Senate debates

Wednesday, 1 September 2021


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

11:47 am

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

[by video link] Amendment (1) on sheet 1367 amends the objectives of the Sex Discrimination Act to include substantive gender equality. Recommendation 16 of the Jenkins report says that the objects of the act should be amended 'to achieve substantive equality between women and men'. But what the government did when they allegedly implemented this recommendation was change the wording, and they massively watered it down. The government's version in the current bill says that the new objective should be to achieve equality of opportunity between men and women 'so far as practicable'. So it's watered down not just on one level but on two: it's no longer substantive equality—it's just equality of opportunity—and it's only so far as is practicable. What an absolute crock! This government might as well have not bothered to have this amendment at all because they've watered down the recommendation so much that it's essentially meaningless. But I suppose that's what we've come to expect from this government.

Many submitters to the inquiry, including the Human Rights Commission, were concerned that the government's drafting does not reflect the intent of Respect@Work recommendation 16. The Law Council recommended deleting the qualification of 'so far as practicable'—and I strongly support that. The department's explanation for why they changed the wording was that it was beyond the scope of the Sex Discrimination Act to fix structural inequality. Frankly, it leaves me speechless, and like so much about this bill it entirely misses the point.

Objectives don't create positive duties to deliver on aspirational goals but they do require decision-makers to consider those objects when they're exercising discretion. When making decisions under the act they need to make sure that the decision will further the objects of that act, or at least not hinder the achievement of that goal. But this government just can't come at saying the words 'achieve substantive equality between men and women'. Maybe they just don't think that that's what society should be aspiring to do. They just want equality of opportunity 'so far as is practicable'. Honestly, he just typifies this government. The sexism is so ingrained in this government—this 1950s Morrison government—that it can't even cope with the concept of substantive equality.

Structural gender equality is not simply about denial of opportunity; it reflects how discrimination, stereotypes and other factors can affect people's ability and capacity to take up opportunities. A goal of substantive equality recognises that opportunities might need to be offered differently in some circumstances in order to overcome structural barriers and to achieve substantive equality. But I think this government just doesn't understand structural inequality. As far as they're concerned, it's all up to the individual and if you work hard enough you can overcome anything. They are so imbued with privilege that they can't even fathom the concept of structural inequality, and they've made that abundantly clear in the drafting of this objects clause.

I now move Greens amendment (1) on sheet 1367:

(1) Schedule 1, item 31, page 8 (lines 6 and 7), omit "to achieve, so far as practicable, equality of opportunity between men and women", substitute "to achieve substantive gender equality".

This is to restore the wording that the Human Rights Commission initially proposed and that this government has sought to water down on not one but two terms. Their version is an absolute crock, so I move the Greens amendment on sheet 1367 to fix up the wording so that it does what the Human Rights Commission report recommended, which is the whole point of having this bill that the government keeps trying to wreck.


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