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Tuesday, 5 June 1984
Page: 2503

Senator WALTERS(4.06) —I certainly welcome the discussion paper entitled 'Affirmative Action for Women' put down before us at long last. Over a period of nearly 12 months we have had a situation in which the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) has promised that it was coming, and I am delighted to see that it has now come. It is a true discussion paper. Indeed, it has very little to do with doing a great deal about affirmative action and, as such, I certainly welcome it. I think that is indeed what the discussion paper should be all about. It sets out to put before the public whether it needs affirmative action. A working party has been set up which over a period can come up with something which it sees as necessary, if it sees it as necessary, to put into legislation. No time limit has been put on that working party to make its decision. It could go on for quite a considerable time, as I believe it should.

The only other thing the document does is set out a number of companies that have agreed to enter a pilot project. Again, I think this is the way to go about affirmative action. As has already been indicated by Senator Martin, the Liberal Party of Australia, as far as I am aware, has always put forward equal opportunity in its Party machinery as well as in its platform. It did so long before it ever entered the heads of Australian Labor Party members to do so. It has been part of our history and one which Senator Martin put very well. This paper, of course, is a very different paper from that Senator Ryan put down as a private member's Bill when she was in Opposition. It is also a very different paper from that which, in the first flush of having her portfolio, she told her radical feminist followers she would issue. It is a very different paper again from that which she intimated at that time. I understand that. We had such a debacle with her Sex Discrimination Bill that I do not doubt for one moment that Caucus saw fit to take it out of her hands and to make it a very different paper from that which the Minister had promised us all.

Women in Australia need real choices; they do not need to have pressures put upon them with respect to what they should want to do. In the interests of Australia they should make their own choices in line with their responsibilities for the building of Australia. When those pressures are taken off women we will see for the first time real choices. We have been told by the Minister, and told regularly, that women are at the bottom of the work force. We are never told of the percentage of women who see their jobs just as jobs to earn them income. They want to do part time work to fit in with their family responsibilities. A certain percentage of women do not want jobs as careers but just to earn income; nothing else at all. They do not want to have to take responsibilities home with them at night; they have the responsibilities of their families and they want to fit in with those family responsibilities because they make their families their number one priority and they want part time work that will bring in income to supplement that. Of course the other group of women should have complete free choice as to the jobs they want as careers, and they should be able to accomplish that desire and follow those careers through with no discrimination at all.

This is where we have to get away from the figures that Senator Ryan keeps citing. She says that women are at the bottom of the work force, that they take jobs that hold no responsibility and that they take only part time jobs. That is a very unfair way of putting it and I think it gives the wrong impression altogether. Women should be able to accomplish what they want to, and if they want part time jobs and jobs that do not bear much responsibility, they should be able to have them without criticism. As I say, the women who want careers should also be able to follow those careers for the reasons that they so choose.

As I said, this is a very different paper from the original paper that the Minister put out. No quotas are specified, as there were in the original paper, and it was refreshing at least to hear the Minister say that she believes that the best person should get the job. I found that refreshing because the only way that women will feel that they have true equality is if they compete with men on a completely equal basis and the best person gets the job, not when they get the job through affirmative action because they happen to be women. On page 2 of the statement Senator Ryan stated:

I should emphasis that this, we appreciate and recognise, will see many choose a traditional role in the home.

That is the only sentence that refers to the traditional role in the home.

Senator Harradine —What does the 'this' refer to? It says: I should emphasise that this . . .

Senator WALTERS —That women should not assume the place of their choice in our society.

Senator Harradine —What are they talking about?

Senator WALTERS —I have no idea. I believe that women who really want to choose the traditional role in their homes are not encouraged to do that by this affirmative action paper. Women who choose to go into the work force certainly are encouraged to do so but nothing in the paper encourages women who choose the traditional role in the home to undertake that role. One sentence and one sentence only refers to that very large group of women. There is nothing else at all. It is put in only as a platitude.

Senator Crichton-Browne —That document is compatible with the United Nations convention which was trying to remove women from the traditional role.

Senator WALTERS —This paper certainly does not encourage it in any way, as I see it. I must admit that I have not had time to read 'Affirmative Action for Women Volume No. 1'. Senator Harradine pointed out these words:

The Australian taxation system, while based on the individual unit for income tax assessment purposes, continues to assume a secondary economic role for women in its allowance of a rebate for dependent spouses and its tolerance of family- based partnerships used to split incomes, and hence minimise taxation liability.

I read some time ago that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and Senator Ryan had a committee look at the taxation system and how it affects women. I thought: 'You beaut; don't tell me they are really going to have a look at how taxation affects women?' Of course I was mistaken in that they are looking at it in only a very narrow field and obviously they are looking to see whether that dependent spouse rebate should exist. The words 'continues to assume a secondary economic role for women in its allowance of a rebate for dependent spouses' attempt to be derogatory of the role that women play in the home. They cannot be read in any other way. It is not derogatory to women in any way at all to have in existence a dependent spouse rebate. Indeed, the Liberal Party of Australia-as you would remember, Mr Deputy Speaker-was moving towards an increase in the dependent spouse rebate in recognition of the fact that the tax situation should be fair. At the moment it is anything but fair. For a two-income family the original tax- free area is permitted twice-for the husband's income and for the wife's income. But a single income family with the same income as that two-income family is permitted only the one tax free area. We increased the dependent spouse rebate well above the inflation rate and that eventually made that situation more equitable. There was still a fair way to to. However, the paper put out by the Prime Minister and Senator Ryan obviously has had no thought of increasing the dependent spouse rebate to equalise the taxation system. Indeed, they are obviously hinting that being a dependent spouse is a rather derogatory role for women. It seems to me that that area certainly needs clarifying. Page 3 of the report quotes the Prime Minister in 1979-I gather in his Boyer lectures-as saying:

There is still the unstated but operative assumption that women are not entitled to equal opportunity because their place is, or ultimately should, be in the home.

That is ludicrous. He said that in 1979 but women have not been seen in that role for many years-at least not by the Liberal Party-and if that reflects a recognition by the Labor Party of that role, I am very surprised. I did not realise that the present Prime Minister still saw in 1979 that there was an operative assumption that the women's place was in the kitchen. It is archaic.

Senator Harradine —It was probably aimed at you.

Senator WALTERS —It probably was but it is archaic and is a view that has not been taken by the Liberal Party for many decades. It was very pleasing to see how many companies have joined the voluntary group willing to act in the pilot project. I believe that they too hope, like the Liberal Party-Senator Martin mentioned this-that legislation will not be necessary and that by their agreement to participate in that pilot project they will be able to avoid the necessity for legislation to be introduced. Once legislation is introduced, once we revert to quotas, once we do away with the idea of the best qualified person being given the job, that is a very bad thing for women in the work force and certainly would cause a backlash against us. At page 8 we have the list of people who will participate in that working party. I was pleased to see that Senator Ryan included Mr Macphee in that group because he is not included in the group listed on my paper.

The paper also mentions women's organisations. I would like to conclude by asking the Minister-she is not here for me to put this question to her so I ask the Minister for Resources and Energy, Senator Walsh, who is in the chamber, to ask her-whether she has overcome the problems she had with women's organisations which did not see eye to eye with her or did not agree with her. Does she now intend to include them in the working party so that they can put a broader concept to her than just her narrow view, or does she still intend to ask only those women's organisations which agree solely with her way of thinking to participate in that working party? On a previous occasion when I asked a question of why she did not include, for instance, Women's Action Alliance, she told me very clearly that she included only the women's organisations which were co-operative with her. I believe that was an appalling answer to a question that I rightly put. If the Minister is not prepared to include organisations that have a broader concept of women's issues than she has, we hold no hope for the working party ever being able to come up with an across-the-board decision on what, if indeed anything, should be in the legislation. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.