07 October 2022

Parliament of Australia

President of the Senate

Senator the Honourable Sue Lines









Your Excellency Dr Puan Maharani, fellow presiding officers and distinguished delegates.

As President of the Australian Senate, I welcome the opportunity to participate in the eighth G20 Parliamentary Speakers Summit but in this important topic today social inclusion, gender equality and women’s empowerment, we cannot ignore Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Women and children in Ukraine have had their lives disrupted in ways many of us cannot imagine. They have had to flee their homes leaving everything behind, relying on the kindness of countries who've opened their arms but to lives that they no longer recognise.

Women and children have lost their lives as Russian bombs and bullets rained down on their homes. 

Their circumstances now completely unrecognisable to the ones they were living just a short time ago. 

Australia condemns Russia's action and today I particularly acknowledge the profound impact that war has on women and children. 

101 years ago, Edith Cowan became the first woman elected to an Australian parliament. She was elected to the Western Australian Legislative Assembly 20 years before the first woman took seat in the Commonwealth Parliament. When Edith took her seat in 1921, there were no women’s bathrooms in the building.

Her election was widely commented on. One newspaper depicted Edith Cowan entering parliament with a mop and bucket. Others viewed Edith as the ‘spokesperson of a school of thought which has an undeniable right to representation’ in parliament. She sponsored bills on women’s legal status, married women’s protections, and the divorce amendment.

20 years later, in 1943, Dorothy Tangney and Enid Lyons were the first women to be elected to the Parliament of Australia. Tangney championed equal pay and equal opportunity for women; and was the first Australian woman to attend an Empire Parliamentary Association conference in London in 1948.

Much like Dorothy Tangney, Enid Lyons was also a champion on issues that were of a particular relevance to women. Maternity services, housing, widow’s pensions, and the discrimination against married women in the workforce.

What Edith Cowan, Dorothy Tangney and Enid Lyons have in common with today’s women parliamentarians is that they are burdened with the expectations of having to be saintly and effective leaders, in environments of everyday and blatant sexism.

When we scratch the surface of the discriminatory gender norms and inequities in parliaments, time and time again, we find engrained sexism – patriarchy – with women being consistently disadvantaged, dismissed, and ostracised.

The Australian parliamentary system is bicameral, providing the perfect illustration of enforceable affirmative action. I am proud to say that in the Australian Parliament, women now make up 57% the Senate defying the historical precedent set before them. This is a direct result of affirmative action. In the House of Representatives, 38% are women. A significant number of women lost their seats or weren’t preselected. We cannot leave women’s representation to luck or to chance.

We don’t have to go as far back as 100 years to demonstrate that women are consistently undermined and undervalued. Australia’s first woman Prime Minister, Julia Gillard was subjected to sexism and misogyny in Parliament and in the media. All whilst having the highest rate of passing legislation of any Australian Prime Minister. Effective, but not sufficiently saintly.

And even reflecting on my own experience. I am only the second female President of the Senate since federation in 1901.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union has developed a Plan of action for gender-responsive parliaments to encourage parliaments to implement gender-responsive and inclusive regulations that prioritise the wellbeing of all who work within the Parliamentary precinct.

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Gender Sensitising Parliaments Guidelines stipulates that parliaments should strive to become institutions that are gender responsive. The 2020 Gender Sensitising Guidelines were designed to enable parliaments to drive and embed the reform required to eliminate bullying, harassment, sexual harassment and sexual assault from parliamentary processes, norms, and behaviours.

In Australia, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner conducted an Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary workplaces following several allegations of misconduct. The Set the Standard report outlines a number of significant findings concerning the patriarchal culture in parliamentary workplaces. The report identified that key drivers of misconduct were power imbalances, gender inequality and a lack of diversity.

As a Presiding Officer, I have the utmost privilege, of being responsible for the implementation of some of the recommendations from the Sex Discrimination Commissioner’s report. Women should never have to face the additional challenge of staring down sexism when they choose to enter public life. I experience discrimination as President of the Senate. Some Senators treat me with contempt I am a woman.

There are many models for ensuring gender responsive parliaments all over the world. Australia is currently developing a model to ensure social inclusion and gender equality are prioritised. The United Kingdom, Canada and South Africa have all developed models. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and Inter-Parliamentary Union have both developed resources for parliamentarians to ensure gender equity and achieve gender equality in their parliaments.

In August of this year, I attended the 65th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference in Halifax, Canada. It was decided that for the 66th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference that is to be hosted by the CPA Ghana Branch 30% of delegates are to be women parliamentarians. This is not good enough. We must aim for 50%.

We know what needs to be done. Young women and girls can’t be what they can’t see. Out of all G20 Presiding Officers, just under 40% are women. We must advance equal participation of women in politics and in all parliamentary work.

Women in politics play a key role in creating a political system that delivers on issues that are critical for diverse, inclusive, and equitable societies, that are prosperous and peaceful for everyone. We bring consideration to creating better outcomes for women and girls, but also to issues that directly improve the lives of men and boys, and persons of different identities.

We know that social inclusion, gender equality and women’s empowerment are central to democracy, good governance, and sustainable development. Now is our opportunity to make lasting systemic change; to make a commitment to drive profound and sustained transformations. A change where women’s diverse leadership and equal participation are the norm. Amongst G20 countries, we can mobilise women parliamentarians to drive legislative and substantive changes for gender equality across politics, the private sector, and our communities.