Address to welcome reception for Ambassador for Women and Girls

R.G. Casey Building, Canberra

Speech, E&OE, proof only

3 March 2014

Harinder thank you for your kind words and for the work you do for Australia as a fine representative for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Secretary, my Ministerial colleague in Senator Michaelia Cash, my parliamentary secretary in Brett Mason, Ambassadors, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.

What a delight it is to see so many people gathered here today in the week of International Women's Day. Now I think we should have a week to commemorate women's achievements and the challenges facing women rather than just a day so we have functions throughout this week to build up to International Women's Day on the 8th of March. So let's have a week instead of a day!

I'm particularly pleased to have the opportunity to host this event to greet a very dear friend in Natasha Stott Despoja. She is known to so many of you, but the role that she now undertakes will mean that she will be the face of Australia both across this nation and across the globe in her role as Ambassador for Women and Girls.

The previous Ambassador Penny Williams did a wonderful job as the inaugural Ambassador but I know Natasha Stott Despoja will make this role her own.

About 12 years ago, Natasha and I were on a parliamentary visit to the Pacific and I recall vividly our first stop in the Solomon Islands. At that time the Solomons was going through a period of conflict and turmoil and the then Foreign Minister Alexander Downer met with the parliamentarians of the Solomon Islands in Parliament House.

Natasha and I were outside and we met a group of women who were weaving baskets, doing handicrafts for sale in the markets and during our discussion I will never forget one of the women saying 'there will not be peace in the Solomon Islands until we are in there' – pointing to the Parliament House. And I've never forgotten that very simple but powerful message.

As Australia's first female Foreign Minister I believe that we are able to put the challenges facing women and the issues facing women at the heart of our foreign policy. Under a Coalition Government Australia's foreign policy is designed to project and protect our reputation as an open, export oriented, market economy. It is also designed to project and protect our reputation as an open liberal democracy committed to values of freedom, the rule of law and democratic institutions-and human rights and as Hillary Clinton once said – 'women's rights are human rights'.

We're also focussing on economic diplomacy. Now just as traditional diplomacy aims for peace, so economic diplomacy aims for prosperity and that means if you are to pursue these aims, women must be at the heart of your policy.

In our aid program we have brought AusAID into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade so that we can align all our efforts within the Department – our resources, our people, our creative thinking, our policies.

And in the aid area in particular one of our pillars will be relating to women. Over 50 per cent of our aid initiatives are directed towards women. And there are three areas where we will focus: women's economic empowerment – giving women access to resources, assets and finance so that women across our region can take part in the formal Labor market, can be part of the formal economy and can be part of developing economic growth in their particular country.

Secondly we're focussing on women's leadership – whether it be political, or business, or community, or family. We want to empower women to take leadership positions at whatever level, be part of the decision making at family, business, community, political level. And third we will focus on combatting violence against women and their families and whether it's announcing funding for a case management program in Lae in Papua New Guinea as I did the other day, whether it's supporting women in Vietnam, across the Pacific, the Indian Ocean we will be supporting the fight against domestic violence that affects so many women and their families.

I can't think of a better advocate for Australia than Natasha Stott Despoja. Natasha came in to Parliament as the youngest woman ever to be elected to Australia's Parliament at the ripe old age of 26. She became a Senator for South Australia so she and I have a bit in common there for a start, both hailing from South Australia.

Natasha proved to be a formidable opponent for those who crossed her path. She was a very strong policy advocate, she introduced many bills, she worked very hard in the Senate, all of the opportunities available to a Senator she took up to promote the causes that were dear to her and for 13 years she represented her party and her State with distinction.

She is a mum, she has two children and a husband who support her and she left politics after being the leader of her party. But she didn't stop promoting the causes about which she feels passionate and that includes setting up a foundation last year to combat domestic violence against women and their families and this foundation was focussed on the domestic policy framework in Australia and initiatives she could put in place to help women in these situations.

When I became Foreign Minister and I knew that the position for Ambassador for Women and Girls was available to be filled, I could think of no better person than Natasha Stott Despoja. She is a powerful woman, she is a great role model for all and already her voice is being heard on the world stage.

She accompanied me to the Pacific just before Christmas and I observed Natasha engaging so enthusiastically with women and men, policy makers, decision makers, from those running shelters to those in their Parliaments and I knew she would make an impact.

Natasha has also represented Australia at an ASEAN meeting in Indonesia. This is the 40th year of Australia's engagement with the ASEAN countries as a dialogue partner and we asked Natasha to represent Australia as they focussed on some of the gender issues and gender equality issues that beset the nations of ASEAN. Later this month she will be part of Australia's delegation to the UN Commission on women's issues at the United Nations.

I have a very full program designed for Natasha and given our focus on the Indian Ocean Asia Pacific I'm sure she will be very soon a familiar face and a familiar voice in our region. But her voice will be heard and that's why Senator Michaelia Cash and I both approached the Prime Minister and asked that this appointment be made. As Michaelia will confirm the Prime Minister was enthusiastic as soon as he heard her name and said 'yes, Natasha is precisely the figure that we want representing Australia. She is precisely the person with the character, the values, the interest, the passion to get across our message about the empowerment of women and girls'.

So ladies and gentlemen, before asking Natasha to come to the stage could I ask my dear friend and colleague Senator Michaelia Cash, who also hails from Western Australia – another very strong, feisty woman, another great role model in her own right and as the Minister for Women she has put so many causes on the Australian agenda and also on the international agenda. So please welcome Senator Michaelia Cash.

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