Published: 03 June 2022

Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, I move -

That a Joint Sessional Gender and Equality Committee be appointed with power to send for persons and papers, with leave to sit during any adjournment of either House and with leave to adjourn from place to place to inquire into and report upon -

(1)(a) Any bill referred to it by either House in order to examine gender and equality impacts; (b) Any matter related to gender and equality referred to it by either House; and (c) Any matter related to gender and equality, initiated by its own motion; and

(2) That notice of any own motion inquiry shall be reported to both Houses within two (2) sitting days of the Committee’s Resolution; and (26)

(3) That the number of Members to serve on the said Committee on the part of the Legislative Council be four.

I want to inform members of the process I want to take around this because members have had an amendment circulated.

I wish to speak briefly around the overall intent of this effectively self-explanatory motion. Then I will move the amendment that was circulated yesterday. In this way, if the amendment is supported, we can then promptly move on to the debating the amended motion.

I also note that this Chamber has, over recent years, debated similar matters by way of motion, noting matters related to promotion of equality for all Tasmanians, and gender equality in particular. Furthermore, gender and equality committees are not unique or revolutionary. There are at least 30 parliaments worldwide with dedicated equality committees, including the ACT in Australia. Parliamentary committees have an important role to play in informing parliamentary decision-making and debate, as well as government policy. We have seen this happen regularly across both houses of parliament.

Importantly, what I propose here is a joint house committee to ensure both Houses are directly engaged and involved in this important work. If we look to the recent federal election result, we know that people want the issues of gender equality, respect and equality more broadly front and centre of policy decisions. This committee would be able to support that approach, provide important scrutiny and work with the government of the day to promote and support informed decision-making in these important areas.

Support for the establishment of this joint House committee would clearly show the intent of all parties in this parliament to work together to address matters of inclusion and equality, to assist the work of the government of the day in these areas. Whilst one other Australian jurisdiction has such a committee, we can be one of the leaders in Australia, rather than a follower, especially in light of the recent federal election results.

I will read that amendment now and then I will speak to it.

Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, I move -

That paragraph 1(a), leave out all the words after 'equality',

Insert instead 'impacts and any such bill so referred shall be reported upon within 10 sitting days of its referral to report back to the referring House.

In speaking to this amendment, I think it is important to note the intent of the overall motion, including this amendment, thus the establishment of the committee. It is not, and would not be a mechanism to delay the progress of bills through parliament. This amendment that I have proposed to insert into the motion adds clarity around that intent. After consultation with the Minister for Women, the honourable Jo Palmer, who has been very open to frank discussion around the benefits of such a committee - and I thank her for that - I decided to include the amendment to put some parameters around the reporting time for any bills referred to the committee for consideration on matters relating to gender and/or equality to ensure timely scrutiny. Such a move does not prevent the Government progressing their agenda, but it does make it clear the committee will undertake its work in a timely manner to avoid delays where it comes to bills before parliament.

We have evidence of this form of use in the Legislative Council Government Administration committees. These committees have done some great work over many years, and have not been used to delay bills or deny progress of government legislation. This would be no different. And the same approach would occur with such a joint committee with broad membership. I therefore move that motion, as I have spoken to, and want to reiterate in doing that this specifically relates to part 1(a) of the motion only. It clearly states the referral relates to any bill referred to either House in order to examine the issues of gender inequality and the impacts there. Therefore the review, if it was referred, is limited to these aspects. It is not a broad, open review. It would obviously also require the agreement of the House.

If it was deemed by the Government as a time-critical bill and we have seen how they have occurred sometimes - not always in the most effective manner - but if it was, the mover of the motion or the government of the day could insert a provision requiring a tighter reporting time frame if that was deemed necessary and supported by the House. It does not prevent that. It is more appropriate to do on a case-by-case basis not as a broad, some might say, heavy handed approach.

I am confident that most, if not all members here do not wish to hold up or delay the work of Government. They are elected to do their job, and we support them to do that. Unless there are crucial matters that do need additional consideration, we would not be referring bills, we would be looking into other matters under the other terms of reference. If a bill did need additional consideration that cannot be achieved in the committee stage of the bill, this would be the most effective and timely process.

I have observed in my time in this place that this has been the case and I am confident it will continue to be. If any bill is referred to a committee, did have genuine time sensitivities, as I said, the Government could insert that shorter reporting timeframe reflecting this. I ask members to support this motion that provide some parameters on timeframes and reporting back to parliament, if bills refer to it. If any members have any questions on that, I am happy to speak to them, but I urge them to support this amendment. Then we can move to potentially an amended motion.

Amendment agreed to.

Ms FORREST - To turn to the amended motion and I thank members for their agreement to include that provision.

This is a proposal to enable informed debate of matters regarding gender and equality in all areas of our society and within our communities. To promote and support Government decisions and policy, that promote and support equality broadly. It is a process to work with and assist the Government progress equality throughout our community. This is good for all of us.

This motion seeks the support of this House and subsequently the House of Assembly to establish a joint house committee to enable more targeted and specific scrutiny of matters related to equality, including gender equality, in areas of Government administration, services, policy and budgeting.

I reiterate, it is not a process to delay legislation or budgets. It is a process to support the work of Government. The committee will provide additional oversight to these matters and not be used as a mechanism to delay matters. Rather, it would scrutinise and assess the impacts of decisions made by way of Government policy or budgeting where necessary.

For example, such a committee could inquire into the high rates of male suicide. Clearly, there is a gendered impact there and we need to ensure our policies and mechanisms in place actually address that very real gendered difference. The committee could look at aspects such as the growing and concerning experience of single women over 50 becoming homeless. It could look at equitable access to an experience of healthcare by members of the LGBTIQ+ community. All these areas are real and known and considering any one of these would assist the Government in developing their policy and projects in the forward, that would in the future address and identify inequality or inequity.

The work of the committee could also assist in the development of future policy and budgets, as well as to enable and inform direct government action if and when needed.

The U.K. House of Commons first established a Women and Equalities committee in June 2015.

I have directly called for a gender and equalities approach as there are issues such as suicide that disproportionately impact men. If we do not fully consider the gendered impact of decision making, policy development, budgeting and research to name a few, important differences may be overlooked and negative outcomes experienced.

Many other jurisdictions around the world and in Australia have made significant inroads into identifying and addressing gender inequality, including the introduction of equality based legislation to guide policy development, service delivery and so on.

I am not calling for the introduction of such legislation, but if it were asked for by the community, a committee could look at such a matter. Regardless, this is not, and would not be, the primary focus of a committee. It is a process to look at areas of inequality in our community and state that could be addressed. This is a proposal to assist government, not hamper its work.

The motion calls for a joint house sessional committee as I believe this a whole of parliament matter, and by extension, a whole of government matter. The motion describes the referral mechanisms as well as enabling inquiries via an own motion of the committee. This is very similar to how our own government administration and joint standing committees operate.

The Tasmanian Parliament has achieved gender equality with regards to members of parliament. We have overdone it really, but it has been a long time since the equality was the other way. This is a noteworthy achievement indeed. However, we have only ever had one senior presiding female member in this House, and only two in the House of Assembly, and only one female premier. Our senior parliamentary staff are predominately male. The gender pay gap that I and others have spoken about in this place is not closing despite some gains in recent years.

The business world has more recently largely grasped that gender balance is good for overall performance and this knowledge needs to be applied to all areas of society.

I commend the Government for the work it has done on government board appointments, for example. It has had a particular focus on that and done well.

Our parliament needs to be representative of the state it serves - a place where anyone from any background can aspire to serve as a member of parliament. As key decisions in the state determine what services are provided and where, how services will be delivered and assessed for their impact, and how scarce resources will be deployed, we, the parliament, owe it to the people of Tasmania to ensure consideration of gender and/or other equality impacts have a direct, open and transparent means of scrutiny.

I welcome the new member for Huon, in this aspect, bringing that Aboriginal background to our parliament that we have lacked. At times, we have had members with Aboriginal heritage, so it is really great to have you in our House, who can speak more directly to those matters.

As leaders in the state, we need to lead by example and ensure inequality is exposed and mitigated as much and as quickly as possible. This results in better outcomes for the whole state and all Tasmanians.

In terms of our role in this place, and in support of the establishment of the proposed committee, I will read an excerpt from a paper given in 2020 at the Communities in Control conference by Dr Ramona Vijeyarasa, a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law at the University of Technology, Sydney, whom I have mentioned in this place before.

In her presentation, Dr Vijeyarasa was focussing on progressing gender equality with a view on not only how our laws are drafted, but also how they are applied. She also refers to the Gender Legislative Index, a tool that Dr Vijeyarasa is a chief designer of and that is used to rank and score legislation against global standards for women's rights. It is certainly a tool that the Government could adopt and apply. It would be very useful.

This approach can be taken not only to gender equality; it can be taken to any aspect of equality.

With regard to Dr Vijeyarasa's work it says on the UTS website:

The laws of a country shape and change traditions and culture, and we can play an important role in advancing and ensuring gender equality. But when we analyse different laws, how do we determine which laws are effective in advancing women's rights and which are not? Which ones work and which ones fail? Through her research, University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Law, Dr. Ramona Vijeyarasa has come up with a unique way to answer these questions with the help of data science. In collaboration with Rapido Social and Connected Intelligence Centre (CIC) at UTS, she developed an analytic tool called the Gender Legislative Index (GLI) to benchmark, score and rank laws on a scale from gender regressive to gender responsive.

The website goes on to say, 'The GLI was founded on the premise that every area of law needs a gender perspective. The law is a powerful tool to transform society, to determine how our world functions and how people live by setting legal norms and establishing new trends. Laws can shift traditions, norms and cultural practice for the better or for the worse. It can be a vital entry point for advancing gender equality.'

She was speaking specifically about gender but those principles can apply to all areas of potential inequality that our legislation, our government service delivery and government policy can either create or improve, or ignore.

I share those insights to give more meaning to her comments in the conference in 2020, and when commenting on the role and function of parliaments and MPs, including when issuing drafting instructions, developing policy that requires legislative change, and scrutinising legislation, she said:

I have shared my views on why Australian laws need to rewritten to remove gender stereotypes.

And I commend the Government on doing some of this already, when we have had legislation come through that there has been that change. There was one we dealt with, it was something to do with land. Most of the bill was taking out gendered references. I am not saying we have to do this right now, on every piece of legislation. We just take the opportunities as they come and you get it done. She goes on:

Australian laws should not be gender-neutral where there are important differences between men and women that need to be taken into account.

So, it is not always appropriate to do that. It should be specific at times.

According to Dr Vijeyarasa, the gender legislative index goes further by offering these seven questions, which are key to drafting every law.

I will speak briefly about those seven questions, I am going to paraphrase some of them not all of them. She did say that these things are important to ask in terms of any service delivery, whether or not it requires legislation, and any policy decision whether or not that requires legislation. It is not just about legislative reform.

The questions that need to be asked: Does the government delivered service, law or policy guarantee that women or others from marginalised groups can access non-discriminatory, accessible, affordable and acceptable services? For example, no discrimination based on age, sex, marital status, disability status or migrant status.

Does the government delivered service, law or policy guarantee non-coerced and informed decision-making and, where relevant, protect the person's confidentiality? Does the government-delivered service, law or policy promote equal relations between men and women or merely state that it aims to do this? Does the government delivered service, law or policy protect women or others from marginalised groups from situations of vulnerability linked to their gender or their other vulnerability? We know that recent research about our domestic violence laws and experiences show how often Indigenous women are falsely accused as perpetrators of violence at home. Furthermore, does the government delivered service, law or policy promote the comprehensive monitoring of the situation of women in these circumstances?

I note the Government has taken steps in several actions already. Legislation has been amended to remove gender references where it is appropriate to do so, and I commend them for that.

I also have no doubt many of the questions or processes included in the Gender Legislative Index are already being considered by MPs delivering policy, legislation and issuing drafting instructions. I am certainly not suggesting the Government is not aware of this, or currently not already seeking to ensure all legislation drafted does address a range of factors in relation to gender and equality. I have spoken particularly with these comments as they relate to part 1A of the motion, that is the referral of bills. However, the other aspects that the committee certainly were looking at were much broader and in my view would have potentially a much greater role to play. So I suggest that that is not the key or potential key focus of the committee; it is more to look at areas of government service delivery, even access to this place, or anything that the committee felt was most appropriate to progress the matters of gender and equality for all of us.

The key focus is inquiring into areas where gender equality or other examples of inequality are identified, to provide information and recommendations to the Government on areas where more may need to be done or other ways they could assess a matter.

The point is backed up by the fact that we have seen our first gender impact assessment delivered with the budget this year, and whilst there has been criticism of it - and I made some criticisms myself in my budget reply - I do acknowledge that we have our first gender budget statement. It may not be as broad or as deep as I may have liked. It may not cover the areas that perhaps it could have done. But I am pleased to work with the Government to progress that, and I am pleased to commend the Government for making a genuine start on this.

It is also important to note as I said, equality does not just relate to gender. We have an obligation to consider other barriers to participation and unequal impacts of legislative decisions related to other attributes or policy decisions or government service delivery decisions. It is only through a formalised process that some of the inequalities are clearly identified, and it is really helpful to have these identified earlier to ensure steps can be taken to avoid inequitable outcomes. The matter of intersectionality that exacerbates the risk of inequality for many people through their race, disability, gender, socio-economic circumstance or cultural diversity, just to name a few, can also be considered through such a process. The remit of the committee would enable targeted inquiries into matters where inequality has been identified or suspected and recommend change when needed as well as commend decisions where equality is achieved, and inequality avoided.

Whilst the committee would be able to consider matters relating to equal opportunities and observance of equal opportunity within the parliament, the main focus would be to consider matters related to government policy and government service delivery. Matters would be referred by the parliament to the committee or inquired into under the committee's own motion.

This parliament should lead by example, and this committee would directly assist in the promotion of equality both inside and outside the parliament.

I am sure we are all very aware of the impact COVID-19 has had on our state, nation and the world. We also know there has been a disproportionately negative impact on some members of our community. As a result of measures taken we have reduced some harm. It is vital that the known inequalities are not exacerbated as we continue to deal with the ongoing impacts of the global pandemic. This work is just as, if not more, important now than it was in 2019.

I seek the support of members to establish this committee, a committee that would complement our role and function of our other joint house standing committees. I reiterate: the work of this committee would support and assist the Government, where both Houses are represented with a diversity of views, life experience and knowledge. The committee would have the capacity to contribute very positively to the health and wellbeing of this state. We in this House and this parliament have shown through COVID-19 we can work together to achieve positive outcomes for all Tasmanians, and I see this as another step in that pathway. I commend the motion to the members and look forward to their contribution.


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