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Monday, 18 June 2012
Page: 6686


Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (13:35): I rise to voice my strong support for the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Amendment Bill 2012. This bill is the next step in the Gillard government's assault on inequity and discrimination in Australian workplaces. On this side of the House we can hold our heads high in this regard. We have delivered Australia's first paid parental leave scheme, which provides real support to working mums and dads and their young families—truly momentous. This is not pie-in-the-sky stuff; it is a practical, fair and sustainable scheme that provides financial assistance when they need it most.

For women the road to equality has been a long and difficult one. Along this road we often take baby steps—and I use that term deliberately—but we are getting there. Australia was one of the first countries in the world to give women the right to vote and to sit in parliament. We were just pipped by New Zealand. After that, it was not until 1949 that our first female federal cabinet minister was appointed. That took 49 years. Up until 1966—which is not that long ago, as 1966 was when I was born—women working in the federal Public Service were required to resign when they married. In the last 50 years much has been achieved for women in equality in education, in the workplace and in things such as safe contraception and access to childcare facilities. In 1984 the federal government banned discrimination on the basis of sex. Today, more women than men are educated at secondary schools and universities and more women graduate from university with bachelor degrees. In 2006, women made up nearly 55 per cent of tertiary students and 47.5 per cent of students enrolled in vocational education and training courses. Forty per cent of Australia's small business operators are women and 57 per cent of the Australian Public Service are women, with around 36 per cent of senior executive positions. It is a different story in the private sector, where, sadly, only 12 per cent of management jobs are held by women. Progress is continuing but more needs to be done.

Let's have a look at parliament: there are currently more women parliamentarians in the Senate than at any other time since Federation, with 28 women out of 76; but, sadly, the number of women in this chamber dropped at the last election and is now less than 25 per cent. So 111 years after Federation we are down to less than one in four members of this chamber being women. Of course, in the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, we have Australia's first female Prime Minister, and likewise in Quentin Bryce we have Australia's first female Governor-General—a proud Queenslander, as you know, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott.

It is interesting to see how the Liberal National Premier of Queensland dealt with women in the workplace when he was the Lord Mayor of Brisbane. I have spoken about this with one of the councillors in the Moreton electorate and that is Councillor Nicole Johnston—now an Independent but previously a member of the Liberal Party. She was the councillor assisting Lord Mayor Campbell Newman, as he then was, before she decided that her job as a Liberal councillor for Tennyson required her to speak out on behalf of Sherwood residents about the bus depot that was rather hastily foisted on the local community. After Nicole dared to speak up and voice local community concerns, she says that she was frozen out by Mr Newman. He refused to speak to her. Thankfully, she was re-elected, not for Labor but as an Independent, at the recent council elections. Unfortunately, I have heard the now Premier Newman bagging the hardworking Nicole Johnston to all and sundry. He was quite indiscreet, in fact, in the past. Perhaps things might change now that he is the Premier. This might suggest poor judgment, a personality flaw or a huge lack of respect for women; we will see. Obviously, Mr Newman has a long way to go if he wants all Queenslanders to believe that such treatment is behind him.

In Queensland, of the 78 seats held by the LNP, less than 17 per cent are female. The LNP's representation of women is in line with countries like Kazakhstan and Venezuela. Obviously it is not good for a modern political party to have such disregard for equality. There is no minister for women under the state LNP government, and who knows what they will axe next? We will wait and see. There are still some sections of the community—both broadly known and smaller pockets—that are coming to terms with the proper way to treat and provide equal opportunity for women.

This bill before the chamber delivers on the Gillard Labor government's commitment to improve the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999. The bill changes the name of the act to the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012, because this is about improving outcomes for women and men in the workplace. The bill also changes the emphasis of the act to promote and improve gender equality in the workplace and achieve equal remuneration and a stronger focus on family and caring responsibilities. The bill also introduces a new reporting framework which requires employers with 100 or more employees—so not small businesses—to report against a set of gender equality indicators. A new online reporting facility will be easier and more useful, and will enable businesses to compare how they are travelling against other workplaces in their industry. Over time the data will enable the minister to set minimum standards for employers.

The renamed Workplace Gender Equality Agency will also be required to develop industry based benchmarks regarding gender equality. They will then use these indicators to assist industry to meet these benchmarks. Employees and shareholders will be provided with access to a business compliance report, ensuring greater transparency and accountability for meeting gender benchmarks. I am pleased to see that extensive consultation has been carried out through the review of the act and broad consultation has continued throughout the reform process. I particularly commend the Minister for the Status of Women, Julie Collins, for her work directly engaging with key stakeholders in the development of the bill. This is an important piece of legislation in efforts to improve gender equality in the workplace—something that I am sure all members of parliament and all Australians would support.

Back in 2009, I was part of an inquiry into pay equity as part of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment and Workplace Relations, chaired by the then member for Hasluck, Sharryn Jackson. The report Making it fair: pay equity and associated issues related to increasing female participation in the workforce made 63 recommendations. Unfortunately, I cannot stand here today and hold up that report and say that we have achieved all 63 of those recommendations, but nevertheless it is a bit of a guide—a path that this parliament might go down to achieve true equality. This bill implements some of those recommendations, particularly around better reporting, because it is through the information of reporting that businesses, governments and other institutions will be able to say: 'We've done this so far and we'll now be able to take the next step in achieving equality in the workforce.'

I take you back to some facts that are quite disconcerting: not that long ago, only 46 years, when a woman was married, the social expectation was that if she was in the federal Public Service she would resign, with the presumption she would be supported by her husband. A lot has been achieved, and I would like to particularly commend the efforts of the Prime Minister as she has quietly in her steely, strong, determined way gone about proving that women can do anything in Australia. I have often had people in my electorate come up when I am with the Prime Minister to say that they respect what she has done for their daughters and their grandchildren and to say thank you for leading the nation in such a way. Whilst there are suggestions from both sides of parliament, it is complicated when you look at the data and say that merit will out. The reality is that when half of the population is female but less than 25 per cent of the MPs in this chamber are female there is something going wrong—otherwise you must make the flawed presumption that half of the women in Australia do not have the same merit when it comes to being a proper representative. This bill is a great way to go. It is a step in the right direction and I commend the bill to the House.