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Wednesday, 13 June 1984
Page: 2964

Senator GILES(9.14) —Having heard the grudging acknowledgment of the former Attorney-General, Senator Durack, of the initiatives of this Government, I cannot avoid making the comment that after 16 months we have at least moved towards some long overdue reforms of the Commonwealth Public Service, reforms which apparently were impossible to make in the previous seven years.

I would like to speak very briefly on just a few of the many excellent and progressive features of the Public Service Reform Bill 1984. Apart from the restructuring of senior positions, which are of immediate concern to highly placed incumbents of whom the vast majority are males, of course, most of the provisions of this Bill are of enormous importance to the less well-known workers who staff the myriad of departments and who are in literally hundreds of classifications, many of them the equivalent of not particularly well-paid workers in the private sector. A previous speaker asked: 'Well, what has the equal employment opportunity division been doing over all these years?' I would like to suggest that the equal employment opportunity division of the Public Service Board has been doing a great deal. In view of the extremely unsympathetic climate in which it functioned, I believe it did extremely well to survive.

In the lower classifications in the Public Service there are, of course, a disproportionate number of women and in the Public Service generally disadvantaged minorities have traditionally been poorly represented. Initiatives to address those imbalances have been gradually introduced, the first being the admission of women to the clerical administrative structure in 1949, followed by the removal of the marriage bar in 1966. Age limits which precluded older workers from applying for positions as clerks and typists were removed in 1973, allowing women returning to the work force to enter the Public Service. That is an excellent example of indirect discrimination which, although it appears to be gender neutral in action, is not gender neutral in effect because of the nature of the work involved, and, of course, the vast majority of people applying for clerical and typist positions would be women.

In 1975 the Public Service Board established an equal opportunities section. This was announced during the Women in Politics Conference in Canberra in August of 1975, one of the important and successful events of International Women's Year. At the same time it was announced that the unit would be headed up by Gail Radford, who has headed the Division and, more recently, the Equal Employment Opportunity Bureau with distinction. The section was to have had the dual role of developing and implementing equal opportunity programs and also investigating and conciliating cases of employment discrimination. The section was upgraded to branch status in 1978 and renamed the Equal Employment Opportunity Bureau. Its activities, over the years, have included facilitating the employment of the disabled, migrants and Aboriginals into the Public Service and statutory authorities.

By the late 1970s, training programs to meet the special needs of special groups were accepted by the Board as sensible public administration, not as a positive discrimination. A public statement was made to that effect. That was a milestone in the Public Service approach to redressing that type of imbalance. In April 1978 a special conference of departmental heads was introduced to this concept. Subsequently, departments submitted implementation plans to the Board. Further measures were introduced in the early 1980s to strengthen the national employment strategy for Aboriginals, particularly, and on that occasion, the Aboriginal services recruitment program and the Aboriginal undergraduate studies awards were put into place. They allowed for full time study by Aboriginals for undergraduate degrees and also full time study for those who were more appropriately catered for at Aboriginal task forces and in bridging courses under a staff sponsorship program. A 1979 study of career patterns for women in the Australian Public Service revealed that there were no women in the First Division and only 1.8 per cent of Second Division officers were women. Projections at that stage suggested that, without intervention, women would hold only 5 per cent of positions in the Second Division by 1990.

When the marriage bar had been removed it was thought that women would now have the same opportunities as men to advance to senior positions. However, cohort studies carried out by the Board in 1979 suggested that other factors were still impeding women's careers. Cohort studies of officers appointed to the base level of the Third Division after the removal of the marriage bar showed that, of those who remained in the Service, non-graduate men were more likely to reach the more senior positions than non-graduate women and the same trend could be seen amongst graduates. A further study in 1980 showed that the proportion of women in many departments was still low, between 11 and 24 per cent, and that 14 departments employing 53 per cent of the Service had no Second Division women. In addition, occupational segregation was breaking down faster and with less assistance for men than for women. There were still 20 designations where no women were employed, but none where no men were employed.

In 1980 the National Labour Consultative Council, as a result of a great deal of work, put together a set of equal employment opportunity guidelines. These were drawn up by representatives of the Confederation of Australian Industry, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Government. They were widely distributed, having been designed to apply to both large and small enterprises and designed also to apply to both government and private employment. By 1981 the Public Service Board had announced a program to introduce voluntary equal employment opportunity programs for women in departments and authorities staffed under the Public Service Act. These voluntary programs had two goals. One was to introduce more women into senior management within the Public Service and the other was to increase the number of women in jobs which had not traditionally been filled by women. The implementation of these goals was based on the actions advocated by the National Labour Consultative Council's guidelines on equal employment opportunity for women.

In 1981 the Equal Employment Opportunity Bureau conducted seminars in Canberra and in all State capitals to explain the guidelines and how to develop equal employment opportunity plans in different work areas such as recruitment, training, staff development and personnel. In the second phase of the program in 1982 the Equal Employment Opportunity Bureau provided a consultancy service to those departments that had decided to establish an equal employment opportunity program. I have been a great deal more generous than the previous speaker, Senator Durack. It will be realised that what I have described over the last five minutes has been the move, slowly but steadily, within the Equal Employment Opportunity Bureau during the years of the Liberal conservative Government. In 1983 the Board carried out an evaluation of the program. The Chairman wrote to permanent heads seeking information about progress of the equal employment opportunity programs in departments and authorities. Accomplishments were highlighted in the Board's annual report for 1982-83. I feel sure that there are many senators who, like me, looked to that part of the Public Service Board's annual report to see which of the departments were actually implementing anything in relation to equal employment opportunity. Strangely enough, only the Department of Transport and the Department of Housing and Construction had well developed equal employment opportunity programs for women. Others had issued equal employment opportunity policy statements and appointed officers who either worked full time on EEO activities or combined that with other duties. Others were in the process of appointing officers, developing data bases and preparing programs. The remaining departments pointed to action, such as non- discriminatory selection procedures for recruitment of women to positions which had been traditionally male, and increased nomination of women for training courses, especially senior management courses. Some departments had recorded significant increases in the number of women in senior positions.

Overall, it could be seen that the results of the Board's strategy of encouraging a voluntary program approach to EEO had been disappointing. Although action by the Board had clearly resulted in an increased awareness of and sensitivity to the issue of equal employment opportunity for women and disadvantaged groups in the service, the number of staff allocated to EEO duties was clearly inadequate. A number of departments have now appointed EEO officers. The Department of Education and Youth Affairs and the Department of Defence have finalised details of their programs and others, including Defence Support and Employment and Industrial Relations, are actively developing programs. These programs include initiatives for women, Aboriginal people, people with disabilities and people from immigrant ethnic backgrounds. Additionally it was recognised that effective integration of women into management depends upon the acceptance of women by senior managers as well as on the competiveness and readiness of women themselves. As a result of this report, the Board began preparing in 1983 a series of training packages.

Other issues which are of crucial importance in providing equal opportunity for women in the Public Service as well as in the work force at large, as has been previously stated, are the provision of permanent part time work and the introduction of maternity leave and flexible working hours. We need a great deal more awareness among senior members of our Public Service and some of the policy -making parts of our own Government. But in these short 16 months a great deal more has been achieved than in the seven years previously. This Bill provides the legislative backing for equal employment opportunity in the Public Service promised by the Government. Responding to the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Public Service Matters (Mr Dawkins) who urged departments not to wait for the legislation, a number of them have moved as I have described.

I briefly introduce one other issue during this discussion, that is, the position of those who work in the offices of members and senators. At long last under this Bill these workers upon whom we depend so heavily are to be employed under proper written contracts of employment and will have the same access to arbitration as other Commonwealth employees. It gives me great satisfaction to acknowledge our collective indebtedness to those who assist us in our electorate offices and to acknowledge the fact that this Government is providing these workers with proper industrial protection for the very first time.