On 28 October 2020, Rights Resource Network SA member Associate Professor Anne Hewitt and Director Dr Sarah Moulds met with the Hon Connie Bonaros MLC to discuss her draft Gender Equality Bill, express support for the changes proposed and suggest opportunities for improvement.
The timing of a Bill like this could not be more critical. Our state desperately needs a framework for addressing gender-based discrimination and harassment at work and in public life, and a pathway for improving female participation in our State's economy, which has been hit hard by the 'pink recession' triggered by the COVID19 pandemic
The draft Bill marks a significant, positive step forward in promoting substantive gender equality for South Australians and for enhancing economic participation rates among women in this State. It does this by requiring 'defined entities' (that is public sector bodies like government departments and local councils) to pursue gender equality by developing an Gender Equality Action Plans and by implementing a system of Gender Equality Audits and Gender Impact Assessments to be overseen by a new office of the Commissioner for Gender Equality. The Bill also includes a set of ‘workplace general equality indicators’ that form the basis for assessing progress towards gender equality by the relevant entities and requires regular progress reports to be provided.
The idea is that once enacted, this law will set up a process for (a) setting some key standards and indicators when it comes to improving gender equality in South Australian workplaces (b) identifying the key barriers for gender equality in key South Australian workplaces (b) providing incentives for workplaces to address those barriers with practical action and (c) setting up a body with the power to monitor compliance with these standards and progress towards key indicators.
The Bill also acknowledges the important role inter-sectional discrimination plays in gender inequality, and incorporates provisions designed to ensure that general equality action plans are developed in close consultation with employees and community members.
The Commissioner for Gender Equality is provided with the power to issue compliance notices to entities that have not undertaken gender impact assessments or general equality audits, or not prepared a general equality action plan, or not made reasonable and material progress towards gender equality targets or gender equality indicators. This is supported by a Tribunal review process, and the power for the Commissioner to accept enforceable undertakings from a relevant entity. A review of the Act is also included. These are very positive, welcome features.
This legislation has some similarities to the Gender Equality Act 2020 (Vic) passed in February of this year, and with the federal Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 (Cth) (the WGEA). However, it exists in a different legislative context than both of those two existing pieces of legislation. For example, unlike Victoria, South Australia has no Human Rights legislation and its anti-discrimination regime is woefully under-resourced when compared with interstate or federal counterparts. There are also aspects of the Bill that may require further careful consideration. This is where the benefit of the Rights Resource Network SA comes in.
Working with Embolden, SACOSS and experts across all three Adelaide universities, the Rights Resource Network was able to provide Ms Bonaros with a written submission identifying areas for improvement and proposing solutions. This written submission will form the basis of future parliamentary discussions on this important law reform, and can be accessed by Network members here.
If you or your organisation would like to contribute to the development of proposed laws by engaging directly with parliamentarians in South Australia the Network would love to help. Please be in touch here.