Wednesday, 22 August 2018
Lyons, Dame Enid Muriel, AD, GBE
I'm very proud to add my name to the list of speakers on this motion commemorating Enid Lyons's election to parliament, one of the pivotal figures in Australian history. I would also like to acknowledge my female parliamentary colleagues on all sides of politics. They truly do a wonderful job not only of representing their constituents but also exemplifying the opportunities that exist for women right around Australia. As we say, you can't be what you can't see.
I had the honour of attending an re-enactment of Dame Enid Lyons's maiden speech in Old Parliament House last night. It truly was a wonderful event. It was impossible not to be moved by the poignancy of the moment. The first woman to be elected to parliament and also the first woman to be elected to cabinet delivering a speech that would be etched into Australian history. And, of course, the words reflected a different era. Much has changed over the last 75 years but also a lot has not changed. In her introduction, Dame Enid captured the feeling of trepidation that accompanied a turning point in history, as she said:
I know that many honourable members have viewed the advent of women to the legislative halls with something approaching alarm; they have feared, I have no doubt, the somewhat too vigorous use of a new broom.
I can't recall her exact words but she did go on to talk about that she did know a bit about brooms given she had had 12 children and had to do her fair share of cleaning up. But she was a new broom in terms of the way that business was done 75 years ago in federal parliament.
In present day Australia, women in the parliament have become more commonplace. I and millions of other people believe Australia is a better country for that. The parliament and indeed the country is a much more inclusive environment in the modern world. Yet the work is far from over. Seventy-five years after Dame Enid entered parliament, women still make up less than half of this parliament. Women are still less likely to be promoted and are underrepresented in senior positions. And there is a persistent view that, when women do make it to senior positions in any workplace, not just federal parliament, there are finite positions available. There is also a view, and my own experience has borne this out, that a woman needs to be better than her male counterparts to get ahead. The idea that only a certain number of women can fit into the structure of a management or executive team or a board remains one of our greatest challenges, and it holds the nation back.
I personally don't support quotas, preferring that people are selected on merit, but that has its challenges. I do support targets, but they need to be taken seriously by the party, and we're not there yet—we are far from it. The Liberal Party has a target of preselecting women to 50 per cent of winnable seats by 2025. I think there are a few practical things that the party ought to do to be able to achieve that target. Firstly—and I think this is key—we need to work a lot harder to support the female members of parliament that we have and then to encourage aspiring MPs. We do need a formal sponsorship program that gets more women into the pipeline and exposed to preselectors, which is the key. The WA Liberal Party I believe are starting to take action on this front. I congratulate them for that. I'm doing my bit to support them.
We know that diversity is an asset. An equal, balanced workplace leads to better outcomes, higher productivity and greater efficiency. A McKinsey Global Institute report in June 2017, which investigated advancing women's equality in Canada, found that increasing diversity correlated with better business practice. That report suggested a more diverse workforce had the potential to add $150 billion to the country's incremental GDP by 2026. Similar studies have suggested that, globally, GDP could increase by $12 trillion by advancing gender equality.
We've some way to go, I'm sure you would agree. The reasons for pursuing such a goal are valid on a number of fronts. The economic arguments alone are worth pursuing. Why shouldn't we create a culture that encourages a diverse workforce and signals to young women all around the world that they can aspire to the highest level of their profession? This is a universal issue that requires a united approach from both men and women. It's not just a women's issue; it is a men's issue as well. Women of this parliament and female leaders across the nation share this responsibility. Dame Enid recognised it from the moment she made history with her inaugural speech, when she said:
I am well aware that, as I acquit myself in the work that I have undertaken for the next three years, so shall I either prejudice or enhance the prospects of those women who may wish to follow me in public service in the years to come.
It's a potent message that still resonates today. Strong female leaders are role models for their younger peers in this nation, and we must never lose sight of this. It is a huge responsibility for female politicians.
We've come a long way since Dame Enid gave her inaugural speech to the Australian parliament on 29 September 1943. Much of the progress we've made can be attributed to the foundations laid by Dame Enid and the Australian women who dismantled the stigma that women are unfit to be leaders of our great country. Our duty now is to continue this work so that future generations may reap the benefits that a diverse and accepting nation has to offer. Once again I would like to pay my respects to Dame Enid Lyons, a champion of women and a champion of Australia.
Federation Chamber adjourned at 12:19