‘Australia can, and should, do more’: AWL urges incoming government to shift its focus

11 May 2022 By Lauren Croft

Australian Women Lawyers has urged the major Australian political parties to focus on a number of key issues, which they will continue to lobby for pre- and post-election.

Ahead of the upcoming federal election on 21 May, Australian Women Lawyers (AWL) has released its seven key priorities for the 2022 election – and said action on these issues is necessary if we are to advance equality for women, address discrimination against in the legal system and progress towards a “more just and equal society for all women”.

The key priorities are: to implement the balance of the [email protected] recommendations, give access to free or low-cost childcare, a greater intake of refugees, particularly women from Afghanistan fleeing persecution based on their gender, the creation of a judicial conduct commission and a strong independent commission against corruption, as well as greater support for First Nations Australians and a greater focus on addressing climate change and the gendered effects of it.

Speaking to Lawyers Weekly, AWL president Leah Marrone explained the key priorities – and why they’re so important for the legal profession to take note of.

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“Sexual harassment remains a pervasive workplace issue, particularly in the legal profession. The Human Rights Commission’s [email protected] report contained vital recommendations for legislative and regulatory reform. Several recommendations for legislative amendment remain either unfunded or with no plan for implementation, including a recommendation to introduce a positive duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment from occurring. These recommendations contain urgent reform necessary to protect women in the workplace,” she said.

“We also feel that it is very important to establish an independent judicial conduct commission to take complaints against the federal judiciary, including inappropriate and serious misconduct such as sexual harassment. The creation of an independent judicial conduct commission would ensure that our highest courts are accountable and held to the high standards of conduct expected by the public.”

The incoming government should also place a higher priority on an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) - despite Prime Minister Scott Morrison standing by his previous comments earlier this week which described the NSW ICAC as a “kangaroo court”.

"No part of our democracy can properly function where corruption is allowed to go on without integrity, an ICAC will provide better governance and policy for all," Ms Marrone added. 

"AWL fully supports the ABA’s comments in Lawyers Weekly yesterday in relation to their defence of Barristers and ICAC following the Prime Minister’s disparaging comments on our profession and dismissal of ICAC as a Kangaroo Court, it is entirely inappropriate for the Prime Minister to undermine our profession and judiciary in this way."

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In addition, the AWL has placed a high priority on childcare – after it has been shown to be one of the biggest “impediments” to women in the workforce, therefore impacting their economic security - and "is a key factor in the long term prevention of family violence."

“While the cost of childcare should not be seen as ‘coming out of mum’s wage’ it inevitably is for many families, especially in a situation where the gender pay gap means men are still often earning more than women,” Ms Marrone added.

“While the biases around this also need to change, the reality is, even if the cost is seen as coming out of the family budget, it is more than many can afford to justify a full return to work. Investment in early childhood learning is also vital as we learn more and more about how important those first years are to a child’s development.”

Ms Marrone also added that the organisation is placing a high priority on refugees, First Nations peoples’ rights, and the impact of climate change on future generations.

“AWL is always concerned by the plight of refugees, and has been particularly moved by the plight of women judges and lawyers fleeing Afghanistan since the return of the Taliban to power has put their, and their families’ lives at risk. We think that Australia can, and should, do more in resettling refugees in Australia. We will be holding a session discussing the struggles of Afghan women judges and lawyers at our upcoming conference in August.

“We support a First Nations Voice to Parliament so First Nations can finally have a say on policies and laws that affect them. [Additionally], every part of our, and our children’s, lives will be affected without real action on climate change. This is fundamental,” she added.

“There are so many more issues that are also importan[t] to us, in particular, ending violence against women, we have merely outlined a few key priorities among many that we have and will continue to lobby for beyond the next election.”

‘Australia can, and should, do more’: AWL urges incoming government to shift its focus
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