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Tuesday, 29 November 1983
Page: 2961


Senator HAMER(9.52) —I think everyone, or almost everyone in this Parliament, would be in favour of the elimination of discrimination in employment and other discrimination on the grounds of sex to allow men and women -and this legislation cuts both ways; discrimination against men as well as women-if they so choose to compete with each other on merit without regard to sex. If they are good enough they should get the job. The trouble for the Opposition is that the Sex Discrimination Bill is still not drafted the way we would have chosen. The extraordinary flood of amendments now incorporated by the Government in the new Bill, amendments incorporated as a result of sustained Opposition pressure, is evidence either of very sloppy original drafting or of very muddled instructions, or both. Although the Bill is now a great improvement , we shall be proposing some more essential amendments at the Committee stage. The Minister for Education and Youth Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women (Senator Ryan) should hang her head in shame. She has made an awful mess of a basically good idea and has done a lot to discredit the whole concept of sexual equality legislation.

I believe that we do need a properly drafted Bill in this area. Some of the opponents of the Bill imply that such a Bill is quite unnecessary, that they never had any problems doing what they wanted to do. For many of them this may well have been true. It is not always true for others in harder, more cut-throat economic circumstances. As an example, it is worth looking at the situation a few years ago with the Melbourne trams. Then all the drivers of trams, sitting up in comfort in the front, were men. Women were permitted only to be conductors , shouldering their way through the rush hour crowds. It takes no strength to be a tram driver nor, as one woman pointed out, does it require a peculiarly male appendage, though she used a blunter expression. The men had the perk of driving the tram and they fought very hard and effectively to prevent this being open to women. Eventually, after a long political struggle, this discrimination was broken down. This is only one example of many less dramatic cases of discrimination against women which are still continuing and this Bill very properly tackles this problem. The resistance comes from entrenched groups- usually, but not always, unions-protecting their perks and management is usually reluctant to stir up trouble for itself by trying to give the outsiders a fair go.

Opinions in the community are deeply divided on this Bill. I should like to point out, though, that not all the opponents of the Bill can necessarily justify the high moral line they are taking. Some of them claim to be defending the institution of the family against attack by raving feminists. However, I should remind the Senate that the policy of the Nazi Party for women was expressed in the slogan 'children, church and kitchen'-'kinder, kirche, kuche'- and one of the reasons the Germans lost the Second World War was that Hitler adamantly refused to permit a thorough mobilisation of women for the war effort, as other countries were doing, because he thought women's proper place was in the home looking after their families. Hitler called the emancipation of women a symptom of depravity on a par with parliamentary democracy. Goebbels said: 'Our displacement of women from public life occurs solely in order to restore their essential dignity to them'.

I am not for a moment suggesting that all opponents of this Bill are Nazis; I am merely pointing out that those who claim to be defending the family are not automatically of high philosophical principle. Some of them, of course, are quite clearly crazy. The views of women who want to be doormats, or whatever they call themselves-or anyway, the views of their Victorian leaders-seem more appropriate for a psychiatrist's couch or the pages of a kinky sex magazine than for consideration in this Senate. A colleague tells me that members of this organisation in other States are not quite so bizarre, being actually quite pleasant and sensible women who wish to get over the point that the role of wife and home maker is socially valuable and personally satisfying. No one can possibly quarrel with such sentiments provided, of course, that such women accept that other women can quite properly have different values.

There are also some rather curious legal objections. One really odd opinion, which I think was sent to all honourable senators, argued that by adopting the Bill women would lose their common law rights, as if they had any. If the common law had not been overridden by a succession of Acts of Parliament, of which this Bill is the culmination of a long series, women would still be legally very disadvantaged.

The other legal argument related to the inquiry system embodied in the Bill. The British legal system and tradition are largely, but not exclusively, based on the adversary system, with a legal representative on one side declaring everything black, and one on the other side declaring everything white; and the truth is supposed to emerge. There is an equally respectable tradition which favours the inquisitorial system, with the judge or commissioner asking the questions. I think this is much more suitable for the early inquiries into the problems likely to arise under this Bill. It is certainly ridiculous to suggest that adopting such a system would automatically deprive people of their reasonable legal rights, though whichever system is used it would be necessary to ensure that the rules result in natural justice being done.

There were valid legal criticisms of the way the earlier Bill was drafted, that it made self-incrimination possible and reversed the onus of proof. The new Bill has corrected these problems and that is, of course, a very great improvement. I want to see the report of the Standing Committee on the Scrutiny of Bills to see whether there are still any defects in the new Bill. If one wants to see how a system such as the inquisitorial system can work swiftly, fairly and economically I commend a study of the Victorian Equal Opportunity Board. The appointment of the Commissioner will be vital when this Bill becomes law. If the Act is to be credible and effective, the Commissioner must be a carefully chosen , sensitive and suitable individual.

There is one group which is opposed to the Bill and which should be disposed of at once. They are what might be called the thin-end-of-the-wedgers. They do not see anything they can really object to but they are worried about where it might lead. For instance, they are worried that women may be forced out of the home and their mothering role. There is, of course, nothing in the present Bill which does anything like that. The time to fight such things is when they are actually proposed. I am reminded of a time when I was walking across the floor of the House of Representatives to support a motion for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the Australian Capital Territory. As we walked across, Bert Kelly, the former modest member and now 'The Modest Farmer', who was beside me, said in that country drawl he affected to conceal a pretty acute intelligence: ' Well, I reckon I can support this motion but I'll have to vote against it if they make it compulsory'. That is the approach we must take. We must look at each Bill on its merits. We must deal with subsequent Bills when and if they arise. Any good principle can be carried too far but to refuse to take a fair and necessary step because a subsequent move might be made in the wrong direction would be to paralyse all action.

Another group I think can be disposed of very quickly. This matter was dealt with at some length by Senator Teague. I refer to the victims of an extraordinary campaign of totally dishonest misrepresentation by a group of people, extremists in their views, mainly based in Queensland although they had groups elsewhere. It was an unscrupulous and totally dishonest campaign which misled many innocent people. The thousands of representations that have been received by honourable senators and other members of parliament are based on a total misconception of the nature of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and this Bill. They can be disposed of quickly. They are based on a total misunderstanding of the Bill. We should deplore the dishonesty and unscrupulous nature of the people who initiated this campaign.

There are some deeply sincere groups opposed to this Bill. Their doubts must be taken seriously, particularly in view of the many amendments the Government has found it necessary to introduce. The first group comprises those who have spotted a defect in some area they are concerned about and, although an amendment may have been made to deal with that particular problem, they wonder whether there might be other defects they have not spotted. I have a great deal of sympathy with these people. The Bill was appallingly badly drafted, as the Minister has tacitly admitted by the extraordinary number of amendments she has made to her own Bill. We must check very carefully to see whether there are other unresolved problems and also that amendments that have been made or amendments which the Minister will be proposing do not create new problems in other areas. I do not think it is really possible to do that at the Committee stage when amendments are coming in droves from all directions. We have eight legislative and general purpose committees set up to deal with just such problems. At the moment there is not a single piece of legislation before seven of those eight committees.

I should like to have seen this Bill referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs. I understand that the Australian Democrats would not support such a move so this proposition will not be put forward. We will have to handle this with our ordinary procedures, defective though they may be. Even if all the loopholes are closed, some of the sincere objectors will still have fundamental objections to the whole concept and necessity of the Bill . Their opposition is based on two grounds. The first is the assumption-it is wrong in fact-that the Bill contains provision for affirmative action. It is true that Senator Ryan's original Bill, presented when she was in Opposition, did contain provision for affirmative action but it is not in the present Bill. I am totally opposed to the use of affirmative action-the idea that if there is a certain percentage of a particular group in the community that group should be proportionately represented in all activities to which they aspire at the expense of other more qualified people, if necessary. This I regard as a very indesirable process. It has caused great problems wherever it has been tried. I would resist any attempt to introduce this pernicious practice into Australian society. However, those who resist affirmative action on the grounds that the cure is worse than the disease must surely encourage prevention of the disease itself. This Bill before us is such a measure of prevention. Its aim is the good Australian rule of a fair go.

The second worry of people sincerely opposed to this Bill is that somehow it will weaken the institution of the family. The proportion of families, households, which fit the traditional family model-that is, husband and wife with dependent children, with the husband being the breadwinner and the wife the homemaker-now comprises less than a quarter of Australian households. Yet, despite this low proportion, these households make a major contribution to our social and moral standards and to the stability of our society. It worries me that our taxation and social welfare policies disadvantage such households and that there are strong financial inducements, particularly if one is prepared to cheat the system, to pursue alternative lifestyles. There is no easy solution to this problem. There are many people in genuine need who are outside the traditional family model. We must carefully examine the effects of all our taxation and social welfare benefits. We should examine both their individual and their cumulative effects to see that they are not accidentally and avoidably having unfortunate effects on our society.

But this is not a worry with this Bill. This Bill does not force or encourage any particular lifestyle. The only possible worry is its acceptance of alternative lifestyles. This is right in line with the platform of the Liberal Party, which specifically states that we respect and defend the right of individuals to choose their own lifestyles. I do not believe for a moment that this tolerance will damage the family. The institution of the family is much stronger than the worriers seem to believe and will certainly resist anything contained in this Bill.

I think the problem comes from what might be called a 'mercantilist' approach to human rights. The mercantilists were a group of seventeenth century and eighteenth century economists who believed that the world economy was fixed in size and, if one group got more, it meant that other groups necessarily got less . This concept was exploded by Adam Smith but the same idea seems to be creeping into this debate. People opposed to this Bill seem to believe that the total of human rights is fixed and if one group gets more it must mean that others get less. This is utter nonsense. The sum of human rights in a society is not fixed. It can grow and all can benefit from others having increased rights. A properly drafted sex discrimination Bill-this Bill as it stands is most emphatically not a properly drafted Bill-could further that worthy aim.