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Thursday, 26 March 1987
Page: 1614

Mr SLIPPER(4.19) —I am very pleased to rise in the House today to speak on the so-called Equal Employment Opportunity (Commonwealth Authorities) Bill 1987. I am not at all pleased that Government speakers used this debate as an opportunity to smear those who stand up and oppose this attempt by the Australian Labor Party to impose a further social engineering Bill on the people of Australia. The National Party of Australia has been totally consistent. We opposed the legislation which was introduced into the House last year; that is, the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Bill. We make no apology whatsoever for continuing our opposition to this so-called equal employment opportunity Bill which is before the House today. I would like to congratulate my colleague, the honourable member for Parkes (Mr Cobb), for a most thought provoking and, might I say, statesmanlike contribution to the debate.

This Bill is the third part of a trilogy of Bills. We had the Sex Discrimination Act, we had the Affirmative Action Act last year and now we have this Bill. I am opposing this Bill on a number of grounds. I believe that it is constitutionally doubtful. I do not believe that the Commonwealth has the power to enact this legislation. I am also against the Government masquerading in this place as the great proponents of women's rights, coming in here and bringing forward legislation which says, in effect, that affirmative action is what women want. This affirmative action is reverse discrimination and, in our view, is incompatible with true equal opportunity.

Another aspect I wish to raise is the cost to business, the cost which this will impose on those statutory authorities to which the legislation applies. The Government will say that the National Party is anti-woman, anti-merit and is anti-equal opportunity. Those people listening will treat what the Government speakers say with contempt because we have made it clear over and over again that we support equal opportunity and promotion and employment on the basis of merit, but we are not supportive of any legislation which forces anybody in Australia-whether it be business or a government instrumentality-to impose a form of reverse discrimination.

This Bill is ideological gibberish. It is an attempt by the Australian Labor Party to play up to extremist left wing groups, including some women's groups in our society. This Bill imposes extra regulations on business in contravention of a government pledge, Senator Button's pledge, which was made earlier this year to reduce unnecessary regulations that hampered business activity. This Bill also takes a very positive step in the direction of imposing compulsory quotas on statutory authorities to which the legislation applies.

This Bill further covers not only employees of those statutory authorities but also independent contractors, people in small business who are already languishing under the disastrous effects of four years of the Hawke socialist Government. They are languishing under the highest, or almost the highest, real interest rates that this country has ever seen. They are in real trouble. Yet this Government does not hesitate to rope in private contractors and to subject them to the provisions of the Bill before the chamber.

Interestingly enough, the previous two Bills in the trilogy of Bills covering affirmative action referred only to women, but when one looks at the explanatory memorandum of the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) and indeed the provisions of the Bill one sees that other groups are also covered here. I can see that included in the designated groups are Aboriginals and descendants of indigenous Torres Strait Islanders, migrants whose first language is not English and their children and the physically or mentally disabled. So where will it all end? The categories of those who are included have not been closed. It is an open-ended proposition. We do not really know the extent to which this Bill will ultimately apply to instrumentalities to which it is supposed to relate.

The Minister has made it clear that bodies such as Telecom Australia, Qantas Airways Ltd and Australia Post and, I presume, Australian Airlines also would be subjected to the provisions of this legislation. We know how long it takes to have a letter delivered from Brisbane to Canberra-up to four days on occasions; we know the difficulties Telecom has experienced; we know the problems that Government instrumentalities have had with inefficient work practices-yet notwithstanding that this Bill is brought into the House to impose even further shackles on those instrumentalities which, in my view, have been trying to be more efficient.

The Bill requires those bodies which it affects to have what is called a program. This program has eight elements: Firstly, there is an obligation to inform employees of the contents of the program. Responsibility has to be conferred on a person of sufficient authority and status to be able to develop and implement the program appropriately. There is an obligation to consult with trade unions, to consult with employees, particularly women, or people in designated groups; there is an obligation to collect and record relevant employment statistics and related information; and there is an obligation to review policies and practices which allegedly discriminate against the people this legislation seeks to assist. Then-we cannot let this one pass-there is an obligation to set program objectives as well as quantitative and other measures of effectiveness, and there is an obligation to monitor and evaluate the implementation of the program.

So at a time when Australia is sinking, at a time when this country is broke, at a time when we are going down the road of being the Argentina of the Pacific, this Government chooses to introduce legislation which will make it even more difficult for this country and its statutory authorities to be efficient. What will all of these bureaucratic requirements cost the statutory authorities affected? Who will pay this cost? It is obvious that the ordinary men and women in this country, ordinary Mr and Mrs Australia will be forced to pay for the Government's flirtation with ideological madness.

Previously the legislation brought into the House in the other two Bills included in the trilogy attracted the opposition of widespread groups in the community. The Country Women's Association opposed the 1986 Bill. Mr Deputy Speaker, in your own electorate you would know how respected is the Country Women's Association. The then National President of the CWA, Miss Dorothy Ross, wrote a letter from which I would like to quote. She said:

No legislation can alter attitudes and the dangers of efforts to enforce employment of women by private business with threats of punishment if the laws are infringed is seen by us to offer up more problems than the legislation can solve.

Miss Ross's comments could well apply to the statutory authorities which are subjected to this legislation presently before the Parliament. The National Party Women's Section is also an eminently respected group of women in this community. They have made it totally clear that they are opposed to the Government's affirmative action legislation and they would also be opposed to the legislation we are presently debating in the chamber today. The Confederation of Australian Industry in its News dated March 1986, stated:

CAI has made clear at all times its unequivocal opposition to affirmative action legislation. Legislation of this nature is unnecessary and divisive and in the long-term will be completely counter-productive. It will involve the imposition of further cost burdens and regulatory requirements on industry at a time when the inflation rate is double the level of that of our major trading partners, and when Australia has severe balance of payment difficulties, and excessively high interest rates and levels of unemployment.

If anything, since March 1986 this country has gone down and down and is now in an infinitely worse position than it then was. The comments made by the CAI with respect to private business apply just as validly to the instrumentalities subjected to this legislation.

We are sad that the ALP chooses to denigrate the woman who chooses to stay at home, the woman who wishes to raise her family, the woman who wishes to be a housewife. There is nothing wrong with being a housewife. Women are entitled to go to work if they wish and the National Party totally supports the right of any woman to have a career. But we also believe that there is a role for the woman who wants to stay at home to raise her children. It is sad that this legislation which, no doubt, is inspired by militant feminists does not take into account adequately the views of those women who wish to stay at home. Margaret Thatcher, one of the greatest stateswomen in history-I said last year in the House that if Margaret Thatcher lived in this country she would certainly be a member of the National Party-recognised the role of women in the home, when she stated:

Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country.

It is obvious that this legislation will not be supported by the average Australian and will not in any way, shape or form attract the support of people in the middle ground of politics.

Mr Cobb —Only in the fringe groups.

Mr SLIPPER —The fringe groups indeed. We in the National Party are opposed to social engineering. We are opposed to this legislation, which endeavours to interfere with the efficient running of instrumentalities or business. We are opposed to the Human Rights Commission. The National Party, upon its return to government, will immediately move to abolish this left wing body.

Mr Hicks —Hear, hear!

Mr Cobb —Hear, hear!

Mr SLIPPER —I thank my colleagues for their support. I mentioned in the chamber recently a couple of cases which recently came before the so-called Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. One was of an Indooroopilly doctor who was ordered to pay $1,000 for simply asking a woman whether she was married or single.

Mr Cobb —It is outrageous!

Mr SLIPPER —It is outrageous. It is amazing. It is one of the factors which will ensure that the Human Rights Commission is done away with after the Australian Labor Party is defeated at the next election, whenever that is. The general practitioner said:

It's all extraordinary. I have done nothing wrong and I refuse to pay.

He was threatened by the Human Rights Commission with a $10,000 fine or six months imprisonment. What was really odd-I mention this for the benefit of those people listening to this broadcast-was that the so-called independent arbitrator wore a women's rights badge. Is that fairness? Is that an impartial approach to the matter that was before the Commission? This shows that the Human Rights Commission is a kangaroo court; a body totally worthy of the complete and absolute contempt of every decent Australian. The Fraser Government stands condemned for establishing the Commission, but the Opposition has agreed that it will be discarded as soon as we return to government.

There was a second case, involving a Gold Coast woman. She was awarded $8,000 in closed proceedings-shades of the Soviet Union-before the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. The woman, who cannot be identified-a secret court-was supported by her union. There were many terms of the agreement which were not to be released to the people of Australia. There was also disciplinary action against the hotel manager responsible for telling the woman that women cannot manage. Would honourable members believe that the Human Rights Commission said that the hotel proprietor had to conduct seminars, at the instigation of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, on paid time on the issues of sexual discrimination and sexual harassment?

Mr Cobb —Where will it end?

Mr SLIPPER —Who knows where it will end? It will certainly end when the Hawke Labor Government is thrown out of office at the next election. Those of us who have been in this House for the past couple of years will remember that the Human Rights Commission tried to bribe school-teachers by offering individual school-teachers $500 to bring in a course to teach `Human Rights' in schools. The Human Rights Commission wanted to introduce its insidious philosophy into the classrooms. In the Human Rights Commission publication it was pointed out that teachers would have to take some time to overcome the influence of parents over their children. The National Party stands very strongly for the family unit as the basic unit in our society. We are opposed to people, who have committed motives against traditional values, trying to influence the family unit in society.

I have mentioned that quotas are foreshadowed by this legislation. The terms of the legislation require the setting of certain objectives. This legislation goes further than the previous Bills before the House. The Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Bill, which was before the House last year, excluded small business. However, we find for the first time now that small business is being dragged in, because independent contractors will be affected. That just indicates to those people who accepted what the Government said last year-that small business would not be affected-that the Government once again cannot be trusted.

The National Party does not believe that anyone should be discriminated against on the basis of whether he or she is male or female. We believe in genuine equality of opportunity. I wish to make it perfectly clear to those opposite that we will not stand for the argument which suggests that those people who oppose this legislation are against equality of opportunity. We support employment on the basis of merit, not on the basis of quotas.

The National Party is totally opposed to this legislation. Our approach to this trilogy of Bills has been completely consistent. We opposed the legislation last year and we oppose the legislation this year; we will not support bad legislation. The so-called Equal Employment Opportunity (Commonwealth Authorities) Bill 1987 is, by any definition, bad legislation. It should be withdrawn by the Government immediately and previous legislation in the trilogy of Bills should be repealed.