My name is Trent Zimmerman, I’m the Federal Member for North Sydney, and it’s great to be able to welcome Kelly O’Dwyer, the Minister for Women and Jobs, and Josh Frydenberg, our Treasurer, to one of the great schools in my electorate, Riverside Girls High School.
This school was established in the 1930s to teach girls domestic science and back then science meant something completely different for girls. In fact, they had a model house to teach the girls how to make beds, cook, and wash properly.
Thankfully today, Riverside Girls is a leader in science of a different form and that’s particularly in relation to STEM subjects and studies. And this morning we’ve seen some of the great ingenuity and entrepreneurship that the girls are studying here and I know that coding and robotics are particularly popular at Riverside Girls.
So I’m thrilled that Kelly and Josh are here today to talk about some further action that we’re going to be taking to encourage STEM studies for girls and mentorship and I’ll hand over to Josh Frydenberg.
Thanks Trent, it’s a pleasure to join you and Kelly and Peter Strong, the head of COSBOA, who does such a good job championing small business throughout our community.
Well we’ve seen through our meetings just now with some of the young women here at Riverside Girls a lot of the projects that they have underway to help strengthen our community. I met Giaan and Elly who developed a website to allow people to exchange clothes and to ensure that those clothes get to the less fortunate in our community.
And this will be part of the successful female entrepreneurship program that Kelly is kicking off today with Commonwealth funding and support from the private sector. It makes a fitting piece of the Government’s overall package of measures to support small business and to generate more jobs across the community. We’ve been successful as a Government in creating more than 1 million new jobs, and we’ve seen increased employment across nearly every single cohort, including female workforce participation rates that are near record highs, and the gender pay gap – while still a fair way to go – is closing on the watch of the Coalition Government.
So this initiative, together with the many other initiatives that Kelly has underway as part of her female jobs package is really, really important to these girls’ futures, but also to the overall health to the Australian economy.
Thank you very much Josh, and it’s great to be here in your electorate Trent, I think you must be one of the hardest working Members of Parliament, and it’s wonderful to be joined by Peter Strong at COSBOA.
But big thanks to Belinda Kelly who is the Principal here at Riverside Girls. And they’ve got a fantastic motto at this school and it’s “Deeds not words” and that’s what we’re focussed on as a Government. We’re focussed on creating equal opportunities for the women of Australia to be able to help secure their financial future. And when they secure their financial future, when they do better, we do better as a country. We do better as a country because we expand the economic opportunities that are available and open to everyone.
I’m delighted today to be able to announce the Future Female Entrepreneurs program. It’s a $3.6 million program with matched funding from the private sector. It’s a program that is focussed on building the digital capability and entrepreneurship skills that the women of today need to have the entrepreneurial opportunities where they can build and secure their financial future.
It’s a nationwide program and there will be around 55,000 girls and young women who will be able to participate. It’s going to start in stage one with a platform bringing together all of the digital capabilities right across the country, with the various, different programs that are currently in place, that will be a useful and critical resource for those young women and girls as well as their parents and teachers.
And stage two will be about the more than 50 workshops that are going to be held right around the country including in rural and regional communities because we know how important it is for young women in rural and regional communities to have that capability to be able to create their own business, to grow an opportunity for employment for themselves and for other people.
And we know that when they are digitally connected that opportunity is expanded. It's expanded because they can reach out and connect, but it's also expanded because of the export markets now that are available under our Government, our export markets through our free trade agreements with South Korea, Japan, China and the Trans Pacific Partnership, as well as our closer economic relationships with India, with Indonesia and also with Singapore.
So, it's a practical measure, it's about deeds not words, it's a practical measure to help the female future entrepreneurs of the future, who are probably just 12 years of age today to be able to reach their full potential because we want all women to be able to reach their full potential.
Whilst there are around about 800,000 women who are owners and operators of businesses in this country, it still only represents about a third of the small business and medium and larger sized businesses that are owned and operated in this country. And we want to see even more women have that opportunity. Today we've put a marker in the ground. We're going to support it through practical initiatives and I'm delighted to be able to welcome Peter Strong, who is our great partner in this fantastic enterprise. Peter.
Thank you and congratulations to the Government. Congratulations to you Kelly, congratulations to Josh. This is the missing piece of the jigsaw that's been missing for a long time. Getting into the schools and finding those disruptive people there. For a long time there if you called a girl disruptive it was negative, if you called her bold it was negative, if you said she's doing things differently it was viewed wrongly.
Now in this school and through this project we're going to say no, these are the people that we want to work with. If they want to do something different, let's find them and let’s work with them. We haven't been able to do it until now. And with the funding and the support from the private sector this will change the way we view women in business and women in jobs, there's probably a woman flying that plane at this very moment. She may one day start her own export business. This project does change the culture of what's happening. It starts with this school perhaps, it's already started and will be extended across the nation again. Thank you very much.
So do we have questions on this policy first and then we can maybe throw it open to some other questions.
What skills specifically will the program help build?
So we know that people are more digitally connected now than ever before and it's important for girls particularly to develop their capabilities and their digital skills, whether it's coding, whether it's the use of ICT. We want girls to be able to have the capacity to have those skills, and being able to teach those skills and the entrepreneurial skills that they need, the financial literacy skills that they need in order to be able to setup a business, run their own business and sustain that business, these are all of the practical skills that will be a key focus of this particular program.
Can I just add, Kelly's absolutely right that the digital economy is going to be the future and today the Morrison Government announced some significant changes to employee share ownership schemes which will now allow employees to get double the amount of shares they previously were entitled to. We're jumping it from $5,000 to $10,000.
Now this allows young people or older people, but indeed probably many of the young girls that we've met here today, to work for companies and to get a stake in their economic future of those companies and allow them to ride the growth wave of those particular businesses, so it's pretty apt that we're here today talking about the digital economy, talking about entrepreneurship at a time when the Government's also announced a policy which is going to encourage entrepreneurship across the economy.
If I want to add, the important thing is, about a year ago we put together a workshop on cyber security. We had a few panels. I had a panel of software developers and people who were experts on that. I could not find a woman to go on there. Now we know in this day and age we don't like a panel with just men, but I could not find a woman to go on there and you think how do we communicate with the whole of the society if there's only one gender involved in that particular area, cyber security, so that's huge. So that's why we also support what's going on here.
I suspect you're going to get a lot of people now putting their hand up Peter, now that you've made that national call.
We do need more women in that sector, without a doubt.
So the Treasurer just touched on the gender pay gap earlier, but I was just wondering, how long will it take the gap to close?
Well, we are absolutely are committed to closing the gender pay gap. It’s not good enough in today’s day in age for women to be paid on average less than men. Which is why the Government announced only yesterday additional funding for The Workplace Gender Equality Agency to be able to make sure that we measure this, not only with the 40 per cent that we currently measure in terms of employees that are currently affected under the legislation, but by allowing people to voluntarily opt into the system.
And that will mean that around about 75 per cent of the workforce is measured. When you measure something you are able to put in place practical measures and actions to address the problems that exist. So you have got to identify the problem and then look at the practical measures that can address the problem.
And that’s exactly what we are doing as a Government. We want to provide more opportunities for women to be able to participate in the workforce, we recognise that one of the reasons that there is a gender pay gap, is because more women have been taking on caring responsibility for their families, often by choice, but not always because we know that it has been traditionally quite difficult for men to get the same flexibility arrangements.
We have now a number of policies in place for men to equally gain access to flexibility so that they can take on a greater share and caring responsibilities and many men would actually like to do that as well. But we want to encourage that and we know that when more men work flexibly we are going to close that gender gap pay gap a lot quicker.
In terms of tracking, we did see that there was an increase in the number of businesses tracking but they didn’t necessarily translate to any action being taken, why do you think that is?
So talking to Libby Lyons, who is the CEO of the Women’s Gender Equality Agency. Libby Lyons said that the majority of people, where there is an identified gender pay gap, actually do take practical measures to actually address those issues.
But still there are quite a number that don’t. We are certainly going to continue to encourage them to take action, that is precisely why we measure the gender pay gap. And under our Government I am proud to say, that under our economic stewardship, we have seen the gender pay gap come down, it is trending in the right direction. It has significantly come down despite all of the talk of the previous Labor Government, the gender pay gap actually increased under them, and it has actually come down under us. We believe it is important to close the gender pay gap and we are doing something about it.
Next week I am delivering a speech to the National Press Club, where we’re going to be focussed on even more practical initiatives to help women to secure their financial future.
As Minister for Women, is it a little disheartening to see that the gap’s actually increased in some industries?
Well, certainly there are some industries that have a lot of women in those industries, where as Libby Lions has pointed out to me, there has been an assumption that there mustn’t be a gender pay gap and I think perhaps that assumption now will be very much challenged. And it will be very much challenged on the basis that there are probably more men in management and less doing the day to day work in some of those gendered workforces, and we will hopefully see a change in the number of women that will be in management.
Because when we look at the gender pay gap we are looking at the on average pay gap here and we are not comparing necessarily like with like in terms of actual jobs and we are not comparing the full-time, part-time. This is a very sort of broad statement, but a very indicative statement of the fact that there is still a lot more that we need to do in order to address equality in this country. But we are well on the way and I think we can be proud of the fact that it is trending in the right direction.
There’s certain sectors that are lagging behind like health, construction and finance. What specific support is required to boost these numbers for women being paid?
Yeah, so certainly there are a number of sectors have been identified and construction is one, health is another and those sectors, you know, construction has got its own peculiarities, you don’t see as many woman in the construction sector and we’ve got a number of programs that are actually looking to change that, supporting women in the construction sector.
We also though need to make sure that business takes on board responsibility that for actually making some changes here as well and that they take on board the fact that we need to see more woman participate in this particular sector in our economy.
When it comes to health, we know that a lot of people in the health care sector actually do work flexibly and do work part-time and that will obviously have an impact on the gender pay gap. We do want to have flexibility in the workplace, but as I said we also want men to have the opportunity to work flexibly as well, to have that choice, to have that as a real choice, so that they can take on board caring responsibilities and participate in family life and have a work life balance in the same way that traditionally has been a focus for women and again that will go some way to closing the gender pay gap.
And we have seen an increase in the number of female managers across the economy. I think today the figures also show that females coming into the roles of CEOs has increased as well as onto boards. Now again, we all agree that more needs to be done and there is still some way to go. But the trend is in the right direction here and as Kelly has rightly said, we have put in place a number of policies that seem to be having an impact. Including the childcare reforms, which have been very significant across the economy to enable people to stay in the workforce longer but also get the financial support so they can look after their children, whether they are male or female.
That’s right. And we also want to make sure, when people are engaged in the workforce, or if they do take time out because they’ve got caring responsibilities, that they also have the capacity to catch up on their superannuation contributions. This is one of the changes that we as a Government made early on, where people who might have been out of the workforce for a period of time can now catch up on their contribution, if they’ve got the financial capacity to do so, on the basis that there is a rolling five year period now, where you can actually bank up your concessional contributions and you can make a much bigger payment into your superannuation.
We’ve also made it a lot easier for people who might not be employed by a big employer who offer salary sacrificing arrangements, to also have the benefit of actually saving for their retirement as well, so that anybody, no matter who you’re employed by can make a concessional contribution and you’ve got a personal deduction that you can take advantage of, which of course helps so many women.
Now that is a big contrast to the policy that Labor has put forward. Labor of course will scrap both of those measures, they don’t believe in those measures and I think that is very, very disappointing. There are also not supporting the Government in some very important measures that we have in the Senate right now that would actually protect the superannuation savings of millions of Australians, including millions of Australian women.
We have got legislation in the Senate right now that would reunite people with their lost or inactive superannuation accounts, which might be being stripped by high fees and charges. That measure alone would reunite Australians with $6 billion of their own money and stop it being eroded by excessive high fees and charges. And the Labor Party should really get behind it and they should support it, rather than standing with big insurers with funds that aren’t necessarily always doing the right thing by members and they should back hard working Australians.
Mr Frydenberg, isn’t it embarrassing for the decision on Foodbank to happen so quickly?
Well, Foodbank is an important organisation that has received government funding, as well as a whole range of other food charities. Indeed, when I was the Environment Minister we held a major summit with the all the food organisations in order to focus on how we can support them.
So, we continue to do so, Foodbank, OzHarvest, for a whole series of them, as you would expect the Government to do, but also as you would expect the state governments and the not-for-profit sector to do so.
Also, would the turmoil at the top of the ABC have any impact on funding?
The issues around the board and the senior management at the ABC have been well ventilated. And the Prime Minister and Senator Fifield have made the Government’s position on those issues well known. In terms of funding going forward, the ABC receives significant government funding, over a billion dollars over a year from the taxpayer. Now the ABC performs an important role across our community and will continue to receive strong tax payer support for the services it provides.
Thanks very much.