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Thursday, 26 March 1987
Page: 1636

Dr THEOPHANOUS(8.14) —We have just heard the flimsiest justification I have ever heard in this Parliament for opposing a major Bill of such enormous significance to this community. It is the flimsiest justification one could possibly imagine. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr N.A. Brown) had the impertinence to try to put before this chamber and to the people of Australia that the reason why the Opposition is opposing this major step in equal opportunity legislation is some minor difference in wording between this Equal Employment Opportunity (Commonwealth Authorities) Bill and the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Act 1986. He expects us and the people of Australia to believe this nonsense. We know what the real reasons are for the opposition to this legislation.

Mr Slipper —Come on!

Dr THEOPHANOUS —The honourable member for Fisher wants to be reinforced once again.

Honourable members interjecting-

The CHAIRMAN —Order! The honourable member for Fisher, the Leader of the National Party and others on my left will cease interjecting. The Leader of the National Party, more than any, should know that he should not interject when he is out of his seat.

Dr THEOPHANOUS —Mr Chairman, it is very pertinent that they should be interjecting, because it is members of the National Party who have twisted the arms of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) and the Deputy Leader to abandon Liberal principles and come into this chamber and oppose this legislation, as I mentioned before in my speech in the second reading debate. When it came to the actual debate on the clauses, we were expecting something very substantial. But what did we get? The flimsiest excuse I have ever heard in this chamber for opposing a major piece of legislation. Let us look at the differences in wording that the honourable the Deputy Leader of the Opposition referred to. What are the differences in wording? He tried to say that the differences in wording are such that in the Bill this year there is the word `quantitative' and that in the Bill last year there was no reference to `quantitative'. That is not true. In the Bill last year there was a reference to `forward estimate', which means `a quantitative measure or aim'. It even went further to say `which may be expressed in numerical terms'. That was in the 1986 Bill.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has presented the most flimsy excuse I have heard in my six and a half years in this chamber for opposing a major piece of legislation and he should be ashamed of himself for putting up such a flimsy pretence. Honourable members opposite have asked why there are some differences. All equal opportunity legislation is the same to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition; he believes it ought to be just rejected. That is the attitude of the conservatives from the National Party, and he agrees with them. Ideologically he is no different from them. He might as well go and join them. He is nodding his head in agreement. What happened to the Liberal Party and its principles? What happened to the Leader of the Opposition's statement about the integrity of the Liberal Party and the integrity of the principles of the Liberal Party? Forget all of that. The Nationals will now be the tail that wags the dog. That is what is going to happen in this Parliament in the future.

Mr McGauran —That is offensive.

Dr THEOPHANOUS —It is offensive only to the honourable member. I will point out to the Deputy Leader why these changes exist. He might have seen in clause (f) reference not only to that important group of people-women-in the community who happen to be discriminated against but also to other designated groups such as the migrant community and the Aboriginal community, which are very important. They are incorporated in this Bill; they were not in the 1986 Bill. The Deputy Leader has not noticed the difference between the one and the other and he has come in here with this flimsy excuse.

If we were to carry the amendments suggested by him, the net impact would be that those designated groups would be taken out of the Bill and we would not be able to say that we are setting targets, aims and objectives in relation to migrants, Aborigines and women. What do we have? The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has come into this chamber, as I said before, and has tried to give us the flimsiest of reasons when we know what the very important reasons were for opposition to this legislation. We have seen the reasons exemplified in the House and I am very disappointed with this flimsy excuse that has been brought up here.

Why did Senator Peter Baume resign? That is the question the Deputy Leader has not answered. He talked in the House several times on this Bill but he has not told us why Senator Peter Baume resigned. Senator Peter Baume, unlike the Deputy Leader, wants to defend the traditional principles of the Liberal Party rather than give into the National Party to try to save the coalition. Senator Peter Baume, and the twelve other Liberal members who were not in this House when we voted on the legislation, want to stand up for the principles involved. Instead of the Deputy Leader doing that, he comes into this chamber with this flimsy statement which could not be justified anywhere. He ought to be ashamed of himself. At least he could have got up and said: `We oppose equal employment opportunity'. Why does he not state that in this chamber? Why does he not state his true position, which is that he opposes equal opportunity? At least members of the National Party get up and say `We oppose equal opportunity' and that is the end of the matter.

However, we have double talk from the Liberals. On the one hand, they say `We support equal opportunity' and, on the other, they want to move amendments which are totally unacceptable to us. We reject the amendments. I say to people listening that we have a minority group discriminating against the majority in the community. If one puts together the various groups-women, migrants, Aborigines, and all those members of groups that have been disadvantaged-one finds that they constitute the majority of this nation. They have been discriminated against. When we introduce legislation into this chamber which would overcome that discrimination, we get a rejection of that legislation for the flimsiest excuse that I have ever seen in terms of the amendments. We reject the amendments. We say to the Opposition: `Get up and justify the actions which you are carrying out in this chamber tonight'.