Second Reading-GENDER EQUALITY BILL 2019

Mr FREGON (Mount Waverley) (16:00): I rise also, as have many of my colleagues, to speak on the Gender Equality Bill 2019. Firstly, I would like to thank the minister at the table for her tireless advocacy for women’s rights and equality. This bill is another important step in bringing our state towards real equality for women and men. I say ‘men’ because if we have inequality for women, we obviously have inequality for men on the other side. In my role in this house and as a bloke we should be working for equality and fairness for all of us, regardless.


In a week where we said goodbye and thank you to the Honourable John Cain, who as we heard in this place earlier in the week did much to bring us towards equality for women, it is a good time to bring in this bill. I think he would have approved, not that I would speak for him of course. That work has continued, and the Andrews Labor government can be proud of the steps that we have already taken. But there is obviously still work to do, and this bill is part of it. I again thank the minister but also the Premier and the whole cabinet and every minister and member who has played a part in bringing us here and will continue to bring us forward.


This bill will improve workplace gender equality across the Victorian public sector, universities and local councils, and through these organisations—considering how policies and programs and services affect and impact people of different genders—we will see this message sent out through our communities of the importance of gender equality. It still surprises me that the gender pay gap in our country is around 14 per cent. You would have thought in this day and age that we would be closer than that. But according to the Victorian Public Sector Commission last year that figure across the Victorian public sector is 11 per cent, and it is still too much. This government’s historic Royal Commission into Family Violence told us that we need to establish a culture of non-violence and gender equality and to shape appropriate attitudes towards women and children. It is important for us in this process of preventing family violence that we not only prevent discrimination but also proactively drive gender equality.


There are some who may shake their heads at this bill. I think, gratefully, there are not that many, to be fair, and hopefully that number is decreasing. Take a look at the government benches in this place and the other and you will quickly see that 48 per cent of our side and our little bay 13 over there are women, and as we have said—and we will keep singing—50 per cent of our cabinet are women. This is because we as a party have openly, proactively driven gender equality within our ranks, and it works. We can see it works. Some others might not be able to see that, but it does.


This bill does not only affect women; it affects everyone. Today we deliver a promise that we will make a difference, and that will make a difference. The outcomes of this will not only benefit women but will make a difference in the lives of everyone in our community. Achieving gender equality will not happen overnight, but it will happen. The pace of change could be faster. We need legislation to help this change happen and the right tools need to be in place to plan and measure and track progress to make that change, and this bill does that.


This bill is intended to support the achievement of workplace gender equality in the Victorian public sector, universities and councils through a variety of measures: contributing to closing the gender pay gap by targeting its key drivers; improving gender equality at all levels of the workforce—it is worth pointing out that a lot of the pay gap is due to the fact that women make up a lot of the lower paid careers in our workplaces; reducing gendered workplace segregation—the idea that we have any segregation in this state is all by itself ridiculous; providing greater availability and uptake of family violence leave, flexible work and parental leave; reducing sexual harassment in the workplace as well as cases of discrimination during pregnancy, parental leave and the return to work; improving the equity in recruitment and promotion practices, and providing greater support for women to reach leadership roles in the same numbers as men.


But it is not just these organisations that will be affected by this bill; the wider community will also benefit from this bill’s requirement that organisations subject to the bill consider the gendered impact of their policies, programs and services that will have an effect and a significant impact on the public that they serve, and that will ensure that they meet community needs.


Now, as the house is well aware, between 2002 and 2010 the people in my district of Mount Waverley, including myself in 2010, were very well represented by the Honourable Maxine Morand, who was the Minister for Women’s Affairs from 2007 to 2010. In August of that year the minister informed the house that when the Bracks-Brumby governments came to power, the percentage of women on government boards was 31 per cent. But at that time, in August 2010, she was very happy to inform the house when she delivered her speech that they had not only reached the target of 40 per cent but had surpassed it. I was very pleased to hear earlier in the debate that that number is now 53 per cent. This result alone has taken a lot of effort over a long time, and our job is not done.


But let us have a list of our ministers for women and women’s affairs, to give them the credit that they are due: the Honourable Sherryl Garbutt; the Honourable Mary Delahunty; our own Minister for Transport Infrastructure; the Honourable Maxine Morand; the Honourable Fiona Richardson; our member for Sydenham, who is sitting in front of me—thank you very much; and of course our current Minister for Women. That is a very, very capable list, and all of these women have made their mark in many ways, but when we think about equality, we should probably say they did not make their mark because they were women; they made their mark and they were women. There was a comment from someone in the other place, something about ‘Let men be men and let women be women’. Well, how about we just let people be people and stop worrying about whether they are women or men or whatever? They are just themselves, and their capability has nothing to do with their gender. Now, there were ministers from the other side, obviously, for women’s affairs, but I will let their speakers mention them.


Something else happened in 2010. We as a country saw our first female Prime Minister. Acting Speaker, as you cannot help but know, because I go on about my kids probably too much, Rebecca and I have a daughter, Sophie. When I first thought of that I was going to say, it was, ‘I have a daughter’, and then I thought, ‘No, I’d better not share that one or I might be in trouble, considering Rebecca did all the work’. Sophie was born on International Women’s Day. In 2010 she was three years old, and I was at home when Julia Gillard became our Prime Minister. I can still remember it. We were both standing in front of the TV, and obviously the news had hit. I do not know why, but I am glad I did—I basically knelt down next to little Soph, and she will not remember it, except that I keep reminding her, and I said, ‘Soph, do you see that woman on the TV? You can do whatever you want to do in this country. There is nothing that you cannot do in your career, in your choices; it is not to do with you being a girl’. And that is the way it should be, and that is the way that I want our state to be so that my daughter’s gender is completely irrelevant to her career prospects, her financial prospects and whatever aspirations she may have—irrelevant. That is why we need equality. I commend the bill to the house.