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Friday, 1 May 1987
Page: 2165

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN(11.01) —I rise today to speak briefly on the Equal Employment Opportunity (Commonwealth Authorities) Bill 1987, which is the third part of the Government's strategy supposedly to provide equal employment opportunities for women. The Bill is designed to promote equal employment opportunity in those areas of Australian Government employment that are not covered by the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Act 1986 or by section 22b of the Public Service Act 1922. We are talking about such authorities as Telecom Australia, Australia Post, the Overseas Telecommunications Commission, the Reserve Bank of Australia, the Commonwealth Banking Corporation, Australian Airlines, Qantas Airways Ltd, the Australian Shipping Commission, the National Railways, the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, the Commonwealth Health Insurance Commission, Aboriginal Hostels Ltd and the Australian Capital Territory Fire Brigade. The Bill seeks to widen the requirement for equal employment opportunity programs to all Commonwealth authorities, including statutory authorities employing 40 or more employees in Australia not at present covered by the previous two Acts.

In June last year I spoke at length on the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Bill. I said then, and I say again now, that I do not think legislating for special change is the answer. The role of women in the Australian work force is growing, which I think is wonderful, as attitudes and lifestyles in Australia change also. Women are making their presence felt in every avenue of Australian working life. I believe that there are few remaining legal barriers against women in Australia in jobs, commercial contracts, politics and social life. Those barriers which do remain stem from traditional attitudes built into society which are not easily changed, particularly by law. I do not believe that any amount of legislation will change a state of mind, if you like, which may be inculcated in the Australian way of life. The only thing which will offset any real barriers which might remain is if women actually perform, and this is happening. They are using their talents and proving that they can do it.

I was very interested to read recently the results of a survey on women in small businesses conducted by the Women's Federal Council of the National Party of Australia which found a considerable increase in the number of women contributing directly to the market-place between June 1976 and June 1981. The women surveyed came from all walks of life-from sole and partial owners of businesses, property owners and women in managerial positions through to women in secretarial and clerical positions. Whilst acknowledging that a small minority of women have difficulties regarding discrimination, the majority of women surveyed did not feel disadvantaged. A number of women felt that it was an advantage to be a woman entering small business. The biggest hindrance to these enterprising women was felt to be government controls and legislation. I can understand that. They maintained that it was not sex discrimination that was hindering them in their efforts to be successful.

I quote from the survey paper that was released regarding problems experienced by women in business:

Problems were many and varied. It was apparent that there was increased difficulty in financing small businesses. With market forces being volatile, it was therefore felt that small business was seen as a risky enterprise, and interest rates were an added problem. Current employment agreements with the trade unions restrict small business. Workers compensation legislation, public health and safety and public liability legislation all contribute to the hidden costs of running a small business.

The women said that other major problems are excessive increases in rents, high wages, excessive government charges, taxes and legislation and fuel prices. And so it goes on. There is a long list. The women did not feel that it was sex discrimination hindering them in their efforts to be successful.

Most people support justice for all. Male and female should receive equal pay for equal work. I agree with that and our Party agrees with it. Similarly, most people would support the general principle of providing employment, accommodation and finance without discrimination on the ground of sex. But it must be realised that any anti-discrimination legislation in favour of some must discriminate against someone else. I recall the very recent case in America where a woman was awarded a job over a man who was more qualified than she was for the job, on the basis of a quota system. I cannot support that. It is discrimination in reverse. Our Party believes in genuine equality of opportunity. I want to make it perfectly clear that we will not stand for the argument that those who oppose this legislation are against equality of opportunity. We support employment on the basis of merit and not on the basis of quotas or, as this Bill states, `quantitative and other indicators'.

This package of three Bills will impose extra regulations on business, even though this Government is supposed to be slashing unnecessary regulations that are presently hampering business activity. The Bill clearly sets out to apply numerical targets or quotas on Commonwealth authorities. Clause 3 (4) 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.

However, clause 6 (g) (ii) states:

The program of a relevant authority shall provide for action to be taken to set the quantitative and other indicators against which the effectiveness of the program is to be assessed.

If that is not stating that there will be quotas, then I do not know what is. The Government is quite clearly bringing in legislation which will impose unnecessary and unwarranted regulation on statutory authorities and independent contractors. I believe in people having freedom and choices. I do not believe in social engineering.

I draw the attention of the Senate to the fact that on 31 March last the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) tabled a document entitled `Setting the Agenda', which is the Government's discussion paper on improving the status of women until the year 2000. From February 1986 for six months there were consultations with women, including the distribution of a questionnaire which drew 13,500 responses. The discussion paper is no more that a reiteration of ideas to assist social engineering for which this Government is becoming famous. Affirmative action seems to me to be the backbone of the report-in other words, discrimination in reverse-by forcing the acceptance of mediocrity. There is no doubt that competent women, like competent men, will always rise to the top. The fact that someone is mediocre does not give that person the right to overtake someone with more experience or ability because of that person's sex. It is affirmative action with its social engineering aspect being pushed to the limit. If girls are not applying for apprenticeships in traditional men's jobs it could mean that girls do not like that type of work. Forcing the views of members of one section of society on to their brothers or sisters is hardly democratic. There seems to be passive resistance to tampering with attitudes. If women take the view that they are not interested in sport, or other suggested activity for that matter, surely it is a matter for the individual. The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) in his second reading speech stated:

. . . freedom of choice of occupation is a basic social right which should not be constrained by criteria unrelated to ability to perform the job.

If he believes in that so fervently, why the necessity for quantitative and other indicators? I do not believe this legislation to be in the best interests of women. It is yet another attempt by this Hawke Government to legislate to change the very social fabric of this country, and the National Party does not support it.