Monday, 20 March 2017
International Women's Day
That this House:
(1) notes that International Women's Day:
(a) was celebrated on Thursday 8 March, with this year's theme being Be Bold for Change; and
(b) is an important time to reflect on Australia's achievements in advancing gender equality, but also recommit to action to break through remaining barriers, including:
(i) gender pay inequity, which has remained unbalanced for two decades and currently sits at 17 per cent;
(ii) representation of women in leadership, with gender equality in the Federal Parliament not likely to be achieved until 2046 on the current trajectory; and
(iii) violence against women, which results in one Australian woman being killed by a partner or former partner on average every week; and
(2) calls on the Government to:
(a) stand up for female workers and oppose cuts to penalty rates that will exacerbate the existing gender pay gap;
(b) abandon plans to cut Paid Parental Leave which will see 70,000 new mothers worse off each year;
(c) rule out cuts to women's refuges currently funded through the National Affordable Housing Agreement; and
(d) abandon cuts to community legal centres that assist women and children escaping family violence.
It is a great pleasure to rise today in acknowledgement that International Women's Day was held during the parliamentary break, on 8 March this year. International Women's Day is, of course, an important day for all of us, wherever we might live across the globe, and a chance to take stock of where we are and where we have come from. It is a day to take note of the advances that have been made and pay tribute to those incredibly committed people across the globe who fought so hard to achieve them. It is also a day to acknowledge, however, that gender equality is something which still eludes us in too many areas of Australian life. It is a day to stand in solidarity with those who fight relentlessly to make sure that injustices are rectified and equality is achieved.
As noted in the motion, there is, however, much work to be done. There are more men named John than there are women running large Australian companies. In fact, captains of business are 40 per cent more likely to be named Peter or John than they are to be women. Women still earn significantly less than their male counterparts, with the gender pay gap sitting stubbornly now at around 17 per cent, where it has hovered for the last two decades. This means that, over the course of a lifetime, a woman is earning $400,000 less than a male doing the same job. As a result, she is more likely to finish her working life with nowhere near enough money to retire on. Women are more likely to live in poverty than men. One in three women will experience violence across her lifetime and, shamefully, one woman every week in this country dies at the hands of an intimate partner or former partner.
We need to banish complacency and double down on our efforts to bring about real change. We need to recognise that, without vigilance and commitment, we not only risk the hard-won gains but can actually go backwards. Regrettably, there is evidence that this is exactly what is happening under this government. Young women and girls looking at the front bench on the government side of this chamber and seeing only two female faces might start thinking this is not a place for them.
Until our parliament actually reflects the diversity of Australian society, it can never be truly representative, and, until women have a fair share of representatives voting for their interests, bad decisions will continue to be made—decisions that continue to disadvantaged women, like the looming cuts to penalty rates, which will disproportionately affect women as they are much more likely to be working part time or in the industries covered by the national awards affected; or the plan to cut paid parental leave, which is going to impact 70,000 women; or the reported plan to slash the National Affordable Housing Agreement, forcing women's refuges across the country to close their doors; or the massive 30 per cent cut to community legal centres, which are a vital lifeline to assist women escaping family violence.
What kind of government is willing to splash $50 billion on a tax cut for big business but levies vicious cuts against vital life-saving services for women suffering domestic violence? It is time to recognise that something needs to change and that this change is not going to happen by accident. Platitudes and rhetoric will not get us there; we need a plan for concrete action. Quite simply, it is now time to put gender back on the agenda. This is exactly what the Labor Party is doing. Recently we launched Setting the Agenda, a series of national conversations designed to develop concrete solutions to break down gender barriers. Labor has a strong legacy of advancing women's rights and Setting the Agenda is the next step. It will be driven by the shadow minister for women, Tanya Plibersek, and Labor's Status of Women Committee, which I chair. Setting the Agenda will be an integral part of shaping Labor's comprehensive blueprint for gender equality. We know what the problems are and we now want to talk to Australian women everywhere about the best solutions. We will be conducting a wide range of consultations with women working in front-line services in the regions and in the cities, and with businesses, unions, legal services and refuges. The committee will also be taking a listening tour on the road and will be visiting communities across the country to talk to women from all walks of life. I encourage all Australians who care about a fair and more equal society to join the conversation and visit Setting the Agenda at www.settingtheagenda.com.au. (Time expired)
I have been very lucky my entire life to be surrounded by women who perfectly encapsulate the spirit of International Women's Day. With my mum and my sister, Lyn, and more recently over the past 27 years of marriage, I have been greatly blessed to have the unceasing love and support of my wife, Leonie, and our four strong, bold, independent young girls. It is fair to say that I have learnt a lot about the strength, tenacity and courage of women as we have faced challenges together as a family. Above all, I have learnt to treat all women as unique individuals who are working hard to build a better future for themselves.
Women outnumber men in my electorate of Fisher by as much as five per cent. In Sippy Downs, there are only 83 men for every 100 women. My community cannot underestimate the importance of women in Australia. We have a great many groups in Fisher who support, celebrate and encourage women. The Sunshine Coast Business Women's Network seeks to connect and inspire individuals through mentoring programs, bursaries and professional development. Our local chambers of commerce are full of successful female business leaders like Ursula Starkovsky, President of the Glasshouse Country Chamber of Commerce; Leanne Layfield, the executive officer at Caloundra Chamber of Commerce; and Sandy Zubrinich, the chair of the Sunshine Coast Business Council. We have wonderful branches of the Queensland Country Women's Association throughout Fisher at Caloundra, Palmwoods, Maleny, Beerwah and Peachester, and Lioness Clubs at Caloundra and Mooloolaba, among many others. Last month, one of our local young women, Sophie Jennings, achieved her first solo flight in a light aircraft at the Sunshine Coast Aero Club. This was an extraordinary result, an extraordinary milestone, having only recently turned 16 years of age. I congratulate Sophie on this outstanding achievement and wish her well in her future aviation career.
This is only a tiny sample of the many successful women in my local community and only a snapshot of the activities and groups which support them. They show how women themselves and the communities in which they live are taking action to create and exploit their opportunities and build the best lives for themselves and their families. I could take all of the time allotted to this debate listing these local initiatives in Fisher, but I must address the substance of the motion.
It is certainly true that more needs to be done in terms of achieving gender equality in Australia, but under this coalition government we have seen decisive action and excellent results. I will briefly focus on employment outcomes. The most recent figures suggest that 5.6 million Australian women are participating in the workforce. That is a record high, but the Turnbull government is not stopping there. The Minister for Women recently announced the expansion of our existing successful collaboration with UnitingCare Australia in Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia. We have committed $10 million to the new Launch into Work program. This program will create new partnerships with other businesses and not-for-profits to deliver pre-employment training for women who want to find work.
Again, the latest data suggests that the gender pay gap has recently narrowed. The most important thing that the government can do to narrow it further is to improve access to quality child care and ensure that women are not held back from pursuing their careers. The Turnbull government's increased investment in child care will benefit a million families and ensure that households earning $65,000 or less will have 85 per cent of their costs refunded. For families earning up to $185,000, the government will abolish the $7,500 cap and instead introduce an hourly rate cap to help keep down fee increases.
The Turnbull government is taking action on employment outcomes for women, as well as health outcomes for young girls, on family violence issues and on a host of other important issues which I am sure that my colleagues will explore in this debate. This House should celebrate International Women's Day and it should celebrate the government's delivery of policies that support Australian women.
I would like to begin by commending the member for Newcastle for putting forward this motion. It is a very important motion. We still have to have a conversation about the situation facing Australian women, women in the region and women throughout the world. Yes, there have been some achievements made but there is still a lot more work that needs to be done. So I commend the member for putting this motion forward. I also commend my Labor sisters for engaging in this conversation, in this Listening Tour that is setting the agenda. I commend the shadow minister for women for leading that initiative and look forward to meeting with my female Labor colleagues on setting the agenda and listening to Australian women on what their needs are for the future.
I love International Women's Day, because it gives me a chance to catch up with hundreds of women, to celebrate the achievements of our sisters and to reflect on the work that still needs to be done—and there is a lot of work that still needs to be done—to ensure that we have gender equality for women and girls in Australia and right throughout the world. This year's theme for International Women's Day was 'Be Bold for Change'. It was a message that encouraged women and girls to believe in themselves, to believe that they have the right to speak up—in a way, a responsibility to speak up—to agitate for change and to realise change. It was a message that encouraged them to be fearless, to be courageous, to be brave, to stare down the naysayers and the critics and to stare down those who prefer their women and their girls timid and acquiescent.
I attended a number of functions over the course of the week and hosted nine extraordinary Canberra women at the annual UN Women's Day Lunch, which always packs out the National Convention Centre. This year was no different, as women and girls from across Canberra heard about the challenges faced by our sisters in Pakistan and the Pacific. I also attended the annual Soroptimist International breakfast, where another packed house of women heard from Kate Taplin, from the Women's Legal Centre ACT. Kate discussed the Turnbull government's cuts to this community legal service, which will mean that her organisation, like organisations right throughout Australia, will lose one-third of their core funding in 12 weeks time. So outraged were the women in the room—because there were not many shrinking violets in that room—that they organised a spontaneous petition. This petition calls on the Turnbull government to immediately reverse the cuts to the Women's Legal Centre ACT—cuts that will have a significant impact on the services provided by the centre; services that include advice on legal problems such as divorce and separation, disputes over children, property settlement, domestic violence, child support, going to court, discrimination, unfair dismissal, employment rights and compensation for criminal injuries.
The centre is run by women for women who do not qualify for legal aid. The centre looks after some of the most vulnerable people in Canberra and provides one of our most fundamental human rights—that is, the access to justice for all regardless of means. I join with my soroptimist international sisters and other Canberra women in calling on the Turnbull government to reverse the cuts to the Women's Legal Centre ACT. If the Turnbull government can afford $50 billion in a tax cut to big business, it can afford $30 million to reverse these cuts. The member for Fisher was talking about commitments made in a range of areas. Well, I ask the Turnbull government to commit to reversing these cuts to women's legal services, community legal services. These are vulnerable women; these are women who cannot access legal aid. This is the only opportunity that they have to access their fundamental human right—that is, access to justice regardless of means.
Not a day goes by when I do not meet an extraordinary Canberra woman doing extraordinary things and making a difference to our community, our nation and our world—often in a very quiet way. I always thought their knowledge and experience needs to be shared to inspire and empower young women and girls. So I have bottled their wisdom and advice, and have released it in 'Can Do Women', which I launched on my Facebook page on International Women's Day. At least once a week, I will feature an extraordinary Canberra woman who will answer questions—questions I am frequently asked in mentoring sessions. So, Canberra, please have a look at Facebook, please have a look at Can Do Women and get behind and support fabulous Canberra women, fearless Canberra women.
International Women's Day is not just the day we celebrate women that we read about on the front page of the newspaper; it is an opportunity to reflect on the many great women who make a difference across Australia. Representing the largest electorate in Australia, spanning from Kununurra in the north out to Southern Cross in the east, Durack is home to some truly amazing women who each play a key role in making Durack the place it is today. In Geraldton, Women Inspiring Better Business, otherwise known as WIBBs, is a powerful organisation where female businesswomen network in a warm and supportive environment. Established in May 2010, WIBBs has grown in leaps and bounds under the management of chair Barbara Thompson from the Regional Development Midwest Gascoyne. Barb really has a passion for empowering female entrepreneurs and businesswomen which is second to none, and is driven to see WIBBs reach its full potential. On Barb's watch, WIBBs now has 450 members and its attendance at monthly breakfasts has increased from some 20-odd people to now well and truly over 60, which is a fantastic achievement in such a short time frame. WIBBs provides female businesswomen in Geraldton and surrounding towns a forum to be educated and to be inspired by one another.
Not forgetting the Kimberley, businesswoman Kalyn Fletcher was last year recognised for her hard work in the business community. Kalyn runs one of Australia's best distilleries, Hoochery Distillery, renowned internationally for its high-quality standard spirits. Their rum in particular is fabulous, Deputy Speaker Conroy, which I know you would be very pleased to hear. Last year, the Hoochery won a double gold medal for its 10-year old Spike's Reserve rum in San Francisco. And in 2015, the distillery's Overproof rum won a gold medal at the International Spirits Challenge in London and it took out silver last year in San Francisco. Kalyn's passion for the northwest went one step further last year with her being awarded RIRDC's, the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation's, Rural Women's Award for Western Australia. Kalyn views the northwest as a region with potential for growth in agriculture and tourism. Her work and passion was recognised nationally, being awarded runner-up for the Rural Woman of the Year awards last year.
Few women have been a bigger role model for Indigenous Australians or a fiercer advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice than June Oscar AO. Hailing from the rural town of Fitzroy Crossing, in the heart of the Kimberley, in 2007 June successfully campaigned to reduce full-strength alcohol sales in the Fitzroy region. June held several influential positions in the Indigenous community, including Deputy Director of the Kimberley Land Council and Chair of the Kimberley Language Resource Centre, before she was appointed as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner in February.
Elsia Archer, who is the President of the Shire of Derby/West Kimberley, is another passionate, formidable female Kimberley leader, and it would be remiss of me not to mention her here today, as she would never forgive me.
The Pilbara is also home to many important, influential women. Lynne Craigie is a name synonymous with the Pilbara and Western Australia, having forged a successful career across WA. A qualified psychologist, Lynne ran her own practice 'south of the bush' for many years before moving to the Pilbara in 1997, where she has remained ever since, after she secured the role of psychologist for BHP. Lynne was elected as a councillor of the Shire of East Pilbara in 2003, before becoming the shire president in 2005, a position she still holds today. In mid-2015 Lynne became the first female to be appointed the President of the WA Local Government Association.
In Port Hedland there are few names more well-known than that of Jan Ford. Jan is one of the most passionate people about Hedland, and the Pilbara more generally, that you could ever meet, and she has been involved with just about every single major organisation in the town at one stage or another. She started her own business, Jan Ford Real Estate, an iconic Port Hedland brand, in the year 2000, and she won the Commonwealth Bank's business owner award at the Telstra Business Women's Awards in 2010.
Mr Deputy Speaker, you can see Durack is home to some amazing women, but there are many more: the women in the Wheatbelt who are helping to run the family farm; the women working in the Mid West in various fishery businesses; the women running thousands of small businesses throughout my electorate; and the women who choose to stay at home, running the home and caring for their family. I salute all of those women, who all play an important role in making Durack the fabulous place it is to live.
Over the course of the last two weeks, it has been my great privilege to attend many International Women's Day events across my electorate and beyond, including at the Independent Education Union, where I met with educators from all over New South Wales; the New South Wales Labor Women's Network, with Tanya Plibersek; and my own Women of Lindsay Awards breakfast, where eight outstanding woman and one young woman were recognised for their contributions to our community. These women were recognised for being bold in their chosen fields. These women are an asset to our community and beyond for their work in supporting our local area and, particularly, the women in it.
I would like to place on the public record their achievements and my sincere gratitude on behalf of all the people in the Lindsay electorate. Laura Watson was awarded the Lindsay Woman of the Year for her establishment of a women's support network in our community. She followed this up by advocating in her workplace for an event that supported all the women she works with. She is a mum and a White Ribbon Ambassador and she volunteers her time to ensure other women in our community are supported and have a resource and that young women have role models to look to.
Angela Hadchiti received the Lindsay Community Service Award for her awareness-raising for all women who are experiencing and are affected by domestic violence, and in particular her advocacy for ending the woeful cross-examination laws.
Brooke Jones was our Young Woman of the Year. It was felt important to recognise young women in the community doing exceptional things. Brooke is 11 years old and, since she was just seven, she has been busy raising money for the cancer centre. In that time she has collected over $40,000 for people receiving treatment.
Jan Hartley was our Senior Woman of the Year. She is the founding member of Zonta, and they host a number of projects, including days for girls and the annual White Ribbon walk around the Nepean area.
Peggy Wilcox was Small Business Woman of the Year. She was bold for change, put a lot on the line and established her own small business in our community: Mooney Financial Services and Mooney Real Estate.
Our Educators of the Year awards went to four women: Tracy Currie, Venetia Lovett, Katherine Hadley and Shannon Matthews.
And I give a shout-out to the formidable Gina Field, who picked up the New South Wales Business Woman of the Year gong. Even without reliable internet, thanks to this government's botched rollout of the NBN, Gina is running a successful small business in our community, in a male dominated industry.
I also attended the Penrith women's lunch hosted by Penrith Women's Health Centre and Penrith City Council, where I met more women who are being bold for change—a shout-out to the organisers for another successful, well-attended event, with over 200 local women coming.
I visited the Jordan Springs and surrounds women's community group and Glenmore Park High School's young women's group, which comprises young women from years 7 to 12 supporting each other and building up one another for a more gender-inclusive world. A shout out to these young women and their very supportive principal, Lisette Gorick, for nurturing such a wonderful initiative. I hope more high schools in my area—in fact, nationally—get onboard with this idea.
Each of these events was a celebration of being a woman, the positive impact women have on society and the role women play. It is also a demonstration of the community's expectation of how women are viewed and represented. Each of these events was an opportunity to reflect on where the women's movement has been over the last 100 years, where it has to go and how we are going to get there.
I am proud of where the Labor Party has been, in this space, and the reforms and policies Labor has been able to support over the years. Labor's rich legacy in the women's space includes the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act; the National Women's Alliance, so women have a voice in government; the Workforce Gender Equality Agency, to help close the gender pay gap; 1800RESPECT, which we set up; the National Women's Health Policy 2010; and we raised the child-care rebate to 50 per cent.
The thing that makes me most proud is our party's commitment to the affirmative action rule, which is not just a rule. It is a mission and our plan. It is a plan to work towards closing the gender inequality gaps in Australia at the highest level: our parliament. It is why we have more females on our backbench than the government has in its entire caucus, which simply is not good enough. It is unacceptable that half of Australia's population is not represented in the ironically named House of Representatives. The government has a shameful record, in this space, and sees the women's policy area as a place for cuts, not empowerment through good policymaking.
We have a lot more to do, on both sides, in this space, including fighting for fairer pensions; decent superannuation; addressing the fastest growing group of homeless people, older women; fighting against the penalty rate cuts, because we know this will affect more women's take-home pay than it does men and it pushes women further behind; and the national shame that is our shocking domestic-violence statistics and the murder of one woman a week at the hands of her partner or former partner.
I congratulate all those workplaces, schools, bosses and businesses who took time out to recognise International Women's Day and those who are being bold for change. I hope you have a plan of sustained action for advocacy and approach each and every single day—not just International Women's Day—in building up other women and implementing plans in your own circles of influence to end gender inequality.
In relation to International Women's Day, it is extraordinary that those on the other side of the House convey that the government does not stand up or support women, when one of their own—a very close ally of the Labor Party and Leader of the Opposition—Bill Shorten, says that laws which people do not like can be broken. I rise to say it is extraordinary.
"I believe in the rule of law, when the law is fair and the law is right," she said.
"But when it's unjust, I don't think there's a problem with breaking it."
Similarly, Keysar Trad, the president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, conceded in a TV interview, 'It's okay for a man to use violence against a woman if he's tried counselling first.' Particularly given the context of his high office in the Islamic community, it is disturbing that he also, clearly, has no regard for Australian law. He was, effectively, saying that domestic violence against a woman is okay—albeit a crime—and the law against it can be broken.
The Leader of the Opposition tried to distance himself from the comments of Sally McManus and delink his reported lifetime link and enduring bond with her and the unions, but they trained together to be union organisers. Just as being bonded friends with union officials, breaking laws is not a foreign concept to the CFMEU, their predecessors, the BLF, whose business model was violence and thuggery, and their Labor Party colleagues.
I, personally, have been a victim of assault by trade union officials. They have been charged with over 100 assaults, many of them of a sexual and harassment nature, and many of them against women. This is one of the fundamental reasons the Turnbull government worked hard and, in fact, did restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission—to stamp out the lawlessness and violence of union officials in the CFMEU and the like.
McManus said it is silly for women to wear dresses and heels, yet she also said that she was an advocate for women being able to wear burqas. The hypocrisy and simplistic code of people such as McManus and those on the other side is typical of these attitudes, that 'Women in Australia can wear heels and dresses.' What they need to understand is that women in Australia can wear heels and dresses because they want to. Contrarily, although some Australian women wear the burqa because they want to, reportedly some wear it because they fear they have to under the auspices of elements of sharia law—elements of which have sadly crawled in behind the closed doors of Australian homes, such as forcing women to cover up, forcing them to marry or, if not, they face the reality of violence or, tragically, honour killings or the like.
The Turnbull government's principles of liberalism are about freedom and equal opportunity, regardless of gender. These are principles which are underpinned by all people abiding by the Australian rule of law. Sally McManus now has a huge share of voice as the Secretary of the ACTU, together with Bill Shorten, a long-time friend and puppet of the unions and union officials. Keysar Trad similarly has a significant share of voice as a leader of the Muslim community. Both have effectively said that they believe Australian laws can be broken if they consider them unfair or unjust. The Australian rule of law is paramount. Endorsing breaking laws by one group, be it the CFMEU or leaders who have a high share of voice, encourages lawlessness by others. This runs the risk of breaking the very fabric of our society and all the progress and laws embraced and implemented by our government to support women.
Under the leadership of our Prime Minister and our Minister for Women, Michaelia Cash, the Turnbull government has made many laws and will always support laws which ensure equality and respect for women—laws to stop the sources of domestic violence, violence and assault against women, and industrial and employment laws to protect Australian women and ensure equal opportunity. Australian laws, the fundamental core of our democracy, are laws which no man or woman is above, including Sally McManus and the unions.
That was the most bizarre International Women's Day speech I have ever heard in my entire life. Somehow we started with International Women's Day and then we ended up in burqas. I wonder how the whole idea of cuddling up to One Nation went for the Liberal Party in Western Australia. I think it is pretty clear it did not work out particularly well, so I am a bit surprised and a bit bemused, really, that the Liberal Party are coming in here and using an International Women's Day motion to bash up Sally McManus and to have a go at women who wear burqas. It is utterly ridiculous and bizarre. I have never heard anything quite like it.
But I suppose it is pretty obvious why the Liberal Party cannot come in here and talk about their own achievements when it comes to women, because there are virtually no women in parliament in the Liberal Party. If you have a look at the Labor Party caucus, we have a good healthy 45 per cent representation of women. The poor old Libs are languishing around the 20 per cent mark, just like they have been for the past 20 years. They have had no movement.
They are going backwards, as the member for Shortland quite rightly says. They have had no progress in 20 years. And do you know what their answer to that is? Keep doing the same thing and see if it gets better. Just cross your fingers and see if that helps you get more women into parliament! Is that the idea that the Liberal Party has? They just say: 'No, it's all right—it's merit. There's a pipeline. Eventually some women of merit will come through. Why are there no women of merit? Where are the women of merit?' It is as though they have no idea of how to improve representation of women within the Liberal Party. I hope they sort that out pretty soon. This is not to mention the poor old Nats, where women are down at under 15 per cent in parliamentary representation. So the Libs have 20 per cent and the Nats 15 per cent.
On the other hand, look at what we in Labor have done over the past 20 years to improve female representation in our own caucus. And we are still going, because Bill Shorten is committed to 50 per cent female representation. I am very proud to be in a party that do not just care about this issue but take real action to deliver on it. We are not just crossing our fingers and hoping. We are actually setting in place rules and a culture that delivers women into parliament.
Look at all the amazing women we have in the chamber with us. We have the member for Lindsay, the member for Herbert and the member for Newcastle—and, I might say, our very pro-feminist friend the member for Shortland, who is enjoying that description very much. There is also your good self, of course, Deputy Speaker Bird. But I reckon there are probably more women in here than you would ever see getting together in the Liberal Party. There just are not enough of them to really have a critical mass. So I really encourage the Liberal Party to get its act together and to get more women into parliament.
An International Women's Day motion is a really good opportunity to talk about female representation in parliament. In fact this is a really good use of an International Women's Day motion compared to, say, having a go at Sally McManus and complaining about the burqa, which is a very odd use of an International Women's Day motion.
I might say that it is lovely to be up here speaking about a motion that really is about a day that is derived from international socialism and a garment workers' strike in the early 1900s. Those are the roots of International Woman's Day, and International Women's Day is deliberately internationalist in its focus. It is not just what is happening for women here at home but for women around the world because the whole purpose of International Women's Day is to recognise that, when women anywhere are oppressed, women everywhere are oppressed.
It is also an opportunity to reflect on our own progress in relation to some very, very acute issues facing women in Australia, and the motion that the member for Newcastle has moved deals with a number of those issues, including violence against women, including cuts to paid parental leave, including cuts to services like women's refuges and community legal centres.
I want to touch on family violence of course, because it is such an important and pressing issue for our community. It is really regrettable that this government, this Liberal government, cut $88 million capital expenditure component from the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, because the leading driver of homelessness in this country is family and domestic violence. It is also greatly unfortunate that they are cutting funding for community legal centres by 30 per cent because, again, the major driver of business for community legal centres is family and domestic violence.
I am also greatly concerned that this government has so far failed to commit to reforming cross-examination in family law. In 2014, the Productivity Commission recommended a change to the rules so that judges could prevent perpetrators of family violence from personally cross-examining victims in family law proceedings. It is something that Labor has committed to both at the 2016 federal election and since the federal election. Bill Shorten has been very strong on this, but yet the Attorney-General has failed to agree to this crucial reform. This is of grave concern as is what is happening with the funding and the support for 1800RESPECT, the national trauma counselling hotline, and we are all very concerned about that. There are a range of other issues: workplace issues; and penalty rate cuts, which disproportionately affect women. This government needs to take a good hard look at itself when it comes to what it is doing for women in this country.
International Women's Day is celebrated around the world on 8 March every year. From business and government to education, the arts and sport, Australian women are achieving in every field of endeavour. They are not only changing the face of our nation today for the better; they are inspiring and mentoring the next generation of strong, influential young women to be positive change makers in our community. This day is an opportunity to recognise the many accomplishments and important contributions women make in our society and the strides that have been made in recent years while acknowledging there is still more work to do.
This International Women's Day, I was delighted to join Western Sydney Women at their awards night at the Hills Shire Council. The event recognised more than 16 women from the Hills District for their incredible work across a whole range of categories from health, business, philanthropy to community services. I was privileged to be at the launch of Western Sydney Women, which was founded last year by two absolutely inspirational women: Amanda Rose, a marketing and media professional; and Maria Kovacic, who runs her own financial services business. Amanda and Maria recognised the need to create an organisation to bring together women from across Western Sydney to advocate for them, empower them and encourage them to achieve in all facets of life. They have quickly built an impressive organisation which holds great events and helps bring together the diversity of women in Western Sydney.
It was also my great pleasure at International Women's Day to introduce Yvonne Keane, the Mayor of the Hills Shire Council—someone who encapsulates the immense ability of women right across Western Sydney and across the country. Yvonne is an award-winning TV producer and former presenter. She is the founder of Hear the Children, an early intervention centre, which provides children with access to life-changing auditory-verbal therapy, giving them the opportunity to develop clear and natural speech.
Yvonne also serves on the board of Endeavour Foundation, is an elected director of Local Government NSW, a member of the NSW Council for Women's Economic Opportunity. Through her work, Yvonne has shown the importance of women mentoring other women. She is an inspiration to thousands of women across the hills and greater Western Sydney.
I want to speak a little bit about government policy to support women. Australia has made a great deal of progress in ensuring men and women are treated equally, and women are recognised for their leadership skills and the contributions they make. On average, women still earn less than men, but the gap in average weekly earnings between men and women has narrowed to 16 per cent—that is a decrease of 1.1 per cent from a year ago and down 2.5 per cent in the last two years. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency provides focus on the pay gap through reporting, auditing and awareness campaigns.
The Turnbull government has strengthened the BoardLinks program by setting a new target of 50 per cent representation of men and women on government boards. Across the Australian Public Service, the Turnbull government has implemented the Gender Equality Strategy that requires every new agency to set targets for gender equality in leadership positions. And we have dedicated over a million dollars to the Australian Institute of Company Directors to deliver board diversity scholarships.
While these are certainly improvements, the government also recognises that we have more to do. Since coming into office in 2013, tackling domestic violence has been at the forefront of the coalition's agenda. Media reports sadly indicate that nine women have been killed in Australia this year as a result of domestic violence. While the homicide data shows that the rate of deaths from domestic violence has been falling, reports of domestic violence are rising.
In September 2015, Prime Minister Turnbull announced the Women's Safety Package—a $100 million program focused on combating domestic violence against women. Additionally, the government has launched a $30 million national campaign in partnership with the states and territories to change attitudes towards violence against women that has been viewed more than 37.6 million times online. In October 2016, the federal government co-hosted the COAG National Summit on Reducing Violence against Women and their Children. At the summit, the third action plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022 was launched and the Turnbull government committed an extra $100 million.
There is a great deal of progress being made to combat violence against women in my electorate of Berowra. Women's Community Shelters operates the Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Women's Shelter and The Sanctuary—The Hills Women's Shelter. These shelters are run locally and help provide help and support to women in my electorate who need it most. Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Women's Shelter, led by president Sallianne McClelland and vice-president Dick Babb, provide crisis accommodation to homeless women in need of support services. The Sanctuary, chaired by Yvonne Keane, is a crisis shelter in Castle Hill for women and their children who are fleeing domestic violence. Both of these shelters have been filled to capacity since opening, and I am proud to support both of them.
These shelters come under the umbrella of Women's Community Shelters, led by their extraordinary CEO, Annabelle Daniel. I met with Annabelle and board member Kris Neill recently to hear about their plans to further expand their shelters into other suburban areas and provide a different experience for women and children from that which many of us think a shelter would be. I am inspired by the women of Berowra who are doing such incredible work in our community, and I am proud to be part of a government that is dedicated to making further advances in women's policy across Australia.