Today, there are 5.6 million Australian women in the workforce, more than ever before.
The gender gap in labour force participation is now less than 11 percentage points, the lowest it has ever been.
In four of the last five years, more women than men have joined the workforce. However, there are still almost two million working age women in Australia who are not in the labour force. This represents an untapped pool of talent and experience for Australian employers and an untapped source of growth for our economy.
Different women have different circumstances and make different choices. For many women, however, a job is the key to empowerment, financial independence and a secure retirement. For others, working means greater opportunities for their families. For some women, a job is the key to lifting themselves from poverty, or even saving themselves from homelessness.
If Australia is to empower individuals, boost our talent pool and reach our economic potential, we need to provide greater encouragement and opportunities for women. That's why it is so important for the Senate to pass the government's Jobs for Families child care package.
This package represents the biggest increase in investment and the most significant reform to child care in 40 years. It is unashamedly targeted at those who access child care to help them work or work more, train, study or volunteer.
Our changes mean a family earning $65,000 or less will have 85 percent of their costs refunded and so will only pay around $15 a day. We will abolish the $7,500 cap for families earning less than $185,000 and introduce an hourly rate cap, to curb fee increases.
These changes will help families access child care to enhance work opportunities, rather than limit work opportunities to fit in with child care. Nearly one million families will benefit and it is estimated that the package will encourage more than 230,000 families to increase their involvement in paid employment.
The Government is also supporting other innovative approaches to encourage women to enter the workforce. For example, we are investing $10 million in funding for a new Launch into Work program, seeking new partnerships with not-for-profits and businesses which are ready to invest in Australian women.
This program is based on successful pilots conducted over the last year with UnitingCare Australia, in which 30 women were trained and mentored to be employed within UnitingCare's community and aged care services.
For many of the women, being out of work had impacted on their confidence, however, the transformation from these pilot programs was remarkable. In the words of one participant:
"I'd forgotten that I had anything to offer, and I was scared to look for work. But once I started I was really surprised. I found myself thinking, 'I enjoy this. It's not that hard'. The program really helped build my confidence."
Other women explained how the experience instilled a belief that a return to work was achievable, that they were better able to provide for their children's needs, fund activities they could not previously afford, and be that person they wanted to be for their children.
The results of this program were remarkable and instructive. They reiterate the transformation that can be achieved and benefits for Australia when women are encouraged to have a go and find the right opportunity.
This International Women's Day we should all reflect on how far women have come. We should also redouble our efforts in supporting Australian women, families and our economy to achieve their full potential.
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