Six months with a part-time sex discrimination commissioner

By Stephen Easton

Thursday January 7, 2016

By the time the long search for a new permanent full-time sex discrimination commissioner is complete, the role will have been vacant for almost six months.

Human rights commissioner Gillian Triggs continues to act in the role, while the Attorney-General’s office staff fend off increasingly pertinent questions about the handling of the process.

A short list has reportedly been drawn up and interviews are being planned, with the successful candidate to be submitted for cabinet approval next month. The A-G’s office says the new commissioner will be announced “shortly”, just as it said in October.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus criticised the government for failing to plan ahead for the departure of Elizabeth Broderick (pictured with Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Peter Varghese):

“The government was aware for an entire year previously that she would be leaving.”

According to George Brandis’ opposite number, the drawn out period of vacancy for the high-profile statutory role demonstrates that replacing Broderick has been a low priority for the government.

The same charge was levelled at the government in October by Julie McKay, director of UN Women Australia, who also questioned why the process had not begun well in advance of Broderick’s departure.

On the other hand, finding a candidate that satisfies both the requirements of the role and the government of the day can be difficult for such unique statutory positions. In the past, other such roles have been left vacant for similar periods of time.

In her eight years as sex discrimination commissioner — including four years as age discrimination commissioner at the same time — Broderick regularly made influential contributions to public discourse around gender equality. The Human Rights Commission lists some of her key achievements:

“Elizabeth has been a key advocate for Australia’s national paid parental leave scheme and domestic violence reform. She has championed the changes to the ASX Corporate Governance Principles to increase the number of women at decision making level. She has developed the Male Champions of Change strategy.

In April 2011, the Government appointed Elizabeth, as Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, to lead the Commission’s Review into the Treatment of Women in the Australian Defence Force. Four reports on the Review were tabled in Australia’s Parliament and the Review concluded in March 2014.  Elizabeth now leads the Commission’s collaborative work with the Australian Defence Force on embedding cultural change across Navy, Army and Air Force.”

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