Thank you very much.
Your Excellencies; Madam Secretary and all your DFAT staff; our many, many partners; ladies and gentlemen.
It is a pleasure to be here this morning to welcome Australia’s new Ambassador for Women and Girls, the Honourable Dr Sharman Stone.
And, of course, Sharman served in Parliament for many, many years, and we have worked together in the past – I think it was Immigration that was our last area, where you were Shadow Minister and I was Parliamentary Secretary to you.
Can I also add my acknowledgment of country.
As Lachie [Lachlan Strahan] said, regrettably, the numbers in the Lower House preclude the Foreign Minister from joining us this morning, unfortunately she was unable to get leave.
Look, our position of Ambassador for Women and Girls has evolved considerably over the last five years.
Natasha Stott Despoja built significantly on the good work of her predecessor, Penny Williams, who I am pleased was recently appointed as our Deputy Secretary in this Department.
As Ambassador, Natasha visited 31 countries, some multiple times, including fourteen visits in the Pacific.
And whilst participating in international programs, she made thirty announcements of new funding or launches of Australian-supported projects, and represented Australia at 29 multilateral or regional meetings.
This is the program ahead, Sharman, I am just reiterating what Natasha did.
But on all occasions, Natasha brought a practical mind, conviction and her warmth and generosity to the work, combined with a singular determination.
On this note of singular determination, we combined forces in Istanbul at the World Humanitarian Summit to ensure that we met Daniel Craig, the UN’s first Global Advocate for the Elimination of Mines and Explosive Hazards – most appropriate job, we thought, for James Bond!
Now, Natasha and I had a great conversation with him – not about his career and his films, but about the role of Ambassador for Women as only one of six in the world, and encouraged him to push for more countries to adopt the role.
And, of course we have got the photos to prove it!
So thank you, Natasha, for all your dedication and leadership that you brought to this role.
Can I also ask you to pass on our thanks to Ian and to your family for the support that they gave you in this role.
I am sure this made it easier for you to commit the long hours that you spent and more importantly not just on the ground but in the air.
Sharman, welcome to the role.
You have already hit the road – and the air – having recently returned from Papua New Guinea, including Goroka, where you met with strong women leaders from the highlands and the PNG Women’s Forum.
Sharman had a very active political career for over twenty years and prior to that, you served in the Victorian Public Service in senior roles in several organisations.
And throughout Sharman’s time in Parliament, she championed the rights of women and girls, both in Australia and globally.
In positions such as Chair of the Parliamentarians for Population Development Group, Sharman worked on important issues like child, early and forced marriage, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and combatting human trafficking in our region.
Sharman delivered Australia’s Statement on the Status of Women in the UNGA in 2014, where she also worked on the development of the Sustainable Development Goals.
And I am sure, Sharman, this experience and your many, many years of expertise in this area will serve you well as our Ambassador for Women and Girls.
Gender equality promotes growth, development and stability, all central to the long-term advancement of our region and Australia’s interests, and this is a higher priority for our Government.
Australia is a global leader in international efforts to improve the lives of women and girls, and our Ambassador for Women and Girls works with DFAT in strongly prosecuting this national priority.
Sharman will advocate and help demonstrate to partners the significant impact that empowering women and girls has on individuals.
She will continue to promote Australia’s efforts both through the overseas development assistance program and beyond, across each of the three pillars of our work on gender equality: women’s leadership, economic empowerment and ending violence against women and girls.
She will work with women’s organisations, to support women in leadership, and we want more leadership especially from women in our region.
At one level, this merely acknowledges the simple fact that governments and societies will function better when they draw on 100 per cent of the available talent pool.
But there is strong supporting evidence, that in a range of areas – conflict resolution, peacebuilding, development – good outcomes are more likely when women, as well as men, occupy leadership positions.
We know that our support for women’s groups is an investment in peace, in our neighbourhood and elsewhere.
Australia’s near neighbours, Papua New Guinea’s Autonomous Region of Bougainville, and the Solomons, are both enjoying relatively robust recoveries from conflict after women’s groups, as well as men, play a part in brokering peace.
We continue to work with countries in our region to realise women’s leadership potential in formal, public roles, but it is a long road.
Women are crucial to building peace and resilience.
Effective investment in women’s civil society organisations is an investment in resilience.
The Australian Government works with partner governments, the Australian Red Cross and others to strengthen the capacity of first responders after disasters in our region, and women’s groups are often the key to early recovery.
We are the largest donor to the UN’s efforts to boost women’s leadership in crisis prevention and response, and in peace-building.
While women are at the forefront of work for peace and resilience, they also bear the brunt of violence, including sexual violence, that typically accompany disasters.
As the Foreign Minister announced this morning at the Australasian Aid Conference, the Government will invest a further $9.5 million over three years in this work, to enable more women to give birth safely and to continue to access family planning and health services after disasters.
And in doing so, we are helping to save lives, and help communities get back on their feet.
We also promote a transformational change: ending violence against women and girls.
I also, as Lachie mentioned, in our trip to Africa, not only did we extend funding to the Sonke Gender Justice Organisation in Johannesburg, but we also announced a $1 million partnership with the African Union, which will include gathering vital data on gender equality.
But changing gender norms and preventing violence against women and girls is a demanding long-term challenge in all countries, and of course Australia is no exception.
As the Prime Minister has said, while not all disrespect for women leads to violence, all violence begins with disrespect.
And in some cases, we work to redefine what acceptable behaviour is, and to establish that women are protected by the law everywhere and always, including in the home.
In other cases, we work to change strong cultural customs.
And despite concerted international opposition, female genital mutilation, while decreasing in relative terms, continues to increase in absolute numbers.
In all cases, we advocate for legislation to uphold the rights of women and girls, and for services for survivors.
We advocate for investing in prevention and collecting the right data, so we understand the problem, the extent of the problem, and how we can spend our money better.
And while cause and effect are complex in these matters, the long-term solution to violence against women is the economic empowerment of women.
This is where two of our foremost priorities – economic diplomacy and gender equality – come together to reinforce each other.
And we harness the private sector’s power to invest in development; we are ensuring that women increase their share of the opportunities and benefits.
And we know that empowering women economically produces far-reaching benefits for the welfare and prosperity of those families and societies.
When we empower a woman, we empower her family, we empower her community, we empower her society and we empower her country.
DFAT is continuing to increase the proportion of aid investments that explicitly address women’s empowerment.
And just to give one small example of how much this difference can make, in building back in Fiji – and the High Commissioner knows; he and I have consistently looked at ways that we can help assist Fiji following Cyclone Winston – we added accommodation so that women vendors who prepared their stalls in the early morning can safely spend the night there.
In 2015-16, 76 per cent of our investments in the priority areas of infrastructure, trade facilitation and competitiveness succeeded in explicitly addressing women’s empowerment, up from 64 per cent on the previous year and close to our target of 80 per cent.
As Lachie has said Australia is a candidate for election to the Human Rights Council in October.
And our gender equality is one of the important pillars of our Human Rights campaign.
We are also working to understand how economic disadvantage affects women and girls in particular.
An Australian innovation – the Individual Deprivation Measure – will reveal the gendered nature of poverty and inequality.
Sharman, I am sure that you will be an active and enthusiastic Ambassador for Women and Girls in taking forward this ambitious agenda that we have set for Australia.
Can I congratulate you on your appointment and I wish you all the very, very best in your new role.
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