By Tanya Plibersek

08 March 2021



SUBJECTS: International Women’s Day; Gender Pay Gap; Pay secrecy clauses; 10 days paid domestic violence leave; Women and superannuation; Sexual harassment in the workplace; Women in politics.

CATHIE SCHNITZERLING, HOST: This is ABC Radio Brisbane. My name is Cathie Schnitzerling. And it's International Women's Day, which is why I am sitting here today in Steve Austin's chair. Question for you. Do you reckon big companies should have to tell us how much more they pay their male employees than their female employees? Do you think that would help close the gender pay gap? Federal Labor think so, choosing International Women's Day to announce a plan to make companies with more than 250 employees publicly report the differences in pay between men and women. Labor's Shadow Minister for Women, Tanya Plibersek is in Brisbane today, and she's sitting right here in the studio. Welcome Ms Plibersek.


SCHNITZERLING: Tanya, okay, long name like mine. It's much easier the first names.

PLIBERSEK: Yes it is.

SCHNITZERLING: Did companies already provide that information to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency?

PLIBERSEK: Yes, they do and that's why we think this is a very sensible and modest step forward. We know that transparency is often the most effective way of getting change. So big companies are already providing this information to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. This would just make that information public. So we're talking about companies with more than a thousand staff starting in a couple of years time, and then smaller companies - over 250 staff - starting in about four years’ time. So it gives them plenty of time to get their houses in order. They would report their gender pay gap publicly. They're already doing it to the Gender Equality Agency. It would be made public. If they had a reason that they wanted to provide for that gender pay gap, they would have the opportunity to do that. But what we've seen overseas is this sort of transparency has been really effective at reducing the gender pay gap, most particularly because companies just ask themselves the question 'Why do we have this pay gap in our organisation?'.

SCHNITZERLING: I've seen it described already today as a name and shame policy. 
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it's a - let's celebrate the good the good work that many companies are doing and let's ask a question about why some aren't pulling their weight. I think that's a much more positive way of looking at it.

SCHNITZERLING: And you feel that business would be willing to do that, given that they're already going through the process now?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, absolutely. They're already providing this information. We're not asking for a big additional administrative burden to be put on companies particularly these big companies. They've got Human Resources departments that are gathering this information. I think it's a very sensible next step. 

SCHNITZERLING: So that's the big companies. Now tell me about some of the other aspects of the policy that was announced today in terms of the Fair Work Commission? What other recommendations would you have in that policy? 

PLIBERSEK: Well this is a really important change. We want the Fair Work Commission to have greater powers and greater capability to order pay increases for low-paid women workers.

SCHNITZERLING: Is that where the biggest disparity is in-?

PLIBERSEK: Oh a hundred percent. Look anybody who has had kids in childcare knows that early childhood educators, for example, are doing incredibly complex, difficult work. It's very responsible. They need to study hard to do it. Aged care workers are another great example where they're barely earning above the minimum wage. 

SCHNITZERLING: And happen to have several jobs and we've seen where that leads us. 

PLIBERSEK: I just, I genuinely don't think anyone would say if these jobs were mainly done by men that you'd see these phenomenally low rates of pay, and I think this is absolutely a reflection of the undervaluing of women's work.

And here in Queensland, you've got a really terrific element of your industrial relations system that says that if you're trying to put a value on the work that is done by a low-paid worker, you don't have to have a male, it's called a male comparator. You don't have to have to have a like-for-like comparison with a job that's mostly done by men. 

We don't have that at the Federal level. The Fair Work Commission at the Federal level has interpreted the legislation differently. We want to just make it clear that you don't have to have a male-dominated job to compare with and we believe that that will make a big difference for female-dominated industries. 

We also want to do a little bit better in the public service. The public service has a smaller gender pay gap than the private sector but it's still there. So we want our public servants to have a look at what's going on in our departments and and there's another really important element that we're talking about today -  that's getting rid of pay secrecy clauses.

SCHNITZERLING: I was about to ask you about that because this would be commercial in confidence and we can't tell you that because it's in a contract. 

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, but that's all just an excuse really isn't it? So you can have two workers sitting side by side. They've both negotiated a contract with the boss. And we know in most workplaces systemically, it's likely that the fellow is getting paid more. 

Being able to just talk about this, if you want to - not you have to. We're not talking about a big notice board with everyone's salaries going up on it, but having permission to talk about your own pay with other people you work with. 

Well we want to give employees that freedom. And we know that the industries that have the biggest reliance on pay secrecy clauses, like finance, like insurance, actually have the biggest gender pay gaps as well.


PLIBERSEK: Yeah, and of course this comes on top of some other things we want to do. We want to make childcare cheaper. We-

SCHNITZERLING: Cheaper? Could we have it free, please? More of it? That would be good. 

PLIBERSEK: No, look, free is a bit beyond us at the moment. But we want to make childcare cheaper for every family earning less than about half a million dollars a year. So it's almost every Australian family. 

We also, of course, want to provide more security at work. We know that a lot of women have been going into casualised work and to, you know, the gig economy, particularly in areas like disability care and aged care. That gig economy work is really not working for many women. So we want to provide greater security.

And we want to provide 10 days paid domestic violence leave. People shouldn't choose between keeping their job and being able to go to the police, or go to turn up at court, or staying home for the locksmith to have the locks changed. 10 days paid domestic violence leave is a really important thing that we should be offering for the safety of women and children around Australia.

SCHNITZERLING: It's offered at a state level though isn't it?

PLIBERSEK: Different states have different arrangements and many, many private companies are offering this now. In fact, some of our biggest employers are doing it, and the reason they say they do it is because they want to keep their great staff engaged and at work.

And we know that for victims of domestic violence, keeping your job, keeping an income, keeping a roof over your head, is a real key to safety.

SCHNITZERLING: This is ABC Radio Brisbane where it is 20 to 5 in the afternoon. My name is Cathie Schnitzerling, and I'm speaking to the Opposition Shadow Spokesperson for Women, Tanya Plibersek, who says to call her Tanya and I'm delighted to do so. Now superannuation, if there are more women in the gig economy what does that mean for their superannuation? Because the figures reveal that women can contribute mostly, the figures show, 30 years we contribute women but men contribute for 36. We've just heard a story about a woman who is the almost homeless, who you know house sits because she has no super, so what do you do for women who have no super and they're in low-paid jobs, how can you fix that? 
SCHNITZERLING: 25 words or less.
PLIBERSEK: No, well we absolutely do need to fix it. And at the time of the last election we had some really great policies to allow women to catch up with their super payments. We know that women are much more likely to have time out of the workplace caring for family members, for children, for ageing parents, for sick partners.

And on average women are retiring with about half the super savings of men. The woman that you mentioned is sadly typical of the fastest growing group of Australians moving into homelessness, older single women. So we have to get our retirement income system right and we'll have more to say about that down the track.

SCHNITZERLING: I look forward to that because it's a concerning story to me.
PLIBERSEK: It really is but what I absolutely would never have done is what this Government has done which is make it possible for hundreds of thousands of people to completely clean out their superannuation. 

We see a gendered element to that as well. We see that a lot more women were taking out the full amount that they are able to and we saw a lot of spending on I think what you would call non-essential items like, you know, getting the kitchen redone or doing, or work around the home or paying down the mortgage. 

Now they're all useful things to do. There's nothing wrong with doing those things, but cleaning out your retirement savings to do it is a real problem. We are condemning women to poverty in old age if we don't get superannuation right.
SCHNITZERLING: Were women also raiding their super because they were the hardest hit group during the pandemic?
PLIBERSEK: You've made an excellent point, women lost jobs at a higher rate than men. They lost hours of work at a higher rate than men and they found it harder to access income support than men. 

So many people have described this as a pink recession because the industries that women have worked in, like hospitality, tourism, retail were really hard hit by the economic downturn, by the business closures and so on - but a lot of the stimulus measures have been targeted at male-dominated industries like construction. 

Now, I'm all for supporting the construction industry. It's a huge employer in Australia, but we also have to look at those jobs that women are predominantly doing that have been really badly affected by this recession.
SCHNITZERLING: With a boom in construction though, is there then a flow-on effect that will create other jobs and bring back those jobs in retail?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I think a strong economy does help more people, but here we've got a situation where - take a take a city like Cairns that relies so much on international tourism. You see the huge impact on women in particular that are working in tourism and hospitality in a place like Cairns.

Yes, a construction boom will help a town like Cairns to a degree, but there's still a whole bunch of jobs that don't automatically come back.
SCHNITZERLING: Cairns is a bit of a special sort of category though. It's a tourism town. There's plenty of other places where surely construction would help.
PLIBERSEK: Confidence, confidence in the economy, spending in the economy, good consumer confidence, good business confidence. All of these things, of course, are things that we should be going after, we want those things. 

But assuming that men and women are affected equally by this recession and that the answers are the same for men and women in the recovery, I think, kind of misses the point of how our economy works. 
SCHNITZERLING: This is a bit of a hypothetical but how would Labor have treated the pink recession, would there have been some sort of kickstart for those industries retail, the arts?
PLIBERSEK: Yeah. Well,  the arts is a great example of an industry that has really struggled at this time. 
SCHNITZERLING: They're not all women.
PLIBERSEK: No, they're not but they've missed out on a lot of the supports for workers because of the nature of employment. Higher Education is another really strong employer of women that has really suffered during this pandemic. 

But taking a step back, we were very supportive of wage subsidies. We in fact suggested wage subsidies when the government was still saying it was crazy talk to have wage subsidies. That's a good idea. 

We now need to look at the industries that aren't bouncing back as quickly. We need to be flexible about the geographical regions and the type of industries where support will continue to be needed for some time. 

SCHNITZERLING: So extending the JobKeeper?
PLIBERSEK: Indeed, in some specific circumstances. But we also have an opportunity to look at employment in areas like Aged Care. We've got this Aged Care Royal Commission that makes it very clear that we are not looking after older Australians properly. 

One of the reasons is under-staffing, high pressure on staff Aged Care facilities. Low pay, high staff turnover. Why wouldn't we be making a commitment both to employing more people in Aged Care, but also more people caring for older people in their homes through the Home and Community Care Program. 

There are great examples in areas that are dominated by women, like Aged Care, like disability, like health services, like early childhood education, like catch up programs for kids who fall behind in school because of home learning, where we could be employing more people, including more women. 
SCHNITZERLING: This is ABC Radio Brisbane. My name is Cathie Schnitzerling. My guest in the studio is Tanya Plibersek, who is the Opposition Spokesperson for Women. Today is International Women's Day where we celebrate the progress of women, come a long way in 110 years, but after the past few weeks in Canberra and the shocking statistic of basically one woman a week killed on average by her partner. Do you think we've still got a really long way to go before we're truly equal?

PLIBERSEK: I look at the life my mother had, and her mother, and no doubt, no doubt I have more freedom and more choice in my life, and I hope my daughter will have more freedom and more choice in her life. But we still have so many battles ahead of us to achieve true equality. 

We still have a gender pay gap. We still see that one in three women is likely to experience domestic violence in her lifetime. One in five women over the age of 15 has experienced sexual assault. 40% of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the last five years.  

And I guess one of the frustrations I have is you know, women my age have been working on this for decades. We really feel like we have - 

SCHNITZERLING: Are you tired? I mean, I'm tired of reading about it and hearing about it and hasn't changed and I see pictures of you in Parliament in your pink jacket, every other man in the place has his back to you or they're fooling around on their phones. That is such bad manners, if nothing else.

PLIBERSEK: It's not that I'm tired. The feeling at moment is so many people are telling me they're fed up. They're fed up with the - there's always an excuse for the fact that we still have sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence rife in our community. There's always an excuse for the gender pay gap. 

It's just not good enough and I want my daughter's generation not to be having the same fights in 20 years’ time as I was having 20 years ago. I want them to have freedom and choice and the boys too. 

Because you know, gender stereotyping is damaging for girls, it's also damaging for boys. It's not good for anyone. Surely, surely we are in 2021, I hope on the verge - as Grace Tame said in her fantastic Press Club speech - we're on the precipice of some real change. I hope so.

SCHNITZERLING: I can't see why any woman would want to go into politics. So if your daughter came to you and said she wanted to go into politics. What would you say to her? Because it doesn't seem to have any redeeming features right now. 

PLIBERSEK: Well, I'd tell her to do whatever makes her heart soar. And you know, whatever that is. She actually wants to be a child protection worker which is also a pretty hard path - 

SCHNITZERLING: That sounds like a barrel of fun. 

PLIBERSEK: No, you know, politics is frustrating and you've seen some of the worst of it in recent weeks, but it's also so incredibly rewarding when it when it's right. You know during the global financial crisis when we built 80 new homelessness facilities and 21,600 new public housing homes, and 50,000 National Rental Affordability Scheme properties. 

These things - like when I was Housing Minister, getting the opportunity to see someone move into a brand new home? There's not many jobs that give you that sort of opportunity to make a real change in someone's life - or the kids dental program which I got to do when I was Health Minister -  it changes lives and that is such a privilege to be part of that. 

Either at the individual level when someone comes to you for help in your electorate office and they're at the end of their tether, they don't know where else to turn, and they've come to their Member of Parliament and you can actually help them a little bit. That's, you know, it's unbeatable. It's an unbeatable feeling.

And we've got to deal with the bad stuff. We actually have to provide a safe work environment particularly for our staff, the volunteers the other people who work in Parliament House, in our electorate offices. We have to. I am not for minute underplaying the challenges-

SCHNITZERLING: Well this new inquiry is that going to change anything? There's already been an inquiry into workplace harassment done? What happened? 

PLIBERSEK: Well the Respect at Work Inquiry that the Sex Discrimination Commissioner did has been sitting on the desk of the Prime Minister and the Attorney General for the last year. Like literally a year. It's about the one-year anniversary in the last few days. 

SCHNITZERLING: And now we're doing another one? 

PLIBERSEK: Yes, which - we do believe that there should be an inquiry. It should be independent, arm’s length from Government and we want our staff in particular to have the opportunity of telling their story in a confidential and safe way so that we can permanently change the culture to make it a better, fairer, less discriminatory culture in Parliament House and in politics more generally.

But I understand why people are sceptical. There are so many culture change reports about politics. It's a long-term business. In 1994 I went to a National Labor Party Conference in Hobart. 1994 when we moved our first affirmative action rules at that National Conference. And people spoke against it. It was a vote on the conference floor. We weren't sure we were going to win. 

But decades later we've gone from, in 1994 we had about 14% female representation in our Federal Parliament, female representation our Federal Parliament. Now, we're at almost half. We've almost got to half. 

The Liberals in the same time started in about the same place. They're stuck at 25% and they've been stuck at 25% for years now. These fights are not easy. They actually are battles that you have to win. You have to be prepared to look inside at your own organisation and for individuals sometimes, their own behaviour and see what needs to change. 

But when you make that change when we are now at almost 50 per cent, it's a different work environment. The Parliamentary Bar, where people used to go and drink late into the night, that's a creche now. That's generations of women who have worked to make that happen. 

When my friend Jeannette McHugh was the first woman elected from the state of New South Wales to Parliament in 1983 she walked into Old Parliament House. There were no women's toilets in the members area, because no one expected women to be elected! So things have changed but they only change with consistent effort. 

SCHNITZERLING: Finally one last question. Australia's had one female Prime Minister, one female Governor General too I believe? I think that's right. When will we have another one? And is that ever likely to be you? 

PLIBERSEK: Oh, well, it'll happen in my lifetime because there are so many talented women in the Federal Parliament now. So many talented women. And what I'm working for right now, what all my colleagues are working for is the election of an Albanese Labor Government, which would be a great government for women.

SCHNITZERLING: Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much for joining us this afternoon here on ABC Brisbane. 

PLIBERSEK: Thank you Cathy.