Local, Independant and Effective

Lift the number of women on agricultural boards

Posted February 12, 2018

 

Cathy has called upon the Government to support building the representation by women to a minimum of 30 per cent within leadership teams on all agricultural boards.

Ms McGOWAN (Indi) (11:32): I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) among 15 rural research and development corporations which receive statutory levies partly matched by the Commonwealth, the representation of women is no higher than 44 per cent, is as low as 11 per cent, and averages 26 per cent;

(b) the Australian Institute of Company Directors (Institute) says its quest for 30 per cent female representation across ASX 200 boards by 2018 has stalled;

(c) the Institute's latest gender diversity report shows that as of 31 August 2017 there were 25.4 per cent female directors, only marginally higher than the 25.3 per cent reached at the end of 2016;

(d) at the time of the publication of the Institute's latest gender diversity report, 11 ASX 200 companies had no women on their boards; and

(e) the Institute says that the Government may be forced to intervene with quotas to force companies to appoint more female directors;

(2) acknowledges the Diversity in Agriculture Leadership Program (Program) initiative launched by the National Farmers' Federation and AACo on 15 October 2017, which asks organisations to commit to auditing the gender diversity within their leadership teams and pledge to make 'meaningful change' towards achieving enhanced gender equality; and

(3) calls on the:

(a) Government to support the Program and similar initiatives to ensure that companies appoint more female directors; and

(b) Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources to outline to the Parliament a plan to increase the representation of women to a minimum of 30 per cent on all agricultural boards over which the Government has some level of influence, including rural research and development corporations, agricultural committees, panels and councils.

Colleagues, International Women's Day is on 8 March. The National Rural Women's Coalition, which is made up of the ALGWA, Australian Women in Agriculture, the Country Women's Association of Australia, the National Rural Health Alliance and the Women's Industry Network Seafood Community are all visiting parliament this week. This year the theme for the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women meeting in New York is 'Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls'. We have had new ministers for agriculture, new ministers for the status of women and new ministers for regional Australia. I think it is timely today to remind the parliament about the importance of a proactive approach to ensuring gender equality on all boards.

Today I would particularly like to talk about agriculture boards as they relate to the power the government has. In my speech today, I'm going to be talking about the 15 rural research and development corporations which receive statutory levies, partly matched by the Commonwealth, where the representation of women is very low. I'm going to be talking about the Australian Institute of Company Directors, which says its quest is for 30 per cent female representation across all ASX 200 boards. Their aim is to achieve that by 2018, but that has stalled. I'm talking about the importance of diversity at a time when we are at the crux, I suppose, of going forward with gender equality.

Today I would particularly like to focus on rural and regional Australia in the bigger picture. Rural and regional Australia is the backbone of this nation—truly. The Regional Australia Institute tells us that the regions are responsible for one-third of total employment in this country, just over one-third of our economic output, about two-thirds of our exports by value, and our regional capitals are home to about one-quarter of all Australians. So there's nothing insignificant about rural and regional Australia. Of all that work done in rural and regional Australia, agriculture—together with mining, but today I'm focusing on agriculture—is the hub.

Before I was a politician, I had the real pleasure of being involved in the national organisation called Australian Women in Agriculture. I was one of the founding directors and later on became president. The aim of that organisation was to raise the status of women in agriculture—the scientists, the journalists, the academics, the economists, the educators, the marketers, the international traders, the financiers, the public servants, the CEOs, the agronomists and, of course, the farmers. That was our job, and part of raising the profile was to make sure that representation right across the board was real and that the people who took up positions of power actually represented the experience in the workplace. I'd just like to take a moment to acknowledge some of the leaders in this area from my electorate—Marion Rak, Elaine Paton, Alana Johnson, Dr Rowan O'Hagan, Jill Briggs, Ilena Young and Nerida Kerr—and to thank them for their work.

Government policy set in 2016 set the target for women holding government board positions at 50 per cent, and, in June 2017, women held 42.7 per cent of government board positions. But in agriculture that's not the story. In agriculture, there are 18 government boards with 114 positions and 39 women in those positions, which is 34 per cent—way short of the target. In preparation for today, I asked the library to do a bit of a deep dive into some of the agricultural statistics we need to be looking at. Across government portfolios of agriculture and water resources, Attorney-General, communication and the arts et cetera, they found that, second to the Attorney-General's, agriculture has the lowest representation of women on boards. For agriculture and water resources there are 18 government boards with 114 positions and there are 39 women, which is 34 per cent. That was just topped at being the worst by the Attorney-General's, which is at 32.6 per cent.

What I'm saying today is that we've moved some way. There has been some effort, and slowly there has been an improvement, but it's not nearly enough. In bringing my comments to a close, I call on the government to work closely with the National Farmers' Federation. They've got the Diversity in Agriculture Leadership program. And I call on the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources to outline to parliament on a regular basis what the minister is doing to raise our representation up to 50 per cent in the near future.


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