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gender equality advocates concerned about delay in appointing new sex discrimination commissioner


Image by Phil Roeder

Image by Phil Roeder


Advocates for gender equality have voiced concerns about the delay in appointing a new Sex Discrimination Commissioner, after Elizabeth Broderick left the position early in September.

In recent weeks, new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been vocal about the need to put gender equality back on the national agenda, particularly with the rise in the number of deaths due to domestic violence in Australia.

In an interview with Today Show host Lisa Wilkinson, Mr Turnbull promised that his government would provide new measures to combat violence against women. He has also has unveiled a $100 million package tackling domestic violence, and made Michaelia Cash MP the new Minister for Women. Previous PM Tony Abbott had proclaimed himself as his government’s Minister for Women, while slashing family violence services (including homelessness and crisis accommodation) by $300 million.

However, since Ms Broderick’s departure in early September, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner position has been left vacant. The position is selected by the government, more specifically through the Attorney General’s office, either through a recruitment process or by direct appointment. At such a crucial period in terms of violence against women and ongoing discussions about gender equality, leaving the position vacant could allow for a lack of accountability by the government, and, some say, speaks volumes about how the government views the importance of the area.

The executive director of UN Women Australia, Julie McKay, said that the lack of an appointment ‘sends a strong message’ about the current government’s priorities, as well as the perceived importance, or lack thereof, of the role.

Ms McKay also argued that the recruitment process to replace Broderick as commissioner should have begun before the end of her tenure, and would ideally be an open process rather than a direct government appointment. She compared the position to that of a CEO, which ‘you would never have… vacant indefinitely’.

The Sex Discrimination Commissioner is a specialist position of the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, created to supervise the operation of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984. Before stepping down in September, Elizabeth Broderick had held the position since 2007, and among other things, advocated for the national paid parental leave scheme and led the Commission’s Review into the Treatment of Women in the Australian Defence Force.

Last week, a spokeswoman for Senator and Attorney General George Brandis, whose office is responsible for such appointments, said that, ‘The government is considering the appointment of the next sex discrimination commissioner and an announcement will be made shortly.’

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