Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Address to the Women in National Security Conference Dinner, Canberra


Good evening ladies and gentlemen,

It is a privilege to attend this dinner event for the Women in National Security Conference.

My thanks to Professor Rory Medcalf, Head of the National Security College, for the invitation.

Since its inception, the National Security College has provided an opportunity for scholars to build shared understanding across some of the most difficult public and civil challenges facing Australia and internationally. 

The work of the College has many touch points with my Portfolio responsibilities, which cover issues spanning national security, emergency management and crisis coordination, countering violent extremism and the security of Australia’s border.

These are all issues I am very passionate about.

Women play an important role in aspects of national security; and I commend the College for its work in preparing women for these important careers. This speech addresses some of my greatest passions. 

Throughout my own 30-year career, I’ve been proud to be involved in work which crosses the critical juncture of peace and security, domestically and globally.

Women make great leaders, often in different, but complimentary ways to men.

I found that once I accepted that men and women are different—and that that is a good thing—it was incredibly liberating and empowering.

I was privileged to be the first woman in the Australian Army Reserves to be promoted to the rank of Brigadier.

When I was promoted to this rank in 2011, my military training, along with strategic studies through the Australian Defence College, both shaped and prepared me for the challenges that lay ahead in Parliament, often in unexpected ways.

I was a member of the Chief of Army’s advisory committee on gender diversity, following the ADFA Skype scandal in 2011.

I admired the leadership and honesty it took to identify, and start addressing, previously unrecognised unconscious bias and barriers to women advancing in the military. 

I came to understand that sometimes you need to rebalance the playing field to realise true equality of opportunity.

A lesson I have taken to the Liberal Party, and now Home Affairs.

I don’t define myself by my gender. I was an effective officer because I am a woman, not in spite of it. I am also an effective Senator because of it.

Women make excellent MPs as we often bring new approaches to collaborative leadership, as well as empathy and action which resonate strongly with the electorate. 

Now is the time to evolve and mature our national approach and narrative on gender—away from one of disadvantage and victimisation, and toward one of empowerment and confidence.

We deal with a strategic environment that is in constant flux. To understand it one needs an appreciation of history to learn the lessons of the past, a critical mindset to assess the present and a sense of imagination to envisage our future.

Of course, women—just as much as men—possess these qualities, and must be engaged to foster balanced, wide-ranging and constructive debate, playing a crucial role in public policy.  

And not purely because we are female—although that does offer a distinct perspective—but most importantly because we are individuals who come from diverse backgrounds and disciplines. We all bring unique ideas to the table which complement and inform the discourse.

This evening, I challenge you to consider our contemporary security landscape and the importance of women, including yourselves, being front and centre in the field of national security.

The Home Affairs Portfolio plays a critical role in maintaining Australia’s national security, as well as promoting peace within our region. We are a world leader in many legislative and policy areas, and provide global leadership through multilateral forums.

These functions, along with federal law enforcement, emergency management and immigration were brought together in December 2017.

And the Portfolio is clearly working in this broader remit. We have made substantial progress. 

We have appointed Australia’s first Commonwealth Transnational, Serious and Organised Crime Coordinator.

We have opened the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation.

We have introduced Modern Slavery legislation which requires businesses to report on how they are addressing risks in their operations—which I will expand upon later.

Home Affairs has the central coordination responsibility for our counter-terrorism efforts. A capability, which might I add, is led by a female—Deputy Secretary, Commonwealth Counter‑Terrorism Coordination (Linda Geddes). 

As Assistant Minister for Home Affairs, I am determined to increase the participation of women in our security institutions, to ensure Australia’s national security approach includes diverse female perspectives and voices.

The sum of our experiences and perspectives ensures we are well positioned to inform strategies to pre-empt and prevent national security and criminal threats, as well as response measures to support victims and casualties.

Significant progress has already been made—as evidenced by so many of you being here tonight.

It is my ambition to see this number continue to grow across all Australian national security, law enforcement and Defence agencies, as well as my own political party.  

In 2012, Australia’s first National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security was released.

The plan articulates our international contribution to the Security Council’s agenda, on the human rights of women and girls’.

The UN plan considers gender equality in fragile, conflict, post-conflict and other humanitarian contexts.

The benefits of this approach are becoming self-evident with an increasing number of Australian women deployed overseas—in both the military and police—to support conflict resolution and peace efforts.

We are also seeing encouraging results domestically, including in the Department of Home Affairs.

In fact 43 per cent of leaders within the Department of Home Affairs, and 47 per cent of the ABF leadership are women.

We have also seen a steady increase of women participating in the AFP.

And in Defence, we are seeing similar positive trends.

Given these successes, in mid-2019, the Government is planning to issue Australia’s second National Action Plan on women, peace and security.

The increase in expertise and the academic study of peace and security is encouraging, and it is important to remember that it builds on an impressive legacy of female accomplishment across law enforcement, national security and counter‑terrorism.

The extraordinary Lillian Armfield joined the New South Wales Police in July 1915—as one of Australia’s first plain‑clothes female detectives.

While Armfield worked side-by-side with male colleagues and exercised the same powers, she was not issued a gun, baton or handcuffs.

She worked the eastern suburbs of Sydney where organised crime was rife—particularly among the Razor gangs of the 1920s.

Although Armfield’s work was officially recognised, her promotion was slow. 

Her contribution is in being a ‘pioneer’ and ‘pathfinder’ for women in law enforcement today. Particularly those now continuing Australia’s efforts to counter crime.

Transnational, serious and organised crime has altered beyond recognition since Detective Armfield’s days.

Today, criminal groups embed themselves into legitimate supply chains and commercial networks. Here, they launder the proceeds of crime and conceal illicit wealth.

70 per cent of Australia’s serious and organised crime threats are based offshore or have strong offshore links.

There is also a growing propensity for criminal networks to engage in cyber-enabled and identity crime. Using virtual currencies for money laundering, as well as ‘Dark Net’ marketplaces to facilitate the sale of illicit drugs and firearms.

In 2017, there were more than 47,000 cyber-related incidents—an increase of 15 per cent on the previous year. Over half of these incidents were online scams or fraud; while 60 per cent of attacks targeted small and medium-sized businesses.

The estimated cost of serious and organised crime to the Australian economy each year is more than $47 billion. That equates to about $1,900 for each Australian, every single year.

While we can estimate the financial costs of serious and organised crime, it is impossible to measure the human cost—in terms of the lives destroyed, families devastated and communities damaged.

The impact of terrorism is no less significant.

Globally, we have seen ideologically-inspired individuals and groups use violence—or the threat of violence—to create and exploit fear.

Today, the threat of terrorism in Australia is multi-faceted. It is one we face at both a trans-national and a national level. Both from those radicalised abroad and at home.

Over the past 17 years in Australia, 55 people have been convicted of terrorism-related offences.

And over the past 4 years alone, there have been six attacks, and 14 major CT disruption operations.
It is not only government and practitioners who must carry the weight of responsibility for our national security.

Women internationally and within Australian communities, are also at the forefront of some of our most complex security challenges and opportunities.

Women can be the victims of terrorism. They can also be the supporters, facilitators, or perpetrators of violent extremism­­. 

They also have the capacity to facilitate change, and intervene where others can’t.

When I travelled to Pakistan in July this year, I had the pleasure of meeting some extraordinary individuals involved in CVE, who told me the story of a group of women who had been recruited to sew suicide vests for IS.

Through a community-based CVE initiative, these women were provided other economic opportunities.

Sometimes needing a women to intervene with women is self‑evident. 

The Government has already supported a number of initiatives to empower women as voices against violent extremist ideology.     

Initiatives include mentoring, leadership development, building capacity to identify early signs of radicalisation, and providing support to those identified as at-risk.

We have also established programs to assist mothers of school children in culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
Important research on the roles of women in countering violent extremism has been funded through the Government at Deakin and Monash Universities.

Preliminary findings demonstrate what we instinctively already know—the vital role that women—particularly mothers—play in opposing and preventing the appeal of violent extremism.

As the responsible Minister, I am considering how women can play a greater role in domestic and international CVE strategies.

When it comes to particular national security and criminal threats, vulnerable women and children are at heightened risk of becoming victims.

That is not to diminish the risks to men and boys. But in the case of modern slavery and child exploitation—women and girls are disproportionately affected.

Tackling modern slavery is one of my portfolio responsibilities, and one I am personally invested in.

Modern slavery encompasses human trafficking, and related practices such as servitude, forced labour, forced marriage and child labour.

In 2016, at least 40 million people were the victims of modern slavery.  Tragically, women and girls account for 70 per cent of these.

Today in Australia, there are at least 15,000 people living in modern slavery conditions.

Sadly our own region is the global epi-center of modern slavery, with two-thirds of victims in the Asia-Pacific region.

Visiting Cambodia in 2016, I was horrified to learn of the scale of slavery within the orphanage tourism industry. It was particularly shocking to realise that well-meaning but misguided Australian’s were actually doing great harm to the children they thought they were assisting.

Through engagement with Walk Free and Save the Children I came to understand the extent that modern slavery practices were embedded in Australian products and services, and through global supply chains.

I participated in Parliament’s comprehensive inquiry into modern slavery, a report we called Hidden in plain sight. I am partictularly proud to be the Minister responsible for taking the Modern Slavery Act through Parliament.

I am very proud that with the passage of this legislation, Australia will be the first nation to recognise orphanage trafficking as a form of modern slavery.

The Bill is designed to identify and tackle modern slavery in domestic and regional supply chains.

So what does this mean for us today?

To protect and secure Australia in the 21st century, we have to increasingly operate beyond and ahead of our borders.

That is, across international networks, supply chains, and cyber space.

And that means operating more collaboratively—combining capabilities across jurisdictions and internationally. It means harnessing the expertise of industry and the private sector. 

It also means harnessing the talents of women.

Now, through the Home Affairs Portfolio, Australia’s domestic security and law enforcement capabilities have been brought together.

The discipline of national security has traditionally been the domain of men. There are obvious historical and social reasons for that.

But as I look around the room, I see we are in the midst of generational change. That is a great thing. Let’s maintain momentum.

To secure our nation, we need equally capable women and men working side-by-side in the national interest.

In conclusion, each of us has an important role to play.

Mine is to lead by example, to be visible, to be myself and to make a difference.

Your challenge is to define your own role.

I commend you for choosing such an admirable and important pathway, and encourage you to seek the highest levels of examination through your endeavours. 

Thank you.