House debates

Thursday, 2 September 2021


Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021; Second Reading

12:33 pm

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

This bill tells us that the government does not want women to be equal. You don't have to dig around and string an argument together based on things people have said outside the chamber to make that very clear; it is clear from the words themselves. This bill is the government saying that it is implementing the recommendations of one of the most significant reports that this parliament has seen for a long time. It was a wide-ranging report into sexual harassment and mistreatment at work, led by Professor Kate Jenkins—and whose work on behalf of the Greens I want to join with others in applauding. That report said to us very clearly that what we needed to do was to put into law a basic principle that the legislation should aim for equality for women. Instead, the government isn't even prepared to do that. The government comes up with a bill that says, 'Well, we'll aim for equality of opportunity as far as is practicable.' So, in other words, the government is bringing in legislation that says women will continue to remain unequal. But they're only even bringing this legislation before the parliament because they have been dragged kicking and screaming by the women of Australia to act and to implement the report.

Tens of thousands of women marched around Australia in response to and in support of the brave statements from people like Brittany Higgins, who stood up and showed enormous courage to hold systems and their perpetrators to account. There was widespread support for women finally standing up and lifting the lid on the bad behaviour of men, including in this parliament. I was very proud to join and, together with many of my Greens colleagues, lend my support to those women when they came up here. But they never should have had to do it. The change that we need, in our laws but also our behaviours, is change that men need to make. It's change that men need to make about the way they act, but also change that men need to make to the laws of this country.

We had the Respect@Work report sit with the then Attorney-General, Christian Porter, for over a year before even a press release was issued. Then, when the government bring a bill to this parliament it fails to do what they have been asked to do, not only by the Respect@Work report but by the tens of thousands of women across Australia who have been marching and demanding change. It's not only the failure to legislate for equality in this bill that needs to be condemned. It's also the failure to do the single central thing that the report said needed to happen: to change the law to require employers to make sure their workplaces are safe. That is the thing that needed to happen. It happens in workplace health and safety, and there are very simple reasons for that. It is often very difficult to find that someone has committed an offence, discriminated against or harassed someone or made a workplace unsafe, because it takes a lot of courage to speak up. We changed the law with respect to health and safety to make sure that employers have a positive obligation to create a safe workplace. That's what Professor Jenkins wanted us to do in the law here regarding discrimination. It is the right move, and the government won't do it. The government will not make employers ensure their workplaces are safe.

The tragedy is, when these bills were going through the inquiry stage, everyone across the political spectrum and across the worker-employer divide supported changing the law to make sure that workplaces were safe. It was something that had widespread support because it would have made a huge difference, it would have shifted the culture in this country and it would have helped ensure that everyone could go to work and know that their workplace would be free from harassment and violence. But the government has refused to do that. These changes, changes to behaviour and the law, should have been implemented by men and they haven't. Today, we continue to see the refusal of this government to do the things that are necessary to make sure that every woman everywhere knows their workplace will be safe.

There are many other things that should have been implemented in this bill and are not, including 10 days' family and domestic violence leave. I won't go through all of those amendments, because the government has dragged the chain for so long and has only given us very limited time to deal with this. Instead, I want to acknowledge the work of our leader in the Senate, Senator Larissa Waters, who has led the charge on behalf of the Greens both in parliament and outside to ensure that the amazing work of the Respect@Work report is implemented and turned into law. I want to note that we all support the amendments that the Greens moved in the Senate, where we worked cooperatively with Labor, and are reflected in the amendments that are being moved in the House here by the opposition. They got significant support in the Senate and they should get support here as well. What I fear, and what we fear, is that once the government have passed this legislation they will show no appetite to come back and close other loopholes and improve the law in the way the Respect@Work report asks us to.

We will support these amendments that we worked on together in the Senate, and I commend my colleague for moving them. With that, given the short period of time that the government has allowed for such an important debate, I support the amendments. Some of the elements of the bill do go some way towards implementing the Respect@Work report, so we will be supporting that, but this bill demonstrates that this government is anti-women. It does not want equality for women, and so, on behalf of the Greens and on behalf of all of our senators, I pledge we will keep fighting to ensure that the voices of those who have marched on this place and who continue to burn with anger will be heard until the law is changed.


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