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Friday, 1 May 1987
Page: 2195


Senator VANSTONE(3.03) —Prior to the suspension of the sitting for lunch I was detailing that the merit clauses to be found in the Equal Employment Opportunity (Commonwealth Authorities) Bill 1987 and the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Bill 1986 are the same. That clause is what I describe as a permissive clause, not a restrictive one. I was making the point that the Public Service Reform Bill 1984 contained a restrictive clause which related to the appointment of people on the basis of patronage. I was asking why the merit clause in this Bill could not be beefed up, to put it in colloquial terms. I had not reached the point of saying why I thought that was necessary. There seems to be agreement that in all of the Bills there is reference to quantitative measures. That is clearly understood and agreed. I want to spend some time pointing out the difference in the reliance on those measures.

The Public Service Reform Bill asked for quantitative or other indicators to be taken into account. The Government and the draftsman obviously saw the need for an option. The Bill now before us refers to quantitative and other indicators-no choice, no option. As Senator Reid pointed out this morning, any person, whatever his intelligence, appearing before a magistrate or judge who has a capacity to impose a fine or gaol sentence knows very much the difference between the words `and' and `or' because a fine or gaol is completely different from a fine and gaol. On that basis, I say that `quantitative or other indicators' is completely different from `quantitative and other indicators'.

The Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Bill 1986 allowed private enterprise and education institutions to set a quantitative measure or aim. The legislation went on to say that the aim may or may not be in numerical terms. I offer that detail just to point out that it is quite clear that there is meant to be reference to quantitative targets. I have no problem with that. I would expect that people who might want to report on their success may well want to refer to their capacity or otherwise to achieve their targets.

I now wish to link the need for quantitative indicators, with which I have no dispute, to the ministerial power of direction. Senator Peter Baume made reference in his speech last night to clause 12 of the Bill before us and indicated that this clause is found in a variety of Acts relating to statutory authorities. I agree with him. Many Bills or Acts relating to statutory authorities contain miscellaneous ministerial direction clauses. Senator Baume did not refer to the ministerial power under section 11 which gives the Minister power to make recommendations with respect to the program of the statutory authority. My concern is that, under that power, a Minister can recommend that certain changes be made on the basis that that will improve the effectiveness of the program and that that, coupled with the desire of many heads of authorities to get on with their Ministers, or at the very least not to displease their Ministers, creates an incentive for the merit clause to be overridden.

On that basis, because of the relationship between an authority and a Minister, it is more appropriate that this Bill have a stronger merit protection clause than did the private enterprise Bill, the Affirmative Action (Equal Opportunity for Women) Bill 1986. That Bill did not contain a clause that allows a Minister to, in effect, set targets. It is my view that that is what section 11 of this Bill does. It enables the Minister to give certain directions with respect to the corporate plan which may or may not include numerical targets or quantitative measures. It is the linking of those two that is important to me. It is my view that we have taken it a step further because someone outside the authority can set the targets. I have no problem with an institution, an authority, private enterprise or a higher education institution setting its own targets. However, in my view, it is the relationship between the Minister and the authority that creates an incentive for the authority to satisfy the Minister and try to achieve its targets. On that basis I think the merit protection clause, because it is permissive and not restrictive, is inadequate.

Some reference has been made to the fact that the Opposition is seeking to have this matter referred to the Business Regulation Review Unit and that a regulation impact statement be prepared. There is some confusion here which the Government has not taken the opportunity to clear up. On 26 March in the House of Representatives, Mr Willis, the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, said:

It is true that this legislation does not have a regulation impact statement, but this legislation has been not to the Business Regulation Review Unit. . .

He went on to say that it has consulted the authorities themselves. I would have thought that it is small chips to consult the authorities themselves. That is presumably what the Business Regulation Review Unit is meant to be all about-that is, to give an objective view on the matter. On the other hand, on 28 April Senator Button said in this place:

I understand that the Business Regulation Review Unit was also given the opportunity to be involved in discussions on this and other policies the Government has introduced in the equal opportunity policy area.

Senator Button, by implication, says that it has responded because he says: `I am not certain of the comments'. But it is not clear whether he was directly contradicting Mr Willis or simply saying that the unit was given the opportunity. I think that matter ought to be cleared up. This is an important matter because some people, when referring to a statutory authority in the context of an equal opportunity Bill, have in mind some stuffy little authority dealing with some boring aspect of our lives. They do not necessarily realise that a number of quite substantial businesses will be affected by this piece of legislation-not the least of which are Australian Airlines, the Australian Postal Commission and the Australian Telecommunications Commission. It is appropriate that those bodies operate as efficiently as they can. There is no reason why we should impose regulation on them and not take care to ensure that it is the minimal regulation possible and that they are not restricted in achieving their goals as efficiently as possible. It is inappropriate to give only the private enterprise business community the benefit of the Business Regulation Review Unit. The business entities that are partly governmental, in other words the statutory authorities, should also have the benefit of that Unit. This legislation should not be proceeded with until that has been done.

A further amendment that we have sought would mean that subcontractors would not be included in the plans. It seems perfectly fair to me, as we are talking about an educative process, that the first step for private enterprise, statutory authorities and educational institutions should be to learn to understand, master, implement and operate on their plans for themselves. To put on them in the first instance the extra burden of subcontractors does not seem to me to be at all appropriate. Additionally, I make the point that when we subcontract something out we take it outside of our organisation. By definition, therefore, it is not something that we can achieve within the organisation at that time. I am not convinced that subcontractors should be included in this legislation in any event.

Let me sum up by saying that I support the need for equal opportunity programs. I resent the people in the community and in this chamber who are presenting the view that the Liberal Party of Australia has backed off from equal opportunity programs. Quite the opposite is the case. We have suggested a number of amendments and we have said that, if we get those amendments, we will vote for the Bill. In that event the Bill would provide a good, strong and effective equal opportunity program for people in statutory authorities to give what we have asked for-equal opportunity to people in statutory authorities such as Telecom Australia and Australia Post. Accordingly, unless we get those amendments, I will not support the Bill.