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Thursday, 19 March 1987
Page: 1157

Mr WILLIS (Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations)(3.59) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this Bill is to promote equal employment opportunity in those areas of Australian Government employment that are not already covered by the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Act 1986 or by section 22b of the Public Service Act 1922. The Bill will apply to a wide range of Commonwealth statutory authorities, including major government business enterprises such as Telecom Australia, Australia Post and the Commonwealth Banking Corporation. Primary industry statutory marketing authorities which are not covered by the Bill will amend their establishing legislation in the near future to provide for the development of equal employment opportunity programs.

The passage of this legislation will ensure that the overwhelming majority of Australian government employing authorities are required to develop equal employment opportunity or affirmative action programs. The object of equal employment opportunity programs is to eliminate discrimination against women, migrants whose first language is not English and their children, Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders, and disabled persons.

Equal employment opportunity assumes that freedom of choice of occupation is a basic social right which should not be constrained by criteria unrelated to ability to perform the job. It promotes efficiency by avoiding waste of talent and underutilisation and underdevelopment of human resources which result from discrimination. Equal employment opportunity programs are designed to ensure that all employees are treated fairly and equitably. Such programs operate to the advantage of the individuals directly concerned, the employing authorities and the community as a whole.

This Bill is the third piece of legislation to give effect to the Government's commitment to equal employment opportunity. In 1984 the Government amended the Public Service Act 1922 to require Commonwealth Government departments and prescribed authorities to develop equal employment opportunity programs. Departments and authorities submitted their first programs to the Public Service Board during 1985-86. It is too soon to provide an overall assessment of the impact of these programs. It is apparent, however, that the development of equal employment opportunity plans has significantly strengthened the application of the merit principle in staffing and justice in personnel practices.

The Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Act 1986 was proclaimed on 1 October 1986. The Act requires all higher education institutions and companies employing 100 or more staff to develop affirmative action programs and report on their progress to government. That legislation was developed as a result of the year-long affirmative action pilot program which involved consultation between 28 of Australia's largest companies, employer organisations, trade unions, women's groups, higher education bodies and the Federal Opposition.

The Act requires companies and higher education institutions to progress with programs 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 the level of flexibility in implementation that private industry suggested was essential for affirmative action to be successful. As a result affirmative action programs are to be integrated into the management of organisations and will become part of the mainstream planning activities of business.

The Act established the Affirmative Action Agency to assist employers develop their programs and to monitor their progress. The Agency is continuing the consultation process of the pilot program. The Agency is also preparing guidelines and developing education and training strategies to meet the needs of employers on affirmative action. Higher education institutions commenced their affirmative action programs on 1 October 1986 and will report to government on 1 October 1987. Private sector organisations will commence their programs over a three-year period. Companies with more than 1,000 employees commenced their programs on 1 February this year. Their first reports will be due on 1 February 1988. I am pleased to be able to say that business has responded positively to the legislation. Indeed, major employers have welcomed the initiative as making good business sense. The Equal Employment Opportunity (Commonwealth Authorities) Bill 1987, which is now before the House, builds on these two initiatives of the Hawke Labor Government. I will now outline the major features of the Bill. The Bill covers Commonwealth statutory authorities employing 40 or more employees which are not already covered by section 22b of the Public Service Act 1922 or section 3 of the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Act 1986.

The Bill does not cover the Australian Dairy Corporation, the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation, the Australian Wheat Board and the Australian Wool Corporation. These authorities will have their establishing legislation amended in the near future to provide for the development of equal employment opportunity programs. Designated authorities will be required to commence the development of equal employment opportunity programs on 1 July 1987 unless some other date is prescribed. Statutory authorities which subsequently come within the operation of the Bill will be required to develop equal employment opportunity programs from the date this occurs.

The Bill sets out minimum requirements for equal employment opportunity programs to be developed and implemented by the authorities concerned. Programs will be developed in consultation with employees, particularly women and members of designated groups, and with relevant trade unions.

A fundamental feature of the equal employment opportunity program is a review of policies and practices to identify any which discriminate against women and members of designated groups. The review will be wide-ranging and cover recruitment and selection procedures, promotion and transfer of employees, training and staff development and conditions of service. Authorities will be required to set program objectives and quantitative indicators of effectiveness and to monitor and evaluate the success of their programs against these objectives and indicators.

I wish to emphasise the programs are not intended to lead to, and will not lead to, positive discrimination. The Bill expressly confirms that employment matters are to be dealt with on the basis of merit, and the whole thrust of the legislation will strengthen the merit principle, by ensuring the review of any existing discriminatory personnel or employment procedures. Authorities will be required to make annual reports on the development and implementation of their programs. These reports may be lodged either with their portfolio Minister or the Public Service Board. The portfolio Minister or the Public Service Board, as the case may be, may also require the authority to make special reports. Annual reports and special reports lodged by authorities with the portfolio Minister will be tabled in both Houses of Parliament.

The Public Service Board will exercise powers under this legislation which are comparable with its powers in regard to equal employment opportunity programs for Commonwealth departments and prescribed authorities under section 22b of the Public Service Act. It may issue guidelines on the development, implementation and review of programs to authorities that have elected to lodge reports with it. The Board will also report to the Prime Minister on the operations of the Bill in the Public Service Board annual report. The portfolio Minister or the Public Service Board may make recommendations to the authority, after considering its annual report, on action to improve the effectiveness of the program. If the authority does not concur with the recommendations it will be required to advise the Minister or the Public Service Board of its reasons for not concurring.

Financial Impact

There will be a minimal financial impact on statutory authorities as a result of the allocation of some staff resources to equal employment opportunity programs. I present the explanatory memorandum. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr N.A. Brown) adjourned.