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Thursday, 26 March 1987
Page: 1569

Dr THEOPHANOUS(12.32) —I am very pleased to be speaking on the Equal Employment Opportunity (Commonwealth Authorities) Bill especially since the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Menzies (Mr N. A. Brown), is in the House. I will show that the arguments that the Opposition has produced for opposing this legislation are humbug and rubbish. We know what the real reason is for these proposals being brought up. Firstly, it has to do with the problems of the National Party of Australia. Secondly, it is to do with the agenda, with which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has been concerned for some considerable time, to get rid of all small `l' Liberals from the Liberal Party of Australia.

Mr N.A. Brown —Ha, ha!

Dr THEOPHANOUS —The honourable member should not laugh because by the time I finish with him he will have something to answer for. We heard today that Senator Peter Baume has resigned from the shadow ministry over this legislation. He has resigned because this is part of a plan of people such as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to get rid of any decent, reasonable person within the Liberal Party from the front bench. That is the type of strategy that has been used. The Liberals have got rid of Senator Peter Baume. The honourable member for Goldstein (Mr Macphee) will have problems in the next few days. There is a deliberate strategy to get rid of any moderate within the Liberal Party so that it can be taken over by extremists such as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. He has the gall to come in here and say that the Opposition supports the principles of the legislation, but that somehow because of some details it will oppose it.

When the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs he did absolutely nothing for equal opportunity. Can honourable members point to a single thing he did when he was Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs? During his period in the ministry there was systematic discrimination against women, against migrants and against other people in the community. Now he comes into this House and uses a flimsy excuse to provoke another crisis in the Liberal Party so that he and his pals in the dry extremist right can get rid of any other moderate element within the shadow ministry. They have already started this process. They got rid of the honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock); they got rid of Senator Peter Baume. Who will be next? Will it be the honourable member for Goldstein? Will there be one or two others? If he continues with this process there will be no difference between the Liberal Party and Joh's Nationals. That is what is happening at present.

One person who is supporting the attitude of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Cadman), who is supposedly the shadow Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. He parades around Australia pretending to be the friend of the migrant communities. He should have been fighting to ensure that this Bill is supported. What does he do in the shadow ministry? Nothing. He is supporting the opposition to this legislation. I say to the many people in the migrant communities around Australia: `Whenever this man appears at your function he should be booed and shouted out because he is not a supporter of the migrant community'. This Bill is extremely important to the ethnic and migrant communities of this country.

Mr White —Why?

Dr THEOPHANOUS —I will tell the honourable member why-it is because there are problems of discrimination in Australia. Does the honourable member think that this Bill would have been brought forward if we were not aware of evidence of systematic discrimination against people in employment, against women and against the migrant communities? Of course discrimination exists. We introduced legislation to try to do something about it and the honourable member has the impertinence to oppose it.

Mr White —Why don't you talk about Australians instead of migrants?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Ruddock) —Order! I call the honourable member for McPherson to order.

Dr THEOPHANOUS —He has had his go, Mr Deputy Speaker. Let me turn to the specifics of the matter in relation to the migrant community. It is a very important issue. Although we are a multicultural society there are still people with substantial qualifications, with substantial merit, who are denied positions because their names may sound different or because their skin may be a slightly different colour. That is a fact in this country. We ought to recognise that it is a fact and we ought to be doing something about it. It is absurd for Opposition members to be going around pretending to be supporters of multiculturalism, pretending to be supporters of the ethnic communities and at the same time not being prepared to support the legislation of this kind.

What has happened since last year? This Bill proposes to put into place provisions which are very similar to those which we introduced into Public Service legislation. This legislation extends these provisions to government authorities. These authorities employ a large number of people and it is important that women, migrants and others have equal opportunity in these authorities. What is objectionable about that, for God's sake? Absolutely nothing. What has happened since last year to change the position of the Opposition? I will tell the House what has happened. First, there was pressure from the National Party. I see the honourable member for Fisher (Mr Slipper) pointing to himself with pride saying: `We pushed the Liberal Party around; we pushed it into this situation'. Many of them did not need pushing. As I said earlier, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has been responsible for the Opposition attitude to this legislation. He is responsible for Senator Peter Baume losing his position.

Mr Slipper —Senator Baume resigned.

Dr THEOPHANOUS —Senator Baume resigned because he is a man of principle. He is a Liberal which most of these other characters who are under the banner of the Liberal Party are no longer. They are extreme right wing conservatives like the honourable member for Fisher who would like to bring Australia back to the 18th century. In this context, it is very important that the migrant communities and women--

Mr Slipper —I raise a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I take strong exception to the inflammatory words used by the honourable member for Calwell. I request that they be withdrawn.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Was the honourable member addressing comments specifically to the honourable member for Fisher?

Dr THEOPHANOUS —Does he want to deny that he is an extreme right winger?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —It is not a question of arguing the matter. My recollection was that you addressed particular comments to the honourable member and he takes offence. I ask for them to be withdrawn.

Dr THEOPHANOUS —I withdraw, but let me say that I would like to see what alternative description is in order.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —The honourable member for Calwell will not traduce the ruling; he will proceed with the debate.

Dr THEOPHANOUS —Proceeding with the debate: I was talking about the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the disgraceful behaviour which has forced the situation to be brought to a head. We all know the other aspect of this matter. It concerns the divisions within the National Party and the fact that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard)-the man who has no concept whatever of what it means to live in a multicultural society, no sympathy whatsoever for people of ethnic backgrounds and obviously no sympathy for the rights of women-has allowed this situation to come about for totally politically opportunistic reasons. He has allowed this situation to come about for those reasons because he is afraid that Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen will win this weekend and will pull the National Party out of the coalition. Because of that fear he is not prepared to stand up for Liberal principles. Yet he said--

Mr White —Why don't you get back to the Bill?

Dr THEOPHANOUS —This is the whole essence of the matter. This is the only reason that the Opposition has put forward in relation to this matter. The Leader of the Opposition said that he would stand up for the integrity of the Liberal Party. Where is the integrity of the Liberal Party now? Where is the integrity of the honourable member for Mitchell, who parades around Australia pretending to be a friend of the migrants; yet he allows himself to support the opposition to this Bill. The fact of the matter is that he has never stood up for the rights of migrants or ethnic communities. All he does is parade around Australia pretending to be their champion, but he does absolutely nothing when it comes to legislation in this House. This is not the first time that he has done this; there have been many other occasions as well.

That is not the only matter. The fact is that the Leader of the Opposition has never been a supporter of multiculturalism or migrant communities and we see this again in his approach to this legislation. He has allowed himself to be pushed around by the Leader of the National Party (Mr Sinclair) and the others, so that we have a situation now where the Liberal Party has totally lost its integrity when it comes to the matter of equal opportunity.

This is a very serious situation. There is discrimination in Australia. I have had brought to me systematically many cases from migrant people who have qualifications equal or superior to qualifications of other people and they have not been able to get employment in certain circumstances. I have had to make inquiries with the Public Service Board and a number of specific government departments in relation to discrimination against people of ethnic backgrounds.

When we introduce a Bill to do something about this, we have the disgraceful scene that we had here this morning of the Opposition wanting to oppose a Bill which is clearly necessary. It has been claimed that we are trying to introduce forced quotas. There is no reference to forced quotas in the Bill. There is a reference to ensuring that people gain employment on the basis of merit. That is all we want. We want to overcome existing discrimination. Honourable members opposite should get that through their heads. We want to overcome existing discrimination against women, migrants and other people. If honourable members opposite think that that does not exist, they have been going around with their heads in the clouds. The fact is that it does exist and those honourable members ought to be supporting us in trying to do something about it.

We are not trying to force employers to employ somebody who does not have merit. We are saying that there are many cases of people who have merit and those people are not getting the jobs or promotions that they ought to be getting. If honourable members opposite do not think that is correct, they are getting around with their heads in the clouds. They should ask themselves why there are so few women in senior positions in the Public Service, authorities and private enterprise. Why are there so few people of ethnic background in these areas? Many people of ethnic backgrounds have the qualifications and education, but they are not getting those positions.

I return to the theme on which I started; that is, the situation in relation to the real reasons why the Liberal Party is doing what it is. The real reasons are the ones I referred to earlier. I want to emphasise them again and to ask for some explanation from the Leader of the Opposition. He should come into this House and give an explanation as to why the Liberal Party has changed its position from last year and is now opposing this legislation. It is simply because his arm has been twisted by the dries on his side on the one hand and the National Party on the other?

Mr Martin —That's the answer.

Dr THEOPHANOUS —Of course it is. As I said earlier, if this situation continues there will not be a single decent Liberal left on the front bench in this House. They will have to sit by themselves in the back corner.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Ruddock) —Order! It being 12.45 p.m., the debate is interrupted in accordance with sessional order 106a. The debate may be resumed at a later hour. The honourable member will have leave to continue his speech when the debate is resumed.