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Thursday, 28 October 2010
Page: 2007


Mr PERRETT (10:35 AM) —I thank the member for Murray, mostly, for her contribution. I am pleased to speak in support of the Sex and Age Discrimination Legislation Amendment Bill 2010. This bill is another step along the way to breaking down the barriers that discriminate and divide us. The most notable achievement is our Paid Parent Leave scheme, which will kick off from 1 January next year and provide real support for working mums and dads and their young families. But Labor have also worked hard to remove discriminatory language from legislation and provide equal treatment for same-sex couples for superannuation and other financial matters—although there might be an argument that there is more work to be done there.

This bill delivers greater protection against discrimination for Australians in the workplace. It does so by expanding the grounds for discrimination of family responsibilities beyond termination to include other forms of direct and indirect discrimination. This applies to men and women equally and is part of the Gillard government’s commitment to support working families. Australian workplaces will need to provide greater flexibility for workers to allow them to fulfil their caring responsibilities.

This bill provides specific protection for women who are breastfeeding, making it a separate ground of discrimination. It also extends protection against sexual harassment in workplaces and schools. The test for sexual harassment will be amended so that harassment occurs if a reasonable person would anticipate the possibility that the person harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated—an important consideration, particularly when it comes to breastfeeding. Sexual harassment is unacceptable, and I welcome any measures to ensure it is not a part of Australian workplaces and schools. I spent 11 years as a schoolteacher and five years as a union organiser working in schools as well, so I know some of the battles that take place in education workplaces in particular.

This bill also implements an election commitment of the Gillard government to creating a new position of Age Discrimination Commissioner in the Australian Human Rights Commission. All of us would agree that Australians of all ages, young and not so young, have the right to be treated fairly and to have access to the same opportunities as everyone else. Already the Age Discrimination Act 2004 protects people from discrimination on the basis of age in employment, education, accommodation and the provision of goods and services.

In 2007, Elizabeth Broderick was appointed Sex Discrimination Commissioner and Commissioner Responsible for Age Discrimination. However, the Gillard government recognises that age discrimination has become such a significant issue in the community that a commission with responsibility solely for age discrimination is required. This bill will establish the new position of a dedicated advocate for people, particularly older Australians, who experience age discrimination. The Age Discrimination Commissioner will also work with the community and industry to tackle discrimination in workplaces, promote respect and fairness and fight the attitudes and stereotypes that contribute to age discrimination.

The election of Wyatt Roy, the new member for Longman, to the House of Representatives as the youngest ever member shows that age really is no barrier—unfortunately I did not get to hear his first speech but I gather it was a commendable effort—just as age was no barrier for Edward Braddon. I was not around when Edward Braddon was elected to parliament—that was in 1901—but he was elected aged 71 years and nine months. Hopefully, the current member for Longman will avoid Edward Braddon’s fate. He died suddenly at his home in February1904 while parliament was in recess.

I thank the Attorney-General for introducing this bill and for his work over three years to eliminate discrimination and inequities in Australian law. I commend the bill to the House.