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Friday, 5 December 1986
Page: 3475


Senator WALTERS(10.18) —by leave-I move:

Page 1, after clause 1, insert the following new clause:

``1aa. Section 42 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 is amended by omitting paragraphs 2 (d) and (e), and substituting the following word and paragraph:

``or (d) any prescribed sporting activity.''.

It is only a matter of removing the word `or' and the remaining sub-section (e) which relates to sporting activities by children who have not yet attained the age of twelve. Section 42 of the Sex Discrimination Act allows the exclusion of persons of one sex participating in any competitive sport activity in which the strength, stamina or physique of the competitor is relevant. It points out that men and women do not have to compete against each other. Sub-section 42 (2) refers to various persons not included in these exclusions-that is, that people such as coaches, umpires and administrators can be of either sex. However, 42 (2) (e) provides for the exclusion of children under the age of 12 years so that therefore they can compete against each other. Senator Haines, in the Committee stage of the debate in 1983, said:

. . . tend to attempt to preclude mixed sporting activities of children under the age of 12 by perpetrating an assortment of myths relating to the comparative strength, stamina and physique of boys and girls under the age of 12.

She said:

I suggest that it is at this very age that girls not only are generally the equal of boys in height, strength, running ability and so on but also are frequently their superiors. If we are at any stage to overcome the myth that girls' hips stop them from running fast, that their elbow joints stop them from throwing properly, or whatever the various arguments are for excluding women from competing against and with men, we will have to do it when it is quite clearly shown that there is considerable equality between the sexes.


Senator Harradine —Who said that?


Senator WALTERS —That was Senator Haines. Of course, that has proved completely wrong. Following the passage of that amendment to the Bill the Human Rights Commission was approached by the Australian Primary Schools Sports Association. It sought leave to have interstate swimming carnivals and interstate athletic carnivals given exemption by the Human Rights Commission. We had the stupid, idiotic situation where the Human Rights Commission gave them an exemption, but on a yearly basis, which meant that a new application for 1986 also had to be made. It was found that little girls were just not competing well against little boys and that, indeed, the boys were outdoing the girls all the time. At the meeting of the Directors-General of Education on 25 March 1986 it was decided to conduct both girls and open events in interstate competitions for primary school children. Girls were able to compete on their own and there were open events where boys and girls were permitted to compete, but there were to be no boys events at all, so boys were being discriminated against. That really is ludicrous. The President of the Victorian Primary Schools Sports Association, Mr McConville, said recently:

During Term 1, it became evident from many complaints received from school councils and parents that, if sporting teams were selected solely on ability, girls were being discriminated against because their places in school teams were being taken by boys.

The legislation would interpret such practices as being disadvantageous to girls' rights, which the legislation was designed to protect.

Therefore the traditional areas for girls had to be protected and girls must have access to sporting areas which had been denied to them.

The Human Rights Commission has had to give exemptions so that little girls can compete in sport and have a chance of winning against their own sex. It reached the stage where on 23 July 1986 the Human Rights Commission placed an advertisement in the Canberra Times which stated:

The Human Rights Commission has received many inquiries relating to Section 42 (2) (e) of the Sex Discrimination Act. Section 42 (2) (e) provides in effect that there may not be discrimination on grounds of sex in the sporting activities of children under 12 . . . the Commission intends to publish an illustrated booklet . . .

The Commission invites expressions of interest from individuals and organisations wishing to research and compile the text of a booklet on the subject of Equal Opportunity Sport for Children under 12 years in Primary Schools. Illustrations for the booklet will be the subject of separate arrangements.

I am told by the Parliamentary Library that this project seems to have run into problems, including cuts in publications funding and difficulties in matching two studies made on athletics and swimming, and it now appears that this booklet certainly will not be ready before Christmas. I have various headlines which have appeared in newspapers around Australia. Under the headline `Netball escapes sex net', an article from Perth states:

Loopholes in the Sex Discrimination and Equal Opportunity Acts have prevented a boy from Perth's Poynter Primary School from playing his favourite sport.

The mind boggles. The article continues:

It appears that the netball association is a voluntary group and is therefore not affected by the Sex Discrimination or the Equal Opportunity Acts.

It would thus not be bound by a clause in the Sex Discrimination Act . . .

I am sure that the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) would agree that this has proved unsuccessful. I am sure that Senator Gareth Evans would not expect the parents of young girls coming up through the athletic teams to be discouraged by having to compete with boys and being knocked off each time and not being able to make the school's team. At the moment the situation is covered by the Human Rights Commission. From the look of the grin on Senator Gareth Evans's face, I hate to think what he is going to say.


Senator Gareth Evans —I am just thinking of my own family. My daughter is a fierce feminist who carries all before her.


Senator WALTERS —Yes, I gathered that. At the moment the Human Rights Commission is covering the situation by giving exemptions, but I do not think that is the appropriate way to go about it. Therefore, I ask the Minister whether the Government will support my motion. The Opposition does and I ask the Minister to make this a sensible Act which, indeed, does not have to be overridden by the Human Rights Commission to protect the rights of girls under 12 in their sporting prowess.