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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Page: 8856

Senator URQUHART (Tasmania) (17:07): I resume my speech for the third time. The agency's advisory and education functions will be enhanced. The contemporary data focus will allow the agency to see and target advice and education as effectively as possible as particular sectoral or industry issues emerge. And, in a win for smaller organisations with fewer than 100 employees, they will still not be required to report but will be able to access the agency's expertise and expanded online resources, boosting gender equality in all Australian workplaces.

The bill facilitates the engagement of senior management and employees. The chief executive officer, or equivalent, will be required to sign-off on organisation reports, and consultation with employees is a defined gender equality indicator. Over time, the improved and standardised data set will assist the minister in setting industry-specific minimum standards against the gender equality indicators. Minimum standards will not come into effect until reporting in 2015 and will be developed in close consultation with stakeholders.

The bill also improves the transparency and fairness of the compliance framework and the consequences of non-compliance. The agency will be able to check compliance by seeking information from employers relevant to compliance. Employees and shareholders will be provided with access to the report, and employees and employee organisations will be provided with opportunity to comment on the report. The consequences of non-compliance are the same as the existing provisions but with a focus on improving transparency and consistency of application. If an employer does not comply without a reasonable excuse, they may be named in a report to the minister or more broadly. Employers may also not be eligible to compete for Commonwealth contracts, grants or other financial assistance.

Those opposite use the great bastion of fear, the potential for increased red tape, to strike fear into every CEO. I would describe these reforms as more like pink tape—a lighter shade of regulation that makes compliance simpler and more meaningful. With the additional resources for education and industry assistance, this reform demonstrates a government that cares about working together towards gender equality. The rhetoric we hear from those opposite shows their true colours. I refer to paragraph 1.44 of the coalition senators' dissenting report into the Senate committee inquiry into this legislation. In that they said:

Coalition Senators are of the view that gender equality should be an aspirational goal ….

What—an aspirational goal? On this side, we produced the first female Prime Minister and first female Premier from my home state of Tasmania, and we have built our ranks of females in this place and parliaments across the country to around 38 per cent while the conservatives languish at around half of that, or just one in five are female politicians. Labor has an active goal to increase female participation. We are getting on with the job of destroying the joint, not aspiring to one day trying to find the time.

I conclude today with a contemporary story from a young woman in my home town of Devonport. She told me that, as a young woman at the start of her career, it was a demeaning process to sit at a table in front of her male boss and have to beg for what was essentially a human right and to have it repeatedly refused. Equality in the workplace is all she desired. Requests for her skills to be recognised were never heard. She says she was made to feel as if she should be just thankful for having a job in the first place. This is not a blue-collar factory job like I spoke about earlier. This young lady scored a near perfect score on her high school certificate and wanted to pursue her passion for writing in her home town. She says she was young and tried to rationalise that the job market was tough, but she could not ignore the injustice of commencing induction at the same time as a male employee and observing that he progressed much further and faster in the workplace.

Upon repeated requests for an upgrade, simply to reflect her existent skills, she was told to be less impatient and to wait her turn. At the time, she tried to comprehend this as she was at home with her parents and her male colleague had a wife and family to support. We all know that is not right. All of us know that people should have the wages and conditions that reflect their skill and effort at work.

I commend this bill to the Senate.