Gender Equality Bill 2019 | Speaking on a Bill

Ms VAGHELA (Western Metropolitan): I too rise to speak on the Gender Equality Bill 2019, and I am proud to speak on this bill. The overall objective of this bill is to improve workplace gender equality across the Victorian public sector, universities and local councils, and to promote gender equality in the community by considering how policies, programs and services impact people of different genders.
Victoria needs a gender equality bill. The 2016 Royal Commission into Family Violence highlighted the need for Victoria to establish a culture of non-violence and gender equality, and to shape appropriate attitudes towards women and children. At present there is an 11 per cent pay gap across the Victorian public sector. According to the Victorian Public Sector Commission, even though women comprise two-thirds of the Victorian public sector, they account for less than 44 per cent of public sector executives, are concentrated in lower paid jobs and are also more likely than men to be paid at the lowest end of the salary scale. While Victoria has laws that prevent discrimination based on gender, there is currently no law to proactively drive gender equality.
The bill presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve gender equality in Victorian public sector workplaces and the wider community. It says to men, boys, girls and women that women can be strong, influential and talented leaders too in any field. It encourages girls to self-nominate for leadership positions at school, on the sporting field, in the media and in public life. It says ‘Women can’. It also means we better reflect the communities we represent. It is why we have a gender-equal cabinet and government benches of 48 per cent women. We have achieved gender parity on paid government boards and we have committed to ensuring 50 per cent of all new appointments to Victorian boards and courts will be women. Diversity in decision-making will help us make better decisions. We are making a difference that many cannot even think of delivering.
We all benefit from gender equality. The bill is intended to support the achievement of workplace gender equality in the Victorian public sector, universities and councils through contributing to closing the gender pay gap by targeting its key drivers; improving gender equality at all levels of the workforce; reducing gendered workforce segregation; providing greater availability and uptake of family violence leave, flexible work and parental leave arrangements; reducing sexual harassment in the workplace as well as cases of discrimination during pregnancy, parental leave or return to work; and improving equity in recruitment and promotion practices and providing greater support for women to reach leadership roles in the same numbers as men. The bill will also progress gender equality in the wider community by requiring organisations subject to the bill to consider the gendered impact of policies, programs and services that have a direct and significant impact on the public, ensuring that programs and services meet community needs.
Those opposite like to talk about the economy a lot. Improvements in gender equality would lead to tangible social and economic benefits for Victoria, including increased GDP associated with increased women’s workforce participation; reduced government spending on social services and concessions, as women’s economic security improves through increased women’s workforce participation and a lowered gender pay gap; and cost savings associated with reduction of family violence. The Royal Commission into Family Violence identified gender equality as an essential precondition to preventing family violence and other forms of violence against women and girls. Family violence alone costs the Victorian economy an estimated $5.4 billion per year. Increased efficiency, productivity, innovation, creativity and employee engagement will come due to improving Victoria’s female workforce participation rate. A Nous report identified that having flexible workplace policies increases productivity and employee retention, benefiting employers. And there are cost savings associated with ensuring policies, programs and services are designed to more effectively meet community needs.
Gender equality means equality among genders. The bill recognises that gender equality benefits people of all genders, including men. By requiring organisations subject to the bill to plan, report and act to improve gender equality, the bill seeks to level the playing field to improve outcomes for all people of all genders. The bill will drive progress towards gender equality and support men by recognising that people of all genders, including men, are negatively impacted by harmful gender stereotypes and prejudices; targeting the discrimination or obstacles that men often face when taking on non-traditional career paths for men or caring responsibilities for children or elderly parents; requiring organisations to provide employees with better access to paid parental leave and flexible work arrangements, which will enable all employees to better balance work and caring responsibilities; and requiring organisations to consider the impact of policies, programs and services on people of all genders, leading to better outcomes for the community. Men who have better access to flexible work are more productive in their jobs, report higher work performance, cope better with higher workloads, have fewer absences and have lower levels of personal stress and burnout.
You face discrimination of all sorts when you are a woman. It is even worse if you are a woman from a culturally and linguistically diverse background. Being a woman of a CALD background myself, I have faced discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, race, faith and religion, and I am sad to say that this discrimination towards me by some men still continues today. The big egos of some men are hurt when they see women like me in a position of power. The way these men keep themselves busy trying to remove women like me from power is shameful and pathetic.
I am not special. I can safely assume that many women here have faced discrimination based on our gender. When it comes to gender equality we know there is still plenty of work to do. Australian women working full time are still earning on average $244.80 less per week than men. Just 65 per cent of women in Victoria aged 20 to 74 participate in the workforce compared to 79 per cent of men, leaving a participation gap of 14 per cent. Women currently spend almost twice as much time undertaking caring or domestic duties. Women are still under-represented in decision-making roles across our community, which contributes to workplace cultures and norms that inherently disadvantage women. We know that more than half of working women are likely to face gendered discrimination, workplace violence or sexual harassment. Casual sexism and unconscious bias are also unacceptably common. Everyone deserves to feel safe and respected at work.
Unequal pay, insecure or low-paid work, time out of the workforce and workplace discrimination during a woman’s working life result in women retiring with on average around half the superannuation of men. This has significant consequences. Older women are the fastest growing group of homeless people in Australia. A lifetime of gendered discrimination results in a greater risk of poverty. We need systemic interventions early in a woman’s working career to ensure she receives fair and equal pay, conditions and treatment to ensure economic security for life.
Gender inequality does not affect everyone the same way and is compounded by the way gender intersects with other forms of disadvantage and discrimination. This bill embeds this understanding by requiring organisations to consider the way someone’s age, Aboriginality, disability, ethnicity, gender identity, race, religion or sexual orientation impacts their experience of inequality when meeting their obligations under the bill.
We want all Victorians to live in a safe and equal society, with equal access to power, resources and opportunities, and to be treated with dignity, fairness and respect regardless of gender. Let us take the next step in an important journey towards a fairer, more equal Victoria. I wish there were more men in this house who held the same views towards women as Mr Meddick. If that were the case, I am certain this world would be a lot better place to live for us all. I commend the bill to the house.