Senate debates

Tuesday, 5 September 2017


Equal Pay Day

8:30 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

On Monday, we marked Equal Pay Day in Australia. That's the date past the end of the financial year that women, on average, would have had to work to earn the same amount as men—an extra two months more work. Australian women in full-time work are paid, on average, $251 per week less than men. This is averaged out across the entire workforce, but, even when women do the exact same job as men, they are often paid less. The more the job pays, the bigger the gap. It's not because women work in low-paying industries or are less productive or less successful at bargaining. Major drivers of the gender pay gap are caused by discrimination against women where employers prefer to hire men rather than women, are more likely to reject equally qualified women or offer women less money.

Another reason is that jobs in professions predominantly staffed by women are poorly valued and poorly paid. When most employees in an industry are men, in contrast, the work tends to be considered more valuable and is compensated accordingly. Women make up the bulk of employees in undervalued, feminised industries like childcare, nursing and teaching. Women are also more likely to be working in casual or part-time positions than men. The penalty rates cut that was supported by this government targets retail and hospitality workers, the majority of whom are women. Full-time working Australian women spend, on average, 25 hours doing housework per week compared to men's 15 hours doing housework. This unequal burden on women limits their workplace participation.

The gender pay gap also can't be explained away by women taking time to raise children. It exists from the moment women enter the workforce. A woman will earn four per cent less than a man in her first graduate job. As her career progresses, the gap will increase to almost 20 per cent by the time she retires. Less pay over the course of a career also means less superannuation and, on average, women retire with almost half the superannuation of men. This can be as much as $700,000 less than men over the course of a career. This is directly responsible for the increasing poverty of far too many older women. There is a spike in the number of older women experiencing homelessness that's associated with this, with women over 55 the fastest-growing group of homeless Australians.

What can we do about it? In Australia, we have different sets of rules in different workplaces when it comes to talking about your pay. In the private sector, it is common practice for contracts to include gag clauses that prevent workers from discussing their pay with other workers. We know that where pay is kept secret the gender pay gap is even worse. In the public sector, the gender pay gap is 12.2 per cent compared with 21.3 per cent in the private sector. The Greens have a bill before parliament to remove these gag clauses. The government says there is no place for gender discrimination in our society, yet one in five women lose their jobs on maternity leave or on returning to work. To achieve equality in the workplace, we must also encourage men to do more domestic and family labour, which requires workplaces to allow family-friendly practices for both mothers and fathers. This is good for families and for fathers. Fathers deserve to spend time with their children. In Australia, men are only granted two weeks paternity leave and most don't take it.

The Greens also have a plan for affordable childcare, including building new community childcare centres and boosting assistance for families who need it most. These are the sorts of measures that are required. We support a fair paid parental leave scheme with six months paid leave for the primary carer, up from the current allowance of 18 weeks. The Greens' better work/life balance bill expands the request for flexible working hours. We can also fight for better pay in feminised industries, like nursing and child care, and work to reverse the callous cuts to penalty rates. The gender pay gap is not just how things are. It's not inevitable. Countries like Iceland have recently made it illegal to pay women less. We can do that in Australia, too. We must continue to fight sexism in all its forms and ensure that the work of women is valued equally to men's work.

It's very appropriate that, this Thursday, I and the Greens will be introducing a bill to scrap the Regional Forest Agreements Act, the act that underpins our outdated logging laws, the regional forest agreements. These laws have been in place for 20 years. It is these laws that are locking in destructive clear-fell logging of our native forests. Our native forests are precious. They are home to an amazing range of animals and birds. Our outdated logging laws are sending animals and birds into extinction. I can give you a very sad list of species that live in our forests that are threatened, rare, endangered and vulnerable. They live in our forests, and over the 20 years of our outdated logging laws, which have locked in clear-fell logging, their status has certainly not improved, and for many species it has got far, far worse.

In Tasmania, where the government has just rolled over these logging laws, we have birds like swift parrots and animals like Tasmanian devils, as well as the giant freshwater crayfish and the Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle. In Victoria there is the very well-known and critically endangered Leadbeater's possum, which lives in the critically endangered ecosystem of the Mountain Ash forests of the Central Highlands. We've got long-footed potoroos, tiger quolls, greater gliders, the masked owl and the sooty owl. We've got the large brown tree frog, the giant burrowing frog and East Gippsland galaxias—tiny little fish that live only in the forests of East Gippsland. In New South Wales, koalas are in rapid decline. And there are other species, like the Hastings River mouse. In Western Australia there are red-tailed black cockatoos; Baudin's cockatoos; the quokka, which relies on native forests; and the western ringtail possum. All these species rely on intact native forest. All these species are being threatened by the ongoing logging of our forests.

What makes our logging laws so unacceptable is that they contain exemptions from our environment protection laws—the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. So, where this logging occurs, it's deemed to be ecologically responsible, regardless of the fact that all these species are on a downward trend in how healthy their populations are. Yet this government is locking that in. How will the Prime Minister tell his grandchildren that he just sat by while these precious species disappeared from Australia? The decision in early August to co-sign with the Tasmanian government a so-called variation to the regional forest agreements demonstrated just how short-sighted and irresponsible state and federal governments around the country are.

So the Greens want to scrap these logging laws, because they allow for the ongoing destruction of our native forests. We know that the wood products industry in Australia has already largely shifted out of our native forests; 85 per cent of the wood that comes from Australia is now coming from plantations. We don't need to be continuing destructive practices in our native forests. These agreements were set up last century, and the Greens contend that they should not just be rolled over onto new 20-year agreements—basically locking in this destruction in perpetuity. It's unacceptable that this outdated way of managing our forests can be rolled over with just the flick of a pen by the Prime Minister and his state counterparts. We need 21st century forest management, scrapping the failed logging laws, shifting to a sustainable plantation based wood products industry and returning environmental protections to our native forests. The first step is to recognise that these logging laws are not protecting our forests and that they aren't protecting a long-term sustainable wood products industry.