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Thursday, 28 October 2010
Page: 2009

Mr HUNT (10:48 AM) —It gives me great pleasure to support the Sex and Age Discrimination Legislation Amendment Bill 2010. The reason this bill is important is very simple: it is about ensuring that we are a society of genuine and full equal opportunity. Of itself, it will not guarantee those great goals but it is part of the ongoing process of ensuring that we are a society based on merit and opportunity which gives all people the chance to live, to the best of their ability, the life of their choice. That is the broad parameter which underpins this bill and unites both sides of this House.

Let me begin with my electorate of Flinders. Demographically, Flinders is the fifth eldest electorate in the country. We have over 25,000 seniors, we have a great tradition and a base of seniors who are part of the workforce. Many seniors talk to me of their difficulties, most particularly blue-collar labourers who have had difficulty maintaining employment. Often they have found that it is the nudge on or the isolation which represents discrimination within the workplace—hard things to quantify and define, but real nevertheless. They face the problem, if they are retrenched or they have a period of unemployment, that it is very difficult for blue-collar manual labourers over 50 years of age to get new employment. That is a great personal challenge. It is a burden for workers which brings with it a sense of isolation, an economic impact, doubt as to self-worth and the question, ‘What future lies before me?’ That is a profoundly important element.

In 1989, I did a thesis in my second last year of university, in the subject Law and Discrimination, on age discrimination. It was absolutely clear then that we were in need of significant steps forward, including an age discrimination commissioner, adequate age discrimination protection and recognition of the different forms of age discrimination. It has been an abiding interest for over 21 years. I am delighted that we have made progress as a parliament, as a body politic in this space.

The particular amendment contained within this bill to establish an Age Discrimination Commissioner under the Australian Human Rights Commission is a welcome development which I endorse and embrace and for which we provide bipartisan support. It comes from a bipartisan report of the parliament and I believe it is an important step forward. I am only sorry it has not happened previously, but we are moving in a positive direction, building on the work of both sides of this House over the years.

The second element of this bill is the issue of sex discrimination. I make the point briefly that the first of four elements within this legislation to extend the Sex Discrimination Act to ensure equal protection for men as well as women is important, although it has to be used judiciously. There is a place for female sporting clubs and we do not want to erode the appropriate protections that people have; there can be sanctuaries. Women need sanctuaries and places, and it is appropriate in certain circumstances that they have the right staff. The second element is that we broaden the prohibition on discrimination on the ground of family responsibilities to include indirect discrimination to both men and women in all areas of their work. The third element is that we establish breast feeding as a separate ground of discrimination and the fourth is that we strengthen the protection against sexual harassment in workplaces and schools to include cyberbullying and electronic harassment.

These are important steps forward. I am delighted to support them. Obviously we want to look through the Senate process to see if there are any further amendments, and we reserve our rights on those, but we support this bill. We support the steps within it. We support its place in the history of the development of equal opportunity and equal treatment in Australian society and the Australian workplace. I am delighted to give my support under those circumstances.