IPAA ACT Women in Leadership Breakfast

  • Speech, check against delivery

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning everybody and thank you Frances for that delightful introduction. What a joy it is to be here today to celebrate International Women's Day, albeit a week in advance. This is a global celebration of women – we honour those who have been trail blazers, we demonstrate our support for women who face challenges, and we seek to find ways to inspire future generations of women and girls to fulfil their potential.

I particularly want to thank Frances Adamson. As President of the Institute of Public Administration here in Australia, she exemplifies the twin pillars of excellence and professionalism that this Institute seeks to embed in Australia's public service. Frances had a distinguished career as a diplomat. She was our Ambassador in Beijing – one of the most demanding posts in our foreign service. She was International adviser to the Prime Minister, and then, quite naturally in my eyes, she took on the role as the first female Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Australia's history. It just so happens that her time of service coincides with my time as Australia's first female Foreign Minister, and we work exceedingly well together, and I'm very proud of the way we have been able to institute change in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that will impact across the Australian Government public service.

As Foreign Minister, I travel constantly representing Australia's interests on the world stage, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade invariably puts together an exceedingly busy schedule for me wherever I am. I demand it and they deliver.

They are also aware that I want to have in my itinerary, wherever I am in the world, an opportunity to meet with the women leaders in that city or that country I'm visiting. Over the years I have met some of the most extraordinary women at lunches, at dinners, at briefings, where our Posts, our Embassies, our High Commissions have brought together a cross-section of women from that country or city. What I learn from those meetings, all the briefings, all the ministerial meetings can never make up, from hearing first-hand from women what life is like in that country. While the stories and the experiences are so diverse and vary so dramatically country-to-country, continent-to-continent, there is an underlying theme – whatever the gender equality statistics may or may not be for that country, there is still an overwhelming desire to see more women in leadership roles.

Whether I'm in Samoa, or the United Kingdom, or Afghanistan, or China, there's a desire to see more women take leadership roles in their families, in their villages, in their communities, in business, in commerce, in government at all levels, and that's because women can make a significant difference to the betterment of society. After all, a nation that doesn't harness and utilise the talents and skills and perspectives and insights and intelligence of around 50 per cent of its population will never reach its full potential.

I've also been very delighted to be part of a movement amongst female foreign ministers of the world. Of the 193 members of the United Nations, 32 countries have female foreign ministers. There is now an annual event on the side of the United Nations General Assembly Leaders Week – (and for those of you who haven't attending UNGA Leaders Week it is like speed dating on steroids, you meet minister after minister, back-to-back, day after day) but to think foreign ministers have found time in this extraordinarily busy schedule to meet. A number of female foreign ministers are from significant nations and economies, the female Foreign Minister of India, Indonesia, Canada, Australia.

We meet to discuss the issues of the day but from our perspective as female foreign ministers. We often say: "I wonder what Madeline Albright would've done in these circumstances, or Condoleezza Rice or Hilary Clinton," because without doubt the United States has produced some of the most outstanding Foreign Secretaries, Secretaries of State in recent memory.

It is important for me to gain perspectives of other women in counterpart positions, it informs my thinking, in reinforces the views I have, and it drives me to ensure that Australia is embracing every tool available to us for gender equality, gender equity, and the empowerment of women in Australia, and in the countries where we have influence.

As Frances said, last year we released the Foreign Policy White Paper, and I take this opportunity to again publically pay tribute to Frances and the team at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for producing a quite extraordinary document, the first in 14 years but without doubt the most comprehensive Foreign Policy White Paper in Australia's history.

This is a framework to guide our international engagement, our international activities for the next decade and beyond. It is a detailed and thorough piece of work that should be read by foreign ministers around the world, and may I assure you, it is being read by governments across the globe.

Australia is an open liberal democracy. We embrace freedoms, the rule of law, democratic institutions. We're an open export oriented market economy. We depend for our standard of living, for our economic growth, on our ability to sell our goods and services into markets around the world.

Australia is entering its 27th consecutive year of economic growth, uninterrupted economic growth. That is a record unparalleled in the world. No other country, no other comparable economy has ever achieved that, but it doesn't happen by accident, and we want to ensure that Australia can continue to grow, and continue to be a beacon of democratic values, and embrace open and liberal trade and investment, not to impose our model on others, but to be an example for those who follow and may see in Australia a case-study for their country.

The Foreign Policy White Paper sets out our values, our priorities, our interests. Without doubt Australia's interests are very much global, our priorities are very much regional, and for the first time in a foreign policy document we have embraced the term Indo-Pacific to describe our part of the world – the Indian Ocean Pacific.

This term, not just a term of art, but a term that reflects the geostrategic and economic reality. It is now being picked up by other major nations around the world. In fact, in the United States recent National Security Statement they referred to the US presence in the Indo-Pacific. This is our part of the world and the Foreign Policy White Paper sets out the threats, the opportunities, the challenges, the risks for Australia's international engagement.

In focussing on the Indo-Pacific, let me bring it down to the issue of gender equality.

In the Pacific today, 7 per cent of the members of Parliament are female. In a major Pacific nation, Papua New Guinea, some 8 million people with 100 members in their national Parliament, there are no women. This does not compare with the global average of about 23-25 per cent of national Parliaments being made up of female members.

We have embraced the empowerment of women as a key pillar in our foreign policy, and in particular our aid program in the Pacific. We do that under three headings: Support for more leadership, and we have practical initiatives and programs to assist women in the pacific become leaders in their communities, in their villages, in their parliaments. We have embraced the empowerment of women in economic terms- the economic empowerment of women so that women can take their place in the formal labour markets of these countries, that they can make a contribution, that they can run businesses, that they can be involved in commerce and investment and trade and activities. That of course means ensuring that health and education initiatives are equally supported. Our third pillar is to deal with the scourge of domestic violence. The Pacific are not alone in this regard although the incidence and prevalence is very high. All nations struggle with the issue of domestic violence, but the Indo-Pacific, the Pacific in particular, is our part of the world, it is our neighbourhood and we must do what we can to ensure that women and girls are safe in their communities.

We have numerous programs that focus on the empowerment of women but we have to do things that have a practical outcome. I mandated that 80 per cent of our aid programs have to take into account the impact on women to ensure that women got equal opportunities to take part in programs, for these programs would have an impact on women.

Just a small example – we had a road building project in Timor-Leste and as part of the infrastructure program we were training Timorese workers to drive bulldozers, and tractors, and be part of the construction work to gain skills that would be useful for them. The education component was made up entirely of men. We mandated, as I said that 80 per cent of our aid program had to take into account the impact on women, so the program was required to see if there were women who could fill these educational places. Now, 30 per cent of the road team on that project are women. They're learning how to drive vehicles, they're learning how to build roads, they're learning engineering techniques, they're developing skills. Often it's just asking people to focus on the obvious.

Recently, in New York I launched a new initiative, Women in Leadership Initiative in the Pacific, and I re-launched it back here in Canberra recently. This is based on the power of mentoring. What this program does through our Australia Awards Program – many of you will know that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has for a long time run an Australia Awards Program whereby we provide scholarships through postgraduate students in countries in our region, they come to Australia, they complete their qualifications, they go back home with an Australian qualification, with a connection with Australia that will last a lifetime – so from that cohort of Australia Awards recipients, we've identified young women from the Pacific who have leadership potential, and we have connected them with an Australian female leader who is prepared to act as their mentor. In this way, these young women who gained an Australian qualification, have gone back home, will have a connection with Australia, a person who is prepared to share their knowledge, and experience, and support them externally, but somebody that they can rely on, call when they're looking for some advice or some support.

One great example is Nirose Silas, she's an Australia Award recipient from Vanuatu. She studied here in Australia, and her ambition is to be Auditor-General of Vanuatu. I thought isn't that wonderful – you wake up one morning in Vanuatu and say 'I want to be the Auditor-General'. We have connected her with Chief Government Whip Nola Marino, the Member for Forrest here in Parliament House. Nirose and Nola are now mentor-mentee. I have so many examples.

If there are any women in the room who would like to be part of this brilliant program, Frances will certainly take your names and details. This is an example of Australia sharing experiences in a practical, principled way, supporting people.

I must say, I believe absolutely in the power of mentoring. When I was the Minister for Education we observed a case-study on mentoring in a South Australian university. They did a controlled experiment – a group of female academics were in a formal mentoring program, a group of female academics were not in a formal mentoring program and over five years they tracked the progress of the two groups of women, and it was overwhelmingly in favour of the women her were in the mentoring program in terms of promotions, in terms of grants, in terms of job satisfaction. The evidence was in. So I believe very much in the power of mentoring.

We have also recognised that we need to promote our policies and our agenda supporting women around the world, and I have had the honour of appointing two female Ambassadors for Women and Girls. The first was former Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, who after she left Parliament continued in her advocacy against domestic violence with an impeccable international reputation. Natasha Stott Despoja was our Ambassador for Women and Girls for two years and in that role she represented Australia around the world, particularly focusing on our region. Today I just got a text from her. She's in London where the Commonwealth have asked her to be on an electoral observer commission, such is her standing in the world today.

Our current Ambassador for Women and Girls is Dr Sharman Stone, who was the Member for Murray here in the Parliament – a very distinguished career as a parliamentarian, and absolutely committed to the betterment of lives of women in our Pacific and she's doing a magnificent job.

Hopefully there will come a time where we won't need an Office for Women, we won't need an Ambassador for Women and Girls, and that time is not now. We continue to promote and support activities to give women their voice, to give women the right to be heard, and to support them when they need that boost to their confidence, to their ability to fulfil their potential.

Now, Frances mentioned the New Colombo Plan. This is my baby. The New Colombo Plan is a student program that is run through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade where we provide support to undergraduates in Australia's universities to live and study and undertake a work experience or practicum, an internship, in one of 40 countries in our region. We commenced the program in 2014 and by the end of this year, 30,000 Australian undergraduates will have been through our New Colombo Plan. These are young people who will be our ambassadors, who are our ambassadors, in our region. Not only are they having an extraordinary educational experience, studying at a university in our region, but they're having an extraordinary cultural experience living, working with people in another country. The benefit to Australia is profound.

It is being run through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade because it is a foreign policy initiative. The next generation of young Australians will have a unique understanding of our part of the world. They'll have connections, and networks, and friendships that can only benefit Australia as we engage in this part of the world.

It's interesting to note that of the recipients of the scholarships, 12 month scholarships, 54 per cent of the recipients have been female. Of the Mobility Grants – which are shorter periods, a semester, sometimes a matter of weeks but they are shorter periods working in health clinics or in schools, working in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in another country – 64 per cent of the recipients are women. They will be such an asset to us in years to come.

I'm thinking of our New Colombo Plan scholar from the University of South Australia Michelle Howie. She studied engineering, and she got a place at the South Korean Institute of Technology – a highly prestigious institute. She's studied engineering, she then worked for Telstra in Hong Kong and she's now employed as an engineer in Telstra – all through the New Colombo Plan.

Frances also mentioned the innovationXchange – another initiative that we have introduced within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I believe it is a case study for other departments across the Australian Government.

We have an ideas hub within the Department. It is over the road from the R.G. Casey Building, so it is physically removed from – how should I put this – the framework of the Department. We brought in some of our best and brightest thinkers from DFAT, from other departments, from the private sector, from overseas, from the World Bank, from Google, and from the USA.

Frances, I offered a position – I thought I'd tell you this – I offered a position to a bright young officer from DIFD UK from the aid department to come to Australia. We'll talk about the details later.

This innovationXchange throws out the rule book, turns thinking on its head when it comes to overseas development assistance, and starts with a blank sheet of paper and a problem. How would we solve this? Throwing out the old stereotypical thinking. What would we do to solve what is a seemingly intractable problem? They come up with ideas and they hold hackathons, ideas challenges, and we are now part of global challenges. Coming up with an issue that needs to be resolved – how do we do it?

The Australian Government is prepared to put up seed funding for the best ideas from around the world to implement development assistance programs that actually make a difference on the ground. We were driven to do this because Australia has a signification aid budget. We invest heavily in our region, yet after billions and billions of dollars of investment some nations in our region are still going backwards in their economic and social development indicators – backwards from the Sustainable Development Goals, backwards from the previous Millennium Development Goals.

We had to do something differently and we've shaken it up.

We've got this ideas hub and if secretaries of other departments haven't visited it, I urge you to do so.

It just challenges thinking, and the female leadership – Sarah Pearson is about to become the new director – has really made a difference.

Speaking of female leadership, I am a great believer of statistics and evidence to prove that we are achieving our aims or making a difference, and the Turnbull Government resolved that of the board appointments for which government is responsible, we should have a target of 50 per cent female.

I remember the debate very well – let's go for a target of 30 per cent and the women in the room went: "Really?"

I am pleased to say that at last count we were at 42 per cent of all of the board and council position that the Australian Government is responsible for making are now female.

We also have a bit of a competition amongst the Ministers – okay – a big competition amongst the Ministers as to who can meet that target within their portfolio. Frances Adamson and DFAT are at 50 per cent. Thank you!

It is a target because we don't want to impose a quote so that any woman appointed to such a position believes that she is only there because we had to fill a quota. A target means that people think consciously about who they are appointing or the group of people they are interviewing for a particular position, and it is addressing that unconscious bias – you can address conscious bias because you can see, you can hear, you can feel it, but in terms of unconscious bias it is very difficult to challenge so if Minister's are informed, if they have a target to reach and if they are not reaching it, they have to explain why, then it can have a pretty dramatic impact. It's a question of just looking further, asking more questions, asking others to come up with names. There are women who are more than capable of filling these positions, please find them and put them forward.

I'm delighted to also know that of the 18 government departments we have eight female departmental secretaries – we have a number of them here today, I welcome them.

I'm also very pleased with a focus that Frances has brought to the appointments of our Heads of Mission. Today I believe about, 35 per cent of Heads of Mission (she's getting there to 50 per cent), of our Heads of Mission are women, and they are in some of the most challenging and difficult and demanding roles within our foreign service. Jan Adams our Ambassador to Beijing, Harinder Sidhu our High Commissioner in New Dehli and Gillian Bird our Ambassador to the United Nations are just a few of the names that spring to mind.

Within the Cabinet, I am so pleased that my Defence Cabinet colleague is Senator Marise Payne. She's the first female Defence Minister in Australia's history. There's a piece of architecture for foreign and defence ministers – it's called a 2 + 2 – and with our important strategic partners around the world we have annual 2 + 2 meetings. That is, the Foreign Minister and Defence Minister of Australia meets with our counterpart secretary of state, secretary of defence, and when Marise and I turn up for Australia, invariably meet our male colleagues with just this little sense of pride as Marise Payne and I stand in front of an Australia flag and our male colleagues stand in front of their flag. You know, we've set a pattern. India now has a female foreign minister and a female defence minister and we're so looking forward to our first 2 + 2 with Indonesia.

I'm also delighted to serve with Kelly O'Dwyer who amongst her portfolio responsibilities as Minister for Revenue and also the Minister for Women, and Kelly of course has the distinction of being the first female Cabinet Minister to have a child while continuing to balance the challenging role of Cabinet Minister.

We're joined by Bridget Mackenzie, the Deputy Leader of the National Party, and Michaelia Cash, Senator from Western Australia who has a very demanding portfolio role about job creation and innovation.

So, ladies and gentlemen, women are making their mark in Australia. We are deliberately focussed on ensuring that more women have the opportunity to drive change, to be a decision maker, to be a leader. It's not something that always comes naturally, so it is something that we must continue to push, and promote, and advocate, and some of the strongest advocates for female empowerment are the male champions and men in this room, the secretaries of the departments, the public sector, who understand that in order for Australia to fulfil our potential we must have women leaders at every level of the private and public sector.

I know there's a way to go in the private sector. My last assessment was that about 11 of the top 200 ASX companies had female CEOs. There is still over 40 top companies that don't have any females on their board. I urge them to re-think that because I believe that women in the private sector have an extraordinary contribution to make, and those companies will be more sustainable, more successful, more profitable, and a better place to work as a result of embracing more women at the top.

Happy International Women's Day!

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