Legislative Council: Wednesday, May 18, 2022


Gender Equality Bill

Introduction and First Reading

The Hon. C. BONAROS (16:23): Obtained leave and introduced a bill for an act to establish the office of the Commissioner for Gender Equality, to require certain entities to promote gender equality in the development of programs and delivery of services, to provide that certain entities prepare and implement an action plan to achieve gender equality in the workplace, to make a related amendment to the Fair Work Act 1994 and for other purposes. Read a first time.

Second Reading

The Hon. C. BONAROS (16:24): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Gender Equality Bill is a replica of the bill that enjoyed the majority support of this place in November last year, with only some minor tweaks caused by the new Legislation Interpretation Act, which are of no consequence. They are technical amendments to this bill. You will be pleased to hear that I do not propose to repeat the very long and detailed explanation I delivered last year.

In fact, at the risk of using a well-known phrase of the former Hon. Mark Parnell, you all know what to do. I am looking at the new government in particular when I say that because it was their support that secured the passage of the bill in this chamber last year. I will make a few key points to refresh the memory of members and to inform new members who have not had the benefit of the previous debate.

The bill provides an important opportunity for South Australia to build on our strong history of freedom, respect, dignity, tolerance and equality. It responds to society's increasing calls for change to take up the challenge of addressing gender inequality from where many trailblazing advocates left off.

The gender equality baton has been passed between us—the current generation of South Australian legislators—and I do not want to see the opportunity pass us by because, as we know, gender equality is something that benefits every South Australian. It is a fundamental human right and a precondition of social justice that brings significant economic, social and health benefits. Gender equality is a precondition of the prevention of family violence and other forms of violence and may be compounded by other forms of disadvantage or discrimination, age, disability, ethnicity, gender, identity, race, religion and sexual orientation.

The bill provides for the appointment of a public sector gender equality commissioner to oversee and ensure the implementation of the bill and compliance and enforcement going forward. It is based on the Victorian model, which is the gold standard in terms of gender equality legislation of this model in Australia at the moment. Of course, Victoria has the benefit of a human rights bill, which we do not have. The Hon. Robert Simms might like to take that issue up for us so that we can make this bill even better in terms of having both that bill and this coexist in South Australia, which would bring us absolutely in line with the gold standard that exists in Victoria.

This bill gives relevant entities very clear obligations to set and meet gender equality targets. Each time a relevant entity develops or reviews a policy, program or service that has a direct and significant impact on the public, it will assess the relevant venture against criteria that inspire equality. They will then be required to conduct regular workplace gender audits and gender equality action plans, which must be published followed by progress reports. Targets and quotas are set by regulation and will be tailored to an industry or sector, and organisations will be required to make reasonable progress against them. Targets and quotas are needed because, if there is one thing we do know, they work.

To be clear, there are a lot of things that the bill does not seek to do. I spoke to those at length during the last debate on this bill, but it is important again to confirm for the record that it does not arbitrarily set targets or even provide the parameters for this, because it is intended to be highly customised to the gender equality challenges that any agency faces, and it does not dispense with merit, skills, abilities and attributes as prerequisites to employment.

What it does do is empower identified public sector agencies to build on the struggles of those who have come before us and to create a better world for those who are to come after us. I am going to seek leave to conclude my remarks because I think it is, for the benefit of all members, worth getting an update on where the Victorian model is at so that we can have some comparators when we are dealing with this bill during the committee stage debate.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.