Thursday, 22 November 2012
Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Amendment Bill 2012; Second Reading
It is a pleasure to rise to give the summing-up speech in this debate on the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Amendment Bill 2012. This is a bill which delivers a significant package of reforms that were promised by the government during the 2010 election—reforms aimed at reducing gender inequality. It has been estimated that closing the gap between men's and women's workforce participation could boost GDP by 13 per cent, and through improved workplace participation and workplace flexibility for women the reforms are also expected to improve productivity and to contribute to addressing current and future skill shortages.
As well as improving gender equality the bill aims to simplify reporting for businesses. A review of the act by the Office for Women in FaHCSIA revealed a number of economic, social and legislative changes that make it important for updates to be made to the act and for the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency to provide a contemporary response to national challenges. The review made it clear that gender equality is essential to maximising Australia's productive potential and to ensuring continued economic growth. Gender equality is good for the economy; it is also the right thing to do.
The first reform made by this bill is to change the name of the act to the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 in order to emphasise the focus of the act. Concomitant changes are made to the name of the agency and to the title of the director. The bill also amends principal objects of the act to reflect the focus on gender equality in the workplace. Importantly, the coverage of the act is expanded to include men as well as women, particularly in relation to caring responsibilities. Under new outcomes based, streamlined and more transparent reporting requirements a relevant employer will need to prepare and lodge a public report containing information on gender equality indicators for the reporting period commencing 1 April 2013. Smaller organisations will not be required to report, but they will be able to access the agency's advice, education and incentive activities.
Businesses will be able to complete and submit reports online using a secure web portal. This is a change that has been sought by the business community as it will save them time and money. The reporting changes will represent the first opportunity for the agency to gather and analyse a rigorous and standardised data set, and will mean that organisations can measure their performance against others. When an employer lodges a public report employees and shareholders must be informed and employees and their organisations must be given the opportunity to comment. Under the amended legislation the minister will be able to set industry-specific minimum standards in consultation with industry and experts. These standards will be determined prior to 1 April 2014 and will be used to identify organisations that are struggling and to target advice and assistance. The bill also improves the transparency and fairness of the compliance framework and consequences for noncompliance.
This new legislation puts gender equality in the workplace in the spotlight. It is a reminder of the determination of this government to improve women's economic security. This begins with fair and equitable treatment in the workplace. I have great pleasure in commending the bill to the Senate.