Senate debates

Tuesday, 3 March 2015


Gender Equality, Domestic Violence

7:40 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to speak about Australian women on the day we celebrated the United Nations International Women's Day in this parliament. I want to talk about two areas which significantly hold women back: the gender pay gap and partner violence.

First to the gender pay gap. Australia's gender pay gap is at a 20-year high. Western Australia leads the nation in its shameful, almost-26-per-cent gender pay gap. This has nothing to do with the mining boom but more to do with unfair industrial legislation which the state Liberals introduced in the 1990s, and Western Australian women have never caught up. The harsh and unfair laws that the Liberals in Western Australia introduced enabled employers to offer individual contracts with pay and conditions which undermined and undercut award conditions for the very first time in Australia since the introduction of the arbitration system. What a shameful record for WA to hold—to have reduced women's pay, which has made it much harder for women in Western Australia to close the pay gap. And the gap in Western Australia has just grown. This was a shameful act by Western Australian Liberals and, unfortunately, it has been repeated by the Abbott government, as it has also actively contributed to the increasing gap between men's and women's wages

The gender pay gap now at a 20-year high and the Abbott government has done nothing to close the gender pay gap; in fact, it has contributed to it getting worse. The Abbott government knocked off funds in aged care which were specifically targeted to improving wages and which would have given increases to the predominantly female aged-care workforce. The Abbott government knocked off the Early Years Quality Fund, which would have boosted the very low wages of predominantly women workers who are early childhood professionals. And in its latest move, the Abbott government has reduced the hourly rates of cleaners through knocking off the Commonwealth Cleaning Services Guidelines. The Abbott government has refused to bargain with public sector workers in good faith, putting out wage offers which cut conditions or, worse still, use cuts in conditions to fund wage offers.

Public servants are overwhelmingly rejecting these unfair offers and Senator Abetz's own Department of Employment—the experts in industrial relations—recently voted almost 100 per cent against their paltry offer. There is an attack on penalty rates, which the government is leading, to slash the take home pay of many women workers, such as nurses—particularly penalty-rate workers across the service sector

And on domestic violence the Abbott government's record is no better. Mr Abbott said he would be implementing new measures to fight domestic and family violence. Unfortunately, his government has cut national funding which supported family violence prevention services entirely. The worst affected area is Indigenous women and children all over Australia; that group has the highest rate of family violence. The Abbott government has cut funding to community legal services all over Australia—more than $6 million in this area. The Abbott government has cut all federal funding for the Men's Behaviour Change program. Relationships Australia has been forced to reallocate money due to this cut. The Abbott government has slashed funding and given no long-term certainty on funding to homelessness and crisis accommodation. The Abbott government has ensured that specialist staff across the country that are trained in assisting victims of domestic violence will be displaced—almost $300 million worth of cuts.

And Rosie Batty, the Australian of the Year, a shocking victim of domestic violence, has called Mr Abbott's comments and actions contradictory and hypocritical. She has called it a double standard. I am with Rosie Batty: the time for words is over. Now is a time for action, and that action starts with restoring funding and acting to genuinely reduce the gender pay gap.