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Wednesday, 12 September 1984
Page: 886

Senator CROWLEY —My question is directed to the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women. Has the Minister seen the article in Quadrant of September 1984 by D. C. Stove in which he claimed in reference to university appointments that in many cases women are being appointed because they are women over better men candidates? He adds that his own department of philosophy has never appointed a man because he was a man over a better woman. Indeed, he claimed that philosophers would appoint a broomstick if it was the best philosopher. In the face of considerable evidence that anything the Minister says will make no difference, will she explain affirmative action so as to reassure one anguished philosopher and people who might be misled by him?

Senator RYAN —I have seen references to Professor Stove's claims about bias against men in favour of women in appointments made by the University of Sydney to the philosophy department. Those claims appeared originally, I understand, in Quadrant but were repeated in the daily Press. I will not extrapolate on the broomstick analogy and suggest that in the appointment of Professor Stove there was perhaps something other than total adherence to the merit principle. I do not really have any information on that. I am also aware that Professor Stove's claims about the percentage of women who had been appointed to the philosophy department at Sydney University have been denounced as being totally inaccurate and distorted by spokespersons from the university, including Professor Dame Leonie Kramer, who is, as we know, no supporter of affirmative action.

I think it is a matter for concern when a prestigious university such as the University of Sydney is appointing, not only to its tenured staff but also to professorships in its philosophy department, people who are unable to compute the most basic statistical material. The fact that Professor Stove was so outrageously wrong in his claims about the percentage of women appointed to the philosophy department does more to undermine confidence in the employment practices of the philosophy department of Sydney University than the appointment of women.

Seriously, the fact is, as has been stated from the time of the very first discussions about the equal employment opportunity policies of this Government, that affirmative action or equal employment policy does not undermine the merit principle. The whole point of an affirmative action program is to ensure that people are appointed on the basis of merit, which has not been the case for women in institutions over the years, and that irrelevant criteria such as the applicant's sex or marital status are left out. The whole purpose of affirmative action is to remove structural discrimination in making appointments and to enable the merit principle to operate purely and simply.

I am convinced that when that happens within our institutions we will indeed see a great increase in the percentage of women who are appointed on their merits. At this stage the percentage originally claimed by the very innumerate Professor Stove-to use Senator Walsh's description-was entirely wrong. It is a much lower percentage of women. I remind honourable senators that Professor Kramer insisted that all appointments made in that faculty, as in other faculties of the University of Sydney in which she is a professor, have been made, in her view, on the basis of merit.