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Thursday, 26 March 1987
Page: 1640


Mr MILES(8.40) —This legislation essentially goes across the border from equal opportunity to become affirmative action. That is what this clause is all about, which is why we are debating it. We heard the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations say a little while ago that this clause is very similar to the clause in the previous legislation, but he never said that it was the same. Why has the Government changed the wording in this legislation, so that it it is just this little bit different, but goes another step down the track to setting targets in affirmative action legislation? It has crossed over the demarcation line between what rational, logical people would call equal opportunity and what they would distinguish as affirmative action programs, where people in businesses and authorities will be told to set a target and work towards it. This is affirmative action.

There has been quite a debate about this clause in the Equal Employment Opportunity (Commonwealth Authorities) Bill 1987 and the clause in the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Bill 1986. I want to go back to the 1986 Bill, which states that `forward estimates means a quantitative measure or aim'. There was a choice for the employers to decide whether they implemented a quantitative measure or an aim; whether they expressed it in numerical or general terms. There was that option. It was possible not to set a specific target. The legislation we are debating today says `to set the quantitative' which means to set numerical terms. There is no choice. There was a choice in the last Bill, but there is no choice this time.

Secondly, following on from what the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Ronald Edwards) was talking about, it appeared that the Australian Labor Party had a monopoly on concern for women. That is not the case. The coalition is sensitive to the needs of women and regards the work-place as a place where everybody, regardless of colour, creed or sex, should be able to progress unhindered according to their skills, abilities and personal qualities. We agree that there should be equal opportunity. We certainly desire that women should be able to make their choices freely and should have the freedom and opportunity to be fulfilled as people. That is what equal opportunity is all about.

The coalition believes that women should be active and full participants in our culture and society. We do not resile from that. We are concerned about that and believe that it should occur in a natural progression in our society. It should not be something which governments impose upon organisations, whether they be authorities or private business. It is not the role of governments to force employers to take on certain levels of people, whether they be Torres Strait Islanders or Aborigines. These things should occur, but they should not be imposed by governments. Why should the Government have the moral high ground in regard to this matter? Why does it think that it can do this instead of people naturally out there in the work place? I do not believe that that is the case.

I believe that Australia is a very tolerant society. It is a society known for being concerned about people having a fair go. I am sure that employers and people in authorities as Australia progresses-it certainly is progressing in this field in a very natural and harmonious way-think it is totally unnecessary for a government to bring down this sort of legislation. As I said, this legislation and the clause we are now debating are quite different from what we had last year. That has changed the nature of this Bill from that of an equal opportunity Bill to that of an affirmative action Bill.