Senate debates

Wednesday, 14 November 2018


Gender Equality

7:31 pm

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

It's still better to be a bloke in this day and age when it comes to your salary. This week, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency released its annual data, and it shows we still have a shocking gender pay gap. It's at 16.2 per cent now, when you look at average full-time wage base salary. When we include things like overtime and other bonuses and perks, it comes up to $25,717 more, or 21 per cent more, that men are earning each year on average—$26,000 more for a man in an average full-time job, with the perks, just because he's a dude. There's no other explanation for this gender wage gap, except sheer sexism.

We saw that the overall gender pay gap has actually dropped by one per cent. That's very welcome. It's a step in the right direction. But I have two points on that. At that pace, it will take 50 years for us to eliminate the gender pay gap—50 years is too long to wait for equality. We saw also that the gender pay gap went up in several industries. What I thought was most alarming was that of the companies that are reporting data only 40 per cent are doing anything about it once they realise that they have a problem and a gender pay gap in their workplace. The WGEA described it as an 'action gap'. What employer could discover that they have a gender pay gap and then wilfully decide to do nothing about it? That's an absolute abomination and an indictment on the fact our laws are so weak that they don't require the gap to be fixed once it's been identified. We'd love to strengthen that, because we think there's no other reason for this gap than sexism.

Coming back to the one per cent drop in the pay gap, the reason it's shrunk is not because the government has the policies and can claim any credit, as the minister tried to do today. It is because the mining boom has come off the boil. Men are now earning less, because some of those extremely high salaries they were enjoying under the mining boom have evaporated. It's not that we're actually narrowing the gap because women are getting paid more; it's just because men are getting paid less. So I'm afraid I don't buy the government's argument that this is in any way creditable to them.

We have a gender pay gap that's sexist and we have an action gap on doing anything about it. Sadly, we have a Prime Minister who has said absolutely nothing about this. Not only has he not said anything about the gender pay gap, but since he started his prime ministership he hasn't said anything about a gender issue. We've had 61 women killed so far this year from family and domestic violence, mostly by partners or former partners. It's more this year than it was in the whole of last year and it's only the start of November. The Prime Minister has said nothing about that either. He's silent on the gender pay gap and he's silent on the epidemic of domestic violence against women. He's silent for 50 per cent of the population. If he can't speak out on those issues and show leadership, he doesn't deserve to be in that role.

We have suggestions for him on how he can fix the gender pay gap. For a start, he can show some leadership. He can increase resourcing for the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, he can strengthen their powers and he can mandate that they force employers to do something about the gender pay gap once they work out they've got one. It's no good reporting on it and then doing absolutely nothing. The law should require them to do something. It should make that gender pay gap public and make those companies disclose so that the public can use their power as consumers or as potential workers to make decisions about whether or not they'll support that business. We can prohibit the use of those pay gag clauses that employers in the private sector use to make sure that people can't talk about their pay. Those clauses disguise the even worse pay gap in the private sector. We can make that reporting cover the Public Service. The government said they want it done voluntarily. Let's actually make that an obligation.

There are so many other things we can do. We can give workers the right for flexible workplaces. We can extend paid parental leave and we can pay super on it. We can look at valuing the unpaid care work that still falls predominantly on the shoulders of women, disproportionately. We can make child care more affordable and more accessible. We can make superannuation fairer; we can change the way tax is paid on it and we can pay it no matter how small a woman's wage. There are things that can be done to fix gender inequality and fix the gender pay gap, and it's about time that we saw some leadership from either of the big parties in this place to do just that.