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Thursday, 7 May 1987
Page: 2874

Mr MILLAR(10.25) —It was not my intention to speak in this debate this evening. It seemed to be well accommodated in the hands of honourable members who have spoken from both sides of the chamber. The extraordinary thing about it is that there seemed to be a unanimity of view on the fundamental question of equality of opportunity and that people should aspire to and attain their objectives on merit. But I have been a little surprised that one significant feature has apparently been overlooked; that is, that merit is a rather amorphous term. In these arrangements there is a distinct threat of establishing reverse discrimination.

Before Government members leap at that proposition, let them just consider this case: A potential employer is faced with a male job applicant and a female job applicant. The employer, very mindful that he or she must adhere to the regulations in respect of equal opportunity, finds that the prospective employees are rather equal at first blush in terms of merit. The employer is very mindful that if he or she errs in judgment he or she faces the decided prospect of lengthy proceedings, and penalties if the dissatisfied job applicant-let us say that in this case it is a female-believes that she has not been fairly treated. Naturally, the employer, not greatly enthused at the prospect of being dragged up before the tribunal, or whoever, for having abused the spirit of the legislation, will say: `I can't take that chance. Here you are, lass, the job is yours'. In this situation, what we have done, possibly in strict terms, is to be party to an act of reverse discrimination. The admirable and laudable objective has not been achieved. We have actually predisposed a situation of reverse discrimination.

That possibility should not be the singular determinant in these issues. But it has rather surprised me this evening that, in the fairly vigorous exchange, nobody has allowed for that possibility of reverse discrimination. So somehow we have to refine this term merit, because to a considerable extent it is in the eye of the beholder and there is that latent threat that the employer's determination could result in painful and costly proceedings and a penalty if the tribunal is of a mind to uphold the appeal of the unsuccessful applicant. It is a point. There has been no argument on equal merit-a sweet unanimity of view. But we have skated over the fact that it could result in the direct opposite of that which honourable members here, to their credit, seek to achieve. I just put that thought on the record. It had escaped the attention of the chamber.