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Speech to mark International Women's Day and to launch DFAT's 'Women with a Mission: personal perspectives', Canberra.

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Speech to mark International Women’s Day and to launch DFAT’s Women with a Mission - personal perspectives 8 March 2007

Thank you Secretary.

Excellencies, other members of the diplomatic corps, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen …

Let me start by saying how deeply concerned I am by the tragic accident involving the Air Garuda flight in Jogjakarta. As you know, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer is still in Indonesia.

It is appropriate this morning for us to pause and think about those who are missing or who have lost their lives: Indonesians, Australians and people from other nations, whose representatives are here this morning. On behalf of the Australian Government I offer my condolences to the families of all the victims.

Five Australians are still unaccounted for and we hold very grave fears for them. We hope for the best but as time goes on we must, I fear, prepare for the worst.

This morning, our thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones, families and friends of our missing colleagues.

This morning we remember those who work in the service of our country and in our name, often in difficult and dangerous circumstances.

And on this morning we are also marking International Women’s Day and commending the women who have served and continue to represent Australia.

The Department has published a book Women with a Mission - personal perspectives.

This book tells the stories of nine women and their experiences in heading up their own overseas mission.

I am pleased that many of the contributors have been able to join us today - as have a number of other women who have served as Heads of Mission.

My ministerial colleague, Alexander Downer joined DFAT in 1976. A year after, the Department promoted its first woman to the SES level - Ros McGovern, former Ambassador to Sweden and High Commissioner to Singapore.

Ros describes her experiences in the department in this book.

DFAT’s progress came only a few years after the Australian Government appointed its first women Heads of Mission - Dame Annabelle Rankin as High Commissioner to New Zealand in 1971 and Ruth Dobson as Ambassador to Denmark in 1974.

Annabelle Rankin was an amazing woman. She made a success of several careers in politics and diplomacy. She is a shining example for everyone.

In 1974, the ratio of men to women in the graduate trainee intake was about two to one, compared to ratios of at least five to one in earlier years.

In fact, in the 1950s, in seven out of the 10 years there was not one single woman in the intake. Now, that has changed dramatically and often women outnumber the men.

This was the result of a number of changes: including the abolition in 1966 of the rule that women officers had to resign when they married, and the introduction of equal pay for men and women from 1969. Resigning when you were getting married was

not uncommon in a number of fields. Thankfully, those days are gone.

By 1985, there were more women than men in the graduate intake but the recent average is for roughly equal numbers but as I said earlier, the feminisation of the diplomatic service has been more than evident in the graduate program.

Some of the colleagues that joined the training program at the same time as Alexander Downer in 1976 have gone on to the highest professional levels within the department.

Judith Pead, Denise Fisher and Jennifer Rawson have gone on to serve as Heads of Mission, Denise has written a chapter in the book about her experiences in Africa.

So it seems that the class of 1976 had a rather good lot of performers.

Earlier recruits generally found their career options were more limited. The first group of External Affairs cadets in 1943 included three women and nine men but by 1947, all of the women had resigned because they were not allowed to keep working in the public service after getting married.

Other women joined the department as research officers or typists. They faced the same hurdles as the cadets, but some went on to serve as Heads of Mission.

Also included in this book is Maris King’s oral history interview from the National Library. She details her experiences in climbing up the ladder.

It took some time for the greater number of women joining the department from the 1970s to be reflected in senior levels in the department.

It wasn’t until 1996 that DFAT got its first woman deputy secretary, Joanna Hewitt. She has now gone on to become a department secretary and I had the pleasure of working with Joanna for a very short period of time in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

Today, as the book says in its introduction, women who join DFAT have every expectation of progressing to the most senior jobs.

The contribution in the book by Penny Wensley, our Ambassador in Paris, shows this and highlights the positive change in the department’s culture.

There is a clear trend towards more women in senior positions. In 2006, one quarter of the department’s SES officers were women and we currently have 17 women serving overseas as Heads of Mission or post out of a total of 86.

Female heads are in some of our most challenging posts - like East Timor, Beirut, and until recently, Fiji.

We also have three women Heads of Mission-designate who will take up their positions shortly.

Women with a Mission is an important contribution to the written history of the department and for that matter, of Australian foreign and trade policy.

I would like to thank the editors, Moreen Dee and Felicity Volk, for their work in bringing the volume together.

The book includes nine women’s stories: Ros McGovern, Penny Wensley, and Denise Fisher who I have already mentioned, and Sue Boyd, Tonia Shand, Victoria Owen, Ruth Pearce, Margaret Adamson and Sue Tanner.

These women all represented Australia at the highest levels of international diplomacy - positions they achieved not only on the basis of their outstanding professional skills, but often also in the face of countervailing social attitudes.

These are stories told by women who dedicated their professional careers to furthering Australia’s national interests.

I would like to thank all of the contributors for their efforts - because, through sharing their experiences, they can be role models for other officers in the department and provide inspiration for all the young women joining the service.

These women are trailblazers and their stories demonstrate the range of foreign and trade policy issues women in the department have contributed to over the decades, issues like:

• strengthening key bilateral relationships; • managing consular crises; • taking the lead in multilateral work at the UN; and of course, • promoting Australia’s trade and economic interests in both established and

emerging markets.

The nine stories in the book are not the only stories worth telling, but they provide a flavour of the contribution women have made and continue to make to the department’s work and to Australian foreign and trade policy.

In my remarks, I have made some comments on the growth of women’s representation in various areas of the department but I would like to finish by quoting one of the book’s contributors, Sue Boyd.

“When I was high commissioner in Bangladesh, I was one of only four Australian females heads of mission. These days there are sufficient women heading Australia’s diplomatic missions that the statistics are no longer remarkable for their paucity.”

The fact that a woman Head of Mission is no longer remarkable shows how far the Department has come towards achieving equality.

It is my pleasure to launch this book today, aptly here in DFAT on International Women’s Day.

I wish you all well as well as success for the book.

Thank you.