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Friday, 5 December 1986
Page: 3476


Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Resources and Energy)(10.28) —The Government will not support Senator Walters's amendment at this stage but it is something to which we will certainly give further consider- ation. Might I make the point at the outset that it is rather like Senator Harradine's exercise yesterday. Senator Walters is seeking, in this instance by leave, to amend the parent Sex Discrimination Act and thus open up the debate about the range and scope of exemptions in that parent Act. The amendment is not addressed to the basic subject matter of the Sex Discrimination (Consequential Amendments) Bill 1986 before us, which, as I said yesterday, is concerned with amendments to other legislation to ensure consistency with the Sex Discrimination Act. The Government would suggest that this is simply not an appropriate time to open up the debate-I readily acknowledge that it is an ongoing debate-about the proper scope of the Sex Discrimination Act and its exemptions.

However, having given Senator Walters leave to pursue this amendment in order to raise the issue and put it back on the public agenda, an indulgence which I hope will be respected in terms of the duration of the debate which now follows, let me simply make this point: The Human Rights Commission, soon to be replaced, as we know, by the new Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, and the Sex Discrimination Commissioner have this particular matter under study. There is an exercise proceeding in South Australia to fully examine and evaluate both the principles and the issues involved and the way in which things have worked out in practice. If recommendations come forward in due course from the Commissioner of the new Commission, as they may well do, the Government will consider the issue in the light of those findings, studies and recommendations. This is really quite a complex issue in which a lot more research and evaluation of data needs to be done.

The reason I was smiling to myself during Senator Walters's speech was that I was translating to my own domestic environment her account of poor little girls being muscled aside by little boys in primary school when it comes to selection for school teams and participation in school sports. Without going too mawkishly into the domestic details of the Evans household, I can assure Senator Walters that the contrary is absolutely the case in my household. I have a fiercely feminist and enthusiastically athletic daughter who pushes all before her when it comes to getting into the primary school soccer team and participating in swimming and other sports of that kind. I imagine this experience is repeated in many other households and it is one that is capable of being imagined when one looks at this question of stamina, strength, physique and so on, and acknowledges the reality that in most cases there is very little difference between the sexes in children of that age.

I do not wish to pre-empt this argument or say straight out that Senator Walters's amendment should not be taken seriously. I think it should and we should have close regard to the experience of the school systems and the way in which this particular proposition has worked in the past. It is a clearly well intentioned provision in the present Act and it has resulted in a greater awareness of the extent to which discrimination-if that is the right word-operates in schools. Perhaps unthinking sex stereotyping does operate in circumstances where there may be no rational foundation for sexual distinctions being drawn. That is one side of the coin. The other side of the coin may well be the sorts of considerations that Senator Walters has mentioned. I hope that she will be prepared to leave the debate at this point. I acknowledge the point that she is making and I note the concerns that have been expressed in some quarters. This is an issue that we will take very much on board and we will consider it again when we have to hand some more research and data and hopefully some recommendations one way or the other from the professionals in the field.