Monday, 15 March 2021

Equal Opportunities for all Women in Australia and Overseas by Guest Speaker Dr Niki Vincent

At the February 2021 Council Meeting, guest speaker, 
Dr Niki Vincent, appointed Commissioner for Gender Equality in the Public Sector for Victoria in September 2020, spoke about her new role and passion for equal opportunities for all women in Australia and overseas She shared a little of her own story, telling us that she left home at 15, was married at 18 and had four children by 28, but had not let obstacles stand in her way, fighting for better conditions for women, especially those who are working and caring alone for their families, while men advance without the dual role of homemaker and primary carer. Some employers do not make allowances for women’s unique situation or for the constraints imposed more significantly on them by COVID-19 . There is also no measure of unpaid care. 

The new [Victorian] Gender Equality Act that comes into law from 31 March 2021 excites Dr Vincent as it covers the work practices and gender equity realities of 300 Public Service entities with more than 50 employees imposing mandatory Gender Equality Action Plans with indicators including gender composition, recruitment and promotion policies and practices, leave, and gender pay equity. Dr Vincent told us that there is at least 10% less pay for women in similar jobs in the Public Service at present. The effectiveness of the implementation of each entity’s Gender Equality Action Plans will be audited by her Department every four years and entities are required to self-report their progress every two years. Dr Vincent informed us that she and her team are working closely with unions and the Victorian Human Rights Commissioner. The introduction of the Act will be accompanied by a travelling “roadshow” led by her, including training for leaders who will train others. She is optimistic that awareness of inequality for women in Victoria will increase and be addressed, but has grave concerns for women in third-world countries.

Link to the Gender Equality Commission in Victoria:

Gender impact assessments | Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector

Gender impact assessments from 31 March 2021. 

Guidance for defined entities to comply with the Act 2020. 

Tools and resources are located at Gender Equity Victoria Advocacy Toolkit - Gen Vic; Visit Gender Equity Vitoria for guidelines on gender advocacy in the community. Advocacy is part of a broader movement to: • advance gender equity within Victoria; • promote better health outcomes for women and girls in our ; • prevent violence against women and girls before it happens.

Saturday, 20 February 2021

60th Australia Day Pioneer Women’s Ceremony, 2021

60th Australia Day Pioneer Women’s Ceremony, 2021 was held at the Women’s Peace Garden, Kensington, a beautiful garden created by women in the International Year of Peace in 1986. This annual event celebrates Victorian Pioneer Women, conducted by the National Council of Women of Victoria, to acknowledge past and present women pioneers and includes a colour party and flag raising by Girl Guides Victoria and the singing of the National Anthem.

This year, the focus was on Victorian Pioneer Women in Medical Research

There have been many women working in medical research over the past 100+ years including: Fannie Eleanor Williams, the first female medical research scientist at the Walter and Eliza Institute, and the first bacteriologist and serologist. She was an expert in dysentery due to her research during WW1, and was awarded the Associate Royal Red Cross for her work. She co-founded the Red Cross Blood Bank. Dora Lush, an accomplished bacteriologist, was a close collaborator with Sir Macfarlane Burnet 1934-39 researching diseases including influenza, herpes infections and myxomatosis. 

Guest Speaker, Professor Susan Sawyer, Chair of Adolescent Health, Department of Paediatrics at the University of Melbourne, research fellow at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Director of the Centre for Adolescent Health, Royal Children’s Hospital, spoke on three themes: 

Firstly, the importance of investing in medical research, and the value of evidence informed public health policies exemplified by reminding us of some of the highlights of our 2020 pandemic year. 

The second theme was about the strong track record of Victorian women in medical research, sharing the achievements of two remarkable Victorian women pioneers of medical research, one, Vera Scantlebury Brown, in research and public policy from 100 years ago and the other in virology, Dr Ruth Bishop, from 50 years ago. 

Thirdly, Susan shared her background in ground-breaking adolescent health and medicine. 

>> Click here to read Professor Susan Sawyer, speech

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

August Council Meeting Speaker: The Honourable Diana Bryant AO, QC


Diana retired as Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia in 2017 after 13 years, and 4 years prior to that as inaugural Chief Federal Magistrate of the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia (now Federal Circuit Court of Australia).

Prior to her appointment to the Bench in 2000, she worked as a solicitor and barrister for 23 years in the area of family law. She was one of two Hague Network Judges for Australia in relation to the Hague Children’s Conventions and is Australia’s representative and Chair, international Working Group for The Hague Conference on Private International Law in relation to Child Abduction Convention.

She spoke on the review of the Family Law Court, by informing the meeting that the original Bill to merge the Family Court with the Federal Circuit Court was withdrawn. There were many submissions received and amendments included, incorporating recommendations from these submissions. The updated Bill has gone to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee who will report to Parliament in November. This is Parliament working positively to ensure appropriate change occurs. One structure has been recommended with two Divisions – Family Law and Federal Circuit, which Diana believes is desirable, more practical, one set of rules, with one point of entry and one head for both the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFC). This also provides regulation of the number of trained judges in the Family Court. Diana would like to see this legislated. Paragraph 11(2) provides that, by reason of knowledge, skills, experience and aptitude, the person is a suitable person to deal with matters of family law, including matters involving family violence…to be appointed as a Judge of the FCFC (Division 1) and exercise family law jurisdiction.

There is currently a separate Appellate Division for appeals in the Family Court with 3 judges. This is under review with the possibility of one judge hearing appeals. There needs to be consistency with the trial judge. Submissions from women’s organisations and the legal profession have been mainly supportive of amendments with some reservations e.g., risk assessment and need for robust qualification process. There needs to be transparency in appointment of judges, with proper process, with specialist judges.

Most issues suggested remain and are working well. The Appeals Division needs to be maintained. The Government is funding a risk screening and triage pilot in the Adelaide, Brisbane and Parramatta registries of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court of Australia. The pilot program is being implemented under the Lighthouse Project to provide guidance and support to families experiencing, or at risk of, family violence and other risk behaviours, much as a lighthouse provides light and navigation waypoint for ships.

July Council Meeting Speaker: Tiffany Overall, Advocacy and Human Rights Officer at Youthlaw

Speaker: Tiffany Overall, Advocacy and Human Rights Officer at Youthlaw, which is a specialist community legal centre in Victoria for young people under 25 years. Tiffany is also Convenor of Smart Justice for Young People (SJFYP).

Youthlaw works to achieve systemic responses to legal issues facing young people, through
casework, policy development, advocacy and preventative education programs, within a human rights and social justice framework. The SJFYP is a coalition of more than 50 organisations from the youth, legal and community sectors advocating for smart, evidence-based approaches to youth justice. Launched in November 2011, SJFYP promotes awareness of youth justice issues amongst the community, media and decision makers, to foster discussion, inform debate, encourage involvement of all concerned, and influence decision makers. Tiffany emphasised the focus on preventing young people becoming part of the justice system by supporting families and communities with strategies and practical methods to engage youth.

They also work with government departments and the police when young people do have
connection with the justice system. In the Youth Parole Board Annual Report, the Chairman
stated that “We need to be recognising and confronting that 60% of those incarcerated are from the disadvantaged especially Aboriginal, Maori and Pasifka, East African; but also child
protection and ex-child protection children and young people.” Tiffany regrets that the ‘law and
order’ narrative continues to hold, preventing a lot of what they are trying to do. Prison needs
to be the last resort, with cautioning and diversion programs a priority. The earlier young people have connection with the justice system, the more likely they are to get into crime. Solutions tailored to, and working together with, each community has shown to be the best way of avoiding this.

School engagement is area in which they collaboratively work with partners, focusing on early
intervention suited to specific cultures, with clear commitments and targeted programs.
Children being held on remand do not have access to education programs. SJFYP tries to support them back into education or work on release. For those incarcerated, restorative programs are an option for courts, including conferences linking perpetrator with victim.

There is a national campaign to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 years, as called for by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and implemented by several countries. Children’s brains are still developing at 10 years, especially in the part that controls
responsibility. Link to the National Campaign:

Monday, 29 June 2020

May Forum 2020: Gender Equity in Workplaces

The National Council of Women of Victoria’s May Forum was cancelled due to COVID-19. The focus “Gender Equity in Workplaces”, instead became the topic for our May ZOOM Council Meeting. 

One of the proposed forum panel members, Professor Beth Gaze spoke at this meeting. Beth teaches Equality and Discrimination Law and Administrative Law at Melbourne Uni Law School. Her research interests are in anti-discrimination and equality law, feminist legal thought, administrative law and socio-legal research. She has conducted research into the enforcement process under Australian anti-discrimination law, experiences of applicants in the social security appeal tribunals, and the operation of adverse action provisions of the Fair Work Act. Beth spoke about the new Victorian Government Gender Equality Act 2020. 

The Act seeks to promote and improve gender equality across the Victorian public sector, local councils and universities. It involves innovative powers and processes that have not previously been used in Australian law. It will commence on 31st March 2021. The government is working on developing the framework for its implementation, driven by the Minister for Women, the Hon Gabrielle Williams, with input from the public including a Citizen’s Jury. It aims to take necessary and proportionate action towards achieving gender equality in policies and programs and delivering public services. Organisations need to undertake workplace gender audits, to assess gender equality and inequality in the workplace. These must be based on gender-disaggregated data and, if available, data about Aboriginality, age, disability, race, ethnicity, gender identity, religion and sexual orientation. They need to develop and implement Gender Equality Action Plans in 2021, updated every four years, with Progress shown every two years against gender equality indicators. The Minister is also required to develop a State Gender Equality Action Plan every four years that will set a framework for taking coordinated action in Victoria to build behavioural, attitudinal, structural and normative change to improve gender equality, including a framework for progress on workplace gender equality, programs and services. The Office for Women is developing guidance documents to support organisations in doing the audit, action plan, assessment and progress reporting. The Act also provides for creating gender targets or quotas requiring these to be taken into account in gender audits with ‘reasonable and material progress’ to be made towards targets and quotas, a first in Australian equality law. 

Dr Deborah Towns OAM then spoke on other Gender Equity issues. The private sector is covered nationally by the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012. Commonwealth Government in 1984 introduced the Sex Discrimination Act. Other legislation at State and Federal level have passed, with Human Rights Commissioner and officer appointments. 

Progress towards equal pay has a longer history. In 1903 equal pay for equal work was on the agenda at NCWV’s Congress. The industrial relations system endorsed this in 1969. However, there is still a gender wage gap today, with overall gender pay gap of 13.9% in Australia for full-time workers. When broken down into sectors it gets interesting, e.g., in finance and insurance where 1000s of women work the pay gap is 22%, also in professional, scientific and technical work; and 22.3% in health care and social services. In education and public administration (70% are women) the pay gap is 12%. Many women work in caring, cleaning, catering and retail, often not full-time, poorly paid, with little opportunity to adequately support themselves, or their families if they are sole parents, and save for their retirement through superannuation and in other ways. 

The Male Champions of Change was established in 2010 to lead action on gender equality in workplaces, now with over 200 leaders of business, government, universities and military representing many different workplaces across Australia. They publish annual reports on progress and guidelines on how workplaces can change gender pay gap. Despite this there has been little to no change. 

Sunday, 28 June 2020

2019: Mental Health Submission to the Victoria Royal Commission

Prepared September 2019, with input from Council Members of NCWV, by Elisabeth Newman, NCWV President.

On behalf of the National Council of Women of Victoria (NCWV), I applaud Federal Government for calling for a much needed inquiry into Aged Care. I also thank the National Council of Women of Australia for encouraging Constituent Councils, such as NCWV to make submissions in their own name direct to the Royal Commission. NCWV is an NGO representing some 30 like-minded NGOs and a similar number of Individual members whose purposes are to:

  1. provide a non-party political, non-sectarian, not-for-profit, umbrella organisation with humanitarian and educational objectives, empowering women and girls and raising awareness of gender equality;
  2. act as a voice on issues and concerns of women and girls at a State level;
  3. develop policies and responses on behalf of women and girls on a State-wide basis;
  4. maintain and strengthen the Association’s relationship with all members;
  5. link with women in Australia and the International Council of Women (ICW-CIF) through the National Council of Women of Australia and contribute to the implementation of their plans of action and policies.

With these purposes in mind, NCWV is alarmed at the abuse that many elderly citizens receive whether it be in residential care or living at home, therefore is pleased to be able to make comment on the care of the elderly. Three points that form the basis of good care negating abuse and discrimination of the elderly are:
  1. To be treated with respect and dignity should be at the forefront of all interactions with the elderly. Recognition of their abilities and contribution to society is essential and continued contribution to be encouraged.
  2. Recognition for the care of the elderly as being a highly specialised profession. Staff need to be valued and treated with dignity, otherwise how can one expect them to show compassion to the elderly under their care. The care of the elderly is a highly skilled profession and needs to be recognised by all as such, including the operators of aged care facilities and at-home aged care packages.
  3. Requirement that education and good training for all involved in all fields of the care of the elderly. Staff should receive good, appropriate training and remuneration, as for other specialties in health and nursing care.

2019: Mental Health Submission to the Victoria Royal Commission

Prepared September 2019, with input from Council Members, by Elisabeth Newman, NCWV President.

On behalf of the National Council of Women of Victoria (NCWV), I applaud the Andrews’ Government calling for a Royal Commission to report on the state of Mental Health within the State of Victoria. I thank the Commission for giving NCWV the opportunity to make a submission at this late date. NCWV is an NGO representing some 30 like-minded NGOs and a similar number of Individual members whose purposes are to:

  1. provide a non-party political, non-sectarian, not-for-profit, umbrella organisation with broadly humanitarian and educational objectives, empowering women and girls and raising awareness of gender equality;
  2. act as a voice on issues and concerns of women and girls at a State level;
  3. develop policies and responses on behalf of women and girls on a State-wide basis;
  4. maintain and strengthen the Association’s relationship with all members;
  5. link with women in Australia and the International Council of Women (ICW-CIF) through the National Council of Women of Australia and contribute to the implementation of their plans of action and policies.
With these purposes in mind, NCWV acknowledges good mental health is essential for good general wellbeing of the community. It is concerned about the general well-being of people, particularly women and girls; It was not until 2011 that the importance of good mental health was fully recognised globally and firmly placed on the agenda of the United Nations and its agencies. An ICW-CIF Representative to the UN was one of those advocating for such recognition. It is pleasing to see the importance of mental health being recognised, but sadly the general care of those suffering from mental illness requires review and the need for the stigma to be removed. This came through in an MSO film clip/documentary, “A dangerous son”, made in the US by producer Liz Garbus for Firecracker, shown by QANTAS in September 2019. With a grandson on the Autism spectrum I, the author of this submission could relate to much of the documentary.