Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (14:34): It is a great pleasure to rise to speak to the Gender Equality Bill 2019, and I think it is really fitting that we are debating this bill on the World Day of Social Justice.
As other speakers have mentioned and as we all know, this bill introduces measures to improve the status of women and promote gender equality in Victoria. It will change us, it will change our culture, it will change our future. And equality is one of the reasons why the Sex Party existed. It is why Reason exists. It was the inequality that we saw in many areas of our culture and of our society that almost forced us to stand up and be counted. And as many people have said today, it is that change in gender equality that has led me to be in this chamber amongst so many other fine women and men.
Minister Jennings said that this was the perfect name for a piece of legislation. While I tend to agree with him, I also would like to maybe call it as a subname the Ivy Weber Bill or piece of legislation given that she was the first female member who was elected to this Parliament. She was elected as an Independent. I have read a lot about her and I think we would have sparred on some things, although I think she and Mr Jennings may have got along well: she was very much a proponent of the temperance movement. I am not. She was a body sculpturist and a body culturist. She believed in diet, she believed in exercise, she believed in education, she believed in the equality of women.
Women and girls, even in this progressive state, even in this progressive country, still experience significant inequality. Gender stereotypes affect children’s sense of self from a young age. Boys receive eight times more attention in the classroom than girls. Girls receive 11 per cent less pocket money than boys. Gender stereotypes affect behaviour, study choices, ambitions and attitudes about relationships. Girls are still less likely to take part in organised sport. One in three Australian women over 15 has experienced physical violence, and I think we do have to remember that this is still happening all over this country.
We are seeing the tragic deaths of women and children as a result, and it does come back to inequality. It does come back to that, and all the research tells us this: that a more equitable society will lead to less violence in our community.
Victorian women still earn 87.6 cents to every dollar earned by men. Although more women than men complete tertiary education their graduate salaries are less. One in every two mothers experiences discrimination during pregnancy, on parental leave or when returning to work. Victorian women do nearly twice as much unpaid work as men. Even in female-dominated industries we still see in percentage terms more men in senior positions. Women retire with half the superannuation savings of men. This affects women’s financial security, health and wellbeing. As we know, we are seeing an increasing number of women who are facing homelessness. This has become incredibly apparent during our inquiry into homelessness. And on the World Day of Social Justice, Australia is sliding back in the gender gap. We are now ranked about 44th in the world.
I think these are extraordinarily troubling statistics. Tradeswomen Australia has been campaigning about the lack of women across 62 trades in Australia despite serious shortages in those trades. The participation rate of women is at 2 per cent in those trades—2 per cent. There is a shortage, but we still are only able to attract a 2 per cent rate of women into those trades. This has been the same for 25 years, so just hoping that things will change, just hoping that all will be okay, is not the answer. We need to do more. We need to remove those structural barriers to equality and change norms, attitudes and behaviours that perpetuate inequality and gender stereotypes.
In my own life—and I am sure for many of us here—I have been aware of the language around us that perpetuates those stereotypes and attitudes: ‘Get some balls’, ‘Be a man’, ‘I wear the pants in this relationship’, ‘You throw like a girl’, ‘You pussy’, ‘Did you get your ball caught in your skirt?’, ‘You big blouse’, ‘Bloody female drivers’. This still goes on today, and it entrenches those attitudes. This bill, by taking a stand on inequality, will change this. This will change the culture. This will change these attitudes. I have no doubt.
Certainly we are getting a lot better than we were. My relative Jessie Street was one of the first women’s rights activists and suffragettes. In fact she campaigned for the inclusion of gender within the discrimination clauses in the UN charter in 1945. She stood for election twice. She did not win, and once, when she was making her concession speech to a room full of largely men, they actually turned their backs on her. They turned around and refused to look at the stage while she congratulated the man that had won that seat. Now I am pleased to say that that has changed. I am pleased to say that it has changed with banking. When I set up my first small business I had to get a man to be guarantor for my business loan.
So I congratulate the government for not only talking the talk but walking the walk on gender equality. I need only to look across the chamber to see that equality in action. I see that the female ministers across the chamber outnumber the male ministers across the chamber. I think one of the most important and memorable days for me in this chamber was the day we debated the medicinal cannabis bill.
Ms Pulford: That was a highlight.
Ms PATTEN: It was an absolute highlight. There was Minister Pulford at the desk. There was Minister Tierney as the Deputy President. There was Ms Wooldridge representing the opposition, Ms Hartland representing the Greens and me here on the crossbench. For 5 hours we discussed that bill—and we certainly dissected it—but we did it in a respectful and helpful way. I think we all came away from that feeling that we understood the bill better, we understood its objectives and we understood the terms in that bill and how they would be understood going forward.
This bill is important because it is a first and because it reaches 11 per cent of the workforce—and again, this is about governments providing those levers, which we can do not just in this area but in many areas, whether that is on climate change or whether that is on electric cars. But here, on gender equality, this is where government can drive us and can provide those levers and signal change more broadly.
Next weekend I hope to attend the League of Extraordinary Women’s conference. This is a tech conference that will be run here next week, and what they are saying is if we do not do something about gender equality in the tech industry there will be an 18 per cent gender gap by 2030. And when we look at the importance of our tech industry, of IT, in our future—in what our future looks like—I want women in there. I want women helping design AI. I want women helping, in there designing. I want them to be equal parts of what our future will look like—and our IT sector will be a dominant driver in what our future looks like, whether it is our infrastructure or whether it is how we live, how we work or how we travel. I want to see more women in those areas. I am hopeful that this bill will set in train systematic change.
I do not think anyone in here has ever said that we need to be fixing quotas. I think we have always thought we can incentivise change, and we have tried, but we have not achieved that equality. Just saying, ‘Best person for the job’ does not do that. It is far too entrenched, and we need to provide these types of levers to change it.
My colleagues Mr Quilty and Mr Limbrick say that we do not need to do this, we do not need to identify gender. I would say you cannot manage what you cannot measure. You cannot aim for equality. You cannot hope that your daughters will have exactly the same pay and the exact same opportunities as your sons if you do not take a stance now.
Gender equality is not just about women. I know that we have mainly spoken about that because that is where the inequality lies and women are the victims of that inequality. But when we raise women, we raise us all. I think one of the interesting areas around this is some of the research that the Jesuits have done on what they term the ‘man box’. This is where men feel pressure to be a certain way: to be tough, to not show any emotions, to be the breadwinner, to always be in control, to use violence to solve problems and to have lots of sexual partners. Those men have poorer levels of mental health, they engage in risky drinking, they are more likely to be in car accidents, they are more likely to commit suicide, they are more likely to bully online and they are more likely to die early.
Improving gender equality and equity in the workplace is expected to boost GDP significantly, and it has other flow-on effects, including a reduction in negative health impacts and greater cohesion in our workplace. I certainly think that we experience that here to a certain degree. Probably the biggest complaint is about the temperature in this room. Researching some of this, I found an interesting study that says that this has nothing to do with the clothing that women wear but that women work better than men when a room is warmer.
Also, when looking into this, Harvard Business School—and I do not think we would consider them a very woke organisation—have done significant research, which has shown that:
… diverse teams can develop more innovative ideas. When people from different contexts work together, their unique perspectives often lead to greater creativity
… Diverse leaders were more likely to create an environment where new, creative ideas were considered. And diverse teams, they found, were more likely to have some common experiences with their end user.
They also found:
When countries and industries don’t value women equally, women working in those countries likely don’t feel psychologically safe speaking up in their organisations. Even though these women may have innovative ideas, they might hesitate to bring them to the table. And when that happens, everyone loses.
So by having more women and having that greater equality we all win from that. Just as having more women in trades would benefit our economy, so would more men in nursing, in teaching and in child care.
I support the structure of the bill, and the scope and the objectives of the bill have been well discussed, debated and illustrated today. The scope is well defined, in my opinion, as is its reporting mechanism. I do observe that we seem to be having an explosion of independent commissioners. Now, I do not oppose it in this circumstance, but it does make me wonder. I think this is probably for a discussion late at night about how to solve all the world’s problems, but it does feel to me that 20 years ago we respected our public service in a different way. We considered our public service to be very independent and fearless with their information, and now it seems to me we are establishing this number of independent commissioners because we do not trust the independence of our public service. Again I think that is something that will be a much longer conversation.
This bill to me is about fairness. This bill is about raising everyone up. This bill will benefit everyone. This bill will benefit our sons, our daughters, our grandsons, our granddaughters. I hope it also benefits many future generations. I hope it benefits young women today. I hope it benefits young men today. I hope it creates a fairer society, a safer society, and I certainly believe that it will. I commend the bill.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Second reading speech 20/2/20