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Thursday, 28 October 2010
Page: 2008

Ms HALL (10:40 AM) —I congratulate the member for Moreton on his fine contribution to this debate. I know he has a total commitment to eliminating any form of discrimination. The Sex and Age Discrimination Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 amends the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 to strengthen protections against sexual harassment, establish breastfeeding as a separate ground of discrimination and extend protection on the grounds of family responsibilities against discrimination in the workplace. Also included in this legislation is the establishment of the position of Age Discrimination Commissioner.

Firstly, I will touch on the subject of breastfeeding. In the parliament before last, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing conducted an inquiry into breastfeeding and, in its report, made a number of recommendations relating to changes that needed to take place in the workplace. I am pleased to say that, following the tabling of that report, this parliament has become a breastfeeding-friendly workplace, and is recognised as such by the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

This legislation is vitally important. We need to eliminate age discrimination and we will do that by the appointment of a commissioner, through this legislation. We need to look at discrimination against young people and we will do that through the changes in the legislation that we have before us today. I come from an electorate that has the 11th oldest population of all Australian electorates. People talk to me on an ongoing basis about the discrimination that they face because they are older and looking for work. Discrimination can be very subtle. It can be as subtle as an old person in hospital being ignored by staff because they are deemed to be older and not as strong cognitively at other patients. Quite often that older person is brighter, more alert and more in touch with things that are happening around them than other people, but they are discriminated against on grounds of age.

I did a brainstorming exercise with a group of people. We asked what old age stands for and put the answers up on a board. There were words and phrases like ‘disability’, ‘dependence’, ‘frail’, ‘not as alert’—a whole lot of negative terms—rather than the positives that are associated with age such as ‘wisdom’, ‘life skills’, ‘life experience’ and ‘knowledge’. The establishment of an Age Discrimination Commissioner will give those people who are discriminated against on the grounds of age a focal point for lodging complaints about that discrimination. I know that in New South Wales the most commonly reported form of discrimination in the workplace is on the grounds of age.

The amendments in this legislation in relation to breastfeeding will ensure that all workplaces are set up so that mothers rejoining the workforce can continue to breastfeed, a decision that will deliver the best health outcomes for their babies. Mothers will not be discriminated against when they return to work. All workplaces need to become breastfeeding-friendly workplaces, as is Parliament House.

The changes the minister has made concerning discrimination in educational institutions are very important. They will prevent a person being discriminated against not only within their own educational institution but across wider educational institutions. I would recommend that the House read an article by Susan Fineran and Larry Bennett titled Teenage peer sexual harassment: implications for social work practice in education. That article highlights a number of issues in relation to sexual harassment—sexual comments, jokes, gestures or looks, pictures, photographs, illustrations, messages or notes and sexual rumours—and quotes a number of young people who attend educational institutions.

The Sex and Age Discrimination Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 is very important legislation. It goes to removing discrimination in our society and I commend the minister for bringing this to the House. I put on record my strong support for the legislation.