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Human Rights: Equality for women: address, ALP National Conference, Hobart 2 August 2000

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Human Rights - Equality For Women Jenny Macklin - Shadow Minister for Health and Status of Women

Address - ALP National Conference, Hobart - 2 August 2000

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Chapter Twelve of the ALP Draft Platform outlines Labor's commitment to Human Rights. Labor wants a country where all citizens are able to fulfil their potential. Our policies aim to confront and address inequality and discrimination in all their forms.

In this Chapter Labor makes specific commitments to addressing the inequalities and discrimination experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, Australians with Disabilities, Young Australians, Migrant Australians and Australian women.

I will limit my remarks to the sections that relate to Equality for Women and Australians with Disabilities.

My colleagues Darryl Melham and Con Sciacca will address the rights of Indigenous Australians and migrants.

The section of the chapter relating to equality for women has been significantly amended to make it clear that Labor believes there is a national leadership role for a Federal Labor Government.

A leadership role that enables women to:

achieve higher living standards; ● better balance work and family responsibilities; and ● get a fairer deal from society and the national Government. ●

The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics Social Trend Study released in June shows that Australian women are losing the struggle for wage equality and the gap between male and female earnings is widening.

Whether it's base rates, over-award pay, performance pay or overtime rates - all the gaps between men's and women's pay widened since 1994.

In 1998 female total earnings were 83 per cent of male earnings, two per cent lower than in 1994.

This trend towards greater wages inequality must be reversed and until the gap is completely closed women's living standards will remain lower compared with men.

Narrowing the wages gap is a Labor priority and our commitment to building up the role of the Industrial Relations Commission and awards can only be good for women.

The burden placed on women, however, is not just confined to wages.

Women have less say in the hours they must work and without affordable childcare they

can't work.

Addressing these issues is central to Labor's new women's platform.

In this Chapter we have included new commitments to implementing measures to achieve a better balance between work and family commitments.

For the first time the platform makes specific reference to the need for maternity leave provisions. It is hard to believe the platform has been silent on this important policy issue in the past.

Discrimination involving pregnancy and work are high on Labor's policy agenda. We are determined to improve our laws so that they properly protect pregnant and breastfeeding women from discrimination in the workplace.

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's Report, "Pregnant and Productive" highlighted the inadequacies of our current laws. That report uncovered horror stories such as women miscarrying because they were not allowed to sit down at work, men sacked for attending their babies' births and women harassed about their appearance or removed from front desk work when obviously pregnant.

It is terrific to see some obviously pregnant women here.

Despite the significant need for improvements the Howard Government has ignored the Report and women continue to experience discrimination in the workplace.

We have also strengthened Labor's commitment to improving the quality of Government decision making as it relates to women.

The platform includes a new commitment to undertake an annual audit process to assess the impact of specific policies on women.

In Chapter 12 we also reaffirm our commitment to policies and programs for people with disabilities. This will be delivered through a policy framework that embraces adequate income support, transport access, specialised health and employment services, and protection of human rights. We recognise that equal opportunity depends on the delivery of each of these goals. The absence of any part will ensure that disability is a barrier to full and free participation in our economic and community life.

We must fight current efforts to dismantle rights and services for people with a disability. We must expose those policies masquerading under the banner of 'welfare reform'. These policies will only make the world of people with disabilities a tougher and harsher place.

I commend Chapter 12 of the draft Platform to the Conference.

Authorised by Geoff Walsh, 19 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600.