Tanya Plibersek was elected to the Federal Parliament as the Member for Sydney in 1998 and became a shadow minister in 2004. During her time as a shadow minister, Tanya was responsible for a wide variety of issues including childcare, work and family, community, women, youth, human services and housing.
Following the election of the Rudd Government in 2007, Tanya was appointed the Minister for Housing and the Minister for the Status of Women.
Tanya and her husband Michael have a daughter, Anna and a son, Joe.
Minister for Housing from 3 December 2007.
Minister for Status of Women from 3 December 2007
Interview with Minister Tanya Pilbersek
- From your perception of women in government, what do you see as being the barriers for women who have been elected and those who are interested in a political career?
Politics is a demanding career for anyone. It can be a confrontational environment and it requires long hours and time away from your family. For those interested in a career in politics, they have to be prepared to work hard. Treatment by the media is different for women in politics and pre-selection can be difficult. It is tough, but the opportunity to significantly improve people’s lives makes it worthwhile.
- Given that your portfolio has included childcare, work and family, community, women, youth, human services and housing, which areas do you particularly find yourself being drawn to and which issues are you most concerned about?
As the Minister for the Status of Women and the Minister for Housing, these two issues are my priority. Homelessness, rental shortages and housing affordability are issues I am very concerned about. There are falling rates of home ownership in lower and middle income households and the number of homeless people in Australia increased from the 2001 to the 2006 Census during a period of strong economic growth. Since home ownership makes retirement living easier, keeping housing affordable for young home buyers is important.
I also feel strongly about the need for gender equality in Australia. Australia is a world leader for women’s education attainment, but we are at number 40 in the world for women’s workforce participation. We are not effectively using women’s abilities and talent and we are the poorer for it. This is an issue that needs our attention.
The high level of violence experienced by women in Australia is also unacceptable and I am committed to working towards the Australian Government’s goal of reducing violence in our communities. Sexual assault and domestic and family violence are preventable and there is clearly a need for more work in this area.
In outlining that Australia is pursuing three key priority areas for advancing gender equality by improving women's economic outcomes and financial independence; ensuring women's voices are heard at all levels of decision-making; and,reducing violence against women, can I ask how such outcomes can be achieved when prejudicial stereotypes of women dominate perceptions of women and are at the basis of women’s inequities in the workplace, at home and in the community?
I think that these days, most women in Australia have a good range of life choices. Stereotypes persist and they certainly limit the decisions of many women and men, but it is possible to avoid being constrained by these stereotypes. We hear stories of women, and some men, creating new opportunities every day. Women represent more than half of the Australian population and I don’t see them as automatically being a vulnerable group in society.
Despite this, we know that on many objective measures women are still not equal with men. Women are unfairly stretched between traditional roles as carers and modern roles as paid workers. Women are less likely than men to move into leadership positions. Women are currently retiring with half the savings of men. And half a million women suffer from violence each year. That is why I directed the Office for Women to focus on three key priorities: improving women’s economic security, reducing violence against women and ensuring women’s voices are heard at all levels of decision making. I know change is possible: you only have to see how far we have come in recent years.
- What are your thoughts on the need for a universal paid maternity scheme in Australia? Do you envisage the Rudd Government funding a national 18 week scheme for paid maternity, at minimum wage rates for all working women?
I am delighted that the Government will introduce a comprehensive paid parental leave scheme. This is an historic reform that will provide greater financial support to families, potentially increase workforce participation and promote early childhood development.
The introduction of a Paid Parental Leave scheme demonstrates the Australian Government’s ongoing commitment to supporting working families. The scheme will give more babies the best start in life. It will enable more parents to stay at home to care for their baby full-time during the vital early months of social, cognitive and physical development. The scheme encourages women to maintain their connection with the workforce and their careers. It will also help prepare Australia for the challenges of an ageing population.
- Given that 1 in 3 women experience domestic or family violence in their lifetime and 1 in 5 experience sexual assault (Australian Bureau of Statistics), what do you see as being the strengths of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women?
Violence against Australian women is a national problem that requires long term collaboration and teamwork if we are to genuinely achieve safety for individuals, families and communities. This is why the Australian Government announced on 29 April 2009 that it will develop through the highest forum in the country, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), an endorsed National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women by 2010.
The National Plan will identify how the combined work of police, courts, legal systems, health and community services and education can contribute to a reduction in the levels of domestic violence and sexual assault. The recommended strategies and supporting actions under the Plan will also provide clear guidance on how we can improve support of victims and survivors and to effect and sustain positive behaviour change in perpetrators of violence.
A particular strength of the National Plan will be the significant change to the way that governments and the service sector have traditionally considered the issue of violence against women. For example, the Government has shifted focus from measures that simply raise awareness of the issues to primary prevention and early intervention activities.
- What has been the biggest challenge that you have encountered in your current Ministerial role for the Status of Women? What strategies have you employed to overcome it?
Reinvigorating women’s policy not just in the Office for Women but across Government has been an exciting challenge. Working with departments to ensure they are considering gender in policy development will assist in generating better outcomes for women. This work is being progressed through a high level Interdepartmental Committee (IDC) which was established earlier this year.
- How would you describe your leadership in an environment which is dominated by men?
Women can have different leadership styles from men. Our life experiences and different perspectives mean that women and men often manage differently. That’s why it is important to have women at all levels of decision making.
Whilst men still outnumber women in Parliament, the Government is helping to change the tide. A third of all elected members of the Government are women. We now have a female Governor-General and a female Deputy Prime Minister. We have seven female Ministers which is a record number for an Australian Government.
I am fortunate to be a woman in a leadership position who is surrounded by a group of talented and hardworking women and men. I try to draw the best from the people around me by encouragement and example.
- What is one aspect that you would like to change in Australian society over and above everything else?
I’m passionate about both of my portfolios. I want Australian women to feel safe in their homes and walking down the street at any time of the day or night. The achievement of gender equality is certainly something I would like to see in my lifetime. We will all benefit when we use all of the talent that Australia has to offer – and that means making the most of our talented women.
I would also love to see the goal of having an equitable society with affordable and secure housing realised. The Government has committed $20 billion to projects that target housing issues - from home ownership to homelessness - to support this goal.