Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 4 Hansard (10 April) . . Page.. 877..
MRS CROSS (continuing):
Canberrans are better educated than people in other jurisdictions, with higher percentages of employment and higher average earnings. However, despite these obvious advantages, official discrimination complaints in Canberra are rising. For example, pregnancy discrimination complaints have doubled each year for the past two years. While the actual numbers of complaints may not necessarily be high, it is nonetheless a serious and disturbing trend.
I am now aware through conversations with the legal fraternity that the number of women who eventually come forward to the Discrimination Commissioner are a very small percentage of those who actually have grounds to do so. Most women prefer to shrug their shoulders and get on with life. They do so because they are afraid of being labelled "troublemakers".
Mr Speaker, other than providing clarity in the law, an important part of my reason for bringing this legislation forward today is to raise awareness of discrimination issues generally and assist community education. It is time to send a message. It is time this issue was dead in the water.
Discrimination in any form because of individual personal attributes is an anathema in society. I have deliberately used a strong word here-and I appreciate that "anathema" is not a word in everyday use-but it generally means "detestation, abhorrence, abomination, loathing, aversion or hatred". Discrimination simply has no place among us. It is not intelligent and plays no useful purpose in modern-day Australia. Laws such as our Discrimination Act are tragically still required to ensure equal opportunity in life for all Australians. That is why it is important the law is clear, that it applies sensibly and is not allowed to stagnate.
Mr Speaker, this bill had at its starting point a 1999 report by the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission entitled Pregnant and Productive: It's a right not a privilege to work while pregnant. That report examined pregnancy discrimination issues and contained 46 recommendations. The legislation addresses one of those recommendations. Potential pregnancy discrimination can, and does, exist in various forms. While this is most likely to occur in the workplace, say in a job interview, it can equally apply in the housing rental market or when dealing with a financial institution. Discrimination in each of those situations is simply unacceptable.
The relationship between an employer and their staff is one of mutual rights and responsibilities. A successful relationship is only possible where those rights are mutually recognised and acted upon. At the moment, women who apply for jobs may be asked if they intend to have a child in the future, and that information can be used to determine whether they get the job. That is not equal opportunity.
Equal opportunity is especially important for women in the areas of business and employment. Non-discriminatory employment selection processes are essential-they need to be fair and transparent. Irrelevant questions about pregnancy and pregnancy testing should be prohibited as part of the job interview process. This bill achieves that purpose.