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Thursday, 9 December 1999
Page: 11555

Senator MACKAY (9:35 AM) —I understand that an agreement has been reached with the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Mr Reith, and the shadow minister, Ms Macklin, in relation to the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Amendment Bill 1999 . The opposition was very disappointed in the level of cooperation we evidenced in this matter and to see what can only be described as a tawdry press release from Minister Reith in relation to the arrangement that was reached with the Labor Party. We know how desperate Minister Reith was to get this through. We know that he was intent on trying to torpedo the Labor Party amendments. However, kicking and screaming, he was dragged to a position whereby he agreed to the Labor Party amendments. So we have a substantial retention of the original provisions in the Labor Party bill which was put in place when the Labor Party was in government.

Just to give the chamber some idea as to the level this minister will stoop to when he actually gets an agreement—this may be a salutary lesson for the Democrats as to how mean-spirited he can be once an agreement has been reached, never mind when there is dissent in relation to an agreement—I will read into the Hansard the press release he issued. Essentially, he attempted to portray this arrangement as a humiliating backdown for Labor. He indicated that Kim Beazley has been exposed as being opportunistic and rhetorical and that his own shadow minister, who brokered these amendments, has `overthrown' him. He went on to say:

Two weeks ago, Labor was attempting to hijack the government's positive agenda—

what a joke!—

for women by opportunistically attaching amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act dealing with the Pregnant and Productive report.

He then went on to accuse the opposition of grandstanding in relation to the Pregnant and Productive report. And what do we have now? We have a churlish response by Minister Reith to an in-good-faith arrangement with Labor in relation to the Equal Opportunity Act. We have an agreement which we—and I signal this to the government on behalf of the shadow minister—intend to keep the government to, that in relation to the recommendations of the Pregnant and Productive report, Minister Reith has agreed that they will be considered very early next year. As the government knows, we have amendments drafted and we have the Democrats' support in relation to that. I doubt whether the Democrats will resile from their position on our amendments on enacting the Pregnant and Productive report on this issue, because to resile from that would mean, essentially, that we continue the situation whereby women who are pregnant or potentially pregnant continue to be discriminated against in this country. So I doubt whether that will happen.

As far as the opposition is concerned, Minister Reith is on notice. If this is not dealt with expeditiously, if this matter is not dealt with in a way that comes to a practical outcome, we will be back here and will be moving our amendments again, I suspect with Democrat support and obviously with the support of minor party senators. I just wanted to make the point because it is really illustrative of the nature of this minister, when an agreement is struck, that we get the political rhetoric yet again. I venture to suggest that this is why he will never get anywhere in his continually failing attempts to turf Peter Costello as the heir apparent.

We all know what the majority of the government members think of Minister Reith. We all know that he is not popular among the majority of his colleagues. We all know his propensity for crash through or crash tactics, usually emanating in the crash part rather than the crash through part. We all know that he is ideologically opposed to what has been brokered by the Labor Party as a good deal for women in terms of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Amendment Bill 1999 and we know that he has no interest whatsoever in discrimination against pregnant and potentially pregnant women.

I say to the government that the opposition says this is a very serious matter, particularly at a time when this country is looking at the issue of underpopulation. We need to ensure that women feel secure when they choose to become pregnant, we need to ensure they are not discriminated against when they choose to become pregnant and we need to ensure that the recommendations of the report are enacted in legislation. We will be back here if they are not. We have our amendments drafted. We are confident that we will get the assent of the Senate and we will be determining the time line. If it is not expeditious, we will bring it back on ourselves. That is the warning we give to the government.

We do not want this report, Pregnant and Productive, sitting on the shelves in Peter Reith's office for years and years with nothing being done in relation to it. I say to the government, `Get your act together, make sure you are speedy and, for goodness sake, make sure you get rid of that absolute idiot, Peter Reith, that absolutely incompetent minister, Peter Reith.'

The CHAIRMAN —Order! Withdraw please, Senator.

Senator MACKAY —I withdraw—absolutely churlish minister, Peter Reith. When you broker a deal, you get some spurious, pathetic press release which really does indicate what kind of a minister he is. You on the other side of the chamber—

The CHAIRMAN —Please address the chair too.

Senator MACKAY —The government senators know very well what he is like. We on this side of the chamber know very well what he is like. Government members could do themselves a favour and get rid of him because he is no good for the government. He does you a great deal of harm. I would also like to signal that when the election comes up—whenever the Prime Minister determines it will be—women feeling secure in being pregnant and potentially pregnant will be an election issue. If this government still has not acted on this, then we will ensure that the attitude of this minister is propagated widely in the community.