Gender Equality

I wouldn't be getting too excited about the figures. The government is claiming that it has been all their work which has improved our standing. But if we look deeper into the figures globally, in 2013 Australia was ranked No. 1 when it came to educational attainment. We're now No. 78.

Ms Miller-Frost interjecting—

Mrs McINTOSH: Would you like to claim No. 78 as well? We're 89th when it comes to health and we're also 38th when it comes to economic participation. And, yes, we are 26th out of 146 countries.

I have a particular interest in this issue. In 2014 I ran a big women-in-leadership event on the sidelines of the G20, and I would like to acknowledge a couple of the men who supported that and championed it: former senator Robert Hill, Kevin McCann and a former senator who has, sadly, passed away, Russell Trood. They really got behind this issue, because it's not just a women's issue; it's an economic issue. There was a goal set at the time by the G20, that by 2025 the reduction in the gender gap would be 25 per cent globally. Australia does play its part in that, and the improvements that we're seeing overall are encouraging, but there's absolutely more work to be done.

The way that we do that is across multiple areas. Of course there are women in politics and having clearer pathways for women—having more women in the talent pool; women in business and how to keep women engaged with their careers; and investing in women, which is a particular issue globally. When we look at the figures globally—and we can't take Australia out of that context, because this is a global target to reduce the gender gap—we've had setbacks and we've actually gone backwards. We should be concerned about that and whether we're going to pick up pace again to reach this 25 per cent target.

Of course, that is due to the COVID pandemic and the impact it had on women and girls in education and the workforce, followed by economic and geopolitical crises worldwide. Today some parts of the world are seeing partial recoveries while others are experiencing deteriorations as a new crisis unfolds. Global gender gaps in health and education have narrowed over the past year, yet progress on political empowerment is effectively at a standstill and women's economic participation has regressed rather than recovered. We can't increase global GDP, which is actually the aim of decreasing the gender gap, if we don't have women's economic participation.

COVID-19 placed an immense occupational, social and economic hardship on all of society, in particular on women and children. We know that in most households, when care is needed, it is overwhelmingly a woman who sacrifices employment or occupational advancement. This was evidenced in the peak years of the COVID pandemic, particularly during the lockdowns. COVID also affected hospitality, and many women working casual or part-time roles went without work or pay throughout that period until the former coalition government stepped in to assist those workers and families to ensure stability. We also saw the female dominated professions of caring, nursing and education facing the brunt of the pandemic. Maybe that's why we've seen such a decline in the rates around education. I urge the government to really look seriously at those, both in the area of education and in the area of health, and why we have gone from No. 1 down to 27 and are now 89th in the world when it comes to health.

I'd like to also acknowledge our nurses, who worked night and day to save lives during that incredibly difficult period. I know the New South Wales government offered healthcare workers accommodation so they didn't have to go home and risk spreading the virus to their families. And, of course, I want to thank our carers for the amazing work that they did during that period. Without their efforts, many more lives in aged-care facilities or disability services and housing may have been lost. Our teachers, within an instant, had to change the delivery model of work for students, and I understand the additional stress this put on our educators. I thank them for their stewardship of innovation during those periods so that, from early learning all the way through to university, kids were still being engaged in their education. I know that firsthand, with three children.

I mention those because that period of time during the pandemic had a real impact on the results that we are seeing today. I think the world needs to get back to some sense of normality for us to relook at the figures and also Australia's place in those figures before we get too carried away about doing such an amazing job. So I urge the government to be a bit careful in their self-congratulatory language about our current ranking in the world.

When we're thinking about women and their ability to work and support, we can't step back and not talk about the impact of this Labor government's cuts to the psychology sessions from 20 to 10. From the data, we know that it particularly impacts young women and girls who use the Better Access sessions provided by the former coalition government. In the midst of the pandemic, the coalition knew Australians were struggling and that mental health issues were arising from lockdowns and COVID. Now we're seeing that the cost-of-living crisis is causing distress in the community as well as the compounding impact of that period for those with long- to medium-term mental health conditions.

Women face a higher rate of homelessness as they age, and we know that workforce participation and economic opportunity can impact this. When I get an opportunity, I often give a shout-out to a program that I was involved in establishing when I worked in community and social housing. It's called the WISH program, Women In Social Housing. It was established for women who had been in the cycle of intergenerational welfare, had been through domestic violence and had never been able to get out of social housing. They were partnered with mentors in the community and provided wraparound support and training to get them into the workforce. I think that is such a wonderful program to give women independence—most of all, economic independence. These programs should have support in our communities, and these are local programs that make a difference. If women can have that economic independence, they can continue to strive, live out their dreams and be great role models for their children. That's some of the feedback that we were getting from women participating in that program, because it was about changing lives.

Again I want to reflect on the figures; they're not great, worldwide. We're not reaching that 25 per cent target. Australia does have its role to play in that. Please don't get carried away patting yourselves on the back that you're doing an amazing job, because there is a lot of work to do. Please focus on education, please focus on health and please keep the work going that the coalition government started in our term of government

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