Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 7 Hansard (5 June) . . Page.. 1912 ..
MRS CROSS (continuing):
equation. Discrimination against women on the grounds of pregnancy has no place in Australian society today.
The Discrimination Act already refers to an existing pregnancy and breast-feeding, but does not include potential pregnancy-that is, the expressed desire or a perceived expectation that a woman may become pregnant.
When I first raised the need for this legislation in February, comment was made in some quarters that it was unnecessary, or would be a serious impost on business. There was a perception that the law was already good enough on this front. However, subsequent discussions with the Parliamentary Counsel, the Discrimination Commissioner, the department of justice, and departmental officials dispelled that perception completely.
It is obvious to me that the Chief Minister is in denial of this fact and probably wishes he had come up with this idea himself. The law, as it currently stands, lacks strength and clarity on the pregnancy front. This bill will take care of that.
Pregnancy discrimination complaints have doubled each year for the past two years. The numbers quoted earlier by the Chief Minister were incorrect. There were not four complaints, there were eight. They are only the reported numbers. There are probably ten times that out in the community who do not come forward.
While the reported numbers of complaints may not be all that high, it is nonetheless a disturbing trend. From conversations with the legal fraternity and the Discrimination Commissioner, I understand that the number of women who eventually come forward to make a formal complaint constitute a very small percentage of those who have strong grounds to do so. Most women prefer to shrug their shoulders and get on with life, as women have done so often over the years. 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. The relationship between an employer and 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 may 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, employment and in gaining access to housing. 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 will achieve that purpose.
This bill has, as 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. This proposed legislation addresses one of those recommendations. Discrimination in any form, because of individual, personal