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Thursday, 28 October 2010
Page: 2010

Mr McCLELLAND (Attorney-General) (10:53 AM) —in reply—I thank all honourable members for their very constructive contributions to the debate on the Sex and Age Discrimination Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 and especially the member for Flinders, who is just leaving, I will have to get hold of a copy of his thesis so I can appreciate his reference to the work he has previously undertaken. I note, just by way of another example, the member for Murray made the important observation that the legislation is only the first step. We hope that this does lead to a cultural change to recognise the idea of a fair go for all regardless of sex, age or family responsibilities or any other circumstances. We certainly take on board the points she made and that there is more work to collectively do in this space.

The bill itself will make important amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act to better protect both women and men from discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace, in schools and in the community at large. These changes will ensure that our antidiscrimination laws meet the needs of contemporary Australians and will make it easier for people to understand their rights and their responsibilities. It is in the interests of individual citizens but also, we believe, more generally to have more productive, flexible workplaces where the churn and turnover of staff is minimised by the development of this culture.

The amendments have been informed, as has been mentioned by members, by the bipartisan report of the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs into the effectiveness of the Sex Discrimination Act, which now has been in place for some 25 years. I again thank members from all sides of the parliament for the work they did. The government will also consider other recommendations from the committee’s report as part of the government’s commitment to the Australian Human Rights Framework. That commitment is a commitment to consolidate federal antidiscrimination laws into a single comprehensive act. That will also provide the opportunity to revisit not only the structure of our antidiscrimination laws but also any gaps or areas where improvements could be made, having regard to contemporary standards and developments.

I am also pleased that the bill includes amendments to establish the position of a stand-alone Age Discrimination Commissioner, which the member for Flinders has just welcomed. The government is committed to tackling age discrimination in all its forms through the creation—for the first time at a federal level—of a dedicated Age Discrimination Commissioner, and that position will be located within the Australian Human Rights Commission.

I also take the opportunity to mention and commend the outstanding work that Sex Discrimination Commissioner Liz Broderick has done in the area of both sex discrimination and age discrimination. Having a dedicated Age Discrimination Commissioner is no reflection on the outstanding work that she has done but is simply a recognition of the changing demographics in our society and the increasing need to focus on the rights of senior Australians. The Age Discrimination Commissioner will be able to advocate on behalf of all those who face age discrimination, including obviously older Australians.

In conclusion, this bill will implement important reforms in the areas of sex and age discrimination. These reforms are but one part of the government’s strong commitment to fostering an inclusive Australia and ensuring that our antidiscrimination laws are relevant now and into the foreseeable future. I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.