Skip to main content

Annual Report 1999-2000: Sex Discrimination

to 1999 - 2000 Annual Report Contents

Annual Report 1999 - 2000

Susan Halliday,  Sex Discrimination CommissionerSex

Sex Discrimination Commissioner

Susan Halliday took
up her position as federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner on 20 April
1988 for a three year term.

The Sex Discrimination
Commissioner administers the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984. The
Act gives effect to Australia's obligations under the Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and parts of
International Labour Organisation Convention 156 regarding family responsibilities.
Its major objectives are to:

  • promote equality
    between men and women;

  • eliminate discrimination
    on the basis of sex, marital status or pregnancy and, with respect
    to dismissals, family responsibilities; and

  • eliminate sexual
    harassment at work, in educational institutions, in the provision
    of goods and service, in the provision of accommodation and the administration
    of federal programs.

The Commissioner
undertakes research, policy and educative work designed to promote greater
equality between men and women. Recent projects have included researching
the effect or consequences of, not the fact of pregnancy and potential
pregnancy in the workplace through a National Inquiry, raising awareness
of the Sex Discrimination Act amongst young women, and eliminating sexual
harassment from the workplace.

The Commissioner
is also called upon to provide advice to Government on a range of industrial
and social issues. She may be granted leave to intervene in industrial
proceedings, as was the case with the AMWU Casuals and Part-time Case
heard before the Australian Industrial Relations Commission during April

Some of the aspects
of the role of the Commissioners has changed with the commencement of
the Human Rights Legislation Amendment Act 1999 (Cth) on 13 April 2000,
and the transfer of complaint handling powers away from Commissioners
to the President. The new legislation provides the Commissioners with
an amicus curiae function in relation to proceedings in the Federal Court
or the Federal Magistrates Court.

The Commissioner
has a broad educational role to highlight the rights of individuals, as
well as the responsibility of all members of the community to respect
the rights of others and to work cooperatively in developing a fair and
cohesive society.

Getting to know the Sex Discrimination Act: A guide for young womenEducation
and promotion

Commissioner Halliday
has continued her strong educational focus, working regularly with school
students as well as organisations in the private, non-government and community
sectors. The Commissioner conducts extensive community education campaigns
utilising a range of media including print, electronic and on line. In
addition, the Commissioner has spoken to and led discussion with over
ten thousand people this year at 77 formal speaking engagements.

Hornsby Girls High School students with Susan Halliday at the launch of the guideYoung
Women's Guide

International Women's
Day 2000 was marked by the launch of Getting to know the Sex Discrimination
Act: A guide for young women.
The guide,
available free of charge, is a practical source of information for young
women in the transition years between school and work. It is particularly
aimed at secondary school and higher education students who may be involved
in workplace learning programs or part-time or casual work. Feedback has
been extremely positive, and initially overwhelming with over 1000 phone
calls received from the public in the two days following the launch.

15th Anniversary Sex Discrimination

August 1999 marked
the fifteenth anniversary of the Sex Discrimination Act (Cth) 1984. This
occasion presented an excellent educational opportunity. With an overall
strategy to promote awareness of the legislation, the educational campaign
involved the production of educative postcards (12,000 of which were distributed
nationally free of charge in cafes, cinemas and other public places),
and two high profile celebratory events. Commissioner Halliday invited
previous Sex Discrimination Commissioners Pamela O'Neil, Quentin Bryce
AO and Sue Walpole to take the stage with her and share their perspective.
The first event was held at Parliament House Sydney 11 October 1999 with
an opening address by the Honorable Dr Meredith Burgmann. The second event
was opened by the Attorney-General Daryl Williams AM QC MP and held in
Melbourne at the Hotel Sofitel, 10 November 1999. Both events were sold
out and each generated good media coverage. The objective of raising the
profile of the Sex Discrimination Act was enhanced by comedians Absolutely
Not! whose outstanding and memorable performances, treated controversial
subject material with humour, were well received.

15th Anniversary of the

Youth Challenge Video

This collaborative
project between the Race Discrimination and Sex Discrimination Unit resulted
in an educational video for secondary school students. The video was about
young people in the workplace and how to identify and deal with potentially
discriminatory situations. It has been used successfully in schools in
NSW, SA and Victoria.

Sex Discrimination Seminars

Two information sessions
were run in Melbourne and attracted audiences from the private sector,
community organisations, higher education and state and federal government.
The sessions were run by Commissioner Halliday and Ms Sabina Lauber and
focussed on recent legal decisions in the areas of sex discrimination
in the workplace.

Youth Expo 2000

The Human Rights
and Equal Opportunity Commission was represented at the Youth Expo 2000
at the Royal Exhibition Buildings in Melbourne 4-7 April. The Expo coincided
with National Youth Week and hundreds of secondary school students visited
the HREOC stand, taking away with them kits of cross-Unit educative materials.

The HREOC stall at Youth Expo 2000 in Melbourne

Research and Policy

Pregnant and Productive: It's a rights not a privilege to work while pregnantNational
Inquiry into Pregnancy and Work

On 26 August 1998
the federal Attorney-General Daryl Williams AM QC MP requested the Human
Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission undertake a National Inquiry into
issues relating to pregnancy and workplace discrimination. Conducted by
Commissioner Halliday and the Sex Discrimination Unit, the Inquiry involved
extensive research and consultations with employers, employees, unions,
health professionals, employer associations, government agencies, community
groups and school students in metropolitan, regional and rural areas.
The report entitled Pregnant and Productive: It's a right not a privilege
to work while pregnant details the findings of the Inquiry and 46 recommendations.

Launched 25 August
1999, at Parliament House Canberra, Pregnant and Productive: It's a right
not a privilege to work while pregnant evidences the existence of widespread
and systemic discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy and potential
pregnancy in Australian workplaces.

Key findings:

  • many instances
    of pregnancy discrimination go unreported

  • pregnancy discrimination
    takes many forms.some blatant, some covert, some detrimental to the
    health of the mother and the unborn child

  • a high level
    of ignorance and misinformation amongst employees and employers

  • casual workers
    are particularly vulnerable

  • women with the
    potential to become pregnant are denied employment, training and promotional

  • pregnant women
    suffer harassment and victimisation from colleagues

  • partners had
    been denied leave to attend significant medical appointments or even
    the birth of the child

  • employers misuse
    occupational, health and safety regulations to remove pregnant employees

  • women conceal
    pregnancy because they fear discrimination at work.

Pregnancy and potential
pregnancy discrimination crosses industry sectors, professions, disciplines
and employment level. Significant confusion about the rights and responsibilities
of employees and employers when dealing with workplace pregnancy was revealed.

Numerous employees
when contacting Families at Work will ask our consultants what their
entitlements are within their own organisation. They appear to be
unaware of who to contact or where to go to find information on their
rights and responsibilities.
(Families at Work submission no 40).

Diana is a
first year cabinet making apprentice. She re-located from the regions
after doing her pre-vocational course. She was told directly by employers
that they wouldn't take her as an apprentice because she was a girl
and she might get pregnant.
(TAFE Queensland and Group Training Australia Focus Group).

Media and community
interest generated by the Inquiry and the launch of the Report far exceeded
expectations. Analysis of media coverage found radio and television broadcasts
in the two days following the Report launch reached 4.5 million people
(a conservative estimate) across Australia. Coverage in print and online
media was also extensive with 21 articles published about the Report in
the first 48 hours. There was also extensive follow-up across the Internet
plus interest from neighbouring Asian and Pacific countries, the United
Kingdom and Scandinavia. Interest from other overseas print and radio
media followed.

A Government response
to the 46 recommendations of the report is pending.

Women's Labour Market Participation
in Regional Australia

Labour markets vary
depending on a range of factors, especially the size of towns and cities.
This publication entitled Women's Labour Market Participation in Regional
Australia is the result of research undertaken by the University of Newcastle
commissioned by the Sex Discrimination Unit. It identifies the profound
differences in employment opportunities between city and non-metropolitan
areas. The research paper was launched Saturday 1 April 2000 at the Yarra
Valley Women on Farms Gathering in Victoria by Commissioner Halliday who
has been active in a variety of rural events.

Sex Discrimination in the
Banking/Finance Industry

The Sex Discrimination
Unit continues to support Ms Sara Charlesworth in her research of the
influence of the industrial and anti-discrimination legislative frameworks,
as well as non-legislative factors on the treatment of sex discrimination
in the banking and finance industries. Ms Charlesworth published a preliminary
paper in the Journal on Interdisciplinary Gender Studies which acknowledged

Migrant and refugee women

Ms Rachel Gray undertook
a three-month internship to research current issues facing migrant and
refugee women in Australia. The paper resulting from the collaborative
Sex Discrimination / Race Discrimination project is entitled 'An Ocean
of Fires: Immigrant and Refugee Women's Voices'.


'More Jobs, Better Pay' Bill

Senate Employment,
Workplace Relations, Small Business and Education Committee Inquiry into
the Workplace Relations Legislation (More Jobs, Better Pay) Bill 1999.

The Sex Discrimination
Unit prepared a submission on the behalf of the Human Rights and Equal
Opportunity Commission that reiterated the issues raised regarding the
Workplace Relations Act 1996 in the Report of the National Pregnancy and
Work Inquiry, as well as other issues affecting gender equality in the
workplace. Commissioner Halliday also appeared before the Senate Inquiry
on 26 October 1999 to clarify and respond in more detail to issues raised
in the submission.

Welfare Reform

The submission to
the Reference Group on Welfare Reform (December 1999) focussed on the
issue of paid maternity leave as a possible future option via the welfare

Convention on the Elimination
of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

Office for the Status of Women

The Sex Discrimination
Unit reviewed Australia's progress under CEDAW as part of its submission
to the Office of the Status of Women on progress under this Convention
over the past five years.

International Convention on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)

Report to the Economic and
Social Council administering the ICESCR.

The ICESCR contains
many articles directly relevant to the work of the Sex Discrimination
Unit. This submission reviewed progress under these articles in Australia
over the past five years and included achievements, challenges and continuing

Workplace Relations Amendment
Bill 2000

The Sex Discrimination
Commissioner provided comments on section 170LGA(4) of the proposed amendments
concerning the decision-making process of the Australian Industrial Relations
Commission. Views and advice were provided on the principles of natural

Same Sex Superannuation Bill

Senate Inquiry into the Superannuation
(entitlements of same sex couples) Bill 2000.

The Sex Discrimination
Unit's submission to this inquiry reiterated the recommendations made
in HREOC's 1999 publication Superannuation Entitlements of Same-Sex Couples:
Report of Examination of Federal Legislation.

AMWU Casuals and Part-time

S113 application to vary the
Metal and Associated Industries Award 1998

In April 2000 the
Sex Discrimination Commissioner was granted leave to intervene in the
AMWU Casuals and Part-time Case heard before the Australian Industrial
Relations Commission by way of written submission.

The submission focused
on the areas of concern to the role and duties of the Sex Discrimination
Commissioner in relation to the objects of the Sex Discrimination Act
1984 (Cth), focussing primarily on issues raised in the context of casual

Interest in the AMWU
Casuals and Part-time Case stems from HREOC's legislative functions and
responsibilities with regard to the elimination of discrimination in employment
and particularly, the functions conferred by the Sex Discrimination Act
1984 [sections 48(1)(d), (e), (GB) and (h)] and by the Human Rights and
Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986 [sections 11 (1) (g), (o) and (p)].

The case was seen
by HREOC as an appropriate vehicle to revisit issues associated with casual
employment which have the potential to disadvantage and discriminate (directly
and indirectly) against women. HREOC sought consideration of these matters
by the AIRC to ensure that in the process of any general review of casual
employment provisions, discrimination due to a casual employment status
is identified and minimised.


International Labour Organisation
Convention 103 (Maternity Protection at Work)

Comments were provided
to the Department of Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business
on a draft of ILO Convention 103 regarding maternity leave. In particular,
comments stressed the need for ILO Conventions concerning women to be
consistent with standards set by the Convention on the Elimination of
All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Several of the points submitted
form part of Australia's observations on the Convention published in the
ILO report IV (2A) from its 88th session, 2000.

Occupational Health and Safety
(Lead) Regulations 2000

Advice was provided
to the Victorian WorkCover Authority on its draft Occupational Health
and Safety (Lead) Regulations 2000, draft Code of Practice for Lead and
regulatory impact statement. The advice drew upon the Sex Discrimination
Unit's research into lead including discussion of lead-related issues
documented in the Report of the National Inquiry into Pregnancy and Work.

ILO Conventions and Protocol
on the night work of women

The Sex Discrimination
Unit responded to a request from the Department of Employment, Workplace
Relations and Small Business to contribute to Australia's Article 19 Report
to the ILO on the Conventions and Protocol on the night work of women.
The submission supported the Australian position not to ratify ILO Convention
numbers 4, 41 and 89 and the 1990 Protocol on the night work of women,
as any prohibition on women from working at night is directly discriminatory
against women in their employment.

International work

Beijing +5

UN General Assembly Special
Session: "Women 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the 21st
Century. 5-9 June 2000.

The Sex Discrimination
Commissioner is tasked with monitoring the progress of gender issues and
ensuring the human rights of women in Australia are protected.

In June 2000, the
UN General Assembly held a Special Session to review and build on the
outcomes of the fourth world conference on women, known as the '1995 Beijing
Conference' and went on to set the international agenda on women's rights
for the first decade of the 21st century.

Commissioner Halliday
and Ms Sabina Lauber (Director A/g, Sex Discrimination Unit) attended
in the capacity of Independent Advisors to the Australian Delegation and
were involved in intense negotiations around the 12 critical areas of

  • women and poverty

  • education and
    training for women

  • women and health
  • women and armed

  • women and the

  • women in power
    and decision-making

  • institutional
    mechanisms for the advancement of women

  • human rights
    of women

  • women and the

  • women and the

  • the girl child.

The "outcomes document"
consists of consensus text negotiated amongst the 188 participant countries
on human rights commitments to women for the next decade.

South African Commission on
Gender Equality

The Sex Discrimination
Unit on behalf of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission successfully
tendered to work with AusAID on a project of technical co-operation with
the South African Commission on Gender Equality (CGE).

During May 2000 Commissioner
Halliday and officers of the Sex & Race Discrimination Unit, participated
in phase one of the project. Commissioner Halliday addressed a significant
gathering of South African women politicians at Parliament House in Cape
Town. As a follow up to this visit, the SDU office returned to Johannesburg
in July 2000 to deliver training on the conduct of national inquiries
to the CGE.

The good relationships
developed with members of the women's machinery within the South African
Government were reflected in the positive interactions with the South
African delegation at the Beijing +5 conference in New York, June 2000.

The project work
in South Africa continues on into the next reporting year.

Regional Workshop on the Role
of National Human Rights Institutions in Advancing the Human Rights of

Commissioner Halliday
attended the Regional Workshop in Suva, Fiji, organised by the Asia Pacific
Forum 5-7 May 2000. This meeting was an important opportunity for Pacific
Island and Asian nations to determine a common platform for action and
joint statement on gender issues. This document was utilized at the Beijing
+ 5 conference, and will underpin future Asia Pacific work on gender.

UN Focal Point on Trafficking

The A/g Director
Sex Discrimination Unit, was appointed HREOC contact for the UN Focal
Point on Trafficking in Women to assist the UN High Commissioner for Human
Rights with work in this area. Her role is predominantly one of information
gathering and dissemination.


Attached is a selection
of speeches, seminars and presentations made by Commissioner Halliday
in the reporting period.Selected
papers are available on the HREOC website.

Women at Work 11th
Women, Management and Industrial Relations Conference Macquarie Graduate
School of Management, Sydney. 20 July 1999.

Inquiry into Pregnancy
and Work Member Briefing Equal Employment Opportunity Network, Melbourne.
23 July 1999.

Leadership and the
Management of Diversity Australian Institute of Police Management, Sydney.
29 July 1999.

On the Eve of the
21st Century There are Those Working to Return us to the 19th Century
Women and Management Dinner, Sydney. 10 August 1999.

Young Women and Pregnancy
Association of Women Educators, Brisbane. 25 August 1999.

Managing Business
and Workplace Pregnancy Council of Equal Opportunity in Employment Ltd,
Melbourne. 27 August 1999.

The business of a
discrimination and harassment-free workplace: Smart people policies. Australian
Legal Practice Management Group & Law Office Management Group, Sydney.
10 September 1999.

Women and the Law
International Commission of Jurists, Melbourne University. 11 September

Young Women Striding
into the 21st Century St Ursula's and St Xavier's College, Toowoomba.
16 September 1999.

Keep Pushing We're
Almost There National Baha'I Office for the Advancement of Women International
Women's Conference, Brisbane. 17 September 1999.

Private Pain, Public
Sanction Beyond the Barriers - Improving Legal Responses to Domestic Violence
Conference Domestic Violence Service Gold Coast. 23 September 2000.

Collaboration, Consolidation
and Compliance ANU Commercial Law and Human Rights Conference, Canberra.
24 September 2000.

Women's Rights are
Human Rights Australian Women Lawyers Breakfast, Canberra. 8 October 1999.

15th Anniversary
Sex Discrimination Act Celebration Dinner with previous Commissioners
and Attorney-General 11 October 1999, Sydney. 10
November 1999, Melbourne.

Who are you Planning
to Recruit in the 21st Century? Morgan & Banks Seminar, Sydney. 20 October

Pregnancy and Work
Absolutely Women's Health Forum Royal Women's Hospital Melbourne. 16 November

Human Rights and
Equal Opportunity Victorian Commercial Teachers Association Conference
La Trobe University. 22 November 1999.

Australia's Implementation
of International Human Rights: focus on women's rights" Launch of Women's
Rights Action Network Australia Tribunal Video, Melbourne. 14 December

Queensland Police
Service Conference Police Academy, Oxley. 7 February 2000.

Women's Participation
in Local Government Address to women candidates, Melbourne Town Hall.
10 February 2000.

Address to students
Presbyterian Ladies College, Sydney. 22 February 2000.

Australian women:
A national picture Association of Women Educators IWD Dinner, Adelaide.
29 February 2000.

Will Barbie Make
it to the Boardroom this Century? CEOE Ltd International Women's Day Breakfast.
8 March 2000.

Launch of Getting
to Know the Sex Discrimination Act: A guide for young women Hornsby Girls
High School, NSW. 8 March 2000.

2nd Annual Women
and Policing Awards NSW Police Academy, Goulburn. 8 March 2000.

21st Century Workplace
Australia Post, Sydney. 15 March 2000.

11th Annual Women
on Farms Gathering Yarra Valley, Victoria. 1 April 2000.

Status of Women in
Australia Address to South African female politicians, Cape Town. 3 April

Pregnancy and other
Employment Issues Womens' Infolink Employment Seminar, Brisbane. 3 May

Pregnancy and Potential
Pregnancy Discrimination Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions
Regional Workshop on 'The Role of National Human Rights Institutions in
Advancing the International Human Rights of Women' Suva Fiji, 5-7 May

Sex Discrimination
- Address to senior students Alphington Grammar, Melbourne. 12 May 2000.

How does Australia
become the world's best? Curriculum Corporation National Conference, Melbourne.
18 May 2000.

updated 1 December 2001.