PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Keating, Paul

Period of Service: 20/12/1991 - 11/03/1996
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00009066.pdf 7 Page(s)
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  • Keating, Paul John

Thank you for the invitation to speak at this very
important conference.
It is really a conference about the great anomaly of
Australian democracy the great flaw in Australian
democracy. This is a country which pioneered women's rights which
delivered to women the vote and thie right to stand for
parliament in 1902, yet whose national parliament in 1993
is overwhelmingly male.
This is a country which prides itself on its democratic
institutions yet in the most important of those
democratic institutions, the nation's parliaments, men
outnumber women 7 to 1, in the House of Representatives
more than 10 to one.
This is a country renowned for its pervasive democratic
spirit and the dictum of the fair go yet, when it comes
to women's parliamentary representation, the record and
the contemporary reality of the party which has always
believed itself the embodiment of these traditions, the
Australian Labor Party, is only marginally better than
the rest.
No doubt the aberration can be explained: but it can't be
justified. There are reasons but we shouldn't call them
excuses. The ruling body of the nation should be representative of
the people it serves. At present it is not.
Parliaments make laws for all the people and its
composition should as far as possible reflect that. At
present it does not.
In fact it is has been calculated, by Kay Setches I
think, that at the present rate of increase it would take

another 60 years to achieve equal representation of men
and women in the Commonwealth Parliament.
In the meantime Australian democracy is the loser. This
is the fundamental point, I believe we all lose.
It is less that women have a right to be there than we
have a need for them to be there. It is less an argument
for women than an argument for the country.
Equal representation of women and men strengthens the
legitimacy of our decision making process. More than
that, it strengthens our capacity to make the right
decisions. At present we are losing a vast pool of talent and
wisdom. We are losing leadership.
We need look no further than Joan Kirner and
Carmen Lawrence for proof of that.
We need Joan Kirner and Carmen Lawrence and many more
like them in the national parliament. We need them in
the debates on economic and social policy, on
unemployment, the workplace, trade, foreign affairs,
arts, Mabo.
We need women involved in the debate about an Australian
republic. We need them in a leading role.
Australia is changing at a quite remarkable rate. It is
being re-fashioned to some extent by economic and
cultural forces beyond our control; but more
substantially, it is being re-shaped by our own efforts
and our own vision. The direction of policy and the
shape of our relationships are changing fundamentally and
very rapidly.
Our relationship with the region has changed dramatically
in the space of a couple of years and that in turn will
change Australia. It will create extraordinary new
opportunities. The implications go well beyond trade
they go to employment, business, education, culture.
There is a generational shift occurring. The experience
of multiculturalism, the fact of global communications,
new technologies, new economic and social imperatives,
and indeed the new status and increasingly prominent role
of women, is shaping a new national identity one, I
hope, which will continue our best traditions while
embracing the new reality of Australia.
Women must be there in all these momentous debates,
asking the questions and helping to find the answers. And
the more they work from the centre of the debate and the
less from the margins, the more their voices are heard in
the nation's parliaments, the more they will be heard in

the wider society and, I have little doubt, the more
parliament will be heard as well.
Now of course if it were enough to just say these things
we could all go home now. It is necessary to say them,
but saying them will not get the barriers down.
Getting the barriers down requires political power and
political will and let mie hasten to say that they are
by no means the same thing. There have been plenty in
our history who have been attracted to power and plenty
have gained it but relatively few I believe have
exercised it as they might have.
Relatively few have actively pursued the necessary
reforms, or seized the opportunities which are presented
to each generation and so some of our old deficiencies
have been passed on.
Now I take some comfort and even some pride from the
fact that in the past ten years we have removed some of
the anomalies relating to women.
If it is true that choice is the prerequisite to the
exercise of power, and the prerequisite to choice is
economic independence, then this Labor Government can
take some pride in its record.
For we have taken not a few major steps in the direction
of economic independence.
Family payments paid directly to women caring for
children was one of them.
The extension of superannuation so that now most women
workers are entitled to coverage is another; and coverage
and benefits will increase substantially over this
decade. The past ten years has seen very significant improvements
in women's access to education.
The number of young women completing year 12 nearly
doubled to 80 per cent.
Enrolments of women in higher education grew by 77
per cent and women now make up more than 50 per cent
of higher education students.
Women are still under-represented in courses such as
engineering and in most apprenticeships and their
employment opportunities are accordingly restricted;
but the Government's reform of vocational education
and training will open up some of these pathways for

We have greatly expanded child-care. As of 1993 child
care in Australia is recognised as a mainstream economic
Child care is an integral part of the drive to become a
more competitive country.
It is now a commonplace that successful countries are
those with flexible and skilled workforces: it is
therefore common sense that women with skills and work
experience be kept in the workforce.
Our economic growth and our living standards will benefit
from women's participation.
For countless Australian women child care can make
participation possible it can make the choice between
participating and not participating a real one.
As part of its commitment to meet demand for work-related
child care by 2001, by 1996-97 the Government will fund
nearly 300,000 child care places.
From next July we will provide a 30 per cent cash rebate
on the cost of work-related child care, a long overdue
recognition of the costs involved for women earning an
income. These employment, education and child care programs are
all designed to increase life choices for Australian
women, and in doing that they open that much wider the
way to positions of power.
I might also say today that I have advised the Office for
the Status of Women to monitor the implementation of
election commitments of specific relevance to women, in
particular the new child care program.
For all the improvements in women's opportunity, status
and influence, for all the widening of equality and
freedom, there remains the fact of violence against women
violence which strips them of the most fundamental
freedom and denies them power over their lives.
Violence which degrades Australian society and mocks our
belief in democracy and justice.
-As.. a-government . we know that . we cannot expect women
denied freedom from fear to share our faith in this
society: or to believe us when we say we are serious in
our pursuit of social justice if we are not seriously
attempting to eliminate violence against women.
We have acknowledged this in a recent review of our
women's policy advising mechanisms which identified as
priorities women's economic security and the law, with a
particular emphasis on the elimination of violence.

The same review identified as a priority the subject of
today's conference women and public life and their
involvement in decision-making.
This is an issue whose time has well and truly come. The
time has come for companies, businesses, unions, the
bureaucracy, churches, schools and universities, the
courts. And it has come for the Australian Labor Party.
It has come for the Labor Party for all the reasons I
have mentioned because the Labor Party is the party of
social justice, and the party with a vision of Australia
as a great social democracy, and we cannot have these
things unless women are receiving equal justice and
participating equally in the democracy.
In fact the time came long ago: as long ago as the turn
of the century when a campaigner for women's suffrage
wrote, " to sum up all reasons in one it is just."
The numbers speak for themselves. Of the 837 Members of
Parliament in Australia, only 118, or 14 per cent are
women. Of the total number of ALP Members of Parliament
17 per cent are women. In the House of Representatives
there are 13 women or 9 per cent. Of the ALP Members,
11 per cent are women.
The Labor Party should not claim that the underrepresentation
of women is someone else's problem.
Nor can anyone claim, of course, that it is a result of
chance or the merit principle in action.
There is no question that we have to tackle
discrimination both direct and indirect.
Indirect discrimination is likely to be the hardest to
shift because very often it is coming from entrenched
cultural habits and perspectives.
Cultural change is difficult but not impossible. it
seems to me that the starting point is recognition of
necessity. That is what, for instance, drove the change
in our industrial culture in the last decade.
In the ALP we now have to take on the business of equal
representation as a necessity. It has to become part of
Labor Party culture.
We have to take up the battle for hearts and minds on
this, and at the same time pursue the necessary
structural change.
The campaign in the Party under the heading " Half by
2000" is one way of doing this. And I support it.
I support increasing the number of women in all federal
and state caucuses. Whether we reach that goal of 50 per

cent depends on many things, not least of which is our
continuing to win elections.
But the goal is important to indicate what we stand for
and to measure our progress.
If you will permit me to return to a theme of mine I
have always believed that when Labor stops reforming,
Labor will lose power.
It is the old bicycle principle if you lose the
strength or the will to pedal you'll fall over. If we
stop pursuing our social democratic ambitions and our
national ambitions we will stop being the government of
the Commonwealth.
In a speech to the NSW Labor Party earlier this year, I
said to keep up the momentum of reform we had to look at
ourselves. That we had to reform the Party.
The Organisation Review process of discussion and debate
on the future structure of the Party has begun.
And as part of this process, I have asked the National
Secretary, Gary Gray, to report to me before next year's
national conference with specific recommendations on what
changes are necessary to increase the number of women in
state and federal caucuses.
Early next year, I will also be meeting with the state
Labor leaders to pursue the issue.
This is a Government of reform, you can be sure of that.
We are determined to confront those changing realities of
contemporary life at home, in our region and in the
world and create a country which can share in the best
the future has to offer.
I mean more and better jobs, more opportunities for
Australians of this and future generations, more security
for all Australians.
At the same time, as we take up the challenge of
contemporary change we are determined to do all we can to
solve those problems which governments have neglected for
generations. We do these things because it is consistent with the
Labor Party's commitment to social justice. We also do
them because it makes sense.
It makes sense, for instance, to deliver justice to
indigenous Australians because this country will gain in
respect and self-esteem, and in time it will gain from
bringing into the mainstream people whose talents and
energy have until now been wasted on the margins.

Equally, it makes sense to ensure that the half of the
population who are women are in no sense left on the
margins the margins of society, the margins of justice,
or the margins of our representative institutions.
Every time we expand Australian democracy, every time we
extend the limits of freedom and justice, every time we
include in all the reaches of our national life all the
people of Australia, we make it stronger.
When we talk about women sharing power in Australia it is
a sufficient argument to say that it is " just" but it
is an irrefutable argument to say that it is both just
and, because it is in the interests of Australia, also
very wise.
Thank you for having me here. It is now my pleasure and
privilege to declare this conference open.