JULIE BISHOP: I’m absolutely delighted to welcome you here to my electorate office for the last 20 years. I particularly want to pay tribute this evening to Danielle Blain, the Liberal Party’s first female State President in Western Australia, for coming up with this initiative and being a driving force behind it. I also pay tribute to Fay Duda, the second female State President of the Liberal Party in Western Australia, for endorsing and supporting this brilliant idea. I acknowledge my federal colleagues, particularly Melissa Price and Linda Reynolds and also my state colleagues, particularly Liza Harvey, and the members of the Liberal Party who are here this evening.
But particularly I acknowledge the women who are part of Emergent Women, and your presence here this evening demonstrates that you are interested in public affairs, in national issues, in current issues. Listening to Cath Giles talking about the challenges in health research and innovation, may well lead to some of you taking on leadership roles in business, communities, hopefully in Australian politics.

Why this particular initiative now? Well, let me put it in a global context. I believe that no nation can or will reach its potential unless it fully engages and embraces the skills and talent and ideas and energy of the 50 per cent of the population that is female. In Australia’s case, that is 51 per cent. One important thing that governments can do worldwide to drive economic growth, to build more cohesive and stronger communities and to lift standards of living – is to embrace gender equality, gender empowerment. And by that I mean giving women the opportunity to fully participate in all aspects of our society. This can be quantified, for there is considerable evidence to show that gender inequality, gender discrimination, gender bias and the underrepresentation of women, particularly in productive parts of our economy, does decrease social and economic growth and has an impact on economies globally and nationally.
Let me give you a couple of examples. Of all the unpaid work in the world, 75 per cent of it is done by women, and if you put a value on that work, it would add $10 trillion to global GDP. Another example, if we were to reduce the gap between men and women’s participation in the workforce by just 25 per cent, it would add $6 trillion to global GDP.

Around the world, women’s voices are being heard – from young girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan demanding the right to an education, to women in Saudi Arabia demanding the right to drive a motor vehicle in a country where Sharia law limits their freedoms and their rights, to some of the most powerful women in the world – one would think – female Hollywood actors with the #MeToo movement, which is campaigning against unacceptable behaviour towards women. Attitudes are really hard to change, for cultural, for religious, for social reasons, and even in the most developed and advanced economies in the world, attitudes might surprise you towards women. The World Economic Forum released a survey recently of the G7 economies – these are the largest, most advanced economies in the world representing about 60 per cent of net global wealth. Ten-thousand 10,000 people were surveyed in the G7 economies about leadership, 34 per cent of those surveyed said that they did not believe men and women were equally suited to leadership positions. I guess the good news is 66 per cent thought they were equally suited.

But then when you looked at it country by country – and just remember the G7 comprises Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, the UK and the USA – when they were asked the question would you be very comfortable with a female head of government, in the UK 58 per cent said yes, they would be very comfortable. Perhaps you can understand that because the UK has had two very strong female Prime Ministers in Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May. Whatever you thought of their policies, in the case of both women, they have been strong and resilient, besieged on all sides but absolutely determined to continue. Yet in Japan when the same question was posed, only 23 per cent of those surveyed said they would be very comfortable with a female head of government. Now, again, that might well be explained by the fact that there’s never been a female Prime Minister in Japan. But my theory fell away when it came to Germany. Only 26 per cent of those surveyed in Germany said they’d be very comfortable with a female head of government. Given that Angela Merkel has been Chancellor for 13 years, it makes you wonder what they are thinking.

Here in Australia we began exceedingly well in this regard. Back in 1902 we were the first country to simultaneously grant women the right to vote and the right to stand for election to the national Parliament. Then things fell away a little. It took us another 41 years for the first woman to be elected to the House of Representatives and that was Dame Enid Lyons. It took us 108 years for the female Prime Minister and 112 for the first female Foreign Minister. But I am pleased to say that I wanted to ensure that I made it easier for the next woman to be foreign minister, not harder, and I am delighted that my successor is Marise Payne, a very worthy Foreign Minister and absolutely appointed on merit, but I made sure that Marise was given the opportunity to be appointed and I’m delighted to say that.

What is challenging though is the fact that we do have a problem with female representation in the Liberal Party. There is no point in saying well, it will just take time or it doesn’t really matter because we all believe in meritocracy and no women wants to be there because she is a women. Yes, I get all of that, but really, 116 years since women were given the right to be elected to the federal parliament, the Liberal Party has 12 women in the House of Representatives and 10 in the Senate? In the House of Representatives, that is where the Prime Minister comes from, the Treasurer and many of the senior Cabinet positions. I believe that our party has been partly responsible for the fall in Australia’s rankings in terms of female parliamentary representation from 15th in the world in 1997 to 50th in the world today. Many nations have overtaken us and that’s not acceptable. Change does take time and I have been in politics for long enough to tell you that step by step, incremental change is more lasting. So this is going to take time but we also have to do things differently and think differently. You can’t keep doing the same thing and expect to get a different outcome. You have got to do things innovatively, creatively.

I well recall a conversation I had with Reese Witherspoon at the United Nations General Assembly Leaders’ Week last year. She was campaigning for better roles for female actors in Hollywood, for better pay, equal pay. She told me how frustrated she was by the barriers, by the entrenched attitudes, by the very male dominated industry in which she worked. So she decided to go it alone with a wonderful South Australian talent – Bruna Papandrea. She set up her own production company. She sourced scripts for female actors, she provided opportunities for women in front of the screen and behind the screen. And six years later, her all-female production house is a massive runaway success, challenging all and Big Little Lies is one example of the product that she’s turning out.

That made me think about why it was so important for us to back an initiative like Emergent Women. It is different, it is creative and it’s about long-term thinking. As Danielle said, it is all very well to say we want a quota or we want targets, but you have to have the pool of talented women from which we can draw. If we’re going to build a pipeline of women in local, state and federal Parliament, we need to start with bright, talented, committed women who have life experience, who are achieving things in different parts of our economy and our society, but who would make wonderful representatives or be involved in public life in some way. So that’s why I was delighted to take on the role of patron. Critical mass is important and that’s what we’re seeking to build – a critical mass to change attitudes, to change the level of representation because our party, our state, our country will be the better for it.

I hope that tonight we see the emergence of some future political leaders. I very well remember the moment when I decided to go into federal politics and often, it’s a chance comment, a chance meeting. Hopefully, by your presence here tonight and your involvement in Emergent Women, not only will you have fun and meet a great group of beautiful young women and network which is so incredibly important, but you will also see there is another side to politics and that is it is a calling and it is a calling that is worth your energy, your inspiration and your aspiration. I do not regret for a moment the fact that I went into politics 20 years ago and every day I am enthused and excited about dedicating my efforts and my energy to the betterment of my community, my state and my country. So thank you for being part of this, and I look forward to hearing your names over the years as you become part of the future leadership of our country. Thank you all for being here and all the best for Christmas.

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