25 November 2014
Speech - #2014027, 2014

Chief Executive Women Treasury Case Study Launch, Canberra

Check against delivery

Thank you very much Kathryn. You know, Martin wrote me some notes for today and they identified him as Treasurer as well. So, I will cast those notes aside. Well, thank you and to all of you, ladies and gentlemen. It is, in a sense a great honour to be here to launch this case study into Treasury but also, it is a touch embarrassing. And why do I say that? Because fundamentally, we are around the 100th anniversary of the suffragette movement in Australia, and why are we still having these sort of debates? I just ask myself.

Now, we all have an obligation to change culture. Surely equality of opportunity is a given in our society, notwithstanding your gender, or the colour of your skin, or the God that you might believe in. It is frustrating for me as someone who has been a lifelong advocate, in particular, for the proper treatment of women, that this should have to occur in 2014. I was actually a founding ambassador of White Ribbon and actually I confess as well, I was one actually of the first male members of the Women’s Electoral Lobby, some years ago but what are the influences? And it is about culture, but culture can’t be taken for granted. We all have to work to make it better.

One of the great heroes in my life I never met was my great-grandmother who was a very colourful lady. She had two husbands that she divorced. Both of them became alcoholic and bought pubs, but she had two daughters back in the 1930s. She used to sit down at the Australian Stock Exchange, and with a pair of binoculars and someone from JB Were sitting next to her, she traded shares – in the 1930s. And she built an absolute fortune and the reason why she did it was because, at that time, she found it very difficult to get into any business. So, she had to set up her own millinery in The Strand Arcade and that is how she made her money, and then she went and traded shares. Imagine a women doing that in the 1930s, and we were just sitting there watching Mathias Cormann ring the bell on the Medibank Private float and I thought to myself, how far had we come, that Medibank Private is in fact, is the only company in the ASX 100 that has a majority of female directors and it took a privatisation to do that – it took that sort of change to do that.

So, I have been very encouraged about progress in one sense. You know after my great-grandmother set up that small business, my grandmother was called to work during World War Two, like so many other women, but at the end of the World War Two, again something changed in Australia. So much so that when my mother who was working at the old CBC Bank got married, she had to resign because she was getting married, in the 1950s. What is going on? Now, you would have thought things would have changed but I witness it with my own wife and what she went through in financial services and the culture of some entities. I want to lay praise at the feet of the women in the 1990s who had the courage to take to court organisations like Bankers Trust and a range of others, for the locker-room culture that they had embedded in their dealing room, which made it possible for my wife and others, to actually succeed in the most bloke-orientated culture and business anywhere in Australia [inaudible] even the world but it took great courage for those women to stand up for what was right. Sometimes we have abandoned those women across our community.

And of course, as Financial Services Minister in the late 1990s, I went to war with Dick Warburton and the Australian Institute of Company Directors about the lack of female representation on boards. I like Dick a lot; we inflicted scars on each other at that time, but that was when I was able to identify that it is a corporate governance issue not to have proper representation of 50 per cent of the community on a board of directors. You know, President Xi said at the G20, in a private moment the other day – profound comment, I am sure it wasn’t his own but went back to Confucius or some other great philosopher, he said, ‘women hold up half the sky’. We need women to participate.

So, I want to make sure, like I am sure everyone one of you here, and every Australian that cares dearly about our future as a nation, not just from the perspective of what we believe in but most importantly as well, from an economic perspective, we need to have proper engagement. We need to work harder at changing the culture of the nation in relation to the equal treatment of women.

So, I do want to pay tribute to Martin Parkinson as Secretary of Treasury. This might be the only public opportunity I have but can I say it has been an enormous honour for me to be able to work with him since I became Treasurer. We have had our differences in the past but he is a man of great personal integrity and he is someone who is not afraid to stand up for what he believes to be right and there is no evidence that better illustrates that than this Report into Treasury, which recognises that he has worked hard at changing the culture of an organisation that is not always easy to embrace cultural change. I mean, they are not always accepting of cultural change and I am not just going over the last few months. I am actually referring back to my time as a Treasury Minister under John Howard in the late 90s. Martin has changed the culture for the better but in changing that culture, he strengthened the entity and strengthened the core of the entity rather than destroying it. So, Martin I do pay tribute to you for your enormous effort in many, many areas of public policy over a long period of time but in particular, I mean, you should be very proud of this work and thank you for what you have done.

To all of you, and more particularly directly to the Australian people, if we don’t heed the lessons of today about violence against women, about equality of pay and about changing attitudes in business towards women, we are letting not only ourselves down but we are letting our daughters down, and the generations that follow and by God, I am not going to be party to that and no one else should be because I think everyone that cares about the future would want their daughters to have the very same opportunities as their sons. That only comes from men standing up and women by the way because some of the toughest critics of women have been women. I don’t understand it but I say to you, there is no advantage in tearing down your own. If everyone works to build, we will all be stronger. If everyone commits to actually delivering equality, not just delivering words then we will all be stronger.

So, thank you Kathryn for this initiative. Thank you Martin and all of your team for the great effort that you have put into changing the culture of Treasury. This is something that I think is hugely important. It is not just a piece of paper, it represents a change in the values of an organisation and hopefully, this will represent a change in the values of modern Australia. Thank you very much.