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Thursday, 28 October 2010
Page: 1074


Senator LUNDY (Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Citizenship and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister) (3:33 PM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

I am pleased to introduce the Sex and Age Discrimination Legislation Amendment Bill 2010. The Bill implements two election promises by the Gillard Government:

  • to strengthen protections against sex discrimination and sexual harassment by improving on the existing Sex Discrimination Act 1984, and
  • to introduce a new dedicated position of Age Discrimination Commissioner in the Australian Human Rights Commission, as part of the Government’s commitment to ensure that all Australians are able to participate in Australian society, regardless of their age.

Amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act

As I mentioned, the Bill includes amendments to enhance protections against sex discrimination and sexual harassment.  These amendments form part of the Government’s response to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s Inquiry into the effectiveness of the Sex Discrimination Act in eliminating discrimination and promoting gender equality.

Other recommendations in the Report will be considered by the Government as part of its review of anti-discrimination laws under Australia’s Human Rights Framework.

There are four key amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act:

First, it will ensure the Act provides equal protection to women and men.

Second, it will broaden the prohibition on discrimination on the ground of family responsibilities to provide equal protection from discrimination, including indirect discrimination, to both men and women in all areas of work.

The Gillard Government is committed to taking action to support working families and ensure there are adequate protections in place.  Likewise, to be competitive, it is in the interest of Australian workplaces to provide greater flexibility to workers to allow all Australians to fulfil their caring responsibilities.

Third, it will establish breastfeeding as a separate ground of discrimination, rather than as a subset of sex discrimination.

Finally, it will strengthen the protections against sexual harassment in workplaces and schools.

Recent events have highlighted that sexual harassment continues to be a widespread problem in the workplace.  In addition, younger victims of sexual harassment are facing the growing problem of cyber-bullying and harassment by electronic means.

These amendments send a strong message that sexual harassment in any form is unacceptable. 

Age Discrimination Commissioner

I am also pleased that the Bill includes amendments to the Age Discrimination Act to establish the position of Age Discrimination Commissioner within the Australian Human Rights Commission. 

The Commission already has powers and functions under the Act to seek to address the problems of age discrimination in our society.  To date, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, has been responsible for age discrimination issues.  I would like to acknowledge and thank her for her strong advocacy in this area.

However, Australia’s ageing population has highlighted the need for a dedicated Commissioner to engage with stakeholders, including industry and community representatives, to address discrimination in the workplace and in the community, to promote respect and fairness and tackle the attitudes and stereotypes that can contribute to age discrimination.

The Bill includes a number of amendments, which are largely administrative in nature, that provide the mechanism for appointment and the terms and conditions of employment for the new Commissioner.  The Bill also ensures the Commissioner is a member of the Commission and has the same advocacy powers as the other Commissioners.

Conclusion

These amendments will strengthen protections for working families and also send a strong message that sexual harassment is unacceptable, especially in the workplace.

The establishment of an Age Discrimination Commissioner is also vital to address the continuing occurrence of age discrimination in the workplace and the broader community.

Debate (on motion by Senator Lundy) adjourned.