Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 26 March 1987
Page: 1621

Mr MILES(5.05) —The Equal Employment Opportunity (Commonwealth Authorities) Bill is inconsistent in content, deceptive in presentation and a charade with respect to genuine equality. This Government has made much of the terms `equality', `equity' and `opportunity'. In nearly every speech dealing with social issues and in many of its taxation statements these buzz words are used with the intention of making people feel secure that the Hawke Government is concerned about fairness, concerned about people and their needs, and that it will address the issues and give all Australians a fair go. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality has been that the Government has targeted groups of supporters and sympathisers, provided them with benefits and then claimed it as providing equality and equity. That is not a correct definition of equality or equity.

Honourable members on the other side of the House want to come in here and talk about equality and equity but I point out that there is only one standard by which equality in a democratic nation can be judged, and that is whether people are treated fairly according to the law. This is not the way this Government interprets it. The way this Government treats equality and equity is by dealing out money to groups the Government defines as disadvantaged. That is not equality at all. Equality is to do with justice before the law.

This legislation has its origins in the ideas of the late Justice Murphy, a man who came to be regarded by his supporters as the leading proponent of civil liberties in Australia. Yet the coercive power that would have existed in the Human Rights Bill-and thank goodness the Australian people, led by the Opposition, prevented that from occurring-and that which exists in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, the equal opportunities Acts 1984 and 1986 and this affirmative action Bill 1987 are all illustrative of the myth of Murphy. Murphy's ideas were not simply to sweep aside so-called unnecessary legal and moral restraints but rather to replace long established values with new, ephemeral values and implementing his laws for old laws with their own inevitable restraints and sanctions.

Mr Rocher —Murphy's law.

Mr MILES —Murphy's law. We oppose this affirmative action legislation on four counts. The overwhelming majority of members of the Liberal Party and the National Party oppose this legislation. It is not, as Government members have said, something which National Party members have been able to roll Liberal Party members on. That is simply not true. It is just another myth put out by the Government. It would like to perpetuate that myth out in the electorate. The Liberal Party is firmly opposed to this legislation. We oppose this legislation on four counts. Firstly, it would impose extra regulation on business in contravention of the Government's commitment in January to slash unnecessary regulations that hampered business activity, both publicly and privately. Secondly, it would apply not only to employees but also to independent contractors associated with government authorities. Thirdly, it is too woolly and lacks definition as it could be applied to designated groups. Lastly, and most importantly, it crosses the demarcation line between what is equal opportunity legislation to being affirmative action legislation. As I said originally, it is deceptive in presentation.

Let us think back to last year when the Government brought in legislation which it called affirmative action legislation but in fact was an equal opportunities Bill. It was about genuine equal opportunity for women in this society. The Liberal and National parties agreed to that legislation. We totally supported it in the Parliament. But this legislation is different. This time, instead of calling it what it really is-an affirmative action Bill-the Government tries to deceive the public by calling it an equal opportunity Bill. That is the deception of the Government-or is it the fact that it cannot recognise what its legislation really is? Maybe it is that. Not only has this Bill crossed the line to become affirmative action legislation; it is also inconsistent. This Bill is inconsistent and fundamentally flawed because clause 3 (4) states:

Nothing in this Act shall be taken to require any action incompatible with the principle that employment matters should be dealt with on the basis of merit.

But then clause 6 (g) (ii) states:

. . . the program of a relevant authority shall provide for action to be taken:

to set:

. . . the quantitative and other indicators against which the effectiveness of the program is to be assessed;

One cannot with any integrity state that an authority must set numerical targets-that is exactly what the word `quantitative' means-for the number of Aboriginals, descendants of indigenous Torres Strait Islanders, migrants whose first language is not English and their children, the physically disabled and the mentally disabled or any other designated group, and then state simultaneously that merit will be the guiding principle. It is just not possible to set up targets in a company or in an authority and then say: `We will employ people on the basis of merit'. Ultimately, one has to work one's way towards the target set.

This is the real difference between the legislation that was brought into the House in 1986 and this legislation. In the 1986 legislation targets did not have to be set. In this legislation targets have to be set. That is why the Opposition has steadfastly decided to oppose this legislation.

Dr Theophanous —Don't women have any merit, you idiot?

Mr Peter Fisher —I take a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I find that remark made by the honourable member for Calwell offensive and ask that it be withdrawn.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Keogh) —I understand that the honourable member for Calwell may have made an offensive remark with reference to the honourable member for Braddon. I did not hear the remark; but, if that is so, I ask the honourable member for Calwell to withdraw it.

Dr Theophanous —I withdraw, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Mr MILES —Let me illustrate what it means when targets are set. Say an authority has to appoint 10 new employees and to meet its quotas, which have been previously set, it must fill the vacancies with 10 non-Aboriginal, able-bodied males because that is what it has to work towards as its target. The Bill says that one has to set quantitative objectives. If, on interviewing the prospective employees, the authority finds that there are better qualified females or Aboriginals, the authority is placed in an invidious dilemma. If it places them on merit, it runs foul of the legislation on the indicators against which the effectiveness of the authority will be assessed. Is that not an incredible situation? If it places them according to the set quantitative indicators as stated, it negates the merit prin- ciple. That is the inconsistency of this legislation. In other words, you are damned if you do and you are damned if you do not. No person employing people in a public authority should have such inconsistent guidelines that will inevitably cause conflict. This legislation has a built-in recipe for indecision, hurt feelings, procrastination and legal battles.

On the one hand, this Government prides itself on and beats its breast about deregulating the money markets. But it then brings in legislation, under the guise of providing equal opportunity, that imposes unwarranted and unnecessary regulation on statutory authorities and independent contractors. Why cannot the Government bring in legislation that is internally consistent? Or was the Government hoping to slip this legislation through under the pretext of equal opportunity, knowing full well that it is a genuine affirmative action Bill?

We recognise that it is not a full-blown, rampant affirmative action Bill since the authority, not the Government, has the power to set the targets in this legislation. Nevertheless, the writing is on the wall for the Government to use its numbers to march towards full-blown affirmative action legislation that will cover not only statutory authorities but also educational institutions and private companies in the future. The writing is clearly on the wall. We have seen the trend over the last three years. The Opposition highlights to the Australian people that with this legislation the Government has overstepped the mark and gone from opening up equal opportunity for women and other people in our community to having a discriminatory piece of legislation in favour of other groups.

The Opposition rejects this trend of regulating, intrusive and coercive legislation. Had this legislation had the same provisions as the equal opportunity legislation of 1986, we would have supported it. It does not have those same provisions and, as such, deserves to be rejected and defeated. The Government says that the provisions in the legislation are the same. But, if that is the case, why did it not put the same words in this legislation? That is the test. The simple fact is that it hoped to slip this in under the table and lock the Opposition into affirmative action legislation. Unfortunately for the Government, it was not quite smart enough to do that.

The Opposition opposes any affirmative action program that discriminates against and penalises other people. That is what affirmative action legislation does. It is portrayed as something that will help one group of people. But, in so doing, it discriminates against other people. The Opposition believes strongly in the principle and the practice that all people of working capacity should be given equal opportunity to work, to be promoted and to be placed in senior administrative and managerial positions. We are firmly committed to equal opportunity.

Australia, by world standards, is a tolerant, open society with a keen sense of fairness and justice. These values must be practised in regard to all citizens when entering the work force and as they progress through promotion positions. Tragically, this legislation is not about equal opportunity but, rather, about discrimination for certain specific groups, to the detriment of other people. This legislation has moved away from the principle of equal opportunity to one of equal outcomes.

It is interesting that in the United States of America-announced only today here in Australia-there is an example of a court ruling using sex, above qualifications and merit, as the basis for putting a person into a senior position. That is full-blown affirmative action-and the track that Australia does not want to go down. It is not the role or the authority of governments or government authorities to design a system that is predicated on making people the same, all fitting into one mould. As a small child put it to her teacher: `Why do you want to make all people equal when they will not remain equal?'. No truer words have ever been spoken. This Government may wish to try to make people equal. The simple fact is that people are not equal and cannot be made equal. Nevertheless, it is true that many women, ethnic groups and disabled people have lost the dignity and self-confidence that are their due birthright. They have endured interpersonal relationships that have been degrading and lacking in sensitivity, concern and understanding. But at the same time people in authority should be free to employ people with undue restrictions.

The coalition is vitally concerned about people in the designated groups, in particular women, under this legislation. It is our desire that they be able to make choices and have the freedom and opportunities that will enable them to be fulfilled. No one was created to be a slave, to be abused or to undertake menial tasks with no opportunity of rising above their circumstances. The coalition believes that women and the other designated groups in this legislation should be active and full participants in our culture without discrimination. These groups are to be respected, uplifted and given recognition for their talents and abilities. We do not object to those things. As I said earlier, if this Government had brought in legislation similar to the equal opportunity legislation it brought in last year, and not affirmative action legislation, we would have supported the Bill. If honourable members look at our amendments they will see that we are committed to that position.

It is interesting that the Government is making so much about opportunities for women and saying that they are abused in all sorts of ways; yet in the Australian Capital Territory, where it has had an opportunity to act in regard to videos-which is one really latent form of abuse of women and the forming of attitudes amongst people against women-the Government has not acted. It is in such areas in a culture that attitudes are formed. As a parliament we should be making sure that we get some of these things right so that, on the one hand, we do not bring into this Parliament legislation which is supposed to help women while, on the other hand, we allow in the Australian Capital Territory a $25m video industry which has the ability to mould the attitudes of people against women and to degrade them when the Government has control to do something about it. Why is there not some consistency in this? It would be more preferable for this Government to do something about those areas where attitudes are moulded than to bring affirmative action legislation into this Parliament.

Lastly, I want to refer to the types of things that occur when governments go down the track of coercive legislation. I refer to the situation of Dr and Mrs Tralaggan who were fined under the New South Wales Equal Opportunities Act because they did not want to have unmarried people renting their house. In other words, people who were practising Christians were not allowed to practice their faith because of this legislation. It is utter nonsense. People in Australia cannot now advertise for a married couple to rent accommodation, because that is discrimination. Where are we going as a nation when we throw out those fundamental values of our society? The Opposition is totally opposed to this legislation because it is not equal opportunity; it is affirmative action.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Ruddock) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.