‘Accelerating change: gender equality from the household to the workplace’
Sex Discrimination Commissioner
Australian Human Rights Commission
National Press Club
20 April 2016
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
I would like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, the Traditional Custodians and First People of the land on which we meet.
I want to pay my respects to their Elders, past and present, and extend my respect to those Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues who are present here today.
In making this acknowledgement I want to also register my excitement at the opportunity to continue to work with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community as Sex Discrimination Commissioner.
Achieving equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is one of the most important human rights challenges for our nation and I look forward to working with Mick Gooda and many others to this end.
Since the announcement of my appointment, the questions most often asked of me have been: What do I see as the main priorities and what am I going to do?
In pursuit of gender equality in Australia – what’s next?
This appointment provides me with an incredible opportunity to learn and hear from Australians from all walks of life, an experience to which I look forward immensely.
But, as someone who’s spent a lifetime thinking about gender equality, in Week One, I do have some things to say. Today I want to cover four key areas:
- What I see are the three key priorities, as I take up this role;
- What’s led me to be in this position, today;
- From my personal and professional experience to date, what I believe we need to keep doing and what we need to do differently to accelerate the pace of reform; and
- Why I think workplaces, universities and sport are key settings for that reform.
As I commence this role, I look forward to hearing from people of all genders - about their experiences; people from all walks of life and from every part of this country.
I plan to listen, consult and engage - both locally and globally.
And I am particularly interested in understanding much more about the different experiences of discrimination experienced by different groups of women.
I know, from my previous role, that women with disability have very different experiences from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LBTI) women, women from different cultural and faith backgrounds, older women and young women. For example:
As one of 14 children, Wirradjiri Bangerang elder Aunty Linda Bamblett has told me about her happy childhood, despite her family’s constant moving around Victoria and NSW avoiding child protection authorities attempting to remove the children from their devoted single mother, after their father was murdered.
I recognize the amazing achievements of Keran Howe, Executive Director of Women with Disabilities Victoria, who has fought for acknowledgement of the significantly higher levels of risk faced by women with disabilities – twice as likely to experience violence as other women -- and for women with intellectual disabilities, the rates are even higher still.
Sally Goldner, Executive Director of Transgender Victoria, who so articulately describes for herself and the vast majority of trans women years of unprovoked violence and vilification, just for being themselves; putting them at far greater risk of depression, anxiety, suicide and self-harm than the broader population.
I believe that by better understanding the details of diverse groups of women’s different experiences, we can more effectively target our programs and messages and drive faster, long-lasting change.
I am also interested in hearing the experiences of men. I want to learn more about how gender inequality impacts on them, especially men who want to take on caring roles, and men who don’t conform to traditional male role stereotypes.
Like my predecessors at the Commission, I want to shine a light on new areas of real concern.
But as I begin this role, I will single out three key areas that require immediate attention.
We have to address the prevalence of violence against women and girls in this country.
It’s a disgrace.
We must become a community that has zero tolerance for violence. Violence occurs everywhere - from the household to the workplace; in our State institutions looking after elderly and people with disabilities, in schools, on University campuses, on our streets, and increasingly, on-line.
Australia has a disturbingly high rate of violence against women, whether it be domestic and family violence, sexual assault or sexual harassment in the workplace.
And the fact is – and the research is now indisputable - that gender inequality lies at the heart of much of this utterly unacceptable violence.
I recognise that men also experience these forms of violence to a lesser degree and this is also unacceptable.
Without equal pay and better lifetime economic security for women and girls, we will never achieve an equal society.
Each year, 145 countries are ranked in the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index. In 2015:
- Australia was ranked equal first in Education Attainment
- But we ranked a startling 63rd in relation to wage equality!
- Our overall ranking on this Index – at 36 - was largely due to our poor labour force participation and poor performance in relation to wage equality
In Australia today, the average, full-time, weekly ordinary earnings for women is 17.3% less than for men.
That is simply - a fact.
As a consequence, women retire with about half the savings of men, which means older women are more vulnerable to living in poverty in their later years.
This really needs to change.
The third significant barrier for women is the lack diversity at decision making levels.
Women are still significantly under-represented in management and at board level - right across the public, private and community sectors and in government.
Gender equality will never be achieved without women having meaningful and truly representative roles in decision-making and leadership.
And the overall result will be that our companies, institutions, communities --- our country -- will not get to reap the now recognised and quantifiable benefits of diversity.
So, all that needs to change.
Changing tack.... I thought I would explain why, in 2013, I moved from a rewarding professional life in the corporate sector to working in the public sector to focus on issues of equal opportunity and human rights.
To be honest?
It was because of the shocking lack of progress towards equality I saw through my professional and personal experience, across our community.
I was a sixties baby, raised in a time of huge social change for both women and men: no fault divorce; contraception; women were permitted to work beyond marriage; equal pay was legislated; and in the 1970s and 80s laws were enshrined to prohibit sex discrimination.
I remember the headlines in the ‘Sun News Pictorial’ in 1979 as it covered the landmark court case brought by Deborah Wardley against Ansett Airlines and its legendary, patrician founder Reg Ansett.
Deborah Wardley wanted to be a pilot. She had every possible professional, technical, psychological and meritorious reason to support her many, rejected applications.
In short, Mr Ansett argued that he wasn’t prepared to risk the safety of his passengers by having an emotional, unpredictable woman in the cockpit.
The High Court heard his argument and recognised it was time for change. Deborah Wardley won.
Even as a young teenager I knew that news story marked an important milestone and I, like many kids around me, saw a future in which discriminatory attitudes about women as the ‘weaker sex’ were being replaced by a recognition that men and women were equal.
I began high school around that time, highly tuned to the belief that women were entitled to the same rights as men. You might have to fight for them, as Deborah Wardley did. But by the time I was a teenage girl, a deep sense of that entitlement had been established in this country.
I never imagined thought that I would work in a profession which was still in pursuit of gender equality and fairness.
I guess I thought we’d be there by now.
Back then, as a female, I was pretty much convinced I could do anything really: from pilot to pastry chef; from farmer to pharmacist. It probably wouldn’t have occurred to me that we would be so far from equality in 2016 that we would still need a Sex Discrimination Commissioner.
A series of landmark sex discrimination cases followed the Wardley case, exposing inequality in mining, building sites, law firms, Universities, government departments, technology companies, department stores and banks.
And through these cases we built the necessary legal infrastructure to protect our rights to a workplace and a community free from discrimination.
But in recent times, landmark courses cases have been overtaken by media exposés of scandalous sex discrimination in workplaces, in the community and online - all happening despite our established legal protections.
Think of the so called ‘skype sex scandal’ in the Australian Defence Force Academy. In 2011, a 21-year-old male cadet thought it was OK to secretly film himself having consensual sex with an 18-year-old female cadet, and the vision was broadcast via Skype to 6 other male cadets watching in another room.
The Review that followed this horrendous incident exposed the shocking fact that in the previous 12 months, almost three quarters of female cadets and one third of male cadets had experienced an ‘unacceptable’ gender or sex-related harassment behaviour.
More broadly within the Australian Defence Force (ADF), an independent survey conducted for the Review found that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men in the ADF had experienced sexual harassment in their workplace.
My predecessor Liz Broderick began the work of changing the culture of the ADF, and this is one of the most significant tasks I will continue to drive forward as Sex Discrimination Commissioner.
Think of the horror of Rosie Batty’s experience, with the death of her 11 year old son Luke at the hands of his father, at cricket training in 2014. The next morning, she spoke to the media and said:
I want to tell everybody that family violence happens to everybody, no matter how nice your house is, how intelligent you are. It happens to anyone and everyone.
While we know family violence is significantly under-reported, we have since learnt that on average one woman dies every week at the hands of a current or former intimate partner, and that in Victoria alone Police attend a family violence incident every 8 minutes.
And we know that gender inequality lies at the heart of this violence.
Think about the experiences of trainee surgeons, raised internally without success for many years, until Sydney vascular surgeon, Dr Gabrielle McMullin, controversially blew the whistle in her International Women’s Day speech in 2015.
Research conducted afterwards by the Royal College of Surgeons confirmed that discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment were pervasive and serious problems in the practice of surgery in Australia and New Zealand. Half of all College Fellows, trainees and international medical graduates reported being subjected to discrimination, bullying or sexual harassment. Half!
Again both men and women were affected by sexual harassment.
And more recently, even the simple cupcake has exposed the dark side of discrimination.
Think about the recent efforts of students at the University of Queensland who tried to raise awareness of the gender pay gap through a bake sale, selling cupcakes at prices that accurately reflected the relative pay scale of the buyer -- as calculated using official, published salary statistics.
Much to their shock, the University’s, and everyone else’s, instead of giving rise to a genuine discussion about wage inequality, the organisers of this inoffensive campus PR stunt received rape threats and even death threats.
So, for me, it has been these kinds of stories that have continually and relentlessly emerged in recent years -- and the startling statistics that accompany them - that has changed the course of my career, from advising large organisations on compliance with equal opportunity laws, to rolling up my sleeves and getting a lot more proactive about achieving real equality.
We need to take greater, smarter, and urgent action to stop these horrifying stories and we need to reverse these startling statistics.
Let’s just put a little perspective on this:
It’s just over a century since women in this country were given the right to vote and to own property.
In that same century, we have invented electric cars, rocket ships and space-shuttles; mobile phones and the internet; penicillin and a cure for smallpox. We’ve identified the double helix, transplanted hearts and created clones. We have walked on the Moon and left calling cards on Mars.
In terms of gender equality, I really think we must do better.
And I really think we can.
And what encourages me and enthuses me even more about this work, is that these stories have also galvanised many others into action, including our politicians, our CEOs, our community leaders, our young people and many, many others.
Our nation, theoretically, has already accepted and supports the concept of gender equality.
We've fought and won the legal, political and industrial battles to prove it.
We’ve thrashed out policy; debated legislation; enshrined laws; established real expectations and built solid systems for compliance, complaint and enforcement.
So now it’s time for everyone to get involved.
So, what do we need to keep doing, and what do we need to do differently, to accelerate that change?
I want to talk about some of the recent work that has informed me and changed my perspective on the tasks ahead for achieving gender equality: the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission’s Independent Review into Sex Discrimination, Sexual Harassment and Predatory Behavior within Victoria Police.
This Review commenced in December 2014 and was modeled on the ADF Review of the Treatment of Women led by Liz Broderick, but with one significant difference.
It was not triggered by a public scandal. It was initiated by the leadership team at Victoria Police, led by then Chief Commissioner Ken Lay, who recognised that despite years of good intentions, his Police Force still had a serious problem with its treatment of women.
Ken initiated a review that he knew would expose the invisible harm that lived within his Force, he asked for an independent, frank and fearless public report that would virtually make it impossible for the Force not to act.
The Review did reveal what Ken Lay and his successor Graham Ashton had feared:
- 40 per cent of women in the Force had experienced sexual harassment, which, for many, was an everyday occurrence.
- The lack of women at supervisory ranks and above, reflected barriers to women that operated in every part of the system.
- There existed at a levels, widely held attitudes that minimised and excused sex discrimination and sexual harassment; and had created an organisational tolerance and the normalisation of sexism and sexual harassment.
- There was an insidious culture of silence and a stigma attached to reporting. Only 11 per cent of targets made a formal complaint or report of sexual harassment. And, of those, half were dissatisfied with the organisational response.
But we’ve had laws prohibiting sex discrimination since the 1970s!
And I know for a fact that Victoria Police had implemented policies, training and complaints procedures to meet their legal obligations.
As an organisation, Police respect the law.
Yet our Review uncovered shocking personal experiences at every point along the spectrum, and significant harm - not only from serious, single incidents of sexual assault, but also from every day exclusion and isolation.
How was this happening under our noses, in 2015?
These findings also reflected a distressing truth that was very similar to what had been found following other scandals, in so many workplaces and walks of life.
It is abundantly clear this is a community-wide problem.
So, what have we been doing to now?
I recall in the 1990s, a 20-year-old woman took the Bankers Trust to the NSW Equal Opportunity Tribunal, alleging she was called a ‘slut’ and asked for oral sex several times on the trading floor of the Sydney Futures Exchange.
The response to her complaint was that, in her workplace, bad language was common; it was just part of the culture and in that respect women were treated no differently to men.
But the media spotlight on the more salacious facts of the case caused a quick settlement on the courtroom steps.
More importantly though, all the Banks and Finance houses went scrambling to their lawyers for guidance.
I was one of those lawyers - who advised that they needed to take proactive, ‘reasonable steps’ to prevent discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation. They needed clear policies, comprehensive training and effective complaints procedures to comply with the laws.
Since then, well intentioned employers around the country have had lawyers and human resources personnel reviewing policies, conducting training, handling complaints and quietly disciplining staff. Lawyers and public relations staff have worked hard to keep sex discrimination and sexual harassment behind closed doors, out of the Courts and certainly out of the media. Only recently have CEOs become engaged in gender diversity, most notably through Liz Broderick’s Male Champions of Change initiative. And this is a huge step forward.
But I believe we have mistakenly assumed that a system driven by complaints will both prevent instances of unlawful conduct and provide data to employers of where improvements are required. I believe they do neither.
As we learnt from the Victoria Police Review, victims are fearful of making complaints, with good reason, so the official register might reflect a healthy workplace, while the dirty secret of gender inequality is constantly re- manifesting: in the poor progress of women into leadership; in the gender pay gap; in the continued existence of gender role segregation; and the low retirement savings for women.
The consequences for breach of the Sex Discrimination laws have focused more on investigation and discipline (catching ‘the bad guys’), rather than caring for the welfare of the victim and reducing harm.
For these reasons, while we have been trying, and we have achieved considerable progress in some areas, in 2016, gender inequality is still a very significant, community-wide problem.
And what the Police Review also clearly highlighted, for me, is that while there are clearly structural impediments to gender equality, it is our gender stereotypical attitudes, still held by all of us, that have not changed to keep pace with our expectations, and they are holding us back.
To accelerate the pace of change towards true gender equality we have to tackle the underlying gender stereotypes and norms that infuse our families, our workplaces, our communities and our cultures – and that have been invisibly working against gender equality, for both men and women.
We still live in a community that has a dominant narrative of a white, hetero-normative family, with defined roles, and stereotypes for men and women.
This does not reflect our lived experiences and is certainly not meeting our national expectations.
It is why when Medibank launched its most recent family health insurance campaign -- being suitable for every kind of family: families with one child or four; families with a mum and dad, or two mums, or two dads made complete logical sense -- but yet it still caused surprise and stirred controversy when launched in last year.
At least controversy gives rise to discussion.
As a culture in Australia we are indoctrinated to believe we are an ‘easy going’ nation, one that can take a joke, and one that doesn’t much like whingers. Toughness and resilience are highly valued, not just within Police, but in all walks of life - from the Defence Force to the kindergarten sandpit.
As a result, it is only the privileged few who are in a position where they can speak up without fear of the consequences. This means the victims speak up at their own peril...
And instead, they have learned to stay silent.
So, what do we need to do?
Laws are an important foundation for change. And we have good laws.
But to effect community-wide attitude change, of the scale we have seen in movements like road safety and anti-smoking, require mutually-reinforcing strategies that both drive cultural change and ensure accountability of progress.
An evidence base is essential. We need to understand far better what is actually going on, not what we assume from our own personal experience of the world. This means we need hard data and real stories.
Through this evidence we can start to truly understand the systemic and attitudinal barriers. And to overcome those barriers, we need to dramatically broaden the conversation and engage everyone. Not just lawyers and human resources departments.
And we cannot solely rely on complaints to prevent inequality - they are certainly very important, but they are only one means and one measure of the state of equality.
We need to remodel the complaints process to begin with the welfare of the victim in mind and to follow with investigation and enforcement.
Given this is a community wide issue, we need to focus our energies on primary prevention and direct our strategies at the’ key settings’ – the places where they will have the greatest and fastest impact.
So what are the key settings for change: To me, there are three: our workplaces, our universities and inside our (beloved) ‘sport’.
Firstly, let’s look more closely at the modern workplaces and modern households
Modern workplaces and modern households need to change to match the needs of our current community -- where both men and women want an active role in parenting as well as decent work.
To achieve that, we need to simultaneously support working parents, promote women’s workforce participation, and ensure women’s economic security.
- equal pay
- access to adequate paid parental leave and flexible, affordable, accessible child care
- better sharing of unpaid caring responsibilities and workforce participation;
- access to valuable and flexible work for all, using the wonders of modern technology as our tools;
- less discrimination against working parents;
- to remove barriers to career progression for women; and
- zero tolerance for sexual harassment and sexism.
I will continue the Commission’s vital work with unions and employers, in addressing domestic violence as a workplace issue:
- pursuing workplace entitlements for domestic and family violence leave to be built into awards and enterprise agreements, and
- pursuing the introduction and implementation of domestic and family violence policies and programs in workplaces.
The Commission and the ADF have done remarkable work in the area of cultural reform within the Australian Defence Force. I will be closely involved in continuing this work, which focuses on gender, race and diversity, sexual orientation and gender identity, and other matters addressed under Pathway to Change.
I will continue to drive the significant work that is already underway within the Police, in medicine, in emergency management, in the public sector, and in many sporting codes - as employers turn their attention to diversity and grasp the real and now quantifiable value it creates – both economic and otherwise. And I will continue to support our female and male leaders, including the Male Champion of Change organisations, who are taking vital disruptive action to improve gender equality in many sectors.
Young people learn their values and develop their attitudes at home and at School and University and our research is telling us very clearly that we need to urgently focus on our young.
In 2015, the National Community Attitudes towards Violence Against Women Survey provided some compelling data:
- It told us that the majority of Australians had a good knowledge of the issue of violence against women and did not endorse most attitudes that supported this violence.
But it wasn’t all good news from there.
- It showed that significant numbers of Australians believe there are circumstances in which violence can be excused; and
- Up to 1 in 5 believed there are circumstances in which women bear some responsibility for any violence inflicted on them.
We have generally presumed that our progress toward a more gender equal society would be generational – that each new generation would show improvement on the last.
But the research showed violence continues:
- It found that 13 per cent of young women aged 18–24 years had experienced violence in the 12 months prior to the survey.
And specifically in relation to young people, the 2015 survey showed that some of the most concerning attitudes were in fact held by young people;
- they showed a higher level of attitudinal support for violence against women than the older age groups; and
- they were also less likely to support gender equality in decision-making within relationships.
In the light of this kind of confronting data, and even if you just followed the last couple of weeks’ confronting media coverage of gender-based discrimination and sexism on our University campuses, I look forward, and with a sense of urgency, to supporting the work the Commission has commenced with Universities Australia - to identify the real extent of sexual harassment and violence experienced by students in Australian university settings – and to work toward the solutions.
Our aim is to provide an evidence baseline and set the context for effective institutional responses to sexual harassment and violence in university settings into the future.
It should be of grave concern to us all, to know that it is our youth who are learning to accept and excuse violent attitudes to women and girls. We need to intervene now so this is not a problem we pass onto the next generation.
For this reason I welcome the Government’s prevention campaign launched today ‘Let’s stop it at the start’ which highlights the influential role that parents, family members, teachers and coaches have as role models for boys and girls in setting the standards for respectful behaviour. It’s no longer an excuse for violence that ‘boys will be boys’.
Ours is country that loves its sport - elite and grass roots, live and televised, as exercise and entertainment, for children and for adults, and I come to this role seeing enormous opportunities in working with sport to advance gender equality.
Sport is a place where the gender stereotypes begin to develop as early as kindergarten. Boys are strong, tough and resilient; girls are gentle, pretty and co-operative. Boys play with balls, girls with dolls. Boys wear active clothes; girls wear pretty clothes. I know many parents, including me, recognise these stereotypes that rain down on families from the community and in particular from the commercial world and the media. We know they aren’t good for our children, but we are still such a long way from changing them.
So, on the sporting field then it should come as no surprise that the evidence tells us that not enough females are physically active and participation levels decline as females get older.
We need to continue to actively pursue equal participation and equal pay for girls and women in sport in this country.
I have a particular interest in sporting programs that promote equality in sport. It is such a great, healthy place to start the conversation. This includes my co-chairing Play by the Rules, a collaboration between Australian sport commissions and human rights agencies to support grass roots sporting organisations that promote inclusive, safe and fair participation.
It also includes my work with VEOHRC on the Fair Go Sport project that has promoted inclusion and increased awareness of sexual and gender diversity in sports like Hockey, Basketball, Cycling, Football and Skate.
And most recently, I joined the board of my beloved Carlton, an AFL Club that has identified that if it wants to grow it has meaningfully engage with women and girls - as employees, as players, and as supporters.
I have to confess, not every Blues supporter cares about gender equality in sport. The first comment I read online after news of my appointment to the Carlton was from a ‘Gary’ who said: ‘Poor old Carlton have hit rock bottom big time’.
Let me tell you Gary has got it all wrong, on every level.
But as a sport loving Australian (and Carlton tragic), I am more than certain that one of the most powerful settings for change in gender equality are our sporting codes -- of all persuasions.
We have come a long way, it’s true, but we still have a long way to go.
I come to this role as Commissioner intent on listening to and raising the voices of those who are still not getting a fair go in Australia. I will work closely with government, the community and the private sector.
I will support the Commission’s vital work and hopefully bring fresh perspectives and ideas drawn from my personal and professional experience.
I know that out there in our community there is a strong desire to accelerating the rate of progress in gender equality for men and women.
We need to harness that more effectively.
Now is the time to think boldly and innovatively about how we can work together to create widespread awareness and long-lasting attitudinal change, and ensure this change occurs at a faster rate.
I have identified violence against women, economic security and access to decision making as immediate priorities. And I believe that workplaces, universities and sporting fields are great places to focus to help accelerate that change we all want. And part of that change means challenging some entrenched attitudes that we had thought were harmless.
I look forward to a day when men and women are accepted into all walks of life and work - from parenting to rocket science - on the basis of who they are and what they do, and not their gender.
And my personal measure of success?
When students at the University of Queensland set up a stall, in the quad, at lunchtime and sell cupcakes, at the same price, for everyone.
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 Elle Hunt, ‘Bake sale to highlight gender pay gap sparks threats of rape and violence‘, The Guardian, Wednesday 6 April 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/06/queensland-universitys-gender-pay-gap-bake-sale-sparks-threats-of-and-violence (viewed 19 April 2016).
 Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, Independent Review into Sex Discrimination and Sexual Harassment, including Predatory Behaviour in Victoria Police – Phase One Report (2015), p13. At http://www.humanrightscommission.vic.gov.au/index.php/our-resources-and-publications/reports/item/1336-independent-review-into-sex-discrimination-and-sexual-harassment-including-predatory-behaviour-in-victoria-police-phase-one-report-2015 (viewed 19 April 2016).
 Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, Independent Review into Sex Discrimination and Sexual Harassment, including Predatory Behaviour in Victoria Police – Phase One Report (2015), pp14-15. At http://www.humanrightscommission.vic.gov.au/index.php/our-resources-and-publications/reports/item/1336-independent-review-into-sex-discrimination-and-sexual-harassment-including-predatory-behaviour-in-victoria-police-phase-one-report-2015 (viewed 19 April 2016).
 VicHealth, Australians’ attitudes to violence against women: Findings from the 2013 National Community Attitudes towards Violence Against Women Survey (NCAS): Summary Report (2014). At https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/media-and-resources/publications/2013-national-community-attitudes-towards-violence-against-women-survey (viewed 19 April 2016).
 VicHealth, Australians’ attitudes to violence against women: Findings from the 2013 National Community Attitudes towards Violence Against Women Survey (NCAS): Summary Report (2014). At https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/media-and-resources/publications/2013-national-community-attitudes-towards-violence-against-women-survey (viewed 19 April 2016).
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 VicHealth, Young Australians’ attitudes to violence against women: Summary of findings from the 2013 National Community Attitudes towards Violence Against Women Survey for respondents aged 16–24 years (2014). At (https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/media-and-resources/publications/2013-national-community-attitudes-towards-violence-against-women-survey (viewed 19 April 2016).