Australian State Enacts ‘First of Its Kind’ Gender Equality Act

March 31, 2021 Updated: March 31, 2021

The Victorian government has implemented Australia’s first Gender Equality Act that will require public sector employers to “promote and advance” gender equality in the workplace.

The legislation (pdf), which came into effect on March 31, will see the public sector—including local councils and universities—“close the gender pay gap, improve gender equality at all levels of the workforce and eliminate workplace sexual harassment,” Victoria’s Minister for Women, Gabrielle Williams, said in a statement (pdf).

“[T]his Act will help ensure all genders enjoy equal rights, opportunities, responsibilities and outcomes,” Williams said.

Furthermore, organisations in the public sector will need to undergo gender impact assessments, a workplace gender audit, and prepare and publish a “Gender Equality Action Plan.”

“Gender inequality” in the workplace must be captured as of June 30, with the action plan submitted to the Public Sector Gender Equality Commissioner by Oct. 31 in each reporting year. The reporting year cycles every four years, starting from 2021.

Employers must also submit a progress report by Oct. 31 every second year after submitting an action plan.

Additionally, progress reports must demonstrate an organisations progression to achieving workplace gender equality targets and quotas. More than 380,000 Victorians are employed by 300 public sector employees.

Public Sector Gender Equality Commissioner, Niki Vincent, said she would work with employers to ensure equality.

“One of the strengths of the act is that it takes an intersectional approach to achieving gender equality,” Vincent told The Age.

“Not only does it encourage workplaces and employers to look at all genders, but also to specifically take into account where other factors might compound this disadvantage, whether it be race, disability or any other number of factors we know can compound disadvantage.

“The Act will have far-reaching benefits, not only for public sector workers who make up 11 percent of the Victorian workforce, but for the people they serve.”

In response to whether the legislation “short-circuits” merit, Vincent denied the claim and said the legislation instead “short circuits unconscious bias.”

“The idea that targets or quotas somehow short-circuit merit [is false],” she said.

The state government has invested more than $13 million to implement the Gender Equality Act. However, this may not be enough, argues the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV).

In an opinion piece in 2020, Councillor Ruth Gstrein, the MAV Deputy President (Rural), argued that this amount was just a drop in the ocean if the state government wanted to implement the ACT effectively and meaningfully throughout local councils and other organizations.

“Key to its success will be adequate funding and resourcing for the public sector, so there is capacity to enact their obligations under the Act,” Gstein said.

“It’s especially critical that smaller councils receive support to ensure people in regional and rural communities are not disadvantaged. No one should miss out on the opportunity for a more equal future simply because of where they live.”