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Thursday, 28 October 2010
Page: 1999


Ms MARINO (10:00 AM) —As members in this House are aware, for over 25 years the Sex Discrimination Act has made it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of sex, marital status, pregnancy and family responsibilities but, whilst we in the opposition are supportive of moves to protect Australians against sex discrimination and harassment, we reserve our position on the amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act pending the report of the inquiry by the Senate Legal And Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. Stakeholders have raised concerns that the amendments will have unintended consequences and, in some circumstances, do not perhaps go far enough. Given this, we have referred the bill to the Senate committee for inquiry and report and we will move amendments as necessary.

The second part of this bill relates to age discrimination and the establishment of an Age Discrimination Commissioner. We on this side are very supportive of the draft proposal. There are some really major issues for seniors. It is important that in an age commissioner they have someone who will engage with stakeholders, including industry and community representatives, to tackle discrimination in the workplace and the community. The promotion of respect and fairness for the seven million Australians who are over 50 is extremely important. I personally welcome this move given that there are around 19,000 people over 65 in my electorate of Forrest and given the fact that this number will increase quite rapidly with the growth in population in my region over the next decade.

However, I also draw the attention of the House to a submission made to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee by the Office of the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner. The commissioner submitted that there is urgent need of reform of anti-age-discrimination protections not only for seniors but for all Australians. The submission notes that the Gillard government has failed in this area, as it has in so many other attempts to reform governance in Australia. The commission stated:

It is disappointing that the Bill does not amend the Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cth) to improve the scope of … exceptions and exemptions to this Act.

The office of the commissioner, while broadly supporting the bill, specifically noted that in their view age discrimination is an increasing problem—something that would concern, I suspect, all members in this House.

Discrimination can come in many forms and, unfortunately, when I hear the word ‘discrimination’ I am immediately and forcibly reminded of the Labor government’s changes to youth allowance in the youth allowance legislation. Discrimination is a term that refers to the treatment taken towards or against an individual of a certain group, or consideration based solely on a class or category. It involves excluding or restricting members of one group from the opportunities that are available to other groups.

It is worth repeating this—that discrimination involves excluding or restricting members of one group from opportunities that are available to other groups—because that is exactly what has happened in the government’s youth allowance legislation. We saw it in the result of the vote on my motion this morning in this House. The legislation directly and deliberately makes it more difficult for students in inner regional classified areas to access independent youth allowance—and therefore much more difficult to access tertiary education or training—than for students in outer regional and rural or remote categories.

I believe this is actually a human rights issue for students in rural and regional areas. It is certainly an issue for the families in my electorate. It is a piece of legislation that, by the admission of Labor members in this House, picks winners and losers and, in this case, many of the losers are in my electorate. Students in those areas defined as inner regional are effectively being discriminated against, as are their families. Labor certainly is discriminating against inner regional students by restricting the workforce criteria for these students to only one option while students in outer regional areas have several options to qualify for independent youth allowance. This is discriminatory for students who have no choice but to relocate to study or train, or who have a set of criteria different from the student who attends the same school, lives perhaps only metres away and yet has multiple choice options to qualify for the same opportunity.

During the private members’ business debate on independent youth allowance last week, the member for Hunter outlined the inequality Labor deliberately and knowingly devised in his words:

… the people who are currently disadvantaged are typically those living in rural and regional Australia …

He went on to state, in a reference to Labor’s youth allowance legislation:

Yes, there will be losers.

I, unlike the member for Hunter, am not satisfied with allowing the Labor government to discriminate against great young people and families not only in my constituency but in many others across Australia, and this is why I moved my motion. I do not believe that discriminating against some students based on geographic location is ‘just tough’. I will continue to fight this and I will continue to represent people on these issues.

I note that one of the comments made was that funding was being ‘distributed in a way that was more equitable’. Unfortunately, it is more equitable for one group than another—the very definition of discrimination. More equitable means more just, right, fair or reasonable. They are not words I would use to describe the youth allowance changes that this government forced upon regional students and families throughout Australia. I would not call it just to make parents who live in regional areas—and we in regional areas are all aware of the number of disadvantages faced by families, by businesses and by individuals—choose which of their children to send to university or force them to get a second or even third job to support their child’s tertiary education costs, just because the Labor government drew a line on a map and classified them as inner regional.

The fact that universities will not hold the places for those students that have to work for two years is an even more disastrous decision and the implications are all, unfortunately, lose-lose. If the Labor government is serious about introducing legislation to provide equity and remove discrimination, I think they should start with the youth allowance legislation. In conclusion, the coalition supports the amendments to the Age Discrimination Act as drafted and reserves its position on the Sex Discrimination Act pending the inquiry and report of the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. I call on the Labor government to act on the results of the division today on youth allowance.