Dr Anne Summers AO is a best-selling author, journalist and thought leader with a long career in politics, the media, business and the non-government sector. She is the author of eight books, including the classic Damned Whores and God’s Police, first published in 1975. She has been editor-in-chief of Ms., the landmark US feminist magazine, and her 1988 purchase of Ms. and Sassy magazines with business partner Sandra Yates remains one of only two women-led management buyouts in US corporate history.
Her professional life has seen her run the Office for the Status of Women (now Office for Women) during the Hawke government, and she also advised former Prime Minister Paul Keating on women’s and other issues in the lead-up to the 1993 election.
On matters of gender equality, social responsibility and social justice Anne Summers’ articulate journalism, politics and activism have called us all to account.
About the Kenneth Myer Lecture
The Kenneth Myer Lecture is named for Kenneth Baillieu Myer AC, who was a businessman and philanthropist with a wide range of cultural and social commitments. He was Chair of the National Library Council from 1972 to 1982 and a long-time friend of the Library.
The prescription for the lecture is simple and based on Mr Myer’s philosophy. He saw it as a means to provide an eminent Australian with the opportunity to make a significant statement on a broad subject of particular interest to them. In particular, we invite our speakers to consider how they would promote positive change in Australia.
The National Library of Australia thanks the Myer Foundation for its support of the 2017 Kenneth Myer Lecture.
*Speakers: Marie-Louise Ayres (M), Anne Summers (A)
*Location: National Library of Australia
*Date: 10 August 2017
M: Okay. Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 28th Kenneth Myer Lecture generously supported by the Myer Foundation. My name is Marie-Louise Ayres and I’m privileged to be the Director General of the National Library of Australia.
Before we begin I would like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet. I thank their elders past, present and emerging for caring for this land we are now privileged to call our home.
The Kenneth Myer Lecture began in 1990 as a major annual event for the Friends of the National Library of Australia. The lecture was named for Kenneth Baillieu Myer AC, Chairman of the National Library Council from 1974 to 1982 and a long-time friend of the Library.
Kenneth Myer was a visionary Australian philanthropist and businessman. He contributed to an extensive range of institutions and causes through significant personal donations, enthusiastic participation on boards and his involvement in the Sydney Myer Fund and the Myer Foundation.
A generous supporter of the National Library of Australia Myer was in fact a founding member of the National Library Council in 1961 prior to serving as its Chairman from 1974 to 1982 so you can see how long this relationship has been. In 1989 he was the recipient of the Australian Library and Information Association Redmond Barry Award for his service to libraries.
For 28 years the Kenneth Myer Lecture at the National Library of Australia has provided eminent Australians with a forum to speak their minds and contribute to national debates. The Lecture has been presented by a range of thought leaders from the Honourable Gough Whitlam AC, QC to Professor Fiona Stanley AC, FAA and most recently former Australian of the Year, Professor Mick Dodson AM, FASA, and arts and media champion, Mr Kim Williams AM.
The lecture series would simply not be possible without the support of Kenneth Myer himself, the Myer family and since 2015 the Myer Foundation. So on behalf of my colleagues and of you who get to benefit from this lecture every year I offer heartfelt thanks to the Director of the Myer Foundation and its CEO, Leonard Vary who is here with us tonight for the Foundation’s continuing support of the Lecture.
Now it’s my great pleasure to introduce Dr Anne Summers AO to deliver the 2017 Kenneth Myer Lecture. Anne is a bestselling author, journalist and thought leader who’s had a long career in politics, the media, business and the non-government sector. She’s the author of eight books including the classic, Damned Whores and God’s Police first published in 1975 – it seems impossible to me that it’s the case. She’s been editor in chief of Ms, the landmark US feminist magazine and her 1988 purchase of Ms and Sassy magazines with business partner, Sandra Yates, remains one of only two women-led management buyouts in US corporate history so there’s a record waiting to be broken by somebody else, I think.
Her professional life has seen her run the Office for the Status of Women, now the Office for Women, during the Hawke Government and she also advised former Prime Minister Paul Keating on women’s and other issues in the lead-up to the 1993 election. On matters of gender equality, social responsibility and social justice Anne Summers’ articulate journalism, politics and activism have called us all to account.
Now some of you may have had the experience of listening to Anne this morning while you were having your breakfast Weeties or you were driving to work and therefore you’ll have a little taste of the treat that’s to come for us tonight so without further ado please welcome Dr Anne Summers AO to present the 2017 Kenneth Myer Lecture titled 2020 Vision, Where is Australia Headed? Thank you, Anne.
A: Well thank you very much, it’s wonderful to be back in Canberra particularly in this building which is one of my favourite spots. Dr Marie-Louise Ayres, thank you for that introduction, very generous. Friends of the National Library and other distinguished guests, men and women of Canberra, thank you for inviting me to deliver the 2017 Kenneth Myer Lecture this evening. In honouring the memory of Kenneth Myer I want to acknowledge his love for the institution where we meet tonight, the National Library of Australia. His love was manifested in practical ways including as we’ve just heard financial that among other things provided funding for this annual lecture.
In sharing some thoughts with you tonight I want to pay tribute to the kind of philanthropy that fosters ideas because tonight I will be talking about ideas. All philanthropy is important and of course welcome but donating to a hospital or an animal conservancy does not carry with it the risks inherent in making funds available to foster ideas. You never know where ideas are going to take you. But it is ideas this country currently and urgently needs and just as importantly we need guidance on how to turn these ideas into the kind of changes this country so desperately needs and that is what I’m going to talk about this evening.
Before I do so let me acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land we are meeting on, the Ngunnawal people. I acknowledge and respect their continuing culture and the contribution they make to the life of this city and this region and I also acknowledge any other - and welcome any other Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people who may be attending this evening. I’d also like to express my support for [Macarata] 7:18, the process that would formally ensure the voices of Australia’s first nations are included in our constitution as outlined recently in the Uluru Statement From The Heart.
What I’d like to lay out for your consideration this evening is the idea that Australia is in need of reconstruction. I’m calling it New Century Reconstruction. Reconstruction is something that we’ve undergone before so it’s not an alien concept even though it is more than seven decades since we last attempted it. There are parallels between the Australia that decided to plan its post-war reconstruction and Australia today. In 1942 the government established a post-war reconstruction ministry. As described by Professor Stuart MacIntyre its functions encompassed the preparation of plans for the transition from a wartime to a peacetime economy along with a collaborative role in reestablishment of members of the services and war workers. The disposal of wartime buildings, plant and equipment, the maintenance and expansion of employment and the national income, the prevention of want and attainment of social security and the development and conservation of the nation’s resources.
In 2017 we need in my view to prepare plans for the transition from the analogue to the digital economy, from the manufacturing to the services economy, from the no tech to the very high tech along with a collaborative role in the reestablishment of workers from displaced, disrupted or superseded industries, the disposal of the old economy, mines, plants and equipment, the maintenance and expansion of the national income and the design of postemployment occupations for the population, the prevention of want and the restoration of social security, the development and conservation of the nation’s resources, physical, natural and human. The challenges are remarkably similar. I will expand on this idea late in my remarks but for now I just want to note that what I have in mind is a larger and even more encompassing project than the post-war reconstruction that was undertaken in the 1940s.
In the 2020s we will need not just economic and social reconstruction, we will also need emotional and even spiritual reconstruction. We will need to rebuild our society to equip ourselves for the challenges of the future and to address the failures of the present. And in order to do this we need to be emotionally and spiritually strong, we need to be up for what we have to do.
When I decided to call this lecture 2020 Vision I was thinking of a timetable. I was thinking not so much of a deadline, an end date, as a starting date for the new century reconstruction. This is less than three years away, it’s urgent. But as well as being a timetable 2020 Vision describes something else, it’s a measure of vision. When we visit the optometrist and have our eyesight measured according to the Snellen Chart, if we’re lucky enough to have 2020 vision, which I certainly don’t have, we’re considered normal. We do not need corrective glasses or contact lenses. We need such a test for our country as well, not just to test our national vision, although it’s a pity it’s not possible to do that, but to measure what kind of corrections that overall as a country we need.
As I will argue for the remainder of this lecture I’m of the view that we are in need of severe correction. If we were a person we might well be considered legally blind. We have no idea what sort of country we want to be. Unless we take urgent action we will be entering the third decade of the 21st century directionless and unfocused in a world that is in chaos today and likely to remain so. That is why I am advocating new century reconstruction. But first let’s look at what’s wrong with the way things are.
Let me summarise, there are three basic points that I think can summarise what’s wrong. Firstly the benefits and the burdens of our society are unfairly distributed. Secondly as individuals we lack agency to change this and thirdly we have no plan to make Australia fairer or more efficient. We lack the policies to guide us, our political leaders are inept and our institutions for the most part are incapable or prevented from serving us in the way that is needed.
Now if that sounds a bit harsh let us consider the following. Australia does not have a clear economic policy. We have an economic record, and a very strong one. We are, as Donald Horne pointed out in the 1960s, a lucky country. In fact we are unbelievably lucky in that our winning streak has lasted so long. Our living standards and wellbeing are generally high, the OECD noted in its most recent survey of the Australian economy although it cautioned that challenges remain in gender gaps and in greenhouse gas emissions and further challenges arise from population ageing. Further challenges lie in our ongoing inability to manage microeconomic policy, for instance budget policy and institutional reform.
In other important areas we have no discernible policy at all. I’d just like to note that tonight I'm talking only about domestic policy, I can only hope that we are better served when it comes to defence and foreign affairs particularly in these current extremely perilous times.
Let’s look at some of them. We have no employment strategy – sorry, we have no employment policy. We have various strategies for creating jobs for people in situations such as leaving prison, transitioning from welfare or leaving school but I am unaware of an overriding policy that addresses unemployment, underemployment, threats to employment from global outsourcing, declining industries - hello coal - let alone robotics, artificial intelligence and other instances of digital disruption.
Even before we factor in the looming impact of the digital economy we have performed poorly. We have averaged an unemployment rate of 6.9% since the late 1970s. We have massive underutilisation of our workforce especially of women. With women making up 71.6% of all part-time employees we have the third highest rate of female part-time employment in the OECD, 25% of women in Australia working part-time against the OECD average of 16%. If we drill down further into employment, unemployment and underemployment by region, by age, by population group especially among indigenous Australians the picture is even bleaker.
All of this underutilisation has consequences for individual financial wellbeing and for national GDP. We have no population policy and we exhibit a marked reluctance to adopt one. It is literally the policy that dare not speak its name. We don’t want to have the conversation about a big Australia versus a sustainable Australia because it’s a fight, not a discussion and we seem unable to reconcile the two sides.
Our fertility rate, births per woman, remains stubbornly below replacement levels and nothing will change that. The Howard Government’s baby bonus together with Treasurer Peter Costello’s exhortation in 2004 to women to have one for Mum, one for Dad and one for the country did produce a 15-year high fertility rate of 1.90 by 2006 but it lasted for just six years and has not returned to those levels since. It is currently 1.77 which a visiting Canadian commentator in 2016 said puts us in a demographic death spiral.
We rely on immigration to grow our population and keep it younger than it otherwise would be but this is an inconvenient truth in an environment where immigration levels are a volatile political issue. The mass movement of people across borders – across and within borders is one of the biggest issues of our time. It is a confronting and complex matter involving millions of people moving from their homes to other people’s, in the process causing resentment, anger and pushback and I'm just talking about tourism. In recent years towns in Italy and in Spain have taken steps to limit the number of tourists who descend on them each year, putting pressure on local facilities, pushing up housing costs, creating crowding and inconvenience that is not always sufficiently compensated by the tourist dollar.
This problem is perhaps most evident in Venice where each year 20 million tourists invade this city of just 50,000 residents. Each day thousands of people are disgorged from enormous cruise liners to roam the narrow streets and canals gawking at famous sites, snapping selfies in front of iconic landmarks then returning to their boats for their prepaid meals. A large number of these tourists are just day-trippers so they contribute nothing to the hotel economy but they are wreaking huge damage on the fragile ecosystem of this marvellous city.
San Sebastian in northern Spain is another town that is pulling up the welcome sign as tourism becomes a burden rather than a bounty. Tourists are now confronted with signs such as tourist, you are the terrorist, or tourists, go home, refugees welcome. This particular sign of course highlights the other mass movement of people into Europe, the flood of refugees and asylum-seekers from Africa and the middle east. This has become a political nightmare for most countries of Europe. Immigration is a tinderbox issue in France, Belgium, Germany and the Scandinavian countries and there is a pronounced absence of political solutions.
And speaking of immigration what is our immigration policy? It’s another of those dare not speak its name areas. Net overseas migration now accounts for 55% of our population growth but we don’t mention that in public. Immigration policy has been conflated and confused with refugee policy and our political leaders have seemingly encouraged this by subsuming immigration within the Department of Border Protection. Now with the proposed Department of Homeland Security about to swallow up that department immigration will perhaps only be viewed in future via a border protection and security lens. How will this affect our population’s growth and age if we lose sight of the demographic imperatives of continued immigration?
I could go through any number of policy deficits. What is our cyber policy? Our cultural policy, our energy policy, our digital policy, our income and wages policy, our housing policy, our retirement incomes policy, our welfare policy, our industry policy, our environment policy. There are undoubtedly many other areas and issues where spending and decisions are made without the benefit of an overarching policy. Instead decisions are taken on an ad hoc basis perhaps influenced by ideological conviction, budget constraints or lobbying rather than driven by an articulated, well-argued and publicly available policy.
The absence of policy means reduced accountability because there are no benchmarks or goals against which activity can be measured. Absence of policy also means that government occurs within a vacuum rather than within an electorally endorsed framework that defines our national aspirations and priorities.
Now while I’m quite confident that our political leaders are sincere when they say they are governing in the national interest I wonder if any of them can tell us what the national interest actually is. At the same time we voters have reduced agency, we have little or no power to even confirm let alone decide the kind of country we want to be and how we’re going to get there. At election time when political parties seek a mandate to govern on our behalf the recent tendency is for party leaders to speak in slogans. We get to decide our future on the basis of a catchy phrase, a string of words. We vote for nouns - jobs and growth, border protection, debt and deficit, whatever they might mean. As voters we have not endorsed a direction let alone a policy, and most of us have no power at all. Most of us live in safe seats and are therefore totally ignored by the political parties. They put all their efforts into wooing those in seats where a change of mind by a few hundred or even a few dozen could determine an election result.
Elsewhere in the world we’ve seen the votes of a minority of a population deliver calamitous outcomes, I’m thinking of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. Our system has seen parties win government without winning a majority of votes and we know that senators can be elected with just a handful of primary votes but at least in the House of Representatives we are protected against a small minority determining who sits on the Treasury benches. However as citizens we have no influence on who is nominated for preselection by our parties, we have no redress if we feel that those who are nominated and who sit in the parliament are increasingly unrepresentative of popular opinion on contentious issues such as climate change, same sex marriage or abortion. If we feel politically marooned all we can do is protest, seek out third party candidates or join in the wave of so-called populism.
Once in power our governments are becoming less accountable by being less transparent. There are a number of disturbing examples of this. A great deal of policy is now outsourced. The beneficiaries of this practice include the accounting firms, especially the so-called big four, they have seen their expansion into government consultancy bring in lucrative returns. Just in the past three years these four companies have been paid $1b to do work that was once done in the public service. Senator Nick Xenophon has called for public disclosure of the details of these – of the policy work done under these contracts. It seems extraordinary that this is not public information.
While our democracy is not challenged or overtly threatened in the same way as is happening in countries such as Turkey and the United States we should still be worried about unaccountable and possibly corrupt practices. We do have the covert subversion of democratic processes where governments are influenced in their decision-making by the efforts of lobbyists for special interests. Often, perhaps more than we realise, these influences are not disclosed. Sometimes they are even disguised so that the opposition, the media, the electorate and I suspect even the government is not always aware of who is pushing for particular outcomes. They are not open to any kind of scrutiny and therefore none of us are any the wiser when a particular decision may have resulted from what lobbyists like to brag about as fingerprintless campaigns.
Also of great concern should be recent examples of ministers going straight from the Cabinet room to post-parliamentary employment with companies directly affected by their former portfolios. Andrew Robb, the trade minister in the last government, took an 880,000 job with a Chinese trade company days after the 2016 election. And just this week it’s been revealed that Bruce Billson, the Minister for Small Business until the 2016 election, was actually on the payroll of his future employer, the franchise lobby, while still sitting at the Cabinet table. It’s time to change all this.
Now I think we can learn quite a lot about how to approach this massive project from the post-war reconstruction model and the people who made it happen. There are three ways in which it is still a relevant model despite the lapse of more than 70 years. First it was a set of policies based on values, the values drove the approach and led to the creation of the institutions such as the Commonwealth Employment Service, funding for housing, hospitals and universities, social security benefits and the insistence on economic planning for the betterment of the population.
H C Coombs, of course known as Nugget Coombs, who in early 1943 at the age of 37 was put in charge of the Ministry of Post-War Reconstruction, described his belief in the following terms and I quote, widening opportunity for all was to be the criterion by which policies were judged. The task was to ensure an economic and social content in which positive opportunities were present rather than merely the absence of constraints. Freedom is opportunity, might have been the watchword. The program was, he wrote in his autobiography, Trial Balance, an instrument of social change.
Second, the people who staffed the Ministry were exemplars of the then new model for public service, they were professional and idealistic. They were led by Nugget Coombs who was one of the most outstanding people this country has produced. He shaped Australia in ways that are almost beyond measure in the policies and practices and institutions that he influenced or directed from the Reserve Bank to the Australia Council, to the Australian National University and in the many people across more than one generation that he befriended, advised and guided. Ken Myer was one of these.
Ken sought out Nugget for advice and what today we would call mentoring. He was influenced by Coombs’ belief that wealth ought to be more equally distributed and that people in commerce and industry had a responsibility financially to support the arts. The two met frequently starting in the 1960s and continuing until Ken’s untimely death in Alaska in 1992. Ken’s son, Michael Myer, was an avid listener to many of their conversations and he has said that Coombs, and I quote, expanded Dad’s universe and made him more politically aware. Nugget Coombs also delivered the second Kenneth Myer Lecture in 1991, as we’ve heard already the first was delivered by Gough Whitlam. And I should also note that Nugget Coombs’ papers are held by the National Library of Australia.
Today’s issues are both similar and different although the magnitude of the reconstruction task is I believe comparable. We need the kind of dedicated and visionary people who are committed to public service and to the betterment of Australia to carry out new century reconstruction. We have plenty of such people but they need to be encouraged and empowered. They will also be different from the men of the 1940s, they were all white, mostly Anglo and although they were progressive for their times today’s policy architects would both be more diverse themselves and would take into account a broader range of social and personal issues than were seen as necessary back then.
Coombs and his generation saw the need to encourage widescale immigration although this initially was only from Europe, the white Australia policy was still in place. They also recognised the need to deliver justice and empowerment to Australian Aborigines and indeed sought the extension of Commonwealth powers to do this and many other reforms to the powers of the Commonwealth in the referendum in 1944 which was of course rejected. But that generation was blind to women’s equality. Although women were employed in the Ministry including in some senior economic roles they did not receive the same recognition, nor probably the same pay, as the men whose names are forever associated with that era.
In those days when women were asked for advice it was only on women’s issues. For instance during the panic about the declining birth rate Dame Enid Lyons and Lady Cilento were asked in 1944 by the Director General of Health who was working in concert with post-war reconstruction to report on childbearing. Today we would expect expertise to exist across gender lines.
A new century reconstruction will have different premises about inclusion and the diversity of the country. Australia is a very different place from the small frightened country of just 7.2 million in the 1940s. It is now much larger, more populous and far more diverse with all of our citizens rightly demanding to be heard and to be valued. But Australia is again a frightened country. Many of our fellow citizens are dismayed by the changes that have occurred, the loss of jobs, the size and composition of our immigrant population, the impact of technological change. These fears are driving many people to the fringes of politics as our leaders fail or are unable to understand and manage the pace of change in modern Australia. This is another and urgent reason why we need reconstruction.
The third reason why I think the post-war reconstruction model is still relevant is that the work was conducted and the policies implemented while the business of government went on. Indeed they did so during the most difficult years of the second world war when Australia was under attack, rationing and civil conscription were in place and the entire society was in a state not just of tremendous upheaval but in fear of its very survival. Today’s disruption barely compares with that inflicted by the war but we feel it nevertheless, but we have to deal with it and find ways to reconstruct and reform while continuing to manage the day-to-day economy and affairs of state.
Now I’ve only been able to give the barest outline of why I think we need reconstruction and how it might happen but I would like to give two specific examples of how we might go about starting the process of a values or principles-driven approach to policymaking and change. First is the Uluru statement, From The Heart released on May 26, 2017 by the Reconciliation Council that sets out the principles of sovereignty that would form the basis of a genuine reconciliation between all Australians. That statement can and should guide the specific policy steps that are needed to achieve this.
Now my second example is far more detailed. I’d like to conclude by taking you through the Women’s Manifesto which is a document that I have written and which I released on March the 8th, 2017. The Women’s Manifesto does not have the endorsement of a wide community as the Uluru Statement does but the many audiences to whom I’ve presented it since its launch on International Women’s Day this year have responded with approval and acclaim. I’m presenting it as a policy tool in its own right but also as a template for other areas of policy. I should also add the caution that because it was written as a manifesto rather than just as a policy document it’s written in the language of advocacy. I could have translated it into bureaucratese but I decided it was not necessary because the felt need for change is as legitimate a driver as any other.
Now the manifesto lays out the four principles of women’s equality and these are one, financial self-sufficiency, two, reproductive freedom, three, freedom from violence, and four, the right of women to participate fully and equally in all areas of public life. Now I contend that everything that is needed in order for women to achieve full equality can be subsumed within these four basic principles. Policies are of course needed to implement them and so I have summarised what those policies would be as follows.
So in order to achieve financial self-sufficiency which I define as being, to having enough money or the means to earn it to not have to rely on anyone else to survive or thrive. In order to have that, to be financially self-sufficient and therefore not dependent on a husband or other person to provide the basics of life or to have the option of leaving if a relationship isn’t working girls need 12 years of school education that is equal to boys. Girls and young women must then have the same opportunities as boys and young men to enter post-school education at university or technical college, they must be free to study any and all subjects and be encouraged to test themselves and branch out from areas that traditionally have attracted more women than men. If they wish women should be able to pursue postgraduate education and be able to combine that with having a family if that is their choice.
Women need to have the same employment opportunities and conditions as men including fulltime employment. Women must receive equal pay and equal opportunities for promotion, for training opportunities and for other benefits of their place of employment. Women must be free from sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination. Childcare must be available, flexible, affordable and shared between all parents. Women must have the right to keep their jobs while pregnant and to get paid parental leave when they take time off from their jobs to have the baby. Women must receive superannuation including while on paid parental leave and if necessary receive top-ups from either government or employers during their working life to ensure they have adequate retirement incomes.
Secondly reproductive freedom and by that I mean the ability to determine when and if to have children. This will be achieved via women having access to effective and affordable contraception backed up by safe, legal and affordable abortion. Women must have access to health services including screening and care for female-specific conditions such as breast, ovarian and cervical cancer and other services needed to ensure sexual health. Women also need to be able to secure pre and postnatal care for their maternal health and that of their baby.
Three, freedom from violence and by that I mean our bodies and our minds must be our own. Women must be safe from rape and other forms of sexual assault and must have the right to be believed and their complaint taken seriously if they suffer attack. Women must have access to laws that adequately address all crimes of violence and legal services that enable them to seek advice and legal redress if they choose. Women must be free from domestic and family violence of all kinds, physical, psychological, financial and any other type of controlling and domineering behaviour on the part of a family member or intimate partner. Where needed women must have ready access to emergency crisis services including women’s refuges in order to be safe from violence and other threats.
Four, equal representation and participation in public life and by that I mean we should be part of all decision-making in our society. Women should participate fully in all areas of our society’s public and economic life. They must be represented fully and fairly at every level of government including the public service in the companies that make up our economy, the not-for-profit sector, arts organisations, trade unions, the military and the churches.
Now this is a deceptively simple agenda. I like to say it’s simple but that it will not be easy to achieve. Every single aspect of it requires laws, policies, programs or other elements to make each goal realisable so it’s simple but not easy. To show how the principles of the manifesto can be realised I’ve drawn up four specific policies, one of them from each of the four principles. I recommend that these four reforms be implemented by 2022 which will make 50 years since the election of the Whitlam Government, the first government in Australia to commit to women’s equality as a national policy objective.
Implementation of these four policies would in itself represent progress in achieving the principles of women’s equality. In addition they would lay down markers for the full equality that would result from implementing the women’s manifesto in its entirety. These four specific policies are one, legislated equal pay for all women in all jobs, two, decriminalisation of abortion in New South Wales and Queensland, three, specialist domestic violence courts in every state in Australia, and four, gender quotas dictating that women make up 50% of all parliamentarians, all Cabinets and other ministries and directors of all public companies and government boards.
Okay let me spell them out. Number one, legislated equal pay. It is unconscionable that in 2017 Australian women still earn on average 20% less than men. In some jobs and some industries the gender pay gap is even greater. As Mary Gaudron, the first woman to sit on the High Court of Australia famously said in 1979 equal pay was won in 1969 and again in 1972 and yet again in 1974. Now it’s 43 years since women first won equal pay, it’s 37 years since Mary Gaudron pointed out that women still don’t have it. The industrial court system has failed to deliver so it is now up to the federal parliament to legislate, mandating equal pay for all women in all jobs.
The leader of the opposition has said he is prepared to legislate to restore penalty rates abolished by the Fair Work Commission. If he can do it for penalty rates he can do it for equal pay. So could the government. It is constitutionally possible, all it needs is political will.
Number two and this is to go towards implementing the second principle, the second principle of women’s equality which is reproductive freedom and that is the decriminalisation of abortion in New South Wales and Queensland. Every other Australian state and territory including the ACT has decriminalised abortion, it’s time for New South Wales and Queensland to do so as well.
Thirdly, and this policy goes towards implementing the third principle which is freedom from violence, and that is specialist domestic violence courts in every state. Now this is already happening in Queensland as a result of recommendations made by the Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence headed by Quentin Bryce in 2014, 2015. Following the successful trialling of such a court in Southport during 2015 the Queensland Premier made a commitment to create four other courts in major centres across the state. Such spec – I understand that they have already opened – such specialist courts can provide expert handling of domestic violence cases as well as shining a spotlight on the extent and severity of such violence across Australia.
And then finally number four, the specific policy towards implementing the principle of equal representation in public life, gender quotas dictating women make up 50% of all parliamentarians, Cabinet and other ministers and directors of public companies and government boards. Now it’s clear that increased representation of women in all decision-making organisations in our society is not going to happen organically. If so it would already have happened. Women have been graduating from universities in greater numbers than men since the 1980s so there is no case to be made that women continue to lack merit or experience. Were merit the sole basis for appointments women would already outnumber men. Affirmative action in the form of quotas, planning in other words, is the only way to ensure that the best talent available leads organisations and to do so means including the group that makes up 50% of the population.
Now if this were federal parliament I would conclude by saying I commend the bill to the House. Of course we are at a lecture, not sitting in a deliberative form – perhaps more’s the pity, I wouldn’t mind putting it to the vote – so I’ll finish simply by saying that I appreciate the opportunity to lay out some ideas to help us grapple with and solve the problems facing Australia. I hope that they are ideas of which Ken Myer would approve. I’m sure that he would at least support the notion of putting them forward. As I hope I have outlined social ch – major social change does not happen by itself, we need to entrust competent and selfless people to design it meticulously and in line with our values in order to create the kind of society we want. We need to do it, we’ve done it before and I sincerely hope we can do it again. Thank you.
M: Thank you, Anne, for your enriching and challenging lecture. As you were speaking about the reconstruction, Nugget Coombs, I was sitting thinking that our collections here are rich in documentation of what that meant for the nation at that time and I’m proud to say that we actually have moved on so that if there is such a reconstruction beginning in the population now in any places we’ll be collecting it right now so I’m hoping that in 50 years’ time somebody else can look back and think yes, that happened so – we have time for a few questions from the audience. Now for those of you who are regulars you know the routine, I need you to raise your hand and wait for a microphone to come to you because we have people using the hearing loop and if you don’t use the microphone they can’t actually hear you. And there is of course another rule too which is that this is the time for questions rather than statements. Anne got the chance to put her manifesto up but we would actually like you to really frame a question for Anne that she can engage with rather than making a statement so who’s going to be the brave person to frame a question first for Anne? Put your hand up so that I can see you. Okay, there we are, we have a brave person in here. Thank you.
Au: Thank you, Anne. My question relates to how do we keep the faith? You are a fine example of a warrior who has fought so many fights for women’s rights and social equality in Australia and yet it seems to me the status of women is going backwards. How do we hang on to that fire? Where do we direct it? How do we fight the fight continuing?
A: Well I don’t think we’ve got any choice but to keep going. I mean I think you know if you look back over the last 30 or so years as I can, being of that age, you can see that we have ach – I mean I think that the world is transformed today in terms of where women are at. For all of the things that still remain to be done and for all of the backsliding and for all of the completely intransigent issues such as equal pay we should never forget the fact that women are everywhere in public life in a way that simply didn’t exist when I was growing up you know you never saw any women anywhere except at the local shops or you know teaching you at school, they were the only women I saw who weren’t housewives when I was a kid in the ‘50s so that has changed and that is fantastic. Doesn’t mean that there’s still not huge amount that needs to be addressed and we just have to keep going, I mean I can’t answer it any other way except that I’m the sort of person, I see something that needs to be done, I think okay, I’ll have a bit of a go and I would like to think that everybody was the same.
M: I – we’ll take this gentleman down the front and then in the middle there so I’ve got you there so –
Au: My question is how would you transfer you know in terms of emotional and spiritual sort of qualities you mentioned at the start, how would you transfer that to our leaders?
A: Well I think my point was that we need a different way because I think our leaders you know whether they’re good or bad or you know whatever we think of leaders as individuals, I think our system is not producing the kind of leadership that we need and we have to change that and so I am suggesting an idea and a bit of a process where we might do that. I know it’s probably a very optimistic thing to be suggesting but I'm hoping that I might spark some thoughts and some receptivity to it. And I think that we need to produce a different type of leader and our system needs to encourage and reward different kinds of leadership and the kind of leadership that’s rewarded and encouraged at the moment is not serving us well.
Au: Okay, I'm here, just so you can see who’s asking the question. Thank you for your talk and for bringing us back to sort of a values-based policy development model. I really have a similar question to the one that you’ve just heard in that you talked about the need for an emotional and a spiritual dimension in this country and I wonder if you could talk about that a little bit more, please?
A: Yes, I mean it’s quite a difficult question to grapple with and it’s not something that I – I mean I’m not somebody who has a – is a spiritual person myself and so it’s not something that comes easily to me but I think what I have in mind when I’m talking about spiritual – not renewal but maybe a spiritual awakening is it’s really all part of reconciliation, it’s part of non-Aboriginal Australia learning to understand and appreciate the strength that can come from the land and that I think that if we were able to understand, empathise with and perhaps begin to respond that way to our country we might perhaps treat it a little differently than the way we do now.
In terms of emotional reconstruction I think that we are emotionally very drained and very – perhaps very dead in some ways, that we are you know we live at a very kind of superficial level at the moment because we have – there are so many things happening, there are so many things to do and to think about and the pace at which our society moves and at which the information that’s you know that we get loaded – driven at us every day, whether it’s on social media or old media or just in conversations with people, we have a huge amount of just sheer information to absorb just to get us through the day. And doing that I think there’s been an emotional cost to that, that we kind of live a bit more superficially than perhaps we did before. And I don’t know how we do it, all I’m saying is I think we need to.
Au: Thanks, Anne, for your ideas this evening, I’ve enjoyed your talk very much. I’m struck by your notion that we’ve all become inactive and I don’t know if I totally agree but certainly I often feel overwhelmed and hopeless and I'm wondering how or whether you think being able to educate the broader community which used to happen via journalism and radio and various other sources, books and seems to be failing at the moment. Would you have some thoughts about how we can educate the community more broadly on the basis that information sometimes can lead to action? ‘Cause you’re clear about what you might be able to do.
A: Well I mean we’ve never been more – as I said never been more information-rich, I mean we’ve never had greater access to diverse sources of information and I mean one of the things that I think is fantastic about the information technology is that we can you know we’re no longer prisoners of what other people want us to ingest, that we can just go and seek out information that is more in line with you know interests that we have that perhaps the mainstream media doesn’t think is important. We also – it means you know everybody is a demagogue these days and you know we’re kind of – the barrage of propaganda that we get and the barrage of bigotry is very, very difficult and very wearing. But I do think that the information is there and that we can make use of it and I think we all as individuals have to be a bit more creative in the way we do that and you know we need to sort of self-start these things you know it’s going to come from the ground up, it’s not going to come from the top.
Au: Do you see a place for universal basic income that’s now being trialled around the world in this reconstruction in replacing social security perhaps?
A: You know I didn’t sort of go into specific policy solutions but I mean I did raise the question of post-employment occupations, I mean we are facing a future whether there will not be sufficient jobs for everybody and we – that’s one of the things why we urgently need to start addressing this so working out what are we going to do? Just because we’re not in employment doesn’t mean we’re not going to be occupied, we’re not going to be doing things. The question of how we support ourselves and where our income comes from is a very, very pressing one and whether it’s the basic universal income as a lot of people suggest or something else, yes, there needs to be something. But I’m not advocating particular solutions, I’m just saying that we have to be aware of what the challenges are and we have to be in a position to work out solutions to those.
Au: Thank you, Anne, for your ideas. A lot of what you said tonight really requires the commitment of a generation younger than the many people in this hall. How do you see that younger generation being inspired to grapple with the issues that you’ve outlined so well?
A: Oh I don’t think there’s a problem at all, I think the younger generation is incredibly inspired but I think a lot of them feel blocked and you know not able to have the expressions and the opportunities to influence the world in ways that perhaps my generation did. I mean I’m of a generation that’s very lucky that we – and perhaps in Nugget Coombs’ generation, he was running post-war reconstruction at the age of 37. The Whitlam generation you know some of the departmental heads in the Whitlam Government, Peter Wolenski and Jim Spigelman were both in their early 30s when they ran government departments so you know I’m from that generation where young people were given huge opportunities as I certainly was and I think it’s completely unfair, short-sighted and very – or very short-sighted of us as a society to not be giving the same opportunities to young people today and there is no doubt we have you know better educated population, people with incredible enthusiasm, energy and ideas and if we were to have a department or a ministry or whatever it would be of new century reconstruction I would expect it to be filled with young people. And hope a few of us oldies would be allowed to express a point of view every now and then.
M: Okay well I think we might draw the formal part of questions to a close this evening but I’m sure that you’re going to join us upstairs for refreshments where the conversation can continue. But before we go I’d just like to ask you to join me again in thanking Anne for provoking our thoughts tonight in a week in which they’re sorely needed and of course to our benefactors, the Myer family and the Myer Foundation who make this annual lecture food for our brains possible so thank you, Anne.
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