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Monday, 6 December 1993
Page: 3861

Senator PATTERSON (3.52 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the document.

I rise to speak on the seventh annual report of the Affirmative Action Agency, which covers the period June 1992 to May 1993. As honourable senators will recall, unlike the Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner, who has the task of enforcing anti-discrimination legislation which prohibits discriminatory behaviour, the Director of the Affirmative Action Agency has the job of removing discrimination from the workplace by requiring employers to take positive action to ensure that their employment practices do not discriminate against women. Organisations covered by the Affirmative Action Act are required to develop and implement an affirmative action program and to report on the program annually to the Affirmative Action Agency.

  The annual report of the Affirmative Action Agency, which has been tabled in the Senate today, covers a significant period in the history of the agency. The last year has seen the completion of the first major review of the effectiveness of the affirmative action legislation, although much of the work of the review was completed in 1991-92. The final report, Quality and Commitment: The Next Steps was published in January 1993.

  The report has found that, while a high rate of compliance with the act has been achieved over the last five years, a great deal still has to be done to achieve equality of opportunity for women in the workplace. We only have to look at how few women have reached the top echelons of both business and government organisations to see evidence of this.   The last year has also been significant for the agency because of a number of structural and policy changes to the agency's function. Not only has the agency become a statutory authority but also its director has been given the power to vary reporting requirements for those organisations with an excellent record on affirmative action. In addition, from January of this year the federal government has adopted a policy of contract compliance whereby employers who fail to comply with the Affirmative Action Act are no longer eligible for government contracts for goods or services and specified forms of industry assistance.

  Finally, changes to the affirmative action legislation late last year also extended the role of the agency. From 1994 onwards, voluntary bodies with 100 or more paid employees will have to lodge affirmative action reports with the agency. As a result, around 147 non-government schools, 143 community organisations, and some 44 group training companies will be reporting to the agency for the first time in 1994.

  While the coalition did not oppose the extended coverage of the act at the time it went through the Senate, we were aware of concerns expressed by some voluntary bodies regarding the expense involved in the reporting requirements and, further, that failure to comply with the legislation could jeopardise government assistance. Given the invaluable role many voluntary organisations have in our community, I would like to see next year's annual report address in some detail the impact the reporting requirements are having on these bodies.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.