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Tuesday, 6 December 1983
Page: 3333


Senator JESSOP(9.39) —I rise to speak fairly briefly about the Sex Discrimination Bill 1983 (No. 2).


Senator Button —Good on you, Senator. I have no doubt you will be lucid and to the point.


Senator JESSOP —Now that I am interrupted by the Leader of the Government, I might speak for a little longer. I just want to say how much I appreciated the speech of my colleague Senator Lewis, who drew attention to certain matters that concern me as well. He referred to sexual harassment. His belief, with which I agree, is that common law can deal with such matters and ought properly to deal with them. I would be worried, as he is, about the external affairs power, which usurps the States rights in this area. I am one who believes in the equality of the sexes and that women should be afforded the same treatment as men in job opportunities, provided that they have the background and experience required. I think they ought to be able to raise loans for housing in the same way as the male of the species, and so on. They ought to be able to do all of those things provided that they have the same sort of requirements applied to them as happen to be applied to men as well.

There are States that have in law protection for women concerning job opportunities and so on. That is where the particular responsibility should lie. If the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women (Senator Ryan) wants to bring forward a Bill to deal with the Australian Capital Territory, I should like to look at it and no doubt I would give it some favourable consideration. However, this Bill is a demonstration of inefficiency and inadequacy. When it was originally introduced into this Parliament, no fewer than 51 amendments were suggested. Now the Government has brought the legislation back before us, including the amendments, in the guise of a new Bill. The Opposition has about 14 amendments to it, and I know that Senator Harradine has a number of amendments as well. The Bill has been a dog's breakfast right from the start. It is no wonder that I have had so much correspondence about this legislation.


Senator Ryan —They would be wasting their time writing to you.


Senator JESSOP —People like writing to me. They like drawing my attention to this matter, not that they needed to do that. The massive volume of correspondence dealing with this Bill supports my concern. Anything that the United Nations recommends to Australia I treat with a lot of suspicion. I remember last year when Malcolm Fraser trotted into the Parliament a Bill on human rights. I looked at it and thought: 'This sounds great. I suppose that Australia will be able to preen itself on the international stage and to say that it is progressive'. But then I looked at those who were supporting it in the United Nations, the signatories of the convention concerned, the first covenant of which happened to endorse the freedom of people to give expression to their political views. When I looked more carefully at the list of signatories, I found that 50 of them were military dictators. Would they give their citizens the right to disagree with their political philosophy? I do not think so. They would not discriminate against women, either; they would shoot them all or put them in-


Senator Reynolds —Rubbish.


Senator JESSOP —If the honourable senator looked at the list of signatories to the United Nations convention, she would realise how many political prisoners these people have. She would be amazed. The great human rights supporters of this Government would then realise that whatever the United Nations puts up must be treated with suspicion. Looking down the list of signatories of this suggestion that we are to adopt, one realises that some of them would certainly not regard their women to anywhere near the degree that we do. Therefore, I treat this with a certain amount of suspicion. Nevertheless, I do not want to alienate myself entirely from the Women's Electoral Lobby. That would be a disaster. Those people would hold that against me. They would probably publish my name in the Press and say: 'We give him zero marks for this'. But I do not worry about that, because there are far more women in the community who would agree that the measures inherent in this Bill provide reason for concern.

Some of the letters that I have received are quite demonstrative in the concern expressed. Typical of many that I have received is a letter that appeared in the Australian of 13 October this year. It is headed 'A Trojan horse', and it states :

Speaking as one of the ''formidable campaigners'' mentioned by Jane Fraser (The Australian, 20/9) on the sex discrimination bill, I continue to marvel at the innocence of journalists who think that the issue raised by the bill is making ' 'sex discrimination'' unlawful.

A number of provisions of the bill, crafted with careful clumsiness, are after much bigger game. Sections 28 and 29, for example, explicitly exclude as non- discriminatory programs designed to create ''equal opportunity'' for ''members of one sex.''

Here is the Trojan horse by which quotas for women-which, of course, discriminate against men-will be introduced.

A particularly obfuscatory passage in section 5 of the bill counts as discriminatory any practice whatever that ''unreasonably'' affects one sex more than the other. This gives the sex discrimination commissioner carte blanche to interpret any job requirement, a height and weight or strength requirement, for instance, as ''unreasonable'' and hence in violation of the law.

Because of the infinite mischief potential in this bill, all of it directed at men, and hence at men who support their families, it is quite reasonable to see the bill as anti-family. It is certainly not directed outside the home in its impact.

Moreover, the noxious provision that ''marital status'' never be attended to by employers, which has nothing to do with sex discrimination at all, is a further effort to elevate what in America we call shacking up to the status of the family.

Dr John Hall, incidentally, is to be congratulated for his letter (23/9), which forthrightly explains why discrimination is not the same as recognition of difference. He is right, too, that the bill is a menace to civil liberties, as a Senate committee charged with studying such matters concluded a few weeks ago.

That was signed by Michael Levin, a professor of philosophy, of New York.


Senator Giles —Ha, ha! You don't believe it.


Senator JESSOP —Honourable senators may guffaw and create incredible humour about that letter. They may not believe it. Nevertheless, I shall talk a little more and see whether they believe this.


Senator Giles —We would love some more. It would be a little light relief.


Senator JESSOP —The Institute of Public Affairs, which is a reasonably credible organisation, states:

Most people would support justice for all regardless of sex. Male and female should receive equal pay for equal work, equal opportunity in education and training for employment in the occupation of their choice.

I agree with that. I said that at the outset. It amuses me to note the job creation program that is available in local government areas. It ought to be 50: 50 for females and males. I agree with that-except when it comes to road making. I think that ladies should be given equal opportunity for employment on the roads. I believe that in all probability, although because of their physical restrictions they may not be able to lift the load that the male can, they could probably do the work just as well. Why should we discriminate?


Senator Giles —Who worries about how much wives are required to lift?


Senator JESSOP —I can imagine the honourable senator who has interrupted lifting a wheelbarrow, wielding a pick or doing something like that. I think she could do it very well because, in my view, she has strength that would be more than equal to mine. Those matters ought to be looked at. I cannot disagree with equal opportunity. As the Institute of Public Affairs in New South Wales states:

Most would also support the general principle of providing employment, accommodation, finance etc. without discrimination on grounds of sex.

I said that initially and this supports my view. It continues:

However, the Bill goes far beyond this and raises concern on several different grounds. It must also be realised that any Anti-discrimination Bill in favour of some must discriminate against someone else.

The Institute goes on to point to some specific matters:

1. Tying the Bill to the UN Convention associates it with the external affairs clause in the Constitution which, when related to the Tasmanian Dam made it possible to overrule the States. Senator Ryan agrees that this would be so but says that only certain parts of the Convention would be included; however, all the 30 articles quoted are included. Removing State rights and obeying international conventions without putting them to referendum, present dangerous precedents.

I think that reflects my concern quite adequately. Later it continues:

Many employers, education authorities and people of various religions have strong feelings about the importance of marriage and pregnancy within marriage.

Many consider that paid maternity leave in the public service has been abused. It disorganises schools--


Senator Giles —How do you abuse maternity leave?


Senator JESSOP —It is all right for Senator Giles to moan again. I would like to see her out on the road with a pick in her hand, doing a bit of hard work rather than bending her mind to things like this. It does disorganise schools, hospitals and whatever throughout the community.


Senator Giles —Rubbish!


Senator JESSOP —It is not rubbish at all. I have had complaints in the past where the work load thrust upon people, not only--


Senator Giles —That is the employer's responsibility, isn't it?


Senator JESSOP —Okay, but the point is made and it is quite true. There are matters in this Bill that have not been thoroughly thought through and for that reason I am concerned. Perhaps my feelings could be summed up quite well if I borrow the words of my former colleague, Sir James Killen, when he wrote-I think it was in the Weekend Australian some weeks ago:

Poor philosophy, poor grammar and poor drafting-is about the best that can be said of the Sex Discrimination Bill 1983, now before the Federal Parliament.

It was an excellent article and among other things he said:

I can hear the so-called feminists, many of whom give a unique explanation as to why misogyny came into existence, rail and rant.

The Sex Discrimination Bill consists of 106 clauses. It has a Schedule attached to it-The breathed-on U.N. Convention on the matter.

Between the Bill and the Convention the only discrimination between man and woman that is not extinguished is the difference.

But then there is another splendid assurance within our sight. 'Woman' means a member of the female sex irrespective of age. Is it that the servant in Shakespeare's King Lear was in error when he argued: 'Women will all turn monsters'?

Using language which would have been shunned by Boadicea, the Bill proscribes the areas of discrimination.

For even the 'part-emancipated mind', the proscriptions are laughable.

. . . .

'The aim of a Federation', said the great Mr Deakin, 'is to found a nation'.

Perfectly true, but nations are not to be constructed, protected, their cause furthered by ridiculous resorts to legislative nonsense.

I am sorry he did not finish up there, but he goes on to say:

The common law and the criminal codes of the States are not lacking in authority-

that is what Senator Lewis said and I support it--

and sanction with respect to assault of improper physical advancement. But no, the Sex Discrimination Bill 1983 seeks to erect its own rockery of discipline.

Is a wink at a bus conductress, the sending of flowers to a hostess, the helping of a woman across a street, 'sexual harassment'?

One has to ask the question because one never knows; it may be regarded as such. The way the Government brings these things in without a thought makes me very concerned. But then perhaps I do not understand the attitudes or the minds of Senator Ryan and others. My wife seems to be quite happy with her lot. She believes it is quite important for me to open the door for her and all those things-the graces, the traditional behaviour that has come to be expected. I have serious reservations about this legislation. I propose to support the amendments put forward by the Opposition and by Senator Harradine when the time comes and will reserve my final decision until later.