Senate debates

Wednesday, 1 September 2021


Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021; In Committee

11:36 am

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | Hansard source

Labor is supporting this amendment. Indeed, as Senator Waters has indicated, this is also an area where Labor sought to have changes made to the bill. Commissioner Jenkins couldn't have been clearer, when she said in recommendation 25:

Amend the Australian Human Rights Commission Act to insert a cost protection provision consistent with section 570 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).

That's what the amendment does. This recommendation was endorsed by a number of submitters to the minister and to the inquiry, including the ACTU and the Law Council.

The government's response to the Respect@Work report says that this is agreed in principle. It's typical of the weasel words approach that was adopted in responding to the report. There's a total pretence that all 55 recommendations are accepted. The government accepted this in principle and then went on to explain all the ways in which it actually considers that it is not necessary. This government is so arrogant that it thinks it knows better—knows better than the people that Kate Jenkins spoke to when she conducted this piece of work, which everybody likes to describe as a landmark piece of work, and knows better than the people who submitted to the Senate inquiry that said that costs protection was absolutely critical, so that people weren't frightened of pursuing justice because of bankruptcy. Why this can't be pursued now, immediately, has never been made clear.

The recommendation and the amendment before us are based on an existing provision in the Fair Work Act. It's not complicated. The government could have drafted this amendment in an hour. But, instead, they are squirming away from it and kicking it into the long grass for a review at some future time. 'Maybe later' is not an answer. It is not an answer for the women who deserve access to justice, who deserve to have their claims heard and who deserve to do so free from fear that they will be financially persecuted and ruined if they dare to raise their voice and dare to seek the protection of the court.

I ask the government to think about this and to reconsider their position and to consider voting in support of this amendment today to ensure that recommendation 25, sitting there in the report, is implemented.


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