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Monday, 14 October 1985
Page: 1136

Senator COATES —Has the Minister assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women seen comments in the Hobart Mercury from an opponent of this Government once again misrepresenting the Government's affirmative action proposals? Will the Minister therefore restate whether the proposed legislation strikes at the heart of the principle of recruitment and promotion on the basis of merit, as suggested? Does the legislation represent the first step in the direction of quotas, despite the Government's clear statement to the contrary?

Senator RYAN —I do not know how often mischievous people are going to misrepresent the facts about the Government's affirmative action policy, and I do not know how long media outlets will be prepared to promote these totally misleading ideas. The whole point of the Government's approach to affirmative action in private sector employment is to establish a situation in which women may be judged on their merits. If Mrs Holmes would care to address herself to the progress report put out by the Office of the Status of Women Affirmative Action Resource Unit, which reported in some detail on the affirmative action pilot program, she would gain an understanding of what our Government means by affirmative action for women in employment in the private sector.

What it means, very briefly, is this: Under our approach to affirmative action, large employers in the private sector will undertake a systematic review and analysis of their recruitment, employment, promotion and training policies to ensure that women are not being excluded from opportunities in training and employment on criteria other than merit, for example, that they are not being denied the opportunity for technical or managerial training on an assumption that they may leave the employment to have children, that they have children and their children may get sick making them unable to fulfil their terms of employment, or any other criteria of these kinds which are not applied to men in a similar circumstance.

I remind the Senate, and Senator Coates will perhaps remind Mrs Holmes, that the working party brought down a consensus report on this matter. The reason why there has been such general support, and even enthusiasm, for the Government's approach to affirmative action on the part of the Business Council of Australia and the Confederation of Australian Industry is that they appreciate that it is in the interests of an employer to recruit and promote on merit. They appreciate the fact that our approach will mean that the pool of eligible talent for any particular position will be much larger if women can get into that pool. Once in the pool, of course, they will be assessed on their capacity to do the job, as men have been, and the best person will get the job. In many cases the best person will continue to be a male person. Now under the new arrangements, the best person will turn out to be a woman much more often than in the past when there was structural discrimination against women.

Those of us who are concerned that people should get jobs on their merits should recognise that the whole purpose of our approach to affirmative action is to develop a situation in private employment, as we are already doing in the public sector, whereby, in regard to acceptance to train as an apprentice, acceptance for employment with promotion possibilities or acceptance for on the job training in blue collar, white collar or managerial areas, women will not be discounted simply because they are women, because they are married or because they have children, but their particular capacities to do the job will be assessed and the decision will be made on merit. I would be very grateful if Senator Coates passed that information on to Mrs Holmes and to the Mercury. This has been clearly the Government's intention from the outset, and it really is rather discouraging to find people who ought to know better persisting in misrepresenting the objectives of the Government's approach.