The Keating cabinet used the 10th anniversary of the Sex Discrimination Act to stop employers using pregnancy as a means of discriminating against women workers.
In May 1994, cabinet agreed to move on to the more “legally complex or controversial issues” identified in the 1992 Half Way to Equal report. Among these was including potential pregnancy “as a ground of prohibited discrimination”. Another was the use of conflict-of-interest assumptions to deny employment to spouses in the same workplace, noting that the impact fell mainly on women.
Keating government attorney-general Michael Lavarch. Photo: Fairfax Media
There was also the narrowed exclusion of women from combat-related duties in the n Defence Force. As Labor’s 1994 National Conference adopted a commitment to a 35 per cent quota of safe seats for women candidates by 2002, these issues were achieving a more prominent place in political debate.
In a submission to cabinet, attorney-general Michael Lavarch said the proposals were consistent with the government’s policy contained in the National Agenda for Women and the government’s commitment to human rights and eliminating discrimination on the grounds of sex and pregnancy.
“The proposals will be welcomed by women’s groups. Employer groups will be generally opposed to the proposals, he said.
Mr Lavarch said the amendments would be introduced in the forthcoming spring sittings of Parliament after the 10th anniversary of the Sex Discrimination Act on August 1, 1994.
“The Sex Discrimination Act was a landmark piece of legislation when it was passed. It has significantly increased equal opportunity and equal status for women in ,” he said.
“However, there is still work to be done. These amendments attack the structural inequalities that continue to exist in our society. They also make the act more accessible for women.”
Cabinet was told that only the Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Act 1992 specifically proscribed potential pregnancy as a ground of discrimination.
“In its September 1993 Report of the Inquiry into Pregnancy Related Discrimination, the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board found that women are denied access to employment or promotion because they may have children. Accordingly, I suggest that explicitly including potential pregnancy as a proscribed ground of discrimination … will state in clear terms that this type of discrimination is not to be tolerated.”