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Wednesday, 18 September 1985
Page: 682

Senator CROWLEY —My question is directed to the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women. Has the Minister seen the article about affirmative action in today's Australian Financial Review reporting on the recent meetings between the Government and the Federal Government working party monitoring the affirmative action pilot program? Is the Minister aware of the statements by the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Minister for the status of women supporting a voluntary council for equal opportunity as proposed by the Business Council of Australia as an alternative to the Government's policy to legislate for affirmative action? In view of these comments, can the Minister report on the outcome of the recent meetings and what is the Government's position?

Senator RYAN —I have seen the article to which Senator Crowley referred in her question and which appeared in the Australian Financial Review this morning. I am able to report to the Senate that the article is inaccurate because it created the impression that there was a wide gulf between the Government and the business community on the question of the next step in terms of our commitment to affirmative action in the private sector. Senator Peter Baume has been attending this working party and has been a most constructive member of it and he will attest that there is a very high degree of agreement among the represenatatives on the working party. There is agreement that there needs to be a systematic approach to the improvement of women's employment opportunities throughout the private sector; there is agreement that such an approach needs to be flexible and to take account of the great diversity of employment circumstances in the private sector; and there is agreement that the affirmative action pilot program has been a successful exercise in that it has informed the working party about the difficulties of implementing such a systematic approach and of the benefits that such an approach can bring to female employees. There is a very high level of agreement among members of the working party. We have just had our penultimate meeting of the working party; there is one more meeting to come. At this stage the working party is drafting a final report and it is my hope that that report will be a consensus document.

The Business Council of Australia has announced an intention to set up a voluntary affirmative action program to cover the business sector. That step has been welcomed by the Opposition and has been commented on by me, on behalf of the Government, and by the Australian Council of Trade Unions. The business sector has expressed an in-principle opposition to legislation, but its opposition has been all along to what it has called `prescriptive legislation'. At this stage the legislative option under consideration by the Government is very different from the kind of legislation to which the Business Council has been expressing opposition. The voluntary program is very similar to the legislative option that is being developed by the Government. Before we have our final meeting, I express my hope that the voluntary program outlined by the business sector can be incorporated into the kind of legislative approach that the Government intends to take.