Thursday, 12 November 2015
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
Answers to Questions
I want to make some comments about the response given to me during question time today by Senator Brandis about the filling of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner's position. You would know better than anyone, Mr Deputy President, the game we regularly play at Senate estimates concerning time frames, where you ask when something will happen and are told it will be 'shortly', it will be 'soon' or it is 'imminent'. I was really pleased to hear that we have had movement from the Attorney-General, compared to what he said two weeks ago in Senate estimates. Today he told us that the Sex Discrimination Commissioner's position would be filled shortly—in fact, I think he said was 'very shortly'. We have had real movement. It is going to be 'soon'. I welcome that announcement from the Attorney that it is going to be soon.
But why has it not happened sooner? We know it is complex and difficult to fill such a wonderfully necessary position in our system, but we also know that Ms Broderick, in her professionalism, had given the department and the government 12 months notice of the fact that she would not be seeking any further renewal of her contract—in fact, that contract had already been extended. So for 12 months we had known exactly the time that Ms Broderick was going to leave the position, and she left the position over two months ago. When we had the series of farewells to celebrate the marvellous work that Ms Broderick did in the position, there was a clear question from all the women and men who attended these functions as to when the position would be filled. We were also deeply interested to know by whom it would be filled, but we were most clearly interested in knowing how quickly this position could be filled.
Over many years, the deep importance of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner—in our Human Rights Commission, in the human rights field and also in the message to the community about how seriously our government takes the issues of gender equity in the community—has been known. There has never been a more important time for us to focus on the issues of gender equity in our community. We know, and the government has admitted, that this is an important position. The government has said that the performance of this role is important in policy. In fact, at the UN, when we review our actions around equity, the work of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner has been singled out on several occasions for the value of the contribution and the importance of having this role in place in our governmental process. We also know that, only late last year at the G20, Australia made a commitment to ensure that women in employment would be a high priority for our nation, amidst international commitments for all nations, and said that we had the infrastructure in place to make this occur, including the Sex Discrimination Commissioner's work. In particular, as I mentioned in my questions to Senator Brandis, the groundbreaking, innovative—and I do not know whether it is agile or nimble, but nonetheless—work of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner with the Male Champions of Change has been lauded throughout this country and also internationally. It has introduced the innovation of getting the leaders of our economy and our businesses together and challenging them to make changes in their own operations and across industry to improve the role of women and to give them opportunities for career progression, and to look within themselves to see what obstacles now exist in the business area. This has been driven, nurtured and championed by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner. There is no more important time to have this job filled than now, to ensure that this work can continue.
It is important that the position be filled soon. It is important that that commitment be made known in our community. We look forward to welcoming and working with the new Sex Discrimination Commissioner. I was only regretful that, when we celebrated the work of Ms Broderick, we could not, at the same time, welcome the new commissioner, that most valuable person, into the new job and say thank you to them for taking up the position and thank you to the government for filling it.
Question agreed to.