Senate debates

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Sexual Harassment, March 4 Justice, Women's Safety

3:42 pm

Photo of Tim AyresTim Ayres (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

What the questions and answers in question time really revealed was the entire absence and invisibility of the Minister for Women, not just over the last three or four weeks but over the last two years she has been in that position. There are enormous challenges that Australian women face. More women than men lost jobs during the COVID-19 period. The new jobs that have been created, which the government celebrates so much, have largely been casual and low-wage jobs—mostly women's jobs. So not only have Australian women had the biggest hit from COVID-19 in terms of losing their jobs but the jobs that have been created have been low-quality jobs. The gender wage gap persists. There have been nearly 900 deaths since 2008 caused by domestic and family violence. I am not convinced that the scourge of violence against women and children has got any better over that period, and there is much to suggest that it's getting worse. Just lately there have been revelations of an alleged rape not very far from the Prime Minister's office. Misogyny exists in some quarters of this parliament. Parliament should be the exemplar for Australian people, not one of the worst workplaces for Australian women.

The unequal position of women in this country diminishes all of us. I absolutely reject the mean-spirited values that underpin the Prime Minister's statement that he was all for equality, just as long as men didn't have to go backwards in the process. The great irony of that statement is that the only reason that the gender wage gap has shrunk by a tiny amount is that the Prime Minister's industrial relations policies have driven the wages of blue-collar men down over the last couple of years.

Violence diminishes us all. Unequal pay diminishes us all. Disrespect at work diminishes us all. Misogyny diminishes us all, and where on earth, amidst all of this, is the invisible Minister for Women? Yesterday 10,000 women and thousands of men gathered outside this parliament. I acknowledge those coalition members and senators who came out as well. Where was the Minister for Women? She was hiding in this chamber, invisible to the outside world, with a confected excuse for staying in here. How can she possibly rationalise the decision to stay away from that rally? She is supposed to be the Minister for Women. She is supposed to be an advocate for change. She is supposed to be finding ways, through policy and politics in this place, to lift the status of women. But where was she? Nowhere, and there's been plenty of opportunity. The Respect@work report, more than 12 months ago, had basic steps to elevate the position of Australian women and protect them at work. There was an almost zero—three out of 55—response from this government.

The events over the course of the last three or four weeks have laid bare just how weak the government's response is when faced with the kinds of allegations that Ms Higgins has brought forward, that others have brought forward, that have been brought forward against the Attorney-General. The government's response has been entirely about political management, not protecting the interests of women, not dealing with issues on their merits—an entirely political response. Where has the Minister for Women been? She's been entirely invisible. In terms of ministers for women in this place, we had two years of Tony Abbott as the minister for women, two years of Senator Cash as the Minister for Women, two years of Kelly O'Dwyer as the Minister for Women and now we've had two long years of Minister Payne. I am not convinced about which of those two-year periods has been the worst, characterised by the least action, characterised by the total invisibility of this minister.

Question agreed to.


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