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Gender pay gap: Katy Gallagher calls on Dutton to reject Matt Canavan’s comments calling report ‘useless data’

Katy Gallagher has called on Peter Dutton to distance himself from comments made by Matt Canavan after the opposition senator called the release of a national gender pay gap report “useless data” that “breeds resentment and division”.

The government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency released the individual gender pay gaps at nearly 5,000 businesses across Australia on Tuesday for the first time.

“The gender pay report is useless data because it does not even correct for basic differences like hours worked,” Canavan posted on X on Tuesday morning.

“The gender pay report is now the annual Andrew Tate recruitment drive. It just breeds resentment and division. Andrew Tate is so popular because governments and corporates push a simplistic, divisive and clearly incorrect gender narrative. This creates a massive vacuum for the likes of Andrew Tate to fill.”

Related: Dozens of Australian businesses have gender pay gaps above 50%, landmark data reveals

Tate is a former kickboxer and online influencer who has been banned from various social media platforms for expressing misogynistic views and hate speech. He is facing charges in Romania of human trafficking, rape and forming a criminal gang to sexually exploit women. He claims that prosecutors have no evidence against him and that there is a political conspiracy to silence him.

Gallagher, the finance minister, said on Tuesday that she “completely” rejected Canavan’s assertions. “I would say that this is data that’s been collected for 10 years. It did pass the parliament unanimously with the support of the opposition … This is important data and I hope that [opposition leader] Peter Dutton and [deputy opposition leader] Sussan Ley will distance themselves from those comments as well.”

Other government frontbenchers took pre-arranged “dixer” questions in question time on Tuesday to call out Canavan’s claims. The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, was the first, alongside the workplace minister, Tony Burke, and the infrastructure minister, Catherine King, who represents Gallagher as minister for women in the lower house.

“If those opposite were serious about this issue, they would immediately ask Senator Canavan to withdraw his comments about this data,” King said.

“If they are serious about it, they will rebuke him for the comments that he has made about the release of this data.”

Guardian Australia reached out to Dutton for comment. When asked about Canavan’s comments at a press conference, Ley said she disagreed with his comments.

“I reject all those comments, but again, people are entitled to express their views,” she said of Canavan’s claims.

“We are working hard to demonstrate to the women who didn’t support us at the last election that we are a different party, that we have their needs and aspirations front and centre.”

Ley expressed surprise at being asked several questions about Canavan’s stance.

“I’m not sure why everyone thinks one particular backbencher’s comments need to be clarified,” she said.

“The senator is entitled to express his views.”

WGEA has been collecting gender pay gap data from companies for a decade, but has only been allowed to publicly release the data showing industry-level pay gaps, not the pay gaps at individual employers. This changed after the workplace gender equality amendment (closing the gender pay gap) bill passed last year.

The results published on Tuesday showed that more than 3,000 employers, or 61.6% of the total, had a gender pay gap that favoured men. Meanwhile, 30.1% (1,493 employers) had a neutral gender pay gap – defined as a gap of 5% or lower – and just 412 employers, or 8.3% of the total, had a pay gap that favoured women.

The pay gaps are based on the median remuneration for men and women in each business – that is, the middle value when the pay of male or female employees within a company is listed from lowest to highest – and are mostly to do with male employees being concentrated in higher-paid parts of the business. They do not indicate men being paid more than women for doing the same job.

Related: Australia’s gender pay gap explorer: where does your employer rank?

Despite Canavan’s claims, the data published by WGEA does account for part-time and casual employment, by annualising the salaries of every employee, unlike some other methodologies used for calculating pay gaps.

“There is a substantial problem in this country when you’ve essentially got two-thirds of businesses with a gender pay gap that favours men,” said Gallagher.

“It’s not about shaming or naming, it’s not about saying men should be paid less, it’s about driving change in those organisations so women get a fair crack at opportunity. It’s complex. There’s no silver bullet but this is part of the response.”

Nationally, the gender pay gap sits at 19%; over the course of a year, the median pay for women is $18,461 less than the median pay for men.

“This is a call for action on gender equality,” the WGEA chief executive, Mary Wooldridge, said. “Behind every piece of data, every number, is an employee who is having a better experience as that gender pay gap decreases. We want to achieve a reduction in the gender pay gap, an improvement in the employee experience so everyone at work can be equally and fairly valued and rewarded.”