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Monday, 23 March 1987
Page: 1116


Senator WEST —I refer the Minister assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women to an article in today's Australian Financial Review which says that under a Howard-led government the Office of the Status of Women would be downgraded to that of an adviser. Will the Minister outline the implications and effect of downgrading the Office of the Status of Women?


Senator Chaney —Mr President, I take a point of order. We have had two Ministers today refuse to answer questions which relate to the Government's intentions with respect to similar sorts of matters. Both Senator Tate and Senator Walsh, I think, have indicated that they will not answer questions of that nature. Mr President, I therefore ask you to watch these questions with particular care, because it seems to me that it would be quite absurd if Ministers were to come into this place totally unable or unwilling to answer questions with respect to what the Government is proposing to do and yet able, apparently, to pronounce at will upon things which may or may not be part of Opposition policy and which certainly are not Opposition policy in the case of the point which has been made by Senator West in her question. In light of the fact that again today, two Ministers have taken this very clear attitude in answering these questions, Mr President, I suggest that you rule the question out of order.


The PRESIDENT —I have taken notice of what the Leader of the Opposition said. However, I regard the question as being in order. I think the Minister is entitled to answer a question within what the Minister accepts as an area of her responsibility.


Senator RYAN —I think the proposal to downgrade the Office of the Status of Women to an advisory capacity, from wherever it emanates, is of public interest and concern. The work of the Office of the Status of Women has been of great significance for Australian women and, through the program of consultation with women throughout Australia, its work is very well known and highly regarded. For example, the Office of the Status of Women was closely involved with the development and successful passage of the Sex Discrimination Act and the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Act. As I said in my opening remarks, the Office was very closely involved in the consultation with women throughout Australia to seek their views on the formulation of an agenda for the Australian Government from now to the year 2000.

If the work of the Office of the Status of Women were to be downgraded by its relegation to an advisory capacity, I think women throughout Australia could rightly fear that the Sex Discrimination Act would be dismantled. I think women throughout Australia could rightly fear that the Affirmative Action Agency of the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Act could be abolished and their fears would be based on not only reports in the Australian Financial Review today and other daily Press but also statements which have emanated from time to time from various Opposition spokespersons. Similarly, I think women throughout Australia could rightly fear that the greatly enhanced role played by women in policy formulation in such areas as care for the disabled, services for the disabled, rehabilitation, low cost housing, education and so on would be set aside.

Mr President, I want to remain within the Standing Orders and not provoke Senator Chaney to another defence of his Party's policies. We understand why he does that; it is because he is so sensitive about the unpopularity of his Party's policies. I think it is a matter of concern to women throughout Australia to know that the work of the Office of the Status of Women, particularly the work involving consultation and formulating policy advice from women throughout Australia, will continue to have the highest priority under our Government.