Scott Morrison wants only some (selective) gender inclusion in his department

By Shannon Jenkins

Friday August 30, 2019

Source: Getty Images

The Prime Minister has said he expects his department to remove an “over the top” toilet sign that encourages people to choose the bathroom which “best fits” their gender identity.

Nine political editor Chris Uhlmann tweeted a photograph of the sign at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) in Canberra.

The sign stated that the Prime Minister’s department was “committed to staff inclusion and diversity”, but Morrison has disagreed. 

“Honestly this is why we call it the Canberra bubble, it’s ridiculous … It will be sorted out,” the Prime Minister told radio station 2GB, less than two hours after Uhlmann tweeted.

“I don’t think this is necessary, I think people can work out which room to use … it’s political correctness, over the top.”

The Secretaries’ Equality and Diversity Council — which is an area of focus on the PM&C website is comprised of all APS departmental secretaries and two external members, and meets regularly.

In a video, retiring head of PM&C Martin Parkinson said one of his priorities “is to lead an organisation which celebrates diversity, and where everyone’s contributions are valued”.

He said the council aims to create a more inclusive public service “for all Australians”. Perhaps this will change when Phil Gatejens takes over on Monday. He will make the final decision on the gender-inclusive toilet signs.

But creating a safe, inclusive workplace is not a new goal for the APS, and it’s certainly not an exercise in box-checking.

It is not uncommon for departments to have their own inclusion and diversity strategies. Pride networks across various departments and governments have proposed LGBTQI inclusion initiatives, such as ‘ally’ badges symbolised by a rainbow flag on intranet profiles, and rainbow or purple signage on days of inclusion such as Wear it Purple Day. The APS hosts its own Diversity and Gender Equality Awards, and in 2016, the Australian Taxation Office even held a full-day conference in Canberra for pride networks and diversity teams across the APS.

There’s still a long way to go before the APS has achieved an entirely diverse, inclusive workforce for all of its current and future employees, without the damage of the Prime Minister’s words.

In 2017, then-junior minister for Defence Personnel Dan Tehan ordered the department to find a way out of protections for non-binary gender individuals. If granted the exemption, either by a new law or the Australian Human Rights Commission, Defence would have been excused from all protections in the Sex Discrimination Act, which includes marital status and pregnancy, giving them the legal right to discriminate on the basis of gender. Tehan has since moved on and is now the Education minister, and just last year, Defence was pushing for gender-neutral toilets in its bases.

In another instance, while departments and even entire state governments were flying rainbow flags in celebration of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, another central department was told to immediately remove their rainbow flags.

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