areas of policy. And I particularly want to thank Jocelyn Newman for the work that she has done. She has a very important and much broadened policy responsibility as a result of the 1998 election. And the focus of this weekend’s convention on social policy is in so small measure due to the way in which she has been able to shape the direction of that social policy. The way in which she has been able to bring an objective judgement and to set a good balance between encouraging the individual and community sector contributions to the development of social policy underpinned by the proper role of government within our community.

You’ve heard me speak very often and I’ll speak again during this weekend, particularly when I address the Convention on Sunday morning, about the importance of the social coalition within our society. Of the fact that we appear, I think, at the beginning of this century to have achieved a better balance in relation to the respective roles of the Government and the rest of the community than we have had for thirty of forty years. We no longer believe that every solution can be provided by the government. We equally have rejected the rather naive notion that if you had an unrestrained market approach to everything, that through some kind of miracle of trickle down economics every problem would be solved. What you need is an appropriate recognition that the government has a limited but strategic role in our community. That we need a coalition of the government providing the social security safety net, that government acting as a facilitator but drawing together to contributions of the welfare sector, of business and of individuals. And much of the work that Jocelyn has done has been contributing in that area and giving effect to those kind of policy directions.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to have the opportunity, again, of opening this conference. Of thanking all of the women of the Liberal Party over the years for their contribution, of recording the scale of that contribution and to remark that perhaps the end goal of all of our efforts will be as each year goes by the continuing questioning of the issue of whether or not you need to have a separate dedicated segment of a convention such as this dealing with women’s affairs. I suspect for many years to come we will, but I regard it as a wholly healthy thing that that question might be asked because it is an indication that as the years go by greater equality of opportunity is being achieved, more barriers are being removed and greater recognition is being afforded to the capacity and the willingness of women to contribute across all sections of society and to play an equal partnership role with men in the development of the Australian community.

I thank all of you for your attendance. I wish the conference well, and I look forward to seeing a lot of all of you over the next two to three days. Thank you.

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