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senate vote 2021-09-01#3

Edited by mackay staff

on 2021-09-03 09:56:38


  • Bills — Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021; in Committee
  • Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021 - in Committee - Substantive gender equality


  • <p class="speaker">Larissa Waters</p>
  • <p>[by video link] Amendment (1) on sheet 1367 amends the objectives of the Sex Discrimination Act to include substantive gender equality. Recommendation 16 of the Jenkins report says that the objects of the act should be amended 'to achieve substantive equality between women and men'. But what the government did when they allegedly implemented this recommendation was change the wording, and they massively watered it down. The government's version in the current bill says that the new objective should be to achieve equality of opportunity between men and women 'so far as practicable'. So it's watered down not just on one level but on two: it's no longer substantive equality&#8212;it's just equality of opportunity&#8212;and it's only so far as is practicable. What an absolute crock! This government might as well have not bothered to have this amendment at all because they've watered down the recommendation so much that it's essentially meaningless. But I suppose that's what we've come to expect from this government.</p>
  • <p>Many submitters to the inquiry, including the Human Rights Commission, were concerned that the government's drafting does not reflect the intent of <i>Respect@Work</i> recommendation 16. The Law Council recommended deleting the qualification of 'so far as practicable'&#8212;and I strongly support that. The department's explanation for why they changed the wording was that it was beyond the scope of the Sex Discrimination Act to fix structural inequality. Frankly, it leaves me speechless, and like so much about this bill it entirely misses the point.</p>
  • The same number of senators voted for and against an [amendment]( introduced by Queensland Senator [Larissa Waters]( (Greens), which means it failed.
  • ### Amendment text
  • > *(1) Schedule 1, item 31, page 8 (lines 6 and 7), omit "to achieve, so far as practicable, equality of opportunity between men and women", substitute "to achieve substantive gender equality".*
  • <p>Objectives don't create positive duties to deliver on aspirational goals but they do require decision-makers to consider those objects when they're exercising discretion. When making decisions under the act they need to make sure that the decision will further the objects of that act, or at least not hinder the achievement of that goal. But this government just can't come at saying the words 'achieve substantive equality between men and women'. Maybe they just don't think that that's what society should be aspiring to do. They just want equality of opportunity 'so far as is practicable'. Honestly, he just typifies this government. The sexism is so ingrained in this government&#8212;this 1950s Morrison government&#8212;that it can't even cope with the concept of substantive equality.</p>
  • <p>Structural gender equality is not simply about denial of opportunity; it reflects how discrimination, stereotypes and other factors can affect people's ability and capacity to take up opportunities. A goal of substantive equality recognises that opportunities might need to be offered differently in some circumstances in order to overcome structural barriers and to achieve substantive equality. But I think this government just doesn't understand structural inequality. As far as they're concerned, it's all up to the individual and if you work hard enough you can overcome anything. They are so imbued with privilege that they can't even fathom the concept of structural inequality, and they've made that abundantly clear in the drafting of this objects clause.</p>
  • <p>I now move Greens amendment (1) on sheet 1367:</p>
  • <p class="italic">(1) Schedule 1, item 31, page 8 (lines 6 and 7), omit "to achieve, so far as practicable, equality of opportunity between men and women", substitute "to achieve substantive gender equality".</p>
  • <p>This is to restore the wording that the Human Rights Commission initially proposed and that this government has sought to water down on not one but two terms. Their version is an absolute crock, so I move the Greens amendment on sheet 1367 to fix up the wording so that it does what the Human Rights Commission report recommended, which is the whole point of having this bill that the government keeps trying to wreck.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Jenny McAllister</p>
  • <p>Labor supports this amendment, and indeed it is one of the many questions where Labor had also drafted amendments. We agree to proceed with the Greens moving it on this occasion.</p>
  • <p>Some months ago I listened with interest to what most people described as a train crash of an interview, a very long interview with the Prime Minister on <i>A Current Affair </i>where he explained his shock and surprise at learning that Australian women were subject to discrimination and, indeed, some very frustrating experiences at work. That was galling enough. But the thing I observed in this extended interview that the Prime Minister offered to <i>A Current Affair</i> was that the Prime Minister was willing to say the word 'respect' some 14 times&#8212;14 times!&#8212;but, in an interview that was ostensibly about the interests of Australian women. he could not bring himself to mention the word 'equality' once, not once. I have a real question about the Prime Minister's commitment to equality for Australian women, because it rarely features in anything that he says. He is comfortable with respect, and I can see why that might be. It's possible to be perfectly polite and respectful to a person that you do not consider your equal at all. If you are a powerful man, indeed, it is quite possible to do so. Ask Julia Banks how the Prime Minister treated her. I am not surprised that this government, which has had eight long years to think about what it might do for women, baulks at the possibility of inserting an object of true equality between men and women into one of its acts.</p>
  • <p>The recommendation in the <i>Respect@Work</i> report, which, again, the government pretends to accept, is very clear. It says:</p>
  • <p class="italic">Amend the Sex Discrimination Act to ensure:</p>
  • <p class="italic">a. the objects include 'to achieve substantive equality between women and men'</p>
  • <p>It's pretty straightforward. What do we get instead? This mealy-mouthed thing: 'to achieve, so far as practicable, equality of opportunity between men and women'. We used to tell a joke about a moderate's chant at a rally: 'What we want?' 'Gradual reform in due course.'</p>
  • <p>This couldn't be sillier. This couldn't be a sillier amendment. We'll go for equality&#8212;but only equality of opportunity&#8212;as far as is practicable. What does that mean? That is actually my question to the minister: Why do we need to insert that qualification? Is it to reflect the view put by the Prime Minister some time ago on International Women's Day&#8212;that he wants women to rise but not if it's at the expense of men? Is that what this qualification actually means? Why is it in here? Why is it necessary to insert into a piece of legislation something as mealy-mouthed as this? As Senator Waters has explained, the objects of the act don't require a positive duty to absolutely obtain those objects in every decision; they are merely a guiding factor in interpreting what the provisions of the act require of the decision-maker.</p>
  • <p>So, Minister, two things: why is the qualification 'so far as practicable' necessary in this context, and what does the government consider to be the difference between substantive equality and equality of opportunity?</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Michaelia Cash</p>
  • <p>The term 'equality of opportunity' was used because it better aligns with the existing approach of Australia's antidiscrimination law frameworks. In particular, it means that every opportunity that is afforded has to be afforded on an equal basis. Substantive equality, on the other hand, requires affirmative actions by workplaces and is actually a departure from the complaints based model that currently exists. The drafting is comparable to existing objects clauses in other antidiscrimination legislation.</p>
  • <p class="italic">The CHAIR: The question is that amendment (1) on sheet 1367, moved by Senator Waters, be agreed to.</p>