I too wish to take note of the statement that has been presented to us today. In particular, I want to put on record my appreciation to the minister for making this statement public and bringing it into the chamber. This is an issue we have discussed many times at Senate estimates. It is very important, when we take our position as a nation to the session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, that it is brought back into this chamber for discussion. So I want to note the minister's action in doing that.
The 58th session is particularly important because at the moment the UN is looking at what is going to happen in the challenges, achievements and implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls. Certainly, the statement that Minister Cash presented in relation to the delegation of the 58th session was a positive statement. It talked about celebrating what we have achieved in this country around the issues of the Millennium Development Goals. We must celebrate the fact that in this period nations of the world worked together to look at issues around poverty and to make an international commitment to move forward. And we had a goal: to look at the independence and empowerment of women-which was goal 3. This is a goal that has not been universally successful around the world. The issues which Minister Cash focused on in relation to the statement were things with which we can agree across the chamber. Certainly we agree with the statement that it was a commitment for all of us.
Minister Cash also noted the appointment of the Ambassador for Women and Girls. That is a wonderful process that will move into the future based on an initiative of the Labor government. In the future we will be able to see the importance of having such a position. Through the position of ambassador-and there is no-one better than ex-senator Stott-Despoja to take up that role-Australia could then move internationally to look at how we can engage with the women and men of the world to ensure that Australia can take a leading role through our aid program to improve the safety of women and focus on the development of women's issues.
The minister went on to talk about the most important element-absolutely no tolerance for violence against women and girls. She went on to talk about the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children, which is an important element of public policy which this government has taken forward, again on the basis of things that had been done before. It is so important that there is this cross-government commitment to looking at the issues of safety for women and girls in our country.
I take on board points that were made by Senator Waters in her contribution. In terms of looking at the empowerment of women in our nation, it is clear that there must be an effective review of what we are doing. We had a review built into the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children program. The program can be assessed and we can look at real achievements and work with organisations and individuals who have made a difference in their communities.
Unfortunately, over the last couple of years, at the same time as there has been investment in issues around domestic violence in our nation-both in programs to support victims and also in raising awareness-we have seen some frightening statistics, as you would know Madam Acting Deputy President Ruston. As recently as International Women's Day there were a number of articles in the Australian press that talked about the fact that there are more women suffering-more victims of domestic violence-across our nation than in the recent past. There needs to be a greater focus on debates around violence, awareness and safety in our community. There is no doubt that that is an important element for us in Australia. It is also important as we move into the international framework where we all agree on the need to look at the safety of women. We need to have the data to ensure that we can say that what we are doing is effective.
On that point, one of the clear issues around goal 3 in the Millennium Development Goals was the issue of the empowerment of women and their independence. I take on board, absolutely, Senator Waters's comments about the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. The rise of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, which has taken many years, has been as a result of reviewing what has been going on. It is all very well to make splendid speeches. It is all very well to be extraordinarily passionate about the fact that women need to have equal opportunity in our country as well as overseas. But if we do not have the data to back that up-if there is no agreed independent assessment of data to indicate what is happening in our workplaces-then it is something that we can talk about in a rhetorical way but we cannot actually see what works and what does not work.
We have in place the basis for making that data available in Australia, after years of discussion. We have all talked about how many times we have won equity in wages in this country. Very soon after I came into this place I made a statement that we had celebrated equal pay in Australia, I think, at least four times-and we have still not got it. In fact, the pay gap now is around 17 per cent-but we are not sure. We know it is around 17 per cent but we have not been able to identify in which industries and in which workplaces these gaps are wider, and what causes them.
So one of the reasons that the Work Place Gender Agency was put in place-with expectation that it would collect data-was to ensure that we had that database. We are just waiting to see the first round of results from the first full year of data collection. They are confronting. We have already seen some of the data come into the public domain. That data shows that in some industries we are not achieving true equity for women in Australia-let alone comparing favourably with the international community.
We need to look at that data, see why that is happening and then put effective, responsive policies in place to ensure that we get the results that we all seek-that women who are working in our country can expect to have equitable wages so that they can make independent assessments and decisions about their lives. We know-certainly in the international context-that when you have economic security you have the ability to make choices around education, employment and around personal safety. All too often we see that the most vulnerable are those who suffer the most in our community.
One of the really positive aspects of the ministerial statement that was made on our behalf at the UN meeting was a commitment that we would work together in the future. We are committed to designing a post-2015 development agenda that works in the international arena to look at meaningful progress in our spheres of development and look at effective ways to drive economic growth and build stronger societies. Australia has had a strong history in working effectively in the international aid area in looking at issues around women and girls-maternal and child health, reproductive support and education opportunities for women in developing countries in our region.
We have recently seen cuts in our aid budget. I think that is something we need to review in the context of what will be the expectation for women and girls in those regions. I am not saying that there should not be any review generally of our international aid budget, but, if we are looking at our commitments through the lens of women's independence and security, we need to look at what programs there are in our international aid budget, working with the Ambassador for Women and Girls, who has a key role in looking at international aid and the developing nations. We need to continue to work effectively in that space.
At the International Women's Day celebrations we had in Australia, we had a commitment from Minister Bishop and Minister Cash that that would be part of the way that the international aid budget is being planned and reviewed-that women's independence and security would be part of that process. We have an opportunity. We have had a wonderful history of Australia working at both the national and international levels to see how we can ensure that women have their rightful equitable place in our community.
After the 2015 process, much of the focus will be on what is going to happen next. One of the clear challenges for all of us is that we need to continue to have a special focus on women and girls. There is no argument about that. We will need to continue that process. Each year when Australia goes to the United Nation's Commission on the Status of Women, we can proudly say what we have achieved in our own nation-how we have worked cooperatively with our neighbours, in particular, to see how we look at the independence and security of women and know that this parliament, as part of that process, will be able to review what has happened and will be able to be part of any statement that is made. It is not for us; it is with us. (Time expired)
Question agreed to.