The material posted here was provided to the Division for the Advancement of Women by the Government in response to the Secretary-General's Questionnaire on Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. It has been made available in electronic format from the form received. In cases where it was not possible to reproduce charts and tables supplied, these can be obtained by contacting the Division for the Advancement of Women directly.







A: Women and Poverty
B: Education and Training of Women
C: Women and Health
D: Violence Against Women
E: Women and Armed Conflict
F: Women and the Economy
G: Women in Power and Decision-Making
H: Institutional Mechanisms for the Advancement of Women
I: Human Rights of Women
J: Women and the Media
K: Women and Environment
L: The Girl Child


UN Division for the Advancement of Women
Two UN Plaza, Room 1216
NEW YORK, NY 10017


I am pleased to provide the attached response to the United Nations Questionnaire to Governments on the Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action on behalf of the Government of Australia.

The Australian Government has a proud record in the measures it has introduced to support opportunity and choice for women throughout the community, across the range of critical areas identified under the Beijing Platform for Action.

The Australian Government, and the State and Territory Governments within the Australian federal system, are proud of their achievements to support and advance the status of women. These measures are designed to enable Australian men and women to live in a society that is free from discrimination on the grounds of sex and to share together the benefits of Australia’s robust economic performance and its stable and peaceable society.

The attached material addresses progress under the 12 Critical Areas of Concern in the Beijing Platform for Action. They reflect Australia’s commitment to women and our recognition of the fundamental principle that women’s rights are inalienable and indivisible human rights.

The Australian Government is committed to an open and participatory society.

In preparation for the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Beijing Plus Five in June 2000, the Australian Government has sought input to its response from State and Territory Governments in its federal system.

The Australian Government is also undertaking extensive community consultations in eighteen locations around the nation to seek input on progress and obstacles to the continued advancement of the status of women. These consultations are being conducted by the national women’s machinery, the Office of the Status of Women in the

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, working closely with State and Territory women’s machineries and with the involvement of the women’s non-government sector.

Community consultations are also providing information about and seeking input for our preparation of Australia’s combined 4th and 5th Country Report under the Convention on the Discrimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which is due to be lodged in October 2000.

In order to ensure that its final response is informed by the views of women in the community, Australia proposes to lodge its final response to the Questionnaire after public submissions on these consultations are received in early November.

I am very pleased to provide the attached as an advance response to the Questionnaire pending the final response.


cc Secretary-General
United Nations




The letter from the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women to the United Nations Secretary General will form Part One of Australia’s interim report.

Australia will submit a more comprehensive overview for the final report after taking into consideration Australia’s consultations with the community.


Financial And Institutional Measures

National budget

In line with international best practice, the Australian Government pursues a strategy of integrating women’s issues into mainstream policy making and practice across all areas, including budgetary procedures.

From the 1996-97 Budget, the Australian Government has released Budget details relating to women in Ministerial Statements, as well as in the core Budget documents.

The Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women prepares a Women’s Ministerial Statement at Budget time. These Statements outline issues and programmes contained within the Budget which specifically impact on women. Attached are the Australian Government’s Budget statements for the last three Budget cycles.

Implementation of the Platform for Action

Monitoring and reporting mechanisms

Responsibility for monitoring and reporting on progress on the implementation of the Platform for Action lies with the national women’s machinery, the Office of the Status of Women (OSW), located in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. The OSW works in close conjunction with State and Territory women’s machineries and with women’s non-government organisations (NGOs) to ensure that the Platform informs public policy in Australia in relation to women and girls.

After the Beijing Conference, the OSW convened an Interdepartmental Committee comprising relevant government agencies to oversee the implementation of the Platform for Action. Each portfolio examined the Platform and identified progress and further action required in relation to the twelve critical areas.

Each government department at both federal and state/territory level maintains gender focus points in the form of women’s desk officers, undertakes gender analysis and furthers progress towards integrating gender into mainstream business activities and planning.

Global conferences

A similar process has been adopted in relation to other global conferences. For example, the Australian Government submitted reports for the following:

NGO consultations

NGOs are consulted on a regular basis in other areas of the government’s responsibility, for example the Attorney General’s NGO Forum on Domestic Human Rights Issues, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s consultations with NGOs on international human rights and the Department of Immigration Affairs’ community consultations on the annual migration programme.

Consultation with the community has been an ongoing process. The Australian Government funds women’s NGOs and works closely with community and business partners on a range of issues affecting women and policy. OSW funds an information newsletter service for the women’s NGO community, maintains a website, email and phone access and undertakes communications activities to improve women’s access to information about government policies.

The Australian Government also attended in an official capacity at the Asia-Pacific sub-regional conference in Sydney in July 1999 for NGOs to hear NGO views on the implementation of the Platform for Action.

In September/October 1999, the OSW conducted extensive community consultations with NGOs and other interested parties in eighteen locations around Australia to review the implementation of the Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The results of these consultations, including open forum discussions and public submissions, will inform the government’s final response on implementation of the Platform.



1: Review, adopt and maintain macroeconomic policies and development strategies that address the needs and efforts of women in poverty.

2. Revise laws and administrative practices to ensure women’s equal rights and access to economic resources.

3. Provide women with access to savings and credit mechanisms and institutions. 4. Develop gender-based methodologies and conduct research to address the feminisation of poverty.


The Australian Government is committed to the achievement of long term sustainable growth, rising employment, and a favourable economic environment to the benefit of all Australians. Australia has withstood the regional economic downturn, recording an increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 4.5% and real wage increases of 2.6% in 1998-99, while maintaining low inflation (with the CPI rising by just 1.1% over the year to the June quarter 1999). Interest rates, including home finance lending, are at their lowest for thirty years. Employment has increased substantially in recent years, and unemployment rates for men and women are at their lowest for around ten years. Since 1996, 526,000 additional jobs have been created, 259,500 of these for women. Women’s unemployment reached a nine year low in July and August 1999 with a rate of 7.0%.

Australia maintains a robust income support safety net to protect women and men in genuine need, including the unemployed, students and youth, parents and sole parents, and older Australians. The Australian Government provides cash and taxation benefits to families with dependent children, assistance with the costs of child care and payments for disabled persons and carers. Australia does not utilise social insurance systems and these payments are publicly funded from general taxation revenue. Total transfer payments account for about one-third of Budget outlays and about 8% of GDP.

These benefits are augmented by an extensive and increasingly flexible retirement incomes system and statutory child support provisions. Specific assistance is also available to low income families, including women and sole parents, through public housing and assistance with private rental housing, telephones and pharmaceuticals. In combination, these measures help to reduce the incidence of poverty in Australia and to moderate wealth inequalities which may arise from market incomes alone.

The Australian Government’s new tax system will ensure that 80% of Australians have a marginal income tax rate of no more than 30 cents in the dollar, compared to only around 30% of Australians at present. The new tax system will reduce effective marginal taxation rates (poverty traps) for many recipients of means tested payments, including women with families, sole parents and pensioners.

Australia has been at the forefront of restructuring income support to separately recognise the role of women within couple families and of introducing appropriate activity and means test provisions.

The Australian Government is actively pursuing policies to help prevent poverty and break the cycle of welfare dependence through early intervention and assistance to women, men and families affected by homelessness, domestic violence, drug abuse, family breakdown, unemployment or other crises. It is delivering a set of measures which both respect and support individual women’s (and increasingly, men’s) choices to undertake full-time parenting or caring responsibilities for a period, while improving financial incentives and practical assistance for individuals to pursue paid employment where they are capable of doing so.

According to a wide range of research, using reliable poverty measures, Australia has recorded a gradual decline in the extent and incidence of poverty over recent years. The Australian Government’s policies and programmes, many of which give special emphasis to women, have contributed to higher living standards and lower levels of inequality. Women have been major beneficiaries of these improvements.

Monitoring mechanisms

Mechanisms have been established to regularly monitor government programmes and policies for their effect on poverty, inequality and living standards. Gender figures prominently in the analysis.

The Australian Government conducts research into household living standards to ensure that assistance is adequate and appropriate for those in genuine need. This research shows that income is only one dimension of need and that a capacity to purchase a certain level of products is only one indicator of outcomes. In 1998, independent research was conducted on Budget Standards and the pilot testing results of the Living Standards Survey. The results of these studies are being used for the ongoing development of the survey of living standards. Measures of financial stress will be added into several national regular surveys, which will further inform policy development.

Economic Reform

The Australian Government has undertaken a series of reforms which have strengthened Australia’s economic foundations and delivered some of the best economic outcomes since the 1960s. The key pillars of reform have been the deregulation of the financial system, the strengthening of the monetary policy framework, significant improvements in the operation of product and labour markets and a new taxation system.

These reforms have helped create one of the most dynamic, innovative and productive economies in the western world, bringing increased benefits to consumers and relief for family budgets. The Australian economy is growing very strongly, with a growth rate of around 5% in 1998 and very low inflation. Australia has the lowest net government debt to GDP ratio of any country in the OECD and the lowest interest rates since the 1960s. Australia has recorded the lowest unemployment rate in almost ten years and the lowest level of industrial disputes in 86 years. Such a stable economy provides a secure environment and benefits for all Australians, especially for families, with better affordability of home ownership, secure employment and higher standards of living.

Shoring-up the country’s economic foundations is also fundamental to the capacity of the government to take action in other areas. Strengthening the economy has provided the Government with a springboard to meet its social obligations to the disadvantaged in the community. This has enabled the Australian Government to maintain or increase spending in many areas of major relevance to women in genuine need, such as child care assistance and income support payments.

Social reforms

As with the economy, the Australian Government has also pioneered far-reaching reforms in the social arena, to build a strong bedrock of social foundations that better assists those who are most vulnerable in society to secure economic independence.

The Australian Government has developed a progressive new approach – called ‘social coalitions’ – to tackle today’s critical social problems, such as poverty and high unemployment. Taking a key leadership role, the Australian Government is fostering partnerships between all levels of government, the business and community sectors, families and individuals.

Under this approach, the Australian Government continues to provide support for those in genuine need but also works collaboratively with other key players to tackle entrenched social problems at their source. This strategy seeks to build a series of localised approaches throughout the community and to focus mainly on prevention rather than cure.

This holistic approach taps into the community spirit, and promotes the concept of personal responsibility for individuals and groups, including businesses. The Australian Government is encouraging leading edge businesses to give back to the community, from which they derive their profit.

Women’s Employment

Participation in employment is an important means for women to gain financial security for the present as well as the future. The number of women in employment grew by 241,000 (6.7%) between March 1996 and August 1999. This growth has been accompanied by high participation rates – female labour force participation has averaged 53.8% since March 1996 and reached a record high of 54.4% in September1999.

One of the barriers to women's employment has been the challenge of balancing work and family responsibilities. The Workplace Relations Act 1996 (‘theWRAct’) provides greater workplace flexibility, allowing employers and employees to negotiate a range of family-friendly provisions at the workplace. Approximately 67% of certified agreements and 79% of Australian Workplace Agreements approved under the Act include one or more family-friendly measures. The WR Act also contains a safety net (including 12 months parental leave for permanent full-time and part-time employees who meet the continuous service requirements) and provisions to encourage regular and predictable part-time work with pro-rata entitlements.

Section 358A of the WR Act requires that the Australian Government prepare a report on developments in agreement making, including the effects of bargaining on women’s employment. The 1998 Update to the 1997 Report on Agreement-Making under the Workplace Relations Act found that women were more likely than men to have provisions in their federal collective agreements which covered leave, family/carer's leave and part-time work. It also found that agreements where women made up between 40% and 60% of the employees covered had the highest average annualised wage increase.

Australian women have experienced excellent improvements in wages growth. In February 1999, women's average weekly ordinary time earnings (AWOTE) reached the highest ever level of 84.8% of male AWOTE. Women's earnings have been growing at a faster rate than men's: in the twelve months to May 1999, AWOTE grew by 3.5% for women and 3.3% for men. Over the same period, all females' total earnings (which include part-time workers) grew by 3.2%, compared with 2.6% for males.

The Australian Government has reviewed the operation of the Affirmative Action (Equal Opportunity for Women) Act 1986, to ensure it operates more effectively for women and businesses, with less red tape. The Government also commissioned a Pregnancy Discrimination Inquiry and recently tabled the Inquiry’s report, Pregnant and Productive: It's a Right not a Privilege to Work while Pregnant, in Federal Parliament.

See also

F: Women and the Economy

H: Institutional Mechanisms for the Advancement of Women

Unemployed women

Women’s unemployment has decreased significantly since 1996. Women’s unemployment was 7.4% in September after falling to a nine-year low of 7.0% in July and August 1999 – a significant decrease from 8.0% in March1996.

The Australian Government provides services to assist unemployed women returning to the paid workforce. These include Job Network employment services; jobs, employment and training programmes for women with children and sole parents; and new measures to assist women (and men), who have been out of the workforce for more than two years for parenting or caring.

Mutual obligation

In 1997, the Australian Government introduced measures to increase social participation by unemployed people, through Mutual Obligation. This initiative provides more unemployed people with the opportunity to enhance their self esteem and job prospects, and encourages them to give something back to the communities that support them.

Under Mutual Obligation requirements, jobseekers aged 18-24 and unemployed for six months, or 25-34 and unemployed for 12 months, are required to undertake suitable activities. These activities include government funded literacy/numeracy training, Work for the Dole and Green Corps programmes to meet assessed skills needs, volunteer work or part time employment.

Women jobseekers are well represented in these activities. The Green Corps programme allows participants to undertake conservation and cultural heritage activities, appropriate accredited training and community service, while the Literacy and Numeracy Programme provides basic literacy and numeracy training which leads to a measurable improvement in participants’ literacy and numeracy skills.

Job Network

The Australian Government has introduced a major reform to the delivery of employment services to unemployed Australians through Job Network. Job Network is a national network of more than 300 private, community and government organisations that specialise in finding jobs for unemployed people, particularly those who are long-term unemployed.

The new competitive arrangements offer jobseekers a greater choice of organisations to help them find a job. Job Network organisations are paid for the results they achieve and this provides the strongest possible incentive to ensure the highest level of service and outcomes for jobseekers.

Employment services are directed to those people most disadvantaged in the labour market. Many jobseekers benefit from the new job matching arrangements, while other jobseekers may need job search training or intensive assistance before they can find and retain a job. Intensive assistance provides individually tailored help to jobseekers who are long-term unemployed or are assessed as being at high risk of becoming long-term unemployed. Time out of the workforce for parenting or caring is recognised as a factor in assessment of client needs.

A range of Job Network services are available to job seekers who are not in receipt of unemployment benefits – many of these are women. These services include access to touch screens, computers, facsimiles, photocopiers, telephones and assistance in the preparation of resumes and interview techniques.

In 1998, job matching assistance was extended to be available to all job seekers who work less than 15 hours a week. This measure is particularly beneficial to women who work part-time. In addition, carers returning to the workforce after two or more years absence and who are not on allowances, mainly women, also have access to job search training.

Job Network organisations offer flexible and tailored assistance to job seekers, including those with special needs. Currently, almost 30% of Job Network providers offer specialist services to disadvantaged job seekers and there are 14 Job Network outlets with expertise in providing services specifically to women. Seven of these outlets also provide services targeted at sole parents.

Job Network is monitored to ensure that disadvantaged groups in the community, including women, continue to receive an equitable share of available employment services. Women currently comprise almost 40% of all registered job seekers.

Returning to work

Many women who have taken time out of the workforce due to parenting or caring commitments face difficulties returning to the workforce due to loss of skills and connections with the workplace.

The Jobs, Education and Training Programme (JET) is a voluntary programme aimed at improving the financial circumstances of eligible clients by assisting with skill development and/or aiding their entry or re-entry into the workforce. JET recognises that there are a number of major barriers that may affect the ability of sole parents and some other carers and parents to join the paid workforce. JET assesses and helps people overcome these barriers by providing structured assistance which includes: development of a plan to achieve labour market readiness; and as appropriate, access to education, training and employment assistance; referrals to government and community services, and where required, child care assistance. As of June 1998, 181,819 customers were identified as JET participants, of whom at least 90% are women.

The Job Placement, Employment and Training Programme (JPET) assists students and unemployed young people under 21 years, who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, to overcome problems which prevent them from maintaining stable accommodation and entering into full-time education, training or employment. Several projects have specifically targeted young women. The ‘Girlstorey’ project delivers counselling, support, advocacy and referral and training courses to women who were homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, unemployed refugees, wards of State, offenders or early school leavers.

The Return to Work Programme provides assistance to people who want to return to the workforce after a prolonged absence. See also F: Women and the Economy for more details on this programme.

Income security

Income security is a vital part of a reliable safety net and support system for Australians in need. The Australian Government provides income support for people who cannot provide adequately for themselves for reasons such as age, disability, unemployment or caring responsibilities. Special emphasis has been given to the position of women and children in many government programmes. The Australian Government has also recently begun the process of addressing inadequacies in the distribution of superannuation on marriage breakdown, which has particularly affected the income security of women for many years.

The Australian Government’s recent reforms to the income support system, which include restructuring assistance to unemployed couples to introduce individual payments and income testing arrangements, help to address women’s unemployment by providing much better financial incentives for the spouses of unemployed men to get work.

New Start and Youth Allowance provide a means tested, non-contributory, publicly funded welfare safety net for unemployed people in genuine need. The New Start Allowance ensures that unemployed men and women receive an adequate level of income and participate in activities designed to assist their employment prospects. The Youth Allowance provides incentives to job seekers under 18 years of age to find work or remain in training or education, yet still provides a safety net when needed.

Many women not seeking to enter the workforce also have access to a range of income support payments. These include the partner allowance for older women without recent workforce assistance, the disability pension and carer payments (the majority of carers in Australia are women).

Family assistance

The Australian Government has a strong commitment to providing opportunity and choice for women with families. Family assistance payments, targeted at primary carers (mainly women), assist families and help to alleviate poverty. This provides increased choice to women with dependent children – whether they choose to work full or part time or to be out of the paid workforce for a period while caring for children.

The Australian Government has provided increasing levels of assistance for families in areas such as child care, health, education, family relationship support and youth issues. Funding of more than $7.3 billion is provided to family assistance (excluding Family Tax Assistance and child care assistance), as well as more than $1 billion a year in assistance for child care subsidies for parents (mainly women) in employment or training or at home. (See also the ‘Child Care’ section in this chapter.)

The Australian Government’s new taxation system, from 1 July 2001, will increase payments to families with dependent children and minimise poverty traps by reducing high effective marginal taxation rates for low income women and those considering returning to the paid workforce.

Family Allowance assists the majority of Australian families (around 79%) with the costs of raising their children. Payment is directed to the primary carer, the vast majority of whom are women. The rate is based on the level of family income and assets, and the number and ages of dependent children. Additional payments are available if the family is renting privately, if the parent is a lone parent, if the family is large (with three or more dependent children), and if there are multiple birth children (triplets, quadruplets or more) under six years of age.

The Australian Government’s tax reform represents one of the most significant social reforms in Australia’s history.

Under Family Tax Benefit changes from 1 July 2000, a single income family with two children under 13 years earning private income of $28,080 per annum, will receive Family Tax Benefit A of $117.32 a week, plus Family Tax Benefit B of $51.41 a week. This will make their weekly disposable income including private earnings $615.30.

The Australian Government has extended access to Health Care Cards (HCC) to foster carers of children who receive Family Allowance. Foster carers will be issued with a HCC for the foster child(ren), providing the foster child(ren) was/were eligible for a HCC when domiciled with their original family. This recognises the role of foster carers and the health expenses they incur for children in their care. Around 900 foster parents were given access to HCCs for their foster children from

1 September 1999.

Parenting Payment

Parenting Payment, a payment for primary carers of children, was introduced in March 1998. This payment provides recipients with recognition of their parenting responsibilities, adequate income and opportunities for greater financial independence. Parenting Payment has three components:

The introduction of Parenting Payment aligns many of the differences between the previous payments and simplifies the system of payments to primary carers, as it recognises that there is significant flow between partnered and lone primary carers of children as parents separate and repartner.

The vast majority of Parenting Payment recipients are women, reflecting the fact that it is mainly women who take on primary care of children.

Australia has progressively reformed its assistance to families with dependent children, resulting in a substantial redirection of assistance for families to the parent with principal parenting responsibilities (mainly women). These moves include:

By providing individual entitlements, the income support system recognises that traditional notions of dependency on partners no longer reflect the reality for most Australian families. The provision of fortnightly cash payments to the primary carer in the family, as opposed to annual tax assistance to the taxpayer (usually male in one-income families), enables women to contribute to the family income.

Other measures to assist Parenting Payment recipients, who are mainly women, to re-enter the workforce or to improve their participation in income-producing activities are the Pensioner Education Supplement and Education and Employment Entry Payments. These are available for targeted groups within the Parenting Payment population to assist with their education costs or costs of entry to the workforce.

Child Care

A low income family with two children in full-time care is entitled to assistance that covers around 70% of their child care costs, while a middle income family in the same situation would be entitled to assistance covering around 60% of their costs.

The supply of child care is estimated to have met demand in many parts of Australia and the 0-4 year old population is declining. In order to ensure that new child care services open in areas of demonstrated need and to avoid over-supply, a national planning system has been introduced.

Child care subsidies will be simplified and improved from July 2000, with the introduction of a new child care benefit. The new benefit provides increased levels of subsidy, and targets extra assistance to low income families and families with more than one child in care.

Child Support Scheme

Separation from a partner can place many women at risk of poverty. Reliable access to child support transfers from a former partner relieves financial pressure on unpartnered women caring for children. Australia has achieved very high levels of compliance through the scheme, which is based on voluntary agreements supported by statutory arrangements to assess and collect child support liabilities where parents cannot agree. In 1997-98, the Child Support Scheme handled 494,534 cases, of which 57.56% involved collection through the statutory scheme.

The Child Support Scheme aims to ensure that:

Recent changes to child support include:

Assistance for carers

A significant number of older Australians and their carers are women. Women are the major beneficiaries of the Australian Government’s Staying at Home – Care and Support for Older Australians package. The 1998 package, which provides around $280 million over four years, includes reforms to income support for carers with eligibility for the Domiciliary Nursing Care Benefit being widened (at a cost of $96.4 million over four years). This builds on the 29% increase in the rate of benefit (from $58.30 to $75.10 per fortnight), that was introduced on

1 July 1998.

To complement this measure, the Australian Government extended respite support for carers of young people with disabilities, who are unable to access existing State respite care or assistance provided under Commonwealth initiatives, and who have a short term or immediate need for respite support. An estimated additional 900 carers per year will benefit at a cost of around $200 million over four years. The vast majority of these carers are women.

Assistance for widows and widowers

The 1998-99 Commonwealth Budget provided around $164 million over four years for War Widows’ and Widowers’ Pensions to be adjusted to male total average weekly earnings. Through this measure, the Australian Government has shown its commitment to care for those in need by protecting the living standards and ensuring financial security of widows.

Income security for older women

Women make up 65% of Australians currently aged over 65. While Australia’s population is comparatively young by international standards, forecasts are that by the year 2021, one in ten Australians will be a woman over 65. Their concerns, interests, activities and difficulties are likely to become increasingly visible, just as their growing numbers and the changing age structure of the population will place them firmly within the mainstream of Australian society in the course of the 21st century. Just as the majority of today’s older women are neither dependent nor disabled, so too can the majority of older women in the future look forward to a reasonably healthy old age. While debate continues as to the possibility that increased longevity may bring with it increased years lived with a significant level of disability, available evidence suggests that the more likely consequence is the continuation of the status quo.

Australia's retirement income system is based on three pillars: a targeted safety-net age pension, compulsory superannuation and voluntary savings. The means-tested age pension, the value of which has been legislatively mandated at 25% of total male average weekly earnings, provides a basic protection against poverty. Compulsory superannuation was introduced in Australia in 1992 through the Superannuation Guarantee system, which requires employers to make mandated contributions on behalf of most employees. Today, the majority of employees are covered by superannuation: 89.7% of female and 92.5% of male employees as at December 1998. The third pillar, voluntary savings through vehicles such as personal superannuation contributions and owner-occupied housing depends on choices made by both individuals and households and capacity to save.


The Australian Government recognises that superannuation is a particular concern to women. Women on average live longer than men, often have less opportunities for economic independence, and frequently have patterns of paid work which are not consistent with the models on which many superannuation schemes and regulatory arrangements are based.

Recognising the importance of superannuation issues for women, the Australian Government has introduced a range of progressive reforms which make Australian superannuation more competitive and suitable to the retirement saving needs of working women and those who take time out of the paid workforce.

The Australian Government has introduced an 18% income tax rebate for people who contribute up to $3000 to a superannuation fund or retirement savings account of their ‘at home’ or low income spouse. It has also introduced superannuation choice legislation and established the Retirement Savings Accounts as a low risk, flexible and fully portable savings option suitable for people with intermittent working patterns, most of whom are women. In addition, the Age Pension means test now encourages the take up of retirement income streams. Australia gives tax concessions to people who have voluntarily entered into a private pension (superannuation) scheme.

These measures provide more choice and opportunity for individuals and their families to make tax-effective savings for future retirement use. In this way, they build on and extend the 1992 compulsory superannuation scheme which was introduced to complement the age pension system and ensure that the system remained fiscally sustainable, particularly in light of the ageing population. The superannuation scheme, which is intended to increase the coverage of superannuation across the workforce, is compulsorily funded by employers (currently 7% of an employee's wages). This will increase in stages, reaching 9% by 2002.

Superannuation and divorce

The Australian Government is reforming superannuation and family law to address longstanding concerns about women’s access to retirement savings built up in marriage and give separating couples greater choice in their financial affairs. Upon marital breakdown, a couple will be able to agree to divide superannuation interests held in the name of either party. Superannuation interests will be divided in whatever proportions the couples choose and can be offset against other marital property, such as the family home. Where couples cannot agree, the Family Court will be able to divide superannuation equitably between the parties. Superannuation funds will give effect to these agreements and court orders, usually by setting up a new account for the non-superannuated spouse.

The Government has implemented changes to enable couples to make binding financial agreements about their property before or during marriage or after separation. The Courts retain the right to set aside these agreements in specified circumstances.

Retirement income support

The Australian Government provides means-tested, tax funded, non-contributory age pensions to women who meet minimum residence requirements. Outlays on age pensions were $13.142 billion in 1997-98. The qualifying age for men is 65. The qualifying age for women is currently 61 and will increase gradually to 65 by 2013.

Currently, two-thirds of age pensioners are women. As part of its new tax system, the Australian Government will provide special payments to pensioners and self-funded retirees with income from savings.

The Aged Persons Savings Bonus will help maintain the value of savings and the retirement income of older women by providing a one-off bonus of up to $1,000, depending on the amount of savings and total income, to Australians over 60years of age.

In addition, the Self-Funded Retirees Supplementary Bonus will provide up to an additional $2,000per person to eligible people who are of pension age and not in receipt of a social security or service pension. This additional one-off amount will assist self-funded retirees who do not benefit from the increases in the maximum rates of age and service pensions.

The Australian Government has made provision for the expected future increase in pension expenditure by its commitment to maintain the single rate of pension at 25% of male total average weekly earnings (indexed twice a year in line with CPI changes) with proportional flow-ons to the married rate of pension. These adjustments are designed to maintain both the real and the relative value of the Age Pension.

A Lump Sum Pension Advance of up to $500, was introduced in July 1996 to assist pensioners to meet unexpected living expenses.

Older women have benefited from the change in the income test for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card from one based on current income to one based on taxable income. The income limit was extended from (single) $21,320 to $40,000 and (couple) $35,620 to $67,000.

Young women

The Australian Government is sponsoring the Australis Self Made Girl programme. This is a short course designed to encourage young women to develop an entrepreneurial approach to personal finance and develop the skills to take care of their own financial security. Workshops have been held around Australia, where young women have been given the opportunity to work with female role models on various interactive business activities. Almost 1,000 young women participated in the workshops in 1998, including those from disadvantaged or ‘at risk’ backgrounds. Other aspects of the programme include a business plan competition and games which teach various aspects of making and actively using money, in ways other than spending, as well as operating confidently in the world of commerce.

Examples of State and Territory initiatives

In May 1997 the Victorian Government released a report aimed at the finance sector entitled We're all equal now aren't we? This was the product of research into women's attitudes to securing their own financial future, their access to financial information and their experiences with financial institutions. Its intended outcome was to increase the awareness in the finance sector of the needs of their women customers.

The Victorian Government, through Small Business Victoria, has also implemented the Financing Growth of Your Small Business seminar series and established an Internet site to assist women who wish to start up or expand their existing operations.

Family separation and financial security

The Australian Government recognises that many women experience financial difficulties after separation. A number of government measures are expected to assist this group of women. For example, the Australian government recently introduced a $63 million package of initiatives aimed at addressing family separation and its consequences and focusing on family reunion and counselling. This package includes $11.3 million to establish a national network of Link-Up centres and $33.3 million for counselling and related services. Several of these measures provide information and advice to women on income support and other financial matters with a view to ensuring their economic security.


One of the priorities for the Australian Government has been to work with a range of community partners on ways to help vulnerable people in Australia, especially those on low incomes, the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless. The Australian Government’s determination to address these critical social problems is reflected in the funding of a wide range of programmes and policies over recent years. Women and their children are major beneficiaries of these measures.

The Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement (CSHA) is the Australian Government’s principal strategy to address housing needs of low income people who do not have access to home ownership or face difficulties in the private rental market. The Australian Government will provide over $4 billion to the States and Territories over the four-year term of the 1999 CSHA. The main recipients under the CSHA are those affected by discrimination in housing markets, in particular Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, women, single parents and their children, young people, people with a disability, people with a mental illness, and people from non-English speaking backgrounds.

The Australian Government has undertaken a range of reforms to tackle youth homelessness. An early intervention programme, with $60 million funding over four years, was introduced on 1 July 1999 to assist young people and their families where there is a risk of youth homelessness. The programme will cover about 100 services which will assist about 12,000 young people and families per year. These services will be located in a range of regional, rural and urban areas and aim to develop or improve local youth homelessness early intervention networks, by strengthening the connections between agencies which provide support to young people and families. This programme was established in response to the Prime Ministerial Youth Homeless Taskforce Report in November 1998.

The Supported Accommodation Assistance Programme (SAAP), a Commonwealth/State shared programme, provides transitional support and accommodation to homeless people and those at risk of homelessness, many of whom are women escaping domestic violence. The Australian Government has renewed its commitment to SAAP for another five years, subject to negotiation of new agreements with the States. This initiative will result in the further expenditure of over $1 billion for support services.

Indigenous men and women generally experience a high level of disadvantage in terms of their access to suitable housing, compared to other Australians. Homelessness is around 20 times more common and overcrowding four times more common than for other Australian families.

A range of programmes are being funded to improve housing for Indigenous Australians, particularly those in rural and remote communities. In 1998-99, the Australian Government provided $308 million to the two main targeted programmes, the Aboriginal Rental Housing Programme (ARHP) and the Community Housing and Infrastructure Programme (CHIP). More than 1,000 houses were provided per annum, as well as a similar number of upgrades, repairs and maintenance. In addition, the Australian Army provides urgently needed health-related infrastructure, including water and sewerage systems, to the most needy remote communities, under the ATSIC/Army Community Assistance Programme.

Indigenous Australians on low incomes also have access to means-tested concessional home loans from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC). Interest on these loans starts at 5% per annum and increases by 0.5% per annum until it reaches the ATSIC home loan rate, which is set at no more than 1% below the Commonwealth Bank variable housing loan interest rate. For families with an income of less than $25,000, a reduced commencing rate may apply.

The On-Arrival Accommodation initiative provides initial short-term accommodation in self contained units for migrants and refugees deemed to be in need of humanitarian resettlement. Associated case co-ordination services help clients, based on an individual assessment of settlement needs, to access relevant community services.

The Women at Risk Programme provides Australian resettlement for refugee women and women ‘of concern’ to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and their dependents, who are in dangerous or vulnerable situations because of the breakdown of traditional support mechanisms. This initiative provides assistance to women who have been tortured, sexually assaulted or otherwise traumatised and in particular need of settlement assistance. In 1997-98, 543 visas under the programme were granted, representing 13% of the refugee intake. Major regions included the Former Yugoslavia, Africa and the Middle East. Australia is one of only a small number of countries that conduct such programmes.

The Community Refugee Settlement Scheme (CRSS) organises volunteer community groups to assist eligible refugees to settle during their first 6 months in Australia. Assistance includes arranging accommodation, encouraging refugees to learn English and providing contact with general migrant and community services. The CRSS gives priority to ‘women at risk’ entrants.

Non-English speaking women

The Australian Government is providing more than $1 million during 1998/99 under the Community Settlement Services Scheme and Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy for organisations to undertake projects with a specific focus on settlement issues for women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Most of the funding is used for the employment of welfare or social workers providing casework, counselling, information and referral services to migrant and refugee/humanitarian entrant women from various target communities.

Funding is also provided for project based awards addressing particular women’s settlement issues.

See Housing above and see also E: Women and Armed Conflict assistance to refugee women in Australia.

Examples of State and Territory initiatives

The New South Wales Government provides housing assistance to low income people - two thirds of new leases are held by women. A Supported Accommodation Assistance Programme provides resources for community organisations to assist women in disadvantaged communities to develop skills and identify support.

The Northern Territory Government has initiated HomeStart, a first mortgage home loan designed to assist low to middle income earners buy their first home. Since its inception in July 1997 approximately 25% of all HomeStart borrowers have been single women.

A jointly funded programme by the Commonwealth and Northern Territory Governments provides rental assistance to low income earners occupying private rental accommodation while awaiting public housing. The majority of these recipients are single women often with dependents. Tenants of public housing in the Northern Territory have their rent determined on the basis of income to ensure they are not paying a disproportionate share of their income on rent and they can maintain an appropriate standard of living.

Rural women

The Australian Government is strongly committed to ensuring the economic independence of rural men and women. In recent years, a wide range of innovative initiatives have been introduced to help rural communities overcome problems arising from the rapidly changing global economic environment. Many rural communities face special problems, such as declining rural industries, high unemployment, declining population and limited access to infrastructure and financial and other services.

Some of the Australian Government’s key initiatives designed to improve the economic sustainability of rural communities are:

See also:

G: Power and Decision Making for details on rural leadership programmes and for information regarding the Regional Women’s Advisory Council

B: Eduction and Training of Women for details on the Rural Youth Information Service

F: Women and the Economy for details on the Regional Employment Assistance Programme

Indigenous women

Too many Indigenous women continue to live in poverty. The Australian Government is strongly committed to enhancing opportunities for Indigenous men and women to pursue initiatives that will assist them to achieve economic independence. Indigenous people have an unemployment rate that is four times that of the general population. Lack of local employment opportunities and job skills are two of the main causes. Many Indigenous Australians live in remote areas with limited job options.

The Australian Government has introduced a number of innovative reforms to help Indigenous people move out of welfare and secure autonomy and financial independence. A discussion paper, Removing the Welfare Shackles, which was disseminated widely in the community, outlines a proposal for a new Indigenous organisation, Indigenous Business Australia, to promote and participate in joint ventures with the private sector, encourage job creation and provide business loans, grants and guarantees.

The Australian Government provided $402 million for the Community Development Employment Projects Scheme (CDEP) in 1998-99. Under the scheme, more than 33,000 unemployed Indigenous people undertook community projects, gaining invaluable work experience and skills that are recognised in the mainstream employment market. The scheme also provides training, enhances self-esteem, acts as a diversion from substance misuse and criminal activity and provides opportunities to increase income levels where CDEP’s successfully generate profits.

In 1999-2000, the Australian government’s economic programmes for Indigenous Australians will provide almost $50 million. The Business Development and Assistance Programme provides seed funding, training and other support to newly established or expanding businesses. One of the key aims is to promote the development of businesses to create new and sustainable jobs for Indigenous men and women. The programme offers low interest loans, as well as business advice and assistance to Indigenous people.

From 1July1999, a new Indigenous Employment Programme was established to provide a package of measures with a particular emphasis on private sector employment opportunities and support for Indigenous small business. A total of $52million has been set aside in the Budget for this initiative. Measures include a strategy to encourage Chief Executive Officers to recruit and train Indigenous staff, private sector structured training, a national programme for private sector cadetships and business preparation and support for Indigenous small business. The initiative will assist more Indigenous men and women secure greater economic independence, by assisting them into secure jobs and encouraging them to start their own business. Indigenous women are likely to be well placed to take up new opportunities in the growth industry of Indigenous arts and crafts.

See also F: Women and the Economy

International aid

The Australian Government’s Statement on aid, Better aid for a better future (1997), identifies poverty reduction and achievement of sustainable development as the objective of Australia’s aid programme. Gender and development is a critical cross-cutting issue of the Australian Government’s poverty reduction strategy.

The Gender and Development Policy for Australia’s aid programme, which was launched in March 1997, aims to mainstream a gender perspective in aid activities in all sectors. Mainstreaming a gender perspective into the aid programme means ensuring that women, as well as men, are considered in project implementation. The Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), which is responsible for the delivery of Australia’s aid programme, spent approximately $119 million on health and an estimated $249 million on education and training in 1998-99. A major proportion of this expenditure was in areas where women are likely to be significant beneficiaries.

Aid for bilateral activities incorporating gender issues as a major component is expected to increase from $254million in 1997-98 to an estimated $323million for 1998-99. An increasing number of aid activities include gender analysis and gender sensitive consultations to help ensure that measures to promote women’s participation and address gender barriers are taken into account in the design and implementation of Australian aid projects.

In addition to bilateral expenditure, Australia makes a significant contribution to multilateral organisations, which support gender equity. During 1998-99 these contributions included $352,000 to the United Nations Development Fund for Women, $4.6million to the United Nations Fund for Children and $1.68million to the International Planned Parenthood Foundation. The Australian Government also provided $2.445million to the World Health Organisation’s Health Systems and Community Health Cluster, 70% of which will be directed to the Department of Child and Adolescent Health, 20% to the Safe Motherhood Programme and 10% to the Department of Women’s Health.

In line with United Nations initiatives, the issue of violence against women will continue to receive close attention in the aid programme. Australia is supporting innovative strategies for law reform, law enforcement, enhanced community awareness, and support for women and children affected by violence.

The Australian Government will provide up to $2.2million over the next five years to help the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre’s counselling services for those women and children in the Pacific who are the survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse, including in rural areas and outlying islands of Fiji. As the Secretariat of the Pacific Women’s Network Against Violence Against Women, the Centre also plays an important role in reducing domestic violence through 24agencies across 11Pacific Island States.

In Pakistan, an AusAID community development project for rehabilitation of saline and waterlogged land is implementing a gender strategy to ensure that all members of the community equally share benefits from the project. In Vietnam, the $15 million, four year, Primary Health Care for Women and Children Project will provide support for basic health care in five provinces. Men will also benefit from this project as their local health facilities are upgraded and the health of their families improves.

Legal assistance

Community legal centres are community managed non-profit services that provide a range of assistance on legal and related matters to people on low incomes and those with special needs. They are a key component of Australia's legal aid system. They are a distinctive and effective form of service delivery which complement and extend the services provided by Legal Aid Commissions and the private profession.

In addition, women's legal centres provide a range of services for women clients, including advice and information on legal matters and, in some cases, advocacy and legal representation. These centres also play an important role in referring women to other government and community services. There are 11 women’s legal centres around Australia. Funds are also allocated to providing legal services for women through community legal centres in eight rural and regional areas.

The Government has reviewed Aboriginal legal services in New South Wales, introducing more competition through tendering and providing regionalised legal services. These reforms are currently being extended to other States and Territories. As a result of these reforms, new national standards will be introduced for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services.

The Government has improved women’s access to legal services provided by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS). It is funding five indigenous legal service units specifically designed to provide advice and legal assistance to women. In addition, a further four family violence legal service units in high need areas will be funded by ATSIC and commence service delivery in 1999-2000. Two and a half million dollars has been committed in 1999-2000 to fund legal projects for indigenous women. In addition, ATSILS is now required to arrange and fund private legal representation of indigenous women in cases of conflict of interest with other clients.

A new national Women’s Advisory Committee will advise the ATSIC Board of Commissioners on the impact of policies and programmes on indigenous women.

In addition, the Indigenous Women’s Initiatives programme funds projects which inform women about indigenous policies, programmes or services or which strengthen women’s support networks.

See also I: Human Rights of Women.

Example of State and Territory initiatives

Western Australia

Western Australia initiated a Government/non-government Poverty Taskforce during the International Year for the Eradication of Poverty. Women were identified as a priority target group for the Taskforce. A major report was prepared by the Taskforce together with a government response. Strategies developed include: funding for research into key areas including community attitudes to poverty; a Churchill Fellowship on a poverty issue; a community forum on what the community can do; and a forum giving feedback on the research findings.


Australia’s universal income support safety net safeguards against extremes of absolute poverty. Progressive reform to the safety net system have focussed on those in genuine need while removing rigid, categorical programme structure which put individuals at risk when circumstances change (for example, Parenting Payment). At the same time, The Australian Government is moving to improve the safety net through mutual obligations and targeted employment assistance, including Return to Work, which recognise individual circumstances, including parenting, and aim to provide individuals with pathways out of long term welfare dependency.

While women’s market incomes have increased, and the gap between men’s and women’s average weekly ordinary time earnings has decreased from 17.1% to 16.3% of male earnings between the May quarters in 1996 and 1999, there is room for further improvement. The feminisation of poverty is less pronounced in Australia than in many other countries. Relative poverty measures between men and women are affected by numbers of aged pensioners (oftentimes with high housing assets, but pension level cash incomes), many of whom are women.

With substantial increases in women’s workforce participation occurring largely in the last thirty years, and continuing slow cultural change to encourage women to undertake independent financial planning and assets acquisition in their own right, many older Australians, particularly older women, have less financial assets men. Government changes in superannuation and divorce and more flexible savings vehicles need to take hold. Increased emphasis on financial planning skills for women, especially young women, and cultural change to bring up the girl child to plan for economic security in her own right, are also needed.

Increasingly, market incomes will be affected by changes in workforce and job structure including the forces of globalisation. The Australian Government’s workplace reforms are designed to support stable and sustainable adjustment and employment and economic growth. There continues to be a need to capitalise on these reforms, including increased flexibility for work and family arrangements.

The financial welfare of many Australian women, particularly older women, remains affected by past low levels of education and workforce participation and career advancement. While young Australian women are the beneficiaries of increasing education levels (54.7% of Australia’s higher education students and 48.5% of VET students are women) and record levels of employment, it will take time for these changes to flow through.

Women make up the majority recipients of social security transfers. This in part reflects the sizeable transfers to women from family-directed payments (paid to the primary carer), as well as flow through effects of past education and employment practices on mature aged women with limited work experience.

Australian workplaces are starting to address issues of work and family to the benefit of workers with family responsibilities, who are primarily, but not exclusively, women. Until this is the accepted norm, women continue to bear most of the economic and opportunity cost for career breaks for full time parenting.

Women make up the majority of age pension recipients. Again, this reflects past generational experience with low levels of participation in paid workforce and exclusion from occupational superannuation coverage. The Australian Government’s 25% pension guarantee, and other changes to the pension, will protect existing low income older women from poverty. However, more time is needed for the Government’s superannuation reforms to work.

Financial pressures are particularly acute for some groups of women, including sole parents and Indigenous women. Government measures aim to provide more secure and flexible pathways out of long term welfare dependency.

More women than men have workforce breaks and periods of part time work because of their caring role within the family. This affects their superannuation entitlements and thus women are more likely than men to rely on benefits for their retirement income. There are large intergenerational differences between women regarding access to economic opportunities that they have had in the past. The high divorce rate impacts on the financial security of women.


Future commitments for women are incorporated above.

In the Australian Government system, new funding commitments are customarily announced in the annual Federal Budget. Additional commitments may be publicly announced in the context of the election platform or at other occasions.

The Australian Government’s future budget commitments for women are comprehensively outlined in Delivering on our Commitments for Women, the Budget Ministerial Statement on Women from the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women. A copy of this Statement has been provided in response to Part 2 (Financial and Institutional measures).


1: Ensure equal access to education.

2: Eradicate illiteracy among women.

3: Improve women's access to vocational training, science and technology, and continuing education.

4: Develop non-discriminatory education and training.

5: Allocate sufficient resources for and monitor the implementation of educational reforms.

6: Promote life-long education and training for girls and women.


Access to education and training is vital for women and men. Education remains the key to improving economic status in a changing economy and equipping individuals to achieve their goals and widen their life choices. A well functioning economy needs a workforce that fully utilises all its human capital, and promotes skills development and education without discrimination on the grounds of sex.

In recent times, Australian governments have introduced initiatives to increase women’s participation in education and training. Under the aegis of the national Gender Equity Framework for schools, the National Strategy for Vocational Education and Training and A Fair Chance for All, governments have acted to improve access to education and training for women. Initiatives have been implemented to expand the range of options for women and girls, particularly their access to private schools, apprenticeships and traineeships.

Educational opportunities and outcomes have continued to grow strongly for women since the mid-1990s. More young women than men undertake the senior years of secondary schooling (77.9% for girls, compared to 65.9% for boys). Women have made up more than half of all higher education students in Australia since 1987, and the proportion of female students has increased steadily since that time. The proportion of women entering higher education increased from 56.5% in 1995 to 56.9% in 1998. In vocational education and training (VET), women have almost reached parity with men (rising from 47.2% in 1995 to 48.5% in 1998). Dramatic improvements have occurred in the area of employment based training, with the proportion of women entering apprenticeships and traineeships increasing from around 25% in 1995 to more than 40% in 1998.

Women have also made significant inroads into several traditional male areas of study, such as science, engineering and medicine. More women and girls today are studying science, mathematics and technology-based subjects than ever before. In 1998, women entering medical undergraduate courses outnumbered men for the first time.

Since 1997, the Australian Government has funded a wide range of research aimed at enhancing women’s participation in education, training and employment. Projects have included: the identification of barriers to education, training and employment for girls and boys and the factors that affect their post-school outcomes; and women’s access to information technologies in education, training and employment.

Compulsory school education

All children between the ages of 5-6 and 15-16 years (some three million children) are required by law to attend either a government school, or some other government-approved educational programme. Although the final two secondary school years (Years 11 and 12) beyond age 15-16 years are not compulsory, young people are encouraged to complete these years and most do. The retention rate is higher for girls than for boys. Children in remote country areas and those with disabilities can access school education through other modes of service delivery, including distance education or special education.

Education and training for unemployed people

The Australian Government’s national job creation strategy has created more opportunities for unemployed people to acquire the necessary skills and training to compete effectively in the labour market. An active, properly targeted labour market programme will help those who are trapped in the unemployment spiral through lack of skills and other factors. It will also ensure that training for unemployed people is, wherever possible, accredited training that leads to more advanced qualifications and is relevant to local employment opportunities.

See also F: Women and the Economy for details on Job Network and the Return to Work Programme.


1: Ensure equal access to education.

School Education

More young women than men continue on to the senior years of secondary schooling in Australia. In 1998, the female year 12 retention rate was 77.7%, compared with 65.9% for males.

Gender Equity: A Framework for Australian Schools, sets out principles for action and strategic directions for education systems to move towards in order to achieve the best outcomes and opportunities for girls and boys. Specific outcomes are provided for each strategic direction, together with a range of approaches and strategies. Strategic areas include school curriculum, culture and management practices to better address different educational needs of disparate groups of girls and boys.

The Schools Work Towards Gender Equity project was funded in the 1996-97 Budget to develop resource materials to assist principals and school staff to investigate their schools’ gender equity needs and determine action that can be taken to bring about gender equity reform. The project provides a practical and informative resource to assist schools to address the strategic directions of the Gender Equity Framework (see above). The report is available on the Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs’ website (

In line with the Australian Government’s commitment to provide all students with access to a quality education and increase parental choice in schooling, the Australian Government introduced new funding arrangements for non-government schools based on a measure of the socioeconomic status of school communities. These new arrangements will give families, particularly low income families, greater access to the schooling of their choice, encourage greater investment in education and provide more support for the neediest schools.

The Australian Government provides $17.7 million annually, under the Country Areas Programme, to help schools and students in geographically isolated areas of Australia. This measure assists parents, administrators and other interested community members to improve the delivery of education services to primary and secondary students living in rural and remote areas.

The Assistance for Isolated Children Scheme helps families in rural and remote areas to overcome barriers to education and meet the extra costs associated with the schooling of their children. The aim of the Scheme is to help the families of students who are unable to attend a school daily because of geographic isolation. A range of allowances are available for students who board away from home, for families to set up a second home and for students who study at home by distance education methods.

Family and life education in schools

The health and physical education statement and profile for Australian schools also makes specific provision for learning activities that promote the development of strategies for forming, maintaining and ending relationships and managing changes in roles and responsibilities.

The Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs (DETYA) funded the development of a set of curriculum units in family studies. The units examine the gender distribution of the various roles within families, the historical development of family patterns and structures, and the relationship between family structures and participation in economic, political and social life.

The National Women’s Health Programme provided funding for the development of a special curriculum module and training manual for teachers to assist them in combating the undermining effects of sex role stereotypes on girls (eg. through self esteem and confidence-building), in dealing with menstruation and related issues, and in teaching human relationship and communication skills.

The Australian Government provides direct funding through the Family Planning Programme to selected non-government organisations for a range of activities, including education, counselling and clinical services, as well as nationally accredited training for health professionals. Education programmes are conducted by Family Planning Organisations in primary and secondary schools. These programmes deal with the course covering relationships, sexuality, responsible sexual behaviour, health risks and related topics.

Civic education

Discovering Democracy, which is part of the Australian Government’s Civics and Citizenship Education Programme, is designed to help all Australian students develop the basic knowledge, skills and attitudes they need to engage effectively in civic life.

Higher Education

Universities are encouraged to address the under-representation of women in some areas at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels through the provision of Higher Education Equity Programme (HEEP) funding. Nearly $5.5 million was made available to institutions in 1998 to assist them in providing appropriate programmes for equity groups, such as people from low socio-economic status background, rural and isolated backgrounds and women in non-traditional areas of study or in higher degree courses. HEEP funding is intended to be seed funding and not intended to cover the full costs of equity initiatives.

Universities are required to submit annual equity plans to demonstrate the extent to which equity planning and practice are integrated into their operations. These equity plans describe strategies developed to increase the participation of equity groups in higher education. Some innovative strategies for women include:

The Indigenous Support Funding Programme is providing $22.3 million in 1999 to higher education institutions to improve the access and participation of Indigenous men and women. The kinds of activities provided include study skills, personal counselling, provision of study centres, cultural awareness activities and visits to schools to encourage Indigenous students to consider university courses.

Universities offer course units by distance mode through Open Learning Australia (OLA). OLA’s objectives are to provide flexible access to tertiary education. An increasing number of courses are available through this mode of delivery, including undergraduate subjects, graduate programmes and some VET units.

Financial assistance for students

The Australian Government provides financial assistance to students to assist in overcoming financial barriers to education, particularly for students from low income households.

Many full-time students aged 16 or over receive financial assistance through Youth Allowance, Austudy or ABSTUDY.

Women make up more than half of the recipients of Youth Allowance and ABSTUDY and around 41% of Austudy clients.

Most tertiary students are required to pay the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) charge for their university studies. The HECS charge can be paid on enrolment or through a deferred payment arrangement commencing when the graduate’s income reaches a certain level.

Post-graduate tertiary students may be eligible for an Australian Postgraduate Award. These awards provide an exemption from HECS, and those with stipend also provide benefits such as a living allowance.

Girls at risk

A wide range of initiatives are under way to identify the barriers, and improve educational outcomes for ‘youth at risk’.

Non-English speaking background women

There are several programmes to assist women from a non-English speaking background with English language skills. In addition to State and Territory Government programmes, see above under Strategic Objective 2 (Eradicating illiteracy among women) for details concerning language programmes for those with English as a second language. See also E Women and Armed Conflict for assistance to refugee women in Australia.

Rural women and girl students

A range of Government initiatives help to improve the access, participation and outcomes of rural and remote students. Special measures include the Assistance for Isolated Children Scheme, the Country Areas Programme and the Higher Education Equity Programme (HEEP - see above).

Rural and remote students are targeted under the National Strategy for Vocational Education and Training 1998-2000, the National Women’s VET Strategy and A Fair Chance for All.

The Education Network Australia (EdNA) is a national framework established to coordinate the use of interactive computer networks across the educational sectors. A key objective is to improve access to information technology by all Australians, regardless of socio-economic status or geographic location. The national network provides information about education and training opportunities, and also facilitates the flexible delivery of courses. Women living in rural areas will benefit from the service delivered through EdNA. The EdNA Directory Service can be found at ( The Australian Government’s support for EdNA is provided through the Framework for Open Learning Programme.

The Australian Government has provided $250million over five years to Networking the Nation to assist the economic and social development of regional, rural and remote Australia. Through the programme, rural women are able to take advantage of improved communications, on-line training, up-to-date commodities information, world wide marketing opportunities, and the ability to work from home. The initiative will also increase the access of rural women to education and training opportunities delivered via distance learning.

The Rural Youth Information Service provides young men and women aged 15 to 25 years in rural and remote communities of Australia with access to information, advice and referral to other agencies on education, training and employment matters including income support. Brokers also provide assistance in negotiating placements with employers, including for New Apprenticeships.

Indigenous women

While there have been improvements in the participation of Indigenous students in education and training, outcomes are still well below those of other Australians. In general, however, Indigenous women have better outcomes than Indigenous men. The number of Indigenous Australians enrolled in higher education courses increased by 4.4% from 1997 to 1998. There are now significantly more Indigenous women studying in higher education institutions than Indigenous men. In 1998, 63.9% of the Indigenous higher education student population was female.

All governments are strongly committed to providing support to bring about significant improvements for Indigenous people.

The Australian Government is undertaking concerted efforts to ensure that Indigenous students achieve equitable and appropriate outcomes. Substantial funding of $192.2 million in 1999-2000 is provided to the Indigenous Education Strategic Initiatives Programme (see above under "Higher Education") and the Indigenous Education Direct Assistance Programme. The aim of these programmes is to achieve equitable learning outcomes when comparing Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. Performance targets are negotiated with education departments and education providers. The areas in which outcomes are measured include literacy, numeracy, school attendance, retention, grade progression, Tertiary Entrance Rank, awarding of school certificates and Indigenous employment. Educational outcomes for Indigenous women are expected to improve significantly as a result of these initiatives.

Other Indigenous specific measures include ABSTUDY, the Indigenous Support Funding Programme and the Indigenous Researchers Development Scheme. Funding for these measures for 1999-2000 totals $196.6 million.

In addition, a wide range of mainstream policies and programmes target Indigenous Australians. These include the National Strategy for Vocational Education and Training 1998-2000, the National Women’s VET Strategy and A Fair Chance for All, the New Apprenticeships Access Programme and the Higher Education Equity Programme (see above).

The ANTA Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ Training Advisory Council provides advice to the ANTA Board on ways to improve access and outcomes for Indigenous Australians in VET.

The Australian Government has also initiated a project to increase Indigenous women’s retention rates in information technology courses.

Women with disabilities

The Australian National Training Authority’s (ANTA) Disability Forum is a national advisory committee that provides advice to the ANTA Board on the training needs of people with a disability, including women with a disability.

The Australian Government funds the Disabled Apprenticeship Wage Support Programme which provides weekly wage support to employers who employ a person who has a disability as an apprentice. Assistance may also be provided by way of necessary workplace modifications or the hire and leasing of special equipment, tutorial assistance or interpreter services.

Students with disabilities are also target groups of federal government funded programmes and policies, including the National Strategy for Vocational Education and Training 1998-2000, the National Women’s VET Strategy and A Fair Chance for All, the New Apprenticeships Access Programme and the Higher Education Equity Programme (see above).

See also section 3 below for details on small business training.

Examples of State and Territory initiatives

Australian Capital Territory

The Australian Capital Territory has developed a strategy to implement Gender Equity: A Framework for Australian Schools. The strategy assists schools to develop annual action plans to analyse and address gender issues. Professional development and training for teachers promotes gender-sensitive education. Vocational education and work experience programmes includes analysis of gender perspectives and non-traditional work patterns.


Queensland has been active in the implementation of both the National Action Plan for the Education of Girls and since 1997, the National Gender Equity Framework. The national Framework indicates a range of priority areas for action and is linked to national reporting processes.

Professional development projects conducted in Queensland schools during 1995/96 include the Racist and Gendered Violence Project and a curriculum project called Gender up Front.

Northern Territory

The Making Waves project for Indigenous women in broadcasting is aimed at training women to manage and operate programmes and equipment in remote communities.

2: Eradicate illiteracy among women.


In March 1997, Australian ministers for education agreed to a National Literacy and Numeracy Goal, That every child leaving school should be numerate, and be able to read, write and spell at an appropriate level. The Australian Government specifically supports the achievement of this goal through the provision of funding under the Literacy and Numeracy Programme. Almost $869 million is being provided from 1999-2000 to 2002-2003 to help schools measurably improve the literacy skills of students in the early and middle years of schooling.

The Quality Teacher Programme is a new three-year, $77.1 million initiative aimed at strengthening the skills of the teaching profession. The programme will focus on the renewal of teacher skills and understanding across key learning areas, including literacy and numeracy. It will target the 70% of teachers who completed formal training ten or more years ago, causal teachers and teachers re-entering the teaching profession.

A number of recent surveys show that girls in Years 3 and 5 outperform boys in literacy. The 1998 Literacy and Numeracy Survey found that more than three quarters of Year 3 and 5 girls met the literacy benchmarks for reading and writing compared to less than two thirds of boys. The 1996 National School English Literacy Survey found similar differences between girls and boys. These and other studies show that there are a wide range of achievement levels between the lowest and highest achieving students, and that the difference between boys’ and girls’ levels of literacy is greater among children from unskilled and manual occupation backgrounds than among children from other socio-economic groups.

The Workplace English Language and Literacy Programme (WELL) provides workers, including non-English speaking background and Indigenous women workers, with English language and literacy skills to enable them to meet the demands of their current and future employment and training needs. WELL projects assist the delivery of workplace-based English language and literacy training activities, the development of English language and literacy resources, and support national strategic activities within particular industries, including the incorporation of language, literacy, and numeracy competencies into industry training packages. In addition, the Workplace Communication Project, a component of the WELL programme, supports the integration of language and literacy competencies into training packages.

English as a second language training

Funding for the English as a Second Language (ESL) General Support Programme is now subsumed within the Government’s Literacy Programme. This change recognises the central importance of literacy skills for every child.

Within broad guidelines, school authorities have greater flexibility in administering and allocating funds according to local priorities and the needs of individual students within the target groups, including students from a non-English speaking background.

In addition to ESL funding under the Literacy Programme, the Australian Government provides substantial assistance for newly arrived non-English speaking students who are citizens or permanent residents to enable them to participate in intensive language tuition under the English as a Second Language - New Arrivals Programme. A similar programme has also been introduced for students whose first language is an Indigenous one.

In 1998-99, approximately 73% of newly arrived adult migrants in need of English tuition registered with the Adult Migrant English Programme (AMEP). The registration rate for refugee and humanitarian entrants was 88%. The proportion of women participants in the programme was 62%. Child care is provided if required. Research has been conducted into the client reach and retention of the AMEP programme. Its findings and recommendations are expected to lead to refinements of policy and procedures and, ultimately, to increased reach and retention rates. The outcomes are expected to be available in 1999-2000.

Examples of State and Territory initiatives

South Australia

The South Australian Government has introduced Integrated Language and Workplace Trainer - training for women of non-English speaking background employed in the textile industry.


Tasmanian data suggest that girls as a group are outperforming boys as a group in literacy outcomes. Whilst adult literacy programmes in Tasmania do not specifically target women, in 1998 women made up approximately 47% of all participants in the Adult Literacy and Basic Education programme conducted by TAFE. Women-only literacy classes for women from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds have been delivered since 1992.

3: Improve women's access to vocational training, science and technology, and continuing education.

Vocational Education and Training (VET)

The national VET system in Australia is a cooperative arrangement between Commonwealth, State and Territory governments, working closely with industry. TAFE institutes charge fees according to schedules set by their State/Territory government. Several States/Territories provide fee exemptions or concessions for disadvantaged students.

Australia’s National Strategy for Vocational Education and Training 1998-2000 identifies objectives for the national VET system, which include achieving equitable outcomes for all students. The strategy supports the National Women’s VET Strategy which sets the national direction for governments, industry and training providers to consistently address the needs of women in policy making, planning, resourcing, implementing and monitoring VET. Increasing the number of women completing VET programmes across all levels and fields of study is a key objective of the Strategy. The Strategy also targets particular groups of women including women from different racial and cultural backgrounds, rural and remote women, women with a disability and women returning to paid work after a period of absence.

Women’s participation in VET has been increasingly steadily since the mid 1990s. In 1998, women made up almost half of all VET students and more than 40% of commencing New Apprentices.

Under the School to Work Programme, the Australian Government is providing significant funding to support VET in schools, with a total of $23 million over four financial years, ending in June 2000. Initiatives include professional development for teachers, the delivery of VET courses in schools by industry and trainers and piloting part-time New Apprenticeships in schools where students are able to combine their senior secondary studies with accredited vocational training and paid employment.

The Australian Government has played a leading role in promoting lifelong learning and flexible delivery mechanisms, including distance education. These measures contribute to improving women’s access to VET. In 1998, women comprised more than 55% of distance students.

Training courses in Australia are increasingly delivered in many varied locations, in a variety of modes, such as through on-line courses, and have a greater number of entry and exit points. The flexible delivery of training is very important for women, particularly those with family responsibilities and Indigenous women, who often require access to training at times and locations more suited to their specific needs.

National Training Packages provide the basis for consistency in training and qualification outcomes and form the foundation of vocational training. They are designed to support a range of learning and career pathways and flexible combinations of on- and off-the-job training and assessment to meet particular enterprise, regional and individual training needs. All training packages include guidelines for the assessment and Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). RPL enables training organisations and employers to identify and formally recognise the skills that women gain outside formal training.

Apprenticeship initiatives have significantly increased the number of women in New Apprenticeships. The total number of female new apprentices rose from 32,555 in December 1996 to 57,000 in 1998 – an increase of 75 per cent.

Australia’s New Apprenticeships reforms are providing greater flexibility and support to improve and expand training opportunities for women. New Apprenticeships have been expanded into industries with large numbers of female workers.

Where State/Territory government licensing allows part-time employees to undertake apprenticeships, women benefit in particular. The Australian Government commissioned research into the provision of part-time New Apprenticeships in traditional male industries and emerging industries, and research on strategies to increase women’s access and participation in these areas.

More opportunities are now available for existing workers to undertake a New Apprenticeship. Certain categories of existing workers, for example, can now attract an employer incentive payment.

Additional incentive payments ($1000) are also paid to employers for taking on a female apprentice or trainee in a non-traditional occupation.

The New Apprenticeships Access Programme provides pre-apprenticeship and pre-traineeship assistance for people who are disadvantaged in the labour market and require preliminary training before they can successfully participate in a New Apprenticeship. Women who are registered as unemployed or receiving income support and wish to enter a non-traditional ‘female’ occupation are eligible for assistance under this programme.

Under the Jobs Pathway Programme, school leavers not intending to go on to university are assisted to make a successful transition from school to work through partnerships involving schools, industry and the local community. The programme enables ‘at risk’ male and female students to gain access to a range of services, such as information and advice about VET options and brokerage assistance to gain an employment placements, including New Apprenticeships. In 1998, around 25,000 young school leavers from over 1,500 schools across Australia were assisted under this initiative.

Small business training

The Government recognises the enormous contribution to the country’s economy made by women in small business. Women make up 34percent of Australia’s 1.3million small business operators, and this figure is growing strongly.

In 1999-2000 the Government will implement new programmes to assist women in small business through measures to improve the flow of information on business issues to women and provide opportunities to enhance their management skills and networks, at a cost of $800,000perannum.

The Government is also addressing women’s small business training and skill development through nationally recognised training materials and self-paced training programmes. Information on the training products will be disseminated through on-line technology, seminars and printed material.

Projects to address the particular small business training needs of women have been funded under the Small Business Professional Development Best Practice Programme. The programme is an action research programme designed to develop, trial and implement a range of models to meet the training needs of small business and to stimulate the demand for quality training.

Several projects target small business women, or industries where there are large numbers of women workers, to increase women’s participation in training and help them expand their business operations. The Women in Small Business Mentoring Project, for example, developed a mentoring network linking new starters with experienced business owners to share knowledge and experience and boost confidence and success. The network placed a strong emphasis on improving skills and participation in on-the-job training with general business support and information.

The Indigenous Education Direct Assistance Programme provides career guidance, support and tuition for students and trainees in need of additional assistance. This initiative has helped many Indigenous female students to gain entry to VET courses.

Higher Education

In 1998, women made up 55.5% of the total higher education population in Australia.

Female commencements in higher education have increased by 39% over the last ten years, whereas male commencements increased by only 28.4% during the same period. Female postgraduate students rose from 49.9% in 1997 to 50.4% in 1998.

Mature-age women outnumber mature-age men in higher education. In 1998, 40.2% of higher education students were aged 25 years or older and 53% of these students were women. Mature-age women include women returning to study after a break, women with children, sole parents returning to the workforce and women improving their skills. Many mature-age students are admitted through flexible entry provisions and choose to study on a part-time or external basis.

See also section 1 above, for details on the HEEP programme.

Non-Traditional Careers For Women

Women in non-traditional areas are a focus of government education policy outlined above. The key priority areas include women in engineering, computer science and post-graduate research and course work.

In years 11 and 12, an equal number of girls and boys now enrol in mathematics and chemistry. However, fewer girls enrol in the physical sciences and computing. In VET and higher education, women continue to be under-represented in engineering, architecture and computer science.

Effort has been invested in encouraging girls and women to enter non-traditional areas of study. These efforts include the development of curriculum materials, including Gender Work, an education kit addressing issues of gender and work.

The Australian Government has also established a Women and Information Technology Advisory Group for Online Australia to develop projects to encourage better access for women to new technologies.

The Science and Technology Awareness Programme supports activities to increase women’s awareness and promote education and careers in science and technology. Projects include a trial of a Best Practice Model for encouraging and supporting women interested in science and technology and engineering courses in the vocational education and training sector. Talks by scientists and others are available to rural women to educate and inspire women about the fundamental role of science in our daily lives and future prosperity.

Examples of State and Territory initiatives


Victoria has strategies to assist women to upgrade their skills after they enter the workforce or when they wish to return to the workforce after breaks for child birth and rearing. These include:

New South Wales

In New South Wales the TAFE State Programme of Action for Women has increased women's access to TAFE. 55.9% of distance education students in TAFE in 1997 were women.


The Tasmanian Government’s Tasmanian Implementation Plan for Women has been developed to implement the National Women’s VET Strategy. The State Steering Committee is responsible for identifying key areas of need, including women in information technology, and assisting in the development and implementation of strategies.

Tasmania is trialing case management for people from groups with special needs (including women) as they progress through vocational education and training.

TheTasmanian East Coast Pilot Project Training Brokerage for Rural Women 1997/1998 was a pilot project to: assist women to access information about courses they were interested in; assist women with enrolment procedures; provide initial return to study sessions; and provide tutorial assistance as required by individuals. Following the project, there was a 57% increase in female enrolments in VET courses from the piloted municipality between l996 and 1997. The pilot is continuing.

The Tasmanian Government funds women's access courses in all regions of the State. These courses assist women who have been out of the workforce for a significant time to return to study and/or employment. TAFE Tasmania, through its Women's Training Consultant, promotes women's access and participation in vocational education and training. The role of the consultant includes staff development in gender-inclusive training and other areas.

Approximately 75% of enrolments in adult education courses in Tasmania are women. Funding is also provided to Neighbourhood Houses, used predominantly by women, to deliver programmes which promote self-esteem and encourage women to participate in lifelong learning.

In 1996 funding was provided to TAFE Tasmania for the State-wide delivery of Certificate III in Information Technology in women-only classes. Women's interest in the course was very high and outcomes were excellent.

In Tasmania, gender equity, with a focus on the education of girls, was a priority for the three year period from 1995-1997. Significant extra resources were allocated to support the implementation of the Department's policy on gender equity. Seven district gender curriculum officers were employed with central coordination to improve educational practices in relation to gender.

South Australia

South Australia has sponsored the following initiatives:

4: Develop non-discriminatory education and training.

Australia has a robust legislative framework to ensure that women and particular groups of women (such as Indigenous women ) are not discriminated against in education and training.

See also

H: Institutional Mechanisms for the advancement of Women for details on the Race Discrimination Act (1975), the Sex Discrimination Act(1984) and the Discrimination Act 1992.

Section 1 above for details on initiatives to improve access for women including women from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

5: Allocate sufficient resources for and monitor the implementation of educational reforms.

Robust monitoring and reporting of education and training programmes and outcomes for students, including those for particular equity groups including women, is a well established feature of Australia’s education and training systems.

Evaluation and monitoring procedures have been significantly enhanced since 1995. Under the National Women’s VET Strategy, new performance indicators were introduced for women in VET. A comprehensive report was published in 1997 on key VET outcomes for women across a wide range of indicators and covering disadvantaged groups of women (eg, Indigenous women, NESB women, women with disabilities and rural women).

6: Promote life-long education and training for girls and women.

Recognition of Prior Learning

Australian governments support a number of initiatives to promote the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) of skills gained outside formal training. RPL is also a priority area in the National Women’s Vocational Education and Training Strategy.

Australian governments provide practical impetus for RPL through the establishment of skills recognition centres, research, and the publication and dissemination of information and practical resources to employers, training providers and individuals.

See also discussion of RPL under National Training Packages under strategic objective 3 above.

Older women in VET

The national VET system aims to meet the needs of the existing workforce so that workers can upgrade their existing skills or obtain new skills. It also aims to improve pathways to VET for new entrants to workforce and those returning to the workforce.

In 1997, students aged over 25 years comprised 62% of the total student population in the VET sector, 66% of whom were women.



Future commitments for women are incorporated above.

In the Australian Government system, new funding commitments are customarily announced in the annual Federal Budget. Additional commitments may be publicly announced in the context of the election platform or at other occasions.

The Australian Government’s future budget commitments for women are comprehensively outlined in Delivering on our Commitments for Women, the Budget Ministerial Statement on Women from the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women. A copy of this Statement has been provided in response to Part 2 (Financial and Institutional measures).


1: Increase women’s access throughout the life cycle to appropriate, affordable and quality health care, information and related services.

2. Strengthen preventive programmes that promote women’s health.

3. Undertake gender-sensitive initiatives that address sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS and sexual and reproductive health issues.

4. Promote research and disseminate information on women’s health.

5. Increase resources and monitor follow-up for women’s health.


Overall, Australia is one of the healthiest nations in the world and Australian women have very good health compared to those in other countries. Life expectancy for both women and men is high, with women expected to live longer than men. Between 1977 and 1997, female life expectancy at birth increased from 76.9 to 81.3 years (compared to male life expectancy that rose from 70.0 to 75.6 years). The most recent data available shows that the maternal mortality rate in Australia is one of the lowest in the world at 5.8 per 100,000 live births (1995) and infant mortality is very low at 5.0 deaths per 1,000 live births (1998).

Life expectancy for Australia’s Indigenous people has improved over recent years but still remains significantly below that for the general population, at 56.7 years for men and 61.7 years for women (1996). Indigenous infant mortality rates remain nearly four times that for the general population.

In 1997, the leading causes of mortality for women in Australia were circulatory diseases (43.7%) such as heart attack and stroke, and cancer (24.9%). Breast cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australian women after non-melanocytic skin cancer. Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer related-death amongst Australian women. For Indigenous women respiratory disease and metabolic disorders (eg diabetes) are also significant causes of death (1997). However, breast cancer rates are lower amongst this group.

To 31 March 1999, an estimated 19,581 people in Australia had been infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) (18,132 males and 1,123 women). Of these, 8,103 developed Acquired Immunodeficency Syndrome (AIDS) and 5,753 died. Of those who developed AIDS, 342 (4.2%) were women and 225 (3.9%) women died. Of people diagnosed with HIV infection to 31 March 1999, 29 people were in the 13-19 years age group, 4 of which were women.

While primary responsibility for the provision of health services rests with State and Territory governments, the Australian Government plays a crucial role in such areas as health financing, national health policy and planning and maintaining Australia's capacity to meet its international obligations. In 1997/98 Australia spent approximately 8.4% of its Gross Domestic Product annually on health care.

All Australians have access to free hospital treatment, a doctor of choice for out of hospital care and subsidised pharmaceuticals through the national health insurance programme, Medicare. This universal access to health care is complemented by Government initiatives, which aim to prevent specific causes of morbidity and mortality and enhance services to better meet the needs of special population groups, including women and Indigenous Australians. The Australian Government is continuing to fund primary health care services and other initiatives to improve the health and welfare of Indigenous Australians, which remains below that of the general population on most indices.

Over the past three years, the Australian Government has developed health campaigns to meet the information needs of people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

The Australian Government is strongly committed to supporting a world class health care system that provides universally affordable services, including preventative care and promotes healthy lifestyles. Women, as the major users of the health care system, are major beneficiaries of the Government’s reforms.

Australia’s unique National Women’s Health Policy (1989) continues to be supported by all Australian governments, through women-specific and mainstream health programmes.



The Medicare programme provides universal access for all Australian residents to medical and hospital services. The objective of the programme is to provide medical services necessary for health care through financial assistance towards the cost of these services. Services to in-patients of public hospitals are provided free of charge. Contributions are made for medical services in private hospitals.

A national, publicly-funded Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme provides timely, reliable and affordable access for the Australian community to cost-effective medicines.

Private health insurance

The Australian Government believes that the private sector is a vital complement to the long-term viability of Medicare and the public hospital system, and is taking active and positive steps to ensure that private health insurance is a realistic choice for those who wish to use it.

Around 31% of Australians choose to take out private health insurance to cover their care as a patient in a public or private hospital and ancillary services such as physiotherapy, dental and optical.

In recent years, the Australian Government has taken steps to promote greater choice in health care provision by making private health insurance more affordable for all Australians. Incentives are offered to low and middle income earners to take out or retain their private health insurance cover. In addition, the Australian Government offers a 30% Rebate on private health insurance. More women than men are covered by private health insurance and the Rebate, bringing significant benefits to women across all age groups.

General practice

General practice is the first point of contact with the health care system for the majority of Australians. General practitioners are private practitioners whose services are largely funded through Medicare. There are around 98 million patient contacts with general practitioners each year.

A General Practice Strategy to better integrate general practitioners into the health system and to tackle the imbalances in distribution of general practitioners between urban, rural and isolated regions was recently reviewed. The review found that significant progress had been made and recommendations of this review will be implemented.

National Public Health Partnership

The National Public Health Partnership (NPHP) is a working arrangement between the Commonwealth, States and Territories to facilitate collaboration and coordination on national public health issues. Established in 1996, the NPHP provides a mechanism for supporting the development of a systematic and strategic approach to addressing public health priorities and to assessing and implementing new national directions and major initiatives.

One of these initiatives has been to focus on improving the development and coordination of national strategies to further enhance their effectiveness and sustainability. Principles supporting gender and cultural appropriateness are integral elements of national strategy development and review.

Community health sector

Community health centres provide primary health care to members of local communities, particularly maternal and child health services. This sector also utilises a range of non-government service providers such as indigenous health services, women-specific health services, family planning clinics, and aged person service providers.


National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)

Medical research has been given a very high priority by the Australian Government over recent years. The Australian Government funds the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), which undertakes a wide range of medical research aimed at improving the health of all Australians and under the auspices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research Working group, an NHMRC sub-subcommittee, targets health research relevant to the specific needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

In 1994, the NHMRC developed a Women's Health Strategy and Implementation Plan. A major issue identified in the plan was the inclusion of women in research, including their participation in clinical trials. The plan also states that research proposals be designed to allow consideration of potential gender differentials and allow appropriate subgroup analyses by gender where relevant.

In 1999, the NHMRC provided funding for 135 research projects and training grants, totalling $11.3 million, specifically related to women's health. This research covered a number of identified high priority areas in women’s health including breast cancer and physical activity.

In the 1999-2000 Budget, the Government announced at unprecedented funding boost for health and medical research. Over the next six years, the annual funding based for health and medical research through the NHMRC will increase from $165 million in 1998-99 to more than $350 million in 2004-05. The Government has also established a high level Ministerial Committee to implement a new strategic plan for health and medical research.

The Australian Longtitudinal Study on Women's Health

A major longitudinal study on women's health began in 1995. In September 1998, following a major review of the Study that was conducted by leading researchers, the Minister for Health and Aged Care approved the extension of the funding to the Study for another 5 years. On the grounds of ensuring scientific merit, the Research Committee of the NHMRC was given the responsibility of managing the study.

The purposes of this study are to identify those factors that promote and those that reduce good health in women and to clarify the interaction between the health system and the health needs of women. The study will collect information over several years from women in different age groups and ethnicity, taking special account of the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. This information will help researchers and policy makers to explore possible link between health status and associated determinants as well as experience of the health system and health service utilisation.

The results from the first survey are being analysed and a number of associations have been highlighted. For example, excess weight is associated with poor mental health, decreased vitality and higher use of health services. The results will guide the implementation of future women's health policy and contribute to the development of better health services for women and families.


National Women's Health Policy

Australia is one of the few countries in the world to have a National Women's Health Policy. The policy, developed in consultation with organisations and individuals, represents the views of over one million women Australia-wide. The objective of the policy is to improve the health and well-being of women in Australia and to encourage the health system to be more responsive to the needs of women. The policy identified seven priority health issues:

Public Health Outcome Funding Agreements

The Australian Government provides funding to States and Territories through the Public Health Outcome Funding Agreements. Under these Agreements, State and Territory health departments make a commitment to all agreed national policies and strategies, including the National Women's Health Policy. As a result, significant improvements have been achieved in the delivery of primary health care services for women. Innovative service models have been implemented that have been responsive to women’s health needs and have influenced the mainstream system to improve health services for women.

The Australian Government recognises, however, that there is still a need for the health system to respond more appropriately to the needs of women. To this end, additional funding is provided through the Agreements for specific women’s health initiatives. These initiatives cover national breast screening, cervical cancer screening, educational activities to prevent female genital mutilation and alternative birthing services (see below).


Cardiovascular disease

The leading causes of mortality for women in Australia in 1997 were circulatory diseases (43.7%) such as heart attack and stroke, and cancer (24.9%).

Cardiovascular disease is one of the five National Health Priority areas and is being addressed through the National Programme for Health Gains. A major project being funded under this programme is the cardiovascular disease monitoring centre at the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Breast cancer

The Government provides substantial funding for research into breast cancer, for the early detection of breast cancer and for support services for breast cancer patients.

Breast cancer is a major health issue for women. More Australian women die from breast cancer than any other form of cancer. Over 2,600 Australian women die from breast cancer every year and one in eleven Australian women will develop the disease. International research shows that well controlled mammogram screening can substantially reduce deaths from breast cancer. The population of women over 50 who undergo screening every two years have a 50% reduction in the risk of dying from breast cancer.

Australia’s aim is to achieve significant reductions in mortality and morbidity from breast cancer by actively recruiting and screening women aged 50-69 years for early detection of the disease. The Australian Government provides substantial funding for research into breast cancer and for support services for breast cancer patients.

BreastScreen Australia is a national breast screening programme aimed at achieving significant reductions in mortality and morbidity from breast cancer through early detection. The programme provides free screening and assessment services at two-yearly intervals to women aged 50-69 years. It has a network of dedicated, accredited Screening and Assessment Services, which offer screening services at approximately 500 sites across Australia. The national policy is to actively recruit women aged 50-69 years for whom there is a demonstrated benefit from screening. Women over 40 are also eligible for biennial screening through the programme.

Over 52,000 women are screened across Australia each month. Screening services are provided in a manner that is acceptable to women in the target age group and is in accessible, non-threatening and comfortable environments.

In recognition of the dramatic impact breast cancer has on women, the Australian Government is continuing to maintain and extend its support for breast cancer detection and support initiatives. The 1999-2000 Budget provides $4.1 million over four years for specialised support services for women diagnosed with breast cancer. Funding will be used to establish health care worker positions in selected sites across Australia. These health care workers will receive specialised training so that they can provide support and information for women with breast cancer. Overseas research has shown that outcomes for women with breast cancer are improved through the provision of specialised health care services.

The Australian Government allocated an additional $8.1 million between 1999-2000 and 2003-2004 to the National Breast Cancer Centre. The Centre is a unique body in Australia that will continue to improve outcomes for women with, or at risk of, breast cancer. The Centre is undertaking a trial of multi-disciplinary care for women, involving a team of clinicians working closely with patients, especially in the management of breast cancer.

Over the last three years, information dissemination campaigns on breast cancer have been developed to meet the information needs of women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Cervical cancer

The National Cervical Screening Programme seeks to reduce morbidity and mortality from cervical cancer. The national coordinated approach seeks to integrate all elements of the cervical screening programme including recruitment, Pap smear taking and reporting, diagnosis, treatment and follow-up procedures.

Consistent with National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines, the National Cervical Screening Programme’s policy is that all women at risk aged between 18 and 70 years should be routinely screened every two years. Recruitment strategies for the Programme include nationally coordinated media campaigns supported by activities in the States and Territories such as:

During 1996-1997 the national participation in screening was 62.4% for women aged 20-69 years. The success of the programme can be demonstrated by the decrease by 34% in the age-standardised death rate for cervical cancer between 1983 and 1996. Almost all this decline is attributable to the National Cervical Screening Programme.


The Australian Government is committed to sustaining Australia’s record of achievement in relation to its response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic – Australia is widely acknowledged as having one of the best responses in the world.

The third national HIV/AIDS Strategy 1996-97 to 1998-99, Partnerships in Practice, aims to eliminate transmission of HIV and minimise the social impact of HIV infection. It recognises the need for coordinated action to combat HIV/AIDS, builds on past successes and reaffirms the commitment to non-partisan support, partnerships between affected communities, governments at all levels, and medical, scientific and health care professionals.

HIV/AIDS initiatives are covered under the Public Health Outcome Funding Agreements with States and Territories.

Women have been specifically targeted through HIV/AIDS education and prevention programmes. Culturally appropriate sexual health and HIV/AIDS programmes are also being implemented for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities within the primary care setting.

HIV/AIDS is an important aspect of the work of non-government organisations that are funded by the Australian Government to improve the sexual and reproductive health of men and women in Australia. Organisations such as the Family Planning Association, the Australian Catholic Social Welfare Commission and Women in Industry and Health, provide a range of HIV/AIDS related services, including information campaigns, counselling services and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

Female genital mutilation

Girls and women subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) experience long term physiological and psychological effects. These include chronic recurrent infections of the vagina, uterus and urinary tract, sterility, life-long pain, difficulty with menstruation and sexual intercourse, obstetric complications and a range of psychological disorders.

Although the incidence of FGM is low in Australia, there have been concerns over the problem because of increasing levels of migrants from countries where FGM is practiced. Australian governments strongly oppose the practice of FGM. The Australian Government has responded by developing a dual strategy of legislation and education to abolish this practice in Australia and to assist those women and girls who have already undergone these harmful practices.

The practice of FGM is in most circumstances a criminal offence in all Australian jurisdictions. Specific legislation banning the practice exists in all jurisdictions, except Queensland and Western Australia. The enactment of legislation was a co-operative effort between the Commonwealth, States and Territories.

The Australian Government provides funding to States and Territories under Public Health Outcome Funding Agreements for educational activities to prevent the practice of FGM in Australia and to assist those women and girls who have undergone the practice.

Mental health

Through the National Mental Health Strategy, the Australian Government and State/Territory governments have jointly endorsed a national framework for mental health reform. The strategy is focused on the mental health requirements of special needs groups such as people of a diverse cultural and linguistic background, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, remote and rural people, older people, women, children and adolescents.

Depression is expected to contribute the greatest disease burden in the developing world and to rank second worldwide by 2020. In this context, one of the identified outcomes is the reduction in the incidence and prevalence of depression, including postnatal depression, and associated disability.

Maternal health

As noted in the NHMRC report, Options for Effective Care In Childbirth, Australia enjoys a very high standard of obstetric services, and perinatal outcomes rank amongst the best in the world, although there are some groups in the community which fare substantially less well than the majority. Those with the poorest outcomes include some migrant groups, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and women of low socio-economic status.

Efforts to reduce Indigenous maternal mortality and morbidity have included the establishment of culturally appropriate birthing centres (which also provide prenatal care), antenatal care programmes (such as Strong Women, Strong Babies, Strong Culture in the Northern Territory), the training of Indigenous health workers and the funding of a network of community-controlled primary health care services at the local level.

See also

‘Rural women’ below for details on the Mental Health Information for Rural and Remote Australians initiative.

‘NESB women’ below for details on the Promoting Partnerships in NESB Women’s Mental Health project.

Alternative birthing

The Australian Government continues its support for the Alternative Birthing Services Programme, first established in 1989. Incentive funding is provided to the States and Territories (through the Public Health Outcome Funding Agreements) to promote greater choice in birthing for women in the public health system and to encourage the establishment of low intervention birthing services managed primarily by midwives. Funding of Indigenous pre-and post-natal birthing services was a high priority of the programme.

The objectives of the programme are:


Evidence shows that breastfeeding has a significant positive impact on the health of women and children. In recognition of this, the Australian Government made a commitment through its policy document, Health throughout Life, to encourage breastfeeding awareness with the aim of increasing the rate of breastfeeding in the first six months of life.

The National Breastfeeding Strategy takes a multi-faceted approach that includes family education, employer support, health profession education and data collection. Information dissemination campaigns on breastfeeding have recently been developed to meet the information needs of women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Other key campaigns have targeted employers to encourage supportive workplace initiatives for women workers who are breastfeeding, health workers and Indigenous women.

Australia is implementing the World Health Organisation’s International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. Breastfeeding is promoted and supported in the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Infant Feeding Guidelines for Health Workers (1996), the NHMRC Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents (1995), and the Dietary Guidelines for Australians (1993). In addition, the Australian Government is implementing a breastfeeding strategy that aims to increase breastfeeding rates, particularly for babies under the age of 6 months. The strategy focuses on a number of areas including consumer, health professional and employer/employee education.

Family planning

Under the Family Planning Programme, the Australian Government provides funding to selected non-government organisations to provide a comprehensive range of information, education, professional training, counselling and clinical services in sexual and reproductive health to the Australian community.

Family planning organisations located around Australia provide a range of clinical services by doctors and nurses in sexual and reproductive health. These services include advice and prescription/fitting of a range of contraception options, pregnancy testing, vasectomies and counselling services. These organisations also provide accredited and non-accredited training for doctors and nurses, community education, library services and telephone services.

The Australian Catholic Social Welfare Commission administers the Natural Family Planning Programme, providing services in 130 centres located across Australia. Training and accreditation for teachers of natural family planning are obtained through the Australian Council of Natural Family Planning or the Ovulation Method Research and Reference Centre of Australia.

The Women in Industry and Health organisation provides promotional activities in sexual and reproductive health to women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who work in factories in Melbourne.

Australian women can also visit general practitioners for sexual and reproductive health advice, including the prescription of contraceptives.

The Australian Government recognises the need to provide safe, affordable and easily accessible family planning services that minimise abortion rates. The legal status of abortion in Australia is governed by State and Territory laws. While abortion remains a criminal offence in most Australian jurisdictions, the laws have generally been interpreted liberally so that hospitals are able to provide abortion services and specialist clinics exist in most States and Territories.

In general, women in Australia have access to abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy where a medical practitioner is satisfied that the continuation of the pregnancy will result in physical or mental harm to the woman. The consent of the woman is required in all cases. Some States and Territories also require the consent of two physicians or that abortion is performed in prescribed hospitals only. The cost of abortion services is partially recoverable under the Medicare Benefits Schedule, thereby ensuring that financially disadvantaged women have equal access to termination of pregnancy services.

Physical activity

Physical activity is now recognised as an important population health risk factor and as a preventative factor for all of the current national health priority areas. There is growing concern in Australia at the rise in illnesses directly related to reduced levels of physical activity. According to the latest scientific evidence, an accumulation of 30 minutes or more of moderate intensity physical activity on most days of the week is the minimum required for health benefits.

The Australian Government is providing strong support for promoting physical activity in Australia. The Active Australia initiative aims to encourage and assist all Australians to be physically active throughout life. Other measures include a baseline population survey, the development of standard measurements and monitoring frameworks, public information campaigns and piloting of best practice intervention models.

Australia has developed a national policy on women and girls in sport, recreation and physical activity (the National Plan for Sport and Physical Activity for Women and Girls for 1998-2002) that focuses on the opportunities and barriers to participation for women and girls.


In reaffirming and formalising its commitment to the development of strong and achievable tobacco control measures, Australia has developed the National Tobacco Strategy 1999 to 2002-03, which was endorsed in June 1999. Australia’s National Tobacco Strategy is based on a framework of coordinated and comprehensive national action and aims to improve the health of all Australians by eliminating or reducing their exposure to tobacco in all its forms.

An important step in the implementation of the Strategy is the development of targeted national tobacco action plans for the targeted population groups, which includes women. One key strategy area will focus on achieving a decrease in intra-uterine exposure to maternal smoking.


Recent research in Australia shows that the majority of 17 year olds have tried an illegal drug at least once, and that the age of first experimentation with drugs is lowering. Drug misuse among teenagers can be a major disruption to families, academic performance, physical development and social integration into the world of adult life.

The National Drug Strategic Framework 1998-99 to 2002-2003, endorsed by Australian governments in 1998, provides a nationally coordinated and integrated approach to reducing the harm arising from the use of drugs. The Framework provides broad strategic directions and principles and seeks to strengthen and extend partnerships at all levels and between all relevant sectors.

The Australian Government is funding a range of initiatives to educate young people about the harm of drug misuse and promote abstinence as a healthy lifestyle choice. These include the development of the National School Drug Education Strategy, new and innovative education programmes for students, training for teachers and information campaigns for parents. Young women and families will benefit from these initiatives.


Australia has had a National Food and Nutrition Policy since 1992. Currently, a National Public Health Nutrition Strategy is being developed and this will have a particular focus on vulnerable groups especially on Indigenous Australians, those of low socio-economic status, and those living in rural and remote areas.

Australia has developed two sets of dietary guidelines: one for the general population and the other for children and adolescents. Dietary guidelines for older Australians are currently under development and will be launched by the National Health and Medical Research Council in late 1999. These will be particularly important for women, given the ageing profile of our population.

A number of the existing guidelines are of special significance for women and girls; namely the guidelines to eat foods containing calcium and iron and to encourage and support breastfeeding. In recognition of this, a national strategy promoting and supporting breastfeeding is currently being implemented.

Women planning a pregnancy or likely to become pregnant are encouraged to increase their intake of the B group vitamin folate, particularly in the month before and in the first three months of pregnancy. It is recommended that women have a daily intake of 400 micrograms of folate at this time to help ensure the healthy development of the baby's nervous system. This level of folate intake could reduce the number of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, in babies born in Australia by up to 70%.

Initiatives include the dissemination of a comic on folate (targeted at women from a low socio-economic background and other ‘hard to reach’ groups, for whom educational material is not accessible, and who rarely attend ante-natal classes), starter packs of folic acid tablets for women free of charge and the inclusion of a folate segment for the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia’s continuing professional development programme.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women

The Australian Government has taken a leadership role in establishing a specific health framework agreement between governments at all levels and relevant community organisations for the provision of Indigenous health services. This aims to improve the access of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to mainstream health services; integrate initiatives in the primary health, environmental health and infrastructure areas; shift to needs-based funding of services in consultation with Indigenous communities; and develop responses to specific disease challenges.

Particular initiatives include funding of $78.8million over four years to enable improved access by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to comprehensive primary health care services. The aim is to provide for coordinated clinical care, population health and health promotion activities including screening, antenatal services and maternal and child health, to facilitiate illness prevention, early interventions and effective illness management.

The provision of $20.6million to extend the Army/Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) Community Assistance programme will result in improvements to water, sewerage, power systems, roads, airstrips and the construction and upgrade of community facilities. ATSIC will match funding under this initiative from the National Health Strategy, whilst the Army will contribute personnel and equipment to the joint project.

One of the areas of major focus of the HIV/AIDS Strategy 1996-97 to 1998-99 is to prevent an HIV epidemic emerging in Indigenous communities.

Women in rural and remote areas

Women living in rural and remote areas experience particular problems in accessing personal health and domestic violence services. Privacy and confidentiality are issues of considerable importance, particularly for adolescents.

Healthy Horizons is the National framework for improving the health or rural, regional and remote Australians for the period from 1999 to 2003, developed by the National Rural Health Policy Forum with the National Rural Health Alliance for the Australian Health Ministers’ Conference.

Healthy Horizons notes that:

Special attention has been paid to women’s health in the last decade and women in rural, regional and remote areas are gradually obtaining appropriate services. These services include better cervical and breast cancer screening and shelters from domestic violence. The lack of access to female GPs or female nurses for some procedures is still an issue. As the rural, regional and remote population ages, women will be highly represented in the older age groups. Aged care and the reduction of social isolation will be a significant area of need.

Younger women with children have limited access to child care in rural, regional and remote areas and consequently have reduced opportunities for full or part-time work and community participation. Mental health problems are of concern and require responses which include both social support and medical care.

Women are becoming more active in community leadership, business, farming and tourism ventures; and the health services will be shaped by their emerging needs and active participation.

The Networking the Nation Programme has funded a number of significant tele-medicine and tele-health proposals that will enhance the provision of health services to women in regional, rural and remote locations. In particular, the provision and use of video conferencing facilities have the potential to substantially improve the quality and levels of medical care available to rural Australians.

The Regional Health Services Programme aims to improve the health and well being of people in rural Australia by providing a flexible mix and range of health, aged care and other community services. A total of $42.8 million will be provided under the four years commencing in 1999-2000 for the establishment of at least 30 Regional Health Services in rural communities throughout Australia. There is an ongoing commitment from 2002-03 of $11.41m. An additional 100 aged care places, at a total cost of around $2 million over four years, will also be made available as part of this initiative.

A wide range of services will be provided including women’s health, family planning, domestic violence prevention, illness and injury prevention, acute and palliative care, children’s services, community nursing, aged care, mental health, radiology and immunisation.

In July 1999, the Australian Government introduced a fly-in fly-out female general practitioner (GP) service for women living in rural and remote areas who do not currently have access to a female GP. The service will cost $8.2 million over four years. This initiative will increase women’s access to primary health care interventions such as cervical cancer screening, breast and skin examination and other preventative health care. It is also in line with the Australian Government’s strategy of providing greater choice, recognising that some women prefer to receive health services from a female doctor.

Under the broad umbrella of the Regional Health Services Programme are two programmes related to the new Regional Health Services initiative, the Multipurpose Services Programme and the Multipurpose Centres Programme, which also provide support to increase flexibility and administrative viability for services in rural and remote areas. Under these programmes, approximately $17 million will be provided for the 1999/2000 financial year.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service provides aero-medical emergency retrieval services to men and women in rural and remote communities. A new five year agreement was signed in July 1998 for the Australian Government to provide almost $83 million to the Royal Flying Doctor Service. This ongoing funding support will ensure that people in rural and remote regions continue to have access to the best aero-medical emergency retrieval system in the world and to a range of primary health services.

Retention payments for long serving rural GPs, at a cost of around $43.1 million over four years, was introduced in July 1999. Retention payments provide an additional incentive for doctors to continue in rural and remote areas, assisting communities to hold on to their already established doctors.

The Mental Health Information for Rural and Remote Australians initiative was introduced in February 1998. This telephone based service provides rural and remote callers with information about specific mental illnesses and contact details for services and organisations that may be of assistance. Additional funding was provided in 1999 to further develop, enhance and evaluate the project.

Older women

The Office for Older Australians, within the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care, aims to enhance the quality of life of older people. As the majority of older people in Australia are women, their needs receive particular attention. Programmes have been developed to ensure older women receive information about changes associated with ageing and the range of services available. The emphasis of these programmes is on promoting choice, to enable each individual to choose the range and mix of services to meet their own needs.

The Conference for Older Australians, a wide-ranging representative body of older people advising the Australian Government, and the Healthy Seniors Initiative, a grants programme promoting health and well-being for older people, are two major initiatives.

The Australian Government’s 30% rebate on private health insurance is a commitment to making private health care more affordable and accessible to all Australians. Coverage for women rises significantly during child bearing years

(25-39years) and in the age groups after 70years peaking in the over 90year age group.

Lifetime Health Cover is a new system of private health insurance which requires health funds to offer lifetime rates of hospital cover. People taking out hospital cover early in their lives will pay lower premiums than those taking it out later in life. The new system therefore rewards membership loyalty and early joining. Special provisions ensure that people aged 65 and over on 1 July 1999, the majority of whom are women, will not be charged higher premiums if they choose to delay taking out private health insurance.

The Australian Government has announced a major package of initiatives to enhance primary care for older Australians, people with chronic illnesses and those who require a range of different services to support them in the community. Older women and women who are paid or unpaid carers are the principal beneficiaries of these measures. For example, the Australian Government will provide $6.6million over four years to help prevent falls among older people aged 65 and over. This initiative will look at ways to reduce the incidence, severity and mortality of falls in both community and residential care settings, develop education for community, acute care and residential workers, and pilot programmes to reduce the risk of injury.

A significant number of older Australians and their carers are women. In 1998, 14% of all women in Australia were carers of people with a disability or the elderly. 3.4% of all women were primary carers. Significantly, higher proportions of older women are carers.

In the 1999-2000 Budget, the Australian Government has further assisted carers by expanding the provision of respite care support for carers and simplifying access to community services through the establishment of single contact points in each of the 58 Home and Community Care regions across Australia.

The availability of flexible and responsive respite care services that are focused on the carer’s needs has been identified as a key element in assisting carers to maintain their caring role.

The National Respite for Carers Programme was announced in the 1996/97 Budget with funding of $36.7 million over four years to contribute to the support and maintenance of caring relationships between carers and their dependent family members and friends. Under this programme, Carer Resource Centres have been established in each capital city to provide carers with information and support and Carer Respite Centres operate in 58 regions across Australia to co-ordinate respite care services which are appropriate to the carer’s needs.

The programme has significantly expanded. The 1998/99 Budget announced the Staying at Home package which included a further $30.9 million over four years to further develop the network of respite services and $10.3 million over four years to provide additional respite services for carers of people with dementia. The 1999/2000 Budget included $82.2 million over four years to further boost respite care services for carers of people with dementia and other cognitive and behavioural disorders.

The Home and Community Care (HACC) Programme is a joint Commonwealth/State cost-shared Programme. The Commonwealth Government is responsible for national policy while State and Territory Government is responsible for national policy while State and Territory Governments are responsible for implementation of the Programme, including setting funding priorities. Since the Programme’s inception in 1985, the Commonwealth has remained strongly committed to ensuring continued growth of the HACC Programme. In 1985 – 1986 HACC expenditure totalled $192.184 million. This has grown to $823.394 million in 1998 – 1999 and if the States and Territories agree to fully match the 1999 – 2000 offer of HACC funds, the total dollars available for HACC will be $864.806 million.

The aim of the HACC programme is to provide basic maintenance and support services to enable frail older people and younger people with disabilities to remain living in the community and to prevent premature admission to residential care. HACC services also assist the carers of these people. The types of HACC services available include home maintenance and modification, as well as home help, food services, personal care, community nursing, transport and respite care.

The HACC Programme is currently implementing many reform components designed to focus delivery of service to the client, based on need, in an integrated service delivery system.

Amending HACC Agreements incorporate reforms which will provide a basis for the Commonwealth and each State Minister to jointly agree a mechanism for the planning and reporting of the Programme within Regions and in particular for measuring the mix and level of services within Regions.

Currently there are four States/Territories operating under the Amending HACC Agreement: New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory.

Carelink Centres will be located in each of the Home and Community Care regions and will provide a crucial link between the health and community care sectors. The aim of Carelink Centres will be to provide the general public, carers, service providers, general practitioners and other health professionals with a single point of access for information about, and referral to community services through a single national telephone number and the establishment of regional information and referral centres.

From 1 January 1999, the Government increased the income test limits for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card. Eligibility for the card is now based on taxable income. Access to the card has been made easier through streamlined applications.

The overall theme for the 1999 International Year of Older Persons is ‘Australia — towards a society for all ages’. This provides an opportunity for all Australians to recognise and value the contribution of older people as well as to look at the challenges that lie ahead. The Australian Government has committed $5.9million to ensure tangible results and lasting outcomes for older people and long term cultural change. The Australian Government will provide an additional $5million in 1999-2000 to extend awareness of these objectives, which recognise the important role of older people in Australian society.

Women with a disability

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) conducts a Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers every five years. The latest available 1993 survey, 17.6% of Australian females reported having a disability. The three disabling conditions most frequently reported were arthritis (20.1%); disorders of the ear and mastoid process (10.8%); and other musculo-skeletal disorders (10.8%).

More females with a disability had a profound disability (20.4%) than their male counterparts (13%). According to the survey, both women and men can expect to live about 80% of their lives without disability, although women experienced more years of disability, and severe disability due to their longer life expectancy.

Women from a non-English speaking background

See ‘Nutrition’ section above and SA initiative for details on the Promoting Partnerships in NESB Women’s Mental Health project below .

International aid

The Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), which is responsible for the Australian Government’s overseas aid programme, gives priority to improving the health of people in developing countries. The aid programme focuses on simple, cost–effective health care services to improve the basic health of those most in need. Australia will continue to focus on women and children’s health, including family planning and reproductive health, and HIV/AIDS as key elements of basic health aid.

See also

D: Violence against Women

I: Human Rights of Women regarding female genital mutilation

K: Women and the Environment

Examples of State and Territory initiatives

New South Wales

The NSW Government has sponsored the following initiatives:


The Victorian Government is about to release the five year Women's Health Plan.

The plan identifies impediments and strategies around Age Related Health Issues, Healthy Living, Emotional and Mental Health, Reproductive and Sexual Health, Violence Against Women, and Women as Carers. The development of the Women's Health Plan involved extensive consultation including focus groups, the Women's Health Conference, and written and verbal submissions. The Women's Health Plan will be launched in 1999.

Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

The ACT Department of Health and Community Care funds a number of government and non government services for women. They include: the Women's Health Programme, incorporating breast screening, cervical screening and the Women's Health Service which targets women affected by violence and also provides ‘well women clinics’. The non government organisation, Women's Centre for Health Matters, provides information and resources on women's health. Other health initiatives which target women are the Migrant Health Unit and the Bilingual Community Education Programme.

Queensland (QLD)

The QLD Government is participating in the National Women's Health Programme to maintain funding to Women' s Health Centres. The programme promotes primary health care for issues such as reproductive health and sexuality, ageing, violence against women, occupational health and safety and the health needs of women as carers. In addition, Queensland Health has allocated funding for the broad implementation of the National Women's Health Policy in the future.

The QLD Government is developing the Queensland Women's Health Outcome Plan which will focus on eight broad priority areas designated by women and covering those conditions which cause most illness and mortality in women.

The QLD Office of Women's Policy is developing the Eating Disorders Project which is focused on body image and disordered eating. The project will coordinate a range of strategies to target prevention, early intervention and treatment for disordered eating.

A range of services to assist parents and families in Queensland, including the Early Intervention and Parenting Support Initiative, are being expanded and offer free parenting programmes from 30 locations across the state.

Western Australia (WA)

The WA Government’s first Two Year Plan for Women made the following commitments:

Northern Territory

In some centres health workers have worked with Aboriginal organisations to ensure that women have access to their traditional birthing and post-natal practices within hospitals. A pilot "shared care" programme between Katherine Hospital and a local Aboriginal Health Service has been instituted.

In Darwin two houses have been made available as a Hospital Accommodation Service. These are in close proximity to hospitals and provide affordable short term accommodation for women and their families from rural and remote areas. They can be accessed, for example, by those with sick children, with partners in hospital, requiring assessment and/or procedures or women awaiting the birth of their baby.

Free mammogram screening and assessment centres have been established and a relocatable screening unit is making annual visits to some major centres for the early detection of breast cancer in women.

South Australia (SA)

The SA Government has sponsored the following initiatives:

The project has achieved significant success as a model of best practice and was the recipient of a 1997 International Commonwealth Award for Excellence in Women’s Health;


Future commitments for women are incorporated above.

In the Australian Government system, new funding commitments are customarily announced in the annual Federal Budget. Additional commitments may be publicly announced in the context of the election platform or at other occasions.

The Australian Government’s future budget commitments for women are comprehensively outlined in Delivering on our Commitments for Women, the Budget Ministerial Statement on Women from the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women. A copy of this statement has been provided in response to

Part 2 (Financial and Institutional measures).

Examples of State and Territory future commitments

New South Wales

The NSW Government has made the following commitments:

Victoria (VIC)

The Victorian Department of Education is developing materials and accompanying research to raise awareness of the key physical health issues important to women, in particular, research on leadership, stress, work/life balance and gender profiles.

Western Australia (WA)

In the WA Government’s second Two Year Plan the Health Department of WA committed to work in partnership with the Women’s Policy Development Office to bring together agencies with an interest in improving women’s health to implement collaborative initiatives. Specific initiatives include:


1: Take integrated measures to prevent and eliminate violence against women.

2: Study the causes and consequences of violence against women and the effectiveness of preventive measures.

3: Eliminate trafficking in women and assist victims of violence due to prostitution and trafficking.


Violence and the threat of violence against women and girls is a fundamental violation of human rights. It is also a form of discrimination that prevents women from achieving full social and economic equality.

Working towards eliminating violence against women remains a major priority for all Australian governments. The States and Territories have the major responsibility for legislating and providing programmes and services. The Australian Government plays a strong leadership role and works co-operatively with the States and Territories to eliminate violence against women in all its forms, in the context of its commitment to women’s human rights and to ensure that all Australians can live in a safe society.

Physical and sexual assault and attempted assault are criminal offences under Australian State and Territory law. All States and Territories have domestic violence and anti-stalking legislation and most have enacted legislation expressly banning female genital mutilation, except where the practice is dealt with in other existing legislation.

See also C: Women and Health.

In recent years, the Australian Government’s approach has focussed on fostering a cooperative approach with the States and Territories and the business and community sectors. While recognising and supporting Australia’s crises services, current initiatives also place an increased emphasis on prevention and early intervention.

The Australian Government’s strong commitment against violence is reflected in the following recent achievements:

1: Take integrated measures to prevent and eliminate violence against women.

Domestic violence

Since 1995, the Australian Government has embarked on significant new initiatives to integrate efforts to prevent and eliminate domestic violence.

In November 1997, the Australian Prime Minister, the Hon John Howard MP, convened the National Domestic Violence Summit. Heads of Government agreed to work together in Partnerships Against Domestic Violence to prevent domestic violence across Australia. The National Summit was the first time that heads of Australian governments had come together to speak out against domestic violence.

The initiative is intended to develop innovative preventative approaches and test best practice, incorporating co-operative work at Commonwealth, State and Territory level. Total Commonwealth spending on Partnerships Against Domestic Violence will be in excess of $50 million over the 1997-98 to 2002-03 period.

The first phase of Partnerships Against Domestic Violence was underpinned by $25.3million of Commonwealth funding for the period June 1997 to June 2001. $12million of this is for innovative State, Territory and Commonwealth projects to address and prevent domestic violence, and $13.3million for projects by Commonwealth agencies.

The priority areas for phase one of Partnerships are:

To date, Partnerships has funded more than 70 projects to address the needs of a wide range of people including women and children, men, youth and older people. National projects developed collaboratively by Commonwealth, State and Territory governments include: community education; national competency standards for workers dealing with those affected by domestic violence; information for women with disabilities; the effect of domestic violence on older women; and show-casing of key learnings emerging from the projects to encourage best practice. Projects by specific Commonwealth agencies include projects for children and young people at risk, relationship support programs for men, and advocacy services for indigenous women and children experiencing violence.

The National Domestic Violence Prevention Workshops for Young People project is part of the Partnerships initiative. The project aims to identify best practice models to deliver outcomes for domestic violence prevention for young people in terms of raised community awareness and changed behaviour of victims, child witnesses and perpetrators.

State and Territory Partnerships projects include demonstration projects concerning children affected by domestic violence, perpetrators of domestic violence, issues for rural and remote areas and Indigenous family violence.

Building on the success of Partnerships, the Australian Government committed a further $25 million in the 1999-2000 Budget for a second phase of the initiative to run from 1999 to 2003.

The second phase of Partnerships Against Domestic Violence, launched in October 1999, will consolidate on the key learnings emerging from demonstration projects and pursue action under the key themes of:

Women with Disabilities

In recognition of the particular issues that domestic violence presents for disabled women, Partnerships has given priority to this area with the commissioning of a national project to develop national exemplars of information on domestic violence for women with disabilities.

The project, Preventing Violence Against Women With Disabilities (Australian Capital Territory) was selected as one of four national winners in the Australian Violence Prevention Awards 1999.

This project is in response to needs identified by Women With Disabilities Australia, which is contributing its expertise to the development and implementation of the project.

Based on information gathered from research and consultations with women with disabilities and service providers, a range of communication products will be developed and trialed for women with disabilities.

The project is expected to be completed in June 2000.

Business Against Domestic Violence

In November 1997, the Prime Minister also launched Business Against Domestic Violence to enable corporate Australia to work with their employees and the community to address and prevent domestic violence.

Business Against Domestic Violence enables practical prevention strategies against domestic violence and is supported by a number of major Australian companies.

The key achievements of Business Against Domestic Violence since 1997 include:

See also the following sections in this chapter below: ‘Crime Prevention’, ‘Assistance for victims of crime and violence’, ‘Protection of the law’.

Sexual assault and other forms of violence against women

Crime prevention

The Australian Government continues to support the National Crime Prevention Programme which commenced in 1996. This strategic initiative funds and promotes policies and projects to prevent and reduce violence and crime in Australian communities. The programme has a research and action focus, which includes large scale national pilot prevention projects, local prevention activities and training for crime prevention professionals.

The programme addresses a number of the concerns women have about crime and violence in Australian society. Key priorities include fear of crime, residential burglary, violence in indigenous communities and young people and crime. To date, key initiatives under the programme include research into young people’s experience of and attitudes towards domestic violence; a pilot project in a rural community working with adolescents to prevent violence in their current and future relationships; and a review and audit of programmes provided around Australia for perpetrators of domestic violence. Projects are being undertaken with young people aimed at preventing violence in their current and future relationships.

In addition, the Australian Government is providing up to $50 million to establish Crim Trac, including two new national databases on DNA and child sex offenders, and replacing the existing National Automated Finger Print Identification System. The funding will also be used to significantly improve access for law enforcement officers to existing databases such as apprehended violence orders, person warnings and missing persons.

Assistance for victims of crime and violence

The Supported Accommodation Assistance Programme (SAAP), a joint Commonwealth/State programme, provides secure and safe crisis accommodation for homeless people, including women and children escaping domestic violence. Some 250 women’s refuges are funded through SAAP. SAAPprovides related support services such as counselling, information and referral to deal with the problems which lead to homelessness and assist clients to achieve the maximum possible degree of self-reliance and independence.

The 1997-98 SAAP Data Report found that:

The Australian Government is committed to the renewal of SAAP for another five years representing further expenditure of over $1 billion for this period. Anational evaluation of the programme in 1998-99 is shaping the new agreements.

The Rural and Remote Domestic Violence Initiative is a pilot programme funded by the Australian Government and administered by State and Territory Governments through SAAP. The initiative is piloting new approaches for women and children who are subjected to violence in rural and isolated communities to have access and referral to support services and advice on matters such as housing, financial and legal matters.

The Family Court has adopted a Family Violence Policy aimed at heightening staff awareness of the issue and offering the victims of violence the opportunity of separate conciliation or mediation when they are in fear or where the result of past violence includes a significant power imbalance.

The Australian Government provides income support for a wide range of clients, including women and children escaping domestic violence.

Protection of the Law

Gun control

In May 1996, all Australian governments agreed to adopt tougher uniform national gun laws throughout Australia, as part of the National Firearms Agreement.

The Australian Government played a leading role in securing this Agreement which permanently removes a large number of firearms from the Australian community. The Agreement also denies access to firearms to a range of persons, including those who have been the subject of a Domestic Violence Order or an Apprehended Violence Order.

The Commonwealth Government allocated $500 million for a national buyback scheme for semi-automatic long arms. This measure resulted in the removal of over 643,000 firearms from the Australian community. Import restrictions have also been increased on semi-automatic firearms.

Since the Agreement, the level of firearm suicide and firearm related crimes in Australia has fallen appreciably.

Model Criminal Code

In 1990, The Standing Committee of Commonwealth, State and Territory Attorneys General established a Model Criminal Code Officers Committee (MCCOC) to develop a best practice model of criminal laws which States and Territories will be encouraged to adopt.

In recent years, MCCOC has reviewed all non-fatal offences against the person. The review included offences such as sexual assault and stalking. A report issued in September 1998 provides a model for laws relating to these offences.

A MCCOC report on slavery and sexual servitude was released in November 1998 and its recommendations have since been legislated at a Commonwealth level.

See also ‘Sexual Slavery and Servitude’ section below.

MCCOC is currently reviewing fatal offences and sexual assault laws. MCCOC issued a discussion paper on fatal offences in June 1998 addressing, inter alia, whether provocation should be retained as a partial defence to murder. Its report on fatal offences, incorporating community responses to the discussion paper, is expected to be released early next year.

The MCCOC report on sexual offences was released in May 1999 and is currently under consideration by governments.

A discussion paper, Model Domestic Violence Laws, was released at the November 1997 National Domestic Violence Summit. The Model Laws are aimed at ensuring continuity of protection for victims across the country. Recommendations made in the formal report, released in April 1999 address how State and Territory legislation can more effectively protect victims who cross State boundaries.

Legal aid

All States and Territories provide a wide range of crisis, information, referral and support services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Women’s Legal Services in all the States and Territories offer domestic violence and sexual assault legal advice. State and Territory services include court support services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and specialist services for women of non-English speaking background and Indigenous women who are subjected to violence.

The Australian Government provided $102.8 million in 1999-2000 for legal aid. Commonwealth legal aid funding is targeted at matters under Commonwealth law. This means that, under agreements with the States and Territories, Commonwealth legal aid is provided mainly for Family Law matters. Each agreement between a Legal Aid Commission and the Commonwealth provides that ‘protecting the safety of a child or spouse who is at risk is to be accorded the highest priority in making grants of aid in family law’.

Legal Aid Commissions provide legal assistance to people unable to afford private legal services. Most provide initial counselling and advice services to victims of domestic violence. They provide grants of legal assistance to those who meet means and merit tests to pursue legal proceedings in those matters.

Women who are victims of violence and who seek protection in the Family Court of Australia can receive legal aid using Commonwealth Funds. If women seek protection in State Courts then State funds are used.

The Commonwealth Community Legal Services Programme provides funding for women’s legal services to provide legal advice and referral services for women, including toll-free telephone advice. It also undertakes community legal education on issues that are of particular concern to women, including Family Law matters, violence against women, discrimination, employment and many other areas of law. The programme plays an advocacy role, for example, to increase availability of lawyers for women needing legal representation in courts and tribunals. Some women’s legal services receive special funding to provide specialist legal services to help address the particular legal needs of Indigenous women in their communities.

Under the programme, funding is also allocated to some generalist community legal services to operate rural outreach projects to provide legal services for women in rural areas.

Violence in schools

In 1996, the Australian Government funded State based fora to discuss issues related to school violence. The No Fear Kit was produced as a resource addressing gender violence for both primary and secondary schools.

The Gender and Violence Project was part of the Office of the Status of Women Stop Violence Against Women Strategy and produced a series of teaching and learning materials, including professional development materials, to assist schools to develop their own definition of violence and to help students and teachers understand the links between gender and violence. The package is designed to assist schools to develop a whole of school approach for addressing gender-based violence and to understand the impact that violence has on learning outcomes.

During 1998 the Commonwealth funded an annotated bibliography listing resources to combat violence in schools. It is anticipated that the bibliography will be published and circulated to schools and will also be available on the Internet.

In April 1997, the Australian Institute of Criminology released a report on Indicators of Aggressive Behaviour to identify and investigate ways of assisting groups most at risk from the portrayal of violence.

Education and training

A number of educational programs aimed at identifying and addressing gender bias in the operation of the law and the legal system have been funded by the Commonwealth Government.

All States and Territories incorporate dedicated sessions on domestic violence or family violence and sexual assault into their police recruitment training programmes and ongoing police professional education programmes.

Various States and Territories offer ongoing professional education in the areas of domestic violence and sexual assault to medical practitioners. A number of universities incorporate sexual assault and domestic violence materials in the undergraduate medical curriculum. Undergraduate social work and nursing curricula are giving increasing emphasis to topics of violence against women. A number of hospitals include domestic violence and sexual assault as components of educational programmes.

The Royal Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has developed a booklet, Female Genital Mutilation: Information for Australian Health Professionals, for medical practitioners and health professionals providing services to women and girls who have undergone or are at risk of female genital mutilation. The College has also developed related curriculum materials.

Responses to perpetrators of domestic violence against women

Some States and Territories offer education and counselling programmes for perpetrators of sexual assault and domestic violence, based on the principles of safety of victims and the responsibility of perpetrators for their violence. A national audit of programmes has been conducted to assess the effectiveness of these programmes. The audit assesses the extent to which programme effectiveness has been evaluated and the result of such evaluations.

As a measure designed to prevent the occurrence of domestic violence, the Australian Government has provided funding under Partnerships Against Domestic Violence for community-based organisations to develop innovative projects aimed at encouraging perpetrators to seek assistance with the emotional and practical issues following the breakdown of marriages and relationships.

As another preventative measure, funding has been provided by the Commonwealth towards developing a national telephone help line for men in crisis. A partnership between business, churches and the community sector will be encouraged to develop and implement this project.

Indigenous women

The Government has been increasingly concerned about the level and severity of family violence in some Indigenous communities. Its policy emphasis is on improving key socio-economic outcomes which will, by addressing underlying causes, have a positive effect in the longer term.

Family violence is a complex issue. There are Indigenous communities that have taken positive and effective action to deal with violence, and the Australian Government is looking to work with them and with State and Territory Governments to develop better ways of preventing and responding to violence. Indigenous family violence is also a priority under Partnerships (see above) which is, inter alia, funding two Family Violence Systemic Advocacy Services to advise service providers on best practice standards in delivering services to Indigenous women.

The Government has also improved women’s access to legal services provided by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services. It is funding five Indigenous legal service units specifically designed to provide advice and legal assistance to women. In addition a further four family violence legal service units will be established in 1999-2000.

Women from a non-English speaking background

Following concerns about the incidence of violence and abuse of women sponsored to Australia as spouses and fiances, the Australian Government 1998 funded the updating of a booklet designed to assist women to make informed decisions about marriage and migration and to understand their rights in Australia. The booklet and accompanying video will shortly be available in Arabic, Mandarin, Thai, Vietnamese, Russian and Tagalog.

Serial sponsorship of visa applicants appears to be highly correlated with the perpetration of domestic violence. In November 1996, amendments to Australia’s migration legislation were introduced to curb serial sponsorship. Sponsors in the spouse, fiance and interdependency visa classes may now sponsor a maximum of two partners in their lifetime, at least five years apart.

The domestic violence provision in the migration regulations allows eligible applicants to be granted permanent residence where the relationship that forms the basis of their claims to residence has ended and there has been domestic violence (including against children or other family members). This provision addresses concerns that in some instances people might be forced to remain in violent relationships to gain permanent residence.

Portrayal of violence in the media

In July 1996, the Australian Government announced its intention to address public concerns about the portrayal of violence in the electronic media. Substantial progress has been made by Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments and industries bodies since that time.

High-level violence material has been classified 'RC' (Refused Classification). Ministers approve the case by case reclassification of films classified high level violence for mature audience prior to 1993.

From April 1999, broadcasts of Mature Audience programmes are limited to late night viewing (between 9.30pm and 5.00am). The broadcasts must carry a consumer advice symbol indicating violence. These provisions have been included the draft revised Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations (FACTS) Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice (the draft Code).

Free to air broadcasters may modify films for broadcast in accordance with Office of Film and Literature Classification Guidelines. National and commercial broadcasters may implement such through their respective codes of practice. The draft FACTS Code contains a clear reference to the need to modify films in this way.

The Australian Government has taken steps to prohibit the export of all refused classification (RC) material by ensuring that export regulations are consistent with import regulations. In December 1997, revised Customs (Prohibited Exports) Regulations to achieve this came into effect.

Commonwealth, State and Territory Censorship Ministers have considered the introduction of arrangements to make it an offence to possess films, videos or computer games that have been or would be refused classification because of violent content. At present, Ministers have agreed to retain existing offence provisions which appear to be operating effectively.

The Ministerial Committee recommended that an industry code of practice for video and interactive software retailers should be introduced. The Australian Video Retailers Association introduced a voluntary code of practice with effect from 1July1997.

The Government has also established a regulatory framework for online content which includes amendments to existing legislation made by the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Online Services) Act 1999, which commenced on 16July1999. The framework is based on the principle that what is illegal offline should also be illegal online. From 1January2000 any person will be able to complain to the Australian Broadcasting Authority about prohibited online content.

2: Study the causes and consequences of violence against women and the effectiveness of preventive measures.

As is Australian practice, the specific measures outlined elsewhere in this section are routinely underpinned by a research basis. Partnerships Against Domestic Violence, for example, includes research projects and a rigorous meta-evaluation of project outcomes to determine best practice and key learnings for replication.

The following section outlines other recent research into the causes and consequences of violence against women and the effectiveness of preventive measures.

Australia undertakes a wide range of research into domestic violence and sexual assault issues. Examples of significant recent and current research topics include the responses of general practitioners and hospital workers to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, the extent of violence against Filipino women and the effectiveness of education and counselling programs for perpetrators of violence against women.

In 1996 the Australian Government commissioned the Australian Bureau of Statistics to undertake a national survey on violence against women. This survey has established the first comprehensive national data on the nature and extent of violence against women in Australia. It covered women's fears for and threats against, their personal safety, women's experience of physical and sexual assault, the effects on women of violence and what women do as a result of experiencing violence.

The Women’s Safety Survey 1996 provided benchmark data to measure changes in the level of violence against women.

Available data on violence in Australia reveals significant differences in the pattern of violence experienced by women and men. Men are more likely than women to be both the victims and the perpetrators of violence. Those most at risk of violence are young men, with the important exceptions of crimes of sexual assault and domestic violence. When only these two types of violence are considered, victims are mostly female, with young women being at highest risk.

The Australian Government is undertaking projects to research and develop appropriate preventive approaches for relationships at risk of becoming violent, and referral and intervention approaches where violence is already occurring. The outcomes of this research will inform the operation of all Commonwealth-funded marriage and relationship counselling and mediation services in Australia and will promote an integrated response to all family members affected by violence who seek help from these services.

A number of pilot projects are being undertaken to trial better ways of supporting indigenous family relationships. The projects will have a research focus and will integrate issues of domestic violence while providing information on more appropriate and effective relationship support services for Indigenous Australians.

3: Eliminate trafficking in women and assist victims of violence due to prostitution and trafficking.

Sexual slavery and servitude

Australia regards the trafficking and sexual slavery of women and girls as a form of violence against women and a fundamental violation of women’s human rights.

In August 1999, the Australian Government passed the Criminal Code Amendment (Slavery and Sexual Servitude) Act. The Act applies where an international element is involved in recruiting persons by deception or to work as sex workers under conditions of sexual servitude.

The offences under the Act are the Commonwealth's part of an integrated package of legislation to eliminate these practices throughout Australia. State and Territory offences will focus primarily on local cases of deceptive recruiting and sexual servitude where there is no known overseas connection.

The new offences provide for maximum penalties of 25 years imprisonment for conduct amounting to slavery. Where the activity falls short of slavery but involves victims working in conditions that amount to sexual servitude, the maximum penalty is 15 years imprisonment. The penalty for sexual servitude will be 19 years where the victims is less than 18 years of age. The maximum penalty for deceptive recruiting is seven years imprisonment, or nine years if the victim is under 18 years of age.

The Australian Parliament enacted the Crimes (Child Sex Tourism) Amendment Act in 1994 which makes it a criminal offence for Australian citizens or residents to engage, while overseas, in sexual conduct with persons under the age of 16 years. It is also an offence under the Act to organise, promote or encourage child sex tours. This legislation was enacted in response to, amongst other things, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which places an obligation on State Parties to take action, at both a national and international level, to protect children from sexual exploitation.

International human rights treaties

Australia participates constructively in United Nations fora concerned with violence against women and actively supports the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women.

Violence against women is discussed in Australia's Third and Fourth Reports under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights lodged with the United Nations in August 1998.

Violence against women is not discussed explicitly in the draft of Australia’s combined Second and Third Reports under the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment. Instead, the report details relevant criminal offences and penalties, including sexual assault and assault. It also covers rights to procedural guarantees in respect of complaints of torture or cruel or inhuman treatment or punishment against public officials including police officers, prison officers, military personnel, immigration officers, customs officials, public medical officers, residential carers and public school teachers.

International aid

Prevention of violence is a key focus of Australia’s aid programme in 1999-2000. Aid projects will be encouraged which address the effects of violence and its causes.

The Australian Government is providing up to $2.2 million over the next five years to the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, for counselling services for women and children in the Pacific who are survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse. The community education programme aims to change community attitudes about violence to women. The Centre is also the Secretariat of the Pacific Women’s Network Against Violence Against Women. As such, it plays an important role in combating domestic violence in the Pacific region through the coordination of services and advocacy by 24 agencies across 11 Pacific Island States.

Australia has provided funding for judicial and law enforcement systems, support for ombudsmen and enhanced community awareness of women’s rights according to the law.


Partnerships between all layers of Government and with business and community partners play a critical role in developing an integrated service response to victims of violence and domestic violence.

Service coordination and cohesion is particularly important to the delivery of appropriate support to victims of sexual assault.

In a multicultural society which includes an indigenous population, responses to family violence need to be culturally appropriate.

Legislation alone is not sufficient to prevent violence against women, it requires the support and active involvement of all members of the community.

See also

B: Education and Training of Women regarding gender-based violence in schools

C: Women and Health regarding the funding of medical research relating to violence against women

E: Women and Armed Conflict regarding women as refugees

I: Human Rights of Women regarding female genital mutilation

Examples of State and Territory Initiatives

Domestic violence

New South Wales (NSW)

Further measures include:


The Victorian State Government recognises that women require access to a continuum of services and responses to address family violence, public violence, and sexual assault. This approach encompasses:

Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

The ACT has had specific legislation in place to protect victims of domestic violence since 1986. Legislative reforms aimed at providing greater protection to victims of domestic violence include:

The Domestic Violence Prevention Council (DVPC), which commenced on 17 October 1997, provides advice on domestic violence policy and programme development. The Council has representation from the government and non-government sectors and reports to the ACT Attorney-General.

Specific school-based programmes have addressed issues of violence and gender. Professional development sessions for teachers have addressed the relationship of gender and violence, including sessions on homophobia.

Northern Territory (NT)

The NT Government launched a 5 year Domestic Violence Strategy in April 1994, which offers a coordinated and integrated approach to domestic violence. It includes a criminal justice response and support for service providers. A major community education component, the ‘It's got to stop...’ campaign, comprises television, radio, cinema and printed media advertising. In addition, a community education campaign targeted young people: the ‘Be cool....not cruel’ campaign, funded by the Commonwealth under the Partnerships initiative.

The NT is implementing a court mandated program for offenders of domestic violence. In addition, a course Diploma in Human Service Work (Domestic Violence) was developed and accredited. A Domestic Violence Legal Kit for legal practitioners was developed and disseminated. Domestic violence counsellors have been appointed in all main Territory centres and NT Police have established dedicated Police Domestic Violence Units in Darwin and Alice Springs with Domestic Violence Police Liaison Officers identified in police stations throughout the Territory.

Housing policies have been implemented for women escaping domestic violence, for example the allocation of priority housing, bond assistance, installation of Safe Rooms in Housing Commission dwellings to increase the level of security for women in their homes. Funding has also been provided to women's shelters throughout the Territory including access for women with physical disabilities.

A gender and violence project officer has been appointed to assist schools in understanding the links between construction of gender and violence and to develop approaches through school curriculum to address these issues.

Queensland (QLD)

The QLD government has allocated an additional $1 million per year over four years through the Office of Women's Policy Domestic Violence Fund to enhance the government's existing domestic violence response and encourage initiatives which help stem the cycle of domestic violence in families.

South Australia (SA)

SA has implemented as part of the Partnerships initiative, a series of radio announcements in thirteen community languages, directed at women from non-English speaking backgrounds, highlighting domestic violence and available support services.


Tasmania has introduced the Domestic Violence Integrated Information Project as part of the Partnerships initiative. The aim of the project is to use information technology to improve service delivery to victims of domestic violence by:

The Tasmanian Partnerships Against Domestic Violence Inter-Departmental Committee has developed a proposal for a ‘domestic violence training delivery model’ that will establish best practice in training in this area for rural health professionals. The Tasmanian Director of Public Prosecutions provides each complainant with a copy of the Victims of Crime Charter outlining the victims rights regarding access to information in both the trial process and the resultant sentence, appeal process and compensations.

Sexual Assault


Victorian Government initiatives include:

Western Australia (WA)

The WA Government made a commitment to improve women's safety at home, at work and in other settings, with a focus on improved protection and support for victims of domestic violence. Further commitments include development of long term strategies on domestic violence, providing additional security on public transport and ensuring that school policies and practices are actively reduce violence.

South Australia (SA)

The SA Government has implemented the following:

Northern Territory (NT)

The NT Government has a comprehensive range of polices and programmes to assist victims of crime. The Sexual Assault Policy provides a framework and sets down Principles and Protocols to guide service responses and program management from government agencies. Central features of the policy include:

Indigenous women

New South Wales

The NSW Witness Assistance Service has 14 professional staff to assist victims and prosecution witnesses. It has a Aboriginal Project Officer to raise cultural awareness and address needs of Aboriginal victims/witnesses including domestic violence. Ten workshops have been held on Aboriginal Victim's Access to Criminal Justice.

Queensland (QLD)

The QLD government has established the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women's Taskforce to advise government on the appropriate responses to address family violence and excessive alcohol consumption.

Northern Territory (NT)

A discrete component of the overall NT Domestic Violence Strategy is the Aboriginal Family Violence Strategy. It has been developed in partnership with Indigenous Territorians where responsibility for the design and development of programs and their implementation in communities is shared with Government Officers. Programs are initiated only where Aboriginal communities invite Officers within the Aboriginal Family Violence Strategy Unit to assist them deal with violence in their communities.

The programmes in urban and remote communities, including workshops, are designed to consider the lifestyles, customs, culture and the philosophies of indigenous participants. Initiatives include, for example, drop-in centres for young people, men's and women's centres and safe houses, regular night patrols staffed by community members and the appointment of Social Harmony Officers. Programs for male offenders have been developed in consultation with Aboriginal communities to reduce family fighting and alcohol abuse.

This is the first time in Australia or overseas that Indigenous men and women have met and tailored a set of program elements for delivery, as opposed to translating an existing program.

Crime prevention

Tasmania (TAS)

The Tasmanian Government has conducted Community Safety Surveys involving qualitative research regarding fear of crime in public spaces incorporating focus groups and interviews. A survey examining community attitudes to police; fear of crime; and victimisation was also conducted.

Queensland (QLD)

The QLD Government has established a Task force on Crime Prevention to develop a Crime Prevention Strategy for Qld. The strategy will seek to respond to and address the problems and concerns of women.

Northern Territory

The NT initiated a Data Collection Project on reported incidents of domestic violence. This indicates trends, enhances policy responses and the planning and delivery of appropriate domestic violence cases that come before the Courts. Under the Strategy research has been conducted and the results published in reports and discussion papers for dissemination to service providers and the community.

New South Wales

The NSW Government is committed to continued implementation of the NSW Strategy to Reduce Violence Against Women. It will increase the annual budget of NSW Women's Domestic Violence Court Assistance Scheme by $1m to a total of $2.8m by the 2000-2001 financial year. The scheme empowers women experiencing domestic violence to more effectively use the legal system. There will be continued work on preventing and responding to abuse of older people, people with disabilities and carers, including policy materials for preventing and reducing abuse and assault in disability services.

The Workplace Bullying Project is investigating options for eliminating workplace bullying and harassment. It will produce a model for implementing strategies in the workplace for preventing and managing workplace bullying and harassment. The Women's Domestic Violence Court Assistance Program provides support services targeted at indigenous women, women from culturally diverse backgrounds and women with an intellectual disability and is piloting representation specifically for domestic violence cases, at five local courts.


The Victorian Community Council Against Violence will continue to make research based recommendations about programs, policies, and strategies to reduce levels of violence in the community and develop skills and strategies to enhance their well-being through being confident about their personal safety at home and in their social environment.

By June 2000 all NightRider bus services, which provide a safe, reliable and efficient early morning service, will be wheel chair accessible.

In the second Government Two Year Plan for Women, 32 agencies made over 100 individual commitments to improve women's safety. These include:


Future commitments for women are incorporated above.

In the Australian Government system, new funding commitments are customarily announced in the annual Federal Budget. Additional commitments may be publicly announced in the context of the election platform or at other occasions.

The Australian Government’s future budget commitments for women are comprehensively outlined in Delivering on our Commitments for Women, the Budget Ministerial Statement on Women from the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women. A copy of this statement has been provided in response to

Part 2 (Financial and Institutional measures).


  1. Increase the participation of women in conflict resolution at decision-making levels and protect women living in situations of armed and other conflicts or under foreign occupation.
  2. Reduce excessive military expenditures and control the availability of armaments.
  3. Promote non-violent forms of conflict resolution and reduce the incidence of human rights abuse in conflict situations.
  4. Promote women’s contribution to fostering a culture of peace.
  5. Provide protection, assistance and training to refugee women, other displaced women in need of international protection and internally displaced women.
  6. Provide assistance to the women of the colonies and non-self-governing territories.


The Australian Government is a constructive contributor to responsible international security action.

Since 1995 Australia has continued its commitment as a constructive and responsible player, supporting dialogue and activities within our region and elsewhere to promote a stable and prosperous world. Valuing and respecting national sovereignty and the inalienable human rights of individuals, Australia has contributed to a range of measures to advance our shared interests in these important areas, including peacekeeping efforts under the auspices of the United Nations.

Since 1995, Australia has been at the forefront of the development of international human rights and international humanitarian law and measures to reduce the spread of armaments, including land mines and laser weaponry.

Australia has worked actively for the adoption of measures to promote and protect women’s human rights in armed conflict. Australia was instrumental in the development in 1998 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which it signed on 9 December 1998 and is now commencing the process which is required under national law to ratify the statute. Australia argued successfully for the inclusion of female jurists on the Court, and to include sexual violence in armed conflicts in the definition of war crimes. Australia has supported international standard setting efforts, such as the optional protocol on children in armed conflict.

See below under ‘Children in Armed Conflict’.

Australian non-government organisations (NGOs) are active in the promotion of women’s involvement in dialogue for peace internationally.

Recognising that women are particularly vulnerable in times of war, Australia offers specific humanitarian assistance to women refugees and a comprehensive settlement programme to assist in their prospects for integration into the Australian community.

Aid for victims of conflict and women’s role in conflict resolution

Australia is a member of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) Taskforce on Conflict, Peace and Development Cooperation. Australia has supported DAC research into assistance of victims of violent conflict. This research includes analysis of ways to support women, through development assistance, to become primary actors in the conflict resolution process.

Australia has supported the Neutral Peace Monitoring Group on Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. Australia has provided civilian personnel for the small, unarmed, regional group monitoring the ceasefire agreement in Bougainville. Women were strongly encouraged to nominate to take part in these short-term missions. As part of the peace establishment negotiations, Australia, through its aid programme, also helped to organise separate meetings for women to ensure their voices were heard.

For Bougainvillean women displaced by conflict, the Australian government has delivered essential goods including clothing, gardening tools, construction materials, cooking utensils, medical supplies and services. Women have benefited from training programmes in primary health care and adult literacy. Australian and Bougainvillean NGOs have conducted workshops and training across Bougainville in conflict resolution, trauma counselling and domestic violence, in an effort to further engage women in the peace process.

Assistance to refugee women in Australia

Through bilateral and NGO programmes, the Australian Government funds a range of projects which take into account the needs of refugee women. The Government supports vocational training to increase women’s employment opportunities and to address improved nutrition, conflict resolution and peace building.

Australia’s overseas aid programme, included $100.9 million for humanitarian relief programmes overseas in 1998-99. This is a significant increase from $81.2 million in 1997-98. Much of Australia’s humanitarian overseas relief supports refugees, many of whom are women, in countries of first asylum and where possible, assists in their repatriation.

Australia is providing support for a community resettlement programme in SriLanka which places a priority on women’s needs. The programme supports micro-projects for communities in economic transition and currently includes projects which address resettlement, demining and the development of income generating activities.

Australia is strongly committed to helping refugees and those who have faced abuses of their human rights. The 1996 Guidelines on Gender Issues for Decision Makers provide guidance on the sensitive handling of onshore and offshore applications by women for humanitarian entry and refugee status in Australia. The guidelines were developed in consultation with NGOs and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Humanitarian Programme entrants receive specialised assistance to support their settlement in the Australian community. The Refugee Resettlement Advisory Council is part of a National Integrated Settlement Strategy, introduced in 1991, which provides a framework for cooperation between all levels of government, the community and other stakeholders in the settlement of migrants in Australia.

Refugees and displaced women and children who enter Australia under the refugee or Special Humanitarian Programme components of Australia’s Humanitarian Programme may be able to participate in the Community Refugee Settlement Scheme (CRSS) or access the On-Arrival Accommodation Programme. These services are provided on a needs basis as assessed by the overseas posts.

The CRSS enables voluntary groups to provide support for refugee families for six months after their arrival, including linking them with the services that they require. All groups are trained, supported and monitored by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. The groups are paid a grant towards the initial expenses involved in settling the refugees. All entrants under the Women at Risk Programme are referred for support. CRSS groups provide the medium-term personal support that these entrants require.

In 1999, Australia’s Humanitarian Programme comprises 10,000 places for off shore applicants and 2,000 places for people already in Australia in need of special protection.

Australia’s Humanitarian Programme includes a category specifically for women, the Women at Risk programme, started in 1989, which provides resettlement for refugee women and women ‘of concern’ to the UNHCR. This includes their dependants and applies to women who are in dangerous or vulnerable situations because of the breakdown of traditional support mechanisms. In 1997-98, Women at Risk visas were granted to 543 women, representing over 13% of the refugee intake. This compares with grants totalling 396 in 1994-95 and 608 grants in 1995-96.

On 1 July 1997 the Australian Government introduced special ‘split family’ provisions enabling holders of humanitarian visas granted overseas, or protection visas granted within Australia, to apply for entry of their immediate family members to Australia without charge.

Kosovo and East Timor

The Australian Government has actively assisted in the recent humanitarian crises in Kosovo and East Timor.

The Australian Government has responded to an urgent humanitarian request from the UN to grant "temporary safe haven" visas for persons displaced by the unrest in both Kosovo and East Timor. Women evacuees comprised 48% of all Kosovar and 52% of all East Timorese evacuees.

Australia provided urgent and initial humanitarian assistance of $3 million through UN agencies including the UNHCR, the World Food Programme and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to assist with the displaced people of East Timor and West Timor. This funding is being used for activities such as purchase and transport for emergency relief supplies (blankets, plastic sheeting for emergency shelter, health and kitchen kits, mosquito nets and buckets, as well as food and water supplies).

The Australian Government is also working with Australian NGOs to develop further options for assisting in the humanitarian crisis in East Timor.

Human rights information

The Australian Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs maintains country information on human rights abuses and UNHCR Convention-related matters involving the violent ill treatment, including rape and sexual abuse, experienced by women living in countries involved in civil war and conflict.

The information is available in electronic form and as hard copy documents for 60 countries, and as hard copy documents for the full range of countries from which asylum-seekers arrive in Australia. It is used by departmental decision-makers and members of the Refugee Review Tribunal to assist in their determination of applications for refugee status in Australia.

Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty

Australia ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty on 9 July 1998. The pace of ratification is expected to continue in advance of the first Article XIV Conference on entry into force of the Treaty later this year.

Land mines

Australia has recognised the humanitarian problem caused by landmines and the particular effects on women and children of the indiscriminate use of landmines. Australia has accepted that the only effective solution is to eliminate anti-personnel landmines as a weapon of war. On 15 April 1996, the Australian Government announced that Australia supported a global ban on anti-personnel landmines and unilaterally suspended their operational use by the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

A revised Protocol II to the Inhumane Weapons Convention, which strengthens the restrictions on the use and transfer of landmines, was adopted on 3 May 1996 in Geneva.

Australia was amongst the first States to ratify Protocol II on 22 August 1997. This entered into force on 3 December 1998. Australia supports the implementation conference on the revised Protocol II in November 1999 and the second Review Conference in 2001. The Australian Government looks forward to participating in these meetings and will continue to encourage increased adherence to the Convention as well as encouraging further ratification of the revised Protocol II.

On 14 January 1999, Australia ratified the Ottawa Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti Personnel Mines and on their Destruction.

Australia is active in promoting universal adherence to the Convention. Until the Ottawa Convention is universally observed, Australia will pursue complementary international strategies to strengthen the global regime against landmines. Australia will continue to lead efforts for the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva to negotiate a universal ban on the transfer, export and import of landmines in order to find a truly effective solution to the global landmines problem.

In late 1998 the Australian Federal Parliament passed the Anti-Personnel Landmines Convention Act 1998. This Act creates offences relating to the placement, possession, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling and transfer of anti-personnel mines by Australian citizens or members of the ADF, or on territory under Australian jurisdiction or control. The ADF is amending its doctrinal and operational manuals, which have the force of law, to ensure they comply with the Act.

Mine Clearance

On 31 March 1998, the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, the HonAlexanderDowner MP, announced the appointment of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Kathy Sullivan MP , as Australia’s Special Representative on De-mining. Mrs Sullivan’s appointment underlines the priority the Australian Government places on building a solution to the global landmines problem.

Australia has been a long-standing contributor to international landmine clearance programmes. Australia has also committed new funding to de-mining of approximately $10 million and is actively engaged in international fora seeking to develop further strategies for de-mining and the treatment of landmine victims. The Australian Government expects to allocate in excess of $100 million for de-mining, victim assistance and related activities by the year 2005.

Australia is currently the largest donor to Cambodia's de-mining programme. Australian soldiers are deployed in de-mining in Cambodia and Mozambique.

Australian NGOs are making an important contribution to de-mining and victim assistance programmes in Cambodia, Mozambique, Laos and elsewhere. In providing assistance to landmine-affected countries, Australia concentrates on sharing its technical de-mining expertise with local and national organisations, thereby helping to develop Indigenous expertise in landmine clearance techniques. Australia is also active in funding landmine awareness activities in local communities and schools, and in supporting the treatment and rehabilitation of landmine victims.

Australia will continue to encourage non-parties to adhere to the Inhumane Weapons Convention, particularly countries that are non-signatories to the Ottawa Convention. Action in international fora, such as the Conference on Disarmament, is complementary to the Ottawa Convention's goal of a global norm against landmines.

Laser weapons

Australia ratified the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects (the Inhumane Weapons Convention) on 29September1983.

On 22 August 1997, Australia ratified Protocol IV to the Inhumane Weapons Convention, on Blinding Laser Weapons.

Non Government Organisations

Australia has a number of NGOs that undertake international activities for peace and freedom. The Australian chapter of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), for example, works for disarmament, full rights for women, racial and economic justice, a sustainable environment and an end to all forms of violence. The International Women’s Development Agency undertakes programmes with women around the world to promote the equitable growth of people and communities and the just distribution of basic resources and respect for human rights. The Australian National Committee on Refugee Women (ANCORW) works to improve the lives of women and children from a refugee background at a local, national and international level.

These and many other Australian organisations are built on the dedicated commitment of women around the country.

Role of women in the Australian Defence Force

Women currently comprise 14% of the ADF. The vast majority of ADF employment categories are open to women.

The Australian Government's instrument of ratification to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women contained a reservation related to the employment of women in combat and combat related duties in the ADF. Australia regularly reviews the status of any reservations to treaty instruments. This involves a process of federal and community consultation and consensus before any changes can be addressed.

In 1996, Women in the Australian Defence Force examined the cultural, social and institutional barriers to women’s career progression and retention in the ADF. The review on which this report was based found that a more systematic and strategic approach was required to eliminate gender-based discrimination.

The report’s recommendations addressed a range of personnel, management and leadership issues, equity policy, equity training, job competencies, human resource management practices (recruiting, training, transfer, promotion and performance appraisal), balancing family and work responsibilities, employment practice and equity performance review. The recommendations are being implemented by the Defence Equity Organisation.

In 1998, a further review of women in the ADF examined the limitations placed on the employment of women by equipment and/or methods of operations; attitudes to the employment of women in combat in Defence and in the community; and overseas experience in the employment of women in combat. The Chiefs of Staff Committee is examining the recommendations of the report.

Training of defence personnel

A strategy is currently being developed within the Defence Equity Organisation, to ensure that the core content of all equity and diversity training is the same across the ADF. The strategy covers initial training, promotion courses, senior leadership and specialist courses. The ADF’s human rights training has a strong focus on the legal application of force during times of conflict, and on the treatment of civilians and those who become `hors de combat' (that is, sick, wounded and prisoners of war).

This training is provided from point of entry, throughout members' careers and prior to overseas deployment. Instruction prior to overseas deployment also focuses on cultural diversities members will experience. Members also receive equity and gender integration training from point of entry and in promotion courses.

Defence exports

In a global context, Australia undertakes only limited defence-related research and development and defence exports are modest. Australia is unlikely to become a major exporter of a wide range of defence goods but will continue to export to niche markets. The export of defence products from Australia is carried out within carefully enforced guidelines.

The Australian Government does not permit export of defence goods to any country under a mandatory UN arms embargo, to countries whose policies are hostile to its own, or to countries which seriously violate their citizens’ human rights (unless there is no reasonable risk that the items concerned will be used against those citizens).

Children in armed conflict

Australia is an active participant in negotiations on an Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. This would raise the age of voluntary and compulsory recruitment of children into the armed forces and prohibit the participation of children below a certain age.

The minimum age for recruitment into the ADF is 17 years of age. The ADF takes all feasible measures to ensure that members under age 18 years of age do not take part in hostilities. The initial and specialist training provided on entry to ADF, which normally lasts 6 and 12 months, precludes deployment before age 18 in the majority of cases.

Rape as a war crime

At the 1995 International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Geneva, Australia lobbied successfully for a resolution against practices of sexual violence in armed conflict, the use of rape as an instrument of terror, forced prostitution and any other form of indecent assault.

On 17 July 1998, a Statute was adopted by States for the establishment of an International Criminal Court. Australia has been a strong supporter of efforts to establish the Court. Australia strongly supported the inclusion of rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution and other forms of sexual violence in the definition of war crimes. Australia signed the Statute of the International Criminal Court in December 1998.


Australia actively participated in the Ad Hoc Committee drafting an International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, which was adopted in December 1997. Australia is currently engaged in the necessary domestic consultation processes to determine signature.

Australia is also participating in a further Ad Hoc Committee to draft a Convention Against Nuclear Terrorism and a Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Financing, and participated in the latest session of the Ad Hoc Committee in March 1999.

See also D: Violence against Women regarding serial sponsorship



Future commitments for women are incorporated above.

In the Australian Government system, new funding commitments are customarily announced in the annual Federal Budget. Additional commitments may be publicly announced in the context of the election platform or at other occasions.

The Australian Government’s future budget commitments for women are comprehensively outlined in Delivering on our Commitments for Women, the Budget Ministerial Statement on Women from the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women. A copy of this statement has been provided in response to Part 2 (Financial and Institutional measures).


1: Promote women’s economic rights and independence, including access to employment, appropriate working conditions and control over economic resources.

2: Facilitate women’s equal access to resources, employment, markets and trade.

3: Provide business services, training and access to markets, information and technology, particularly to low-income women.

4: Strengthen women’s economic capacity and commercial networks.

5: Eliminate occupational segregation and all forms of employment discrimination.

6: Promote harmonisation of work and family responsibilities for women and men.


The Australian Government is committed to sound economic management for the benefit of all Australians. The Federal Budget has improved from a deficit of $11 billion in 1996 to a surplus. It has delivered GDP growth of 4.5%, amongst the highest in the OECD and real wage increases (2.2% in 1998-99), while maintaining low inflation (with the CPI rising by just 1.1% over the year to the June quarter 1999). Employment has expanded with the unemployment rate falling from over 10% in 1992-93 to its lowest levels in nearly a decade. Home loan interest rates are at their lowest in thirty years. Australia has adopted a new tax system which from 1 July 2000 will return $13 billion in income tax cuts each year, improvements in income security payments and $2.5 billion in additional assistance to families. The Australian Government is embarking on further reforms to business taxation and to position Australia as a global financial centre.

The Australian Government is committed to ensuring that women and all Australians share in the benefits of sound economic management. It is committed to policies to improve opportunity and choice for women, whether they are participating in the paid workforce or full-time parents or carers. The Government’s reforms to workplace industrial relations are providing greater flexibility for women, and men, to combine work and family responsibilities while maintaining the safety net of workers’ conditions.

In the past ten years the number of women participating in the Australian labour force has grown by around 20%, almost double the increase for men. Most of this increase has been among married women and women with children. Women’s labour force participation rate (the percentage of women of working age in the paid workforce) was at an all-time high of 54.4% in September 1999, compared to 53.6% in September 1995. (Men’s labour force participation rate was 72.7% as at September 1999.)

More than 250,000 new jobs have been created for women since March 1996 – an increase of 7.2%. In keeping with global trends, there has been a significant increase in part-time employment in recent years, more so for men (22.3% between 1995 and 1998) than women (11.6% increase over the same period). In July and August 1999, women’s unemployment rates reached a nine year low of 7%.

Australian women’s earnings are growing faster than men’s. In the twelve months to May 1999 (the most recent data), average weekly ordinary time earnings grew by 3.5% for females, compared with 3.3% for males. Over the same period, all females’ total earnings (including part-time workers) grew by 3.2% compared with 2.6% for males.

In 1996, the Australian Government established a new legislative basis for workplace relations. The new arrangements provide more flexible arrangements suited to the changing needs of Australian workplaces and their workers.

Australian Workplace Agreements (AWA) provide scope to assist workers with family responsibilities including job sharing, work from home, child care in the home and leave for family and compassionate reasons. In addition, the legislation contains provisions that will provide greater opportunities for workers with family responsibilities to work part-time, with pro-rata conditions and a level of predictability needed to organise their various responsibilities such as child care.

Women in Australia also have access to a comprehensive income security safety-net. For more details on support measures for people in need see A: Women and Poverty.

In Australia, women are legally entitled to be paid at the same rate as men for the same job.

However, women’s actual earnings are still lower than men’s, both per hour of work and for total weekly earnings. This is due to a number of factors, including:

The new Job Network system, introduced in May 1998, is designed to provide individually-tailored employment assistance to eligible job seekers. Services to the unemployed include job-matching, job search training (such as preparing resumes and interview techniques) and other intensive assistance to help job seekers find and retain a job successfully.

Federal Legislative Framework

The Workplace Relations Act 1996 (the WR Act) has a strong emphasis on work and family balance. This is reflected in the principal objective of the WR Act with its specific reference to ‘assisting employees to balance their work and family responsibilities effectively through the development of mutually beneficial work practices with employers’.

This focus on work and family is carried through in provisions governing the award system and the agreement system, as well as in provisions for minimum entitlements to parental leave and protection from dismissal on family responsibility-related grounds.

There are two types of formal agreements provided for under the WR Act. Certified Agreements (CAs) and individual agreements known as Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs), enable employers and employees to work together to tailor working conditions to achieve a balance between work and personal life needs, whether this is done on a collective or individual basis. The safeguards included in the Act for both types of agreement-making ensure that this occurs in a way that does not disadvantage employees.

The WR Act also maintains an effective safety net of fair minimum wages and conditions of employment through the award system. The protection afforded to workers with family responsibilities by awards is reflected in the WR Act through the inclusion of relevant allowable award matters, notably hours of work, personal/carer’s leave, parental leave and type of employment. It is also reflected in provisions encouraging the inclusion of regular part-time work in awards, and removing restrictions on this type of employment.

Spread of work and family provisions in Australia

In June 1999, the Australian Government released Work and Family State of Play 1998, which analyses progress and developments in the spread of family-friendly provisions at Australian workplaces generally, and specifically through the legislative framework provided by the WR Act.

The report uses a range of national data sources to present a picture of the extent of family-friendly provisions in Australian organisations. It provides evidence that organisations are increasingly providing family-friendly provisions that meet the needs of employees and employers at the workplace. It also highlights the importance of flexible working arrangements for helping employees to balance their work and private lives.

One of the reasons why choice and flexibility at the workplace level are so significant is because of the changes that have occurred in the labour market in Australia over the last few decades. There has been a large increase in the proportion of women in employment. Women now comprise 43% of people employed compared to 28% in 1964. There has also been a significant increase in the proportion of dual-earner couples. Since 1979 the proportion of dual-earner couples has increased from 43% to 61%. Around 55% of two-parent families with dependent children have both parents employed. About half of all lone parents with dependent children are employed.

Over the last ten years, there has also been a significant increase in permanent part-time work, particularly for women. Between 1988 and 1998, the proportion of women employed in permanent part-time jobs increased from 13% to 18%.

At the same time the proportion of employed women in full-time permanent jobs decreased from 60% to 50%. Over the same period the proportion of male employees whose main or only job was permanent part-time increased from 1%-2.5%.

The analysis of federal agreements in Work and Family State of Play 1998 found that:

Equal pay for work of equal value

The gap between men’s and women’s wages is narrowing. The WR Act specifically addresses the issue of equal remuneration for men and women for work of equal value, without discrimination based on sex, and gives effect or further effect to:

The WR Act introduced a new legislative requirement that the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC), in the performance of its award-making functions, have regard to, among other things, the need to apply the principle of equal pay for work of equal value without discrimination based on sex.

Additionally, the AIRC can make orders, on application, to ensure equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal value without discrimination based on sex. Applications can be made by an employee, a trade union with relevant coverage, or the Sex Discrimination Commissioner. The provisions cover award rates, rates specified in agreements, over-award pay and non-monetary benefits.

Protection from discrimination

It is part of the principal object of the WR Act to respect and value the diversity of the workforce, by helping to prevent and eliminate discrimination on a range of specified grounds including sex, marital status, pregnancy and family responsibilities.

The principal aim of the WR Act is complemented by the requirement for the AIRC to take account of the principles embodied in three federal anti-discrimination acts concerning discrimination in relation to employment – the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.

The WR Act establishes a framework with clear rights and responsibilities for employers and employees, supporting fair processes and practices relating to awards, agreements and termination of employment. While the Act is largely aimed at facilitating more direct relationships between employers and employees, it also acknowledges the role for the legislative framework in ensuring certain protections. In the second reading speech, the Minister for Industrial Relations (May 1996) indicated:

This Bill balances the promotion of flexibility with the provision of statutory protections that ensure fair dealing, particularly in the areas of termination of employment and the removal of discrimination.

Accordingly, the WR Act provides for protection from discrimination on the grounds specified in its principal object in a number of ways.

Discrimination in awards

The provisions of the WR Act require the AIRC to have regard to the need to prevent and eliminate discrimination on the specified grounds in the performance of its award-making functions.

The AIRC is also required to ensure that new awards, variations to awards, and orders affecting awards do not contain provisions that discriminate on the specified grounds. Exemptions apply where:

Award simplification

Transitional provisions also require the AIRC, as part of the award simplification process, to review awards to, inter alia, determine whether they contain provisions that discriminate against an employee on any of the specified grounds. If discriminatory provisions are identified, the AIRC may take whatever steps it considers appropriate to address the discrimination. Similar exemptions apply in this context as those applying to the making of new awards.

In addition, the legislation specifically indicates that the model anti-discrimination clause endorsed by the AIRC in its October 1995 Safety Net Adjustment and Review decision can continue to be included in awards.

Sex discrimination in employment

The federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984 prohibits discrimination in employment based on sex, marital status or pregnancy. The Workplace Relations Act 1996 includes an extensive range of provisions to help prevent and eliminate discrimination on the grounds of: race and colour, sex, sexual preference, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin.

Complaints made to the Sex Discrimination Commissioner about federal awards or agreements must be referred to the AIRC for action if the Sex Discrimination Commissioner considers the award or agreement to be discriminatory.

Where the AIRC receives a reference from the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, it must convene a hearing to review the award or agreement. The award parties are given notice of the hearing, and the Commissioner is also a party to the proceeding. For CAs, the AIRC must refuse to certify an agreement if it is discriminatory or if it unfairly excludes employees it could reasonably cover. The agreement must be explained to employees in a way appropriate to their particular needs and circumstances. AWAs must include the anti-discrimination clause set out in the WR Act's regulations, be offered in the same terms to all comparable employees and must have been explained to the employee and have his or her genuine consent.

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission can deal directly with complaints relating to AWAs, over-award payments and payments made to employees not covered by awards.

Termination on discriminatory grounds

The WR Act makes termination of employment on any of the specified discriminatory grounds (ie those covered in the principal object of the WR Act) unlawful.

Exemptions apply where the reason for termination is based on the inherent requirements of a particular position, or where an institution that is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a religion or creed, terminates employment in good faith to avoid injury to religious susceptibilities.

Equal Employment Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act

Equal employment opportunity legislation applies to private sector businesses, higher education institutions, community organisations, non-government schools and trade unions with more than 100 employees. It requires them to develop and implement their own equal employment opportunity programmes for women and submit reports on the progress of those programmes.

The term 'affirmative action' is often mistaken for the United States' style system of quotas. To dispel the notion of quotas, the Affirmative Action Act is being renamed the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act. The Affirmative Action Agency will be renamed the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency and the Agency Director will be the Director of Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace. Legislation implementing these changes to the Affirmative Action Act has been introduced into the Federal Parliament.

Currently, in a national work force comprising 8.8 million employees, one quarter (approximately 2,120,000 employees of whom approximately 900,000 are women) are covered by the Affirmative Action Act.

The Affirmative Action Agency was established in 1986 to administer the Act. The Agency is a statutory authority based in Sydney and has national coverage.

The Act is designed to ensure that:

Employment matters include:

The Government is also establishing an advisory board to build stronger links with business and introduce a simpler reporting system to reduce the paperwork burden on employers. There will also be a new emphasis on assisting employers to achieve outcomes rather than merely monitoring compliance.

Working Women’s Centres

The Australian Government assists working women through the Working Women’s Centres in a number of locations around the country (Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Hobart and Darwin). These centres provide free, confidential information and advice on a range of work-related issues to women, particularly women from non-English speaking backgrounds, Indigenous women and women in rural and remote areas.

The Working Women’s Centres have been increasing awareness of workplace issues through free training sessions, workshops and presentations. The centres provide information on issues such as pay and working conditions entitlements, occupational health and safety, employment discrimination and workplace bargaining. They can also arrange assistance to women wishing to negotiate AWAs. In 1997-98, the centres dealt with 12,314 workplace relations related queries.

Balancing work and family responsibilities

The AIRC, when performing its functions, must take account of the principles embodied in ILO Convention 156, Workers with Family Responsibilities. The Employment Advocate, who is responsible for overseeing the filing and approval of AWAs, is required, when performing his or her functions, to have regard to assisting employees to balance their work and family responsibilities and to the needs of workers in a disadvantaged bargaining position.

Employees are entitled, after 12 months’ continuous service with an employer, to 12 months’ unpaid parental leave on a shared basis following the birth or adoption of a child.

Personal/carer's leave is available where the employee is responsible for the care of the person concerned, and the person concerned is a member of the employee's household, or a member of the employee's immediate family as defined in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984. The broad category of 'household' covers same-sex relationships.

The WR Act removes unnecessary constraints on part-time work from industrial awards and encourages the spread of regular part-time work provisions throughout awards. Regular part-time employment provides employees with pro-rata employment conditions and reasonable predictability of hours. Such arrangements are able to reflect the particular circumstances of employees, for example, their work and family responsibilities.

The Australian Government co-sponsors annual Corporate Work and Family Awards to recognise organisations that demonstrate outstanding achievements in providing a more family-friendly work environment for their employees. The Australian Government advice and assistance to business and government organisations about work and family issues. It conducts seminars, round tables and conferences on work and life issues and promotes the study of work and family in courses in tertiary institutions. The Department has produced a Guide to Elder Care Issues to assist workers with aged parents or others with aged care responsibilities.

The Work and Family Unit in the Department of Workplace Relations and Small Business helps employers balance their work and family responsibilities, by raising awareness of flexibility within the workplace relations system.

The Australian Government commissions research and initiatives aimed at enhancing women’s participation in the labour market, education and training. A number of studies have examined barriers faced by women with family responsibilities and identified best practices to improve their employment and training opportunities.

The Australian Government has introduced reforms to increase the availability of part-time apprenticeships and traineeships. These initiatives will assist women with family responsibilities who want to embark on a new career with structured training on a part-time basis.

See also the ‘Returning to work’ section in Chapter A: Women and Poverty

Maternity Leave

While some maternity leave is paid by employers in Australia (at the full rate of pay), it is not universal. Australia does not have a European-style social insurance system where employees "purchase" insurance and where their insurers, not their employers, pay them while on maternity leave (usually not at their full rate of pay).

In Australia, a means-tested social security benefit is provided by the Australian Government, and benefits are payable to all resident Australians (not just employees).

Maternity Allowance is paid to families who are eligible for Family Allowance regardless of the woman's workforce participation prior to the birth of the baby. It assists with the direct and indirect costs associated with the birth of a child. The first installment of Maternity Allowance is payable shortly after the birth of the child. The second installment, known as Maternity Immunisation Allowance, is paid after a child turns eighteen months of age upon proof of age appropriate immunisation or a valid exemption from immunisation. The combined payments are equal to at least six times the maximum weekly rate of Parenting Payment (partnered), the income support payment for the primary carer in couple families.

In some ways, the Maternity Allowance is more generous than the European model because all eligible women are entitled to it.

Child care

The Australian Government has long recognised the need to provide assistance to families with dependent children to participate in the workplace and the general community. It funds a variety of child care services and provides assistance with child care fees to eligible families.

The goal of the Australian Government’s Children’s Services Programme is to assist families with dependent children to participate in the workforce and the general community, by ensuring that child care is affordable for low and middle income families, and by improving the supply and quality of child care.

Childcare assistance is provided to ensure child care is affordable to lower and middle income families. Under the Childcare Assistance Scheme, the Australian Government subsidies approved long day child care centres, family day care schemes, outside school hours care and occasional care services so they can reduce the fees parents pay. In 1996-97, 334,300 children received childcare assistance.

See also A: Women and Poverty

Parenting payments

Family Tax Initiative assists families with children by reducing their income tax liability. Part A is based on the combined taxable income of the family and provides an increase in the tax-free threshold for each dependent child in the family. Part B provides additional assistance to single income families with at least one child under five, and is payable at a 'per family' rate. The Family Tax Initiative is delivered to the majority of families through the tax system. Low-income families can receive the benefit as a fortnightly payment through the social security system.

See Family Assistance in A: Women and Poverty.


A number of initiatives have been undertaken to improve the working conditions of outworkers, many of whom are women, particularly non-English speaking women.

The Australian Government conducted an outworker information campaign for the clothing industry in 1998. The campaign aimed to educate outworkers, manufacturers and sub-contractors about their rights, responsibilities and opportunities under the Workplace Relations Act 1996 and the Clothing Trades Award 1982. Major facets of the campaign were seminars, advertisements on ethnic radio, a national multi-lingual telephone help-line, investigation of complaints to ensure compliance, and publications on workplace relations and occupational health and safety issues. The publications for outworkers were printed in English and in six community languages (Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Lao, Macedonian and Turkish).

The Australian Government also funds and supports the voluntary Homeworkers Code of Practice for the garment industry which aims at improving compliance with relevant awards, agreements and legislation covering outworkers. These provide protections to ensure fair pay and conditions for outworkers.

Collective bargaining and union representation

The principal aim of the Workplace Relations Act 1996 is to "provide a framework for cooperative workplace relations which promotes the economic prosperity and welfare of the people of Australia, by":

There are two ways in which formal agreements can be made under the Workplace Relations Act 1996:

- between employers and unions representing employees; and


There is a statutory requirement for a two-yearly report on developments in agreement-making to be presented in federal Parliament. This report must include a particular focus on the effects of bargaining on the employment (including wages and conditions of employment) of women, part-time employees, people from non-English speaking backgrounds and young people.

Women and the information economy

The government is playing an active role in guiding Australia's transition to the information economy, while at the same time ensuring that people who do not use new technologies are not excluded.

A Strategic Framework for the Information Economy - Identifying Priorities for Action, released in December 1998, sets out the Australian Government's vision to maximise opportunities for all Australians, including women, to benefit from the information economy. The Framework’s objectives are designed to ensure that Australians, including women:

The Australian Government is working to progress these objectives, in cooperation with the States and Territories.

See also J: Women and the Media

Women and small business

The Australian Government recognises the enormous contribution to the Australian economy by women in small business. Women make up 34% of Australia’s 1.3 million small business operators, and this figure is growing strongly. A wide range of initiatives have been implemented since 1995 to enhance women’s

New programmes to assist women in small business are being implemented during 1999-2000. An initiative is being funded to improve the flow of information on business to women and provide opportunities to enhance their management skills and networks, at a cost of $800,000. This measure will fund demonstration projects in business skills, provide sponsorship to women’s organisations seeking to develop their members’ business skills and provide an upgraded Internet site (Womensweb), as a contact point for women in business.

A number of recent initiatives have also been introduced to improve women’s access to small business training and skill development.

Around $400,000 has been allocated during 1999-2000 for the development of nationally recognised training materials and self-paced courses and the dissemination of information on training products through online technology, seminars and printed material.

The Small Business Professional Development Programme funds projects to trial and document a range of best practice models for small business training and develop materials to support the uptake of training in small business. Several projects target small business women or industries where there are large numbers of women workers to increase women’s participation in training and help them expand their business operations. The Women in Small Business Mentoring Project, for example, developed a mentoring network linking new starters with experienced business owners to share knowledge and experience and boost confidence and success. The network placed a strong emphasis on improving skills and participation in on-job training with general business support and information.

The New Enterprise Incentive Scheme assists eligible unemployed people to establish and run viable new small businesses. The assistance provided includes small business management training, income support, mentor support and on-going assistance for the first year of business operation. Best practice models have been introduced to increase the proportion of women participants in the scheme (for example, promotional resources such as videos include an equal representation of female role models). Women comprise around 42% of those assisted into self employment through the scheme, which is higher than the proportion of small business women in the labour market.

Australian Council of Businesswomen

In 1996, the Australian Government provided $175,000 in initial funding towards the establishment of the Australian Council of Businesswomen (ACOB) as a peak body for Australian businesswomen and their organisations. ACOB encompasses the interests of businesswomen from micro-business to corporate management and large enterprises, and gives particular recognition to businesswomen from Indigenous and non-English speaking backgrounds. ACOB also enables businesswomen to have a greater role in public and private sector policy development and decision-making.

Expansion of part-time work in Australia

More women have opportunities to participate in part-time work in Australia than ever before. The greater availability of part-time jobs allow women to combine family responsibilities and paid work.

Part-time jobs have continued to expand rapidly in Australia since 1995. The number of part-time workers increased from 1,899,600 in 1996 to 2,031,300 in 1998. Women make up around 73% of these workers. In September 1999, around 60% of employed women with children under 15 worked part-time.

Australian workers also have greater access to permanent/regular part-time work. The proportion of part-time workers employed on a permanent basis rose by 2.1% between 1996 and 1998 (rising from 32.5% in 1996 to 34.6% in 1998).

In the past, whilst many women wanted to work part-time, award restrictions which limited the number of people able to work permanent/regular part-time meant that they were forced to become casual in order to work reduced hours.

Through the WR Act, the Australian Government has taken action to remove arbitrary restrictions on part-time employment, by requiring the AIRC, where appropriate, to introduce regular part-time work provisions in awards and by prohibiting arbitrary quotas on the number of employees able to undertake regular part-time work.

Regular part-time employees work less than full-time hours, and have reasonably predictable work patterns, continuity of employment and access to employment conditions on a pro-rata basis. Regular part-time employees receive employment entitlements associated with permanent employment, such as paid annual leave and sick leave, on a pro-rata basis, as well as access to forms of leave developed to assist workers with family demands, such as parental and carer’s leave.

The changes were intended to provide greater access to part-time work with pro-rata conditions and reasonable predictability of working hours, but not to limit scope for casual employment where it had a valid role to play in the labour market. The changes were also intended to encourage a more appropriate balance to be achieved in the mix of regular part-time and casual employment by providing employers and employees with improved access to their preferred arrangements.

Indigenous women

The Indigenous Employment Policy is an initiative of the Australian Government designed to increase employment opportunities for Indigenous Australians. The policy has three elements:

The Indigenous Employment Programme replaces the Training for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Training Programme, effectively doubling funding available for Indigenous specific programmes. It includes:

The Indigenous Small Business Fund provides support for the development and expansion of Indigenous businesses and enterprises.

The recent Job Network Request for Tender includes changes targeted at benefiting Indigenous job seekers by:

In addition, CDEP participants will no longer be required to leave intensive assistance after three months.

See also A: Women and Poverty

Non-English speaking women

See sections on ‘Working Women’s Centres’, ‘Agreement making’ and ‘Australian Council of Businesswomen’ above.

Rural women

A Vision for Change – National Plan for Women in Agriculture and Resource Management is a five year plan which will provide best practice guidelines in supporting the work of women in agriculture and resource management. The plan helps women to achieve profitable and innovative agriculture industries, sustainable natural resource management and vibrant rural communities.

Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Australia (AFFA) has established a Rural Women’s Unit to improve the status of rural women and develop the role of women in rural industries. A large part of its three-year work programme is aimed at actively involving women in policy development, decision-making and getting government and industry to recognise women as clients.

AFFA administers a range of programmes designed to foster a competitive and self-reliant rural sector. The need to ensure that women can adequately access services and training opportunities is recognised.

Through the enhanced telecommunications services provided by the Government’s Networking the Nation Programme, women in regional, rural and remote communities are better able to take advantage of on-line training, up to date commodities information, world wide marketing opportunities, improved communications channels and the ability to work from home through teleworking initiatives.

The Uniting Our Rural Communities - Technology and Community Leadership Project will help to raise awareness of and training in information and communications technologies for 6 communities in rural Victoria. The project will be provided in three stages and includes a series of workshops and discussion groups, a mentoring scheme, the establishment of a web site and discussion list using "weblink" (developed by the Queensland Rural Women's Network) as a model, and a roving training component targeting remote regions.

In 1997-98, the Australian Government commissioned a ground-breaking applied research project (Missed Opportunities: Harnessing the Potential of Women in Australian Agriculture) to quantify the women’s financial contribution to the rural economy. The research found that 32% of Australia’s farm workforce are female and that more than 70,000 women define themselves as farmers or farm managers. It also found that, in 1995-96, women contributed 48% of total farm income including the value of household work, volunteer and community work and off-farm wage income. Women contributed to the viability of farming enterprises through off-farm work totaling $1.1 billion, and about $8.5 billion through unpaid voluntary community activities and household work. The second stage of the project will trial strategies to increase rural organisations’ recognition and valuing of women as customers, board members and decision-makers.

Women with disabilities

A large number of federal and state awards and agreements contain a model clause that provides for employment of people under the Supported Wage System. This system assists people who have difficulty obtaining work at full award rates due to the effects of a disability on their productive capacity. As at August 1998, more than 1000 women with disabilities had used this system to further their employment opportunities.

International aid

Australia’s aid programme aims to improve the status of women through encouraging access and control of resources and through encouraging leadership and decision-making of women at all levels.

The Australian Government places a high priority on addressing the needs of the poor through major rural development projects in countries such as Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Australia has made efforts to ensure that the economic and social concerns of women are taken into account in such activities, often through project components aimed at alternative income generation.

Improving women’s access to economic resources is one of the objectives of the Government’s Gender and Development Policy. This is achieved by supporting Programmes which promote women’s equal access to capital, including land, forests, marine and other natural resources, as well as credit and savings Programmes.

Australia is increasingly supporting programmes aimed at sectoral reform and restructuring closely linked to economic reform, macro-economic restructuring and public expenditure reform. This type of development assistance has a broad impact on economic and social conditions and thus on the lives of women and men.

As part of the public sector support project in South Africa, Australia provided technical assistance to develop a gender-aware budgetary process, a sex-disaggregated statistical database, and policy dialogue on the integration of gender concerns into South Africa’s budgetary process.

The East Asian financial crisis has had a huge impact on women. The recent United Nations Population Fund publication - Southeast Asian Populations in Crisis - found that the economic crisis has effected women in Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia via two main avenues:

In response to the crisis, the Australian Government has:

Australia’s aid programme also supports initiatives which provide credit facilities to women. For example, the Australian Government is contributing an estimated $1.2 million over three years (1999-2002) to the Lik Lik Dinau Micro Credit Project in PNG which provides a micro credit and savings facility for disadvantaged rural women in the Highlands of PNG.

Examples of State and Territory initiatives

Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

Women returning to the workforce are a priority target group for employment programmes, particularly courses which aim to increase information technology skills.

The ACT Government Employment Pathways Programme provides training and support to help unemployed people gain employment and supports a workforce that meets the needs of industry and employers. It creates partnerships and strategic links between the ACT Government and industry and employers, service providers, Commonwealth Government, the wider community and unemployed people.

Pathways to Successful Business Development offers information on a range of assistance programmes to develop viable and successful businesses.

Pathways provides information on New Futures in Small Business, the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme, mentoring business incentive and development, reskilling and targeted programmes to assist young people, Indigenous people and women in finding employment or in starting their own business.

New South Wales (NSW)

The NSW Government Action Plan for Women (1996) works to maximise the interests of women in microeconomic reform, including principles and methods for gender analysis of social programmes policy by Government Trading Enterprises.

The Women's Equity Bureau has developed models of good practice in work & family arrangements NSW Work and Family Strategy –Working Families, Working Futures (1997,1998,1999).

A Financial Planning Kit for women has been developed and disseminated by NSW. The Kit included booklets and pamphlets contributed by private sector and seminars held in conjunction with the Australian Stock Exchange.

Northern Territory (NT)

The NT Government introduced a new legislative framework for enterprise bargaining in 1995. This legislation has increased flexibility in the number of hours in which flexitime can be accrued, increased opportunities to work during periods of maternity leave, provided greater flexibility in part-time employment, established a wider definition of what constitutes a family member for the purposes of sick-leave and established an award to facilitate home based work.

A Five Year Plan for children's services will increase the number of childcare places to a target access level of 46% of children under 4 years whose parents are in the workforce or training.

Most NT public sector agencies have developed policies and guidelines for dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace. Awareness raising workshops are held by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Employment in major urban centres.

The Anti-Discrimination Commission promotes non-discriminatory procedures and practices in both the public and private sector workforce on the grounds of gender among others.


A range of initiatives have been introduced to provide more opportunities for women to participate fully in the workforce. Initiatives which encourage women into non-traditional occupations and provide information and support on work-related issues are also integral to improving economic security for Queensland women.

A jobs development and business strategy is to be developed to build on the government’s job creation policies and to coordinate employment and training projects for women. International Women’s Day grants were also announced to assist women to develop their small business management skills.

The provision of quality affordable child care is fundamental to ensuring women can participate in all areas of life, particularly in the paid workforce. Programme initiatives are targeted to the areas of greatest need and aim to improve the quality, affordability and availability of child care in Queensland.

South Australia

South Australia has established a network to encourage women to participate in training. A network of small business operators in the South East of the State has also been established to encourage women in the region to participate in small business training.

Following consultations and a phone-in, a series of financial checklists have been produced on obtaining finance, superannuation and budgeting. Further checklists were launched (June 1999) on Considerations for Women in the Event of a Death; Financial Issues to Consider at the End of a Relationship; and a checklist to demystify financial terms. The report, More Than Pin Money – Issues of Women’s Financial Independence, was also released in June 1999.

A free service has been established to advise women on employment issues. The Centre provides free and confidential services to women experiencing problems at work such as dismissal, redundancy, harassment, employment conditions and workers’ compensation. The Centre recently released a comprehensive response to workplace bullying.

The State Public Service’s Managing Diversity initiative encourages government agencies to provide more flexible work arrangements such as part-time work, job sharing, flexible hours, leave without pay and home based work.


The publication Women in Small Business- A Tasmanian Perspective 1996 was produced by the Tasmanian Women's Consultative Council as its major consultative project for 1995-96. The Council consulted with Tasmanian women owners of small businesses in order to gather data on the numbers and types of businesses that women operate in Tasmania; the issues and concerns of women operating small businesses; and the factors in successful small businesses.

The Report recommended that the State Government sponsor the development of local networks for women in small business. Subsequently in 1997, the WISE network was launched. By the end of 1997, 14 groups had been established, involving approximately 2000 business women statewide.

A programme has been established which targets women operating small businesses or in key management roles in small businesses. The programme will provide: a mentoring service for women in business; promotion of role models for women in business; flexible and accessible services which support rural business women; access to financial and business management training; support and promotion of women's networks; assistance in the formative stages of business development; and access to training in business management for women operating or in key management roles in small businesses. The programme reflects the recommendations of the Women in Small Business report, which addressed the low usage rates of government business assistance services by women in small business, and identified a need for coordination of business assistance services; and easier access to business assistance services for owners/operators of small businesses.


The Victorian Government supports equal opportunity for all citizens and maintains an Office of Women's Affairs. This office works toward a society which values the diverse roles undertaken by women, recognises their varied contributions and is a place where women have the opportunity to reach their full potential in all aspects of their lives. The Victorian Equal Opportunity legislation protects women from discrimination at work, sexual harassment in the workplace, and discrimination in the provision of goods and services.

To increase employment opportunities for women the Victorian government:

The Victorian Government models 'best practice' staffing policies. Enterprise agreements within the Victorian Public Service include provision for flexible hours, part time work, telecommuting, job sharing and flexible leave arrangements. The Managing Diversity and Flexible Work Options: Achieving Work-Life Balance policies of the Department of Education provide practical and inclusive management strategies which foster greater opportunities for women's equal participation in workplace teams and in leadership roles. Women are the fastest growing group of new business starters and the Women in Small Business Priority Statement, released in 1998, made a commitment to raise the profile, strengthen support services and promote mentoring and networking for women in small business. In 1997, Victoria sponsored an international conference, Entrepreneurial Women, to promote networking and information exchange between women in small business.


Future commitments for women are incorporated above.

In the Australian Government system, new funding commitments are customarily announced in the annual Federal Budget. Additional commitments may be publicly announced in the context of the election platform or at other occasions.

The Australian Government’s future budget commitments for women are comprehensively outlined in Delivering on our Commitments for Women, the Budget Ministerial Statement on Women from the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women. A copy of this statement has been provided in response to Part 2 (Financial and Institutional measures).


  1. Take measures to ensure women's equal access to and full participation in
  2. power structures and decision-making.

  3. Increase women's capacity to participate in decision-making and leadership.


Women have a right and a responsibility to participate in the decision-making processes that shape the nation. Unless women are full and active participants in all spheres of public and private life, across a wide range of decision making positions, Australia’s future will not reflect the talents, experience and aspirations of all citizens.

Since the early 1990’s, women have increased and consolidated their representation in high level decision-making. Since 1995, there has been significant strengthening of the critical mass of Australian women in positions of leadership and decision-making.

During this time, the representation of women in the Australian national parliament has increased to nearly double the international average. Women’s participation on government boards and at senior executive levels in the public sector has also consolidated beyond critical mass. In the private sector, women’s representation in board, chief executive and senior level positions is increasing, albeit more slowly.

Significant achievements since 1995 include:

The Australian Government believes that encouraging skilled and talented women to contribute to this country’s decision-making processes is a far more effective way to increase women’s participation than relying on quotas and targets.

Since 1995, the Australian Government and many State and Territory jurisdictions have increased their activities to maximise the number of women appointed on merit to senior positions of power and decision-making. Generally, measures have not relied on prescription or compulsory quotas, but on identifying and promoting the considerable talent pool of Australian women. Australian women are selected on their merits to the highest levels of existing power structures, neither relying on reformational change to these structures nor stereotyping the selection of women as a "special measure".

There are no institutional barriers to women’s electoral participation. Under the Australian electoral system electors vote for candidates without constraints as to how they allocate their preferences. This is in contrast to many countries in which electors vote (for at least some seats) in the order decided by the relevant political party. The ability of individual voters to choose how to allocate their preferences is a fundamental strength of the Australian electoral system.

The Australian Government, with the support of the Prime Minister, the HonJohnHoward MP, has actively pursued measures to identify and encourage suitably qualified and skilled women.

The Australian Government has successfully used executive search (executive headhunter) processes to augment or replace self-nominated women’s registers. The Australian Government is trialing a strategic approach for early identification of upcoming vacancies, supported by awareness raising and lobbying among key decision makers and improved monitoring tools.

In recent years, there has been ongoing attitudinal change to women in power and decision-making positions. The participation of women in a wide range of positions of power and decision making is less likely to be reported as exceptional. Media reports of senior female appointments are less likely to consider it de rigeur to routinely canvass senior women’s age, physical attributes and family status. Women make an enormous contribution to society and the Australian Government is keen to ensure the public recognition of women for outstanding service and achievement.

National Women’s Leadership Project

The Australian Government has provided funding towards a National Women’s Leadership Project, managed by the Australian Council of Businesswomen. The project is aimed at encouraging and promoting action by business and industry to increase women’s participation on private sector boards. Strategies include the selection and training of suitable women candidates, mentoring and networking opportunities at a very high level, boardroom functions and other training and developmental opportunities for potential female executives. The project has attracted support from major peak industry bodies such as KPMG Chartered Accountants, the Australian Institute of Company Directors and the Committee for Economic Development of Australia. To date, over 200 women have been identified to participate in the project, including women from a range of industries and from all States and Territories.

Women in the Federal Parliament

Following Australia’s most recent federal election in October 1998, there are now 55 women in the Federal Parliament. There are 33 women in the 148-member House of Representatives and 22 in the 76-member Senate.

This brings women’s participation in the Federal Parliament to 24.5%, an increase from 21.4% following the March 1996 election, and 14% following the 1993 federal election. The current rate is nearly double the international average of 13%.

This achievement builds on Australia’s considerable record for the participation of women through our democratic electoral processes:

In 1996, Senator Margaret Reid became the first female President of the Australian Senate, a position which Senator Reid still occupies.

Currently, there is a record number of women in the Federal Government Ministry. There are four female ministers, the equal highest number of women ministers of any previous federal government:

There are also five female Parliamentary Secretaries:

Women in State/Territory parliaments

During the last decade, the proportion of female State and Territory parliamentarians increased from 9% (1985) to 21.8% (1999).

Three State or Territory governments have been led by women in recent years. The Australian Capital Territory currently has a woman Chief Minister, Kate Carnell MLA. The Northern Territory and New South Wales currently have women opposition leaders.

Women in local government

Women’s representation in local government has generally been higher than their representation in State/Territory and federal parliaments. In 1997, 24% of elected council members were women, compared to 13% in 1986 and 20% in 1992.

Women in political parties

In 1997 the Office of the Status of Women (OSW) updated and republished Every Woman's Guide to Getting into Politics, an easy-to-use, non-partisan handbook for women interested in becoming involved in politics at any level.

The Guide lists sources of training and experience in public speaking and presentation and includes basic information on political campaigning. The Guide has been widely distributed and is available via the Internet at In addition, the Government updated the booklet Getting the Message Through in October 1999. It provides information and contact details on all women in the Federal Parliament as well as information on Parliamentary Committees to assist women to gain greater access to the Parliament and the Parliamentary Committee system. This publication is available free of charge.

Women in the judiciary

In 1999, women comprise over 50% of university law graduates in Australia. However, research suggests that women are disproportionately represented in the lower echelons of law firms, government and the Bar, academia and the judiciary. Women comprise 14.1% of judges and magistrates in Australia (121 out of 854). Three quarters of these women are located in the State and Territory district or county courts, 19 are appointed to federal courts and 11 are located in State and Territory supreme courts. Of those appointed to federal courts, the majority are located in the Family Court. Attempts to address the under-representation of women in the judiciary are being made through more open selection and appointment processes and more determined processes to identify suitable women candidates for these positions.

Women on government boards

Women currently fill 30.9% of Commonwealth board positions where the Commonwealth has had total discretion over the appointment (June 1999). This compares with 28.3% in June 1995.

The Government is implementing initiatives as part of a broad strategy aimed at increasing the number of women appointed on merit to Commonwealth boards and bodies. These initiatives include the Executive Search Pilot Programme, Early Warning System and Appoint monitoring.

As a measure of the importance placed on women in leadership, the Executive Search Pilot Programme and Early Waring System initiatives were launched by the Prime Minister, theHonJohnHoward MP, on 27 March 1998.

Executive Search Pilot Programme

The Executive Search Pilot Programme is testing whether executive search (headhunter) methods can be used to increase the number of women appointed to boards and bodies in four selected Commonwealth departments (Pilot Agencies). An executive search firm is conducting an identification and selection process for suitably qualified women with high level skills in a variety of fields and specialist areas who could be considered for appointment to upcoming board vacancies in the Pilot agencies.

Early Warning System

The Early Warning System complements the Executive Search Pilot Programme and aims to impact on the process of appointments across all other Commonwealth departments. Details of suitably qualified women who could be considered for upcoming board vacancies are provided to departments well before the deadline for such vacancies. This is to ensure that appropriately qualified women are considered early in the appointment process.


Appoint’ is a monitoring system which provides a whole-of-government status report on the representation of women on Commonwealth boards and bodies. Reports are received on a six-monthly basis from all Commonwealth portfolios.

Cabinet appointments

OSW maintains a close interest, through the Cabinet process of appointments, in potential candidates for significant appointments for which the Prime Minister’s agreement is sought. If the gender split is not appropriate, OSW may brief the Prime Minister and put forward alternative women candidates from its database of potential women nominees. The Cabinet appointments process covers significant appointments to Commonwealth boards and bodies.

Other Commonwealth government initiatives for women in leadership and decision making

Commonwealth Ministers and their departments have also been encouraged to develop portfolio-specific initiatives to encourage greater numbers of women into decision-making positions.

For example, the Commonwealth Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs manages the Select register. While not specifically a register of women, Select was developed to encourage an increase in the number of people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who occupy positions on government advisory boards and bodies. People listed with the Select register work in a wide variety of fields, for example commerce, community and welfare services, consumer affairs, legal services and the building and rural industries.

Core leadership skills for senior executives in the Australian Public Service have also been developed. The Senior Executive Leadership Capability Framework aims to achieve high performance leadership, the basic requirement if we are to ensure that Australia’s public sector is one of its global strengths.

Australian Government funding has been provided by OSW and the Public Service and Merit Protection Commission towards a series of training films for the public and private sectors on leadership and teamwork in the workplace. These are expected to be launched in March 2000.

Examples of State and Territory initiatives for women in public sector leadership

New South Wales (NSW)

The NSW government established a Women's Advisory Committee and Strategic Plan in 1998 to increase participation of women on Reserve Trust Boards. Subsequently, the number of women on Reserve Trust Boards increased from 8.9% (1997) to 16% (1998) and reporting on board appointments has improved.

Victoria (VIC)

In order to appoint more women to government boards and committees, an executive search firm has been commissioned to maintain a register of suitably qualified women. Under the new system, government agencies requesting information on potential candidates for board vacancies will obtain a shortlist within 48 hours.

The register will also be promoted widely within the private sector and will be updated regularly. Candidates will be interviewed and screened through a training programme and selection process.

Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

The ACT Government has made a commitment to measurably improve the status of women by the year 2000. This includes gender balance on structures such as boards and committees.

The ACT encourages women's participation in decision-making processes in a number of ways.

The Representation of Women in the Government policy is aimed at ensuring balanced representation in the composition of ACT government boards and committees. This includes, as appropriate, women, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, Indigenous people and people with disabilities. Responsibility rests initially with the agency seeking to appoint members to boards and/or committees. Nominations are sought through advertising for vacancies, with the advertisement noting that the government encourages nominations from people of all ages representing all sections of the community.

As at 31 December 1998 women constituted 41% of the membership of statutory and non-statutory government boards and committees, and 31% of the total ACT Public Service at the Executive level.

Queensland (QLD)

Women’s representation on statutory bodies comprised some 23.4% of positions in July 1998 and has increased by 8% since 1993. The Register of Women, a database of women who wish to be considered for appointment to Government boards, is maintained by the Office of Women's Policy.

New strategies including working with the chief executives of government agencies, are being implemented in an attempt to increase the representation of women on government statutory authorities.

South Australia (SA)

The SA Government has a goal of 50% representation by women on government boards and committees by 2000. The current representation is 31.85% (April 1999).

A Women’s Register of over 450 names is maintained to provide candidates to ministers, government agencies, the community and private sectors. An executive search firm conducts regular executive searches on behalf of the SA Office for the Status of Women to provide additional names of women suitable for appointment to government boards.


The Tasmanian Government is committed to ensuring that women comprise 50% of the membership of government boards, committees and authorities by 2001. As at 30June1998, women comprised 26.9% of the membership of Tasmanian Government boards, committees and authorities.

The Tasmanian Women's Register aims to increase women's participation on Government boards, committees and authorities. The second edition of the Register was launched in 1996 and is available to both government and private sector boards, committees and authorities.

Public Sector Women

Women Heads of Missions

Women make a significant contribution to Australia’s foreign service both at home and overseas. The Australian Government is committed to further increasing the role women play in the development and implementation of Australia’s foreign and trade policies.

There are currently 14 out of 79 women Heads of Missions or Heads of Post – the highest number of women heads of missions/posts at one time ever.

The Australian Government has appointed 16 Heads of Missions or Posts since March 1996. The appointments reflect the Australian Government’s determination to give women equal opportunities to advance their careers and to ensure that the senior echelons of our diplomatic service reflect Australia’s contemporary diversity.

Women in the Australian Public Service

At June 1998, 48.35% of permanent employees of the Australian (Commonwealth) Public Service (APS) were women - 52,597 out of a total of 108,785. Between June 1997 and June 1998, 55.7% of all new permanent appointments to the APS were women, or 2,888 out of a total of 5,185.

At June 1998, 21.83% of permanent employees in the Senior Executive Service (SES) of the Australian Public Service were women (329 from a total of 1,507). While there is still room for improvement, this represents a significant improvement over 16.5% in 1995 and about 9% in 1988. Almost 35% of new appointments to the Senior Executive Service between June 1997 and June 1998 were women, an increase from the 1988 figure of 8%.

There are various initiatives aimed at encouraging women in senior positions in the APS. These include the Senior Women in Management (SWIM) programme and several formal and informal women’s networks.

Women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds in the Australian Public Service will benefit from the Charter of Public Service in a Culturally Diverse Society. In adhering to the seven principles of the Charter, agencies are encouraged to recognise the needs of migrant women and to address these appropriately in the design, development and implementation of all public service policies and programmes.

Examples of State and Territory initiatives

New South Wales (NSW)

Since l995, women in NSW senior public sector positions have increased from 15% to 21%. The number of women CEOs has increased from 8 to 19.

Victoria (VIC)

The Victorian Government continues to lead the private sector in the appointment of women to senior management. Current strategies in place to promote women as leaders include mentoring, professional development, shadowing and research into the removable barriers to women's career progression.

The Victorian State Government is funding the following initiatives:

Queensland (QLD)

A number of QLD Government departments are working to introduce changes in cultural, systemic and structural conditions to achieve immediate and long term improvements for women. Strategies include the introduction of mentoring programmes, targeted training and career development and the implementation of flexible working arrangements to improve work and family choices.

South Australia (SA)

The South Australian State Government has sponsored the following initiatives:

Tasmania (TAS)

The TAS State Government is committed to ensuring that by 2001, women comprise 35% of the SES. Whilst approximately 64% of Tasmanian State Public Servants are women, women currently comprise only 26.8% of the Senior Executive Service (SES). In 1996, women comprised only 19% of the SES.

In order to increase women’s involvement in the SES, strategies include:

Western Australia (WA)

Decision making is a priority area in the second WA Government Two Year Plan for Women.

Fifty one government agencies have made over 200 individual commitments to improve women's decision making. The WA Department of Premier and Cabinet will work in partnership with the Women's Policy Development Office to bring together agencies with an interest in improving women's decision making to implement collaborative initiatives. Forty three agencies are committed to work to improve gender balance on government boards and committees against the June 1998 baseline and develop women's confidence in decision making and management.

Women in education and training

To improve the representation of women in policy and decision making positions the Australian Vice Chancellors Committee established a Register of Senior University Women whose experience and expertise could be more widely utilised within the higher education, Government and business sectors. The register is regularly updated with current contact information, and relevant details of over 2950 senior university women.

Women in the private sector

The most recent survey by executive search consultants, Korn/Ferry International, reported an increase in the number of women appointed to private sector boards from 4% in 1995, 7.6% in 1998 to 8.3% in 1999. According to this survey, 10.3% of non-executive directors on boards were women, an increase from 4% in 1995 and 9.7% in 1998. 1.3% of executive directors on boards were women compared with 1% in 1997.

The Australian Government, through OSW, is involved in developing strategic options for encouraging increased merit-based appointment of women to company boards and improving the representation of women in senior management in the private sector. OSW has provided the Australian Council of Businesswomen (ACOB) with project funding to develop a National Women’s Leadership Project.

The Commonwealth Department of Industry, Science and Resources recognises and supports the important role that women in business make to the Australian economy by sponsoring the Telstra Business Women's Awards. This is the fifth year that the Department has supported these prestigious awards. The awards aim to recognise the achievements of outstanding women, affirm the value and ability of women in the workplace and highlight the role that business women make to the Australian community, its economy and employment. Sponsorship is to the value of $70 000.

Women in sport leadership

The Australian Government has delivered on its election commitment to provide an additional $144 million to the Australian Sports Commission over five years to 2002-03. This will permit the continued expansion of the Active Australia initiative which amongst other things focuses on increasing the quality and quantity of women’s participation in sport and physical activity.

The Australian Government has revised its national policy and plan for women and girls in sport and physical activity. The revised policy, which was launched in September 1999 by the Minister for Sport and Tourism, includes practical strategies that support the full involvement of all women and girls in sport, recreation and physical activity in Australia. It also highlights the important contribution of women to leadership and management positions in sport and provides practical examples of encouraging women into these positions.

The Sydney 2000 Olympic Games will mark the centenary of women’s participation in the Olympic Games. While the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens in 1896, women were banned from competing at this event. It was not until the Games of 1900 in Paris that women first participated. 19 women took part in tennis and golf.

Given the special significance of the Sydney 2000 Games to women, OSW and the Australian Sports Commission are investigating ideas about how we might best celebrate this significant event. The Australian Government has already announced a sport scholarship between Australia and France involving an athlete exchange programme between the two countries and is hoping to build on this to commemorate the centenary.

Examples of State and Territory initiatives

New South Wales (NSW)

The NSW government aims to increase the number of women decision makers in the sport and recreation industry through performance agreements with all funded organisations and the Women in Sport and Recreation Administration Scholarship Programme.

South Australia (SA)

The SA Office of Recreation and Sport’s Women in Sport and Recreation Mentoring Project aims to increase the participation of women in leadership and decision making. There are plans for a mentoring programme for women of non-English speaking background to increase the participation of their communities in recreation and sport. A scholarship fund has been established to assist women coaches to further their coaching careers. They will be given access to elite level coaching courses and further education.

Equal opportunity for women in the labour force

Review of Affirmative Action Legislation

See F: Women and the Economy

Honours, awards and recognition

Women make an enormous contribution to this nation and their successes and achievements continue to encourage and inspire. The Australian Government wants to ensure that these contributions and achievements are appropriately recognised.

While not specifically for women, the two major Australian Government awards schemes are the Order of Australia awards scheme and the National Australia Day Council Awards Scheme. In addition, there are a number of other national programmes for recognising achievements both within and outside of government, some of which specifically recognise women’s achievements and contributions. Among these are the Telstra Businesswomen’s Awards and the Network of Women’s Executive Woman of the Year which recognise excellence in business and Cleo Magazine’s Young Woman of the Year which recognises the achievements of young Australian women in a range of fields of endeavour.

Awards in the Order of Australia are announced on Australia Day and on the Queen’s Birthday each year and provide national recognition of outstanding service and achievement. In 1999, women received 32% of the honours awarded under the Order of Australia, an increase from 30.5% in 1998. The number of nominations for women increased by 14% in 1999 and the success rate for nominations for women was greater than for men. 58.5% of women’s nominations were successful compared with 55.5% for men. In 1999, three women were appointed Companion in the Order of Australia, the highest honour under the Order of Australia. They were Professor Suzanne Cory for service to science; MsKaarene Fitzgerald for service to the community in relation to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS); and DrLowitja O’Donoghue, CBE, AM for public service and leadership to Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

The National Australia Day Awards scheme includes the Australian of the Year, Young Australian of the Year, Community of the Year, Australian Achievers and Aussie of the Month awards. In 1999, award recipients include Janine Shepherd, partial paraplegic, author and pilot; and Camilla Cowley and Ethel Munn, campaigners for co-existence and reconciliation.

The Australian Government has sought to increase further the number of nominations for women and other under-represented groups through raising awareness of the honours system and by developing strategies with the States and Territories. For example, a newsletter It’s an Honour and a dedicated Internet web site ( have been developed to provide information on awards in the honours system including nomination procedures.

Women who served at home during war are commemorated in the Sculpture Garden of the Australian War Memorial following joint action by the Memorial and the Office of the Status of Women. The memorial was opened by the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women, SenatortheHonJocelynNewman, in March 1999. All women who contributed to Australia’s war effort on the home front are commemorated, including those in the Land Army, the munitions, parachute and other factories, and those who cared for disabled veterans at home.

Design and construction of the memorial was funded by the Australian Government. Management of the project was assisted by an advisory group of ex-servicewomen and women who are currently serving. The Australian Service Nurses’ National Memorial opened in October1999 on Anzac Parade in Canberra to commemorate 100years of Service nursing. The Australian Government provided additional funding of $0.5million in 1999-2000 to this Memorial.

Rural women

In November 1998, the Commonwealth-State Standing Committee on Agriculture and Resource Management published A Vision for Change: National Plan for Women in Agriculture and Resource Management. The Plan contains principles, strategies and best practice case studies to assist organisations to better support the roles of women in agriculture and resource management. The Plan was endorsed by 115 public, private and community organisations and provides the framework for individual State action plans.

On World Rural Women’s Day 1999, the Government launched two new initiatives for women from regional and rural areas. The Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation’s (RIRDC) Rural Women’s Award, a joint initiative with the RIRDC, enables State and Territory award winners to attend the RIRDC’s National Leadership Seminar in Canberra in 2000. The Women as Clients Strategy, part of the larger National Plan for Women in Agriculture and Resource Development, ensures that the needs of regional women are considered in the policy development process.

In recognition of the need to strengthen the voice of women in the decision-making process, the Australian Government established the Regional Women’s Advisory Council in 1999. The seven council members are appointed by, and report to, the Minister for Transport and Regional Services. The women members provide advice on issues identified as matters of major concern to people and communities in rural and regional Australia. The council will play an important role in giving women greater access to government decision-making processes.

Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Australia (AFFA) maintains a database of women with experience and expertise in rural areas to encourage more appointments of women to departmental boards and committees. AFFA is participating in the Executive Search Pilot Programme with the Office of the Status of Women to ‘head-hunt’ suitable women for positions on Commonwealth boards.

The Australian Government has also funded an annual national scholarship for a mature age rural woman to participate in the Australian Rural Leadership Programme.

Examples of State and Territory initiatives for rural women leaders


Victoria has expanded its definition of ‘leadership’ to encompass community leadership. Rural women and young women are target groups for strategies to promote the development of leadership skills. Rural bursaries are awarded to women considered to have potential for rural leadership. The bursaries enable the winners to purchase leadership training of their choice.

South Australia

A Rural Women’s Interactive Database assists rural women in developing a curriculum vitae and provides training and information for women interested in serving on boards and committees. The database is promoted to government and industry. Project staff work cooperatively with the South Australian Office for the Status of Women.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) comprises a network of 35 Regional Councils around Australia, a Board of Commissioners established through the election of Indigenous representatives, and an administrative arm to provide support. Regional Councils are elected every three years. ATSIC recognises the need to identify ways in which the cultural traditions of Indigenous women can be preserved for future generations and the need to strengthen Indigneous women’s networks and promote improved coordination between women’s organisations and other agencies.

The third round of ATSIC elections took place in October 1996, when 23% of councillors elected were women. Voting for the fourth round of ATSIC elections is currently under way. A record 34% of candidates in these elections were women.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the majority of office holders of incorporated Indigneous community organisations are women. A comprehensive database is to be established to quantify the actual situation with the view to targeting corporate governance education to geographical or functional areas where women may be under-represented.

A new national Women’s Advisory Committee advises the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Board of Commissioners on the impact of policies and programmes on Indigneous women.

Examples of State and Territory initiatives for Indigneous women leaders

Northern Territory (NT)

The Aboriginal Development Unit (ADU) in the Department of Education, is the main Northern Territory Government agency responsible for employment and training matters for Aboriginal Territorians. ADU has sponsored Indigneous women to attend the Management Skills for Women programme for women in supervisory and pre-management positions in the public sector. The Department also funds Indigneous women to attend conferences to gain knowledge and skills to take back to their communities.


See also F: Women and the Economy re women in employment


Future commitments for women are incorporated above.

In the Australian Government system, new funding commitments are customarily announced in the annual Federal Budget. Additional commitments may be publicly announced in the context of the election platform or at other occasions.

The Australian Government’s future budget commitments for women are comprehensively outlined in Delivering on our Commitments for Women, the Budget Ministerial Statement on Women from the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women. A copy of this statement has been provided in response to

Part 2 (Financial and Institutional measures).



1: Create or strengthen national machineries and other governmental bodies.

2: Integrate gender perspectives in legislation, public policies, programmes and projects.

3: Generate and disseminate gender-disaggregated data and information for planning and evaluation.


The participation of women on equal terms with men in political, social, economic and cultural life is essential to the progress of women and the well-being of society in general.

Since 1995, Australia’s institutional machineries for women have been retained and strengthened. Australia maintains its extensive framework of anti-discrimination legislation, strategies and programmes at Commonwealth, State and Territory levels to respect and advance the rights of women.

At Commonwealth, State and Territory government level, specialised machinery of government operates to report and advise on issues relating to the status of women and to monitor and evaluate the outcomes for women of government policies and programmes. The Commonwealth, State and Territory Ministerial Conference on the Status of Women provides a high level forum for jurisdictions to work together on issues affecting women.

In recent years, Australia has placed increased emphasis on the need for gender issues to be taken into account in mainstream government activities and decision making.

Since 1995, specialist women’s machineries have adopted a strong focus on the integration of gender perspectives into whole of government policies and practices. Women’s machineries have increased cooperative effort with other agencies, for example in respect of legislative and justice issues, and have diversified their links with a wide range of social partners, including business and the community.

In recent years, women’s machineries have spearheaded major women’s initiatives such as the Prime Minister’s Partnerships Against Domestic Violence, new measures to increase the representation of women in positions of power and decision making, work with Indigneous women and community based action plans. The Australian Government has reviewed and updated key legislative and institutional instruments, including a 1998 review of the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Act 1986.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics routinely collects and disaggregates information by gender where relevant. Most government data collected for individual persons, and most data holdings in key areas including education, health, earnings, income security, and others, are collected and available for analysis disaggregated by gender.

The Office of the Status of Women (OSW) periodically produces an Australian women’s statistical compendium bringing together a range statistical information on key social, health, earning and other indicators for women. The most recent of this series, Women in Australia 1999, will be published in November 1999.

Recent significant achievements at the national level

The following provides further detail of the key government women’s machineries at National, State and Territory level.


1: Create or strengthen national machineries and other governmental bodies.

National level - The Commonwealth Office of the Status of Women (OSW)

The OSW is located within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The OSW is a strategic policy division advising the Prime Minister and the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women on issues affecting women. The OSW has a central role in considering current and prospective government policy and its impact on women.

As part of the Prime Minister’s Department, the OSW has early access to government policy making processes, including relevant Cabinet and Budget matters.

As a member of Cabinet, the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women, is involved in the deliberation of high level policy making and is able to ensure that gender issues are considered in these matters. The Minister also initiatives specific policies on matters relating to women in Cabinet.

The OSW works bilaterally with policy analysts and advisers across the Australian Government to identify at an early stage policies with possible gender impacts and to ensure that women’s issues are taken into account in the policy development process.

Since 1995, the OSW has strengthened its role to advise and effectively influence public policies affecting women. For example, the OSW now works effectively across the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to ensure that advice on the effects of proposed policies on women are fully reflected and integrated in the department’s Cabinet briefing materials.

With the support of the highest levels of government, OSW has encouraged line departments to integrate the consideration of gender at all stages of policy development. Agencies do this either through specialist women’s units, designated desk officers, and/or gender sensitive, informed consideration of advice in mainstream policy processes.

The OSW has been consulted on major government reforms, including the New Tax System and workplace relations reforms. The OSW is also the lead agency for the Commonwealth’s Partnerships Against Domestic Violence and Business Against Domestic Violence, the largest programmes administered by the OSW in its twenty-five year history. The OSW is responsible for the development and implementation of strategies to increase the representation of women in decision-making positions on Commonwealth boards and bodies, working closely with relevant portfolio agencies.

In recent times, the OSW has been active in progressing reforms to superannuation and the family law. These legislative changes will provide greater flexibility and access to marital retirement savings in the event of marital breakdown.

The OSW also undertakes activities in the areas of:

The OSW has the major responsibility for monitoring the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). In this task, the OSW liaises closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Attorney-General’s Department.

The OSW is responsible for coordinating the Women's Ministerial Statement, a document that accompanies the Commonwealth Budget and provides information on Budget decisions with particular impact on women. The OSW maintains close links with its State and Territory counterparts via the Ministerial Council and regular meetings between Commonwealth and State women’s ministers, advisers and officials.

Consultation with women

The Australian Government has a range of consultative mechanisms to consult with and inform Australian women throughout the community. These include:

The Australian Government supports national women’s NGOs through a $500,000 annual National Women’s NGO Funding Programme and through funding provided by line agencies. In 1998-99, the Australian Government provided over $840,000 to women’s NGOs across a range of portfolios.

Funding to NGOs other than through the OSW reflects the Australian Government’s commitment to a more integrated (mainstream) approach to women and gender issues. The Australian Prime Minister, the Hon John Howard MP, has encouraged all portfolios to consider women’s NGOs in their funding programmes. This strategy helps to build stronger links between NGOs with particular sectoral interests and relevant government agencies.

The National Women’s NGO Funding Programme was reviewed in 1999 in consultation with national women’s NGOs. The programme has been updated in line with local and international best practice to provide outcome based funding. In 1999-2000:

The OSW is planning to provide capacity building training and support across the women’s non-government sector to strengthen its effectiveness and capacity to effectively represent the interests of women and to influence policy.

The Australian Government has also encouraged women’s organisations to work more closely with the portfolios in which they have a specific policy interest. This has lead to better communications and participation in policy decision-making between specific government agencies and women client groups.

Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Australia has created a grants programme to provide operational support for national rural women’s NGOs. In 1998-99, the Foundation for Australian Agricultural Women and Australian Women in Agriculture received grants of $50,000 each. The grants programme will operate for three years, at the end of which time the organisations supported are expected to have arranged other sources of ongoing funding.

International aid

The Australian Government recognises the importance of strengthening institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women. This is in line with the high priority Australia places on activities aimed at improving governance in recipient countries. Gender is an important consideration in improving the capacity of an institution to deliver services and strengthen personnel performance.

Australia recognises the value of strengthening the statistical capacities of countries so that the gender division of labour and access to resources by women and men can be fully measured. This assists in policy development and measuring outcomes of aid activities. For example, Australia is supporting the Fiji Bureau of Statistics to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its statistical operations at a cost to Government of $4.1 million over 5 years.

There has been a sustained increase in Australia's commitment to addressing institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women. The Australian Government is providing assistance to a wide range of institutions that support the advancement of women. These include governmental, non-governmental and regional institutions. For example:

State and Territory institutional mechanisms

Women’s offices are established in State or Territory jurisdictions within the Australian federal system. The following highlights some recent initiatives and current activities of these mechanisms.

New South Wales (NSW)

The Department of Women is the key women’s machinery for the State of New South Wales. Some recent activities and achievements in New South Wales are:


The Office of Women's Affairs provides policy advice to the Victorian Government on issues relating to the advancement of women. Current priorities include:

The Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 1995 makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the grounds of sex, age, carer status, disability, industrial activity, sexual orientation, parental status, physical features, political belief or activity, pregnancy, race or religious activity or belief. It is also unlawful to discriminate against an individual due to association with a person who could be discriminated against on these grounds.

The Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission provides a confidential, impartial and free complaint resolution service. Most complaints are settled through conciliation. Negotiated outcomes may include job reinstatement, apology, policy change and/or compensation. If conciliation is not successful, the complaint may be referred to the Anti-Discrimination List of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

The Queen Victoria Women's Centre was established with the aim of encouraging and promoting women's enterprise and independence. Its management trust are all women.

South Australia (SA)

The SA Office of the Status of Women is the primary source of women’s policy in Government. It reports to the SA Minister for the Status of Women. The Office provides advice and assistance to Government agencies on women’s policy and related issues and coordinates Commonwealth-State relations on the status of women.

Current initiatives in SA include:

Tasmania (TAS)

Women Tasmania is the peak State institutional mechanism for women. Its role includes:

Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

Under the ACT Women's Action Plan, the ACT Government will conduct an audit of ACT Government programmes during 1999. The audit examines work and family, access, and health and well being. The plan will assess how well ACT women as customers are being served by the government. Its results will inform future development of the Plan;

The ACT Government participates in a number of Commonwealth/State fora such as the Women's Ministers' Conference and the National Women's Forum which advance the status of women.

the ACT is also working on issues that affect women, such as through its projects under the Partnerships Against Domestic Violence initiative.

The fourth ACT Women's Consultative Council was appointed in September 1998. The Council plays a key role in assisting the Government to develop and implement policies to advance the status of women. The Council acts as a link between women in the ACT and the Government and conducts community consultations on issues affecting women. The fourth Council is overseeing the Action Plan for Women in the ACT and the establishment of a Young Women’s Forum. The fifteen members of the Council represent diverse community organisations and individuals including young women, seniors, ethnic women and women in business.

2: Integrate gender perspectives in legislation, public policies, programmes and projects.

Mainstreaming women’s issues

In line with international best practice, the Australian Government has pursued a strategy of integrating women’s issues into mainstream policy making and practice across all portfolios.

Ministers and portfolios consider women in all mainstream programmes, policy development, evaluation and reporting and work closely with the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women. The Prime Minister, theHonJohn Howard MP, has endorsed this approach at the highest level.

Australian Government departments provide relevant programme data disaggregated by gender in their annual reports and other administrative data. Many departments maintain specific women’s programmes or consultation processes. Specialist units in line departments, such as the Rural Women’s Unit in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Australia, play an important role in enhancing linkages and cooperation.

Equal Employment Opportunity is observed in agency human resources practices. Women make up 21.8% (June 1998) of the Senior Executive Service of the Australian Public Service, an increase from only 8% in 1988. In 1998, 34.6% of new appointments to the Senior Executive Service were women.

Law reform

Australia is privileged to have a stable and robust rule of law.

The Australian Government has been active in review of legislation, including a range of instruments of particular significance to women. The national women’s machineries are active participants in the reform process.

The OSW is routinely involved in relevant legislative reform processes, working closely with the Attorney-General’s Department and other relevant portfolios. The OSW provides advice on proposed legislative reforms to the Prime Minister and the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women.

Recent Australian legislative reform processes of significance for women include:


3: Generate and disseminate gender-disaggregated data and information for planning and evaluation.

Women’s Budget Statement

Each year, the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women releases a Budget Ministerial Statement containing relevant Budget measures for women.

The Statement is produced as part of the Commonwealth’s Budget associated materials and in similar format to other Budget associated material. The Minister also produces a ready reference guide to Budget initiatives. Information on Budget measures for women is also accessible through the OSW web site and by hotlink to other portfolio’s sites.

Gender Information

Australian Bureau of Statistics

The mission of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is to assist and encourage informed decision-making, research and discussion within governments and the community by providing a high quality, objective and responsive national statistical service.

The ABS routinely collects and disaggregates relevant demographic collections and statistics by sex. The ABS periodic collections, such as the monthly labour force survey, provide gender disaggregated data on issues such as Australian women’s employment patterns and working lives, education, income and family status. Comparative data for women and men are easily accessible. Time series data are available for many of these collections.

The ABS Census of Population and Housing, conducted every five years, also collects data by gender and is readily available at the community level and for specific population groups.

The ABS’s major social surveys collect data on more complex measures requiring interviews or special collection techniques such as diaries. Surveys repeated on a five-yearly basis have included the National Health Survey, the Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers, and the Time Use Survey. The continuous Income and Housing Costs Survey provides information annually.

In 1995, the ABS carried out a landmark survey into Violence Against Women. This survey provided benchmark information about the incidence of violence against women, including domestic violence.

The ABS Time Use Survey measures unremunerated work. The ABS has produced a draft set of satellite accounts estimating the value of unpaid household work, volunteer and community work in the Australian economy, based on the 1992 Time Use Survey. ABS is currently repeating the study using data from the 1997 Time Use Survey and expects to publish a paper on unpaid work in early 2000.

Other sources of gender data

Other statistical data on women is available from a range of Commonwealth agencies, programmes, educational and research sources. These include collections such as reporting data under Australia’s affirmative action legislation, gendered data on education and training, and major collections and analysis undertaken under the Workplace Relations Act reporting requirements.

In addition, ad-hoc data collections and survey activity by education and research institutions are a major source of data collections on specific issues.

National Publications for Women

The OSW has undertaken a three-year trial of awomen’s statistical compendium. The Australian Women’s Yearbook was published annually between 1995 and 1998.

The OSW and other Commonwealth Government agencies have recently funded a continuation of this series, revised in a more current and user friendly format for less technical users and with a feature topic. In 1999, the feature article will cover older women to coincide with the International Year of Older Persons. The new Women in Australia publication is currently being prepared and will be released in late 1999.


Australia’s institutional mechanisms for women are of a high standard. Some recent learning points include:


Future commitments for women are incorporated above.

In the Australian Government system, new funding commitments are customarily announced in the annual Federal Budget. Additional commitments may be publicly announced in the context of the election platform or at other occasions.

The Australian Government’s future budget commitments for women are comprehensively outlined in Delivering on our Commitments for Women, the Budget Ministerial Statement on Women from the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women. A copy of this statement has been provided in response to Part 2 (Financial and Institutional measures).


1: Promote and protect the human rights of women, through the full

implementation of all human rights instruments, especially the Convention on

the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

2: Ensure equality and non-discrimination under the law and in practice.

3: Achieve legal literacy.


The human rights of women and the girl child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible aspect of human rights. The rights of women are fundamental human rights.

Human rights are a cross-cutting theme which imbue all measures for women detailed throughout this document.

Australia’s commitment to the human rights of women and of all persons is manifested through its world class legislative protections and the existence of agencies to enable citizens to exercise their rights and responsibilities.

Since 1995, the Australian Government has reviewed the operation and effectiveness of key machineries to ensure their continuing effectiveness, to provide a focus on educative and facilitative approaches and to streamline their operation. In 1998, the Australian Government appointed the first woman president to Australia’s Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Professor Alice Enh Soon Tay. The Australian Government also appointed Ms Susan Halliday as the new federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

Australia is a States Party to numerous human rights treaties. Australia is an active participant in the development of instruments to advance person’s human rights, in particular the human rights of women. Australia has contributed in relevant fora to the elaboration of the draft text for an Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Australia has been a member of the Ad Hoc Working Party for the Integration of Women into APEC and will continue its involvement in the implementation of this plan. Australia’s combined Fourth and Fifth Report under CEDAW will be lodged in August 2000. The Australian Government is undertaking extensive consultations with State and Territory governments, women’snongovernment organisations (NGOs) and the community in order to inform this report.

Australia is developing a further Five Year Plan for the domestic observance of human rights across the full range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. The Plan will comprehensively update the National Action Plan developed following the 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights and presented to the 50th Session of the Commission on Human Rights.

1: Promote and protect the human rights of women, through the full

implementation of all human rights instruments, especially the Convention on

the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Human Rights Instruments

Australia is a State Party to all the major human rights instruments, including:

Australia is actively pursuing its obligations under these human rights instruments.

Australia is developing a new Five Year Plan on human rights. Australia’s first report under the CROC was considered in September 1997. Work is also underway on a National Agenda for Action from the World Congress Against the Exploitation of Children held in Sweden in August 1996. The Agenda will address trafficking in children, child pornography and sexual exploitation.

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

Australia signed CEDAW in 1979 and ratified it in 1983.

Australia’s combined fourth and fifth report under CEDAW is due to be lodged in August 2000. The Australian Government is undertaking extensive consultations with State and Territory governments, women’s organisations and members of the community, in preparation for lodgement of this report.

Australia has two reservations under CEDAW relating to paid maternity leave and the employment of women in combat duties. Australia aims to limit the extent of any reservations to CEDAW; formulate any such reservations as narrowly and precisely as possible; ensure that no reservations are incompatible with the object and purpose of CEDAW, or otherwise incompatible with international treaty law and regularly review them with a view to withdrawing them. The reservation which Australia holds to CEDAW in relation to women in combat and combat related duties is currently under review.

The reservation held to CEDAW in relation to paid maternity leave is based on the inconsistency between the wording of CEDAW and Australia’s non-insurance based income support systems. Australia’s income support safety net is funded from consolidated (budget) revenue and does not rely on access to individual contributions to an insurance pool. Accordingly, it is not possible for Australia to comply technically with Article 11(2)(b) dealing with access to unemployment insurance in the case of pregnancy.

Australia provides a number of payments to women around the time of childbirth. See also A: Women and Poverty.

Australia has been an active participant in the development of the Optional Protocol. The decision whether to ratify the Optional Protocol is being taken by Australia in accordance with its domestic treaties-making processes. These processes require that the Australian Government consult with State and Territory Governments in our federal system, and with the community including the non-government sector.

On 4 June 1998, Australia deposited its instrument of acceptance of the amendment to CEDAW to allow adequate meeting time for the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women to discharge its mandate.

Crimes (Child Sex Tourism) Amendment Act 1994

In October 1997, the Australian Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of the Philippines to implement the aims of the Australian Child Sex Tourism Act 1994. A further Memorandum of Understanding was signed in December 1998 with Fiji.

These instruments support the operation of the Act to make it an offence for Australian citizens or residents to engage in sexual conduct while overseas with persons under the age of 16 years. It is also an offence to organise, promote or encourage overseas child sex tours. The Act also allows prosecution of Australians outside the criminal justice system of the country in which the offence is committed.

Australia has developed strong law enforcement links with many other countries in the region, including Thailand and Indonesia, which further the level of cooperation in tackling child abuse and bringing offenders to justice. The forms of cooperation range from informal ‘police to police’ assistance, formal treaty relationships on extradition and mutual assistance in criminal matters.

2: Ensure equality and non-discrimination under the law and in practice.

Domestic human rights and anti-discrimination legislation and agencies.

Australia has some of the most robust and well established institutional mechanisms for women and a world class legislative regime.

The Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex, marital status, pregnancy and potential pregnancy. Its objects include to give effect to certain provisions of CEDAW and to eliminate, so far as is possible, discrimination in, inter alia, employment, education, accommodation, the provision of goods, services and facilities and the administration of Commonwealth laws and programmes.

The Act makes unlawful:

In 1998, the Australian Government appointed Ms Susan Halliday as federal SexDiscrimination Commissioner. Since her appointment, Ms Halliday has, in addition to her handling of individual complaints, produced important studies on sexual harassment in the workplace and pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. The latter of these was commissioned by reference from the Commonwealth Attorney General, the Hon Daryl Williams AM QC MP.

The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, descent and national or ethnic origin.

The Australian Government launched the $5 million Living in Harmony Initiative in 1998. The initiative aims to increase and maintain tolerance and harmony between diverse groups in the community. In addition, the Government’s Productive Diversity Strategy includes a series of projects aimed at increasing understanding of how business can capitalise on the skills and knowledge of Australians who were born and educated overseas.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 prohibits discrimination on the ground of disability. Disability is broadly defined to include, among other things, the loss, partial loss or impairment of physical or mental functions and the presence in the body of organisms causing or capable of causing disease or illness.

The human rights of people with disabilities are of particular concern to women. For disabled women, the effects of disability can compound gender disadvantage. More severely disabled women and those in resident care may be particularly susceptible to abuse and sexual assault. Women also make up the majority of paid and unpaid carers for the disabled. In recent years, the Australian Government has moved to provide practical assistance and increased support to those with disabilities and their carers, many of whom are women.

See A: Women and Poverty

Queensland (QLD)

Recent QLD anti-discrimination reforms include:

Northern Territory

In the Northern Territory, the Anti-Discrimination Commission is vested with administering the Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Act 1992 and the Office of the Commissioner of Public Employment which monitors equal employment opportunity within the public sector. The Anti-Discrimination Commission produces tapes in indigenous languages advising women of their rights and a public education programme promoting the rights of women with disabilities which resulted in an increase in inquiries relating to the rights of women with disabilities. The Commission also conducts training sessions in remote locations to address both direct and indirect discrimination faced by women.

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) investigates complaints under federal anti-discrimination law and educates the community about obligations under domestic legislation. HREOC is charged with increasing the understanding, acceptance and observance of human rights in Australia and has a mandate to carry out related research and education activities.

HREOC liaises internationally with governments and agencies in respect of international treaties and ensures Australia’s meeting of its obligations under international instruments. HREOC performs educative and promotional functions under domestic legislation with the objective of increasing equality of opportunity.

A Bill before the Australian Parliament will restructure HREOC to make clear the priority placed on educating Australians as to their human rights and responsibilities, and streamline the operation of the retitled Human Rights and Responsibilities Commission. Under the Bill, one deputy president will be assigned general responsibility for sex discrimination and equal opportunity; one will be assigned human rights and disability discrimination; and one Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice and race discrimination. The deputy president responsible for human rights and disability will also be able to develop expertise in the areas such as children and the aged. This more streamlined approach will assist all Australians to exercise their rights and responsibilities under human rights legislation.

The Senate passed a further Bill in September 1999 reflecting the Australian Government’s continuing commitment to the effective protection of human rights. This Bill (which is awaiting Royal Assent) provides legal certainty following a decision of the High Court of Australia which questioned the constitutional power of administrative bodies, such as HREOC, to exercise quasi-judicial powers in the determination of disputes. It is now clear that such bodies cannot make binding decisions and that any binding decision must be sought from the Federal Court.

Violence against Women

Australia prohibits actions that violate the human rights of women and has criminalised all forms of physical and sexual violence against women.

See also D: Violence Against Women

Female Genital Mutilation

The Australian Government abhors the practice of female genital mutilation as a form of violence against women.

Strategies for eradicating female genital mutilation in Australia have a dual focus:

Australia has adopted an integrated approach using legislation and community education initiatives. All States and Territories have enacted specific legislation prohibiting the practice of female genital mutilation, with the exception of those states where existing non-specific legislation has been assessed adequately to prohibit the practice.

The Model Criminal Code Officers Committee (MCCOC) has developed model laws on offences against the person. These draft codes maintain sanctions on violence against women on the grounds of customary practices or cultural prejudices, including inter alia in respect to female genital mutilation.

An example of developments in this regard with respect to State and Territory governments includes the initiatives implemented by Victoria in recent years. In 1996 Victoria passed legislation specifically with regard to female genital mutilation. The legislation was introduced after consultation with the affected communities and in conjunction with a legal education campaign.

Concurrently with the passage of legislation in this regard, the Victorian Government instituted the Family and Reproductive Rights Education Programme (FARREP). The programme focused on reproductive rights, families, and children's rights in consultation with workers and communities.

Immigration and citizenship

Australia’s immigration programme does not discriminate on the grounds of race, gender or ethnicity. People of any country can be considered for migration to Australia under set selection criteria in categories designed to meet Australia's economic, social and humanitarian requirements.

Australia's citizenship law and policy also do not discriminate on the basis of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origins or property. Permanent residents who have lived in Australia for two years are eligible for Australian citizenship.

Legal aid

The Australian Government recognises the importance of women having access to information and support to exercise their rights under the law.

The Australian legal system is also supported by legal aid which provides assistance to financially disadvantaged people. Changes to Commonwealth legal aid funding were made in 1996 to direct Commonwealth assistance to matters under Commonwealth law, including Commonwealth anti-discrimination and family law matters.

The Australian Government funds specialist legal centres across the country to provide information, referrals and representation for women.

An example of a State and Territory initiative in this regard was the setting up of the Wirringa Baiya Women's Legal Centre (formerly known as the Aboriginal Women's Legal Resource Centre) in 1996. This centre provides culturally appropriate legal services and information to indigenous women ($204,600 in 1998/99).

Additionally, the NSW Legal Aid Commission holds regular community legal education workshops for women including older and Indigenous women and women from linguistically diverse backgrounds. It has also produced and widely marketed a brochure Are You Applying for an Apprehended Violence Order? which explains the process in plain English. The Commission manages funding to Community Legal Centres through the joint States/Commonwealth Community Legal Services Funding Programme. In 1998-99 specific centres will receive: $298,126 for Women's Legal Services, $119,426 for Rural Women's Outreach lawyers, $149,559 for Satellite Women's Project, $304,234 for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Women and $325,794 for Rural Women's Services in addition to general recurrent funding to community legal centres.

Measures for specific groups

Rural Women

In 1999, the Community Services Legal Programme has established six new community legal centres, telecommunications legal advice services and enhanced clinical legal education aimed at better meeting the needs of rural and remote Australians, at a cost of over $11 million.

The Australian Government has also provided new funding for the rural and regional expansion of the existing Community Legal Services Programme which provides services around Australia providing free legal advice for clients as well as legal policy work and public education campaigns.

Non English speaking background women

See human rights education activities, below and immigration and citizenship, above.

Indigenous women

Australia continues to take a close interest in activities that specifically relate to both the International Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples and to the development of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Australian Government has begun an Australia wide review of Aboriginal legal services with a view to setting new national standards for service provision. The Government has also improved the access of Aboriginal women to legal services provided by the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Legal Services by funding additional units specifically designed to provide legal advice and assistance to women. Where these units are unable to provide advice because of conflict of interest, they are required to fund independent advice for clients. The Government has also funded additional family violence legal services in high need areas.

The government recognises the importance of improving Indigenous women’s access to justice and has recently committed $2.5 million to fund legal projects for Indigenous women.

Examples of State and Territory initiatives relating to Indigenous women

Queensland (QLD)

Women from all over Queensland have identified reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women as a priority for 1999. The Office of Women' s Policy is working with women in the community to develop and implement the Women and Reconciliation Strategy.

The Strategy has three main parts:

South Australia

Law and Justice Conference in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Lands.

In May 1998 judicial officers from the Supreme, District and Magistrates Courts as well as several Courts Administration Authority staff traveled to the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Lands in the State’s Far North West to attend a Law and Justice Conference. The conference was organised by the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Council and Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement as part of the judicial officers’ cross cultural awareness programme and was designed to enable judicial officers and traditional Aboriginal people to meet on Aboriginal Lands and discuss law and justice issues.

Meetings were held separately with Anangu women and men. The women’s meetings provided an opportunity for Anangu women to discuss issues of particular concern to them with women in the delegation. This included matters of a sensitive nature that could not be discussed in the presence of men at the general conference forum. Among the recommendations made by the women’s meetings were the appointment of Anangu women as justices of the peace to sit in court with the circuit Magistrate and the appointment of women as police aides.

In collaboration with the Australian Institute of Criminology, the South Australian Justice Portfolio held a Conference on Best Practice Interventions for Indigenous People in 1999. The conference included an examination of issues for women offenders from Indigenous groups, as well as Indigenous women’s perspective on domestic violence, and mental and physical health issues for women in prisons.

Women with disabilities

The Commonwealth Disability Strategy is a ten-year plan of action for Commonwealth departments and agencies to remove barriers in Commonwealth policies, programmes and services for people with a disability.

Particular emphasis is placed on the need for appropriate information and communication techniques to be adopted to ensure that people with a disability can access government services, including information and services in the area of violence against women.

The Australian Government has adopted Guidelines for Commonwealth Information Published in Electronic Formats which includes recommendations to ensure that electronic information is accessible for people with disabilities.

Australia’s aid programme

The promotion of human rights of women and the elimination of discrimination against women are among the objectives of the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) Gender and Development Policy.

In AusAID’s 1998-99 budget, an 18% real increase has been provided for governance and human rights activities in the aid programme. This includes funding for an expanded Human Rights Fund and for the Centre for Democratic Institutions. The Human Rights Fund will continue to support small-scale human rights activities proposed by NGOs involved in the defence of human rights.

The National Human Rights Commission of India has received funding for human rights training for officers of women’s police cells in New Delhi. The Tonga Women in Law Association has received funding to increase Tongan women’s knowledge of legal issues. The Fund will also provide support for national human rights institutions through the Asia-Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions and the UN Centre for Human Rights. Gender considerations are also a significant element of a project to strengthen PNG’s Ombudsman Commission.

Over the period 1996-97, Australia provided $70,000 in assistance to the World Health Organisation’s Division of Women’s Health and Development (WHD). A further contribution of $340,000 was made to WHD in 1997-98. WHD’s objective is to promote women’s health and the incorporation of women’s perspectives into health policies and programmes. WHD’s agenda includes technical support, policy guidance, research, advocacy and training materials regarding female genital mutilation.

Australia is funding an international NGO programme for Appropriate Technology in Health to work in conjunction with the Kenyan women’s development body MYWO, to develop and promote coming of age ceremonies which do not involve mutilation. The aim of this successful and innovative project is to create a cultural alternative to female circumcision that takes into account the religious, social and cultural belief structures that give rise to female genital mutilation.

3: Achieve legal literacy.

Human rights education activities

The Australian Government places a priority on human rights education. The Government has promoted an educative and facilitative role for human rights machineries, in addition to their on-going complaints activities.

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) is responsible for the promulgation and increased understanding and acceptance of human rights and responsibilities. This includes promotion and facilitation of community access to the services and functions performed by HREOC as well as direct work with individuals, community groups, governments and other organisations towards the elimination of all forms of unfair discrimination.

The Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department maintains a network on human rights with periodic meetings of interested government, non-government and community representatives. The most recent meeting of this network was in September 1999.

The Government has recently provided $10,000 seed funding for the establishment of a National Committee on Human Rights Education, to be chaired by Dr Eric Tan. The Committee will comprise government, non government, NGO and business representatives. The Committee's objective is to initiate comprehensive and systematic human rights education for the Australian community. This initiative is part of Australia’s commitment to the United Nations Decade on Human Rights Education.

Australia has hosted or been involved with regional conferences on International Humanitarian Law for representatives of Government, military forces, non governmental organisations, academics and the general community. In February 1999, Australia hosted a conference to commemorate the centenary of the first Hague Peace Conference.

In July 1999, Australian NGOs hosted a regional NGO preparatory conference in the lead up to Beijing Plus Five. Over 100 NGO representatives from Australia and the pacific region attended the three day conference in Sydney.

In September 1999 the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women met with the All China Women’s Federation, the peak national women’s organisation in China. The purpose of the meeting was to exchange information on the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action.

The Office of the Status of Women is undertaking extensive community consultations on a national basis around the Beijing Plus Five review and preparatory to Australia’s combined fourth and fifth reports under CEDAW in 2000. These consultations are also serving a role in education and awareness raising.

OSW is working cooperatively with State and Territory governments and women’s machineries and with the NGO sector in the lead up to the UNGA Special Session on Beijing Plus Five, and in the conduct of community consultations. The Government plans to promulgate further educational materials around CEDAW and the Beijing Platform for Action. These will include materials for persons of a non-English-speaking background, including indigenous people, and those with limited English literacy, for wide distribution in coming months.

Examples of State and Territory initiatives with respect to judicial education

Queensland (QLD)

The State of Queensland is taking measures to address the under-representation of women in the judiciary by the appointment of an additional three female judges to the Supreme Court, one to the district court, two women Stipendiary Magistrates and one Senior Stipendiary Magistrate.

South Australia

A review of practices and procedures was held within the Supreme Court, Civil Court, District Court and Magistrates Court, in consultation with the Migrant Resource Centre, Disability Action Incorporated, Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement and the Women’s Legal Centre.

Education and reform of the judiciary

The Australian Government is committed to ensuring that all members of the Australian judiciary have access to education programmes that increase their awareness of community attitudes and of the impact of their decisions on women.

The Australian Government funds judicial education programmes on these matters through the Australian Institute of Judicial Administration (AIJA). State and Territory Governments also provide a range of relevant judicial education programmes.

Women’s NGOs

Women’s NGOs in Australia are active in the monitoring of human rights of women, including action under the Platform for Action and CEDAW. The Australian Government employs a variety of mechanisms to ensure that effective consultation is undertaken with women’s NGOs and with the public generally. These fora provide a further conduit for exchange of information about the continued observance of women’s human rights.

See also: H: Institutional Mechanisms for the Advancement of Women for more detail on the role of NGOs.

The Office of the Status of Women has initiated a series of articles about the 12 Critical Areas of the Beijing Platform for Action, for relay to NGOs and interested individuals through the Commonwealth-funded Network Exchanges of News Services (NEWS) bulletin and website. Consideration will be given to similar coverage of CEDAW.


Human rights are a cross cutting theme manifested in the full range of measures for women detailed throughout this document. See also in particular:

D: Violence against Women

E: Women and Armed Conflict

H: Institutional Mechanisms


Future commitments for women are incorporated above.

In the Australian Government system, new funding commitments are customarily announced in the annual Federal Budget. Additional commitments may be publicly announced in the context of the election platform or at other occasions.

The Australian Government’s future budget commitments for women are comprehensively outlined in Delivering on our Commitments for Women, the Budget Ministerial Statement on Women from the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women. A copy of this statement has been provided in response to Part 2 (Financial and Institutional measures).


1: Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-

making in and through the media and new technologies of communication.

2: Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.


Since the Beijing World Conference on Women, the world has witnessed an explosion in new technologies of communication, in particular information technology (IT) and the internet. Australians are voracious early adoptors of new technologies. Over 40% of adult Australians accessed the internet in the twelve months to May 1999, a massive increase of over 53% from the twelve months up to May 1998. As a modern, information-based economy, and with one of the most geographically remote populations, Australia is well positioned to benefit from access to the rise of new IT based communications.

The Australian Government is committed to supporting and maximising the potential offered by new technologies. Government communications policies recognise the importance of women’s access to new communications technologies, particularly for rural and geographically isolated women. Government measures are designed to support maximum access to new technologies and to minimise the risk of emergence of a society divided between the information rich and information poor.

Since 1995, Australia has established the National Office of the Information Economy and the Office of Government Online and taken a range of measures to ensure women’s, and men’s, access to emerging communications technologies. Women’s Online Week was held in October 1999 as part of a year long calendar of events around new technologies.

Since 1995, the Government has also built upon measures to ensure the appropriate portrayal of women in broadcast media. In 1999 the Australian Government has taken action to provide for appropriate controls over the transmission of offensive materials via the internet.

1: Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-

making in and through the media and new technologies of communication.

(See also Strategic Objective 2 for participation of women in decision making)

Women’s access to and participation in new technologies of communication

The Australian Government recognises the potential offered by new technologies in the developing information economy. The Government’s vision is to maximise opportunities for all Australians, including women, to benefit from these developments.

In December 1998 the Australian Government released a document setting out this vision: A Strategic Framework for the Information Economy – Identifying Priorities for Action. The Strategic Framework acknowledges the potential barriers to online access of groups such as women, and identified the need for strategies to overcome these barriers. The Commonwealth/State Women’s Ministers’ Conference commissioned a survey of women’s internet use through the Activities Trust Fund, which found that access to information technologies was greatest for those using IT in connection with work or study.

The Australian Government has provided $250 million over five years to Networking the Nation to assist the economic and social development of regional, rural and remote Australia. This programme allows rural women to take advantage of improved communications, on-line training, up-to-date commodities information, world wide marketing opportunities and the ability to work from home. Projects which provide specific benefits to rural women include:

Consistent with its 1998 election commitment, the Australian Government will provide additional funding of $81 million over three years to Networking the Nation, contingent upon the further 16% sale of Telstra.

Governments at all levels, including women’s machineries at the State and Territory level, have been active in providing access and assistance to women to use the internet. Many State and Territory women’s offices offer internet facilities for use by women and training in the use of the internet. Public access to the internet is also available through community access points, such as public libraries.

Online Government Services

The Australian Office for Government Online (OGO) encourages a whole of government approach to the use of information technology and telecommunications at the national level. These strategies aim to make the government an innovative, leading edge user of online technology and to promote the use of electronic access to government services. Commonwealth government agencies are using new technologies to put services online and improve community access to information and services. For example, the Department of Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business maintains a Business Entry Point which is a single point of access to government information and transactions for people operating or planning to start a business in Australia. It includes advice on employing staff, taxation, codes of practice, business assistance and online transactions which allow the business person to transact online with government at both Commonwealth and State levels. This will be of great assistance to women who comprise the bulk of small business operators.

Support for women’s participation and decision making positions in the media

The Australian Film, Television and Radio School

The Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS) is the national centre of excellence for professional training in film and related industries. AFTRS maintains a strong record of gender equity. Two out of four of AFTRS’ senior managers are women, and 44% of the staff overall are women. The student body has approximately equal numbers of female and male students.

AFTRS has fostered the careers of outstanding female filmmakers such as Gillian Armstrong and Jane Campion and in recent years, Samantha Lang and Rachel Perkins.

In recent years, AFTRS has pursued a number of avenues to encourage an advanced level of participation by women in film, broadcasting and new media:

In 1999, AFTRS published a book by Julie James Bailey, Guts and Tenacity: Women in Film and Television. The book contains interviews and profiles of women with established careers in film and television and showcases successful role models for women seeking to enter the industry.

AFTRS Research has supplemented the book with a report on interviews with nine young female film practitioners. The younger women's perspectives explore changes in the trends and challenges experienced by their older colleagues.

While some areas of Australia’s film and television industries remain male dominated, there has been a noticeable shift in this culture in recent years. Australia has a greater representation of women in the upper hierarchy of media industries than most other countries, including the United States. Government support remains an important lever to consolidate and extend the gains made by women in these fields.

Australian Film Commission (AFC)

The Australian Film Commission (AFC) is the primary development agency for the film industry in Australia. The aims of AFC’s industry and screen cultural support include, inter alia, initiatives to increase the participation of women in key creative and technical positions in the film, video and television industries and the development of Indigenous film and television programme makers.

In 1999, 53% of workers in organisations seeking AFC assistance were women. Amongst AFC applicants, 42% conducted programmes to enhance the participation of people from non-English speaking background and people of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent. Amongst staff from applicant organisations, 7% were from a non-English speaking background and 3% were of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent.

The AFC’s Women’s Programme aims to:

The Programme provides fee subsidies for professional development in areas where women are under-represented, such as multimedia and the technical areas of filmmaking.

In 1996-97, the Women Working in Television Project was undertaken in response to AFC Women’s Programme research into women's participation and opportunities for career advancement within Australian television. In association with the public broadcasters and all major commercial networks and industry associations, the Women's Programme developed initiatives for women’s career development and networking.

In 1999, the AFC Women's Programme is currently undertaking a Women In Interactive Media research project to investigate the level of participation of women in the interactive media industry.

The AFC supports a network of screen resource organisations throughout Australia to provide entry level access to the industry and skills and professional development for practitioners. These organisations ensure broad community access to screen culture, with an emphasis on the needs of those with diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Funded organisations are encouraged to develop access and equity policies and strategies.

Some recent activities by AFC funded screen resource organisations are:

Indigenous women in the media

In 1998-99, the AFC’s Indigenous Branch undertook initiatives to increase film production and related skills among Indigenous people and to promote the quality and diversity of indigenous films. As a result, the number of applications from Indigenous people to the AFC increased significantly from 53 in 1998 to 160 in 1999.

In 1999 the Indigenous Branch embarked on an initiative in the new media area, Online, Ontrack, to provide Indigenous people with an understanding of digital manipulation, online technology and the creation of CD-ROMs. Workshops lasting ten days were conducted for between six and ten indigenous people each in Melbourne,

Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth.

The AFTRS’ Indigenous Programme assists Indigenous Australians to attend courses, workshops and seminars. AFTRS designs courses specifically for Indigenous Australians and conducts a scholarship programme in conjunction with the Commonwealth Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs.

Non English speaking background women

See initiatives described above, under the Australian Film Commission material. See also the next section, on stereotyping of women’s roles in programmes.

International aid

Australia’s aid programme has provided support to women working in the media and has encouraged training programmes for women working in the media:

5 years, includes specific training for women producers of documentaries, for production as videos or for local television programmes;

2: Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.

Broadcasting Industry Codes of Practice

Australian public and commercial broadcasters are required to have codes of practice which include guidelines on avoiding stereotyped gender portrayal. Under the Broadcasting Services Act, the commercial broadcasters are required to register their codes with the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) and national broadcasters must develop codes of practice under their enabling legislation and notify these to ABA.

The Codes of Practice and related Advisory Notes of the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations recommend, among other things:

The Federation of Australian Radio Broadcasters also has guidelines on the portrayal of women on commercial radio.

Both Codes provide for complaints processes. The ABA may take action in response to breaches of codes.

Australia’s national broadcasters, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) are independent from the government of the day in programming and editorial policy, but must, by law, develop codes of practice.

The code of practice of the ABC states:

ABC policy is that programmes should not include language or images that are likely to encourage denigration or discrimination against any person or section of the community on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, nationality, age, disability or illness, social or occupational status, sexual preference or the holding of any religious, cultural or political belief.

Language and images that perpetuate myths or reinforce stereotypes based on any of the above groups should be avoided. Thus, the portrayal of female secretaries and male managers or women in supermarkets to illustrate food prices are considered to reinforce images which are not representative and should be avoided.

Programme makers should not use language and images which convey outdated and often discriminatory assumptions about the social and domestic roles of men and women. For example, irrelevant references to women's physical appearance, age, marital status or maternity can be offensive and should not be made.

These requirements do not prevent the broadcast of factual material, the expression of genuinely-held opinion in a news or current affairs programme or material presented in the legitimate context of a humorous, satirical or dramatic work.

SBS broadcasts with a particular emphasis on Australia’s community of non-English speaking, migrant and multicultural members. SBS’s code of practice provides for awareness of the actual and potential contributions of women and states that the portrayal of women should not create or reinforce sexual, gender or racial stereotypes.

Other areas covered in the SBS code include:

In addition to these measures, Film Australia produces programmes for the National Interest Programme, which often explore the area of history and social issues in the context of the role of women. In 1997-98, of the 18.5 hours of material produced, three programmes featured women as the principal subjects.

Portrayal of Indigenous women

The Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations’ (FACTS) Code of Practice for commercial television broadcasters has an Advisory Note dealing with the portrayal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The FACTS Advisory Note encourages reporters and producers to deal with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as an integral and important part of contemporary Australia and to respect the dignity, traditions, diversity and contemporary achievements of these peoples. The Code provides practical advice about prejudice, stereotyping and unwarranted generalisation.

In May 1997, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Policy was adopted by the Australia Council. The Board approved triennial grants of $124,900 per annum (1998-2000) to the Association of Northern, Kimberley and Arnhem Aboriginal Artists in the Northern Territory to support Indigenous artists from the remote regions of northern and western Australia. The Board has also allocated three-year funding to four major Indigenous organisations.

In the 1999 grant round, the Australia Council Board allocated over $1.4 million to support the development of new practices in Indigenous art, through contemporary interpretations of cultural traditions and the use of new technologies and media.

Community attitudes

The ABA conducts research into community attitudes on issues relating to programmes.

ABA’s 1997 survey on audience concerns reinforced that men and women frequently differ in their opinions and attitudes regarding broadcast media programming. The 1997 survey found that women were more likely than men to have seen something on television that they disliked or which concerned them. Two previous surveys (1995) and (1996) found that women were more likely than men to think ‘far too much violence is shown’ in movies on commercial television starting at 8.30pm. Men were more likely than women to think that ‘the amount of violence shown is OK’.

See also D: Violence Against Women regarding portrayal of violence in the media.


Australia is an open society, with a high respect for free speech and respect for the rights of adults to read, hear and see what they want without undue restriction. Australia’s censorship and regulatory framework respects this principle while recognising the need to allow for informed choice of content and protection from unsolicited offensive material, to protect minors and to safeguard against demeaning and violent content.

Regulation of publications, films and computer games in Australia is a cooperative scheme involving Commonwealth, State and Territory governments. Classification decisions are based on the following principles:

Recent reviews have included guidelines for films, publications, computer games and the internet. These reviews, which involve public consultation, are conducted to ensure the guidelines reflect current community standards and will take account of concerns about depictions of violence, including sexual violence, and the portrayal of persons in a demeaning manner.

In all jurisdictions, the production, dissemination or possession of child pornography is illegal.

Revised classification guidelines for films were introduced in July 1996. Among other matters, these removed high level violence from the ‘R’ classification. A review of the classification guidelines for publications commenced in 1997. When that review is completed, a review is to be conducted of the computer games guidelines. A review is also being conducted of offence provisions, in response to community concerns about the dissemination of obscene or violent material via the internet.

In 1999 the Australian Government introduced new legislation to regulate the content of the internet. The object of the legislation is to protect Australian citizens, particularly children, from illegal and highly offensive material. This has been done in such a way as to avoid placing undue burden on the internet industry.

See also D: Violence Against Women



Future commitments for women are incorporated above.

In the Australian Government system, new funding commitments are customarily announced in the annual Federal Budget. Additional commitments may be publicly announced in the context of the election platform or at other occasions.

The Australian Government’s future budget commitments for women are comprehensively outlined in Delivering on our Commitments for Women, the Budget Ministerial Statement on Women from the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women. A copy of this statement has been provided in response to Part 2 (Financial and Institutional measures).


Strategic Objectives

1: Involve women actively in environmental decision-making at all levels.

2: Integrate gender concerns and perspectives in policies and programmes for

sustainable development.

3: Strengthen or establish mechanisms at the national, regional and international

levels to assess the impact of development and environmental policies on



The Australian Government has taken a leading role internationally on environmental and sustainable development issues. These issues are of particular concern to many Australian women.

The Australian Government has committed around $1.5 billion to the environment through the National Heritage Trust using proceeds from the partial privatisation of Australia’s national telecommunications carrier.

Australia’s environmental policies and programmes seek to ensure that women have access to and are appropriately represented in decision-making forums, as well as having access to relevant information and education.

Sustainable agriculture is a major environmental goal for Australia. Australian women are actively involved in caring for the environment through community programmes such as Landcare which aim for grassroots collective action on sustainable management of the environment and the Green Corps programme.

Specially targeted public awareness campaigns have been undertaken for environmental issues particularly affecting women. These include information campaigns to reduce risks from lead petrol and paint to women of child bearing age and campaigns for consumers.

Strategic Objectives

1: Involve women actively in environmental decision-making at all levels.

Women’s involvement in environmental decision-making

Women are active and well represented in environmental government and non-government agencies.

Women have held an increasing number of field-based parks and environment positions since 1995. Women also participate in large number in many non-government environmental organisations. Women throughout the community, particularly rural farm managers, are actively involved in grassroots community landcare and environmental work. Rural and agricultural women, and traditional women, play an active and important role in sustainable practices.

See also Chapter G for details on the Rural Women’s Advisory Council.

Rural women

Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Australia (AFFA) recognises the significant contribution of women in the rural sector. Women participate actively in a wide range of sustainable resource management activities including whole-farm and land care practices, the National Heritage trust, catchment management work and the Rural Partnership Programme.

AFFA’s Rural Women's Unit integrates women's perspectives into federal government agricultural programmes and promotes the significant contribution of women in best practice case studies.

Women’s traditional knowledge and practices

Aboriginal traditional owners have been the custodians and sculptors of the land for generations and their traditional skills and knowledge are particularly recognised in parks management. Joint management between Parks Australia and traditional owners and the employment of Aboriginal people ensure that traditional skills and knowledge, particularly women’s traditional skills, are used in conjunction with modern management practices to ensure the preservation of Australia’s natural and cultural landscapes of significance.

Environment Australia provides Aboriginal women with opportunities to participate in environmental tasks all levels, ranging from community involvement to being employed as rangers, cultural advisers or training officers. Some of these positions are at the senior management level.

Example of State initiative

New South Wales (NSW)

The NSW Government encouraged women to nominate for the 1997 Rural Lands Protection Boards. Women’s representation on these boards increased from 4% in 1996 to 9% in 1997. Women are now on over 50% of the Rural Lands Protection Boards.

Strategic Objectives

2: Integrate gender concerns and perspectives in policies and programmes for

sustainable development.


The National Landcare Programme is an Australian Government initiative which provides $280 million to the community for projects for the sustainable management of land, water, vegetation and biological diversity. The programme also supports property management planning which provides farmers with improved natural resource and business management skills.

There are more than 4,250 Landcare groups in Australia. About one in every three Australian farmers are involved in Landcare. Women as joint farm managers are actively involved in these activities.

Aboriginal Landcare encompasses a number of specific projects involving Indigenous communities. These include the Greening Australia/Northern Land Council project for landcare education ($45,500) and the Julalikari Council Aboriginal Corporation land management project ($64,000).

Australia’s National Environmental Protection Council is developing a national environmental measure on Assessment of Site Contamination. This initiative will provide a nationally agreed formally recognised approach for assessing soil contamination and the effects of resultant environmental hazards.

Australia is also contributing significantly to the dissemination of information about a range of land care issues. These include campaigns on the effects of land-based pollution on the marine environment in the Asia-pacific region and building the capacity of States in the region to more effectively manage marine environments. In addition, Australia was a key participant in the development of a regional oceans policy for the South pacific, including input into the ‘United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in the Pacific’ Conference in Tonga in August 1999. Australia also provides marine science and technology training on marine protected areas to countries within the region.


The proposal to mine uranium at Jabiluka has been the subject of a comprehensive environmental impact assessment process under the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974 lasting nearly three years. Several reports have been prepared including the Environment Impact Statement and a Public Environment Report. The Public Environment Report was also independently reviewed.

The Mirrar, traditional owners of the Jabiluka lease, gave consent in 1982 to the Jabiluka mine in an agreement under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. The Mirrar confirmed this consent in 1991 when they agreed to the transfer of the mining rights to Energy Resources of Australia Ltd.

The Jabiluka mine will provide a wide range of social and economic benefits to the local Aboriginal community. These include employment and training opportunities, provision of new housing for about 65 Aboriginal families, assistance for Aboriginal businesses and funding of a women’s resource centre, traineeships and university scholarships for Aboriginal students and for adult education. In addition, the Aboriginal communities will receive more than $230 million in royalty payments over the life of the project.

Climate change

The Australian Government’s agreement to the Kyoto target, to return emissions to 8% of 1990 levels by the period 2008-2012, represents a significant commitment for Australia. Without any measures in place, Australia’s net energy emission growth was projected to increase by 43% from 1990 levels to the year 2010.

Australia is committed to robust and credible action in this regard. To address this issue the Prime Minister launched a $180 million package of greenhouse measures in 1997. The Commonwealth Government has also established the Australian Greenhouse Office, the World’s first dedicated national government agency to coordinate and drive the implementation of climate change action.

Australia has also carried out projects under the ‘Activities Implemented Jointly’ scheme with the Solomon Islands and with Fiji, and has agreed on a number of further projects in this regard. The scheme is a precursor to the ‘Clean Development Mechanism’ which will enable developed countries to engage in emission reduction projects in cooperation with developed countries. Such projects help developed countries to achieve their Kyoto targets and at the same time contribute to the achievement of sustainable development goals in the host developing country.

The Government launched its National Greenhouse Strategy in November 1998 to:

Australia’s capacity to meet its international commitments under the Kyoto Protocol has been substantially increased by a $400 million funding package announced as part of the Federal Government’s revised A New Tax System, including:

Together these funds with allocations for renewable energy generation, alternative fuels and household energy reduction initiatives, amount to nearly $1 billion – the largest commitment of funding to address the challenge of climate change in Australia’s history.


Coastcare supports direct community involvement in the management of coastal and marine areas.

Coastcare focuses on practical actions and on-ground work to tackle the causes of environmental degradation. Women are actively involved in Coastcare activities both as members of community groups undertaking Coastcare projects and as Coastcare facilitators. Of the 27 facilitators currently employed, 16 are women.

Coastcare regional facilitators work with community groups, including women’s community groups, and with local government to facilitate links between groups and local coastal managers and to assist in the preparation of project funding applications.

Green Corps

The Australian Government Green Corps Programme provides full-time accredited training opportunities for six months for young people aged 17-20 years interested in cultural heritage protection and environmental issues. Forty-two per cent of Green Corps participants are women.

Green Corps aims to improve participants’ employment prospects while providing them with a basis for further education and training in environment-related areas. At the end of the placement, trainees proceeding into accredited education or training may receive a $500 incentive payment towards course costs or materials, and Green Corps training is recognised as a credit towards future accreditation.

National Estate Grants Programme

Since 1995, the Australian National Estate Grants Program has commenced a project to increase the visibility and representation of women. The project is identifying, interpreting and promoting places that represent the heritage values of women's roles and experiences in Australian society and history.

Examples of State and Territory initiatives

Western Australia (WA)

The second WA Two Year Plan for Women includes commitments for women working for and with environmental issues, including continued support for landcare and other environmental groups. Strategies will improve services to women to improve career prospects and raise the profile of women in agriculture and resources management sector.

Specific initiatives involve:

3: Strengthen or establish mechanisms at the national, regional and international

levels to assess the impact of development and environmental policies on


Australia’s environmental measures reflect the needs of women and children through measures to ensure community consultation in the development of environmental practice and guidelines, and specific measures to protect the health of women and children from pollutants. Australia’s regional and international activities pay particular regard to the impact of development and environmental practice and policies on women.

Environment Protection

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) places responsibility for environmental issues with State governments and appropriate Commonwealth portfolios.

The EPBC enhances community participation, including participation by women. The Act requires extensive consultation with the community and interest groups in the development of bilateral agreements, environmental assessments and in the preparation of guidelines, management plans, wildlife conservation plans and five-yearly reviews.

Women will take an active part in future environmental protection through the EPBC.

The EPBC Act ensures that, for the first time, the Commonwealth has the capacity to protect matters of national environmental significance. These matters include World Heritage properties, Ramsar wetlands, nationally threatened species and ecological communities, migratory species, nuclear matters and the Commonwealth marine area. The Act redefines the Commonwealth’s role by reference to environmental criteria rather than the existing indirect and ad hoc triggers. It establishes a strengthened environment protection regime and an integrated approach to the conservation of biodiversity.

The EPBC Act reduces duplication between governments by allowing for accreditation of State assessment processes and approvals (via bilateral agreements) where there is an accredited management plan in place.

Genetically modified products

In August 1999 the Australian Government announced a stringent new system to control all commercial releases of genetically modified products in Australia. Women have been actively involved in campaigning for safe and appropriate safeguards and consumer information about genetically modified products.

The new measures strengthen existing arrangements by providing a more rigorous, transparent and accountable decision-making system for the commercial release of genetically modified products. The Commonwealth has committed $7.5 million over two years to a permanent Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, to be in place by 1 July 2001.

The Genetic Manipulation Advisory Committee, currently chaired by Emeritus Professor Nancy Millis AC MBE, will advise on the scientific safety aspects of genetically modified organisms. Environment Australia will advise on all environmental aspects.

Developing Australia’s biotechnology future

In September 1998 the Australian Government announced its intention to develop a comprehensive strategy to position Australia to benefit from the development of biotechnology. Biotechnology encompasses technologies based on the application of biological processes with diverse application in medicine, agriculture, food processing, manufacturing and environmental management. A Biotechnology Consultative Group (BIOCOG) was formed to guide development of biotechnological strategy.

In May 1999, the government announced measures intended to assist the development and application of biotechnology in Australia. A key initiative was the establishment of Biotechnology Australia to coordinate the Commonwealth’s activities in biotechnology.

To realise the benefits of biotechnology, the community must be confident that any associated risks are rigorously managed through regulation that is transparent, accountable and understood and supported by the community. Australian women’s non government groups have been active in biotechnological and related areas. Work with consumers, including women’s consumer groups, will be an important part of Australia’s biotechnology.

Air pollution

In June 1998, Commonwealth, State and Territory Government agreed nationally applicable ambient air quality standards for Australia.

The standards cover six pollutants to which Australians are exposed (lead, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides, ozone and particles) set out the National Environment Protection Measure (NEPM) for Ambient Air Quality. Standards include pollutants particularly injurious to the health of pregnant women and children because of their potential for greater sensitivity to chemicals.

The Air NEPM will ensure ambient air quality to protect human health and well being. The Air NEPM establishes mandatory protocols for monitoring air quality and harmonises monitoring and reporting practices across Australian States and Territories.

Site contamination

Australia’s National Environment Protection Council is currently developing a National Environment Protection Measure on Assessment of Site Contamination. The Measure aims to provide a nationally agreed and formally recognised approach for assessing contaminated sites.

National Pollutant Inventory

The National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) will collect information from industry and government on diffuse and point source emissions of pollutants due to human activity. The NPU will provide information that can be used to assess how and to what extent women are particularly susceptible or exposed to environmental degradation and hazards.

The EcoReDesign Project

The EcoReDesign project is run cooperatively by the Environment Protection Group (EPG) of Environment Australia and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. It involves redesigning a number of household products to reduce energy consumption on a whole life cycle basis.

Examples of State and Territory initiatives

South Australia (SA)

Women in Adelaide Study is a major collaborative project between the SA Office of the Status of Women, the City of Adelaide Council, the University of Adelaide, TranAdeliade, Planning SA and the Passenger Transport Board, to explore women’s perception’s of the City of Adelaide. The Study includes qualitative and quantitative research. Suggestions arising from the Study have been made to the City of Adelaide Social Development Strategy, the Capital City Development Program for Adelaide and the Adelaide Parklands Management Strategy.

National environmental health policy

In late 1996, the Australian Government initiated the second stage of development of a national environmental health policy and strategy.

The environmental health policy is based on the need for broad community information about and support and ownership of decisions about developments which may affect human health and the environment. The current policy focuses on improving access to environmental health information and new initiatives, particularly mechanisms to increase public availability and accessibility of validated information.

Marine environment

The Commonwealth Government will fund two new programmes that will see improvements in:

International activities

Australia’s international aid programme ensures that aid activities make a positive contribution to sustainable development.

In 1998-99 the Australian aid programme will spend an estimated $193 million on environment activities in developing countries. This includes $51 million on projects in sectors principally targeted at the environment (such as sustainable resource management, urban environmental management and sustainable energy production) and $142 million on sectors that are not principally targeted at the environment but have significant environmental benefits (such as water supply and sanitation).

The needs of women and children are taken into account carefully in the design and implementation of these activities.

The Central Visayas Water and Sanitation Project improved the situation of women by reducing distances to water sources, by increasing latrine ownership and by increasing knowledge about the causes of diarrhea. The community had significant inputs into major project decisions. The women were trained not only in health education but also in latrine construction. Women reported economic benefits and improvements in more free time, less heavy work and improved relationships with their spouses.

Australia is providing $10m over 5 years to a Community Resource Management Project in Nepal. The project is implementing activities in income generation, increasing subsistence production, improving community self reliance and conservation of the environment. This project builds on literacy, water supply and community forest management activities of the Nepal Australia Community Forestry Project which was completed in 1997.

Environment Australia has developed a Training Resources Manual that promotes the development of local training materials that reflect the economic, cultural and social systems in developing countries and in countries moving to a market economy.

This project is seen as a major step towards strengthening capacity-building in environmental protection in these countries and establishing the institutional basis for effective, locally-supported environmental impact assessment. Women are specifically promoted as stakeholders in this process.

Australia’s input to the Global Environment Facility is closely guided by the gender and development policies of the Australian aid programme. In March 1998, Australia committed $43 million to the replenishment of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), in conjunction with the first ever GEF Assembly in New Delhi in April 1998. Since GEF’s creation, Australia has committed funds to the pilot phase (1991-1994), Phase 1 (1994-1997) and Phase 2 (1998-2002). Australia jointly finances three GEF projects within the Asia Pacific region.

See also C: Women and Health


Future commitments for women are incorporated above.

In the Australian Government system, new funding commitments are customarily announced in the annual Federal Budget. Additional commitments may be publicly announced in the context of the election platform or at other occasions.

The Australian Government’s future budget commitments for women are comprehensively outlined in Delivering on our Commitments for Women, the Budget Ministerial Statement on Women from the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women. A copy of this statement has been provided in response to Part 2 (Financial and Institutional measures).


  1. Eliminate all forms of discrimination against the girl child.
  2. Eliminate negative cultural attitudes and practices against girls.
  3. Promote and protect the rights of the girl child and increase awareness of her needs and potential.
  4. Eliminate discrimination against girls in education, skills development and training.
  5. Eliminate discrimination against girls in health and nutrition.
  6. Eliminate the economic exploitation of child labour and protect young girls at work.
  7. Eradicate violence against the girl child.
  8. Promote the girl child’s awareness of and participation in social, economic and political life.
  9. Strengthen the role of the family in improving the status of the girl child.


Strengthening and supporting families is a paramount priority for the Australian Government, in recognition of the contribution families make in their supporting, educating and nurturing roles for children. The government has sponsored a range of initiatives to improve the quality of life for families and children at home and in the general community. These initiatives include support for parents in their parenting role, assistance for disadvantaged families and children at risk and increased community awareness of the consequences of child abuse and neglect.

Australia is a State Party to both the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CROC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The Australian Government recognises that children are vulnerable to human rights violations and has put in place criminal sanctions against violence that also protect the girl child.

Australia condemns actions that violate the human rights of children, and has criminalised physical and sexual violence against the girl child. Australia also abhors the practice of female genital mutilation, which is regarded as a form of violence against women.

Australia is also a signatory to the Goals and Targets of the World Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of Children, which sets out goals and targets to improve the well-being of children internationally.

Exploitation of children

Australia is an active supporter of the elaboration of an optional protocol to the CROC to deal with the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. It is considered that an optional protocol would provide a mechanism to redress the sexual exploitation of children and would strengthen implementation of CROC through penalisation for non-compliance.

The Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) provides ongoing funding to protect exploited child labourers, sexually prostituted children and street children. For example, World Vision and AusAID have built a drop-in centre for street girls in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The centre provides facilities for cooking and washing, health checks and educational programmes. Parents, local leaders and community volunteers assisted in the implementation of the project.

Australia is also participating in a Working Group developing a draft Optional Protocol to the CROC to restrict children's participation in armed conflicts.

Sexual abuse of children

The sexual abuse of children within Australia has received extensive media and community attention in recent years. While media attention has tended to focus on male homosexual abuse of boys, crime, health and welfare statistics show that this form of paedophilia represents a relatively small proportion of child abuse in Australia. Child Protection Australia 1997-98, a report published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, indicates that nearly three times as many girls as boys were the subject of substantiated reports of sexual abuse.

The Australian Government considers that strategies aimed at combating child sexual abuse must reflect the fact that the majority of offenders are heterosexual males who are immediate family members (including ‘step’ members) or close relatives.

Health and welfare

On all health and welfare outcome measures, children and youth of both sexes in Australia compare favourably with other OECD countries and are consistently better than most non-OECD and developing countries. The general population of female children and young women in Australia is not disadvantaged in terms of outcomes compared to male children and young men. In fact, on many indicators such as mortality rates, females have better outcomes than males. The major exceptions include smoking and the incidence of child sexual abuse.

The Government recognises the historical and social factors which continue to affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children because of race and gender. It is the Government’s policy to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s concerns and need are addressed in the design and delivery of policies and programmes across all portfolios. The Government is determined to make improvements in the key areas of health, housing, education, employment and economic development. Indigenous specific spending is now the highest it has ever been in real terms. This focus on improvement and growth will benefit entire communities.

Examples of State and Territory initiatives


Under the Youth Services Programme 1998-99, the Victorian government has funded some sexual assault services for young women aged 12-24 who have been victims of sexual abuse or are displaying behaviour indicative of sexual abuse. These services can comprise consultation, counselling, outreach support and referral.

Convicted sex offenders are prohibited from loitering where children gather.

Recent amendments to legislation provide for teachers to be disqualified from teaching where they have been found guilty of sexual offences involving children.

Courts now have a general discretion to allow witnesses in criminal proceedings to appear before the court by use of an audio-visual link. This can be used to enable a victim who is afraid to be in the same courtroom as the accused to give evidence. Child victims of sexual assault/abuse are specifically funded under an initiative to address their counselling and support needs and that of their non-offending family members. The service also includes improved networks and linkages between like providers, the development of best practice models, provision of training to increase the skill of workers and minimisation of the need for long-term interventions for the victims.

Financial support for children

The Child Support Scheme was introduced in two stages:

Currently, over 40% of liable parents who are registered with CSA pay their child support directly to the resident parent. Liable parents who do not pay in this way are required to pay their child support liability to the CSA. Since the Scheme's inception, the CSA has collected over 80% of all liabilities registered for collection.

From 1 January 2001, separated parents who share the care of their children within a 40 to 60% band will be eligible for access to the Jobs, Education and Training programme, and receive Newstart or Youth Allowance with a modified activity test. Parenting payment will be payable to new claimants if they have at least 60% care of a child. Existing Parenting Payment recipients sharing care will have their entitlements protected until the youngest qualifying share care child at January 2001 turns 16 or otherwise ceases to be a qualifying child. This measure recognises the constraints on labour force participation imposed by caring responsibilities and requires parents with less severe constraints to participate to their capacity. The measure is expected to reduce the number of disputes and appeals and to support parents in balancing work and family responsibilities.

From July 1999, 160,000 parents with children in their care, mainly women, who previously received no child support, receive support from the liable parent. This measure reinforces the principle that parents share the cost of supporting their children.

See also A: Women in Poverty


A marriage is void where the parties do not consent to it. Where the consent of either party is obtained by fraud or duress, the marriage is also void.

The age of consent to marry is 18 years for men and women. A person aged 16 or 17 years may obtain court authorisation to marry another specific person who is aged 18 years or older if the circumstances are exceptional and unusual as to justify the order. In addition to such authorisation, the underage person must also obtain parental consent to the marriage.

It is a criminal offence for a celebrant to solemnise or purport to solemnise a marriage knowing or having reason to believe that the marriage would be void.


The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is currently developing indicators of the well-being of children. One of the tasks of this project has been to examine existing data in current ABS and non-ABS collections, with a view to improving the quality and range of data available on families and children.

In April 1997, the ABS conducted a survey on family characteristics and the publication Family Characteristics Australia was released in April 1998. A Social Report was published in 1998 as part of Australia’s reporting obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Health of Young Australians, a national health policy for children and young people, has identified the need for regular monitoring of the health of children and young people, complemented by research targeting priority issues. The National Health Plan for Young Australians (1995) nominates the development of an agreed national data set as a key priority for maintaining and improving the health of young children and young people.

Education of girls

Retention rates to year 12 are consistently higher for girls than boys – 77.7 % for girls compared with 65.9 % for males in 1998.

The National Policy for the Education of Girls in Australian Schools (1987) and the National Action Plan for the Education of Girls 1993-97 provided a nationally agreed framework for meeting the educational needs of girls and boys. Gender Equity: A Framework for Australian Schools (1997) builds on this completed work. The Framework proposed broad areas for action based on five strategic directions in the areas of: understanding the process of construction of gender; curriculum, teaching and learning; violence and school culture; post-school pathways; and supporting change. Specific outcomes are provided for each strategic direction, together with a range of approaches and strategies that will ensure that the overall intentions of the Framework are achieved.

Examples of State and Territory initiatives

New South Wales (NSW)

The Young Mothers Programme encourages schools to assist young mothers to remain in education.

The Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs introduced child protection education as a mandatory component of the school curriculum. Comprehensive support materials have been provided to all schools, dealing with power in relationships, recognising abuse and protective strategies in a range of situations such as sex-based harassment and domestic violence.


The Victorian curriculum provides both boys and girls with access at all levels to the humanities, languages, technology, arts and sciences. Women are encouraged and promoted into leadership roles in schools and as a result girls are provided with positive role models. Under the Framework for Student Support Services in Victorian Government Schools, programmes are being delivered for teachers, students and school communities that address all aspects of young women's self esteem, sexual health and substance misuse.

The Police in the Schools Involvement Programme assists young people to develop skills in personal safety, and dealing with bullying, conflict resolution, implementing anti-harassment strategies, understanding appropriate risk taking, protective behaviour, decision making and building self esteem.


Prenatal sex selection and female infanticide are not practices known in Australia.

The Children, Australia: A Social Report 1999 shows that there were 4.7 million children aged 0-17 years in Australia and that males slightly outnumbered females in June 1997. The child population comprised 2,409,200 males (51%) and 2,289,800 females (49%). The greater number of male than female children reflects the slightly greater number of male births in Australia.

Mental health

Under the National Mental Health Strategy, the Australian Government provides funding for the development and implementation of the National Community Awareness Programme, which was launched in April 1995. Outcomes of the programme include advertising (television, cinema and posters) and a number of mental health information leaflets on specific disorders including a leaflet titled What is an eating disorder?

In general, most family planning organisations in Australia provide free, special services for adolescents, and three have set up special centres for young people. Services cover the provision of information and counselling.

Girls in sport

In September 1999, the Australian Government announced an initiative to promote female participation in sport, the National Policy on Women and Girls in Sport, Recreation and Physical Activity 1999-2002. The policy is aimed at broadening the base of national participation by targeting females across a range of practices and making sport more responsive to female values and perspectives.

The policy encourages schools to allow single-sex competition until such time as there is substantial research evidence to suggest that girls will not be disadvantaged in mixed-sex contests. The policy also advocates programmes for less skilled girls entering high school and more sensitivity towards the cultural differences of girls from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Sports venues that cater for women and include child care will attract more government funding under the policy.

The policy also calls for greater recognition and portrayal of women’s sport in the media and suggests the development of a register of suitable sportswomen and girls available to participate in media activities.

Examples of State and Territory initiatives

New South Wales (NSW)

The NSW Government has established the following initiatives:

Support for families

Strengthening and supporting families is essential to improving opportunities for women and girls. Additional family tax payments in the Australian Government’s tax reforms represent a major social reform for Australia and enhance choices for women. Specific family measures which consolidate family assistance payments, give extra income to lower income families and increase workforce incentives will assist women to secure their economic futures and strengthen their families.

The creation of the Family and Community Services portfolio has presented a strategic opportunity to enable a more focussed whole-of-government approach to the development and delivery of social policy. Major initiatives include:

Children’s contact services

The Australian Government has provided around $16 million over four years to establish new children’s supervised contact services in urban and regional centres. An additional 10,000 families will be assisted to better manage child contact difficulties through the establishment of a further 25 children’s contact services. These services provide practical assistance where parents need skills to ensure the best interests of their children are met and to improve family relationships.

Marriage and relationship support

The Australian Government is committed to strengthening and supporting families and nurturing relationships through education and prevention. A total of $16.5 million will be provided for marriage and relationship education services and new support networks and services specifically for men. Major initiatives include:

International aid

Australia’s development assistance programme promotes activities which address discrimination against the girl child and has provided ongoing funding to protect child labourers, sexually prostituted children and street children. Education projects address gender biased curricula and encourage enrolment of girls where indicators show disparities against enrolment of girls.

Examples of projects which consider the girl child include:

See also

A: Women and Poverty

B: Education and Training for details on school education

C: Women and Health

D: Violence against Women for details on child abuse and female genital mutilation

I: Human Rights of Women for details on child sex tourism and trafficking


Future commitments for women are incorporated above.

In the Australian Government system, new funding commitments are customarily announced in the annual Federal Budget. Additional commitments may be publicly announced in the context of the election platform or at other occasions.

The Australian Government’s future budget commitments for women are comprehensively outlined in Delivering on our Commitments for Women, the Budget Ministerial Statement on Women from the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women. A copy of this statement has been provided in response to Part 2 (Financial and Institutional measures).