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Friday, 1 May 1987
Page: 2150

Senator POWELL(9.21) —I am very happy to rise in support of the Equal Employment Opportunity (Commonwealth Authorities) Bill 1987 which, when added to the earlier affirmative action Bills, will go some considerable way to ensuring that women and other designated groups have real equal opportunity in employment. They will be given that by this series of legislation. As with those earlier pieces of legislation, the programs to be developed under this Bill will not lead to positive discrimination. Quite properly, this Bill, as did the others, deals with employment matters on the basis of merit.

Given the quite extraordinary behaviour of the dries in the Liberal Party of Australia and of the National Party of Australia, it is worth looking in some detail at the Bill to demonstrate how empty are their claims about the Bill's imposing quotas. The Bill sets minimum requirements for programs and they are much the same as those that apply to affirmative action. Authorities are to inform employees of the contents of the program and of the results of any monitoring and evaluation of it. Authorities have to tell the employees that the program is there, what that program contains and what the results are of establishing the program.

Part II of the legislation also requires authorities to give responsibility to a person with sufficient authority and status to be able to develop and implement the program properly. That clause is there to prevent an authority from giving authority for the equal employment opportunity program to somebody too junior to effect any changes. It requires authorities to consult with trade unions that have members employed in the authority and who will be affected by the programs. The trade unions do a great deal of educative work with their members. Authorities are required to consult with employees, particularly women or persons in the designated groups. The designated groups include migrants of non-English speaking background, Aborigines and disabled people. Authorities have to collect and record employment statistics and related information relevant to the operations of the program.

We need a few facts, too. Authorities, under their programs, are required to review policies and practices to identify those which discriminate against women and persons in the other designated groups and to identify any patterns of lack of equality of opportunity for those people. A review of those policies and practices must include not only written policies or practices about which there are instructions but also those sorts of attitudes that come out in conversations and discussions-those sorts of unwritten understandings that exist in networks between senior and junior employees, and the sorts of taken for granted understandings that have always been such a barrier to the selection and promotion of women and which quite often left us fighting in the dark against things that we were told did not exist but which we knew very well did exist because of our experience of them. A review of those policies and practices certainly has to contain some genuine review of those discriminatory unwritten understandings.

As this outline shows, a reading of the legislation demonstrates the emptiness of the claims of the dries and the Nationals. The women covered by this legislation, the migrants of non-English speaking background, the disabled and Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, will not be fooled by this nonsense about quotas and they will not forget those who used such pathetic excuses.

In this debate it has been a pleasure for me, as it has for other senators who have already spoken, to hear that not everybody on the Opposition side has been prepared to fall for and accept this quite hollow claim about quotas. It is a matter of regret to me that thus far it appears that on this occasion those people from the Liberal Party side who will be prepared to stand up for the fine principle of equality of opportunity which has been outlined by Liberals in this debate-and for which, until now, the Liberal Party has stood-and to do the most significant thing that anyone elected to this Parliament can do, which is to vote according to that principle, will all be men. I devoutly hope that by the time this debate has ended, some Liberal Party women will follow the lead of those men of principle in their Party who appear to understand this legislation and to be prepared to stand by a very fine set of principles, of which this legislation is a reflection.

Notwithstanding the value of this legislation, equal opportunity will never be attained merely by the removal of legislative barriers or the enactment of legislation such as this. These measures cannot and should not be seen in isolation. We can look at all sorts of aspects of society to see that the attitudes towards women have a very deep-seated effect which is not just an individual effect on women who feel discriminated against, who are discriminated against and who, therefore, suffer socially, economically, psychologically and even unfortunately in all too many cases, physically.

Society as a whole is the loser in a situation in which we do not treat all individuals equally. It is worth reminding the Senate that when we are talking about women as a group in society being discriminated against, we are not talking about a minority group; we are talking about a group which is still discriminated against, as it has been throughout our history, but it is not a minority group as are most other groups which suffer discrimination. Women represent about half of society at any given time, and at the moment Australian statistics show that women are in a slight majority. It is an indictment on our society that one half of it has been able to continue to build a society in which this sort of discrimination continues. Certainly we are improving, and this Bill, preceding legislation and other actions outside the Parliament in other social institutions are moving us in better directions. However, we must recognise that we have a long way to go.

I simply say, as I said when I first spoke as a member of this chamber, that it is a matter of great concern to me, as a woman who has achieved a position of some considerable status in society, who has been a beneficiary of education and has not suffered a great deal of discrimination in her personal or professional life, that many other women who achieve positions of status and influence, decision-making positions, positions which are well paid perhaps, often forget the very facts I have mentioned-that not all women share the benefits which we have had. All too often we see women, who have achieved positions in our society which can be seen to be equal to those of men, forgetting that this is not happening for the vast majority of other women. Once again, I exhort my female colleagues in this chamber to remember that fact. While we may be among the privileged in our society, a great many of our sisters are not. In not supporting legislation such as this, we are dealing them a very severe blow and not living up to the responsibility that we, as women who have been able to rise to do what a great many other women have not been able to do, now have.

Society as a whole is the loser when 50 per cent of our community is not able to achieve its maximum potential. I wish to give some specific examples of the way in which I believe that to be so. Earlier this week, I attended a meeting in Canberra of the Australian Early Childhood Association, which was addressed by its national President. It was considering an excellent report on the quality of long-day child care in Australia. That report was produced for the Minister for Community Services and completed in December last year.

The issue of child care is, perhaps, at the very heart of some of the problems faced by women in achieving-especially in the work force, although not only there. One of the chief problems of those concerned with child care issues is that the quality of child care is not sufficiently recognised as being a major concern. All too often, those who require child care facilities-mostly women-are under great pressure, and usually economic pressure. We must not forget that the majority of women who enter the paid work force do so for economic reasons, not for any kind of personal self-fulfilment or esoteric reason. They work simply to keep the family budget balanced, or even, in too many cases, simply to survive. Therefore, when they are looking for child care their main concern is finding somewhere to place their children. Very often they do not have the luxury of choice. That is for two reasons-first, because there may not be a choice, as we are desperately short of child care places of any kind; and, secondly, because of the pressures of time and the lack of resources to investigate any choices that may exist. There is also a lack of information about what sort of child care constitutes quality child care and what kind of child care might be available.

That is a matter of great concern for professionals in the child care area. They understand that decision makers in our community are also bereft of a genuine understanding of the need for quality child care. That leads to a particular problem in our society. Whether the child care takes place in an institution or in the home, through parenting-usually female, but sometimes male-it must be of the highest quality. Our society does not sufficiently recognise that fact and very often-as we note in the deliberations concerning the up-coming May mini-Budget, and as has happened so often in recent years-one of the first dispensable items in any government Budget seems to be an area such as child care. Yet, making economic decisions on that sort of basis is to the detriment of society.

I draw the attention of the Senate to an article in the Times on Sunday of 26 March, which discussed United States of America research into the education of pre-school aged children. It demonstrated quite clearly that those who had had in their early years a good quality background were actually much more successful members of society. I suggest that, because we do not understand that a traditional women's area is tremendously significant, we are actually the losers. The article, which was written by Steven Juan, concludes by saying:

Society's investment dividend takes many forms. For example, as a result of better school achievement, less high cost remedial instruction is required. Employment opportunities are increased through higher-order skill acquisition. Fewer unemployed means lower unemployment payouts. Fewer juvenile delinquents means less need for costly juvenile detention facilities and, for their `graduates', fewer prisons.

Governments may be able to choose between building preschools now or building prisons later.

It is that kind of long term forward thinking that we should have when we are looking at traditional female areas; for instance, the child care area. It is not insignificant that workers in that area, and workers in education, health and other traditionally female areas, are also workers with lower status and lower paid jobs. It is a vicious circle. Until one gets more pay, one does not get more status in this society, and that is a vicious circle for women workers across a whole range of areas.

In the education area, for instance-again, another traditional women's area-there is a very lopsided situation in that girls do go on to tertiary and further education and achieve considerable success, but when it comes to decision making in that whole sector, the situation is quite abysmal. For instance, in March this year the New South Wales Minister for Education revealed that 57 per cent of the State's teachers were women but that only 8 per cent of high school principals and only 5 per cent of primary school principals were women. In the university sector the situation is worse. At least in Australia we do have one full time female vice-chancellor, Professor Di Yerbury at Macquarie University, whereas in the United Kingdom, for instance, there is not even one. However, there has never been a female Director-General of Education in Australia and there has been only one woman chief executive of an education ministry, the present incumbent of the Commonwealth post, Ms Helen Williams. It is that sort of failure of our society to create a situation in which women do percolate into the decision making positions which causes that vicious circle of low status and low pay.

In the health area, again there is a lopsided set of figures. More than three-quarters of Australia's health manpower is actually womanpower. Census figures which I have before me today demonstrate quite clearly that the ratio of women to men in health occupations is inversely proportional to the level of remuneration received. It is in the lower levels of health care giving that we see the women and, of course, in the higher levels, in the areas of medical practice, that we see the highest proportion of men. On the basis of my claim that society as a whole is a loser, that imbalance is demonstrated quite often in attitudes to women's health-attitudes which then cause perhaps inappropriate responses to problems demonstrated by women-and again, that vicious circle comes into play.

There has been in the debate thus far some reference to women in the industrial scene. It is interesting to note that while in the union movement membership of women has been increasing-figures show that from 1968 to 1982 the proportion of female employees who were members of a trade union increased from 25 per cent to 48 per cent; women are increasingly becoming unionised-between 1983 and 1986 the proportion fluctuated and was down to 44 per cent in June 1986, whereas the male participation rate remained constant at 60 to 63 per cent. So while women are increasingly being unionised, and presumably taking advantage of the ability to use that extra organisation to improve their status and pay positions, it is still true that within the union movement, as we have seen in the education area, the health area and a number of other areas, women are not rising proportionately to decision making positions. Jennie George of the New South Wales Teachers Federation is the only female industry representative of the Australian Council of Trade Unions Executive. The six Trades and Labour Council representatives and the seven ACTU officers are, of course, all male.

Efforts are being made and those efforts, in whatever field, need to be acknowledged. But it is important in a debate such as this that we recognise that those efforts have not achieved equality and that we will continue to need legislation such as this and complementary legislation as well as a change in attitudes. Whilst 40 per cent of our work force comprises women, on average women receive only about 60 per cent of male pay rates. In a more general sense it is of great concern to the Australian Democrats that the current economic thinking in Australia is working to the detriment of women and their children. As it was when the Titanic was going down, so it is with razor gangs-women and children first. Whilst if I were on the Titanic I would be reasonably happy about that, it is quite undesirable in the economic scene in Australia in 1987. It is a measure of the low status in which women are held that the programs and services upon which women are so dependent are seen as most dispensable. Perhaps that is not surprising as in the decision-making forum of this Parliament women number only one out of 10. In Cabinet deliberations the proportion is even lower. In shadow Cabinet deliberations it could scarcely be lower. This is a major problem on which we all need to work.

It has been noted in this debate-in particular, I recall Senator Reynolds saying it last night-that the actions of the Liberal Party in walking away from this critical situation and from this legislation, in denying the principles that that Party has stood for, no doubt have lost it considerable support amongst the women of Australia who recognise the problems and who suffer the imbalances or who, if they do not suffer them, work towards a better situation for their sisters. Senator Reynolds should not sit in great comfort on her side of the House in that knowledge because, as I have said, the economic decisions which are being made at the moment by her own Australian Labor Party Government are of no great comfort to a vast number of women.

Let us consider some of the decisions made in the Budget session last year-for instance, the decision to delay the poverty traps legislation which was so crucial to people living below the poverty line, whose numbers are increasing. The legislation was crucial, in particular, to single parent families, most of which are headed by women-women supporting or attempting to support their children. That measure and other measures in the Budget have meant many more months, including a very dismal Christmas period for many, of tremendous economic deprivation. These women are not happy with Senator Reynolds's side of the House.

We have just had, this week, the report of the committee which was looking at Senator Ryan's tertiary education fees. As the Australian Democrats predicted, we discovered that amongst the most significantly affected groups were women. In this case, interestingly enough, since the introduction of the $250 fee women who, I think, the Opposition considers to be the average kind of women, women who are at home and who are dependent upon their spouses for financial backing, are not finding their way into further education. So the situation which applies to women on low incomes applies as well to women with families. The review committee found that they were the groups which were most affected by yet another of last year's Budget decisions-the introduction of the $250 tertiary fee, which, of course, was supported by all parties in the chamber with the exception of the Australian Democrats. Senator Reynolds and the other Government members cannot take too much comfort from the fact that the Liberal Party is losing votes over its attitude to this legislation.

What is happening, and what we will see happening more and more if these kinds of attitudes prevail, is that women and children are first when it comes to cuts and stringency. The women of Australia will be the first significant group to demonstrate the benefits of the preferential voting system. They will not have to say: `Well, I have voted Liberal all my life and now that the Party has sacked Peter Baume I will have to do something I have never done before and vote for those other people who imposed the tertiary fee with the result that I cannot now get into further education'. That is why they will look to the Australian Democrats who have seen the disadvantages to large groups of women in so many of the decisions which have been made.

It is fortunate that this Government has brought forward this legislation as it said it would. The Australian Democrats certainly applaud that and support this legislation wholly and solely. We have a long way to go in the community. Some significant decision makers in the community still, it appears, harbour a thinly disguised resentment of women succeeding in the work force and elsewhere. Unfortunately, the actions of the Opposition on this Bill seem to point that out. It is regrettable, as Senator Haines and I have said, that members of the Liberal Party and the National parties en masse have now chosen to abandon the usual bipartisan approach that we have seen in this country on the question of women's equality. New heart will probably be given to the misogynists in our society whose unacceptable views will be given the appearance of legitimacy by the approach of the dries and the Nationals in this debate. It is particularly galling that some of their number are women. I wonder whether even at this late stage those women might at least reconsider their position and join Senator Baume and others in their principled position.

I conclude by reiterating my and my Party's support for this legislation. I only wish that we had seen it introduced sooner. The women of Australia and other groups covered by the Bill will benefit from its enactment. It deserves the unanimous support of this chamber. It is vital that the ability to perform a job is not obscured by the prejudice of an employer. There is no doubt that it has been so in the past in relation to the groups covered by this Bill. That situation has to change for the health of the whole of Australian society.