Senate debates

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Delegation Reports

Empowering Parliaments to Empower Women

3:37 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I present the report of the parliamentary event organised by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the UN Women at the 61st session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, 'Empowering parliaments to empower women; making the economy work for women', which was held in New York in March 2017. I seek leave to move a motion in relation to the report.

Leave granted.

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

In March of this year, I attended a two-day forum organised by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the UN Women at the 61st session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. I represented the President of the Senate, and I have just presented my report.

The forum explored the concept of how we empower parliaments to empower women and how we make the economy work for women. The forum was well represented and provided the opportunity for many countries to report on the status of women. Delegates from across the world engaged in discussion and debate on the issues of and solutions to women's economic empowerment.

The stark reality for women across the globe is that we continue to struggle, bearing the burden of unpaid work in caring for children and elderly parents, or heading up families as the major breadwinner. Women across the world continue to earn significantly less than men, are underemployed and continue to bear the brunt of domestic and family violence, and sexual harassment at work and elsewhere.

On women's economic empowerment, Chidi King, Director of the Equality Department of the International Trade Union Confederation, said:

For the majority of the world's women, having a job is no guarantee of sufficient income to meet the most basic needs.

Gender based pay gaps continue, as does occupational workplace segregation. Unfortunately and persistently, Australia has a highly gender-segregated workforce, and our gender pay gap has stubbornly hovered around 19 per cent for the past two decades. This means that, without positive action and intervention, we will continue to trap young women still at school into a lifetime of lost earnings and opportunities.

In my state of Western Australia, the pay gap is a whopping 23.9 per cent. Some people say this can be attributed to the mining boom. That of course is a myth. The gap was there before and during the boom and remains there after the mining boom has long gone. It has historical links and industrial links, particularly related to the industrial laws which enabled employers in Western Australia, under the Court Liberal government, to offer rates of pay lower than the awards. Overnight, we saw rates of pay, penalty rates and hours of work fall in sectors where women predominantly work. Women caught in a gender-segregated workforce lost pay—mostly around $3 an hour—and the gap that was exacerbated then remains today.

Across the globe, this workforce segregation is replicated, as women are concentrated in domestic work, health, aged care, child care, hotel work, retail, cleaning and so on. Women are less likely to be in regular paid employment. This lack of decent work, along with retrenchment, privatisation and outsourcing of public service, the promotion of export processing zones and the enormous growth in supply chains, now the dominant mode of global trade, has increased pressure on women. Women are migrating for work, and they work in the informal economy.

In Australia we have seen open slather in some sectors of our economy, led particularly by unscrupulous labour-hire companies, with overseas workers getting ripped off and franchise companies such as 7-Eleven ripping workers off over and over again. Certainly in the Senate's visa worker inquiry, which I chaired, we saw evidence of labour supply chains going right back to the home countries from which exploited workers were drawn.

Internationally, we pin our hopes on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This is an opportunity to address persistent gender inequalities at work and at home and to lift up women's economic empowerment. It reaffirms the universal consensus on the crucial importance of gender equality and its important contribution to the achievement of at least 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

In Australia, from 2008 to 2013, we had a Women's Budget Statement. Who would have thought that, after such a long period of time, this important statement—a statement made and tabled in the Australian parliament—would be scrapped? But that is exactly what Prime Minister Abbott did. This statement was dropped in 2013, and, despite Prime Minister Turnbull claiming to be a supporter of women, he too has failed. At this point, the Women's Budget Statement remains in the bin.

There are many areas where the Turnbull government is failing women, but two which have international significance are worth mentioning in the context of the report I have just tabled. Since 2013, under the Liberal government, Australia has slipped from 19th to 46 place in the Global gender gap report. Our international development funding for family planning services in developing countries has fallen from $46 million in 2013-14, when Labor was last in government, to under $35 million in 2014-15 and just $17 million in 2015-16. This is truly shameful, as one way out of poverty for women is to be able to control their own reproduction and fertility. Australia is a wealthy, healthy country with a stable democracy. Not only do we need to focus on and do more to erase the gender pay gap and gender segregation in our own country; we need to play our role in a positive way on the national stage.

Question agreed to.