Monday, 14 October 2019
Matters of Public Importance
Girls Takeover Parliament
I inform the Senate that at 8.30 am today 11 proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate that the following letter has been received from Senator Waters:
Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:
'To mark the Senate's involvement in the Girls Takeover Parliament, the issues of concern to young women in Australia.'
Is the proposal supported?
More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today's debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.
I want to use my short contribution to quote Sanjoli, who's one of the women taking part in Girls Takeover Parliament in the Greens offices today. Her speech reflects the very deep worries and concerns but, at the same time, the hope that young people have for the future. While both the major parties, in their efforts to get more coal, oil and gas projects up and running, are flat out rejecting the concerns of young people, she has some very strong words to say, and I want to get them on the record:
'I have some facts about last year. Sydney saw the hottest summer day in 80 years, with a temperature of over 47 degrees Celsius. We also experienced the worst drought in living memory. Queensland alone fought with 200 bushfires, and around 30 per cent of the corals on the Great Barrier Reef have died since 2016. Our children don't deserve to go through this at all. Our women don't deserve it, because they're the worst affected by climate poverty. Our Aboriginal brothers and sisters don't deserve to see their culture die.
'The Great Barrier Reef alone provides work for 60,000 people, and if the reef dies there'll be social repercussions. Dissatisfaction and frustration among young people are already at record levels and will deepen, and social unrest will give rise to uprising. Learned members of our ruling parties seem not to understand the gravity of the situation. That's the reason that mining goes on unabated, that greenhouse gas emissions are still at a high rate while we shamefully fail to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, and that the Adani mine is welcomed with open arms.
'Since we don't have another planet to run away to and we have to pass on a legacy to future generations, we need to take action, and we have to act now. Time's ticking away and our children are looking to us with hope. We can't disappoint them anymore. We need to realise the urgency of the situation. We need to withdraw all of our support for the Adani mine. We need to switch to clean energy, cut down on fossil fuels and adopt renewable energy, which Australia has in abundance. All we need is political will, empathy and accountability towards the cause and towards the people, all of which seem to be lacking.
'The on-the-ground reality is that people are protesting, shouting their throats out, to stop Adani and take measures, but it's falling on deaf ears. All that concerns the Liberals is profits at the cost of the environment. So it's with hope for a better future that I conclude with Gandhi's words: "Be the change you want to see in the world." It is up to us.'
I couldn't have said it better myself. It's about time we started listening to people like Sanjoli. (Time expired)
Equal representation of women in leadership roles across the corporate sector and in public life is a matter of public importance and one that is very important to me. I'm glad to be standing in this place to speak on this topic today. This is an issue affecting young women and girls, because our parliament should be directly reflective of the wider Australian society. Today I welcomed a young woman, Lucinka Fernandes, into my office as part of Jasiri Australia's Girls Takeover Parliament. This is an innovative program that pairs young women with politicians, with the hope of inspiring them to enter politics. It's programs like these that create real opportunities for young women and girls to see themselves working in a place like Parliament House.
She and I worked on this speech together. She reminded me of the old saying that goes, 'You can't be what you can't see.' As I said in my maiden speech, I'm fortunate enough to be surrounded by remarkable women, including my partner, Nerilee. She's one of Australia's most talented corporate women, and I admire how she's never let gender get in the way of her success, even whilst working in a male-dominated industry. Nerilee and all women like her are exceptional role models for our country's young women.
The total percentage of women in parliament today is just 32 per cent. However, it is very refreshing to note that, since the appointment of my Victorian colleague Senator the Hon. Sarah Henderson, half of the Senate is now women. I note that this is certainly not because of a quota but entirely based on merit. All quotas do is leave a question mark hanging over the rise of successful women. While they likely got there on merit, where a quota exists, their ascent will always be open to conjecture. I acknowledge that there may well be a role for quotas in countries where there is a cultural bias against women, but that does not exist here in Australia like it does in a small handful of other countries. I believe merit-based appointments ensure that capability and talent are genuinely recognised.
I acknowledge that across our federal parliament and corporate Australia we can do better and we must do better. It should be our priority to ensure that young women are nurtured early on in their careers to strengthen workforce participation. We need to continue to change the culture so that women feel supported in both their careers and their family life. It does not have to be one or the other. This is crucial in supporting women for leadership positions. We are committed to increasing the number of women in public and private sectors, and this will inspire a future generation of young women to change the representative landscape of Australia as we know it.
The dream gap report, which surveyed more than 2,000 girls and young women aged 10 to 25, revealed that girls and young women in Australia are reluctant to pursue a career in politics because they worry about being treated unfairly. We cannot afford to raise a generation of girls who have these stereotypes ingrained in them. So I say to all young Australian women: no matter your ethnic background, your religious belief or the colour of your skin, you have the right to aspire to a leadership position. We cannot allow young girls to feel defeated before they have a go. (Time expired)
Today we welcome 60 young women to Parliament House as part of Jasiri Australia's Girls Takeover Parliament—or women take over parliament, as I think it should be known! My participant is here today: Kate Bomm, a 21-year-old student—in no way a girl but, indeed, a young woman—at the Australian National University who in fact prepared this speech on an issue that impacts many young women, and that is the prevalence of sexual assault on university campuses.
Earlier this year, TheSydney Morning Herald reported the story of a young woman who was sexually assaulted in a residential hall at the Armidale campus at the University of New England. She was asleep in her bed when a fellow student entered her room, climbed on top of her and began kissing her without her consent. After reporting her horrendous ordeal, the young woman was simply told, 'You should probably just lock your door when you're asleep.' Her story is not unique and her experience is not an aberration. Another survivor at the Australian National University who reported her sexual assault to university administration was left in limbo and forced to live under the same roof as her attacker for more than six months. A student at the University of Western Australia was pushed into a bathroom stall at a university social event and forcibly groped. She said: 'It happens all the time on campus. There are so many stories like mine.'
According to the 2018 Red Zone report by advocacy group End Rape on Campus, approximately 200 sexual assaults occur on university campuses each week in Australia. That's an average of 30 students every single day. More damning in the report is that 68 students who live in residential colleges across Australia are raped every week. That is a shockingly common occurrence. In a report released by the Human Rights Commission in 2017 it was revealed that women are three times as likely as men to have been sexually assaulted in a university setting. This sends an appalling message about general attitudes towards women and community safety, particularly the attitude towards our future female leaders. More frightening still is that 94 per cent of students who were sexually harassed and 87 per cent of students who were sexually assaulted did not make a formal report, revealing a huge disconnect between students and university administration. Universities are in a unique position to implement policies to address sexual assault and harassment on campus; however, they are failing in this duty. Instead of amplifying voices through effective policies, they are contributing to a culture of abuse and victimisation in institutions that should be safe havens for young people as they begin the next chapter of their lives.
The Australian National University, a university not four kilometres from where we stand today, an institution which I'm sure a number of people in this building once attended, has a rate of sexual violence double that of the national average. Their response has been manifestly inadequate. Rather than work to improve its capacity to respond, the ANU cut senior university staff members from its residential halls. How can such cost-cutting actions be taken while students are being kept in the dark for months and left to share a home with the perpetrators? Not only is the ANU failing victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment; it is also forcing its students to become the front line in dealing with the burden of receiving disclosures and supporting peers through their trauma.
University is a place where teachers, doctors, engineers, artists and leaders are created. University is a place for creativity, passion and learning. Australia is a world leader in education. Every year we welcome a diverse range of students and academics to our world-class educational institutions. Sexual assault and sexual harassment have no place on our university campuses. We must do more to prevent it. We must take real action in addressing the prevalence of sexual assault and sexual harassment on campus. The recommendations of the Australian Human Rights Council need to be implemented throughout our Australian universities. Students need to feel heard and need to feel safe when making reports to their university, and we need to ensure that university staff and members are able to safely respond to disclosures, reports and critical incidents. At university, education should extend beyond the classroom, and students should have access to information and resources to tackle sexual assault and violence. Australian universities need to step up and prove they care about preventing sexual violence on campus and are committed to reprimanding perpetrators when it occurs. We shouldn't accept, 'It happens all the time,' as an excuse. It's time to stop failing our— (Time expired)
It's great that young women have a chance to rub shoulders with the female political leaders of today through the Girls Takeover Parliament program. It is important that young women and young men have a chance to observe and experience leadership up close, because they may well be our leaders of the future. My only hope is that they are getting solid and sensible advice and not being led astray. It is also very important that they have a chance, as the MPI reads, to raise 'the issues of concern to young women in Australia'. I would suggest that one of the issues of concern they should make sure they're aware of is the very raw deal being handed to Australia's dairy farmers at present. A lot of these young women are from the dairy industry and have a background in the farming sector, and I'm sure they can see their parents doing it very hard in the farming sector. Dairy farmers are going broke because the costs of production are increasing, including as a result of increased electricity prices—which is, incidentally, a government charge and the result of a government policy—and, of course, increasing water prices, which are also the result of government policy.
I welcome young women to take the lead and try to further themselves in our society and, hopefully in future, become leaders of this nation in this parliament, as I have had the opportunity to, but I would also like the parliament to acknowledge young men. We can push women's issues, but there are a lot of men out there who should be given the same opportunities and who feel they are being let down by our society. It is very important—and I say this to the families out there: 'You may be pushing for women to go further in our nation, but don't forget about giving the young men of our nation the same opportunities and encouragement as well.' I think that's very important. As a mother of three boys and one girl, I encourage them all equally.
I've always thought that you can do great things as a supporter of other people, and certainly, as a supporter of women, I think men have a very important role. As a straight person, I ran a marriage campaign in 2017, and it was from that experience that I learnt how indirectly-affected people could be very effective advocates—and how, as the father of Sophia, could I not be a supporter of women? It was a great pleasure to have Cherish, who's here in the gallery, in my office today as we did the Girls Takeover Parliament initiative.
I want to focus my remarks briefly on some practical things. I'm a practical person—although perhaps the people closest to me would argue against that—so, in terms of representation in this place, I think it is a good thing that the Senate was able to achieve gender parity in recent weeks. I'm very pleased to see that that was achieved, but there is more work to be done in the House of Representatives.
In keeping with the practical focus, I've always thought that embedding people within an organisation that has an insiders culture, so to speak, is a very important thing to do. It's very important that branches of political parties have members of all shapes and sizes, not just young men. Certainly my experience has been that where women have been members of branches and conferences within the Liberal Party for a long period of time it has meant that it has been easier for them to get preselection, and preselection in safe seats is, of course, very important, in terms of achieving a better balance in the House of Representatives.
I also want to talk briefly about some of the things that the Liberal Party has done in the past that I think we should be proud of, given that yesterday we marked 75 years as a very successful political movement. Not only was the first woman parliamentarian a Liberal; the first cabinet minister was also a woman. I'm talking here about Dame Enid Lyons and Dame Margaret Guilfoyle. Menzies himself was a great believer in supporting women. He established the women's council and, at the Albury conference in 1944, which we're commemorating this week, he said:
Women are unquestionably destined to exercise more and more influence upon practical politics in Australia … In the educating of the electorate in liberal ideas they have for many years been an effective force. Now we have an organisation in which all distinctions have gone, and with men and women working equally for the one body …
Again, in terms of practical issues, we can talk about representation in parliament—and that is very important—but in a day-to-day sense I think there are more bread-and-butter issues facing women in Australia. Things like the gender pay gap have become very prominent, and rightly so, in recent years. It is a good thing that over the last five years the gender pay gap has been reduced from 18.5 per cent to 14 per cent, as at May 2019. We're heading in the right direction, but there's a lot more work to do.
I rise today to talk about this very important motion, and that is around the international day of the girl. It is a day to celebrate girls everywhere as they break down boundaries, take charge of their futures and demand more from their leaders not just in this place, not just in the place over there, but all around the globe. We have more than 60 of these girls with us today in parliament. Today, spending the day in my office is a girl named Georgia Rice. Georgia is 17 years old and from St Francis Xavier College in Canberra. Today I'm going to talk about an issue that Georgia cares about and wants to see action taken on by this parliament. I asked Georgia to prepare a speech about something that she deeply cares about, and I was actually quite surprised and happy with the topic that she chose because it's very dear to my heart.
Georgia wanted me to let the parliament know that she wants parliament today to talk about paid parental leave and flexible working conditions. She said: 'You might wonder why a 17-year-old girl cares about parental leave. Let me explain. When I was born, my mother, being violently ill, had to remain in hospital for a few weeks. When my father applied for paid parental leave to take care of myself and my older brother, he was denied. His employer said it wasn't something he was entitled to at his position in work, so he had to take leave without pay. This is not equality.' Georgie says, 'How is it that today, 17 years after I was born and my parents faced this tough condition, we are still struggling to have a paid parental leave system that is equal? I want to call on parliament to instigate mandatory equal time for each parent to be a parent.' What a powerful statement from Georgia about something I am deeply passionate about as well—about delivering equality for women not just at work but also at home.
I agree with Georgia: we cannot have equality until both parents are able to be primary caregivers if they wish to be. We cannot have equality until we close the gender pay gap. Australia's national gender pay gap is at 14 per cent, and in my home state of Queensland it is 16.6 per cent. But some other interesting figures ring true. In the private sector the gender pay gap is 17.3 per cent, and in the public sector it is 10.7 per cent below the national average. I only raise those two statistics because it is true that women in workplaces where conditions are collectively bargained have better outcomes. On this day of the girl, I want to acknowledge all of the women and girls who have fought for equal pay, and I echo the sentiments of my first speech and encourage them not to be quiet. There will be people that will tell you to be quiet. Don't listen to them. Speak up. Be loud. In fact, I want you to be very, very loud.
I want to finish today by talking about a group of girls that inspire me every day. The Matildas are the heroes of many girls not just in Australia but around the world. In 2015, they took strike action to demand that they be paid full-time pay for their full-time jobs. Since they achieved that greater pay equity, they have gone from strength to strength. The girls here today stomping the halls of parliament, demanding that their leaders listen, are my heroes. The Matildas, who take to the field every day to live out their dreams, to be equal—to be considered equal to their peers—are my heroes. And I want to thank them for all the work they do in inspiring women around the world, around the country, and I wish them luck. And I wish the girls here today all the best of luck for the future.
To mark the Senate's involvement in Girls Takeover Parliament, I'm really proud that all the senators here with participants have given over their time so that these young women's voices can be placed on the parliamentary record. I note we have Tara, Sanjoli, Brianna, Dougha, Ashley and Manya in the advisers' box in the Senate where they and other young women belong.
I will let Tara have the three minutes that was allocated for me to this slot. Tara says:
In Australia, 4-16% of the population have an eating disorder, with approximately 1 million Australians, predominantly young women, currently living with one.
Those suffering from eating disorders have a mortality rate 5x greater than the rest of their demographic from physical causes, and death by suicide is 32x higher than otherwise expected, making anorexia the deadliest mental illness
Those who do not die from an eating disorder experience reduced quality of life due to their low weight, which can cause osteoporosis, fatigue, nutrition deficiencies, seizures, immune dysfunction, and organ damage.
The government has pledged $70.2M to eating disorders. This is welcome, but it's also important to start looking at some of the root causes.
Evidence shows eating disorders increase with exposure to Western media and our culture's obsession with thinness. A study in Fiji found that the percentage of young women inducing vomiting to lose weight grew from 0 to 11.3% after the introduction of Western television. 77% of surveyed Fijian girls reported television and magazines made them feel weight conscious.
The fashion industry particularly continues to promote thinness. According to WHO—
66-94% of models are underweight, and at least ¼ classify as anorexic. This is terrible for them to maintain and a terrible example to set for anyone exposed to the media.
Things are improving—many companies are seeking to represent a more diverse range of healthy women in their ads. However, fashion and celebrity culture continues to prioritise very thin models and actors and uses photoshopping technology to erase natural features seen as flaws.
While we perpetuate unrealistic beauty ideals, young women will continue to feel pressure to conform. We can see that exposure to thinness is driving our young women to develop eating disorders, and it is time for that to end.
Other countries, including France, now require magazines to explicitly state when they have modified images. Australia should take action to encourage a broader, inclusive, and more realistic representation of women in the media.
To that, Tara, the Greens say an absolute: 'Hear, hear!' We are particularly pleased at the presence of all 60 girls that are taking over parliament today, and we commit to ensure that their voices will always be heard in this place.
Today is the day that girls take over parliament. Girls Takeover Parliament is a program organised by Jasiri Australia to raise the awareness of girls to what goes on this in place and encourage more girls into both political and leadership positions. This is my first year as a senator and it's the first year I've taken part in Girls Takeover Parliament. I was absolutely delighted to be paired with Phillipa—Pip—Gelland from Mudgee, and even more so because I have very close ties to Mudgee and its community. My grandparents lived there for many, many years and, indeed, it is where I first went to start my career as a cadet journalist. It's great to have that common background with Pip. Like many other kids from the country, Pip has now moved to the city to pursue her education, studying law and international relations here in Canberra at the ANU.
I asked Pip to prepare a speech on what matters to her. If she were in this place with a position of responsibility, what would she like to see addressed? She has rightly raised the serious problem of domestic violence. I will read Pip's speech before I add my own comments. Pip's speech read:
Australia has a serious problem of gender-based violence, especially when it comes to domestic violence. 1 woman is killed by an ex or current partner every week in our country. These cases are rarely reported to the police, and if they are, the rates of successful prosecution are incredibly low. This must change. We must be educating young people about these issues as part of the national education curriculum, and be creating change within our law enforcement procedures to make the authorities more accessible to women in need. By educating young people we are giving them the necessary tools to engage in respectful relationships from the beginning and will in the long-term reduce domestic violence rates. This is absolutely not a new idea, and was repeatedly brought up in the inquiry into respectful relationships during the creation of the National Plan for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Their Children adopted in 2010. However, this plan was little more than an affirmation that violence against women is an issue for state and territory responses. The practice of pushing issues towards the states and territories can not suffice in this instance. This issue is not defined by state borders - it is nation-wide. In an effort to address this, the Liberal-Nationals government has invested $340 million to the fourth and final action plan under the National Plan. This has also included a focus on rural and regional women, acknowledging that women in these areas are more susceptible to domestic violence, but also have a much harder time accessing support.
Such a single federal response will negate any educational variations across state jurisdictions. The same approach should be given to reforms to the reporting processes to increase women's access to legal enforcement.
I am proud, as a Nationals senator in this government, that we have made that investment into the fourth action plan. I hope that, as a future leader, should Pip enter this place, or if she instead pursues a career in law or diplomacy, she continues to speak up on this important issue facing Australian women and girls, particularly those living in our shared home of rural Australia.
It's just been incredible to hear so many stories and contributions from the girls who have participated. It's been an absolute joy for this chamber to be filled with voices of young girls and young women, and I'm very pleased to participate in and join the debate. We mark this occasion today, and we have this experience all as part of International Day of the Girl Child as well, where every year on 11 October the world is called to recognise the unique challenges that girls face, to talk about their potential and to bring about significant change and make a contribution to building a better world.
It's so appropriate that, at a time when we're celebrating International Day of the Girl Child, we have all these young women take over our parliament. It's also been very special for me to be able to welcome my stepdaughter to the parliament today—she's been here with her classmates as well—because what we're talking about is my stepdaughter's future, these young women's future and, indeed, every girl in Australia's future. We're talking about their rights to education and to affordable health care, their freedom of expression, equal pay and their right to determine their own future. We're talking about their aspirations to become leaders, to create positive change, to contribute to our world and to be a voice for their own rights. It's about their hopes and dreams to follow their passions and do what they enjoy.
Over the past decade, we have seen girls all around the world rising up to the challenge and leading movements for change. They're leading the charge on tackling gender equality, fighting for action on climate change and fighting for their right to an education. There are girls like Malala Yousafzai, who as a young girl defied the Taliban in Pakistan and demanded that all girls be allowed to receive an education. Malala was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in 2012, but she survived, and, as we know, in 2014 she became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. There are also girls like the young women who have gone through CAMFED's mentorship program around the world, which supports girls to access schools, succeed and become leaders of change in their communities.
There are so many incredible role models globally and locally for our young girls to choose from. But, unfortunately, we know that, even whilst there are all these amazing role models for young girls, a lot of girls in Australia still don't feel entirely empowered to advocate for the future that they want to see in our world. Plan International, the leading international charity for girls' equality recently published a report in which they asked 1,461 girls and young women around Australia to share their hopes, dreams and concerns for the future. Their report showed that 91 per cent of girls had an overwhelming desire to lead change on the big social issues facing their future. But, sadly, the same girls noted that they were less confident in their abilities to achieve that leadership. This is something we should all be concerned about in this parliament, particularly as the women who have got to this place and have had an opportunity to lead. We need to make sure that we're empowering the young women who come along next to feel that confidence and that capacity to deliver change, and I hope that some of you young women who are here today really feel that and feel confident in your ability to change our country as well.
This report from Plan International showed that 91 per cent of the girls had an overwhelming desire to lead this change, and often the change that they nominated as most important was that of climate change. They were right to be concerned about this, because we know climate change is real. Its impacts have the potential to hit the poor and the young hardest, and its effects will be irreversible. It is not, as the Prime Minister has said, a matter of needless anxiety among young people; it is a matter which requires urgent and serious action.
More than 18 per cent of the young girls surveyed by Plan also nominated violence against women as a leading concern. Here in Australia one woman a week is murdered by a current or former partner and one in six women experience abuse before the age of 15. These are horrific statistics and our work to address them is nowhere near complete.
When it came to girls around the world the respondents cited education as a major barrier holding back their peers from achieving their goals and being able to participate in the kind of society they wanted to see and they're right. Globally 131 million young girls remain out of school. Four out of 10 girls will never enter a classroom. These statistics are worse in lower and lower-middle income countries where one in four young people are illiterate. We know that 90 per cent of a child's brain develops in their first five years of life but 175 million pre-primary aged children are not enrolled in pre-primary education.
This survey also asked girls what their biggest wish for other girls around the world was and one in three all agreed that it was equality—for them to also be equal, to be seen as equals and treated as equals—and if you ask me it seems like a pretty fair and reasonable wish. But the reality is our girls don't see fairness in their future and it's not hard to understand why, because beyond the issues I've already canvassed there are plenty of other barriers which remain in our community that act as a barrier to gender equality and to fairness. For a start, the gender pay gap and the associated superannuation gap remain pervasive. In 2019 Australia's full-time gender pay gap stands at 14 per cent according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. In industries such as finance and insurance services the gap soars to 24.4 per cent. Fragmented work histories and lower paid work mean women are also likely to accumulate significantly less in superannuation savings and, therefore, face a greater risk of economic insecurity in retirement. On top of this, we know that women still carry a disproportionate burden of unpaid work. The ABS tells us that 36 per cent of women spend up to 15 hours in unpaid domestic work weekly.
If we are to take gender equality seriously, beyond these important but largely symbolic days, then we need to get serious about implementing policies that will create a fairer nation in Australia. Policies like the nation-changing reforms implemented under previous Labor governments, including for paid parental leave; the Workplace Gender Equality Act; affordable, flexible and high-quality child care and laws against discrimination and sexual harassment, through amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act. These are the types of policy endeavours we should be pursuing, not, as some of the other senators who came in before focused on, shaming women from political parties who have quotas and allegations that that means there is no merit on this side—ridiculous things to hear in a debate about girls and young women and their future in parliament. Policies like this are big reforms—nation changing reforms. I can't think of a better time to start putting women and girls and their futures at the centre of policy than International Day of the Girl.
I'm so proud to be able to share the words of Dilanga De Silva, who I have had the pleasure of hosting in my office today. The particular focus of the work that she undertook is mental health. She says, 'Mental health disorders have consistently been ranked in the top three concerns of young Australians over the last few years, with 25 per cent of young Australians having faced a mental health disorder in any one year. However, as an origin research study demonstrates, higher education institutions currently lack the resources to sufficiently deal with mental health issues. As Australians it is a right that young individuals live happy and healthy lives and are equipped with the tools to assist them in dealing with mental health issues in the future for themselves or for another person.'
She says, 'However, the mental health system in secondary and tertiary educational institutions currently fails to provide adequate and timely support when assistance is sought by individuals who are facing a mental health disorder. Too often students must wait months for an available appointment, let alone with their regular counsellor or psychologist, to receive advice and counsel on how to manage their mental health disorder. As a result students not only fall back academically and socially, but this inattention to managing mental health issues can lead to more serious actions such as self-harm or suicide.'
She continued: 'Research undertaken by Youth Action in 2017 found that mental health services were too adult centric, segmented and outdated. Mental health services are currently understaffed at educational institutions, and lacking in rural communities, and are not tailored to tackling youth issues. It is vital that the Australian government should not only address aiding young people to manage mental health disorders but also be more attentive to their effects. With greater accessibility, availability and more tailored mental health services for Australians through increased government investment in resources, we can better aid youth with mental health issues and reduce the number of deaths and situations that may occur due to poor support for people with mental health disorders.'
Dilanga has raised an extremely important issue that affects so many young people in this country. I really enjoy it every time we have Girls Takeover Parliament, and I commend the young women that have taken over our parliament today. I look forward to them taking over this parliament permanently at some time in the future.
I'm also delighted to join with Senate colleagues in endorsing and talking about the Girls Takeover Parliament program and my involvement in it. Senator Keneally talked briefly about how we should be calling it 'young women take over parliament'. I'd like to say it should be 'girls take over parliament program still' or 'young women take over parliament more' because there's no doubt that as you walk around this parliamentary building you can not only see the presence of women but more importantly you can absolutely feel the power of their presence and the influence of their presence.
I'm delighted to have had Ella Parker joining me over the course of the busy day that the Chief Government Whip has, and she is joining me in the government advisers box. Ella, from Western Australia, was previously a student at Mercedes College and is now studying at the Australian National University. She has hopes of being a future foreign minister of our country—and, as Senator Sterle will know, Western Australia has delivered some very, very competent foreign ministers. The 14th foreign minister was Sir George Pearce, a Western Australian senator, followed by Sir Paul Hasluck, Gordon Freeth, Stephen Smith and, of course, none other than Julie Bishop, who was the 38th foreign minister.
I'd like to share with the Senate this afternoon some of the remarks Ella Parker has put to paper: 'Australia is a country which prides itself on wearing a liberal democratic identity, a country in which if you have a go you get a go. However, not everyone in Australia believes they can have a go or that when they do have a go they are respected. The issue I raise today is inspired by the Jasiri Australia young women's charter for democracy, which calls for actions such as facilitating opportunities for young women and minorities to be engaged in our democracy and to ensure all elected officials are bound to a statutory code of conduct. Women have been unrepresented in the political sphere for the history of its existence, and, while improvements have been made, the fact remains that generations of young women continue to look up to a government that is founded on representation, without seeing themselves represented. Yet they account for half of all Australians. As a result, young women are growing up in a culture that does not instil confidence in their ability to govern as well as their male counterparts. Rather, they watch as female politicians are subject to misogyny and disrespect that is not suffered by men. The answer isn't necessarily quotas'—which, I might add, speaks to the independent thinking and independent thought of Ella. She says: 'We don't need women to be ticked off as a type of prerequisite to ensure the legitimacy of a party. Rather we need to change our culture so that women can have the confidence to run in preselections, gaining public support and endorsement, giving people the opportunity to vote for female candidates in equal proportion to male candidates. This will allow Australia's women to be represented in a fundamental way from the ground up and change our country's democracy to one that reflects the true composition of our society.'
Ella believes 'Australia requires a grassroots movement to instil self-belief in Australia's young women, to assure them that their voices are valued and that, when the time comes for them to stand up and represent us, we'll not support a culture that tears them down because of factors such as their appearance or for making lifestyle choices that some view as making balancing a political career unjustifiable. While public criticism is an aspect of parliamentary careers and a mechanism to ensure accountability, female politicians should not be subject to unwarranted criticism or condemnation in domains not experienced by their male counterparts. In order to encourage female representation in politics, we need to reflect this urge in all spheres of society by encouraging a national gender egalitarian direction such as has been implemented in Sweden.'
I want to congratulate Ella on her great work, her stewardship. We wish you the very best of luck in all your ambitions for the future.
As part of Girls Takeover Parliament, it's been my pleasure to host Breanna Boljkovac today in my office. She is a fantastic, intelligent 21-year-old Canberran who wanted me to take the chance, firstly, in this very brief speech to say that we need to change our attitudes towards work in this country. Breanna listens to the Prime Minister saying that the best form of welfare is a job, and Breanna would respond to that by saying, 'Actually, no: the best form of welfare is a universal basic income.' She asks the really challenging questions, and I'll just give you a couple. What is raising a child, if not work? What is studying, if not work? And Breanna says, in part in response to those questions, that we need a universal basic income to protect people from accepting exploitative employment. We need a universal basic income because we have a tsunami of automation coming our way, predicted in just 2022, which will obliterate jobs. Breanna reminds us all that the main architect of trickle-down economics and free-market capitalism, both of which are so beloved of the Liberal-Nationals parties—and she's talking of course about Milton Friedman—stated that such an economic system as free-market capitalism cannot exist, firstly, outside an ethical construct and, secondly, without a universal basic income. Well, I couldn't agree more with Breanna on those matters.
She also asked me to share a couple of her thoughts about climate change this afternoon: firstly, Breanna's view that the root cause of the climate crisis—or should we say 'climate denial', in Breanna's words—and refusal to steward with our environment is a dysfunctional and ancient idea about human nature. She's a very intelligent person, Breanna. She asked me to make the point here that that dysfunctional ancient idea about human nature is that humans are here to conquer nature, and that is a mistake. Breanna quite rightly wants us to understand that humans are part of nature and she's worried about profits being put before people and before nature. Breanna urges us to adopt a multidimensional approach, a holistic approach—an approach where we understand that an amoral economic system will always lead to immoral consequences. Hear, hear, Breanna!
As the youngest woman in this Australian parliament, I would like to extend my support for the Girls Takeover Parliament program, an organisation that aims to encourage young women to become more politically engaged and to provide a pathway for them to pursue a career in politics. The Takeover enables young women to make political networks and provides them training for working in parliament as well as mentorship for those seeking leadership positions in politics. Girls Takeover Parliament is a great initiative, and I'm very pleased to have a fantastic participant, Alex Robson, in my office today, experiencing what it's like to work in the Senate.
One of the main concerns for many of the young women participating in this program is the disproportionate underrepresentation of women in politics. Indeed, this is an issue that I myself have engaged with closely prior to being elected to the Senate, through various roles within the Young Liberals and also in the senior Liberal Party. By having capable women demonstrating strong leadership skills in government, we encourage the greater participation of other young women in politics. As my female colleagues often say, you can't be what you can't see. Programs like Girls Takeover Parliament not only provide young women with the confidence that they have the ability to pursue political careers based on their own skills and merit but also shine a light on the achievements of women more broadly in our parliament. It is important to recognise that change is happening in terms of female representation within the parliament. Indeed the Liberal Party has made significant inroads in recent times. Just recently my colleague Senator Sarah Henderson was sworn into the Senate, which means that half of the Senate is now represented by women. There are now seven women in the Prime Minister's cabinet, which is the highest it has ever been. In my own state the election of myself and Senator Wendy Askew to the Senate, as well as Bridget Archer to the other place, has doubled the number of women the Tasmanian Liberal Party has ever sent to Canberra, in the space of just a few months. I know that many more will follow us here.
Fundamentally it is reassuring to know that this has been achieved not through quotas but through the hard work and the merit of the women in question. Inevitably, debate on how we can increase the number of women in parliament often turns to the use of quotas as a way of achieving gender equality. However, in my experience, for many women the notion of quotas is offensive or even embarrassing. I know that, in my time in the Liberal Party and in the Young Liberal movement, the women I have worked and volunteered with who have an ambition to run for politics want to know that, when they put their hand up to be considered for these positions, they are competing and winning these positions entirely on merit and not on the basis of gender. We don't want to be given a position in federal politics under a scheme of quotas; we want to get here through our own hard work, because we are skilled and capable and because we've been democratically elected as the right person for the job. To me, and to many of the girls and women that I have spoken to, that is true gender equality. Fundamentally, quotas are a quick fix. They are a shallow way of addressing the real issues that cause women to be underrepresented in parliament. If we truly want gender equality, we need to be taking actions that effectively address these issues and not just using quotas to patch over them to get more women into parliament as quickly as possible. This is neither sustainable nor truly within my definition of what gender equality is. Once again I reinforce my support for Girls Takeover Parliament for its work in empowering young women to take part in our parliamentary processes, and I congratulate the other participants here today. Well done and thank you, and I look forward to, hopefully at some point in the future, welcoming some of you to this place as colleagues.
I rise to add my contribution and the contribution of the young woman who has been spending time in my office today as part of this Girls Takeover Parliament activity and program. Firstly let me just say what a wonderful program I think this is. Of course it is alongside the Day of the Girl, which many of us over the last few days have been celebrating and participating in as well—a wonderful program that is primarily promoted and advocated for by Plan International, a very worthy organisation and one to which, I might just add here, in light of the legal case that I have currently on foot in relation to former senator David Leyonhjelm, I have pledged to give any money awarded. That's how important this organisation is for ensuring that women right across this country and indeed the rest of the world have an opportunity to not only get an education and further their employment prospects but also have a say in the way their communities are run and the way society acts in their interests, not just in the interests of men or corporations around them.
Dougha, the young woman in my office today, came to Australia when she was four years old. She's from Pakistan. Her family migrated to Australia because they wanted her to have a better opportunity. She has diabetes, and they wanted her to have the best possible health care. They wanted her to have an opportunity to get an education, and this young woman has gone on to do just that, now studying politics, international studies and law at the University of Canberra—formidable, of course. When she talks about what she would like for the future of her generation, it is very strongly rooted in the reflection that she wants in this parliament—that is, a reflection of the diversity of the Australian community. She says that, as a young Australian continually frustrated by the lack of government action to advance human rights of refugees, she's resorted to raising money and aid for awareness for refugee programs herself, putting herself at the front of political activism and advocacy. This young woman, alongside her other colleagues, desperately wants this place to represent and reflect what it is: the new diverse face of Australia. (Time expired)
It is fantastic to have 60 young women and girls striding through the corridors of this place, clashing so brilliantly with the otherwise male, pale and rather stale hue that descends upon it. For me and my team, it has been a pleasure and an honour today to be guided by Havana of inner Western Sydney. If I could, I would reach behind me and tear down the golden balustrade and allow Havana to speak her words herself right here. In the absence of that ability, I will read her words directly to the chamber. From her perspective: 'As a young woman, I was raised in a single parent household alongside three children. It was thanks to social security support that we were able to put food on the table and pay for a roof over our heads. However, due to the lack of care and support for public services, we often had to rely on non-government organisations and charities to be able to pay for school fees, buy uniforms, attend most of our activities and be part of our community. This situation is not good enough.
'As a young woman who has spent too many weeks in hospital due to the lack of mental health support throughout my life, I have seen the injustices and lack of care given to those who use our public services. I've had people in my life suffer with suicidal ideation and psychosis rejected from emergency departments because they weren't sick enough. This is not good enough. My own personal experience is of being admitted to units and left to my own devices without seeing a doctor or psychologist, because there simply wasn't enough funding given to the public healthcare system to provide the resources necessary to help those at disadvantage in our society.
'Being a young person with a disability, having been forced to drop out of school due to mental health reasons, the government cut me off Centrelink support when I turned 18 because my mum had only just reached the threshold at which she was no longer eligible for Centrelink. It left me in a position where I was almost housebound by my mental health and therefore unable to maintain a job and was unable to feel part of society. I was left feeling like a burden on my family.'
Despite these challenges, Havana is an incredible leader and advocate, a joy to work alongside today. I call upon everybody in this place to move beyond words and take the actions needed so that folks like Havana feel and know that this place is working for them.
Girls Takeover Parliament is a fantastic initiative which allows young women from a wide range of backgrounds to access parliamentary processes which are so often limited to only the privileged few. I'm particularly excited this time to see so many women from diverse backgrounds taking over parliament. I've had the pleasure and privilege of hosting Manya Sinha in my office today. Manya has identified domestic violence as an issue that matters to young Australian women, especially those from a migrant and refugee background.
The following is in Manya's words:
The issue of domestic violence is a crucial issue for Australia's young women. Every week another woman is killed. One in three Australian women have experienced violence since the age of 15. Eighteen- to 24-year-old women experience the highest rates of domestic violence. Young women from migrant and refugee communities are increasingly being left behind in the government's domestic violence reforms and strategies.
The government abandoned any attempt at helping these women, who are left most vulnerable. Legal services are overrun and funding is just not there. Migrant and refugee women often experience barriers to reaching out for help when affected by domestic violence because of their limited social and economic capital, including some who have been provided no knowledge of their rights. The government has to be held accountable to protect the safety of young women in our community, whom this parliament is supposed to represent. I call on the government to remember their duty to the young women of Australia and take substantive action to fund programs tailored to migrant and refugee women affected by domestic violence. For every Parwinder Kaur, Syeda Nirupama Hossain and Preethi Reddy, there are many more cases that go unreported by the media.
Thank you so much, Manya, for raising this incredibly important issue in the Senate. It has been my privilege to share your words because, sadly, you can't today. So it is our duty to make sure that young women like Manya keep taking over parliament until our parliament looks like the streets and suburbs of our country.