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Tuesday, 5 May 1987
Page: 2307

Senator POWELL(3.38) —In dealing with these two Opposition amendments we have met with the dreaded quota argument, which was to be expected. Senator Chaney has taken maximum time in order I think to attempt to address the very rational arguments against the proposition of the Opposition majority, at least, that this Bill does in fact include a quota provision. I fear he has been unsuccessful. In the other place Mr Neil Brown was wont to call them pseudo-quotas at least. We probably heard a pseudo-argument from Senator Chaney on this matter. He has failed, I think, to address the coherent arguments of his colleagues who are prepared to stand firm on this legislation. Of course, I agree with Senator Chaney that legislation is perhaps the least desirable way of dealing with problems such as this in our society. However, I think it is also important to recognise that if we are to have reform-as many speakers have said, we need reform in this area of our society; there is no question about that-such reform is dependent on action in a wide range of fields, including the legislature. There is a leadership role here but it is not exclusively something which can happen in the legislature. I do not think that the Government, by proposing this legislation-and certainly not the Australian Democrats by supporting it-believes that this is the end of the problem by any means, but it is one of the steps along the way.

As Senator Chaney has said, attitudinal change is important. This legislation is part of attitudinal change and it is important that that change does take place in the community. Indeed, one can only take encouragement from the attitude of a number of men who are members of the Opposition and who are prepared to stand firm on this, to show a measure of leadership and to show that they support this attitudinal change. Of course, equally, it is disappointing that on the other side of things so many of their female colleagues are not prepared to do the same thing. In support of this legislation, a major contribution is being made to that long term educational process that Senator Chaney cited as the preferred approach of Mr Steele Hall, as expressed in the other place-as, indeed, it is of all of us. I am sure we would all prefer that long term educational process, but for women and members of other designated groups for whom discrimination is a fact of life, other actions also need be taken.

I point out that Senator Chaney's arguments, such as they were, have not been convincing. It is a fact that the wording of the 1984 amendment to the Public Service Act was virtually the same as this wording, as was the wording of the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Bill. Senator Chaney concluded his remarks by suggesting that by virtue of this wording we must have quantitative indicators. I do not believe that that is a correct interpretation. The accusations of nitpicking are absolutely correct. What has happened is that one word in this legislation has been picked up. That word is in the clauses that the Opposition proposes to amend. It has been picked up out of political opportunism by a political party which at the time locked itself into what is an undesirable negative attitude to legislation which, if it had been thinking clearly and in the best interest of the long term attitudinal change of society, it would support. One should perhaps have some sympathy with a political party which, having locked itself into that position and having lost the battle, is not now prepared to go back to its former position-a position which was morally defensible, which was progressive and which would have been of great benefit in contributing to that attitudinal change out in the community.

The Australian Democrats have no problem with the wording in this legislation. Again, I refer to clause 3.4, the merit clause, as the safeguard provision. I do not believe that it does in any way fail to obviate any possibility that one could interpret a quota system as being part of this legislation. The merit clause is there. All decisions must be made on merit, and that is the safeguard for those who are tentative on this issue. The Australian Democrats will not support these amendments.