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Thursday, 26 March 1987
Page: 1617

Mr O'KEEFE(4.37) —During the cut and thrust of debate in this place one is often tempted to interject to points being made, but I have to say that during the contribution of the honourable member for Fisher (Mr Slipper) I chose to remain silent because it bordered on what can only be described as sick and pathetic. It was probably one of the--

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 I request that they be withdrawn.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Keogh) —The terms used by the honourable member for Burke were not unparliamentary.

Mr O'KEEFE —Not only was the contribution in the terms that I described, but also it showed where those who come to this Parliament with the attitudes of the Queensland members of the National Party of Australia really sit in relation to progress, reform and change in this nation. When the honourable member for Fisher talked about the National Party's attitude to women-he said that the National Party is all for progressive developments for women, for women's issues and for all those sorts of things-he failed to mention that the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Ian Cameron), the de facto leader of the Queensland group who sits beside him in this House, last year made national headlines with his widely publicised statement that the only place for women was in the kitchen and the other room in the house. None of us will forget that that was the bald statement made. The honourable member for Fisher, who practised law before entering this House, had nothing to say about the Queensland Government raiding doctors' premises in Queensland and stealing the files of women who had visited the doctors. No, there is no other way to describe that contribution than as sick and pathetic.

This legislation has been developed as a result of a year-long affirmative action pilot program involving consultation between 28 of Australia's largest companies, employer organisations, trade unions, women's groups, higher education bodies and, most significantly in this context, the Federal Opposition. The Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Act requires companies and higher education institutions to progress with the reforms of affirmative action for women which, through the review of employment practices, including personnel policies and procedures, will promote equal employment opportunity for all Australians. It also allows for a level of flexibility in implementation which has been called for by private industry and which is recognised as essential for affirmative action to be successful.

I believe the Government can take great pride in the steps it has taken to bring about the process of equal opportunity in Australia. The Government has a role of providing leadership and through its public performance and through its statutory authorities it must be progressive. Good progress is being made in Australia as a result. And it is not just a process of achieving increased participation in the work force. We are changing the roles that women have traditionally played in the work force, changing the levels of responsibility which women can achieve or hope to achieve in the work force. They are the areas in which the Government quite proudly is demonstrating that change is being achieved. The continuing consultation process is enabling us to prepare guidelines and develop education and training strategies to meet the needs of employers on affirmative action. Higher education institutions have commenced their programs and will report to the Government later this year. I have one such institution in my electorate, the new Broadmeadows College of Technical and Further Education, which very much is showing the way in the Broadmeadows district with the opportunities that are being created for not only women but everybody in that area to undertake further training and to open up new changes in the work force.

The participation rate of women in the work force is a clear indication now of the success that has been achieved. Since the election of this Government almost 800,000 new jobs have been created in the economy, something which we on this side of the House, Mr Deputy Speaker, refer to with great pride. Sixty per cent of those new jobs have been filled by women. This indicates that many employers now have a strong preference for women who are either just entering the work force or who are returning to the work force after having commenced their families. These employers recognise that, if one has been involved in the running of a home and has done that successfully, one has developed a number of skills, be they measurable things such as management skills, communication skills, skills of flexibility and adaptability or be they less measurable things such as patience and reliability in the work force. There are many attributes that employers will tell one are demonstrated by the women who are returning to the work force. It is the recognition that women have these capabilities that is causing employers to say: `We need you and we want you and we want to make the changes that have to be made to encourage you to return to the work force and also to provide for equal opportunity and the chance for progress and promotion and all the other things that go with that'.

We have had to make the work force more flexible in order to adjust to the needs of women. Many employers are now adopting flexible working hours and shifts. In my electorate one such company recently introduced a shift starting at 5 o'clock in the afternoon and going until 9 o'clock at night because it was specifically looking for a way to accommodate women who could join the work force after having seen to their children after school, perhaps with dad home from work to look after the kids. The company has had extraordinary success with this shift both in attracting labour to it and in the productivity and quality of output. There are tales such as that right across my electorate. I invite any honourable members who are flying in and out of Tullamarine Airport to have a look around at the number of women who are now working at Tullamarine Airport and who provide skilled, pleasant and high quality advice and service. This is a very clear indication that in the manufacturing and service sectors we are providing opportunities and that those opportunities are being taken up.

The trends have been good, the participation rate is strong and progress is being made. But now is the time for us as a nation to move further ahead in recognising talent, recognising merit and providing more scope for positions of responsibility and leadership; and that is what this legislation is all about. It is appropriate, I think, even to invite the Parliament to have a look at itself. I certainly welcome the initiatives of the Australian Labor Party, our side of politics. I contrast them with the attitude and approach of the Queensland National Party, as demonstrated here today. Those on our side of politics are going down the road of strong affirmative action within our party, and that in time will reflect itself in more responsibility and increased participation by women in this Parliament and by women in other parts of the political and labour movement with which we combine and relate.

Mr Deputy Speaker, this is a nation which is coming to grips with change. I believe that this year, 1987, will be the year of the great shake-out of conservatism, a debilitating conservatism that has held this nation back. Currently the disunity that exists among the National Party of Australia, the Liberal Party of Australia and the various groups within those parties is just an indication of the great shake-out of conservatism. Those who have nowhere to go have nowhere to go on this policy either. They are divided on this policy. They have already got people indicating that they are prepared to cross the floor. They know the legislation is correct.

On the question of increasing the role of women in the work force, increasing the scope for women to occupy more positions of responsibility, to provide more leadership, I say to honourable members on the other side, particularly the honourable member for Fisher: `Shake yourselves inside out all you like. You can contort, you can distort, you can do whatever you like, but you cannot stand in the way of progress'. Mark those words. Honourable members opposite cannot stand in the way of progress. If they need any more evidence they should look at the trends in the countries that we are now turning to and learning from. In Australia in the last five years we have increased the participation rate of women in the work force by over 4 per cent. The present situation is that 48.9 per cent of the women who could be in the work force are now in the work force in Australia. The participation rate in Sweden is 78 per cent; in Finland it is 75 per cent; in Norway it is 68 per cent; in the United States of America it is 64 per cent; and in Canada it is 62 per cent. Those countries do not have the Queensland National Party and its ilk saying: `Keep the women in the kitchen. Keep the women in the bedroom'. They do not have people in those progressive countries trying to hold back reform and change. These are the countries that we are turning to and learning from. I say to those on the other side of the House, as I said before: `You can shake yourselves inside out, you can distort and contort but the fact of the matter is that you cannot stand in the way of this progression and this change'.

I finish by referring to a couple of other small but very relevant points that relate to my electorate and the trends taking place there. I mentioned before the massive participation of women in the courses being provided at the Broadmeadows TAFE College.

Mr Hand —An excellent college.

Mr O'KEEFE —It is more than excellent. It is fantastic to note that a college that opened 12 months ago with predicted enrolments of 2,500 had 5,000 enrolments at the end of its first year and this year has 7,500 students. It is a brand new college bursting at the seams and with a child care centre. Many of the people taking up the education opportunities at that college are women from the region.

Mr Hand —Migrant women, too.

Mr O'KEEFE —Right across my electorate, companies such as the Ford Motor Co. of Australia Ltd, as the honourable member for Melbourne points out, are very strong employers of migrant woman from all sorts of community groups in our emerging multicultural society. I refer to companies such as Flexible Drives Pty Ltd, John Brown Hosiery Pty Ltd in Kyneton, Castle Bacon Pty Ltd, and Givoni (Aust) Pty Ltd textiles in Castlemaine, and meat processing companies in Daylesford and other towns. These country and provincial centres are now finding that increased participation in the work force by the women in these regions is improving the standard of living of their families and the quality and productivity of the companies in which they work.

I conclude by saying that this piece of legislation is something that the Government must be and is proud of. We have no embarrassment at all at standing in this place and pointing to the nonsense uttered by those on the other side who oppose this kind of legislation. We know that Australia must encourage and develop the role of women in the work force, their participation and promotion and all the other things that go with women playing a true and equal role in this society. I have no hesitation in commending the legislation to the House.