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Thursday, 26 March 1987
Page: 1637

Mr RONALD EDWARDS(8.25) —As the honourable member for Calwell (Dr Theophanous) indicated, this legislation has obviously caused some concern in terms of its political agenda. I will speak about that in a moment. Firstly, I acknowledge the contribution of the honourable member for Boothby (Mr Steele Hall). I think that he reflects what a number of Government members feel-that there ought to be a position within the Opposition that recognises the role that women play, and may play, in the community. It is unfortunate that the Opposition has, to some extent, been pressed into taking a very negative attitude towards the legislation. Today's events amply illustrate that the Opposition is not only out of touch with its own community but also it is out of touch with its own constituency in terms of some members of the Liberal Party. I think that the difficulty that the Opposition will face in handling the currency of the debate on this legislation is not to be seen as specifically anti-women. That will be a major challenge for the Opposition. I guess that the events of the weekend-the National Party meeting, and so on-will, to some extent, provide further pressure on the Opposition.

However, I remind those on the Government side of this debate and those on the Opposition side who are thoughtful about women's issues, that we are of the view that there are three particular aspects to which this legislation addresses itself: Firstly, there is the political agenda, about which the honourable member for Calwell has spoken well, which is about providing a recognition of the rights of women; secondly, there is the economic agenda, which recognises the role of women as a resource in its fullest sense; and, thirdly, there is the social agenda which pays some appropriate recognition to the rights of women. I can see that the wide canvass that those agendas place would provide some pressure for the Opposition as it is narrowly defining itself at the moment in relation to Australian politics and the Australian community. Government members are quite comfortable in recognising that that is the way we see ourselves.

Mr Humphreys —The National Party is having trouble. It won't vote against it, but it is talking about it.

Mr RONALD EDWARDS —As the honourable member for Griffith indicates, I think that the problem also lies within the National Party. It is having difficulty about the legislation as well. The issue for it to address as a party is that its inheritance was one of tolerance and one of the recognition of the rights and resources of the Australian community. To some extent, the National Party is denying its inheritance. It is saying that half of the Australian community-the women-do not provide that equal position and that equal role in accordance with our view of good management of the Australian community.

The Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party (Mr N.A. Brown) has referred to the question of quantitative expression and designated groups. What we want to say is that this legislation is about intentions-intentions that we would think are important to try to address in the context of our Australian society. It is not one of a narrow view that women are to be shut out of the contribution of the community; it is a positive view that they have played a part, and we want to ensure that those opportunities are provided in future. I place some emphasis on the word opportunity because I think it is important for the Opposition to understand that, when we talk about opportunities, we are talking about opportunities for people in the fullest sense of the word.

I say to those Opposition members who are thoughtful on these issues-such as the honourable member for Boothby, Senator Peter Baume and the honourable member for Goldstein (Mr Macphee)-that we welcome their involvement in the debate. Unfortunately, the honourable member for Moncrieff (Mrs Sullivan) is absent. She is the Opposition's representative on women's issues in this chamber. It is unfortunate that she and the honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock) are not here. They represent the inheritance of the Liberal Party. The inheritance of the Liberal Party is one of tolerance and openness-not this narrow ideology that it is trying to put to us. It will not wash. It will not wear in terms of both the outside community, and what it recognises as a good society, and it will not wash within this place. We have heard some extraordinary contributions from the honourable member for Fisher (Mr Slipper). I wonder how he would address those in terms of his own attitude towards women. I find that extraordinary. I ask members of the Opposition: Will they or will they not vote against the Bill? That is the proposition.

We on this side of the Chamber are saying that the issue is that we view this legislation as being very important. We believe it is about recognising that women play a part in this community. We also believe that it is about giving some expression to the fuller role that we think women should play. It is not tokenism; it is not carping-it is legislation that has been developed with proper consultation. It is legislation, I might add, that fits quite harmoniously within the approach of the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) about all matters in relation to the work force.

For us this debate is quite easy because we recognise that it is the natural and necessary step in advancing the Australian community. The problem for the Opposition is one that is manifest not only in the decision of Senator Peter Baume to leave the Opposition front bench-that really ought to signal to those opposite that they have got some difficulty-but also within the difficulties it is facing to find its real direction. We on this side of the House are pleased to support this legislation. We are opposing the amendments of the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, the honourable member for Menzies (Mr N. A. Brown), because we believe the attitude of those opposite is one of anti-enlightenment and clearly is very much out of step with the Australian community.