Sex Discrimination Commissioner shocked by findings of Human Rights Commission report

“No group is immune”: Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick. Photo: Ben RushtonOne woman was told to consider having an abortion when she announced her pregnancy to her boss while another was told she would have to choose between her baby and her job in shocking stories which have emerged from a study into discrimination against parents in the workforce.
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The Australian Human Rights Commission report, to be released on Friday, found that one in two women and one in four men have experienced discrimination relating to their family obligations.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said the findings shocked her. The report makes wide ranging recommendations to improve awareness of workplace rights among both employers and employees.

The survey found 22 per cent of women who had suffered discrimination opted out of the workplace entirely, Ms Broderick saying lack of support for parents was affecting productivity.

‘‘Three areas need to be strengthened for women’s workforce participation to increase and one is they have got to be able to work in non-discriminatory environments,’’ she said.

‘‘They have to have access to a strong paid parental leave scheme and they need affordable, accessible childcare. They are all connected.’’

The survey of 2000 women and 1000 men found that discrimination was widespread across all sectors and levels of seniority, although workers in large companies were more likely to suffer than those in small organisations.

‘‘From the factory floor to the most senior managers, no group is immune,’’ she said.

‘‘At the senior levels we often heard women being told: ‘Your choice: the job or the baby’ to the woman who is not allowed a toilet break. I mean she’s pregnant, for heaven’s sake. A lot of these views are coming from female managers. Women with children. I found that shocking.’’

Ruth, a general manager with a top 50 company, was informed she could no longer have a senior role if she wanted a family.

Her female manager told her, ‘‘I needed to decide what I wanted – a family or a senior role in the company, you can’t have both, it’s a myth you can have both’’.

The Sydney woman, whose name has been changed, was booted out of a talent program when ‘‘the only thing that had changed was my pregnancy/child status’’ and her role was ‘‘dumbed down’’ to the point where she was asked to organise table placements at functions to be attended by her boss.

Another woman was called ‘‘placenta brain’’ by her male colleagues and another was told she was a ‘‘bad mother and a bad employee’’ for trying to work while raising a family.

A man’s request for paternity leave was met with derision, his boss saying: ‘‘That’s for the mum.’’

Ms Broderick said the findings show there was a need for greater awareness about workplace rights and made a case for tackling negative stereotypes about workers with caring responsibilities.

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Child abuse reports increase but less than half investigated: report

About 50,000 allegations of child abuse in NSW and 54,000 in Victoria were not investigated in 2012-2013.The number of child abuse reports increased by 15 per cent over the past two years, but more than half of all reports were never investigated by authorities, according to new figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
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Almost 273,000 reports were made about children at risk nationally in 2012-13, up from a low of 237,000 in 2010-11.

Child welfare experts attributed the increase to greater pressures on families and a heightened awareness of abuse.

The 272,980 abuse notifications involved 184,216 children, the majority living in NSW and Victoria.

Following initial assessment, only 45 per cent of reports were investigated nationally, leading to 53,666 proven cases of abuse involving 40,571 children, which marks a 29 per cent increase on 2010-11.

About 50,000 allegations of abuse in NSW were not investigated and 54,000 reports received no scrutiny in Victoria.

But the figures show a slight rise in the number of investigations nationally, from 116,528 to 122,496.

The investigations led to 26,860 proven instances of abuse in NSW, up from 23,175 in 2012. In Victoria, there were 10,489 substantiated cases of abuse, up from 9075 in 2012.

Institute spokeswoman Dr Pamela Kinnear said the rise in substantiated cases was due to improved targeting of children at risk.

‘‘Child protection agencies across the country have been increasingly focused on providing child protection services to those who really are likely to need intervention,’’ she said.

Louise Voigt, chief executive of child abuse prevention charity Barnados, said the community was more alert to vulnerable children.

‘‘There has been increased debate in the community about child protection,’’ she said. ‘‘The royal commission [into child sexual abuse] is just one of the many issues which brings this forth.’’

Children most at risk come from less affluent backgrounds with the institute’s Child protection Australia: 2012–13 report showing that 42 per cent of abuse victims were from the areas of lowest socioeconomic status.

Ms Voigt said that increasing homelessness was contributing to neglect and abuse.

‘‘While the old social problems remain – poverty, alcohol, drugs, violence – they are happening against a backdrop of serious housing issues, particularly in big cities,’’ she said.

‘‘You have families sleeping on friends’ sofas, sleeping in cars. The sort of stress this puts on any family is horrendous. Until some of those stresses are reduced it’s unlikely we’ll see any sort of reduction in these figures.’’

With children under the age of four the most vulnerable, Greg Antcliff, director of professional practice at the Benevolent Society, called for improved early intervention for families at risk.

‘‘We are getting better at recognising and reporting when children may not be in the safest environments but it’s far better to intervene early rather than after a child has been harmed,’’ he said.

The institute figures showed that indigenous children were at the highest risk, being eight times as likely as non-indigenous children to be receiving child protection services.

Emotional abuse accounted for 38 per cent of substantiated cases, followed by neglect (28 per cent), physical abuse (20 per cent) and sexual abuse (13 per cent).

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MH17, Gaza and the value of human life

Illustration: Simon Letch Illustration: Andrew Dyson
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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the value of human life. About the lives so cheaply lost on MH17. About the anger and grief this tragedy has unleashed. About the sense of sacredness and solemn ceremony that followed it. There’s something cathartic about all this. That we mark this with ritual public grieving tells us that these lives – and therefore our own lives – are sanctified; that their termination is an almost blasphemous violation. On some level this reassures us, which is probably why we pore over news coverage of such events, seizing on small harrowing details and the personal stories of the victims.

But I’ve also been thinking a lot about why it is these lives particularly that have earned such a response. The more I heard journalists and politicians talk about how 37 Australians were no longer with us, the stranger it began to sound. Something of that magnitude happens just about every week on our roads, for instance. In the last week for which we have official data, 29 people were killed this way. The youngest was two. We held no ceremonies, and we had no public mourning of the fact that they, too, were no longer with us.

Why? I don’t ask critically, because I’m as unmoved by the road toll as anyone. But it’s surely worth understanding how it is we decide which deaths matter, and which don’t; which ones are galling and tragic, and which ones are mere statistics. We tell ourselves we care about the loss of innocent life as though it’s a cardinal, unwavering principle, but the truth is we rationalise the overwhelming majority of it. What does that tell us about ourselves?

Here, the most obvious counterpoint is the nightmare unfolding in Gaza. As I write this, nearly 600 people – overwhelmingly civilians a third of whom are children – have been killed. By the time this goes to print, that number will be redundant. There’s grief, there’s anger and there’s some international hand-wringing, but nothing that compares with the urgency and rage surrounding MH17, even if there is twice the human cost.

If you take your cues from social media, on which this comparison is being relentlessly drawn, the reason is simple: Palestinians are not rich Westerners, and so their lives simply don’t matter. No doubt there’s some truth to this: humans are tribal animals, and we’re as tribal in death as we are in life. But it’s not an entirely satisfactory explanation because it comes from people who would likely exempt themselves from this rule. And yet those same people have almost certainly grieved comparatively little over the thousands of South Sudanese killed in the past six months, or the 1.5 million to have been displaced. Should we conclude they value African lives less than Palestinian ones?

It’s not merely a matter of cultural affinity. Consider the Egyptian press, which has wholeheartedly embraced the Israeli offensive. “Sorry Gazans, I cannot support you until you rid yourselves of Hamas,” wrote Adel Nehaman in Al-Watan. He was comprehensively outdone by Al-Ahram’s Azza Sami who tweeted “Thank you Netanyahu, and God give us more men like you to destroy Hamas”. Then she prayed for the deaths of all “Hamas members, and everyone who loves Hamas”. Meanwhile, television presenter Tawfik Okasha urged Egyptians to “forget Gaza”, adding for colour that “Gazans are not men” because they don’t “revolt against Hamas”. That, presumably includes the hospital patients or the kids playing football on the beach who have been bombed in the past week or so.

This is about as thorough a dehumanisation of Gazans as you’ll find anywhere in the world. Israel’s media doesn’t even come close. And this in a country where the Palestinian cause has been a kind of social glue for decades. But that’s what happens when the sanctity of life meets the power of politics. For the Egyptian media – now effectively a propaganda arm of the government – Gaza merely represents a chance to attack the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Hamas emerged. It doesn’t matter who dies. It doesn’t matter how many. What matters is that their lives – and especially their deaths – can be used in the service of the story they are so desperate to tell.

And that, I fear, is a universal principle. It is not merely the death of innocents that moves us, even in very large numbers. It is the circumstances of it that matter. We decide which deaths to mourn, which to ignore, which to celebrate, and which to rationalise on the basis of what story we want them to tell. Palestinian deaths matter more than Sudanese ones if you want to tell a story of Israeli aggression. Israeli deaths matter more than Palestinian ones if you want to tell a story of Hamas terrorism. Asylum seeker deaths at sea matter more than those on land if you want tell a story about people smuggling. But a death in detention trumps all if your story is about government brutality. And a death from starvation matters if you want to tell a story about global inequality – which so few people do. Everyone will insist they’re merely giving innocent human lives their due. And that’s true but only in the most partial sense. These are political stories driven by political commitments.

MH17 allowed us to mourn and to rage because it delivered a story we were well prepared to tell. It’s easy to rage when the plot is one of Russian complicity, roguishness and cover-up. And frankly, Russia deserves the whack it’s getting for its handling of the aftermath. But in my most naive moments I hope for a world where the value of human life is universal enough that we can outrage ourselves; where we can tell the stories we don’t particularly want to; the stories in which we are neither the heroes nor the victims, but the guilty. That’s what we’re asking of Russia. One day someone mourning no less than we are will ask it of us.

Waleed Aly is a Fairfax columnist. He hosts Drive on ABC Radio National and is a lecturer in politics at Monash University.

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Commonwealth Games: Wilkie makes strong start in pairs

Brett Wilkie with Prince Edward and Australian teammate Karen Murphy in the lead up to the Commonwealth GamesBRETT Wilkie and singles star Aron Sherriff kick-started the men’s pairs tournament with a convincing win over Cook Islands at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games on Thursday night.
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They out-class their rivals 25-11.

The Australians took a little while to impose their authority, but did so with four shots in the fourth end to get out to a 7-2 lead.

Wilkie, who grew up in Ballarat and played with Webbcona before venturing to Queensland, and, and Sherriff added another five shots on the seventh end.

This gave them a 10-shot lead and a comfortable cushion for the rest of the match.

The 12th end was another big moment for the Aussie, when they added another five shots.

Cook Islands steadied the ship over the last six ends to share the honours 4-all, but it did nothing more provide some damage control.

Wilkie’s win rounded out an impressive first day for “Team Ballarat”, with Matthew Flapper earlier in the day enjoying success in his first triples match.

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