Interview with Leila Mckinnon, Today
Leila McKinnon: Minister, thank you for coming on the show. Women have been getting very loud lately, and rightly so, but you have been very quiet. Where have you been?
Marise Payne: Well, we have a lot of work that we do all the time. And I think from after the very, very difficult events of recent weeks, the allegations that were made in the Parliament - difficult for everybody but, as I have said, no more difficult for anyone than those women, in this case, who have been either alleging assault or harassment. And certainly, our efforts and our thoughts have been with those people. I said just on International Women's Day and the days before that the only way for us to address this as a Parliament was to own the problems, to own the failings and absolutely to own the solutions. And steps that we have been taking in recent weeks have been a significant part of addressing that, and particularly including the Independent Review of the workplace that is Parliament House, that will be undertaken by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins.
Leila McKinnon: But is this cabinet reshuffle about helping women and all of the issues that are facing women right throughout our society, whether it's in Parliament House or the violence in the home or the gender pay gap, or is it purely designed to help fix the PM's recent troubles?
Marise Payne: It's absolutely about putting these issues at the centre of Government. This has never been done, to the best of my knowledge, in any government in Australia, to ensure that we have a Cabinet-level taskforce co-chaired by the Prime Minister and by me, which includes the most senior members of the Government - the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Finance Minister and the Treasurer, all of the female members of the Cabinet in the Ministry as well. To bring an absolute focus to the issues around gender equality, around women's safety, around women's economic security and leadership. They are the absolute focus of this. And I think it's a very, very powerful action and a very, very powerful message.
Leila McKinnon: Scott Morrison called you the Prime Minister for women. Does that mean he's the Prime Minister for men?
Marise Payne: No, he's the Prime Minister for all Australians. And he is most certainly leading his Cabinet in that way. And I am absolutely pleased and proud to be able to work as part of this Government right across this country in both of my roles as Minister for Foreign Affairs and as Minister for Women.
Leila McKinnon: Now, if women can't even be safe in your own offices, in our seat of power in Australia, you have a big job ahead of you. What are you going to do and how passionate are you about changing things? What are the priorities?
Marise Payne: There's no doubt that it's a big job. And these are issues that our workplace has to face up to, as other workplaces have, not just around Australia, but around the world. And unfortunately, it is past time to do that. So the processes that we are implementing, whether it is that Independent Review I have already spoken about, the work that is being done to ensure that staff, particularly, have the structures and support they need to feel they are able to make disclosures, to notify of issues in the workplace, to be supported in doing that.
They are very, very important for the workplace physically itself. Our focus, as the Prime Minister's appointments yesterday indicate, is on women's economic security, addressing issues like the gender pay gap, like workforce participation. Interestingly, workforce participation of women is now in February 2021 at 61.4 per cent. In February 2020, it was at 61.2 per cent. And we know that the pandemic has had a significant impact on women in the workforce. It's why we took the steps we took around JobKeeper and augmenting JobSeeker - and there is more to do in that regard. But we want to work with all of those issues, all of the ministers bringing them together through that taskforce process.
We know in relation to women's safety that since we have had a national action plan for the prevention of violence against women and their children, which started in 2010 - absolutely nonpartisan, no party politics in it whatsoever. It has been a very important tool for addressing violence against women and children in the home, in the community, but there is a lot more to do. And so, Minister Ruston and I, we are working with the states and territories through the Women's Safety Taskforce, which sits at the peak of Government in that National Federation Reform Council to address those issues, and to develop that new National Plan. All of these steps are core to the work that the government is doing.
Leila McKinnon: Now, the last budget received a lot of backlash for not supporting women. We need things like childcare. We need women not to be going into retirement with so little savings and in fact, heading for poverty. Will you fight for better representation in the budget? And will we see things like more access to childcare, more affordable childcare and better retirement savings for women in that document?
Marise Payne: I think there's a range of issues which will be addressed in the preparation of the budget and particularly considering the focus that we will bring through that taskforce approach, which, as I've said, involves the Treasurer and the Finance Minister, the two ministers at the core of the budget preparation and co-chaired by me with the Prime Minister. So that certainly brings that focus on the issues that you have raised and many others. I know I was talking yesterday with members of the Australian Human Rights Commission. I know there is a focus from the Age Discrimination Commissioner there, for example, on the issues that you've raised around retirement incomes and our Retirement Incomes Report recently addresses those as well.
So, we have those issues on the table brought to us by stakeholders, by agencies around Government, which are part of our budget process. I think it's unfair to say that in the last budget that there was not that support because in so many ways, Leila, it was a COVID response budget. And what programmes like JobKeeper enabled us to do, was to keep so many workers connected with their employers and with their workplace in a way that would not have been possible without it. Overwhelmingly, women and men connected with their workplaces and with the small business owners themselves, many of whom are women, able to keep their businesses operating. So those steps, coupled with the work we did with the Women's Economic Security Statement, was very targeted, were about addressing those points.
Leila McKinnon: Marise Payne, you've got a big job ahead. A lot of people counting on you to make a difference. Thank you very much for coming on the show.
Marise Payne: Thank you very much.