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Speech: Gender Equality Bill

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:19): I rise on behalf of the Greens to support this bill as the spokesperson for women for the Greens. I thank the Hon. Connie Bonaros for her continued advocacy in this area. Certainly, this bill is no surprise to us; it has been a long-held body of work. Sometimes we have to wait seemingly longer than we expect, but I reflect that in 1923 Virginia Woolf wrote that 'in a hundred years from now, women will cease to be the protected sex'. This marks, of course, the 100th year from that quote and I think many of us can probably agree that it has failed so far to be the case and tonight we are being told we must wait a little longer again.

In 2021, Australia fell from a rank of 44th to 50th on the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index, continuing the steady decline that this nation has suffered from the 15th position we once occupied in 2006. Despite being the 10th richest country in the world, we rank behind almost all the top 30 wealthiest countries. In translation, Australia fares particularly badly on gender equality when compared with countries with the same levels of development as our own.

The ABS reported that one in five Australian women experience sexual violence after the age of 15 and only outright denialists would be surprised to know that the Women's Gender Equality Agency found that Australian women suffer from a full-time total remuneration gender pay gap of 20 per cent. This means, of course, in translation, that Australian women will have to work an extra 56 days a year to earn the same pay as men do for doing the same work. The obvious question at this point is: why are we not doing more and why are we not doing it now?

Gender inequality in the workplace is systemic. No matter where you come from, there is no denying its presence. The gender pay gap exists not only across the economy but continues to be a global concern, including in the Public Service. The belief that there is no gender pay gap, because if men and women are doing the exact same job they should be getting the exact same pay, is unfortunately mistaken. Research continues to show that salaries for men and women continue to diverge even when the exact same job has been done earlier on in their careers.

But the pay gap is more than just exact moneys. It is also a reflection of the reality—our reality—that industries dominated by women, including child care, nursing and primary education, are paid less than the areas of work dominated historically by men. This is regardless of the nature of the skills required and that women are concentrated in jobs that pay less. Addressing this inequality requires the rebalancing of the value of work usually performed by women, and the public sector is not immune to such inequalities.

The bill before us is about improving gender equality in the public sector, applying to the South Australian Public Service, as well as to the South Australian Courts Administration Authority, local councils and other public entities, with over 100,000 employees to be covered. The bill acknowledges that:

…gender inequality may be compounded by other forms of disadvantage or discrimination that a person may experience on the basis of Aboriginality, age, disability, ethnicity, gender identity, race, religion, sexual orientation and other attributes...

The Greens' approach to achieving gender equality must always be intersectional, where we understand that all different aspects of a person's identity overlap, contributing to distinct types of discrimination and disadvantage. It is refreshing to see that this bill acknowledges the range of barriers women continue to face in the workplace, outlining gender equality targets to meet workplace gender equality indicators.

We are pleased to be supporting this bill today. We are disappointed that the government is not, but we continue to acknowledge that we do have a long way to go to fully address gender inequality in our state, in our country and of course across the world because equality goes beyond targets or quotas for government departments. It also means addressing cultural and structural barriers that prevent women and gender-diverse people from participating to the fullest in the workforce and in their community. To quote my Greens' colleague from Victoria Dr Samantha Ratnam:

It is acknowledging that women still retire with significantly less superannuation than men do. It is acknowledging that women are working more but continuing to do the bulk of a family's housework and childcare. It is acknowledging that women over 50 are the fastest growing group at risk of homelessness. It is acknowledging that women remain under-represented in parliaments and in our decision-making bodies. And it is acknowledging that women continue to be the main victims of family violence.

It is our responsibility here in this council to use our voices to speak on the things that are not only core to an equal society but that embed those values in our society. Along with more equal representation, we need legislators who are willing to step away from neutrality and use the law to help transform decades of discrimination against women.

We need those protections that Virginia Woolf noted. I note another quote of hers: 'Nothing has really happened until it has been recorded.' In a very simple way, that is what this bill would effect. In another way, the way we vote on this bill tonight will record what happened on International Women's Day 2023 when Labor was given a chance to lead.

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