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Tuesday, 20 September 1983
Page: 967


Ms McHUGH —I ask the Prime Minister: Will the introduction of the Government's sex discrimination legislation downgrade the family unit and the role of wife and mother, as claimed by some opponents of the Bill?


Mr HAWKE —I am indebted to the honourable member for Phillip for her question. It is the case that very many women in our community see the fulfilment of their aspirations in terms of the family and, in particular, in terms of their role as wife and mother. That is a totally legitimate and commendable attitude for those women who see their aspirations being fulfilled in that traditional role. Quite clearly, this Government will do nothing at all to prejudice such women in the fulfilment of those aspirations. Certainly nothing in the Sex Discrimination Bill which is currently before this Parliament will have such an effect, despite some unfortunate misrepresentations to the contrary. But the position is quite clear. Freedom to choose must be available to those who seek to fulfil their aspirations in that traditional way. Freedom to choose must also be available to those who seek to pursue a career of their choice.

The Bill before the Parliament does nothing to demean those women whose choice is to pursue the traditional role. But the Bill very deliberately seeks to remove those barriers which, unfortunately, still exist in our society, barriers which exist in a way which demeans the status of those women who seek to choose and follow an alternative career. It is regrettably the case-it must be emphasised-that in Australia today very many women still are prejudiced by the existence of those barriers. Therefore, it is necessary that legislative action be undertaken to remove discrimination. Such legislative action is essential if we are to raise the status of women in Australia and if we are meaningfully to achieve equality of opportunity. The legislation before this Parliament outlaws discrimination on the grounds of sex, marital status and pregnancy in a number of areas of public life including, particularly, employment, education, accommodation and the provision of goods and services. It requires that women and men are not to be treated less favourably in these areas because of their sex, marital status or pregnancy. It is the case that the legislation before this Parliament will go a very long way towards meeting Australia's obligations under the relevant United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and we, as a government, are pledged to ratify that Convention. It was the hope--


Mr Anthony —You have already done it.


Mr HAWKE —It is no good just ratifying it. One can easily do that. We have to take action to give effect to these things. It is very interesting to hear some noise and to see some embarrassment on the other side, as well there might be. It was the sincere hope of this Government that the legislation we brought forward would receive the support of all sections of this House. Unfortunately, we have the situation revealed now of the absolutely pathetic chaos which exists on the other side of the House in regard to this matter. We have the total abdication of leadership on the part of the Leader of the Opposition, who went on record as saying that a conscience vote would not be appropriate in these matters; but his leadership is such that he is being rolled, and that is the way it will be. I do not know whether those on the other side of the House--

Opposition members interjecting--


Mr HAWKE —Honourable members opposite are an unhappy band of pilgrims. I do not know how good honourable members on the other side of the House are at their French history. They may recall that on one occasion an observation was made to the French statesman Talleyrand. It was observed to him that there were consciences in the upper chamber. To that the great French politician replied: ' Ah, yes, very many. Semonville, for example, has at least two'. What we are going to find, as a result of this pathetic abdication of leadership on the part of the Leader of the Opposition, is the display of that range of consciences on the other side of the House. It is a tragedy that a matter as important as this, and so obviously requiring parliamentary action as is recognised by the honourable member for Balaclava, should have been reduced to this state by the pathetic abdication of leadership of the Leader of the Opposition.