This website includes images and names of deceased people that may cause sadness or distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Sex Discrimination Act Australian Parliament passes Sex Discrimination Act The Sex Discrimination Act was a largely successful attempt to ensure that women had the same access to jobs, services and accommodation as men.
It also made sexual harassment illegal for the first time in Australia and set up the Office of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner. As such it helped redefine the role of women in Australian society. The act was passed, despite vocal opposition from a minority of parliamentarians and public interest groups. In , those defenders of the status quo who wanted no social change, recognised their last opportunity to prevent progress, and they gave it all they had.
The Sex Discrimination Bill became the emblematic action that if allowed to succeed would change Australian society forever. Dr Anne Summers on the importance of the Sex Discrimination Act Whitlam Government In the late s and s, women throughout the developed world were increasingly looking at their role in society. Those women who did work outside the home typically occupied roles such as nursing, teaching and secretarial work.
Substantial changes to the actual rights and opportunities available to Australian women became government policy with the election in of Gough Whitlam as Prime Minister. Her role was particularly important at a time when there were still no women in Cabinet. However, Susan Ryan, who became a senator in , describes Australia in the mids as having one of the most gender-segregated labour markets of any developed country: Women were locked by discrimination into an employment and pay ghetto.
National Library of Australia, obj The Fraser Government ratified it in In , Ryan was one of only 19 women in a Parliament of members and senators. On 2 June , Ryan introduced the legislation to the Senate. In , while in Opposition, she had tested the Parliamentary waters by introducing a private members bill for sex discrimination, which was adjourned without a vote. The legislation The Bill extended to all areas of employment and education and many services, mirroring and building on existing laws in NSW, Victoria and South Australia.
The legislation was intended to promote equality between women and men by: This was later extended to marital status, pregnancy or possible pregnancy and breastfeeding.
It also sought to protect women from discrimination when enrolling or studying at an educational institution, when seeking to rent or buy property, or accessing services such as banking and insurance, utilities, or government or professional services. It made sexual harassment illegal — the first time in Australia such protection had been legislated.
Importantly, it also created the Office of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner. The impressive occupants of this position have often successfully kept issues of importance to women on the political and social agenda. However, the government did not control the Senate, and some members, such as independent senator Brian Harradine, had objections.
This forced the government to make changes. The superannuation and insurance sectors were given a temporary exemption to allow them to catch up with new regulations, and partial exemptions were provided for the Church and the military. Nonetheless, support for the bill was largely bipartisan and, after 17 hours of debate, it was finally passed.
The Act commenced on 1 August Protesters against the Sex Discrimination Act. It encouraged more women to seek an education and employment, which raised families incomes.
Women began taking more senior positions in the workforce and were promoted to more visible roles, and single mothers had more opportunities. It made it possible for women to have both a work and a family life, and paved the way for further developments, such as paid parental leave. However, the Act has certain drawbacks. Among these is the fact that it is complaint based, which means it is up to the aggrieved individual to lodge a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission, which offers conciliation services but does not have the power to, say, force an organisation to reinstate a person to their job.
For binding orders, a complainant has to go to the Federal Court or Federal Circuit Court — no small matter for someone who has lost their job or endured sexual harassment at work. Some critics still say Australia has a long way to go in terms of true equality and representation.
The numbers of women in parliament remains low, and they are under-represented in senior management positions, especially in the private sector. Recent changes In , the Sex Discrimination Act was updated to provide more protections. It now covers sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status and marital or relationship status.
It has also expanded the definition of sexual harassment to include harassment because of any of the above.