SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG

LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY IN THE SENATE

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

SPEECH

6 March 2020

SPEECH TO ADELAIDE INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY BREAKFAST

ADELAIDE CONVENTION CENTRE

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I acknowledge this land that we meet on today is the traditional lands for the Kaurna people and that we respect their spiritual relationship with their country.

I also acknowledge the Kaurna people as the custodians of the Adelaide region and that their cultural and heritage beliefs are still as important to the living Kaurna people today.

I also pay respects to the cultural authority of Aboriginal people joining us from other areas of Australia.

We continue to be the biggest International Women’s Day event in Australia. Congratulations Adelaide!

Today there are 2500 of us gathered here to celebrate International Women’s Day.

And we are reaching out beyond this hall to women at the Women in Business and Regional Development event in Mt Gambier.

Hello Mt Gambier!

Our breakfast books out within hours of tickets being released. The demand for a seat at the table, to join so many like-minded women in celebrating who we are, tells us something very significant.

You see, we want to celebrate the extraordinary achievements and progress women have made.

We want to recognise the courageous women who paved the way for us.

And we want to rededicate ourselves to the project of achieving true gender equality.

It fills my heart to have so many people dedicated to that project, as your enthusiasm this morning confirms.

It also heartens me that we have the so many of leaders in our South Australian community here – signalling their commitment to that project.

I’d like to acknowledge:

  • Professor Brenda Wilson AM (Governor’s Deputy)
  • Hon Vicki Chapman Deputy Premier, representing the Hon Steven Marshall, Premier for SA
  • Mr Peter Malinauskas MP, Leader of the Opposition
  • Mrs Carolyn Power, representing the Hon Michelle Lensink MLC
  • Ms Sandy Verschoor, The Right Honourable the Lord Mayor of Adelaide
  • Ms Elizabeth Boderick AO, Guest speaker
  • Prof Colin Stirling, Vice Chancellor, Flinders University
  • Prof Marnie Hughes-Warrington Deputy Vice Chancellor, representing Prof David Lloyd Vice Chancellor, University SA
  • Prof Mike Brooks, Provost, representing Professor Peter Rathjen, Vice Chancellor & President , Adelaide University
  • Ms Rosemary Wanganeen, Kaurna Elder
  • Mrs Ann Morgan, Chairperson, Adelaide IWD Breakfast Committee.
  • All of the IWD Breakfast Committee – and if you’ll permit me, my wonderful staff led by Meredith Boyle who put all this together.

Can I also acknowledge my mum and my aunts who are here. I was raised by strong women, for which I am eternally grateful.

We are also joined this morning by young women from the Taoundi Aboriginal College.

I want to offer these students a particularly warm welcome, along with the 335 other students here from 28 other schools who join us this morning.

I say to these young women, this day belongs to women everywhere. It belongs to you.

So much of our work as feminists is dedicated to supporting and enabling other women, including the next generation.

Because just as we are the beneficiaries of the courageous, persistent women who came before us, fighting for equality, we must always be looking to help pave the way for those who follow us.

Whether it’s in our families, in our workplaces, whether it’s in the public square or on social media, we need to have each other’s backs.

That support for each other is as important as ever – and with the scale of our challenge seeming to be especially stark lately, I hope you will allow me to be a little more pointed in my comments this morning.

The true scourge of family violence and violence against women was rendered with horrifying clarity by the murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children Aaliyah [AH-LEE-AH], Laianah [LAY-ARN-AH] and Trey [TRAY] in Brisbane.

Within days of that murder, another woman was murdered in her home in Townsville, in another case of family violence.

We owe it to these victims to do more than mourn.

Because they are not isolated incidents.

On average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner.

1 in 4 women in Australia have experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner since the age of 15.

1 in 5 women in Australia have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15.

It is well past time that we recognise violence against women is an epidemic in this country and it is well past time that we martial the resources and political will to deal with it – starting with a national summit.

We also must stand up to public figures who seek to minimise or rationalise violence against women – and challenge political leaders who seek to undermine hard fought progress, particularly in the area of family law.

Australia was once a global leader in gender equality.

In recent years, on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, we have fallen from 15th to 44th.

This week, the think tank, Per Capita, has compiled a report on Gender Equality in Australia.

It reminds us that only 16% of graduates in science, technology and maths, are women.

Meanwhile the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that on average, women earn $241.50 a week less than men.

And Workplace Gender Equality Agency data shows that “women hold 13.7 per cent of chair positions and just one quarter of directorships” in large businesses – while also “representing just 17.1 per cent of CEOs and barely a third of key management personnel.”

Here in South Australia, we also have work to do.

We can expect that soon there will be a Bill to decriminalise abortion.

In the meantime, the Member for Hurtle Vale, Nat Cook, has reintroduced a Safe Zones bill to protect service providers and protect women facing intimidation when they are making such difficult choices.

I urge all my state colleagues – many of whom are here today, and I thank you for your attendance – to support these efforts to allow women make their own choices.

I look forward to seeing SA Labor, led by Peter Malinauskas, continuing Labor’s tradition of reform, modernisation, and prioritising first the health and safety of South Australian women.

In 2020, surely we have got to a point where we realise these are difficult, personal choices, and we respect the rights of women to make these choices for themselves.

Similarly, I register my disappointment that the South Australian Parliament failed to decriminalise sex work when legislation was presented last year.

The criminalisation of sex work disproportionately disadvantages women – often those who are most vulnerable among us. I hope that this will be reconsidered by the State Parliament as soon as possible.

There is legislative reform, and then there is cultural change.

Underlying so much of our challenge has always been the fundamental question of respect for women – and I am particularly grateful to have as our guest this morning Liz Broderick, whose work has been so focused on bringing men to the table as champions of change.

Of course, we have come far – and as well as acknowledging the work that is still to be done, we must celebrate all that we have collectively achieved.

Across the generations women have fought for equality.

Our great-grandmothers fought the battle for suffrage.

Our grandmothers fought for the right to work.

Our mothers fought for the right to equal pay for equal work.

We continue the fight for a woman’s right to own her body – to have reproductive choices.

Our daughters will continue the fight for a culture that truly respects women as fully realised individuals, living without fear and with all the options and opportunities of our sons.

Ultimately, women’s full participation in our society can only be achieved when women are confident and secure in their most basic rights.

That is why we need to invest in women’s economic security, women’s health and education to ensure a world free from gender-based violence.

This is why supporting the work of organisations like UN Women remains so important.

But just as we recognise that gender equality is unfinished business here in Australia, we are also keenly aware of the even greater challenges many women face around the world, where far less progress has been made.

Just as we owe it to the younger women amongst us to lead the fight for them, we owe it to the women less fortunate than us the world over to do what we can.

So it is particularly important that the proceeds from this event go to support the work that UN Women Australia is doing, mainly in the Asia Pacific region.

This is my 18th year hosting this breakfast.

Last year, we raised $60,000 to improve the lives of women in our region, and this year we are hoping for more.

I thank you all for your continued support for this Breakfast and the cause it champions.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.