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It's been 150 days. And we're still waiting for a Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

Australian women have been left waiting for 150 days now for a Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

In that time, we’ve seen rampant, high-profile cases of sexism, including from Turnbull Government ministers, which a Sex Discrimination Commissioner could have spoken out about.

Perhaps that’s why the Government is dragging its heels on making the appointment. It’s unacceptable to leave this important role vacant for months on end and the majority of Senators agree with me.

Yesterday afternoon, the Senate passed my motion calling on the Government to get on with the appointment of Australia’s official advocate for women against discrimination.

The former Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, was a strong voice for women, who fearlessly called out sexism, and thankfully continues to do so unofficially. Her original term was extended for a fixed timeframe so the government had plenty of notice to find a replacement. Elizabeth Broderick has left big shoes to fill. She has convinced big businesses to take gender equality seriously; advocated for paid parental leave before we had any; raised awareness about domestic violence when it was taboo and led an investigation into how women are treated in the defence force after the Skype scandal. It’s an outstanding legacy and one that many worthy women could carry on admirably.

So why is it taking so long? My worst fear is that the government thinks we might all forget about the position and then they might try and remove it like they did for the Disability Discrimination Commissioner. So it was good news that the Senate passed my motion, sending an official message to the government that we’re watching and waiting, along with many, many more women in the community.


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In the months and months that women have been left waiting, sexism has reared its head time and time again.

Former federal Liberal Minister Jamie Briggs and the former general-secretary of the NSW Labor Party Jamie Clements have resigned over sexual harassment allegations. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton sent a text to a journalist, which he meant to send to Jamie Briggs, calling the journalist a “mad f#$!ing witch”.

Dutton remains a Minister and, while Jamie Briggs stood down as a Minister, the Prime Minister has reportedly told him that the path back into Cabinet remains open despite his sexist behaviour.

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We’ve learnt ANZ celebrated a top appointment at a strip club. A sportsman belittled a female journalist on live TV by ignoring her questions, repeatedly asking her out and saying “don’t blush baby”.

A so-called ‘pick up artist’ group that promotes abusing women held one of its abhorrent events in Sydney.

And just this week another sickening, sexist group that promotes violence against women, threatened to hold meetings in Australia, with the group’s leader, who believes rape should be legal, planning to travel from America to attend. The Immigration Minister responded by saying people who promote violence against women are not welcome in Australia so it’s unlikely a visa would be granted.

XXXXXX at Government House on September 21, 2015 in Canberra, Australia. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a new look front bench on Sunday.
Former federal Liberal Minister Jamie Briggs. Image via Getty.

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While I welcome this from the Immigration Minister (the same guy who sent the ‘mad f#$%ing witch’ text), the Liberal Government needs to do so much more to address sexism than just deny a visa for an American sexist lunatic who incites rape. For a start it should heed the Senate’s call and get on with appointing a woman as Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

The Turnbull Government continues to lock up women and children seeking asylum in offshore hellholes, where they have been subjected to sexual abuse. The Government needs to urgently reverse its funding cuts to domestic violence services and commit adequate funding to these crisis services and for domestic violence prevention. It should be improving paid parental leave, not accusing mothers of ‘double dipping’ and trying to exclude some from government-funded parental leave. It should also promote more women to Cabinet; improve reporting by big businesses on their gender pay gaps and drop its plan to charge women for pap smears.

All of these positive changes for women are things that a strong Sex Discrimination Commissioner would campaign for. One has to wonder whether the Government is afraid of appointing a Commissioner because it would be her job to take them to task over the lack of progress toward gender equality. All the more reason to keep calling loud and clear for one, I say!

Qld Senator Larissa Waters is the Australian Greens Deputy Leader and spokesperson for women. 

Tags: australian-politics , current-affairs
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