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Monday, 30 March 1987
Page: 1439

Senator COLEMAN —My question, which also is directed to the Minister for Education in her capacity of Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women, relates to the situation which occurred in the United States of America last week, where the Supreme Court ruled that employers may hire or promote women and/or minorities over better qualified men to balance their work forces. I ask: What is to prevent a similar situation occurring in Australia in relation to the affirmative action legislation?

Senator RYAN —I did notice the Supreme Court ruling with regard to a woman who was appointed to a promotion position in the transport industry in the United States. I must say in passing that I agree with those who have hailed that decision as a welcome one in terms of the United States legislation. However, the United States legislation is different in essence in this respect from the Australian legislation. To that part of Senator Coleman's question when she asked what is to prevent a similar kind of ruling being made in Australia-that is, a ruling whereby a woman who is qualified for a job but who is not as qualified as a male is given preference-the answer is that all of our equal opportunity legislation, such as the affirmative action legislation and all other parts of that legislation package, clearly states that nothing in the legislation will prevent appointments being made on the basis of merit.

Whereas the Americans have legislated to provide for quotas of appointments for severely disadvantaged groups-ethnic minorities and the like-we have not gone along that route in Australia. We considered the American legislation but decided that, whereas it might be appropriate in certain parts of the United States, it was not appropriate for the Australian experience. All of our equal opportunity legislation, as Senator Peter Baume well knows, is based on the principle that merit-that is, the capacity to do the job-will be the basis on which any appointment is made. Our affirmative action policies require the creation of a situation where a person can be judged on merit instead of on irrelevant criteria. So it is substantially different in that respect. While I was happy to see that the supporters of equal opportunity in the United States were pleased with the decision, I also must point out that it is not a decision which would be possible under the Australian legislation.