Speech to the Micah Annual Women Leaders’ Breakfast - Adelaide - 25/03/2022

25 March 2022


I would like to Acknowledge that the land we meet on today is the traditional lands for the Kaurna people and that we respect their spiritual relationship with their Country.

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

I wanted to share with you that yesterday I came back from the Northern Territory, where I was engaging with Indigenous leaders on First Nations diplomacy and how we can, if we win government, project much more the history and identity of our country and in particular of First Nations peoples.

And I’ll say to you what I said to them, which is there are many reasons why I want to win government but probably first among them is I would like a government that gives full form and faith to the Uluru Statement, which is such a gracious offer from First Nations peoples.

And I think the Australian people are ready for this statement to be graciously received in the spirit in which it was extended.

I would like to thank you all for being here this morning as leaders, as agents of change and as people of faith in the world.

Thank you for inviting me to speak about the state of the world, the impacts on women and girls, and the humanitarian needs in that we see.

It’s good to see Tim Costello here too.


We are living in a more dangerous world - the risks and threats we face are not theoretical.

The post-WWII order, founded on the principles that have enabled the most stable and prosperous period in human history, is fraying from the weight of responding effectively to climate change, the pandemic and ongoing conflicts.

And from the actions of states that are directly undermining the United Nations Charter - principally Russia in its decision to wage an illegal and immoral war against the innocent people of Ukraine.

On the men, women and children of Ukraine.

On their homes and on their hospitals.

A war that is inflicting loss of life, untold damage and has thus far resulted in over three million refugees in Europe.

The countries of Europe and the United States have been steadfast in their opposition to this aggression.

We don’t know how this will end, but we do know there will be more suffering, more displacement and more innocent Ukrainian lives lost.

And Mr Putin and Russia must be increasingly isolated from the world, and their enablers will be held to account.

These atrocities which have been reported are nothing short of war crimes.

The return of war in Europe – something we hoped we would never see again - has once again reminded us that urgent humanitarian need can come from anywhere.

Not so long ago we were dealing with another crisis: the return of the Taliban in control of Afghanistan and the subsequent economic collapse of an already fragile state.

Thousands of women and children fled for their lives, fearing a return of a regime with a history of violent oppression of women.

Today some of those fears have been realised, including with reports that the Taliban has now backflipped on its promise to allow girls to remain in school.

This decision represents an ugly decline into the darkest days of Taliban control – it is exactly what many have feared since the fall of Kabul last year.

It is heartbreaking to think of the opportunities this will deny the girls and young women of Afghanistan, and how it will imperil the future stability of Afghanistan.

These events are further reminders of the disproportionate impact of war and strife on women and girls around the world.


Because, as you know, we still have so far to go on the journey towards true gender equality.

So far on the journey towards economic empowerment for women.

So far towards ending discrimination based on gender.

And regrettably, in all countries, so far to go towards ending violence against women and girls.

But we have an ability to make a positive impact to the world through our overseas development assistance program.

Ensuring the aid program effectively addresses gender inequality will be a central priority in a Labor Government.

We know that women and girls in developing countries face severe challenges – from violence and abuse to discrimination and economic disadvantage.

Women are more likely to be living in poverty than men, less likely to be participating in the formal workforce, more likely to be victims of violence and less likely to have access to schooling and higher education.

World Bank data shows:

  • Girls in low-income countries are enrolled in secondary schools at a third of the rate of their counterparts in high income countries.
  • Women in low-income countries are 10 times more likely to be engaged in vulnerable forms of employment than they are in high-income countries.
  • Maternal mortality rates in low-income countries are 38 times higher than in high-income countries.

Pursuing gender equality is not only good for women and girls, but also for economic and social development.

Apart from being the right thing to do, good gender policy is smart economic policy.

When women and girls are empowered, and barriers to their participation are removed economies grow faster.

Health and education outcomes for women and children improve, and there is greater social stability, sustainability and equality.

As you know, women around the world – including in Australia - have borne the brunt of the pandemic’s impacts.

And these past two years have reminded us of the importance of public health – and of how much more work there is to be done to help our neighbours build their resilience to future public health crises.

And can I thank all of you for your campaign to End COVID for All – we won’t beat this virus unless we defeat it everywhere.

I was fortunate enough to be in Darwin earlier this week and visit the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre that was established in the wake of the 2002 Bali Bombings.

I saw first-hand how our dedicated health professionals can rapidly deploy to the region to respond to urgent need – and be fully self-sufficient in the field.

They can build a field hospital with emergency, maternity and surgical facilities in a day – with Australian expertise and Australian ingenuity.

There’s an old saying that when you see something scary in the world, look for the helpers.

These incredible AUSMAT teams are the helpers – and they are increasingly being called upon to help build health resilience and preparedness in our near region, especially our Pacific partners.

Their work will be increasingly important as the pandemic recovery continues and in response to more frequent natural disasters.

Because amidst the massive social, strategic, and economic changes that the pandemic has brought, the threats posed by climate change have continued to accelerate.

And there is no region in the world where this discussion is more salient and more urgent than the Indo-Pacific region.

We have so much work to do.

Which is why it is so disappointing that this government spent the last nine years decimating the aid program to our lowest ever levels of expenditure.

Since 2013 the Liberal Government has cut Australia’s aid budget by $11.8 billion.

This includes an 80% cut in health programs to Indonesia.

Annual Official Development Assistance (ODA) spending is now $700 million a year less than under the former Labor Government.

The Liberal cuts in overseas aid have hurt some of the poorest people in the world and have fallen especially harshly on women and children in developing countries.

The Government knows this – it recognised you can’t fund a Pacific Step Up with a Southeast Asia Step Down when it decided to include some small, temporary measures for the region in the 2020 budget.

But this was a drop in the ocean compared to the resources needed to support our region’s pandemic recovery and stability – while other countries are already stepping up to the fill the void.

These measures are about to expire, and we saw a fall in the ODA budget last year.

So, at a time of ongoing COVID and related health challenges in our region, when natural disasters continue to wreak havoc on communities, and when Pacific countries face a lost decade of development due to the economic scarring of the pandemic, the Morrison Government has chosen to cut Australian aid.

Now I understand that there are some in this country who take a different view – and I remember Pauline Hanson talking about more aid as theft.

But as those in this room understand, apart from our ethical and moral interests in making sure we do what we can to make this a better world, we have a self-interest in this.

We are more secure if our region is more secure.
And on gender equality, the government’s spending on programs which have gender equality as a principal or significant objective has been cut by nearly $700 million since the Liberal Government took office.

The Morrison Government has even failed to meet its own target of ensuring that more than 80 per cent of Australian aid investments address gender issues.

In fact, after failing to meet the target every single year since 2014-15, they just dropped the target altogether in 2020.


So, I’ll tell you what I believe.

I believe a generous, effective and targeted aid program is fundamental to our engagement with the world.

I believe the purpose of Australian foreign policy is to advance Australian interests and values – to ensure our security, our economic strength and to shape the world for the better.

I believe we must build the region and world we want – one that is prosperous, peaceful and in which sovereignty is respected.

We must expand the choices and options available to us, we must manage differences without escalating to conflict.

And we must act to generate and preserve global public goods that give form to our values, and which benefit all nations including our own.

Gender equality is a public good.

If we have the privilege being elected to government, I would ensure that addressing gender inequality would return to being a central priority of our engagement in the world.

Not just in the aid program, but by supporting women’s leadership and defending human rights in all forums.

We have to start by rebuilding Australia’s diplomatic capability and our development assistance program.

We will incorporate gender equality and empowerment of women as a key objective of Australia’s international development program.

And we will ensure at least 80 per cent of aid spending addresses gender issues in some way, and critically, works to tackle violence against women and girls.

We can’t achieve the region and the world that we want to live in unless we respond to humanitarian crises, unless we build resilience, unless we empower women and girls.

Australians have always stepped up.

We help our neighbours.

We step forward to help those in need, those who are vulnerable and those who are oppressed.

I want to close by thanking you for the work that you do.

Thank you for demonstrating leadership, thank you for your hearts of justice, thank you for giving voice and form to your faith through the work you do in the world.

This work deserves to be backed by a government that exercises true leadership and commits the resources to our shared objectives.

Thank you very much.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.