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Thursday, 26 March 1987
Page: 1556

Mr COBB(11.12) —This Equal Employment Opportunity (Commonwealth Authorities) Bill is typical of the wimpish, trendy nonsense that has pervaded Western society generally and this country particularly in recent years. It is the third of a trilogy of Bills, following the Sex Discrimination Bill 1984 and the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Bill 1986. The intention of this Bill is to extend discrimination in favour of employment of certain groups to Commonwealth statutory authorities. What alarms me is that, whereas the first two Bills were a foot in the door in introducing all this nonsense, this Bill has not just opened the door wider but torn the door off its hinges. It goes far beyond any reasonable bounds of what many of those who supported the first two Bills ever envisaged. Those two Bills were concerned only with breaking down the so-called employment barriers for women.

We heard the honourable member for Makin (Mr Duncan) say a while ago that the unions do not oppose it for women. Look what happened in Broken Hill, where women who got married had to give up their jobs. This Bill extends that concept to a whole host of other groups, including Aborigines, Torres Strait Islanders and migrants whose first language is not English. That is a beauty. It appears that people who come from England will be on the outer. The concept is extended further to children of migrants who have English speaking difficulties. Where will it end? The group also includes the physically disabled, mental defectives and other designated groups, or, should I say, yet to be designated groups-this has been left wide open. Next we will see that so many homosexuals will have to be employed in schools, or Indians from Outer Mongolia, or one-legged, left handed lesbians, or whatever. This has been left wide open-goodness knows where it will end.

Mr Hicks —Bizarre.

Mr COBB —It is bizarre, as the honourable member for Riverina-Darling says. It seems that just about every group will have its snout legislated into this Government's welfare employment trough, except white Anglo-Saxon Australians. The average Australian will become a foreigner in his own land.

This is not an equal employment opportunity Bill, this is an equal employment outcome Bill, or, to give it a more accurate name, a proportional employment Bill. Surely we have seen how these proportional employment schemes have failed in practice where they have been implemented in community employment programs. Time after time decent, ordinary Australians have been unable to be employed in these schemes because councils have had to fill a proportion of their work force with individuals from designated groups who are less suited to the jobs than others. Now, apparently, we will be forced to extend that failed principle into statutory authorities such as Telecom Australia, Australia Post and Qantas Airways Ltd-as if Government monopolies such as Telecom and Australia Post are not inefficient enough now without being burdened by more ridiculous Government regulations.

This Bill further debases the meaning of the word `merit'. In the previous Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Bill the meaning of the word `merit' was changed to mean `adequate'. In other words, if women make up 50 per cent of the work force and a business employs less than 50 per cent of women, subtle pressure is applied on that business to head towards that goal.

Mr McGauran —None too subtle.

Mr COBB —It is not too subtle, as the honourable member for Gippsland says. This Bill further erodes the meaning of the word `merit'. The Bill says that merit is to apply in the hiring of staff, but the remainder of the Bill is totally in conflict with that earlier statement. I can only conclude that the merit clause was included on purely cynical grounds, so that it could be pointed to by apologists for this Bill in an attempt to defend it and have it passed through Parliament.

We see how little regard is given to merit when we see that clause 6 (g) of the Bill refers to `quantitative and other indicators' which are to be set, against which the effectiveness of the program is to be assessed to see whether or not these are being achieved. There we have it-quotas are to be set and the success or otherwise of the program will be judged on whether or not these quotas are being achieved. I believe that most Australians find the concept of work quotas quite repugnant.

Another thing that horrifies me about this Bill is the mass of rules and regulations and the invasion of business confidentiality which will go with enforcing the quotas for each designated group. The Bill says that a person or persons at management level within each authority has to set up and implement what is called `the program'. Goodness knows what the cost of that will be. For salaries at management level these days employers do not get much change out of $50,000. Every employee will have to be informed of the contents of the program and the results of any monitoring and evaluation of the program. I leave it to the imagination of honourable members to assess just what will be involved in these exercises. As if that were not enough, authorities will be obliged by law to consult trade unions and go through the whole process with each union.

Mr Hicks —What about getting some work done?

Mr COBB —Exactly, some productive work done. I find that requirement particularly objectionable. Authorities will have to have special consultation with all the people involved in the designated groups. As the honourable member for Riverina-Darling alluded to, the paper work involved with all that will be horrific. Authorities will have to collect and record statistics and related information regarding employment, including the number of jobs taken, the types of jobs taken or the job classifications of employees of either sex and persons in designated groups. Then, when they have done that, the Bill says that they must consider policies and examine the practices of relevant authorities and record any discriminatory policies or patterns they may have which the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) would disapprove of. It seems that they will have to hire fortune tellers to read the mind of the Minister. The heavy hand of bureaucracy will intrude further by expanding to this equal employment opportunity authority the power to `take any action necessary'. I again leave it to the imagination of honourable members as to what would happen if authorities dared to resist that coercive phrase.

Mr Sharp —They'd hit you over the head with the Human Rights Commission.

Mr COBB —They probably would do, as the honourable member for Gilmore says. The Bill describes in some detail the reports that will have to be filed with the Minister or the Public Service Board. The law will require the reports to contain `a detailed analysis of the action taken in connection with all these requirements'.

Mr McGauran —What does that mean?

Mr COBB —Goodness knows-it could mean anything. The Bill goes on to describe yet other requirements for special reports, tabling of those reports in parliament, and so on. We will have to cut down forests to get enough paper and employ goodness knows how many more public servants to comply with this. Yet the Minister in his second reading speech said that there will be only `a minimal financial impact' as a result of implementing the directions in this Bill. That proposition is laughable. How easy it is to spend taxpayers' money and say: `No, it will not cost too much'. This Bill departs in other detail from the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Act passed last year in that that Act initially had to be complied with only by businesses with more than 1,000 employees. That number was to be reduced to 500 and finally to 100 employees by 1989. However, this Bill brings in all its regulations in one hit for all statutory authorities with 40 or more employees--

Mr Tim Fischer —Horrific.

Mr COBB —It is horrific. The salami technique of wearing away by thin slices has taken a quantum leap to considerably thicker slices. The initial requirement has been reduced by a factor of 25-from 1,000 employees to 40.

Mr McGauran —It is hard to believe.

Mr COBB —It is hard to believe because this, of course, sets the precedent for introducing these dictates into all businesses-all small business-in Australia at some time in the relatively near future. No doubt pressure will soon be put on private business to comply with the 40 employee rule, especially where a Commonwealth statutory authority competes with private enterprise in the market-place. One example of this is the Commonwealth Banking Corporation. If this statutory authority has to observe the 40 employee rule for all designated groups, why, it will be argued, should Westpac Banking Corporation, the National Australia Bank Limited and the ANZ Bank be able to get away at this stage with only the 1,000 employee rule, and only just for females? There can surely be no doubt that if this legislation is allowed to pass we will see statutory authorities become the pacesetters for private business in this area, just as the Whitlam Government and this Government made them pacesetters for private business in the wages area.

Mr Hicks —That is why we are in the mess we are in now.

Mr COBB —We are in a dreadful mess. I totally support the amendment of the shadow Minister, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, which would exclude private and independent contractors who are doing work for statutory authorities from becoming enmeshed in all this nonsense. The ink of the Bill is not yet dry but we see that the Government is already expanding the legislation into the private sector in the most devious ways possible. One point I must stress with this legislation is that it does not apply solely to the hiring of workers; that is only part of the story.

The legislation is also concerned with not just revealing and justifying details of what selection criteria are used but also the promotion and transfer of staff-I will come to that later-the training of staff and staff development, and the conditions of staff. In other words, the legislative snooping permeates the whole gambit of employment from the day an employee signs on until and beyond the day that employee leaves. I invite honourable members for a moment to reflect on where that may lead, not in the ivory tower mind of the Minister but in the nitty gritty of the real world. In that regard I draw attention to the case of a woman who was demoted by her boss in Queensland. She worked as a supervisor in a hotel and when he felt that she could not manage that job he downgraded her to the position of a bottle shop attendant. In other words he awarded her-by using the criterion of merit that is referred to in this Bill-the job he thought she could best handle. This is an excellent example to contemplate because it illustrates so vividly where all this pathetic legislation could lead.

Mr McGauran —Is leading.

Mr COBB —Yes, is leading. This woman went to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission--

Mr McGauran —Which we will abolish.

Mr COBB —Of course, and after it held closed proceedings--

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Keogh) —Order! The honourable member for Gippsland is continually interjecting. He may feel that he is helping his colleague. He knows that interjections of all types are out of order and I would remind him that he is interjecting while not sitting in his correct place in the chamber.

Mr McGauran —Whoopee doo!

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The Chair will not accept that sort of misbehaviour from the honourable member for Gippsland. I will ignore it on this occasion. The honourable member for Gippsland should be reminded for the future that it is the requirement of the Chair to keep order in the House. I and others who occupy the chair do that on behalf of the Speaker.

Mr McGauran —And a little too selectively.

Mr Brumby —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. I heard the comment that you just made in regard to the interjection by the honourable member for Gippsland. I, sitting on this side of the House, heard his interjection to your comment. I find it quite unparliamentary, quite disrespectful of your position in the chair, and I believe it should be withdrawn.

Mr Tim Fischer —Which comment are you referring to?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —The honourable member for Gippsland made a comment. I would imagine that the honourable member for Bendigo is referring to the comment that the honourable member for Gippsland made in respect of my maintaining order in this chamber a little too selectively. The honourable member for Gippsland did make that comment and I think it would be appropriate to the order of the House and the behaviour pattern that should be followed if he withdrew that remark.

Mr McGauran —I withdraw.

Mr COBB —I return to the case of the woman who was downgraded at a hotel in Brisbane, supposedly on merit, from a supervisor to a bottle shop attendant. She took her case to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and after it held closed proceedings a judgment was brought down. The hotel owner was forced by law to pay this woman $8,000 compensation-even though, I repeat, he downgraded her because he believed she could not manage the supervisory job. But that was not the end of it. This man and his hotel have been persecuted beyond belief by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. As well as the $8,000 cheque he was forced to write to this woman, the Courier-Mail of 20 March this year reports that disciplinary action was taken against the manager of the hotel for telling the woman that `women just can't manage'. Seminars also have to be conducted by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission at the hotel, on paid time, on the issues of sexual discrimination and sexual harassment. This is real Alice in wonderland stuff. On top of that, the owner has to apologise to the downgraded female, who now works for a nearby hotel anyway and-would you believe this?-the hotel has to provide a written reference to the woman acknowledging that she has the ability to be a supervisor.

The name of the hotel, the name of the woman involved and the name of the hotel owner are not allowed to be revealed. The only information we have apart from the judgment is the name of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's conciliator. It comes as no surprise to find that she calls herself Ms Fiona McLeod. I repeat the prefix `Ms', which to me is a sound a bee makes when it has a wing missing. Ms McLeod said the hotel owner would probably have had to pay more if the hearing had been made in public. I should add that the hearing was a compulsory one. One cannot just say that one refused to hire someone or downgraded someone on merit and not attend because one does not want to.

We also saw the ridiculous case recently in which a Brisbane doctor was also summonsed before the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission because he committed the dreadful sin of offending another Ms by asking her in the course of a consultation whether she was a Mrs or a Miss! The Commission threatened him with a $10,000 fine or six months imprisonment if he did not turn up to a hearing. When he did, he copped a $1,000 fine that the complainant herself admits she requested from the doctor in a list she put before the Commission.

Mr Sharp —It is a disgrace.

Mr COBB —It is disgraceful. That case was in private business but this legislation today for Commonwealth statutory authorities goes much further. If complaints such as this come in again from designated groups exercising their so-called `rights', as no doubt they will, money will be splashed around in decisions as if it was going out of fashion because it will be taxpayers' money and it is always easier to spend taxpayers' money than one's own or another individual's. As this equal opportunity nonsense goes quite beyond the bounds of reasonableness and common sense with each passing piece of legislation, we will see more and more of these stupid and ridiculous cases before the pseudo-courts. Make no mistake: The National Party and the Liberal Party will abolish the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission as soon as we return to government after the next election. For the reasons I have spoken of in this debate all of the National Party and the overwhelming majority of the Liberal Party will oppose and will vote against this absurd legislation before us today.