Legislative Council: Wednesday, June 28, 2023


International Women's Day

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. I. Pnevmatikos:

That this council—

1. Acknowledges that 8 March 2023 is International Women's Day and pays tribute to those who have fought, and continue to fight, for the advancement of the status of women and girls.

2. Notes this year's theme Embrace Equity recognises that each one of us can actively support and embrace equity within our own sphere of influence to challenge gender stereotypes, call out discrimination and draw attention to bias.

3. Acknowledges that whilst much has been achieved, women still face entrenched inequality, violence and barriers to equal and active participation in our economy and in every aspect of community life.

4. Commits to doing whatever it can to work towards—

(a) preventing and eradicating sexism, harassment, violence and abuse of women in all of its forms;

(b) challenging stereotypes, discrimination and bias against women; and

(c) continuing to advance the status of women and girls.

5. Commends the state government for its strong women's equality and safety policy and actions.

(Continued from 8 March 2023.)

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (17:05): I rise to make some remarks in support of this particular motion which acknowledges International Women's Day and the theme of embracing equity. It also acknowledges that we stand on the shoulders of others who have come before us to achieve what we have achieved today, and that there is continuing work that needs to be ongoing in ensuring that women have an equal place in all facets of society.

In acknowledging the past and those who have gone before us, what often comes to mind is the suffrage movement in the late 19th century which involved obviously a lot of women at that stage but also a lot of men. I made the error once of writing to someone and referring to them as suffragettes, but was corrected to say that it is actually suffragists, because it was necessarily men who changed the laws to enable women to have the right to vote and also to stand for parliament.

There are also things which just seem so bizarre to us in this day and age, such as the marriage bar, where once upon a time if a woman got married she had to cease working. We also had arrangements where the father or the husband would automatically gain custody of children. As we look at those sorts of situations with our contemporary lens we realise that those assumptions were not correct, Thankfully, they have been corrected.

More recently, there is a large body of work that was done by Kate Jenkins, the former Sex Discrimination Commissioner, who published her report Respect@Work which has driven a lot of legislative changes in Canberra. It has also helped to drive some of the reforms in the parliaments, in terms of us actually coming into the modern age and having some proper human resource-type services available to people, so that if they are experiencing any forms of harassment in the workplace, they have somewhere to go other than just their line managers.

Similarly, at a state level, Emily Strickland—as the acting equal opportunity commissioner—did a report in South Australia, which a number of us would have written to her about to let her know what we thought were the shortcomings in the system. There are so many bodies of work that could be referred to in addressing this particular motion. Clearly there is still a lot to do, and obviously it will receive multipartisan support. While I note that the final point in the motion commends the state government, I think it should commend all parties for their commitment to achieving these aims.

I will obviously speak about my own party and our track record, which certainly in our last term was very strong, to support women to thrive in South Australia. We had a comprehensive suite of initiatives which were particularly focused on domestic and family violence. We introduced the first South Australian Women's Leadership and Economic Security Strategy to underpin a strongly held belief in choices for women. In fact, we often say on this side of the house that we are the party of choice. I firmly personally believe that if women have economic choice in life, they can make those other choices such as if they need to leave a relationship, that then places them in the best position to do so.

Gender equality in the workplace and other areas of life is key to underpinning choice for women. Some of our achievements included:

promoting and nurturing women's participation and leadership in the tech sector;

promoting opportunities to increase women's participation in apprenticeships, traineeships, construction and what are now called STEAM areas;

increasing leadership opportunities and platforms for recognition for women leaders for all ages;

promoting and encouraging flexible workplaces;

working across government to address the gender pay gap. I note South Australia had the lowest pay gap in the nation under the years of the Marshall Liberal government, and unfortunately that pay gap has actually worsened since Labor took office; and

promoting and encouraging paid domestic and family violence leave to ensure that women experiencing violence stay connected to employment.

In terms of our leadership strategy, this was work with the Department for Innovation and Skills to address potential barriers in a range of male-dominated industries. The former minister, the Hon. David Pisoni, and I did enjoy meeting trainees who were working in the mechanical trades or in housing construction and a range of areas where women could demonstrate that they could do the jobs as well as any of the blokes, and they were thriving in those areas.

We also particularly had a very strong record in the domestic violence area, as I have already alluded to. We had some leading domestic violence reforms, including initiating the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, which took place fairly early on, but we were also looking at expanding the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme to right-to-know requests, which I think has currently stalled under this government.

That was to build on the right-to-ask model. Given a large number of people who had applied to that scheme, on behalf of either themselves or others, have been contacted, some quite urgently, by police, we think that that scheme has actually saved South Australian women's lives, by ensuring that they were aware of the violent history of someone that they were either in a relationship with or were about to enter into a relationship with.

We were also exploring the development of a domestic violence offenders register. I think that has also stalled. There were reforms to the Domestic Violence Act, which expanded the definition of abuse and increased penalties for repeated or violent breaches of intervention orders, allowed police-recorded interviews with victims to be admissible evidence in court, and introduced a standalone criminal offence of non-fatal strangulation.

There were amendments to the Sentencing Act, which lowered the available discount for various serious offences against the person, including those that are often experienced in a domestic violence situation, and ensured that the penalty given to perpetrators of domestic and family violence reflects the seriousness of the crime. Amendments to the Victims of Crime Act removed the requirement for all victims, including victims of domestic and family violence, to have any contact with the perpetrator when accessing compensation.

There are a number of other practical things that we did for people experiencing domestic and family violence, in that we established specific places for people who were escaping from domestic violence situations. The reports that we had from the frontline service providers were that those places were extremely useful to be able to get somebody out who was in a crisis situation, knowing that that space was available. The evaluation of that particular program was that those places were used in preference to the hotel and motel accommodation. The amenity of having those places was much more helpful to women and their children than being stuck in a hotel room.

We also established hubs throughout regional South Australia that were designed to assist people who were aware that they were experiencing domestic violence and could go and seek help in a fairly discreet way. Some people do not recognise that what they are experiencing is domestic violence and so those hubs serve as very useful contact points for people to get that early information, from which they may be able to make some choices. These are some of the things that we are very proud of that we were able to initiate, and I do hope that the ones that were under consideration will be taken up by the newish government and moved forward.

The Hon. B.R. HOOD (17:15): I rise to support the honourable member's motion to pay recognition to those who have fought for women's rights to advance the status of women. I acknowledge that, while there has been significant progress in removing discrimination and gender bias, the work still remains to bridge a gap where gender equality remains present.

As a proud husband to my wonderful wife, Elle, father to my daughters, Neave and Piper, and brother to sister, Lucy, the member for Adelaide, International Women's Day does offer an important opportunity to reflect on the hugely positive effect women have had in my life. As I have mentioned before, Elle is an RN midwife and came to her calling in that role after being inspired by the birth of our first daughter, Neave. I cannot walk down the street in Mount Gambier without Elle being stopped and greeted by young mums who Elle has helped to deliver their children into the world.

My sister, Lucy, who I am immensely proud of even though she fell in with the wrong crowd, is one of the most dedicated and conscientious people I know. Her relentless hard work during the 2022 election campaign is now the gold standard.

My mum, Penny, who was a stay-at-home parent on the farm when we were kids, cooking her amazing deserts and roast lunches for the shearers at shearing time. Those women who choose to stay at home to raise their families should be celebrated just as much as those women who choose to follow their career dreams. Mum went on to change many senior Australian's lives for the better at Longridge Retirement Village.

My grandmothers, Bobby and Lois, were massive influences on me, most especially in the lessons they taught me about the world, about science and nature, and that complaining about your lot in life is useless and only hard work and perseverance will give you a good life regardless of your gender.

In recognising the work that still must be done in terms of the progression of women in society, we cannot forget about the scourge of domestic violence, as the honourable member outlines in this motion. Seventeen per cent of Australian women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime and the trend does not appear to be heading in the right direction. The data shows a steady increase in domestic violence orders over the past few years, with the ABS finding a 13 per cent increase in family and domestic violence and sexual assaults.

The figures, appallingly, show that 5,700 cases of DV were reported in 2021, which is a growth of 2,000 cases in just three years. As a father of two girls, the above figures are gravely concerning, and it is of vital importance that Australian men show through their actions and their words that the respecting and valuing of women is what good men do. As my honourable colleague has just outlined in her speech, I acknowledge the good work that the previous Liberal government has done regarding domestic violence.

In our current political climate, which supports the progression of women, it is important that we acknowledge that women remain disadvantaged by entrenched and outdated ideologies throughout the world, and we should also seek to improve the rights of women wherever they may live. One of the most notable areas for progression when it comes to gender equality is improvement in the workforce. Australia has come a long way since women were excluded from the right to vote, the right to work, and allowed access to higher education. Without movements and strikes that fought for gender equality, South Australia's workforce would be of much lesser value and far worse off.

Whilst we seek to make those improvements, it is vital that we do not force this change by seeing women as targets or quotas to be met. I acknowledge my Liberal colleagues in this place, where six of our eight MLCs are women, who were elected on merit and have contributed significantly to our state. Equality cannot be achieved by ticking a box in efforts to appear equitable.

In speaking to this motion, it is important that I touch upon another contentious issue regarding women, one that many women around the state have spoken to me about in the time that I have been in this place. The truth is that radical gender theory is grounded in regressive stereotypes. It peddles the idea that you can become a woman simply by adopting stereotypical female traits. You can become a woman today simply by wearing a dress, liking the colour pink, or wearing some make-up, as trans activist Dylan Mulvaney has done. Feminists have been fighting to abolish gendered stereotypes on how they dress, how they think, how they live, but in a perverse twist, proponents of radical gender theory who claim to be on the side of the oppressed are ultimately oppressing women.

Many women who speak to me on this matter disagree with those who believe that being a woman can be transitioned into. They tell me that this belief affirms an offensive notion that womanhood can be picked and chosen, rather than what it truly is: something that biological girls grow up with. This is happening just as the hard work of the true feminist movement is beginning to yield results after many decades. The biggest victims of this radical gender ideology are women.

Whilst there is much more work to do, we must acknowledge that we have more women in senior corporate roles, more women in politics—such as the Liberal side of this chamber—and we have more attention on women's sport, and governments now take the issue of domestic and family violence more seriously.

I would like to extend my appreciation to all South Australian women for their contribution to the betterment of society and most especially to those wonderful women who have made my life so much better because of their love, their empathy and their wisdom. Happy International Women's Day to all the women of South Australia. I commend the motion to the chamber.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:20): I rise today to speak on behalf of the Greens in support of this motion on International Women's Day. Today, we recognise a day that I know is important to so many of us in this chamber, and I am glad that many more of us in this chamber are women than when I first started some 13 years ago.

It is certainly a day to celebrate how far we have come, but it is also a day to reflect on how far we still have to go. Its history lies with the socialist working women's movement of the early 20th century and was marked for the first time in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, where over one million people attended rallies about women's right to vote, hold public office, improve vocational training, improve working conditions and put an end to discrimination. In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly officially declared an International Women's Day with a resolution proclaiming a United Nation's Day for Women's Rights and International Peace.

In more recent times, International Women's Day aims to recognise the achievements of women but also the challenges women still face today, with a strong focus on the rights of women and gender equality. I refer to a quote from journalist and social-political activist Gloria Steinem, who suggests that:

The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.

Indeed, women's rights are human rights and we are all human. We must use this day as a time to reflect on how far left we still have to go before reaching true equality. In March this year, the inaugural Status of Women Report Card showed that women and girls in Australia are still facing unique economic and social challenges. Twice as many women experience sexual harassment as men, and women over 55 are the fastest growing group of people experiencing homelessness.

Women still do the lion's share (or the lioness' share) of unpaid housework, even if they are the primary breadwinner, at 24.1 hours compared to 19.1 hours for men. These factors contribute to Australia being ranked 43rd in the world for gender equality—where once we led the way—according to the World Economic Forum's analysis. This makes the challenge even greater. Thirty per cent of Australian men do not believe that gender inequality exists, which is well above the global average of 21 per cent.

However, the honest reality is, even though we have made and continue to make strides to equality, we are not there yet, and in some respects our progress has stalled. Women approaching retirement have 23.1 per cent less superannuation than men of the same age, on average, and yet still cannot access super during paid parental leave.

Initial studies also suggest that 28 per cent of perimenopausal and postmenopausal (something I look forward to) women in Australia will have moderate to severe symptoms that impact their workforce participation, and yet more is not being done to understand barriers that exist to women participating in the workforce at this point of their lives. I hope the Malinauskas government uses these statistics to make improving the lives of all women a priority.

This year, the UN Women Australia's theme for IWD was 'Cracking the Code: Innovation for a gender equal future'. This highlights the role that the utilisation of digital technology in connecting, mobilising and driving social change has made on the marginalisation of women across the globe.

We have seen this power manifest through the women and girls who campaigned online to repeal near total bans on abortion in Colombia and Ireland. In Iran, young women have been using social media to speak up and challenge the regime's patriarchal norms and express their demands for equality and women in Sudan have led protests against religious fundamentalism and now autocratic rule using online tools to mobilise that population.

While the digital world, of course, offers us immense opportunities, it is not immune to the persistent backlash against women's rights and gender equality in itself. In the digital space, many women and girls, including those who are LGBTQIA+, are up against gender-based violence, misogynist attacks and digital exclusion.

We must protect the rights of women and girls in all their diversity and in digital spaces to collectively counter the anti-rights and anti-gender narratives used by groups to misinform societies and undermine the advancement of women's rights and gender equality. As feminists, we will not be divided and we will stand with all for equality. With that, I commend the motion.

The Hon. C. BONAROS (17:26): I rise to speak on this very important motion and thank the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos for championing this issue in this place with what can only be described as her very genuine desire to embrace equity for all, along with a number of other trailblazing women in this place who have done precisely the same for a very long time.

Sadly, despite the progress, the fact remains that women still face entrenched inequality in many aspects of their lives. I was reminded of this when reading a Sydney Morning Herald article last week entitled, 'Daughters short-changed by bank of mum and dad'. It discussed the gender gift gap when it comes to first home deposits, highlighted in the latest Australian Housing Monitor.

According to the survey, daughters received only two-thirds of what sons received in the years 2000 to 2019. In the last 10 years, 47 per cent of sons were helped by mum and dad, compared with 30 per cent of daughters. It is otherwise known as sex-based parental investment, and it is just another example of where, I think unconsciously, we do not do enough and where we certainly must collectively do better.

Globally, we know that Australia is ranked 43rd for gender equality. Iceland sits at the top, followed by Finland, Norway, New Zealand, Sweden and Rwanda. We also fall behind the United States, Mexico, the UK, Jamaica and Peru, to name but a few places. This is despite our esteemed ranking of fourth highest tertiary education for women in the OECD and that is where things really start to go downhill.

The financial divide begins as soon as women graduate. Men earn on average $69,000 after graduation and women $57,000. That is before we even touch on those other issues that affect women more than men: sexual violence and sexual harassment. One in four women, compared with one in 13 men, experience sexual violence. One in two women, compared to one in four men, experience sexual harassment. Sexual assault reports to police from women have climbed 33 per cent in the past five years, whereas the reports for men have not changed.

The latest Australian Status of Women Report Card highlights the continued inequalities faced by about half our population. Australian women work two hours more than men per week on average—55.4, in fact—and 34.7 per cent of those hours are unpaid. The weekly gender pay gap for full-time employment is 13.3 per cent.

We have women graduating from universities with degrees in the legal profession—and the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos, the mover of this motion, and I are both members of that profession—and we outrank the males in that profession, and yet we do not come close to outranking them both in terms of pay but also in terms of those senior appointments that are made in those professions, including judicial appointments. Only 14 of ASX 200 CEOs are women, and their boards are made up of a little over 35 per cent women.

Women are more often than not left holding the baby, literally, in single-parent families with almost 80 per cent headed by mothers. Sixty-two per cent of social housing tenants are women. Most homelessness for women is caused by family and domestic violence. Twenty-five per cent cannot leave their violent partners because they cannot afford to do so. Fifteen per cent return to a violent partner because they have no money or place to go. Overwhelmingly, women more than men attempt to take their own lives. They are three to five times more likely to attempt to take their own lives.

Globally, based on the 2022 status quo, as we have heard recently in this place, it will take 132 years to reach gender parity. Well, we only have 131 years to go. None of us are going to be here to see that day, but I am really, really hopeful that we can do our part. Indeed, I think that this parliament has an amazing group of women in it, who are all committed to doing their part to improve those outcomes, to make this place more accommodating, more inviting, more appealing for women. I think we have a job in terms of ensuring that when it comes to our own workplace what has, like it or not, traditionally been established around the needs and wants of men is made more inviting and appealing to women.

The bottom line is that, if you do not fill places like this with women—the front benches of places like this—if you do not fill those positions of seniority in the public sector and private sphere where all the decision-making is made with women so that we can actually be part of the change that is required, then that is going to be a very slow journey indeed.

We all have a part to play, and I would like to think that we are all in our own ways actively trying to break down barriers and make workplaces in particular better places for women. We are trying to break down those barriers that exist for women. We are trying to work our way towards gender parity and, importantly, safety and respect at work, in our homes and in our communities. I think, overwhelmingly, that is the most important goal that we should be striving for so that every person feels safe and respected at home, at their workplace and in the community.

With those words, I want to thank each and every person here for the role they have played in contributing towards these outcomes. I particularly want to thank the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos, who I said at the outset has shown over many decades her genuine commitment to improving the outcomes for women in particular.

The Hon. I. PNEVMATIKOS (17:34): I would like to thank the Hon. Michelle Lensink, the Hon. Tammy Franks, the Hon. Connie Bonaros and also the Hon. Ben Hood for their contributions. Irrespective of which sphere we come from, we all have a contribution to make in this regard. We also have a duty and responsibility to make that contribution. It will be a good day, it will be a new day when all the women in this chamber speak on this issue or on issues affecting women. It would be a good day and a new day when a number of the men in this chamber speak in support of the issues that are promoted and promulgated by women in this chamber and women across the board.

There is nothing more that needs to be said. All of us from different sectors contribute in our own way and have made contributions and unfortunately will have to keep making contributions until the issues of inequity and inequality are addressed. I commend the motion.

Motion carried.