Senate debates

Monday, 30 November 2015


Workplace Gender Equality Agency

4:53 pm

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

I rise to take note of the annual report from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I do so noting that this is a relatively new institution in the Australian public sector and the function it performs is also relatively new: in particular, that function of requiring private sector organisations with employees numbering more than 100 to provide information about the number of men and women and the level of pay provided to those men and women is extremely important and a function that I think everyone in this chamber ought to support.

Of course, this new function was established by the previous Labor government. In introducing the bill that provided for this function, then Minister Collins said, 'Gender equality is essential to maximising Australia's productive potential and to ensuring continued economic growth.' The bill that she introduced brought in new obligations for reporting, including reporting on pay and the gender pay gap. It was a response to the persistent gender pay difference in this country. I note that the gender pay gap has not really budged in any substantial way since I graduated from university. It hovers around 19 per cent and is still sitting there on the latest reports.

The annual report that has been tabled talks a little bit about the work of this agency in bringing forth the information we need to tackle the problem. The firs thing to note is that we, through this agency, have created a world-class data set. It was launched in November 2014 and reports on a range of metrics. One important metric is the pay gap based on total remuneration. The gender pay gap is revealed at 24.7 per cent, which is an absolutely extraordinary figure. The agency has also set about providing customised information to those business entities that report to it, so the businesses that are providing information to the WGEA receive regular confidential, customised reports that allow them to assess their own performance, have a look at how they are going relative to other organisations and assess over time whether the strategies that they have in place are actually making a difference.

The acting director, Louise McSorley, in the report that has been tabled notes that this positions Australia as a world leader. The says that the agency has been approached by other governments and organisations around the world for our insights. You can also see in the report that the agency has been quite vigorous in reaching out to businesses. There is a list of the many public presentations and talks that have been pursued by staff from the agency getting the message out there that gender pay matters and that gender equality at work matters.

There are some encouraging results reported. We see the percentage of women in leadership increasing from 26 per cent to 27½ per cent. We see the number of employers conducting gender remuneration gap analysis rising from 24 per cent to 26 per cent. We see the percentage of employers with a strategy or policy to support employees with caring responsibilities rising from 55 per cent to 57.8 per cent. But of course there are still many challenges to address. These are important improvements and are in my view a direct response to the information that has been made available through this agency and program of work. However, there is still quite a lot of work to do.

The latest figures reveal, as I said, a very substantial gender pay gap. They show that this is worst in the finance sector. They show that only 15½ per cent of CEOs and 27 per cent of key management personnel are women. There is still a very big problem in this country with employers finding senior roles for women that allow them to exercise their leadership capabilities and to receive the pay that they deserve. The consequence of that is a persistent difference between the pay received by men and the pay received by women.

I think we should all be enormously supportive of the work by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. There was some talk, early in the Abbott government's period, of winding back the functions of this agency and winding back its budget. That seems to have been put on the backburner. I think that is a welcome change and hope that there are no attempts from the government to revive that strategy.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.

4:58 pm

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Women) Share this | | Hansard source

I wanted to again note the work of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. Senator McAllister has pointed out some of the key work that this agency does. Its core job is to ensure that we in Australia understand exactly what is happening in workplaces around workplace gender. That was what the legislation was originally developed to prove. The workplace gender agency since its introduction has done large collections of data. We have had two rounds of that data collection which are now on public record and which indicate what is genuinely happening in Australian workplaces and reflecting the obstacles to ensuring that there is gender equity and the ways that employers can work effectively to make change within their workplaces.

As a result of that, there have been ambassadors of change developed within the workplace gender agency who are core employers who have acknowledged that within their own workplaces, to achieve workplace gender equity, there must be changes. These employers have volunteered to be part of promoting the role of the agency; promoting the role of the need to have effective data; and also to identify, very clearly, that, as long as there is no workplace change, there will continue to be an ever-growing workplace gender gap. We know that. Whilst the workplace gender pay gap in Australia has fluctuated and whilst there continues to be some discussion around the edges about what exactly are the amounts of money involved—what is counted and what is not—the one real thing is that this gap continues to grow.

Recent data indicates that, this year alone, there has been a slight increase in the overall gap between payment received by women employees and male employees in our country. The positive thing is that there is work being done to address that. I want to give credit to the employers who voluntarily agreed to be part of the education campaigns that the agency has run, in particular 'In your hands' that was launched at the end of September 2014, focusing on educational programs about gender bias and how people can improve the work in their own agencies. The data sets have now been created, for the first time, to provide benchmarks at the industry level so employers can see how they are going in comparison to other employers within their own industry. Employees and employers can see what is happening in their agency and sense the commitment that has been made by the leadership in their agencies.

Unfortunately, we do have the list of non-complying agencies, non-complying organisations, non-complying businesses. There are 44 who are listed in this year's annual report. I am not going to read them all into the record today but there could well be a time when I will read them one by one, organisation by organisation. For various reasons, they have chosen not to comply with the expectations, being an organisation with over 100 employees, nor look at what is happening in their organisation nor fill in the data collection from the agency.

These 44 organisations and businesses cross a range of industries. There are a number in transport; there are a number in the cinema industry; and, certainly, the one that interested me—the jewellery industry. I would imagine that there would be many people who are working as purchasers in this organisation who do not understand that this particular company has decided, for whatever reason—and I do not know the reason—that they will proudly be listed in 'Appendix 1: Non-compliant organisations' for this financial year. I really do encourage people to check out who is on that list, because the whole idea of naming and shaming is to ensure that the shame is known.

This year's annual report from WGEA lists the work that has been done. I want to give credit to the two previous directors of the agency, particularly Helen Conway, who was there up until 6 March 2015; Louise McSorley, who came in and worked for the period 7 March to 18 October and was able to keep going, particularly with the ambassador program; and also welcoming Libby Lyons, as the newly appointed CEO who commenced in her role on 19 October. I encourage people to read the report, and I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted.

5:03 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to take note of the response from the Minister for the Environment, Mr Hunt, to a resolution of the Senate of 9 November 2015 concerning marine reserves.

In his letter in response to that resolution, which I brought to the Senate and which is around reinstating our marine protected areas and seeking to pursue the community's call for the government to give our marine reserves back, Mr Hunt said, 'The Turnbull government is committed to Australia's system of representative marine reserves.' At this stage you could have fooled me, because they have not effectively been in place for some two years. He goes on to say, 'Marine reserves first proclaimed in 2012 remain in place and do not require reinstatement.' That is not really the situation.

Within months of coming to government, the Abbott government got rid of the management plans for these marine reserves, effectively making these marine reserves, these marine protected areas, just lines on the map—because, without management plans, these reserves are not being managed. We do not have the appropriate zoning in place. This was because the government gave in to the perceived pressure from the recreational fishing sector and the fishing sector.

There are a hell of a lot of fishers that actually support marine protected areas, because they actually understand the evidence. They understand the value of these marine protected areas. They understand the value of protecting our marine biodiversity. In a world of changing climate, there has never been a more important time to ensure that we have in place an effective system of marine reserves around Australia.

Australia used to be one of the world-leading nations in marine protected areas, but we are now being fast outdone by some of the large areas that are being put in place around the world. Mr Hunt saying that they do not require reinstatement is subterfuge. It is trying to trick Australians into thinking: 'We haven't done anything with these marine reserves. Don't look here. We don't need to reinstate them'. Well, they do—because these reserves are not in place. They are not protecting our unique marine biodiversity.

Mr Hunt goes on to say, 'An independent review of the zoning and management arrangements of the reserves proclaimed in 2012 is nearing completion following nationwide consultation.' The minister and the government persist in the untruth that, in fact, there was no consultation on marine protected areas, when, quite clearly, there was nationwide consultation, not just once but over a long period of time and more than once.

He goes on to talk about 'expert consideration of the science underpinning those arrangements'. He says that, 'the review recommendations will inform the development of new management plans that are appropriately balanced with conservation, recreation, commercial and Indigenous needs.'

This review was supposed to finish earlier this year. When I asked in estimates when the review was going to be presented to government, when the government was going to actually make decisions and release the promised new management plans, the government and the department were unable to answer. This review has been going on and on and on. It is unlikely that we will see anything before the end of the year, which further blows out the development of the management plans, which further blows out when they are released, which further blows out when we get our marine reserves back.

We know, as I said, that marine reserves are important for the protection of marine biodiversity, but they also have value for fisheries management and our tourism industry and, increasingly, they are the basis for marine tourism. In fact, people now call them tourism powerhouses because there is so much tourism around our marine environment. They support a range of other growing industries, which I have spoken about at length in this chamber. Our message to the government—and the community's message, because they are repeatedly sending it—is: 'We want our marine reserves back. We want those marine reserves in place so they are protecting our unique marine biodiversity and our valuable marine environment.'

5:08 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I intend, as often as I can and to the best of my ability, to continue to expose the downright misinformation—and that is putting it politely—of the Greens political party. Regrettably, from a senator I have some regard for, you have just heard that again. As the minister said in his letter, you do not have to get the marine reserves back because they are there and they have not left since the Howard government first instituted them as part of the world's first oceans policy, also introduced by the Howard government. It is never recognised by the Greens political party, but it was the Howard Liberal-National Party government that actually instituted the world's first oceans policy. Part of that was the implementation of marine reserves.

There are not many around Australia—there are about six. They are very big areas. Anyone listening to the previous speaker might think she was talking about the Great Barrier Reef, but that is not so. But that is par for the course with the Greens political party. They would have you believe that. These are reserves further out in Commonwealth waters. There was one in Bass Strait. I happened to be the minister for fisheries when that one in the Bass Strait was implemented. There was an enormously significant and widespread consultation process at the time. We spoke to environmentalists, fishermen, mining interests and everyone. It took a while, but we eventually got a management plan for the Bass Strait reserve that everyone reluctantly agreed with. Everyone was 85 per cent satisfied. No-one was 100 per cent satisfied, but everyone was 85 per cent satisfied. That was consultation.

You do not have to get these reserves back, because they are still there. The coalition government having introduced them, you then had the Labor Party, with Greens support, come in and adopt a process where they only consulted with some of the stakeholders, some of the users—and the 'some of them' were the environmentalists, the conservation groups and not much more. So this became a huge issue in Far North Queensland and up in the gulf country and around the top of Australia, because people who had been stakeholders in these areas for years were simply ignored by the then Labor government, supported by the Greens political party.

I well remember it was a promise of ours at the 2010 and 2013 elections that we would scrap those plans which had not been consulted on and we would consult with everybody to try to get a marine plan that would have 85 per cent support from all stakeholders. That is the process that we are going through, and I think that is the process that Mr Hunt described in his letter of response to this Senate resolution.

In accordance with the Greens' normal approach, they would like to think they are talking about the Barrier Reef green zones. They were another initiative of the Howard Liberal government—not the Labor government, not the Greens government, not the Labor government that the Green supported. The Howard Liberal government put in those green zones and brought in proper plans of management for them. They still exist today, and yet a casual observer listening to the previous speaker would think that what she was describing was happening in the Barrier Reef green zones, which is simply not true.

As I say, as often as I am able to—and I am not always able to, because I do do other things in this chamber—whenever I hear that sort of misinformation coming out from the Greens political party I am going to rush down to the chamber, as I did today, to again give a reality check on what is truthful, what the real facts are and not have the people of Australia confused and believing the sort of, with respect, direct and deliberate misinformation that you continually get from the Greens political party. What you heard from the previous speaker was very tongue in cheek—or speaking with forked tongue—because it was sort of half-right. If you do not know the real facts, as I do, you can get the wrong impression. Those marine reserves, an initiative of the Howard government, continue to operate and will operate better after proper consultation.

Question agreed to.