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Friday, 1 May 1987
Page: 2158

Senator COONEY(10.14) —The Equal Employment Opportunity (Commonwealth Authorities) Bill is an historic Bill; that is why I would like to take a short time to speak to it. If merit is the fairest test of whether people should receive an appointment, this Bill is one that ought to be supported. Mind you, I think there is an argument made out by George Bernard Shaw and reflected in Pygmalion and My Fair Lady which says that merit should not be the test. I always felt somewhat sorry for Alfred Doolittle when he said, properly: `What about the unmeritorious? Why shouldn't they get a go?' Really they are the ones who have to put up with a lot. They miss out on appointments and miss out on the football team-I used to do that-simply because they are unmeritorious. Therefore, those who oppose the Bill have, to a certain extent, my sympathy because what they are doing is upholding those great rights-I think we all ought to have rights-of the unmeritorious. Therefore, we have to listen to those who speak against the Bill. We should understand that they, indeed, are also defending rights that can be made out, as I say, for those who really do not deserve appointments and who proceed on grounds that are unmeritorious. I think it is only proper that we acknowledge the position that they take.

Unfortunately, having listened to the debate on the other side and the contribution just made by Senator Teague, I have swung away from the case of the unmeritorious; perhaps I will swing back to them by the end of the debate. However, at this stage I am for the meritorious. In those circumstances, I must support the Bill. Clause 3 is the interpretation clause; sub-clause (4) provides that merit is to be the single test. In those circumstances if women, in this case, are denied proper advancement or denied a job simply because they are women, in favour of the unmeritorious, this legislation says that that proposition should fall to the other proposition that merit should be the test. I have said that this is a historic Bill and perhaps the significant thing is not so much that it gives women equal opportunity but that it is a step down the long road, which will never end, unfortunately, to a state where there is fairness and justice for everyone throughout the world.

Senator Puplick —I thought you were going to fix that overnight.

Senator COONEY —I was thinking about doing it overnight, Senator Puplick, but I decided that it could not be done by the end of this session. I am afraid that I cannot take up my well-earned holidays just to bring justice and fairness to the community, particularly when there is a dispute as to whether the meritorious or unmeritorious should be the first consideration. If we think about the struggles throughout history, we can all remember Spartacus, who for some reason or other objected to slavery, as did Abraham Lincoln. People criticised them. This is an attempt to, as I say, bring about a state which I in my position here believe is a good state-where the lion lies down with the lamb, where we are all equal and not only treated as equals but also see each other as equals. I think that that is a happy state.

I think that this legislation, as Senator Teague said, is a small but important step along that line. However, on the other hand, as I say, the argument has been put for the continuation of a society with a structure that allows prejudice to be used against certain groups-whether these groups be ethnic groups or are defined in terms of their sex or age. Personally, I am becoming more and more concerned about the latter-prejudice against the aged. Perhaps we should introduce a Bill about that, particularly before I leave this place.

Senator Puplick —Under a compulsory retirement rule.

Senator COONEY —I do not know whether it should be compulsory; that is all right for judges, but not for politicians. In any event, I think that this Bill is in that general category of legislation aimed at bringing about equality, fairness, and graciousness, if you like-all those qualities which we like to look upon as being truly human and which had their origins in all sorts of great philosophies, whether Christian or Jewish, or what have you, in the past. I have already mentioned Senator Teague but I think I should also mention Senator Peter Baume. It is always a bit of a problem as to whether one should mention honourable senators opposite in this regard because often it is counter-productive in one's particular party if one is praised by a member of another party.

Senator Puplick —But you are all right.

Senator COONEY —Having been assured by Senator Puplick that I am all right, I will congratulate Senator Peter Baume, Senator Teague and the others who have spoken in this debate because I think that this is an issue that goes not simply to the question of fairness to women in the workplace but generally I think to those great liberal principles which see the human race as very worth while with, in spite of its terrible failings and the times it nods, nevertheless deep down a capacity to live life in the way it should be lived.

There is always a dark side and a light side of the Force, as is well illustrated by the movies that children bring home such as Return of the Jedi and so on. The theme is reflected in stories such as the Knights of the Round Table and others. This legislation is very much in that tradition. At the end of the debate the Bill will certainly be carried. Those honourable senators who speak against it will put the case as advocates-rather than put forward something that they truly believe in. In the movement towards a more benign state I find it difficult to see how this Bill could be rejected because of deeply held convictions and emotions. The convictions and the emotions should lead to support of the Bill, as has been illustrated by Senator Peter Baume, Senator Teague and others.