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SA Equal Opportunity Commissioner quits for "history-making" Victorian job

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SA’s Equal Opportunity Commissioner Niki Vincent will quit next month to take up a comparable role in Victoria – citing the eastern state’s “nation-leading” new laws as the reason for her move – but insists an already-overdue inquiry into workplace harassment in SA Parliament will not be further delayed by her departure.

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Vincent announced yesterday afternoon that she would stand down as commissioner in October – seven months before her five-year contract was scheduled to end – to pursue a new role as Victoria’s inaugural Public Sector Gender Equality Commissioner.

She described her new job, which was legislated by the Victorian Government in February and focusses on ensuring the eastern state’s 300 public service employers comply with gender targets, as a “fantastic opportunity” that would “catalyse change throughout Australia”.

“It’s an inaugural role, so it’s kind of history-making and when I saw what Victoria was doing with its Gender Equality Act I just thought that is just such an opportunity for really pushing gender equality along,” she told InDaily this morning.

“This is nation-leading legislation and it’s really designed to give it a big push, I think, in public sector workplaces.

“It’s going to be like a giant sort-of social experiment to see what a legislation like this will have throughout Australia and particularly in Victoria.”

Vincent said her departure would not impact equal opportunity projects currently in train, including an inquiry into workplace harassment in state parliament, which was originally scheduled to end last month but is yet to begin as the commission is still waiting for permission from both houses of parliament.

“Those projects are not about me, they’re about the commission doing that work, so whoever the Attorney and the Governor appoints to the role will be able to actually move those projects along just as I have,” she said.

“I have every confidence that they’ll be successful.”

I’m so very excited to announce my new appointment.

Posted by Dr Niki Vincent, Commissioner for Equal Opportunity – South Australia on Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Throughout her four-year career, Vincent has spearheaded inquiries into workplace discrimination and harassment at SA Police, the Metropolitan Fire Service and various other government agencies.

She has also reduced the time her office spends assessing complaints of workplace discrimination, harassment and victimisation to just over one month.

“I think the work that we’ve done has made discrimination more visible,” she said.

“We’ve seen a lot more complaints of workplace sexual harassment in the last 12 months – more than we’ve had ever.

“Compared to average over the last four years, our (sexual harassment) complaints last year were up 46 per cent.

“I don’t know if that’s because sexual harassment is happening more, but I do think people now understand what sexual harassment is and they feel more willing to speak about it and more supported to speak out about it, and they know where to come to speak out about it now.”

But Vincent’s tenure has also been impacted by an openly sour relationship with Chapman over budget and performance disagreements.

In July last year, Chapman branded Vincent’s decision to spend $50,000 on a public relations firm as an “absurdity” that was “not justified or sustainable” – a spend that Vincent rebuked was necessary after she tried but failed to publicise issues using departmental media advisors.

Four-months later, Vincent described Chapman as “vindictive” after the Attorney-General said she was “concerned” that “insufficient” resources had been spent by Vincent to tackle discrimination against people with disability.

Vincent has also criticised the Government for funding her office to “run on the smell of an oily rag” at $958,000 each year.

“I’m independent and I’m not a public servant, so it is my job to push boundaries and so that means that ministers and I won’t necessarily always agree on things,” she said today.

“Putting that aside and me being a minor issue, the most important impacts that we’ve had have been what we’ve been able to do shining a light on equal opportunity.”

Vincent said she handed her resignation to Chapman on Wednesday but was yet to receive a reply.

A State Government spokesperson said Chapman wished Vincent well in her new position, with a replacement commissioner to be recruited “in due course”.

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