Australian Embassy

Ambassador Bruce Miller's Speech to Showa Women's University - Japan and Australia as Close Partners

14 November 2012



Good afternoon, President Bando, everyone. As introduced, my name is Bruce Miller and I am the Australian Ambassador to Japan. I am delighted to have been given this opportunity to speak here at Showa Women's University.

Thank you, President Bando for that excellent introduction to Australia. I am grateful for your very comprehensive explanation based on your experience as Japanese Consul-General in Brisbane.

Today, I would like to speak briefly about the current status of the Australia-Japan bilateral relationship, with a focus on trade and security, from the perspective of the partnership between our two countries. I would then like to speak in more detail regarding the improvement of women's status in society.

Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, recently said: "The role and rights of women, their freedom and equality, is the unfinished business of the 21st century". Certainly, there are some tasks that remain unfinished.

However, working towards gender equality, towards women's equal participation in political, economic and social affairs is a central focus of Australia's diplomatic, defence concerns and overseas development aid concerns. In Japan, too, the Basic Law for a Gender-Equal Society was enacted in 1999 and I have been told that, since then, the Cabinet Office and other Government agencies, local government authorities and schools have implemented a wide range of efforts to achieve gender equality.

So today I will talk in detail about Penny Williams, Australia's Global Ambassador for Women and Girls and the work Australia has been doing around the world - but particularly in the Asia-Pacific region - in support of gender equality.

But first, I would like to explain a little more about the Australia-Japan relationship.


Australia and Japan

Just to add to President Bando's introduction, I would note that Australia's relationship with Japan forms the very backbone of our engagement with Asia. It is no exaggeration to say that our relationship with Japan is the template for our relationships with countries throughout Asia.

As you may know, our countries are located approximately the same distance away on opposite sides of the equator. We also have many differences in regard to physical and human geography. Australia is 20 times the area of Japan, with less than one-fifth of the population.

Despite these differences, for more than 50 years, a shared commitment to democracy, the rule of law and open market economies – underpinned by striking economic complementarities - have made this our closest bilateral partnership in the region.

Australia – as I'm sure you are aware, has abundant energy and natural resources; Japan has almost none – but consumes these resources in vast quantities.

And, being in opposite hemispheres, our seasons are reversed – which provides a boon for tourism and counter-seasonal food exports.


Trade and Investment

For almost 40 years, Japan was our largest export market. Although China has now overtaken Japan in terms of sheer economic size, Japan remains by far the richest developed economy in the region and it will continue to be a huge, sophisticated and reliable market for Australian exports in the future.

In fact, our exports to Japan have doubled over the past 10 years, from $24 billion dollars in 2001 to $50 billion dollars last year. Japan also gives Australia its largest trade surplus with any country – last year that surplus totaled $32.3 billion dollars.

To give you an idea of what that $32.3 billion means to Australia, this surplus is more than our total two-way trade with India ($20.35 billion in 2011).

And unlike with other countries, we've rarely had any complaint from Japan about this surplus – reflecting the huge importance of what we sell to Japan's economic performance.

In addition to this, Japanese investment has been critical to the development of many of Australia's largest industries, from resources and agriculture to services and manufacturing. And that remains the case today.

With a total investment portfolio worth $123 billion, Japan is Australia's third-largest direct foreign investor. It is the largest Asian investor in Australia by a very wide margin.

Economic ties are extremely important and form the core of the Australia-Japan relationship but there is definite scope for our trade relationship to reach a new level - and that's what motivated both countries to enter into the Free Trade Agreement negotiations, which are currently underway, in 2007. The other day, Prime Minister Noda spoke about the FTA in his policy speech. Australia believes that the early conclusion of a Japan-Australia Free Trade Agreement would be a welcome development that would bring our economies even closer together.

But as significant as it is, trade and investment is just one aspect of the Australia-Japan relationship.


Security and Defence

Another aspect – and one which has been gaining momentum in recent years – is defence and security.

Japan and Australia are both key US allies – and Japan has become our closest and most trusted regional partner in efforts to shape the strategic environment in a manner that ensures peace and prosperity continues in the region.

In 2007, we signed a Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation and we also held our first 2+2 meeting of defence and foreign ministers in the same year based on this agreement. Australia is the only country besides the United States to hold this kind of regular dialogue with Japan.

In 2010, Japan and Australia signed an Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement at the 2+2 meeting. This agreement will make it possible for both countries to cooperate more effectively on disaster relief and in peacekeeping operations.

And in May this year, we signed the Australia-Japan Information Security Agreement, which is intended to improve information sharing and information cooperation between our two countries.

In practice, the Australian Defence Force and Japan's Self-Defense Forces have worked together in Iraq, on disaster relief in Pakistan and reconstruction in East Timor. More recently, we have strengthened the partnership between Australian and Japanese military personnel who are assisting with the United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan.


Cooperation after the Great East Japan Earthquake

As I am sure many of you are already aware, the Royal Australian Air Force and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces cooperated closely on rescue and disaster relief efforts in Japan after the Great East Japan Earthquake in March last year.

Immediately after the earthquake, Australia worked together with the US military and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and dispatched a C-17 transport aircraft to Japan to move more than 500 tonnes of relief supplies, equipment, vehicles and personnel around the country. We also sent a 76-member urban search and rescue team to search for survivors in Minami Sanriku in northern Miyagi Prefecture, one of the towns devastated by the tsunami.

Such cooperation after natural disasters such as the Great East Japan Earthquake and the floods in Queensland that occurred earlier that year clearly shows that our relationship is more than just political or economic; it is based on the ties that exist between people in both countries.

After the Queensland floods, we received many generous donations from Japan. In the same way, the Australian Government, along with many Australian businesses and members of the public, came together to assist their friends in Japan after the Great East Japan Earthquake.

In April 2011, soon after the earthquake, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard visited Minami Sanriku in Miyagi Prefecture, becoming the first foreign leader to meet people living in evacuation centres face-to-face.

There is also a long history of people-to-people links between Japan and Australia, with Japan-Australia Societies active all over Japan. We have over 100 sister-city and sister-region relationships, and hundreds of thousands of people from each country visit each other as tourists every year.

Of course, there are other aspects of the bilateral relationship apart from the ones I have mentioned so far. Both countries cooperate closely at forums designed to resolve global and regional issues, including APEC, the G20 and the East Asia Summit.

As I have explained, the bilateral relationship is expanding in multiple directions, from trade and investment, security and defence cooperation, to people-to-people and educational exchanges. Ours is a truly comprehensive, strategic relationship. Australia will continue to be a good partner to Japan in the future, and both countries will work together to ensure the prosperity and security of the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.


Japan: Gender Equality

I'm going to change direction a bit now, and talk about an issues that is receiving a great deal of attention at the moment in both our countries, gender equality.

First, Japan.

Last month, the World Economic Forum – a non-profit foundation based in Switzerland – published its annual Global Gender Gap Report.

This report ranks 135 developed and emerging economies in the world in terms of the extent to which they have closed the gender gap between men and women.

The report looks at factors such as the relative salaries of men and women, access to higher education, political participation and health.

In 2012, Iceland was the highest-ranked economy in the world, having closed 86.4 per cent of the gender gap. Finland, Norway, Sweden and Ireland followed close behind.

Japan had a score of 65.3 per cent, in 101st place.

But there is increasing momentum for improvement on this front.

The impetus behind this is Japan's economic situation. Japan, of course, wants to remain an economic powerhouse. But economic growth is slow, and has been for more than a decade.

This is complicated by an ageing population and the resultant declining workforce. The tax base is shrinking.

Unlike an earthquake, a demographic disaster does not strike without warning. By 2050, Japan's population is predicted to fall from the current 127 million to 90 million.

As recently as 1990, working-age Japanese outnumbered children and the elderly by seven to three. By 2050, the ration will be one to one.

More than any time in Japan's recent history, companies need to find new, dynamic workers. This is leading many in Japan to consider ways to redress the gender imbalance.

In 2010, an economic study by the American firm Goldman Sachs argued that getting more women into the workforce could boost Japan's Gross Domestic Product by as much as 15 per cent. If Japan's female employment rate matched that of males, this would add 8.2 million employees to the workforce.

Women remain Japan's most underutilized source of talent.

The same is true in politics.

The first women were elected to the Japanese Diet in 1946, the same year women were granted the right to vote.

Right now, 54 women are serving in the Japanese House of Representatives and 44 are serving in the House of Councillors. This represents 11 and 18 per cent of the membership. There is only one woman in the Cabinet.

Nationwide, the governors of three of Japan's prefectures are women: Harumi Takahashi in Hokkaido; Yukiko Kada in Shiga; and Mieko Yoshimura in Yamagata.

But progress is being made – it's important to remember that the first female governor was elected, in Osaka, just 12 years ago.

Of course, each of you studying here only need to look at President Bando for inspiration.

As you are already aware, Professor Bando's achievements are impressive – not only was she appointed as Japan's first female Consul-General – in Brisbane – but she was the first woman to enter the Prime Minister's Office as a career public servant. She is living proof that talented women can succeed in Japan.

I'm sure she would share my hopes that before too long, women in senior positions in both our countries won't need to be described as the ‘first' anything.


Australia: Gender Equality

Now I'd like to look at the situation in Australia. In Australia, gender equality is an issue largely because we have the first female prime minister in our history – Julia Gillard

In much the same way that the election of Barack Obama brought the issue of race to the forefront of political discourse in America, the election of Julia Gillard has increased the focus on gender in Australian politics.

In fact, in Australia, the two highest offices are occupied by women. This is the first time this has happened in our history. The current Governor-General and Prime Minister are the first women to occupy these positions.

Right now, Australia also has the highest-ever level of participation by women in the Cabinet: 23 per cent of Cabinet ministers are women. Twenty-nine per cent of Australia's parliamentarians – in both chambers of the federal government – are women.

There are currently more women in Australia's upper house, the Senate, than at any time since Federation.

And two of Australia's eight premiers and chief ministers – positions roughly equivalent to Japan's prefectural governors – are women.

There is most certainly room for improvement, and these numbers are a far cry from equal representation. However, I believe Australia can be proud of the progress we have made.

In 1901, when the six Australian colonies federated and became a country, the new parliament that sat in Melbourne – Australia's provisional capital at the time – was composed entirely of men.

Australia was one of the first countries to extend the right to vote to women – women were granted the right to vote in federal elections, and in fact to stand for election – in 1902.

The right of women to vote in the state elections progressed a little differently. Women could vote in what were then the colonies of South Australia and Western Australia in 1894 and 1899, respectively, and the rest of the colonies followed suit once they had become states in the new nation, between 1902 and 1908. As I mentioned, women had the right to stand for election since 1902, and four women sought election in the federal election of 1903.

None of the four were successful, however, and it took another 18 years before a woman was elected to Australian parliament. This happened in 1921, when Edith Cowan was elected to the Western Australian Legislative Assembly. Edith Cowan's portrait appears on the Australian 50 dollar note and a university bears her name in Western Australia.

The first women were elected to the Federal Parliament – one each to the House of Representatives and the Senate – in 1943. One of those women, Enid Lyons, became the first female Cabinet member in 1949.

It was another four decades before a woman became the first head of a government in Australia – this happened in 1989 when Rosemary Follett became Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory. And, of course, Julia Gillard became the first female Prime Minister in 2010.

But I am not saying Australia has solved this issue.

In the Global Gender Gap Report I mentioned earlier – in which Japan was ranked 101st – Australia came in at 25th place.

Despite the representation of women at the highest level of politics, Australia has slipped 10 places since 2006.

Australia has a persistent gender pay gap. In 2010, the difference between the income of men and women was almost 17 per cent.

Studies show that between 60 and 90 percent of the Australian gender pay gap cannot be explained by differences in individual or workplace characteristics between women and men, and that discrimination plays an important role.

And that gap is most acute at the higher end of the pay scale.

I mentioned a little earlier that Goldman Sachs had estimated that the closing of the gender gap would boost Japan's GDP by 15 per cent. For Australia, they estimated a boost of 11 per cent.

This is all a long way of acknowledging that gender equality remains an issue in both of our countries and the rest of the world – as Hillary Clinton said, it's unfinished business.

I think it's safe to say that gender equality – and increased and more equitable participation in the workforce by women will be an increasingly prominent issue in Japan in the months and years to come.

It's an issue that will gain in momentum as you graduate from this university and join the workforce and, I hope, will lead to more opportunities for everyone here.

In Australia, too, we will continue to work towards a workplace with more equitable pay and greater representation for women in senior positions, as well as more flexible working arrangements for both men and women.


Global Ambassador for Women and Girls

And while we are working towards these goals in Australia and Japan, both of our countries are working to promote gender equality throughout the world.

In September last year, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard appointed Penny Williams as our first Global Ambassador for Women and Girls.

Ms Williams is responsible for high-level advocacy to promote the Australian Government's policies and activities in relation to gender equality and the social, political and economic empowerment of women and girls.

And given our geographical location, the Asia-Pacific region is a particular focus of this work.

Australia's Parliamentary Secretary for the Pacific Islands has made the point that Australia's advocacy for women and girls in the Asia-Pacific is a priority for Australia, not just because this is the region where we believe we can be most effective, but because this is the region where we need to be most effective.

Having a dedicated Ambassador gives Australia a strong voice in promoting women's rights on the world stage.

Ms Williams, it should be noted, is a terrific role model herself. She is a senior officer of my department, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and has served as Australia's High Commissioner to Malaysia.

She speaks Spanish and Indonesian, and has studied Arabic, and is married with four children.

Ms Williams' role is to work closely with foreign governments and international organisations to work towards the eradication of violence against women and girls, to promote better health and educational outcomes, to protect women and girls in conflict and to enhance the participation of women in leadership and decision-making.


The Status of Women in the Asia-Pacific Region

The status of women has improved significantly since the early 20th century, due mostly to the efforts, the tireless campaigning, of women themselves. But, of course, there is a great deal more to be done.

Let me give you a few statistics.

Worldwide, you're more likely to be poor if you are a woman – women comprise 70 per cent of the world's poor. And two-thirds of the world's impoverished live in the Asia-Pacific region. In fact, 1.7 billion people in Asia currently live on less than 2 US dollars a day.

Eighty percent of the world's refugees are women and girls. Today, women make up two-thirds of the world's illiterate population.

And, getting back to my earlier point about women in politics, women occupy 18 per cent of the seats in the world's parliaments. In the Pacific, that figure is just 5 per cent.

In some Pacific countries, two out of three women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

In Papua New Guinea, women are 80 times more likely to die in childbirth than women in Australia.

To put it simply, women's rights are human rights. But there is also an economic dimension to the exclusion of women, which I touched upon earlier.

To reinforce that point, according to the International Labor Organization, the limited access of women to employment opportunities is costing the Asia-Pacific region up to 47 billion US dollars each year.

The gender gap in education is costing a further 16 billion.

In August, Prime Minister Gillard attended the Pacific Islands Forum – a meeting of leaders from the Pacific island states, New Zealand and Australia.

Prime Minister Gillard was, incidentally, the only female head of government in attendance – which, unfortunately, is not surprising - with only 5 per cent of parliamentary seats in the Pacific islands held by women.

I should mention, however, that recent achievements by female politicians in the region have been very encouraging. In the past few months alone, an additional four women have been elected to Pacific parliaments. Three of these were elected in Papua New Guinea which, for the past 15 years, has had only one female parliamentarian – and she retired earlier this year.

The other woman was elected in the Solomon Islands, which has not had a female member of parliament since 2001.


Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development

At the Pacific Islands Forum, Prime Minister Gillard announced a new package of Australian aid for the region – a 10-year, $320 million initiative called ‘Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development'.

This initiative is aimed at the national and local levels, and aims to build on momentum for greater gender equality already being seen in the region.

Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development will provide mentoring and training to female members of parliament – and candidates for election – to help them better influence national and local politics, and run more successfully in elections.

A particular focus will be improving local marketplaces. Through better facilities and better services for women – meaning better support for female vendors and a safer work environment.

Women comprise the majority of workers at Pacific markets. By supporting them in their entrepreneurial activities, we will be able to create more opportunities to increase family incomes, build assets and reduce poverty.

Violence against women is also another focus of this initiative.

I mentioned earlier that in some Pacific countries, two out of three women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

In the Pacific – as well as in Asia – violence against women is without question one of the most important underlying factors preventing the full participation of women in the economy.

No community is immune from this.

If we are to be serious about delivering effective aid programs in the Asia-Pacific, then we have to be serious about stopping violence.

Until we deal with this, in many developing countries, we will not be able to fully embrace opportunities, economic or otherwise, for women.

The Pacific Women initiative will support governments in the region to put more domestic violence legislation in place to protect victims and survivors of violence and punish offenders.

Women survivors of violence will also receive better access to medical services, counselling, shelters and justice.

Sustainable development – in the Pacific as elsewhere – will only be possible when women can participate in political, economic and social opportunities as equals.

But this is the work of generations. Australia will continue to work in partnership with Pacific leaders and communities to improve the lives and livelihoods of the region's people.



Education is one of the most powerful means of addressing the gender imbalance, both in the Pacific and our countries.

This university has a proud history of supporting women's higher education in a time, before the war, when women were largely excluded from national universities and professional careers.

It's a tradition to be proud of.

But education is not the only solution.

Nearly half of Japan's university graduates are female but only two-thirds of those women are employed. And for those who are in employment, many are underutilised – they work part time or their talents are not utilised.

Educated Japanese women are much more likely to leave their jobs voluntarily than women in the Western world.

Whereas most Australian women, or American women, who take time off work do so to look after children, Japanese women are more likely to say their main motivation was to leave a workplace that undervalued them.

In fact, 66 per cent of highly-educated women who quit their jobs say they would not have done so if their employers had allowed flexible working arrangements.

Japan's traditionally long working hours make it difficult to pick the kids up from school. Those who work from home, or leave earlier than others, are seen as uncommitted to the team.

The vast majority of women – 77 per cent – who take time off work want to return, but only 43 per cent find a job. This is one area where appropriate measures need to be taken.

I've thrown a lot of statistics at you today, but I've saved the best for last.

And this is something I'd like you to remember as you go out into the workforce and face skepticism from your male co-workers and managers.

According to The Economist, the increase of employment of women in developed countries over the past decade has added more to global growth than China.

When compared to quantitative easing and other macro policies, gender equality is the most powerful action any government can take to promote long-term sustainable growth.

So I will leave you on that note.

Thank you very much for your time today. I with you the very best as you embark upon your careers in the workforce - I daresay the working environment will change a great deal in Japan through your careers, as you do your part towards boosting Japan's GDP!

Finally, I would like to thank President Bando for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today, as well as the faculty and staff of Showa Women's University.

Thank you.