Tuesday, 31 August 2021
Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021; Second Reading
As we saw on the front page of the Australian today, Australians are actually more concerned about their mental health and job security than they are about COVID. Whilst this has ramifications for how we learn to live with the virus, open up, end lockdowns and remove border restrictions, we're also focused as a government on ensuring that everyone feels safe and secure at work. The Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021 will quickly and clearly implement a series of legislative reforms that the government committed to in Roadmap for respect. These improvements to the anti-discrimination industrial relations framework will see changes around sexual harassment in the workplace. What was once something that happened far too frequently and was often ignored or swept under the carpet is no longer acceptable.
I never thought I'd be mentioning Dolly Parton in this place, but, thanks to lockdowns, my consumption of documentaries has significantly increased, so over the weekend I watched the one on Dolly Parton. Whilst it looked at her whole career, a large part of it was devoted to perhaps her most well-known movie, 9 to 5. I remember seeing that movie when I was pretty young, and, whilst the movie was ultimately about women working together and taking back their power, the behaviour of the male boss was what we would today consider wildly inappropriate, to put it mildly.
But, when that movie was made, that sort of behaviour was seen as so commonplace that no-one really raised an eyebrow about it. In fact, the slurs were directed at the woman who was being chased around the desk and inappropriately propositioned.
Thankfully, that sort of behaviour is no longer tolerated, certainly not at that level. But we do know there is still behaviour that occurs that's not acceptable, behaviour that makes people feel unsafe in their workplaces, especially where there are significant power imbalances and people feel insecure in their job. The amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act will aim to ensure, so far as practicable, that there is equality of opportunity between men and women to clarify that sex based harassment is prohibited. It will also remove the current exemptions for state public servants, members of parliament, ministerial staff as well as judges. In fact, it will ensure the prohibitions against sexual harassment and sex based harassment cover all forms of workers. Everyone is now legislatively protected regardless of where they work. And for those who perpetrate the harassment, under the clarification that victimisation is unlawful, this can now form the basis of civil action against them.
But, while these are clear and concise improvements in this area, there is another part of the bill I wanted to particularly draw attention to—the granting of paid compassionate leave if an employee or their partner experiences a miscarriage. Miscarriage is still in some ways seen as a taboo topic, something we don't talk about or really acknowledge in the way that we should. Any parent will tell you that, from the moment they found out they were expecting, they were parents. It was their baby. But we know that up to one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. That's around 300 women every single day experiencing this. We don't know about many of them because many people still don't tell anyone that they are expecting until they hit that 12-week mark. And, when it does occur, people often fail to recognise the real grief that is being felt. They make comments like, 'It's lucky it happened early,' or, 'Maybe there was something wrong with it.' The parents' grief is diminished or dismissed in a way grief would never normally be treated.
This morning, I spoke to the CEO of Pink Elephants, Sam Payne. It's the only national miscarriage support service in Australia. They are incredibly welcoming of this leave-for-loss plan, as they refer to it. She welcomed the opening up of the conversation and the recognition that this is a tragic event for many, many couples and that this leave includes partners because, while we should always remember that the physical loss is experienced by the mother, partners also feel the grief around the loss of that child. For anyone requiring support, pinkelephants.org.au have the resources to help you and to remind you that you did nothing wrong and that it is natural to grieve. The women involved in this organisation have all experienced miscarriage themselves. They know that, while time heals, the pain never truly goes away. The fact is so many women keep going. They try again and, sometimes, again and again to have that child. This resilience is incredible. So thank you Pink Elephants for the work that you do and the work that you have done in this space, for ensuring miscarriage is something we acknowledge, and that we acknowledge appropriately, and support those experiencing this significant loss.