Adjournment Speech Commonwealth Parliamentary Association

Thursday, 12 May 2016

The Hon. CATHERINE CUSACK ( 16:15 ): The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association [CPA] has been the voice of democracy across Commonwealth countries for more than 90 years. A truly global organisation, its membership numbers 185 parliaments, which are home to 17,000 members, who, in turn, represent hundreds of millions of constituents. Recently Mr Akbar Khan was announced as the new Secretary General of CPA International. Mr Khan has a legal background and is an administrative reformer. He brings great energy, optimism, fresh ideas and an ambitious vision for the CPA as a force for democracy and good governance. On behalf of us all, I extend warm congratulations and look forward to supporting the successful implementation of his plans, which were recently approved by the International Executive.

Last week it was my honour to travel to Amman to participate in a CWP delegation to the Women in Parliaments Global Forum 2016, convened at the Jordanian Parliament. The theme was positive: Women in Politics: Fast Forward. It reflects the need to acknowledge progress being made for women in public office while also recognising that at the current rate of change it will take more than a century to achieve equality. We want to fast forward towards that goal. According to UN Women, globally as at August 2015 only 22 per cent of all national parliamentarians, or 9,000 members, were women. There were 11 female heads of state and 11 female heads of government. There are 37 States in which women account for less than 10 per cent of parliamentarians and six Chambers with no women at all. Looking regionally, Nordic countries lead with 41.1 per cent female parliamentarians; followed by the Americas at 27.4 per cent; Europe, excluding Nordic countries, at 24.3 per cent; Sub-Saharan Africa at 23.3 per cent; Asia at 19.2 per cent; Arab States at 18.4 per cent; and in last place the Pacific at 13.5 per cent.

The Pacific includes Australia. I cannot stress enough the importance of the responsibility that all women parliamentarians have to be aware of these dismal statistics and embrace a positive leadership role. As I have previously advised the House, Australia averages 30 per cent female members of Parliament in all legislatures, but that picture varies wildly between jurisdictions, Chambers and parties. The Women in Parliaments [WIP] organisation was established by senior women in the European Parliament and has grown to represent pretty much every country not in the Commonwealth. Their mission is to increase the number of women members of Parliament around the world and they recognise that engaging men is just as crucial as engaging women to achieve that goal. In every sense, WIP is a sister organisation of CWP.

During the conference in Amman, I took steps to initiate discussions as to whether CWP can enter into a relationship or form of partnership with WIP. Between our organisations, we would truly cover the field in terms of women holding elected office around the world. I have followed this up with the incoming WIP Executive Officer Rick Zednik, who also moderated the plenary session panel on "The promise of peace—the impact of women in conflict prevention, peacekeeping and conflict resolution". At that session many people made inspiring speeches, including Silvana Koch-Mehrin, founder of WIP and Vice President of the European Union; Mari Kiviniemi, Deputy Secretary General OECD and former Prime Minister of Finland; and Dalia Grybauskaite, President of Lithuania.

A plenary panel called "Accelerating towards parity in power—defining the power of parity" featured Louise Mushikiwabo, Rwanda's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation. She discussed how Rwanda has risen from the ashes of one of the bloodiest civil wars of the twentieth century, including the appalling 1994 genocide. Since then Rwanda has embraced female leadership and now has 68 per cent female representation—the highest in the world. We also heard from the former President of Kosovo and the President of Malta. We heard from Ministers and leaders from Mexico, Pakistan, Russia and Kenya and, importantly, members of the Arab Women's Network and the feisty women of the Jordanian Parliament. They are fabulous women who inspire us all.

On behalf of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians [CWP], I chaired a workshop on Women and Political Violence. I congratulate Lucy Pickles of the CWP secretariat for drafting our discussion paper and arranging outstanding presenters. The workshop was extraordinary. It was supposed to run for two hours, but after 2½ hours such was the enthusiasm and passion of all participants that I was struggling to close it. We did not even manage to discuss the recommendations in detail. However, I can assure members that the consensus support for progressing the agenda was overwhelming, and that they will be dealt with at the next CPA meeting in Bangladesh.

I was also able to meet representatives of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and to bring new research back to Australia. I will discuss that and my visit to Zaatari Refugee Camp on the Jordan-Syria border on another occasion. I knew nothing of Jordan prior to my visit, and I returned to Australia after only four nights humbled by the hospitality and generosity of the Jordanians. I sincerely thank CPA for the initiative, particularly Lucy Pickles and Fatmata Kamara, who are brilliant assets and unfailing in their patience, courtesy and professionalism. I thank the Presiding Officers and the staff of the Parliament for their strong support of CWP and for giving me these opportunities.