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Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1527


Mr N.A. Brown(7.03) —As the name of the Equal Employment Opportunity (Commonwealth Authorities) Bill 1987 implies, it embodies the Government's intention to apply the principles of equal employment opportunity to authorities of the Commonwealth. It is the third leg of a trilogy of Bills. In 1984 equal opportunity programs were applied to the Commonwealth Public Service by the Public Service Reform Act 1984. In 1986 the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Act 1986 was expressed as being a Bill to promote equal opportunity for women in employment in the private sector and in higher education institutions. Until that stage we had two Bills, both of which became law; the first applying equal employment opportunity programs to the Commonwealth Public Service proper and the second in 1986 applying them to both the private sector and higher education institutions. Thirdly, we have before the House the Equal Employment Opportunity (Commonwealth Authorities) Bill 1987, which attempts to cover the field and to apply to Commonwealth authorities equal opportunity in employment for women and also for persons in certain designated groups.

The definition `authorities' to which the Bill applies covers a wide range of organisations and is so extensive in its definition as to mean in effect virtually any Commonwealth authorities, other than those covered by the other two Acts that I have referred to and other than several primary industry authorities. It is the Government's intention, apparently, to amend the laws governing those primary industry authorities. We have been told in the second reading speech of the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) that it is the intention of the Government to apply this Bill to bodies such as Telecom Australia, Australia Post and Qantas Airways Ltd.

Last year, when the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Bill 1986 was before the Parliament, the Opposition proposed, and indeed moved, amendments to the effect that the equal employment opportunity principles enshrined in the legislation should apply not only to the Commonwealth Public Service, the private sector and higher education institutions but also to Commonwealth authorities. No doubt, the Government's case is that this is what it proposes to do by the present Bill. However, a close examination of the Bill shows that the Government is proposing to apply to Commonwealth authorities a different regime than the regime that applied to the private sector and higher education institutions last year. The Opposition's position, therefore, is that it will oppose the Bill in its present form.

There are several reasons why the Opposition is opposing the Bill now before the Parliament and it is important that those reasons should clearly be understood. I say that because our position is that, had the Government applied the same law to Commonwealth authorities as last year it applied to the private sector and higher education institutions, we would have supported this legislation. We repeat, however, that the Government has not done this and, while it continues to fail to do so, we will oppose its legislation.

I turn in more detail to the reasons why the Opposition opposes the Bill in its present form. The reasons are as follows: First, on 9 January 1987, the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commercee (Senator Button) announced on behalf of the Government that there would be what he called `a strengthening of the Government commitment to the reduction of unnecessary business regulation'. On that occasion, Senator Button said:

Any new Government proposal affecting business must be cleared with the Business Regulation Review Unit and, if necessary the department making the proposal is required to supply a Regulation Impact Statement.

Senator Button also said:

The Government is committed to a review of business regulation with a view to winding back those regulations not offering a net benefit to the community.

It is beyond any doubt at all that some of the authorities intended to be covered by the present Bill engage in business. Indeed, the Government often goes to extraordinary lengths to establish that they are business authorities, or corporations, whose obligation is to provide a business-like service to the community. It is also beyond doubt that the Bill presently before the House will impose business regulation on the authorities concerned. The imposition of stringent equal employment opportunity requirements carrying as it does with it the obligation to have staff administer the proposed scheme and the detailed attention by the authority to implementing the equal employment opportunity program brings this Bill squarely within the ambit of what was intended to be covered by Senator Button's statement on behalf of the Government on 9 January 1987.

We presume that the Government's announcement, on that date, did not consist merely of empty words, but that the Government intended to put its scheme into practice. It is a desirable scheme and should be put into practice. What is equally clear, however, is that there is no sign, either in the Bill, in the explanatory statement, or in the second reading speech, that the Government has made the slightest attempt to subject this Bill to the rigours of the examination outlined in Senator Button's statement. We believe that it should do so and that this Bill should not proceed until the Government does so and applies the mechanism which was set out in Senator Button's statement of 9 January.

It must be emphasised that, subject to the Government also agreeing to a number of significant amendments that I will foreshadow and refer to shortly, we will support this Bill if the Government undertakes not to proceed with it until it is subjected to the business review process and satisfies the requirements of that process. If it passes muster then, subject to the Government also agreeing to the significant amendments that we will propose-I will outline them shortly and why we regard them as significant-we will support this Bill. But we will not support it and indeed we will oppose it until that procedure is followed.

Had the Government done this in the first place and had it presented us with a proper Bill, we would have voted for this proposed legislation. Accordingly, when the Minister replies at the end of this debate we will expect him to announce that the Government accepts this proposal and the amendments that we foreshadow to implement it. If that assurance is not forthcoming from the Minister, we will vote against this Bill. To make quite clear the position that we take I will propose a second reading amendment which will be to the effect that the Bill not be proceeded with until it has been subjected to an examination under the machinery set out in Senator Button's statement of 9 January 1987.

The second reason why the Opposition will oppose the Bill in its present form is that it does not apply the same provisions on equal employment opportunity to employees in Commonwealth authorities as the 1986 Act applied to the private sector and to higher education institutions. In particular, the present Bill has taken a very definite step towards compulsory, quantitative requirements. In fact it has taken a very definite step towards quotas. It is true that the 1986 Act provided for the so-called affirmative programs set up under that Act to set objectives and to make forward estimates. It is also true that the forward estimate was defined by reference to quantity. However, and this is particularly important, it was a `quantitative measure or aim' which was required, an objective to which the program should work. It was not a quota and it was certainly not a compulsory quota.

In contrast, the Bill that is presently before the House requires the Commonwealth authority to provide for action `to set'-they are the words that are used-`the quantitative and other indicators against which the effectiveness of the program is to be assessed'. This makes it quite clear that the Government, in the present Bill, has gone further than the 1986 Act and has taken a very definite step towards the imposition of compulsory quotas. All of these matters are matters for judgment but, taking the present Bill as a whole and making a rational assessment of the thrust of it and what it is clearly seeking to achieve, it is beyond doubt that the substance of the proposal is that the equal employment opportunity programs provided for in the Bill have taken a very definite step towards specific and quantitative programs which are in effect the equivalent of quotas.

The Opposition is utterly opposed to the imposition of compulsory quotas which, in substance, are effectively proposed by this Bill-quotas which impose employment conditions which have been neither arbitrated upon nor agreed upon. I therefore foreshadow that we will move an amendment to remove from the Bill the requirement on the authorities to set quantitative indicators in the program. Once again, we will expect the Minister in his reply to indicate that the Government will accept such an amendment and, if he does not do so, we will vote against this Bill. Thirdly, it is clear from the definition of `employee' that the intention of the Government is to apply this Bill not only to employees but also to independent contractors. This is quite unacceptable to the Opposition as it is no function of the Government to impose employment conditions on independent contractors or those for whom they provide their services. We therefore foreshadow that we will move an amendment to remove those under a contract for services from the definition of `employee'.

Debate interrupted.