I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land and pay my respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging.
To Her Excellency, the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC, my ministerial and parliamentary colleagues, and all the dignitaries and sponsors.
Thank you for the opportunity to join you for these Awards on behalf of the Premier – who is visiting flood-ravaged regions of the state.
It’s great to be amongst the finalists and winners, including our 82 Local Women of the Year and a vast array of exceptional women from across the State.
Many of the women here today are pioneers and role models.
Our country is built on the huge contribution of generation after generation of Australian women.
Together, we have built one of the world’s greatest democracies, an egalitarian society, which believes that all people – no matter their sex, race or religion – should be safe under the rule of law, free and afforded the real opportunity to succeed based on the quality of their contribution.
But for too long our country’s covenant has not been kept for more than half of our population.
1 in every 4 Australian women continue to experience partner violence.
Women earn $255 less per week on average than men.
Only 1 in 5 of Australian CEOs are female.
Women have only about two thirds of the superannuation saved compared to men.
These are not just shocking statistics. These are indicators of what we all see and hear almost every single day.
I have been in too many meetings at the most senior levels of government and business where in a room of ten or twenty people, only one or two of those people are women.
I have seen time after time women raise ideas only for them to be accepted after a man has repeated them.
I have heard reports of a female manager earning less than a male employee that reports to her.
I have heard countless stories of women suffering physical and sexual violence at the hands of people they had every right to trust.
And most tragically of all, many of these statistics have been known for decades.
Over the last year, there has been a national awakening about the barriers and injustices Australian women continue to face.
Impressive women like Brittany Higgins, Grace Tame, Chanel Contos and Saxon Mullins sparked that awakening through their courage in publicly telling their deeply personal and traumatic stories.
In the last three years in NSW we have made progress:
• we have legislated a proactive requirement to seek consent;
• we have legalised the right for women to choose what happens to their bodies;
• we are doubling the number of refuges for victim survivors of domestic violence; and
• we are currently developing laws to prohibit a person coercively controlling their partner in a personal relationship.
But we should be under no illusion that while these reforms are good and important and will improve many women’s lives, delivering on our nation’s ideals will require more. Much, much more.
At the heart of this is economic opportunity.
It is hard to be secure personally, without being secure financially. And it is hard to be secure without having a job, a good income and a retirement nest egg.
It is impossible to say that our country is honoring our ideals if more than half the population is weighed down in pursuing their aspirations by bias that is built in to our culture, employment entitlements, services and tax system.
This is the next frontier in a journey our society should have made long ago. That is why the NSW Government has commissioned the Women’s Economic Opportunities Review. Now I can’t pretend to fully understand the experiences and challenges faced by women, which is why I have appointed an expert reference panel of preeminent leaders, chaired by Sam Mostyn.
The Review is exploring opportunities to empower women and improve their economic independence by boosting workforce participation. It will look to ensure that women have the support they need to enter, re-enter and stay in the workforce.
I want to make sure that this is not just another review, a weighty document that gathers dust. I want to make sure that this is the blueprint we adopt to address one of the greatest structural challenges of all time.
We already know many of the issues. We already know that too often women struggle to stay in and re-enter the workforce after they have children. We know that women take on the bulk of the caring responsibilities in our families. We know that this makes it harder for them to build financial independence, to prepare for retirement or to have a career that reflects their aspirations and abilities.
That is why I believe the time has come for universal accessible and affordable childcare in our country. Now this is no easy task, we need to build the workforce and the infrastructure and make sure that the care provided to our children also affords them the education to flourish throughout their life. But to paraphrase John F Kennedy, we do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard. And because they are right.
Now is the moment for our country to commit to universal affordable and accessible childcare before this decade is done.
Universal affordable and accessible childcare is no silver bullet. But it is a necessary step if we are to address the structural barriers women in our country face.
This is a national issue and, with the federal budget weeks away, Canberra should lead.
But if Canberra does not, this is too important an issue to leave to the policy graveyard of state federal relations. It impacts too many people. It is too important for the economic security and opportunities of women across this state.
And indeed, it is too important to the future prosperity of all the people of NSW, for the Stateto do anything other than lead Canberra once again.
The women whose achievements we are recognising today are immensely impressive and it is important that we celebrate the enormous contributions they have made.
But as we do so, let’s also share a resolve to make sure that next year and the year after and the year after that, it will be easier for all women across this country to match what we are celebrating today and accomplish even more.
Let’s share a resolve to honour our country’scovenant that a baby girl born today has the same opportunities in life as the baby boy born in the hospital room next door. Because doing so will improve the lives of every person, men and women, in this State.