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Thursday, 26 March 1987
Page: 1634


Mr N.A. Brown(8.04) —by leave-I move:

(2) Clause 6, page 5, lines 1-4, omit paragraph (g), substitute the following paragraph:

``(g) to set objectives and make forward estimates in the program:''.

(3) clause 6, page 5, at the end of the clause add the following subclause:

``(2) In subsection (1):

`forward estimate' means a quantitative measure or aim, which may be expressed in numerical terms, designed to achieve equality of opportunity for women in employment matters, being a measure or aim that can reasonably be implemented by the relevant employer within a specified time;

`objective' means a qualitative measure or aim, expressed as a general principle, designed to achieve equality of opportunity for women in employment matters, being a measure or aim that can reasonably be implemented by the relevant employer within a specified time.''.

The first of the two amendments seeks to amend paragraph (g) to state `to set objectives and make forward estimates in the program'. The second of the amendments seeks to add a sub-clause at the end of the clause. The purpose of these two amendments is to remove from clause 6 of the Bill some provisions relating to the programs and the contents of the programs to be set up under this Bill. As honourable members will be aware, clause 6 deals with the contents of the equal employment opportunity programs and provides, in its opening words, that `the program of a relevant authority shall provide for action to be taken' in regard to a number of things set out in paragraphs (a) to (h) inclusive.

One of the obligations imposed on an authority insofar as the preparation of its program is concerned, and which is contained in paragraph (g), is to set two things-the first being the objectives to be achieved by the program and the second being:

(ii) the quantitative and other indicators against which the effectiveness of the program is to be assessed.

Our contention, in the first place, is that those words should be omitted because they take the equal employment opportunity regime being imposed by the Government in this Bill a step forward in the direction of quantitative matters and a step towards what we have called pseudo-quotas. They certainly impose quantitative indicators and they have to be included in the program. The word `quantity' must mean something, and clearly it means the quantity, the number, or perhaps the percentage of employees who will come from the designated groups-that is to say, the percentage or number of employees who will be women, Aboriginals, Torres Strait Islanders or from any of the other designated groups as defined. We say that, in the first place, that is a very significant departure from the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Act of 1986. Secondly, we say that it is an undesirable and quite unwarranted step towards reverse discrimination, positive discrimination, and a very definite step in the direction of dictating to employers-who in this case happen to be Commonwealth authorities-the numbers of employees of different types whom they will be obliged to employ.

The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis), in reply to that and in his second reading speech, said: `It is true that the wording is different from that contained in the 1986 Act'. So, he concedes that there is a change between the 1986 Act applying to private enterprise and higher education institutions, on the one hand, and this Bill covering Commonwealth authorities, on the other hand. The Minister concedes that. They were his words-that the wording is different. We have established that. But he maintains that, although the wording is different, there is no discernible difference in the meaning. So, the Government has chosen different words to express a notion or a sentiment--


Mr Slipper —Why?


Mr N.A. Brown —But the Minister maintains that there is no discernible difference in the effect of those words. The question, as the honourable member for Fisher asked rhetorically, is: Why is that so? If there is no difference between the obligations imposed in the 1986 Act and the obligations now sought to be imposed in this Bill, why has the language of the 1986 Act not simply been repeated in this Bill? If it had been, it would have gone a measure of the distance towards satisfying our concerns. Because that has not been done, it is clear that there is some different meaning intended in this Bill in contrast to the meaning clearly intended in the 1986 Act.

The second matter to which I draw attention is simply this: In the 1986 Act, the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Act, one of the requirements of the affirmative action programs, as contained in section 8 (1) (g), was `to set objectives and make forward estimates in the program'. So, it is clear from that part of the 1986 Act that I have just just read out that there was a requirement under the 1986 regime to set objectives. The purpose of the 1986 Act in this respect was to set an objective. The employer had to work towards an objective, the objective being to achieve equal employment opportunity for his or her employees. That was the objective that was sought.

We have a further clue as to the intentions of the Parliament in passing the 1986 Act when we read in sub-section 8 (3) that there is a definition of both `forward estimate' and `objective'. Forward estimate means `a quantitative measure or aim'. If those words mean anything at all they convey the notion, especially when linked together with the provision for an objective in paragraph (g), that the Parliament wanted the employer to move steadily towards some achievable objective. It was an aim. That is what the legislation says.

We make two points. The first point is that different language is contained in the Bill this year and in the Act last year, and that should lead us reasonably to the conclusion that different meanings are intended to be conveyed by the Parliament with respect to the 1986 Act and by the Government in this Bill. We say that that calls for an explanation. The second point is that we say that, when we look at the 1986 Act and we see these references to objectives and to aims, it is a reasonable conclusion to draw that the intention of the 1986 Act was to have private employers and the higher education institutions take the first steps towards achieving an aim, the aim being equal employment opportunity. There is a heavier emphasis in the present Bill on quantitative requirements, quantitative clearly referring to quantity. If we are looking for similar words to describe the notion, percentages, quotas or numbers must surely be the notion that is intended to be conveyed by the use of the words `quantitative and other indicators'.

Indeed, the notion is reinforced when we read on in paragraph (g) to the effect that it is the quantitative and other indicators against which the effectiveness of the program is to be assessed. The intention is to introduce a program and to see whether it is being applied. The test to see whether it is being applied is to look at the quantity or the numbers and, if the numbers, percentages or quotas have not been met, the conclusion is clearly going to be reached simply that the program is not achieving its effectiveness. That clearly would be contrary to the whole intention of the Bill, and that is the final reason why the view I have contended is correct.

We come back to the basic point, a point that requires an answer from the Minister: If the Government intended to establish the same regimen in this Bill as it did in the 1986 Act, why did it not use the same language? It is for that reason that we give it an opportunity now to adopt the language used in the 1986 Act, which we will vote in favour of. That is why we have proposed the amendment. If the Government does not accept the language which it adopted in 1986, we call for an explanation, firstly, as to why it has not used the same language and, secondly, what secret purpose it is now about by changing the language.