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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2114


Senator WALTERS —(Tasmania) (8.00)-Tonight we are debating the Equal Employment Opportunity (Commonwealth Authorities) Bill 1987. I say at the outset that I am a very strong supporter of equal opportunity for women in respect of employment. This is fundamental to the philosophy of my Party. We in the Liberal Party of Australia do not believe in affirmative action but we have always believed in equal opportunity for women. Dame Enid Lyons from my home State was the first lady Minister in the Commonwealth Parliament. She was the first lady member of Cabinet. We had the first woman senator. My own State of Tasmania has the first Senate team to be headed by two women. That team will contest the next election. I am delighted to have been selected to head that team. I am equally delighted that Senator Newman has been selected as the number two candidate. As I said, this is the first time that this has happened. I am delighted that the rules of our Party, unlike those of the Australian Labor Party, do not demand that a woman be found to be included on a Senate ticket. This is a typical example of affirmative action by the Labor Party that I find so degrading for women. However, I will come back to that a bit later in my speech.

We have before us legislation that purports to be the second part of the equal employment opportunity legislation introduced by the Government. The first Bill-the one which came before us some time ago and which the Opposition supported-was the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Bill. That legislation did not relate to statutory bodies as the Bill now before us does. The Opposition put forward several amendments during debate on the affirmative action legislation. We wanted to change the name of the Bill because we believed that it was concerned more with equal employment opportunity than affirmative action. We asked that the name of the Bill be changed.

Senator Peter Baume, who led for the Opposition, also asked that statutory bodies should be included in that legislation. We were given all sorts of excuses tonight by Senator Haines who said that because we needed the legislation so urgently and because the legislation had been brought before the Senate at a time when the House of Representatives was not sitting the Democrats could not delay its passage by voting with the Opposition. As a result, they voted with the Government and statutory authorities were excluded from that Bill. The Government, for some reason best known to it, refused to accept our amendments to change either the name of the Bill or to include statutory authorities. As I say, the Democrats refused to accept our amendment because they said that the Bill was urgent and they could not possibly delay its passage by being responsible for having our amendments accepted. Of course, the House of Representatives could have come back and accepted those alterations had it chosen to do so.

We have been told by Senator Bolkus and by other Government members that the Equal Employment Opportunity (Commonwealth Authorities) Bill is giving us what we asked for. Of course, that is not true. It is a totally different Bill. The fact that the Government has changed the name of the Bill from affirmative action to equal employment opportunity and has made it apply to statutory authorities does not mean that only these changes have been made to the original Bill. Very much more than that has been done. There is no way that I for one would ever vote for a Bill because its name has been changed. That would involve the worst of all worlds and it is something that I cannot do. I vote for the contents of a Bill.

The Government has been very clever. The Government called the first Bill, which was concerned with equal opportunity, affirmative action legislation. Everyone understands affirmative action to mean discrimination in favour of women. That is what affirmative action is. The second piece of legislation-the Bill that we are debating tonight-is called equal employment opportunity legislation. The affirmative action Bill did not really deal with affirmative action. However, I believe that the Bill now before us, which is called equal employment opportunity legislation, is concerned with affirmative action. I will go into that a little further later.

We are not supporting this Bill because the two Bills are totally different. We are not, as Senator Bolkus said, being inconsistent. During the passage of the first Bill, we said that although it was not the way we would go about it, we agreed with the general thrust of what was before us. Senator Peter Baume and Mr Steele Hall-I think Senator Chaney mentioned this matter this afternoon-said that we would rather go about it in an educative manner. However, the Government has chosen to go about it in a legislative way and that, again, is typical of the Labor Party. Let me explain just why we supported the first Bill and are not supporting the second Bill. The number one difference between the two Bills is that the first Bill-the affirmative action Bill-solely related to women. The Equal Employment Opportunity Bill is not solely in regard to women. Indeed, it concerns Aboriginals, Torres Strait Islanders, migrants whose first language is not English and their families, the mentally and physically disabled and women. So the Bills are not the same in that regard. As I said, the first Bill related only to women; the second Bill relates to the groups I have mentioned as well as any other designated group that the Minister may subsequently think needs to be included. So that is the first difference.

The second difference is the action to be taken in regard to these two pieces of legislation. The first Bill proposed that companies must make forward estimates regarding the number of women that they should employ. The following statement is made on page seven on the Bill now before us:

``forward estimate'' means a quantitative measure or aim, which may be expressed in numerical terms, designed to achieve equality of opportunity for women in employment matters, being a measure or aim that can reasonably be implemented by the relevant employer within a specified time;

It also states:

``objective'' means a qualitative measure or aim, expressed as a general principle . . .

Those words are very clear. They mean that one may, but does not have to, express it in numerical terms. That is very clear. We are being told that that Bill is exactly the same as this second piece of legislation, the only difference being that this Bill applies to Commonwealth authorities. But the words are totally different. This Bill states that an authority shall provide for action to be taken to set the quantitative and-not or-other indicators against which the effectiveness of the program is to be assessed. So numbers must be used. The previous Bill did not require numbers to be set, just the expression of an aim. This Bill states that numbers must be expressed.

If the Government were genuine when it says that all it wants to do is to include Commonwealth authorities under this legislation, it would merely have amended the previous Bill, as we asked it to do. If it is the case that the Government was genuine but in too much of a hurry, as tonight Senator Haines tried to convince us was the case, the Government would have brought in amendments to that Bill tonight. If the Government was genuine in saying that it could not wait to carry out our amendments, it could have brought in the amendments that we have suggested and considered them tonight. But the Government is not genuine.

I will explain another difference in the two pieces of legislation because it is pretty important. In the previous Bill there was no mention of a ministerial direction, but in this Bill there is a ministerial direction. It states:

. . . Minister may, in writing, give general directions to the authority with respect to the performance of its obligations under this Act.

So the responsible Minister, if he does not believe that an authority is doing well enough in the numerical terms that it put forward for the employment of Torres Strait Islanders, Aboriginals, migrants and their families, mentally and physically handicapped people and women, may direct the authority to increase its numbers. If the program, the corporate plan that the authority has worked out, does not meet the Minister's objectives or likings, it states that the Minister `shall direct the authority in writing to revise the corporate plan accordingly'. Those words were not in the previous legislation. Yet we have had members of the Government tell us that the Bills are similar and that we are being inconsistent in not supporting this legislation. But the two pieces of legislation are not similar. We are not being inconsistent. The Government is trying to pull a swiftie.

It is very difficult to get across to the people of Australia why we do not support a Bill with the words `equal employment opportunity' included in its title. This is where I believe the Government has been very dishonest. The Government titled the previous legislation `Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Bill' when it did not involve affirmative action. The title of this Bill includes the words `equal employment opportunity' when it involves affirmative action. By doing that, the Government said to its feminist supporters: `We brought in an affirmative action Bill'. Affirmative action involves discrimination in favour of women. The Government said that to its feminist supporters, but it was not true. The previous legislation was an equal employment opportunity Bill.

With this legislation the Government is saying: `We have brought in an equal employment opportunity Bill'. But it has not. It has brought in affirmative action. I know that all the Australian Labor Party senators in this place will get up one after another like a lot of sheep and say: `Ha, but there is an overriding clause'. Tonight Senator Bolkus overdid that when he said: `It is there plain and simple for anyone to see; it is not hidden'. He even said that there was no reference in the definitions section. He overdid it a bit by saying that because it is in that section. The statement is plain, it does appear early in the Bill and it is for everyone to see. But it is about the only similarity between the previous legislation and this legislation. The relevant clause states:

Nothing in this Act shall be taken to require any action incompatible with the principle that employment matters should be dealt with on the basis of merit.

That sounds pretty good stuff. But let me read it again: It states:

Nothing in this Act shall be taken to require-

that is, to force-

any action incompatible with the principle that employment matters should be dealt with on the basis of merit.

That does not state that a government authority must employ on the basis of merit. It purely states that nothing in this Bill will make a government authority take action incompatible with the principle that employment matters should be dealt with on the basis of merit. This is the crux of the matter. This clause is a farce. It states that an authority does not have to do something. But the situation could arise that the director of an authority, having been given a number to reach, fails to reach the number that the Minister has directed, or perhaps the Minister may have directed the number to be increased. Faced with this clause, if the director is way behind in the figures, he or she could then legally employ women, Aborigines, Torres Strait Islanders, migrants or mentally or physically disabled people in greater numbers than merit would permit, purely to fill the numbers. Quite legally, the director could do that, because it does not state in that clause on merit that the director shall appoint only on the principle of merit. It states that nothing in this Bill will force directors to employ on other than merit. So that, to my thinking, proves that that particular clause is a complete farce. If we reach the position where there are so many differences between the two Bills, I defy any Government member of the Senate to try to claim that the Bills are the same and that we, as Liberals, are being inconsistent.

During our debates on the previous piece of legislation, I asked the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) why she had not defined the word `merit' in the Bill. There were many other definitions. I asked what the Government meant by merit, but I was never told. Indeed, the Minister, whom I met and spoke to in the corridor, told me that she would support my amendment to define merit. Obviously, between meeting me in the corridor and when the legislation was debated, she had had a good rethink and she refused to define it.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary, as its first description, defines the word merit as `quality of deserving well'. That would fit the most avid, the most radical feminist's choice of meaning. What woman would not deserve well the job for which she had applied? What Aboriginal, what Torres Strait Islander, what migrant, what mentally or physically disabled person would not deserve the job well? The next meaning is `excellence'. The next is `worth'-I am not quite sure how to take that meaning. The next is `good deeds as entitled to future rewards', and the next is `thing that entitles to reward or gratitude'. It then goes on to refer to `make a merit of', and so on, and does not give any further definition of the word itself.

The Minister said that there was no need to define merit. She said that we all knew what it meant. I thought that I knew what it meant but, being suspicious by nature, I looked up what it meant in affirmative action legislation. The first definition would suit that affirmative action legislation very well-`the quality of deserving well'. What feminist and what woman would not think that they were deserving very well of the job for which they were applying? I do not ask that we do more than define merit, as was indicated in this chamber by the Government-and it really is the best person for the job. That is all that I required, but the Minister would not abide by the definition. She would not accept a definition in the interpretation section, although she went to great lengths to make other definitions. This piece of legislation even defines the word `woman'. I would have thought that everyone in this chamber would know what a woman was, but the Bill goes to great lengths to define the word as `the female sex irrespective of age'. I would have thought that, provided one said `woman', you, Mr Acting Deputy President, would have understood what was meant. You might not know the meaning of merit after looking at the Concise Oxford Dictionary because it contains so many definitions, but you would certainly know the meaning of woman.

The Government has bothered to define woman, but refuses to define merit. I wonder why? It is because to define merit would really put back its legislation and make it far narrower than the Government ever intended it to be. I shall read that section again. It states:

Nothing in this Act shall be taken to require any action incompatible with the principle that employment matters should be dealt with on the basis of merit.

That means the quality of deserving well, because that is the first interpretation of merit in the Concise Oxford Dictionary. I am a very strong believer in equality; I would not be here if I were not. But the Government does not have the vaguest idea of what true equality means.

During my speech on the Affirmative Action (Equal Opportunity for Women) Bill, I said:

True equality, put simply, gives every woman the right to choose the type of life she wishes to live. She may choose the traditional role of wife and mother, she may choose to follow a wonderful career, she may choose the combination of a traditional role and a career or she may choose the traditional role and just another job, either full time or part time, to earn the extra money that she believes would be of great help to her family. She may choose to do some part time work just because she likes to accomplish something but wants to fit in with her family arrangements. Of course, the emphasis is on choice.

This Government has no idea of what true equality is. It believes that every woman should be in the work force. It does not believe that a dependent spouse's rebate is acceptable. Many times in this chamber the Labor feminists, the Labor sisterhood, have said that that is degrading. That is really the basis of the difference between our parties.