Bishop appoints feisty new Ambassador for Women and Girls | Pacific Beat

Bishop appoints feisty new Ambassador for Women and Girls

Bishop appoints feisty new Ambassador for Women and Girls

Updated 18 December 2013, 8:43 AEDT

Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop begins a 3-day trip to Solomon Isalnds, Nauru and Vanuatu tonight.

And she will be travelling with quite a party, her own parliamentary secretary for Foreign Affairs, Brett Mason as well as the opposition Foreign Affairs spokesperson Tanya Plibersek and her colleague Matt Thistlethwaite.

But the least expected member of the group is the dynamic former Australian Democrats leader, Natasha Stott Despoja, who Ms Bishop has just announced as Australia's new Amassador for Women and Girls.

Presenter: Jemima Garrett.

Speakers: Julie Bishop, Australia's Foreign Minister.

Natasha Stott Despoja, Australia's Ambassador for Women and Girls

GARRETT: When she was elected to the Senate at just 26, Natasha Stott Despoj a became Australia youngest Senator.

She may have been out of the limelight since finishing her 13 years in parliament 2008 but she has not been letting grass grow under her feet.

She has been working with a host of community-based organisation in Australia and developing countries on issues ranging from mental health through to violence against women and children.

At a media conference to announce her appointment as Australia's Ambassador for Women and girls, Ms Stott Despoya said when Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop rang to offer her the job it took just a split second make her decision.

STOTT DESPOJA: It is my dream role, my dream job. I am excited by the fact that this government has made clear that gender empowerment and gender equality are priorities for Australia's foreign policy.

GARRETT: Ms Stott Despoyas role will take in everything from G20 meetings and furthering Australia's agenda on women peace and security at the United Nations Security Council to the welfare of women and girls in Australia's asylum seeker centres.

Foreign Minister Bishop says her biggest role will be with Australia's aid program

BISHOP: Over 50 per cent of Australia's aid budget is spent on initiatives and policies and programs that have as part of their principal focus the empowewrment of woemn and girls, whether it is in health, or education, or peace and security or women's leadership, giving women a voice. And I am absolutely thrilled that Natsha Stott Despoja will be our voice in helping other women find their voice.

GARRETT: Natasha Stott Despoja's first task is to accompany the Foreign Minister and her bi-partisan delegation, this week, to Solomon Islands, Nauru and Vanuatu.

Ms Bishop says issues for women will be high on the agenda.

BISHOP: It is a fact that in Melanesia about one third of the jobs are taken by women in the formal labour market. less than 5 per cent of politicians in the Pacific are women. The levels of domestic violence against women in the Pacific are very high, dangerously high. Other issues such as communicable and non-vcommunicable diseases are high in the Pacific and levels of education are not where we would want them to be.

GARRETT: The delegation will meet with the Prime Minisiters of Solomon Islands and Vanuatu and with Vanuatu's Foreign Minister.

In Nauru, Ms Bishop will meet President Baron Waqa and visit the asylum seeker detention centre.

Ms Stott Despoja is an outspoken critic of Australian's approach to aslyum seekers and has often said Australians need to learn more about the misery of refugees and to walk a mile in their shoes.

The aslyum seekers centre on Nauru has been off limits to journalists and other independent observers.

Ms Stott Despoja could not confirm if she will be given access but she made it clear, if she is, she will be prepared to give the Australian government her full and frank opinion.

STOTT DESPOJA: People know I have an interest in this area as the Ambassador, of course its is an interest of mine now to look at women and girls and maybe specifically pregnant women. That's why this is a great opportunity to go and see first hand for myself and I am sure I will be happy to report to the Minister and discuss any of those issues. But I am not going to pre-empt any of those meetings but, of course I am concerned about the welfare of women and children around the globe and that is certainly something i will be paying close attention to over the next couple of days.

GARRETT: With the Australian Treasurer due to present the mid-year Economic Outlook statement on Tuesday Ms Bishop faced questions about the future of the Australian aid budget.

Already the co-alition government has cut 4.5 billion dollars out of the forward estimates.

Ms Bishops answer suggests that might not be the end of the cuts.

BISHOP: Australia has a considerable government debt. We have considerable deficits ahead of us and all sections of the Australian budget bar a couple that will be medical research and defence which will be quarantined, all areas of the australian budget and that includes the Australian aid budget.

GARRETT: Natasha Stott Despoja says she will be staying out of politics, but she won't be giving up the fight for women and girls.

STOTT DESPOJA: My focus will be in ensuring money allocated to women and girls is spent well with maximum value and return, and I'll be advocating, you can imagine for as much aid spending that will assist women and girls in our region and beyond.

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