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Thursday, 4 December 1986
Page: 3424

Senator PETER BAUME(9.18) —The Sex Discrimination (Consequential Amendments) Bill appears to be a very small piece of legislation. It does not in fact seek to amend the Sex Discrimination Act itself, but it is a Bill to provide amendments to certain other Commonwealth statutes to bring them into line with the provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act. The Government foreshadowed in 1984 when the Sex Discrimination Bill passed this Parliament and the Act came into force that it would seek to have all Commonwealth departments and authorities examine their practices and their statutes to see whether amendments were necessary to any of the Acts of Parliament. This Bill, in fact, gives effect to the results of that study and examination. It seeks to amend seven, eight or nine Commonwealth Acts to bring them into line with the Sex Discrimination Act. I remind honourable senators that the Opposition parties in 1984 supported the Sex Discrimination Bill at the second reading stage, we supported a number of amendments and then we had a free vote on the third reading. Members of the Liberal Party of Australia and the National Party of Australia voted according to their own conscience at the third reading, some voting for it and some voting against it.

The Opposition continues to support measures to end discrimination. The position it has taken on this legislation in the past remains unaltered. Our detailed comments relate to particular measures which are proposed in this legislation. We support some of the proposals and not others. Accordingly, it may be most appropriate if I offer my detailed comments at the Committee stage. I believe a number of amendments are now being circulated on behalf of the Opposition. They indicate those parts of this Bill which we do not intend to support. Some of the amendments propose to alter the stage at which certain people become aged persons and so entitled to various kinds of benefits. The Government proposes that the age be brought down to the common level of 60 years, which of course would mean that males who now qualify at age 65 would qualify at the age of 60. The proposal, we think, is inadequately argued or justified. It is not a matter of enormous ideological importance. Considering the parlous situation of the nation and recognising that these amendments have significant budgetary implications, we will vote against them.

There is quite an important question of principle on the common age of entitlement. For example, there could be an argument that if we are to treat people of either gender equally, maybe the common age of entitlement should be gradually raised to 65 years or set at some figure between 60 and 65. It does not automatically follow that it should be 60 years. There is no doubt that if we agree to make it 60 years, that will have enormous precedential implications and it is likely that in all future social policy 60 will become the common age. The Government is putting quite a significant proposition. In a way it is not really appropriate to put it in this legislation. An important matter such as this should be considered by the Parliament on its merits in appropriate detail and with appropriate argument.

In relation to the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act, we will oppose the alteration of the definition of a de facto relationship. I will explain later why we think the existing definition is adequate. If it is not adequate, we need to have argument offered as to why it is not adequate and why it needs to be altered.

The Re-establishment and Employment Act provides for re-establishment assistance to be given to returned servicemen. The Bill proposes to delete that provision. For reasons which I will set out in the Committee stage, we will oppose that deletion. So the Opposition is indicating that in certain specific areas, not because of the move towards achieving the purposes of anti-discrimination legislation-not at all-but for other reasons, we will oppose certain parts of the legislation.

I understand that Senator Harradine, pursuant to contingent notice, will be moving certain amendments. I understand the effect of his contingent notice will be that he will be able to move an amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act itself. I do not wish to foreshadow or state some of Senator Harradine's arguments for him. But if, as we understand it, it is his intention to pick up the effects of what is known as the Tralaggan case and seek to remedy that, the Opposition is disposed to supporting that amendment.

Finally I indicate that, in the Committee stage, we hope to obtain leave for Senator Walters to move an amendment, also to the Sex Discrimination Act, seeking to overcome a problem which has been brought to her attention in relation to separate sports activities for boys and girls. My understanding is that Senator Walters, not having given a contingent notice of motion, may need the leave of the Senate to move her amendment. I suggest that it may best suit the purposes of the Senate if she is given leave to move her amendment and the Senate can then determine, as the numbers lie, whether it wishes to accept her amendment. Having made those comments and having indicated that I wish to speak further in the Committee stage, the Opposition will support the second reading of this legislation.