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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2117


Senator CROWLEY(8.29) —I rise to support this legislation, the Equal Employment Opportunity (Commonwealth Authorities) Bill 1987. It is the third of three pieces of legislation that address employment equity for people in Australia. Those three pieces of legislation, which go together, are the Affirmative Action (Equal Opportunity for Women) Act 1986, the Public Service Act 1922-especially the amendments introduced in 1984, and in particular section 22 (d)-and now this Equal Employment Opportunity (Commonwealth Authorities) Bill 1987. The Bill will apply, as a number of honourable senators have said, to a wide range of Commonwealth statutory authorities, including major Government business enterprises such as Telecom Australia, Australia Post and the Commonwealth Banking Corporation. Primary industry statutory marketing authorities which are not covered by this Bill will have their establishing legislation amended in the near future to provide for the development of equal employment opportunity programs in that sector in separate, appropriate legislation.

We have had to listen to a very curious series of arguments put by Senator Walters and by other honourable senators opposite-in particular, Senator Chaney-to justify why they will oppose this legislation going to equal employment opportunity when they supported the prior legislation. Senator Walters was at pains to suggest that it is the Labor Government which wishes to say that there are minimal differences, differences of no significant substance. I refer her to the House of Representatives Hansard of 26 March 1987 where precisely that argument is spelt out very succinctly by Mr Steele Hall. I will take us through those points and quote Mr Hall, because it needs to be said that it is not only the Labor Government that appreciates minimal distinctions in these pieces of legislation. Senator Walters's arguments are grossly misrepresentative. In particular, her claim that it is this side of the chamber that wants to draw those distinctions is factually wrong. Members of her own Party want to agree that there is little or no difference between the legislation-a fact that ought to be included in Senator Walters's litany of facts.

Most importantly, what we are looking at here is a very deep division in the Opposition. We have no doubt that the Nationals are at least consistent. They have opposed this legislation with the most remarkable series of arguments this time around as they did the first time. I suppose one could say that it is amusing to read the Hansards of the Nationals' arguments except that they are tragic in that they represent a very significant failure to understand the aspirations of people in this country. They also perpetuate the prejudices which continue to deny people their legitimate aspirations. But one thing can be said on behalf of the Nationals: At least they are consistent.

The Liberal Opposition, however, has gone to very tedious and technical words in the legislation to try to justify a difference this time around from the time before. The Liberals are trying to mask a deep division within their own ranks about this legislation-their support for it last time, their failure to support it this time, that is officially. We already know from the debate in the other place that Mr Hall crossed the floor and voted with the Government, and we are given to understand that some Liberal senators will cross the floor to support this legislation this time around. The point that I wish to make is that the Liberals are divided. It is not me whom Senator Walters needs to convince, it is her own colleagues. That is the difficulty she is confronting. The arguments that she has given and the arguments that Senator Chaney gave when he opened this debate here today are not about convincing us. They are about trying to convince their own colleagues and, most importantly, to convince themselves. They are totally indefensible arguments. I will take them one by one. As I have said, I will largely draw on the House of Representatives Hansard, using Mr Steele Hall's speech because it endorses the point that it is the Liberals who are divided and that the differences are not as Senator Walters claims. They are not between the Liberals and the Labor Government, they are among the Liberals themselves.

The first point that Senator Walters alluded to was the difference in definition under `Interpretation' of the principle of merit. That is almost word for word, exactly the same, in the two pieces of legislation. The Bill of 1986, in sub-clause 3 (4), contains the following definition to merit:

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

I quote further from the House of Representatives Hansard. Mr Steel Hall said:

I looked to see whether the new Bill had the same major safeguard, and I found that it has. Under the heading `Interpretation', also in sub-clause 3 (4), are these words:

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.

I draw the attention of the House to the fact that these sub-clauses in both instances are in the `Interpretation' clause. They are not listed at the end of the Bills in some miscellaneous throwaway line; they are in that part of the Bill that would be examined first by the judge of a court who might be asked to decide what the meaning of this legislation is. The first thing such a learned gentleman would do would be to go to the interpretation clause. In both this Bill and last year's Bill there are identically meaning clauses; there is some alteration to words, but with identical meaning and identical importance.

The difference merely goes to the requirement on employers under the affirmative action legislation and the absence of those words under the statutory authority legislation. To finish the quotation from the House of Representatives Hansard:

So, overriding every consideration in this Bill is the matter that any employment will have to be dealt with on the basis of merit.

That, on a sensible and proper analysis of these two pieces of legislation, is an undeniable fact. I find it very mischievous of Senator Walters to suggest that the Minister for Education, and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women, Senator Ryan, did not meet her need for a definition of merit. She spelt it out very precisely in the Senate Hansard on 22 August 1986, page 383. She was sympathetic to Senator Walters's position. She also added an interpretation of merit that is the substance of this legislation and the prior legislation. I find it disappointing and distressing that Senator Walters would misrepresent the facts. The Minister actually answered her point and gave her a definition which is substantial and in passing agreed substantially with the points Senator Walters was making. I do not see why Senator Walters has to continue a program of misrepresentation of this sort. Senator Walters should find some substance and argue that if she will, but she should not argue misrepresentations.

In regard to the argument about merit on which Senator Walters spent such a lot of time, I can only say from what I have read from the House of Representatives Hansard quoting Mr Steele Hall that his conclusion is certainly the conclusion of the Government. We have not had Mr Steele Hall to persuade us. We were of that opinion previously. We are appreciative of his position-which is our position-which is that there is no doubt that both these pieces of legislation are based on the principle of merit. That is very important, turning to Senator Walters's next point, which is that there is a difference between `quantitative and' and `quantitative or', a point Senator Chaney elaborated on in his contribution to this debate earlier this afternoon. I will continue quoting Mr Steele Hall from the House of Representatives Hansard. He goes on to pick up this point and to look at whether there is any way one can interpret this legislation to mean quotas. He said:

I went to last year's Bill, which we approved of, and looked at that issue of quantitative attitudes in the Bill. I found that sub-clause 8 (1) (g) of the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Bill 1986, under the heading `Contents of Affirmative Action Program', states:

(g) To set objectives and make forward estimates in the program;

then in sub-clause 8 (3) there is a definition of these forward estimates. It states:

`forward estimate' means a quantitative measure or aim, which may be expressed in numerical terms . . .

To go back to Steel Hall:

That is a fairly definite definition, if I can use that term, of what forward estimates were to be. In this Bill the reference is made somewhat differently, in these terms-

this is Mr Steele Hall now referring to the current legislation-

the quantitative and other indicators against which the effectiveness of the program is to be assessed.

Another sub-clause states:

To assess the effectiveness of the program by comparing statistics and information collected and recorded under paragraph (e) with the indicators against which the effectiveness of the program is to be assessed.

To go on with a very significant paragraph from Mr Steele Hall, he said:

The reference in this Bill to quotas, which is so freely used, is `the quantitative and other indicators against which the effectiveness of the program is to be assessed'. I submit to the House that, whilst the wording is somewhat different, it has no further effect than the words that I read from last year's legislation, where forward estimates were to be a quantitative measure or aim.

He goes on to say that he cannot accept that quotas have been set in any further way. Mr Steele Hall argues that there is no substantive difference in that legislation. It is certainly the Government's argument that there is no substantive difference between these two pieces of legislation at about that point. Senator Walters seemed to make milage out of suggesting that there is a difference between affirmative action and equal employment opportunity. I am delighted to discover that Senator Walters has now mastered that difference. That is precisely why the Government did not want to accept the amendment, as originally proposed by Senator Peter Baume, to the affirmative action legislation, as it would restrict those changes under the affirmative action legislation to apply to women only. So as to allow the opportunities for equal employment legislation to apply to the wider group, under so-called designated groups in this legislation of women, Aboriginal people, migrant people and disabled people, the Government preferred not to accept the amendment under affirmative action, restricting it to women, but to put in this piece of legislation-the equal employment opportunity legislation-so as to provide those equal employment opportunities to all those categories, and further to bring it into line with the equal employment opportunity amendments under the Public Service Act. That is particularly relevant because the Commonwealth statutory authorities very closely relate to the Commonwealth Public Service, and it seemed entirely proper to have comparable requirements under these sorts of legislation in both areas of public service and public sector employment.

Senator Walters referred to ministerial directives. I do not know quite what was implied, but there was a hint of a threat there that ministerial directives could be evil or bad, although we allow them in all sorts of other areas of legislation applying within the portfolio areas. In this particular case the Minister would have responsibility for what happens within the statutory authorities answering to him or her in the appropriate portfolio area. To take this ministerial directive suggestion and apply it to mean some kind of dictatorial requirement is grossly to misrepresent the intent of the legislation and what I think may well be called `proper ministerial responsibility'. I agree that Mr Steele Hall's arguments are entirely in line with the Government's arguments. There is no difference of any substance between these pieces of legislation that could possibly justify the Liberal Party Opposition, or some splinter sub-set of it, agreeing to support the initial legislation and now not to support this piece of legislation.

The important point that I was alluding to earlier was the argument that stemmed from Senator Peter Baume's proposed amendment under the initial affirmative action legislation. As I pointed out, that was unacceptable to the Government at the time because it was then to restrict the application of equal employment opportunity to workers in Commonwealth statutory authorities to apply to women only. The Minister did not wish to so restrict the equal employment opportunity legislation. Further I think it highlights another significant point that I wanted to pick up in rebuttal of some of the comments that Senator Chaney made. He seemed to argue a number of points that I guess would best be described as broadly philosophical. He spent some time talking about his moral outrage and some of the things that he can be rightly morally outraged about, in particular about youth unemployment in this country and attacks on the family. I would ask Senator Chaney: How does he see this legislation as an attack on the family when it provides employment opportunities and employment equity for young, middle aged and older workers in this country? The way he went on to talk about it suggested that the equal employment opportunity legislation was restricted to women only. In particular he quoted from Betty Friedan and others, to suggest that quite clearly the focus of this legislation was about women. It seems to me that Senator Chaney has quite missed the point of equal employment opportunity, going as it does to a much wider group of people who would be advantaged with employment equity under this legislation.

Senator Chaney was outraged about racial discrimination and the difficulties confronting Aboriginal people. This legislation precisely addresses some of those difficulties. It seems to me curious that Senator Chaney could be outraged about racial discrimination and fail to see that this legislation goes to providing employment opportunities for Aboriginal men and women and their children. As far as I can remember, from what I heard, he was not equally outraged about the difficulties facing ethnic people in this community, but he could have been. That would have been reasonable because a number of those people have certainly suffered discrimination in times past. This legislation addresses the outrage that people might have felt about the racial discrimination of people from other countries who have come to live in Australia, precisely because equal employment opportunity addresses the needs, rights and the employment equity of ethnic men, women and children in this community. This legislation is not restricted to women.

I would ask too whether Senator Chaney feels that somehow this is an attack on the family. I am not quite sure how it got in there but I can remember that it was in there. Is it that he could follow the argument that if women go to work this is somehow an attack on the family? He picks up on Senator Walters's line that somehow we are legislating everybody to require them to be in the work force. I ask Senator Chaney: Why is it then an attack on the family to employ women but not to employ men? Is it only sub-sets of this legislation that outrage him, only those bits that give employment equity to women, or was he unaware that this legislation actually covered men, women and children-young people-who would have employment equity under this legislation? By all means, he can maintain his rage, but he must understand that the legislation may in fact address some of the things that he wants to rage about.

In providing employment opportunities and employment equity for young people, for men and women, for Aboriginal people, for ethnic people and for disabled people, under this legislation this Government is addressing precisely the sorts of difficulties, the attacks on the family that poverty and lack of opportunity for employment creates. I really do not follow the tenor of Senator Chaney's argument at all, and I think he somehow mistook this legislation to be restricted to women only.

He went on further to say that he wanted to support a claim made by Mr Steele Hall-and selective quoting it was from Mr Steel Hall's speech, if I may say so-that somehow the Opposition would prefer a voluntary program, education rather than legislation, and in particular in the area in which this Government could be accused of using legislation to try to change attitudes. The difficulty I have with that is the suggestion that Senator Chaney had that this Government is using legislation only to change attitudes. Was he not around during the debates about sex discrimination? Would he say that that is a piece of legislation to change attitudes? Can he not see that the Government proposes to attack changes of attitude in a number of ways, but ultimately recognises that it really cannot legislate to change attitudes; it can legislate only to change behaviour and make certain behaviours illegal and as a consequence of that I hope will come the changes of attitude.

As well the Government can lead by example in the thrust of its legislation, in-to quote Mr Steele Hall-the symbolic effect, I suppose, of the legislation, that goes to indicating what the Government says are the right and proper preferred ways. This Government is strongly in support of equity in employment for all those groups that we have referred to. It addresses attitudinal changes by example through the legislation, but that is not all that it is restricted to. It is necessary in dealing with complexities such as changing attitudes in a community to take a variety of paths to get there. Again, I do not follow the thrust of Senator Chaney's argument that really it would be better not to legislate at all than somehow to use legislation to change attitudes, particularly as he seems to be arguing that it would be a good idea to change those attitudes. I do not think he can have it both ways. Other people would disagree with him about the importance of legislation to change attitudes. I quote from the Catholic Church Southern Cross newspaper in South Australia of 1 October 1983:

The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace strongly supported the Government's initiative in preparing legislation to eliminate discrimination against women.

The Church appreciated that that goes to a very significant attitudinal change that the Catholic Commission for Peace and Justice wanted to endorse. Another quotation that I think is important in defending the value of legislation to contribute to changing the attitudes in society is from the Age in its editorial of 13 July that year which stated:

At the philosophical level, there were those who wondered whether human values should be expressed in legislation, or whether the cause of anti-discrimination would be better served by strong educative campaigns. While there is some appeal in this idea, the fact remains that not every member of the community is fair-minded. Some, in fact, are brutishly intolerant. In such cases there is a real, as well as symbolic, value in having the country's chosen values spelt out in legislation. Like a Bill of Rights it establishes a code of conduct to which the community is expected to adhere.

The article went on:

. . . Sexual Discrimination Act is no guarantee that in every case women's rights would be respected and equality recognised . . . Nevertheless, the Government's Bill does set an ideal against which the achievements of women can be measured, as well as a mechanism for bringing complaints and resolving disputes.

On those grounds it is a marked advance.

I think we could replace `sexual discrimination' with `equal employment opportunity' in that quotation and still achieve exactly the same sane argument. Not everybody in this community is fair-minded. Not everybody will change under a voluntary program or an educational exhortation to behave differently. If that were the case, if we could expect those changes, we would have a more equal world, particularly in terms of opportunities in employment for the categories of people covered under this legislation. It is precisely because the absence of legislation, if you like the requirement of only voluntary change to this point, has not affected those changes that the Government sees fit and sees necessary to introduce the legislation.

I would also like to take up further a point of difference in the Opposition that goes to the points that I think Senator Walters was talking about-the support in the Liberal Party for equal opportunity for women. It is not only amongst the Liberal members in the Federal Parliament that there is deep division; there is deep division within the Liberal women to the point where some women members of the Liberal Party have felt it their business to resign from the Party in opposition to the Liberal Party's failure to act on behalf of women. Curiously, failure even to support government initiatives-it is not as though Opposition members had even opposed their own legislation-has led to annoyance, disappointment and anger among some Liberal women. I quote Judith Roberts, the former South Australian Chairman of the Liberal Party, who was reported in the Advertiser of 6 October 1983 as saying:

The attitude of the parliamentary wing of the Liberal Party to this proposed legislation-

in that case talking about sex discrimination, but subsequent events mean that those attitudes apply just as much to equal opportunity-

demonstrates a lack of conviction about equality . . . for women . . .

She went on to say:

This is a fundamental issue of human rights and must be supported if the Liberal Party is to have any credibility at all.

It is almost tragic that there is not a united stance by the Opposition and the Government on this issue. There have been some differences in terms of amendments in the previous legislation, but there was clearly at that point a consensus of value of support from the Opposition and the Government on this very significant reform on behalf of all those covered under equal employment opportunity. The word tragic is perhaps too strong-but I think probably not. Certainly it seems that it has caused deep anguish for some honourable senators opposite, those who feel very stongly about supporting this legislation but finding themselves divided from their colleagues who seem to think that somehow equality for women drops out of the sky and that equality is set back even further by legislation of this sort. While I might buy that argument if this were the first time this legislation had been before this chamber, I cannot buy it when the prior legislation, which to all intents and purposes was of the same sort, was supported by the Opposition.

The problem that the Government faces in introducing this legislation creates no difficulty on this side; it is part of a commitment to provide opportunities for women, for poorer people and for disadvantaged people in our society, in, I suggest, one of the very best ways-by providing employment equity and opportunity for people to exercise their choice within this community and participate more fully. The legislation is entirely consistent with initiatives by this Government in other areas. In particular I suppose I could refer to the proposals brought forward in legislation in the area of the Department of Community Services by the recently retired Minister, Senator Grimes, and the current Minister for Community Services, Mr Hurford. They relate to the provisions for disabled people to take their place as members of this community and to be assisted in all sorts of ways to become as fully as possible citizens. One addition to that is the opportunity they have for employment and the access to equity within employment.

Senator Walters talked about the importance of equality being reflected in choice. This is entirely so, but there is a confusion about at what stage that choice goes to equality of opportunity. I will use my last minute in this debate to quote-in fact, it is quite interesting to be able to quote so often the right thinking of the Opposition-Senator Peter Baume when he spoke on the Affirmative Action (Equal Opportunity for Women) Bill in the Senate on 12 June 1986. He said that we were not discussing whether women make choices to go into the work force or to stay at home. The Opposition in that debate endorsed the values that the Government holds about the importance of that work. Senator Peter Baume said that the legislation was about a decision that each woman would make for herself. He said that we were discussing whether women, having made the decision to go into the work force and to take up paid employment, will find equal employment opportunity and a fair go once they get there. Senator Walters is confusing the issue when she says that this legislation opposes choice for women. It extends choice for women. It extends choice for Aboriginal men and women, for migrant people and their children, and for disabled people. I strongly endorse this legislation and urge the Senate's support.