Gender Equality Bill (Bills)

Bills, In Parliament, Speeches

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 18 May 2022.)

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries) (17:13): The government acknowledges and thanks the honourable member for bringing this bill forward, a bill that aims to drive action towards gender equality in workplaces across our state. As committed in our pre-election policy, our government is committed to developing and introducing an equality bill in this term of government. As such, we will not support this legislation at this time. However, we look forward to working collaboratively with the member towards future legislation.

Our government plans to introduce this legislation, following consultation with key stakeholders and to ensure a range of voices are heard in determining key positions on the proposed new legislation, including the size of organisations that would be captured by the requirements of the bill and how benchmarking and reporting would be arranged.

The government’s equality bill would be pursued in alignment with our other ongoing commitments towards economic equality, including: progress towards grants and procurement processes increasing gender equity; a review of all legislation and government policy to ensure it is inclusive and it enables equality of opportunity; and setting up a Gender Pay Gap Taskforce, which has now been established, with their work now progressing.

Within the sport, recreation and racing portfolio, we have re-established the Women in Sport Taskforce and are progressing linking funding for state sporting organisations to the diversity of their decision-making boards. We understand that this bill does align in part with the government’s objectives; however, it presents new structures, such as a commissioner for gender equality, that at this point have not been tested with stakeholders and may in some cases duplicate existing activities undertaken through other structures.

Further consultation and work will be undertaken ahead of the introduction of the government bill to identify the scope of future legislation and we look forward to working with the honourable member in terms of future directions.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (17:15): I rise to make some remarks, which are consistent with the Liberal Party’s previous position in relation to the bill that the honourable member introduced in 2021, unlike the previous speaker, but anyway I am sure that others will have comments on that as well.

The bill before us proposes to establish a discrete office of commissioner for gender equality and place positive obligations on relevant agencies to set and meet gender equality targets. The aim of the bill is to improve gender equality in the public sector. The intention and objectives of the bill overlap with existing gender equality strategies and the work undertaken particularly by the equal opportunity commissioner and the Commissioner for Public Sector Employment.

While I will place on the record the Liberal Party’s strong support for gender equality and, indeed, our record in government speaks for itself, I do note that, unfortunately, the latest figures from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency show that South Australia’s gender pay gap is actually going in the wrong direction, having dropped in South Australia from 8.5 per cent in 2020 to 7.1 per cent in 2021, which is the lowest in Australia. It crept up to 7.4 per cent last year and has now gone up to 7.8 per cent, which is going in a different direction from the rest of Australia. Indeed, I do commend that the government needs all the help that it can get, and I am sure the Hon. Ms Pnevmatikos, in her chairing of the Gender Pay Gap Taskforce, has her work cut out for her under this new Labor government.

This particular legislation is modelled on the Victorian bill. We do note that in the South Australian public sector employment is skewed towards females; however, it has always, in the past, had the problem that is entrenched in many workplace areas in that the management roles do tend to favour males. However, I note that in the South Australia public sector these days, women are represented well, with 57 per cent of executives being female.

The public sector, I think, needs to be commended for being a frontrunner on gender equality in leadership in South Australia and is in a position—unlike a lot of small businesses, of course, because of its size—to have appropriate policies that ensure that women are supported throughout their roles. Commissioners can be very expensive beasts and they can often duplicate each other’s work, and for that reason we consistently continue to not support this bill, although we do strongly support its intent.

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.

The Hon. C. BONAROS (17:25): Can I start by thanking those honourable members who have made a contribution: the Hon. Clare Scriven, the Hon. Michelle Lensink and particularly the Hon. Tammy Franks. I look forward to working with all those colleagues and others, not just the government but everybody in this place, on the issue of gender equality until we get some results.

To suggest that I am bitterly disappointed today, as I am sure my colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks is, is an understatement. We should be leading by example once again, but here we are. After having supported the proposed bill in opposition, we have missed another opportunity to make headway on the gender equality debate. With respect, it is an insult to the whole gender equality discussion for the Labor Malinauskas government. They talk the talk, but here we are, asking them to walk the walk in terms of their progressive agenda on gender equality, and they have done a backflip of significant proportions and are now opposing the bill.

It makes a complete mockery, in my view, of that so-called commitment to gender equality and that debate. It is not enough to fill this place with female MPs. It is not enough to have more female members on your front and backbenches. We actually need some decisive action on this issue, and this bill was intended to provide a constructive way in terms of creating equality in South Australia. We know that South Australians support that because they voted for it at the election.

I do not know how many more reports and how much more consultation is needed before we are proactive about this issue in this place. I can tell you this: I have a pile of reports and publications in my office on gender equality that stands taller than I do, and they all say the same thing. I have stood next to them just to see how high they do stand, and I can assure you, even with heels on, they still tower above me in height.

We have been told that we need more consultation, that now is the time to do a deep-dive consultation into the need for this legislation. Nothing could be further from the truth than that statement; in fact, as I found out today, Australia as a nation has consulted more extensively on gender equality than any other nation in the world. That is our record on consultation. Experts will tell you we do not need to consult more on this: what we need to be doing is having a conversation with women about what they need and what they want in their workplace. Two of the simplest things that they need and want in their workplace are job security and respect at work, and this bill aims to move forward in terms of achieving those ends.

Not just I but everybody should be disappointed that here we are on International Women’s Day and we had the opportunity to have another historic occasion. Earlier today, I stood shoulder to shoulder with my Labor colleagues as the stealthing bill was passed with the unanimous support of this parliament. I was proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Attorney-General and the Minister for Women and the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence and say, ‘What a great moment this is in South Australian parliamentary history.’ Here we are today with another such opportunity and we are being told, lo and behold, ‘We are not going to support this bill today.’

I am going to say this again for the record: I have a great deal of respect for the Minister for Women and the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence and the work she has done in this space. I note that there are two bills already in parliament that we are debating at the moment that go to the heart of the same sorts of issues that this bill attempts to address in terms of gender equality. We will always give credit where it is due.

I have worked with the minister on many such projects around gender equality, as I know my other colleagues in this place have. I know she is deeply committed to gender equality. I know she does and continues to do amazing work in this space that we have all sometimes shared with her on the multifaceted fronts of the impacts of gender equality, including family violence, but I am bitterly, bitterly disappointed in terms of this position, which is nothing but a backflip and a cop-out.

There is nothing in this bill that prevents the government from introducing its own standalone gender equality bill, which I know the minister intends to do at some point, but we do not have to wait. We do not have to keep waiting. Everyone has had at least two years’ notice of this bill. We have supported it in opposition. Here we are now, and the position has changed. Our tune has changed. Do whatever you want with it. Amend it, do something to it, but do not just come in and say, ‘We are not going to support it because we are doing our own thing,’ when we have had notice of this bill and it is something we could be doing right now to take decisive action on gender equality.

I know the minister has been quoted as saying she is disappointed with my assessment of the Labor government’s newly formed position, especially because we have shared a strong record of working together on these issues. With respect to the minister, her disappointment pales into insignificance compared today with mine and, I am sure, with that of the Hon. Tammy Franks. For the record, I am going to point out that the objects and principles that this bill was based on include:

that all South Australians shall live in a safe and equal society and have access to equal powers, resources and opportunities and be treated with dignity, respect and fairness;

that gender equality benefits all South Australians regardless of their gender;

that gender equality is a human right and precondition to social justice;

that gender equality brings significant economic, social and health benefits for South Australia;

that gender equality is a precondition for the prevention of family violence and other forms of violence—the exact same thing that we are trying to prevent in other laws in this place;

that advancing gender equality is a shared responsibility across all South Australian communities;

that all human beings, regardless of their gender, should be free to develop their personal abilities, pursue their professional careers and make choices about their lives without being limited by gender, stereotypes, roles and prejudices;

that women have historically experienced discrimination and disadvantage on the basis of sex and gender; and

that gender equality may be compounded by other forms of disadvantage, including discrimination, disability, ethnicity, gender identity, race, religion, sexual orientation and other attributes.

That is a small snippet of the list of things that this bill is intended to address. I do not know what part of that the Labor government, all of a sudden, does not agree with. It is beyond me. It baffles me that these are all of a sudden the principles and objects that we do not agree with. We could be passing this bill today. I am going to say it again because it is important: we could be passing this bill today and you can continue with the amazing work that I am sure you are doing in the background with your task force, your equality bill and everything you are planning on doing in terms of equality.

But this would indicate to the South Australian public that you are taking decisive action and you are taking it right now. Instead, you are opposing the bill in this chamber. So yes, to suggest I am disappointed is an understatement, and the disappointment of my colleague in the other place does pale into insignificance.

The Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos pointed earlier to some figures around gender equality globally. With respect, we will all be dead before we reach gender equality. On current figures and trends, the UN now puts that figure at 300 years globally before we reach gender equality, and here we are discussing whether or not we need a gender equality bill in this jurisdiction.

Addressing the United Commission on the Status of Women, the Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, just yesterday told delegates that gender equality was growing increasingly distant and that progress won over decades is vanishing before our eyes. It is not about cupcakes and scones and breakfasts and champagnes; that is right. It is about taking decisive action and doing all we can right now.

We can and should celebrate the achievements of women in this jurisdiction and everywhere, but we should also, at the same time, take every opportunity to advance gender equality in a meaningful way, and I am bitterly, bitterly disappointed that that opportunity is being lost in here today.

The council divided on the second reading:

Second reading thus negatived.

At 17:41 the council adjourned until Thursday 9 March 2023 at 14:15.