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Tuesday, 29 November 1983
Page: 2950


Senator WALTERS(8.56) —So much has occurred since 8 November when I had still to complete my speech on the Sex Discrimination Bill 1983. At that time I was referring to Senator Ryan's comments regarding the statistical evidence she brought forward. There were further comments by Senator Ryan in this area reported in the Australian today that I would like to quote. The heading states:

Pay anomalies show need for sex bill-Ryan.

The article states:

. . . Senator Ryan . . . urged support for the Government's Sex Discrimination Bill after official figures showed average weekly earnings for all women were over $120 a week lower than for men.

She continued:

. . . the September quarter figures again demonstrated the 'glaring differences' in rates of pay for men and women.

We have been told many times that anything can be done with figures. Certainly, Senator Ryan has done something which I believe is quite irresponsible with the figures which she has quoted in the Australian today. Her bald facts are, no doubt, absolutely correct. She did not try to indicate why those figures are as they were stated. She did not attempt to throw any light on them. Indeed, after reading the article, the average person would be left with the impression that women get paid less for equal work. That is quite incorrect. Women do not get paid less in Australia for equal work and equal time. Senator Ryan has deliberately-I believe it is quite deliberate-left out that women choose different careers from men. That is very clearly indicated if honourable senators have a look at the facts. The facts show that women choose to have babies. Ninety-six point one per cent of married women choose to have babies.


Senator Haines —Some of them choose to have babies.


Senator WALTERS —There are very modern methods today for women who do not choose to have babies to avoid having them. I presume that 96.1 per cent of married women choose to have babies. Obviously they make it a greater priority than a career. If we look at the figures of what women choose to do as jobs, we find that 31.4 per cent of women are in the part time work force compared with 5.2 per cent of men. That again indicates that women choose a job which fits in with their family commitments. To ignore these very important and vital facts I think is completely irresponsible of the Minister. It is irresponsible for her to attempt that sort of hoodwinking of the Australian people.

Women make choices. The facts prove that they choose to have a family. Statistics prove that. We then ask: 'Right, what do women want apart from having their children, looking after their children and bringing their children up the way they want'? A considerable number, indeed the figure is 31.4 per cent, of the 45.3 per cent of women who are in the work force choose to do part time work . They make this choice because it fits in with their family commitments. That is a woman's choice. Of course that does not fit in with Senator Ryan's concept or indeed Senator Giles's or Senator Haines's concept of what women should want to do. They say that it is a terrible shame that women are disadvantaged to the extent that they are earning $120 a week less than men. It seems to me a pity that women who make this choice are being labelled by these senators as not accomplishing anything. I believe they accomplish a tremendous amount.

Let us look at a few more statistics. The Bureau of Statistics brought out some very interesting figures recently and I certainly have not found Senator Ryan quoting those anywhere. The surprising thing is that young women are doing pretty well compared with young men. In fact average incomes for two groups of females, those between the ages of 20 and 24 years, with degrees or non-trade certificates or diplomas were higher than those for comparable groups of males. In 1981-82 women in the 20 to 24-year age group with degrees earned $15,002 a year, while men in that group earned $13,787 a year. The article from which I am reading in the Australian Financial Review states:

What these figures suggest is that, while the evidence of past social attitudes and sex discrimination is plain to see, the progress in getting rid of such discrimination has been very rapid in recent years, and in effect the discrimination may be in the process of being reversed.

Women, particularly young women, are very keen and very reliable. Employers take them on when they have the choice. We also have other evidence that discrimination is certainly on the wane. I have a news release put out by the Minister for Aviation (Mr Beazley) on 25 September this year. It states:

Figures released today by the Department of Aviation show that there are now 23 fully qualified female air traffic controllers working at government airports around Australia. Five years ago there were only two.

There are also 45 fully qualified women flight service officers working for the Department of Aviation. In 1978 there were none.

In this year's Departmental training intake there were: 16 female and 60 male air traffic controller trainees; 31 female and 100 male flight service trainees.

So the list goes on, proving that discrimination is certainly overcome in the majority of cases and that women are going into these areas of choice. Their horizons have broadened. There is no discrimination forbidding them to go into such areas. They are now choosing these areas. To say on the basis of figures that women now earn $120 a week less than men is not stating the facts as they should be stated.

Many statements come from the Government that really do make nonsense of the true meaning of this Sex Discrimination Bill. Senator Giles has claimed publicly her opposition to the dependent spouse's rebate. Her theory, along with Senator Ryan's, is that women really do not do much good anywhere else but in the work force. For a woman to oppose the dependent spouse's rebate, I believe, is to denigrate a woman who believes that she is doing a great job in the home. I certainly believe that is the most important job that any woman can do.

The new Bill is quite an eye opener. We really have come a long way, with the pressure that the Opposition has put on the Government. Senator Haines congratulated the Government tonight on the amendments. In reading Senator Haines's previous speech, she certainly did not have any problems with the Bill. My mind goes back to the very beginning when we were told by Senator Ryan- Senator Haines and Senator Giles will remember-that we were all being hysterical because we were objecting to some parts of the Bill. Senator Haines said much the same. My goodness, it really makes one wonder how hysterical one has to be before the Government will see reason and bring in the 70-odd amendments. I think that is the number; I have not counted them since the original 53 were brought in, but there must have been a considerable number of additional amendments. Senator Ryan, in her second reading speech, said:

Let me say that I do not apologise for the fact that there are numerous amendments to the original draft.

She proceeded to say that she really did expect all these. She then underlined that one thing was clear: Despite the changes made, the fundamental principle of the Bill remained unchanged; that discrimination based on sex, marital status and pregnancy and discrimination involving sexual harassment cannot be tolerated in our society. That is what the Opposition has been saying ever since the introduction of this Bill. We have been saying that that is the basis for what the Bill should have been about. The Bill should never have been about interfering with religious freedoms, as it did. The Bill should never have been about interfering with our normal methods of justice, as it did. Interference with both religious freedoms and our judicial system has been acknowledged by the Government at long last and the amendments have been implemented. Senator Ryan, in her second reading speech, over and over again said that the principle of the Bill remains. She said it on page 2, and on page 3 she said:

As I have said, this fundamental principle which is widely endorsed throughout the community is not changed at all.

She seems to take up her second reading speech by saying that the Government has amended the Bill a bit but that really the fundamental principles have not changed. That is no way to go about it. We know that the Government was dragged screaming to these amendments. Indeed, when we first broached our concerns about the interference with religious beliefs, a Press release was put out by Senator Ryan on 16 September, quite some time ago, in which she said:

It is not the Government's intention to damage the special character of non- government schools or to interfere with the conscientious beliefs and ethical standards of parents and educational authorities.

She said that it was not the Government's intention and that if that were in the Bill it was all a great misunderstanding and that the Government did not mean that. She went on:

However, the Government has a general commitment to ensuring that men and women should not be discriminated against in employment because of their sex, marital status or pregnancy.

So, very magnanimously, she said that a two-year exemption would be allowed, and that that would allow a detailed examination of this matter with a view to the formulation of a provision acceptable to both the government and the non- government school sector. So the first try, when we pointed out that her Bill was interfering with religious freedom, was to give us a two-year period in which she would educate us all to come up with something that was acceptable to the government and non-government schools. As I have said, the Government has been dragged screaming to the proper amendments. It has gone further than that; but yet, it has not gone quite far enough.

I should like to explain how far we have come. As I have said, to begin with the Government, quite openly and blatantly, interfered with our religious freedoms in this country. As I indicated when I spoke last, Senator Giles said that she did not worry too much about this because in her opinion some of the non-government schools had great bias in their religions. I believe that that indicated the real approach of the Government. I am not quite sure what right the Government or Senator Giles has to say that non-government schools are biased because they have a particular religious belief, but Senator Giles has taken it upon herself to say that, because she does not believe that way and because it is not her religious belief, it is biased.

We have come a long way from that, but it has been at quite an expense. We now have Senator Ryan saying, 'We do not really want to interfere with religion', so she has made certain amendments. But further to that, let me explain how the procedure went if a woman considered that she was, say, being sexually harassed. She complained to the Sex Discrimination Commissioner. The Commissioner then called a compulsory conference and tried to conciliate between the parties. If that was not successful, the matter went to the Human Rights Commission. The Commission could have its own legal representative and could deny the person who had been accused any legal representation. So the Human Rights Commission could have a lawyer interrogating the accused, an accused who had no experience in law , and that lawyer could demand all self-incriminating evidence. Having established what it considered were the facts, the Human Rights Commission would send the matter up to the Federal Court of Australia as a prima facie case.

Once the matter reached the Federal Court, because the facts were considered at that stage to consitute a prima facie case, the person who had been accused then had to prove his innocence. It was the first time that he was entitled, on his own, to legal representation, but at this stage he had to prove his innocence. There was a reversal of the onus of proof to which we have become very accustomed, in this country at least-the duty of the prosecution to prove him guilty, rather than the onus being on him to prove his innocence.

We have come a long way since then, but this was brought to the Government's attention a long time ago when we were debating the matter and appealing to Senator Gareth Evans, while Senator Ryan was overseas, to alter this and fit in amendments, because we really could not bring this sort of legislation into Australia. He refused and said that it would not be altered. However, enough pressure has been brought to bear to force the Government to alter the legislation, so now we have amendments that have been introduced in the new Bill . It has at last been rewritten. I think that I called for the rewriting of it at least a couple of months ago, and I am pleased to say that at last we have got it. There is no way that Senator Ryan can say, as she did in her second reading speech:

. . . I do not apologise for the fact that there are numerous amendments to the original draft. In my Press release about the introduction of the Bill on 2 June 1983, I invited constructive comments. We received a lot of comments and they were all considered.

That is her excuse for the sloppy drafting-there was a lot of sloppy drafting- but also deliberate drafting of certain pieces of this legislation which have really created all the problems and concerns in the community.

As I said originally, 80,000 people have petitioned the Senate alone. It is more than 80,000, because I spoke last on 8 November and the petitions have been rolling in ever since. I do not know how many there are now; I have not made inquiries. But over 80,000 people have petitioned the Senate showing concern about the Bill. We do not know how many petitioned the House of Representatives, because Senator Ryan has not been concerned enough to find out that figure. She does not have any idea of how many people have petitioned the House of Representatives, but by normal standards there would be many more petitioners sending their signatures to the House of Representatives than there would be sending them to the Senate. There has been no decision by Senator Ryan, in her office-she gets all those signatures-to count them and to let us know how many people have been showing concern about the Bill. Reading Newsheet No. 15 from the Office of the Status of Women, for September-October, we find very little talk about all the amendments. It says:

The Sex Discrimination Bill 1983 is currently being debated in the Senate. This paper describing the Bill incorporates amendments to be proposed by the Government as a result of suggestions and comments made by interested parties and organisations following the introduction of the Bill on 2 June 1983.

That was the September-October Newsheet. The original Bill was introduced on 2 June 1983. One would have thought that if amendments were to be made to the judicial side of it-to the provisions relating to a prima facie case and to the reversal of the onus of proof-it would have been mentioned in that Newsheet. There is no mention of it. The earlier amendments were mentioned, but there was no mention of those amendments. So it is obviously a very recent decision by the Government to succumb, at last, to the pressure that we have been placing upon it.

There are another couple of areas about which I should like to speak. As I have already said, Senator Haines congratulated the Government tonight, but she did not seem to have any problems with the Bill when she spoke on 21 October. Indeed , quite a number of things surprised me in her speech. She seems to think that all mothering is concerned about is having children fed and clean. Nothing else seems to matter, because she said:

Providing the children are being well looked after and fed-

she was talking about child care services-

as they usually are in well organised child care centres, and providing everybody at home eats well, I can see no particular harm-

She could see no harm in women just leaving their children in child care centres all the time and going into the work force.

Senator Tate rather amazes me, too, because he is a lawyer and in his speech he ignored completely the areas that the Government has now seen fit to amend by these very latest amendments. In his speech on the same date, on 21 October, he said:

It is jurisprudentially sound in that it makes unlawful only certain defined practices.

He said it is perfectly all right and that there is nothing much wrong with it. The Government now seems to agree with us that there is quite a considerable amount wrong with it. In the remaining moments that I have, Mr Deputy President, I foreshadow that I will move private amendments. The Opposition is not putting them forward. Two of them are machinery amendments. My main amendment removes the discrimination against non-working spouses which forbids them from sharing their husbands' incomes particularly in the eyes of the Government, for income tax purposes. I believe that the Bill as it stands discriminates against non- working spouses purely because they happen to be married. As honourable senators would know, the Bill states that there shall be no discrimination on marital grounds and it is in this area that I will be putting forward my amendments. I will be speaking to the amendments in the Committee stage of the Bill and will therefore leave the rest of my comments until then.

As I said, the Opposition has from the beginning agreed with the Government that the intention of non-discrimination is terribly important. We have followed that principle from the beginning and we have never deviated from it. We have complained and sought and now received amendments to various sections of the Bill which were imperative. I believe that we still have several amendments that should be made but I am pleased with the general outcome of the Bill. I am looking forward to the Committee stage and to debating those few amendments we have left.