New laws require Vic public sector to take gender equality seriously

By Shannon Jenkins

Wednesday November 27, 2019

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The Victorian government is set to be the first jurisdiction in Australia to hold its entire public sector to account on equal rights, with the introduction of a groundbreaking gender equality bill. 

Public service organisations, universities, local governments, Court Services Victoria, and the Office of Public Prosecutions will be required by law to publicly report on their progress against targets every two years. They will also be required to develop and implement gender equality action plans, as well as undertake gender impact assessments.

A gender equality commissioner will also be established to work with departments and agencies to develop the key indicators for reporting, along with the four-year plans. Targets could involve a range of issues from equal pay, to sexual harassment, and career-progression practices. There will be penalties for those that do not comply.

Experts have praised the bill, which is the first of its kind in Australia.

UNSW’s Dr Sue Williamson says it is a “fabulous initiative” and shows the Victorian government is leading the way when it comes to gender equality. She finds the requirement for organisations to “adopt a proactive approach to progressing gender equality” particularly significant.

“The good thing about this is that it’s transparent, so we can see what progress is being made,” she told The Mandarin.

“It’s often difficult to monitor, measure, and evaluate how much progress is being made. Agencies can have [their own] policy in place, but policies can be variable in their quality, and so it’s difficult to know just exactly what’s going on.”

She says the requirement for agencies to each have an action plan with reporting deadlines will help hold the VPS to account, and will hopefully influence other state governments to do the same.

“This shows that the Victorian government is taking gender equality seriously, and they are raising the benchmark. They’re aiming to become an employer of choice for women…it would be fantastic if other jurisdictions followed suit,” she says.

Data shows Australia’s gender pay gap currently sits at 14.1%, while Victorian women are doing 63% of the state’s unpaid work. The new laws will apply to more than 300 organisations and roughly 11% of the state workforce — 380,000 employees.

This puts gender equality front and centre in organisations across the state, according to Minister for Women Gabrielle Williams.

“We’re making history and making gender equality a non-negotiable by law – because it’s 2019 and women and girls deserve every opportunity to succeed,” she says.

“We know we won’t reach gender equality overnight, but this is an important step in the cultural change we’re working hard to drive.”

Williamson argues the monitoring and evaluation aspects of the initiative will be important, as they have often been ignored in other public sector gender equality plans.

“I’ve looked at all 18 APS government departments and their gender equality action plans, and there are a lot of good ones, but monitoring and evaluation isn’t done all that well, and can be quite vague in a lot of the action plans,” she says. “So the Victorian government having a focus on monitoring and evaluation is a really good thing.”

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