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Thursday, 26 March 1987
Page: 1641

Mr WILLIS (Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations)(8.46) —The Government does not accept these amendments. It rejects them for reasons which have already been well referred to, particularly by the honourable member for Calwell (Dr Theophanous) and the honourable member for Boothby (Mr Steele Hall). Let me make it clear that this legislation requires no quotas. The point I made in summing up in the second reading debate and which again is relevant to this clause is that there is a quite specific requirement under the legislation, which I will reiterate for those who might have missed it earlier, under clause 3 (4) that:

Nothing in this Act shall be taken to require any action incompatible with the principle that employment matters should be dealt with on the basis of merit.

So it is quite clear that the merit principle remains and that all that is desired to be achieved by this legislation is to ensure that the merit principle can operate fully. There is no positive discrimination. It simply seeks the elimination of discrimination against people which prevents them getting jobs on merit. That is what this legislation is about. It is a nonsense to argue that it means anything other than that, particularly when there is a quite clear reference, as I have just said, in clause 3 (4) to the fact that nothing in it changes the merit principle. Indeed, as I emphasised in the second reading speech in introducing the legislation, it is designed to reinforce the merit principle. So there is really a non-argument in that sense.

Moving from that point, the argument then becomes: `Why have we changed the definition from what was in the affirmative action legislation to what is in the Bill now before us?' Of course, as the honourable member for Boothby mentioned, two pieces of legislation precede this-the Public Service Act amendment of 1984 and the affirmative action legislation of 1986. Both pieces of legislation were supported by the Opposition. In the Public Service Act amendment of 1984 which put the requirements in regard to equal employment opportunity for the Australian Public Service on departments and authorities in statutory relationship to the Public Service Board, it is made clear that there is a requirement on them to develop programs and that programs include the quantitative or other indicators against which the effectiveness of the program is to be assessed.

As the honourable member for Boothby said, the definition which is now before us in this legislation is a virtual lift-out of what was in the 1984 legislation, which was supported then by the Opposition. The Opposition says: `We voted for two different definitions in the past. Now you have given us the first one we voted for, but we want the second'. What an incredible position to be in. One cannot take those opposite seriously. It shows they are desperate to find reasons to vote against the legislation, for reasons we canvassed earlier in the debate and which I will not go into again.

The honourable member for Calwell also made an important point which is that the proposed amendments would eliminate reference to designated groups, which would mean that there would be no programs in relation to Aborigines, disabled persons or non-English speaking migrants. We believe that that would be wrong. The intention of this legislation, as with the Public Service Act amendment of 1984, is to apply not only to women but to those designated groups. The definition of a `designated group' in this legislation is the same as that in the Public Service Act. We would certainly say that such designated groups should be included in this legislation. The fact that the Opposition wants to take them out of this legislation apparently by the amendment--

Mr N.A. Brown —Not so. Absolute rubbish!

Mr WILLIS —That is exactly what it does. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition says the Opposition does not want to do that. All I can say is that if Opposition members do not want to do it they do not know what they are moving, because what they are doing by moving this amendment would eliminate reference to designated groups. We do not accept that. We most certainly reject these amendments and support the original legislation.