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Wednesday, 13 November 1985
Page: 2071

Senator PETER BAUME —I ask the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women to confirm that the principle of selection and promotion on merit is the principle that underlies her approach to equal employment opportunity and to any affirmative action designed to secure equal opportunity.

Senator RYAN —I am very pleased to confirm that. In fact, I will make available to Senator Peter Baume a speech I made on that topic at a conference at Macquarie University recently which was organised specifically to explore the issue of merit in relation to affirmative action. Senator Peter Baume, perhaps of all honourable senators on the other side of the chamber, would be very well aware that in the preparation of the report of the Government's working party on affirmative action there was a great deal of discussion as to what affirmative action meant in the context of providing equal employment opportunity. In terms of our Government's approach to this policy it means that barriers which have restricted the opportunity for women to get jobs or promotion on their merits will be removed. Our approach to affirmative action in both the public and private sectors will ensure that the merit principle-that is, the principle of merit for the job-is the criterion used in selecting a person for a job rather than irrelevant criteria such as a person's marital status or family situation, or some such other criteria which have been used in the past, inappropriately, to deny women access to jobs, promotion or training courses associated with jobs. It would be counter-productive if we were to embark on a course of action which would result in women being promoted to jobs for which they were not qualified. Our Government is about giving women, and, indeed, all people in the Australian economy, the opportunity to have satisfying employment in accord with their talents, experience and abilities.

Senator PETER BAUME —I wish to ask a supplementary question. In view of the Minister's answer, why has a decision been made by Australian Capital Territory education authorities, in an area directly under her portfolio control and within her ministerial responsibility, to impose quotas reserving for women at least 50 per cent of advertised senior promotional positions and most higher duties allowances? I ask this of the Minister since such a decision clearly breaches locally the merit principle she has just claimed to support generally.

Senator RYAN —I think that Senator Peter Baume's supplementary question is based on a misleading report in the Canberra Times about the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority's equal employment opportunity policy. I saw a similar suggestion that quotas would be imposed on certain levels of promotion positions within the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority, and, on checking out that claim, found that that indeed was not the case. I think Senator Peter Baume will find that all appointments and promotions in the Australian Capital Territory teaching service will be made on merit but that certain steps will be taken to assist women to get the necessary expertise to be able to compete on merit for senior appointments.

I think that Senator Peter Baume will find that it is the case that the Schools Authority has recommended that female teachers be given the opportunity to act in higher duties. This is not in breach of the merit principle because were they to seek promotion to those positions they would be assessed on their capacity to do the job. I understand that in the past very few female teachers were given the opportunity to act in a senior position. Thus it has often been the case that they have not been able to add that experience to their other qualifications when seeking a promotion position.

I conclude by saying that it interests me to note when an initiative such as the Schools Authority's equal opportunity plan is published that all kinds of fears and anxieties are expressed and questions such as those asked by Senator Baume are asked and yet, to my knowledge, Senator Baume never leapt to his feet in this place and asked me why it was that no female teacher had ever been appointed to the position of principal in the Australian Capital Territory secondary system or to the position of secondary college principal. He never concerned himself to find out whether any woman teacher had ever been given the opportunity for a higher duties experience in the way that the system was being managed. Indeed, it is only when women suddenly are given positions or opportunities of this kind that concerns about equity and merit seem to be raised.