27 June 2008

Time for fresh ideas to tackle sex discrimination

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick today welcomed the announcement of the review of the Sex Discrimination Act (1984) by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee saying that after nearly 25 years it’s time to look at ways to improve Australia’s record on reducing sex discrimination and harassment.

“Sex discrimination and sexual harassment are still major problems in Australian society, with devastating long term effects for those involved,” Commissioner Broderick said.

“During my recent national Listening Tour, I heard many stories which highlighted to me that we still have a long way to go to ensuring that women and men live in a fair and equal Australia. This review is the perfect opportunity to look at new approaches.

“I encourage all those who have been affected by sex discrimination and sexual harassment and everyone committed to gender equality to voice their opinion about ways the protections, sanctions and powers in the Act can be improved” said Commissioner Broderick.

President of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC), John von Doussa QC, said that HREOC looked forward to making a formal submission to the Inquiry and emphasised the importance of the Sex Discrimination Act in protecting basic human rights.

“The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission received more than 470 complaints under the SDA in 2006/07. This financial year, we’ve already received well over 400. Research undertaken by HREOC in 2003 showed that less than a third of those who experience sexual harassment in the workplace made a formal report or complaint,” said Mr von Doussa.

“This is a chance for individuals, non-government organisations, business, and government to have their say about how effective this piece of legislation has been in promoting gender equality and how it can be improved.”

Commissioner Broderick also called on the Committee to examine options for strengthening the limited protections in the Act from discrimination because of family responsibilities.

“Currently, you can only make a complaint if you’ve been sacked, leaving the door wide open for other forms of workplace discrimination against people with family responsibilities,” Commissioner Broderick said.

The Commissioner urged the Committee to consult as widely as possible, as many of the worst impacts of sex discrimination and sexual harassment are experienced by people from minorities and vulnerable groups within the community.

Media contact: Patrick Flynn on 0419 258 597