Julie Bishop is the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party and Minister for Foreign Affairs. From 2006 to 2007 she was Minister for Education, Science and Training and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women's Issues in the Howard Government. Julie was first elected to the House of Representatives for Curtin, Western Australia in 1998.
Women are unquestionably destined to exercise more and more influence upon practical politics in Australia…In the educating of the electorate in liberal ideas they have for many years been an effective force. Now we have an organisation in which all distinctions have gone, and with men and women working equally for the one body …
-Robert Menzies, Albury Conference, 1944
The Federal Women’s Committee (FWC) was established at the inaugural meeting of the Liberal Party Federal Council in August 1945. The FWC was incorporated in the constitution as an official component of the Party in October 1946, and has had representation on the Party’s Federal Executive since that time.
The Federal Liberal Party and some of the State Divisions have reserved organisational positions expressly for women, the federal constitution providing that there shall be a Woman Vice-President of the Party and a Federal Women’s Committee, the President of which shall sit on the Party’s Federal Executive.
The voting membership of the FWC comprises the Chairman of each State and ACT women’s section, the female Federal Vice-President of the Party, and the President and Immediate Past President of the FWC. Observer members include the Party’s Federal President, Immediate Past-President, Federal Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women and the Chairman of the Liberal Women’s Forum. Each State and Territory Division of the Liberal Party has a women’s section, with constituted powers and representation at senior Party levels. The sections have been powerful lobby groups over the years and have been instrumental in the development of many of the Party’s major initiatives for women at state and territory and federal level. As the peak body representing women in the Liberal Party, the FWC has been active in promoting women for elected office, advocating policy, advising on a wide range of issues, assisting in election campaigns and performing a vital role in a successful Party. Much of its effort is unsung but has been crucial to the development of a truly representative national party organisation.
Achievements for Women
As Sir Robert Menzies led Australian politics into a new era, the Liberal Party introduced a number of policies that continue to influence the lives of women today.
Among the achievements of the Menzies Government between 1949 and 1966 were policies on child endowment and a national health scheme. In the Holt, Gorton and McMahon Governments between 1966 and 1972, the Liberal Party introduced policies protecting deserted wives and introduced equal pay legislation. Between 1975 and 1983 the Fraser Government introduced a family income supplement scheme to help lower income families and signed the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women which later led to the establishment of the sex discrimination office.
From 1996 to 2007, the Howard Government carried on the tradition of supporting and improving the position of women in Australia by recognising the many different roles that women may fulfil during their lives. The Howard Government recognised the ability of women to participate in the workforce, and in society more broadly, is underpinned by education and training. More women than men are now participating in the highest levels of education and more women than men now complete Year 12.
The position of women in the workplace went from strength to strength with more Australians in work than ever before. Thirty two per cent of small businesses around the country are operated by women. Under the Howard Government more than 2 million jobs were created.
The Howard Government committed itself to an Australia where women are full and active participants in all spheres of public and private life, across a wide range of decision-making positions. Since 1996 the number of women on Australian Government boards and bodies increased to over 33 per cent.
The safety of women was also a top priority for the Government, with $75.7 million over four years dedicated to the ‘Women's Safety Agenda’ which addresses four broad themes of prevention, health, justice and services. The initiatives included the national ‘Violence Against Women, Australia Says No’ campaign and the national 24 hour Helpline on 1800 200 526. Since the campaign was launched in June 2004 received more than 73,000 calls, providing much needed community support.
The Howard Government also introduced a number of measures to allow women to better prepare for their retirement with improvements to superannuation. The Superannuation Co-contribution Scheme matches the superannuation contribution of eligible employees, up to $1,500 per year. Women in particular benefited from this scheme and are able to supplement their superannuation savings throughout their lives. The Howard Government identified declining fertility as an important issue and introduced a number of family-friendly policies to support Australian families. These measures included the introduction of the baby bonus in July 2004 now known as the maternity payment, substantial increases in the rates of family benefits, the provision of extra childcare places, the introduction of the childcare tax rebate and the encouragement of flexible family-friendly work practices.
The achievements of The Liberal Party since 1944 are testament to the commitment of the Liberal Party more broadly when it comes to recognising, protecting and enhancing the position of and opportunities for Australian women.