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Thursday, 26 March 1987
Page: 1559

Ms JAKOBSEN(11.30) —I am absolutely flabbergasted by the attitude of the honourable member for Parkes (Mr Cobb). Unfortunately, his remarks are an indication of the extremist views which currently prevail in the National Party and which also pervade the Liberal Party. I am disgusted by some of the things that I have heard in this House today. I am sure that there are many women and minority groups and people of liberal persuasion-not Liberal politics but liberalism-who cannot bear to hear the sorts of things that are being said in this House by members of the Opposition, particularly the minority National Party which, as the honourable member for Makin (Mr Duncan) has rightly said, is the tail that is wagging the dog of the Liberal Party.

One has only to look at the headlines in today's newspapers about another crisis in the Liberal Party-the headline stating `Baume threatens to quit as Howard appeases Nats'. Now, I understand, Senator Peter Baume has resigned from his position as shadow Minister. I think we should all be very sorry about that. But it shows that he is a man of considerable principle. I remember being very impressed by his speech on the affirmative action legislation when it went through the Senate. I was not in this House at the time-I do not think it was sitting when the Senate was dealing with the Bill-but his contribution to the debate was admirable. I suspect there are many people in the Liberal Party who share his views on this matter but who, for one reason or another, may lack the courage to cross the floor or to resign from the Party, which is now a mere shadow of its former self.

Unfortunately, the honourable member for Parkes has a lot of pull in the National Party-far too much, if you ask me. He seems to represent the most extreme of views. However, I do not see how anyone can take him seriously, given that this is the man who drank 2,4,5-T in an attempt to show that it was not harmful, for goodness sake!

Mr Reith —Is that your best argument? Have a look at him. It didn't do him any good.

Ms JAKOBSEN —It did not do him any good; that is exactly right. It must have affected his brain. It proves that 2,4,5-T does an incredible amount of harm to people's brains. I thought it was simply babies who were affected, but obviously it has affected the honourable member.

Dr Watson —Just think how good he was before.

Ms JAKOBSEN —It is a shame that we have to get to this level of debate, I must say. I am very distressed by the sort of attitude that the honourable member for Parkes has conveyed and I am very frightened that this sort of thing will take over the Liberal Party. As the honourable member for Parkes has such a slanted view of our society in general and women in particular, I think it is an appropriate time to quote the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) in his speech at the opening of the Greek Conference on 13 March of this year. He talked about reactionary forces in our society, of which the honourable member for Parkes is a prime example. The Prime Minister said:

Reactionary forces in various guises are now engaged in a concerted assault on the basic decencies which are fundamental to Australia.

He went on to say:

Attempting to appeal to fear, uncertainty and ig- norance, they are seeking to redistribute public wealth from ordinary Australians to a greedy few; to put a straight-jacket on our great institutions of organised labour; to realign our foreign policy with the diminishing centres of racism and apartheid.

Now those forces are picking on women and minority groups, which are often, unfortunately, very easy to pick on.

The Equal Employment Opportunity (Commonwealth Authorities) Bill continues the Government's commitment to equal employment opportunity. It complements the Government's affirmative action legislation passed last year and the amendment made to the Public Service Act in 1984 which required Commonwealth Government departments and prescribed authorities to develop equal opportunity programs. The Government is not prescribing quotas, contrary to what the honourable member for Parkes said. This legislation puts the Commonwealth's own house in order as an employer by providing for equal employment opportunities in major Commonwealth statutory authorities such as Telecom Australia, Australia Post, and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

It is very disappointing to find that the Opposition is opposing this important and progressive legislation. Are women in Australia going to be let down by the Liberal Party once again? Yes. Why? It is because Australia is witnessing a sordid deal with the devil which will prove nothing and save nothing. Australian women are the pawns in this futile political chess game and they are being sacrificed on the altar of the coalition-so much for the coalition-but to no avail. The so-called Liberal Party is dead already as a result of this capitulation. Senator Peter Baume's resignation underwrites that fact. No wonder some of its more admirable and principled members are having severe attacks of conscience and are contemplating voting with the Government. In fact, I think they are doing more than contemplating at the moment.

Dr Watson —Where were you on the Australia Card Bill?

Ms JAKOBSEN —Never mind about the Australia Card. I welcome every one of them who crosses the floor. They are people of principle. This sort of legislation is what liberalism stands or falls on. How will history judge these people? How will they explain their lack of backbone to their electorates, their friends and their families?

It is a sad day for us all when the ultra-conservative politics of a sexist, elitist minority within that coalition determine the voting intentions of Liberal members representing thousands of Australians, including women, whose future income earning capacity and career prospects depend on the passage of this legislation. Many members of the Liberal Party and a few from the National Party-although I have not seen any standing up to date-have a personal and political commitment to anti-discrimination and affirmative action in employment. Australian women have relied on the concept of liberalism in the area of equal employment opportunity but they are to be let down by the Liberal Party once again.

The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) said in his second reading speech:

Equal employment opportunity assumes that freedom of choice of occupation is a basic social right which should not be constrained by criteria unrelated to ability to perform the job. It promotes efficiency by avoiding waste of talent and under utilisation and under development of human resources which result from discrimination.

I support this statement, as indeed did the honourable member for Moncrieff (Mrs Sullivan), although she may not support the legislation, partly at least because of the pressure and division within her Party at the present time. She claims that she has some difficulty with quotas. I will take her word on that, but I feel that it is the pressure within her Party that is determining her actions in this regard. Her attempt to criticise the unions for their alleged past attitude to affirmative action in employment was a cynical and futile smokescreen to confuse the issue. The real issue today is the disarray in the Liberal Party itself. Unfortunately, the honourable member for Moncrieff is a unique victim of that disarray in that she is the only woman member of the so-called coalition in this House. I am sure that she does not want my pity, but I extend it to her anyway. She has been a strong supporter of women's rights in the past and it is an absolute disgrace that her Party has seen fit to place her in such a difficult position today.

There are other members of the Liberal Party who are concerned about this legislation. I have seen the name of the honourable member for Boothby (Mr Steele Hall) mentioned as one of them, and I am sure that he is. The honourable member for Boothby has a very good record on this sort of legislation, as has been evidenced in the South Australian legislation on equal opportunity and affirmative action. The programs are not intended to lead to positive discrimination. Rather, they are designed to redress existing difficulties confronting disadvantaged groups, including women, in employment. I repeat: They do not require quotas. They represent an improvement on the existing merit system in that the merit of women and other minority group employees in statutory authorities will need to be given proper consideration when they apply for promotion. That is the right and proper thing to do.

The Public Service Board will exercise powers under this legislation which are comparable with its powers in regard to equal opportunity programs for Commonwealth departments and prescribed authorities under section 22b of the Public Service Act. It may issue guidelines on the development, implementation and review of programs to authorities which have elected to lodge reports with it. The Minister also indicated that there will be a minimal financial impact on statutory authorities as a result of the allocation of some staff resources to equal employment opportunity programs.

The honourable member for Canberra (Mrs Kelly) earlier in the debate succinctly put the position of the Liberal Party and its erstwhile leader. The coalition has, by its stand on this legislation alone, condemned itself to a dishonourable, expedient liaison of interests in which the minority, unrepresentative view prevails. The dishonourable coalition which John Howard wanted to avoid is now a fact as a result of his own action, or lack of action, on this Bill. It is a very sad day for this Parliament when the proud tradition of the Liberal Party is abandoned in this way. I know that I speak for many women in my electorate, but also for many women and minority groups in Australia, when I say that this legislation is very good and very necessary legislation. I commend the Bill to the House.