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Affirmative Action Review Secretariat,
Department of Workplace Relations and Small Business, GPO Box 9879,
Canberra ACT 2601
20 March 1998


1 This is a preliminary submission pending the roundtable discussions in Melbourne on 26th March. Please immediately advise us of the venue for the roundtable.

2. We are opposed to the Affirmative Action Act because it bypasses the merit principle and gives preference to women in hiring and promotions. The violation of the merit principle constitutes a grave injustice to those men (and their wives and children) who miss out on jobs or promotions because of a pre-set target or goal for the hiring and/or promotion of women.

3. The claim that the Act does not bypass the merit principle is specious because if merit was the only criterion for hiring and promotion, there would be no need for the Act.

4. The claim is sometimes made that the Act is there to define "merit". However, it is impossible for any legislation in a democracy to remove an employer’s right to define what constitutes "merit" in that particular business, so the Act is pointless in this regard.

5. Complying with the requirements of the Act is very costly to any business or university - half a million dollars per year is a conservative estimate of the direct costs of employing an Affirmative Action Officer, together with support staff, office costs, computer facilities etc. Enclosed (Appendix I) is the type of advertisement that is appearing to help employers avoid the horrendous costs associated with claims for unfair dismissal or sexual harassment. Although such claims are not directly related to the Affirmative Action Act, the advertisement gives some indication of the high cost to business of unnecessary regulations.

6. The cost to the community of not employing or promoting the best person for the job is incalculable.

7. There is also a hidden cost to society of discriminating against males - unemployed men or men who do not achieve promotions, are often unable to marry and support a family, buy a home or pay off a mortgage, this applies even if their prospective partner has a good job herself, as women generally do not like to "marry down", and are not enthusiastic about supporting an unemployed man indefinitely. Unemployed men or those who perceive themselves as failures can become feral, i.e. alienated from society, or suicidal. The suicide rate for young men is far higher than for women. On the other hand, women who are unemployed do have an alternative role - they can marry, have children and feel they have a worthwhile task in life in raising children.

8. Current data shows that it is not women but men, who are failing in life, whether it be life expectancy, success in HSC exams, or enrolment in tertiary education. (cf Appendices 2 and 3). Whatever excuse there may have been for affirmative action 12 years ago, there is none now.

9. If the legislation was intended to enable women to achieve the same level of "merit" as men, any programs such as literacy or other training for the disadvantaged should be available to both women and men. Men are more in need of such programs than women.

10. The Act is based on the false premise that because there is not a 50/50 split in the numbers of men and women in all jobs and at all levels of promotion, there must have been discrimination that needs to be redressed. Such a belief ignores the fact that the available pool of male and female employees is not equal - at any given time, a substantial number of women of child-bearing age are out of the paid workforce (or only want part-time work) because they are rearing young children.

11. The Act takes no account of the different preferences and life patterns of men and women, and assumes that as many women as men want jobs that are hazardous, that involve heavy lifting, travel away from home, outdoor work, work on difficult sites etc. The fact is that women show a preference for work that combines well with, and is similar to, their childrearing role, e.g. they like working as nurses, teachers, in sales, with people. Many women do not want high stress managerial roles because they feel their primary responsibility is to their families.

12. The Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Act 1986 should be abolished as soon as possible.

Babette Francis
National & Overseas Co-ordinator.


I. At the round table consultation I attended in Melbourne on 26th March, the business groups were all represented by their EEO or Affirmative Action officers. The jobs of these representatives depend directly on a continuation and expansion of the Affirmative Action legislation, and naturally I was in a minority of one saying that the Act should be abolished There might have been a different result had the Chief Executive Officers of the business groups involved attended the Round Table. They may be committed to Affirmative Action as their EEO representatives claim, but if so, why do they want Government regulation? They can implement their own plans without the need for government coercion. The views of this particular Round Table were in my view not representative of business in general, and certainly not of shareholders and consumers.

2. An example of how damaging Affirmative Action can be is the closure of the BHP plant in Newcastle. A few years ago some female workers in Newcastle were jubilant over the fact that they had won millions of dollars in back pay for alleged past discrimination. Now the plant is closed and both male and female employees are out of a job. This is a classic example of killing the goose that laid the golden eggs - big business may imagine it is immune to the extra costs imposed by government regulation of affirmative action and other feminist policies, but in today’s globalized business world even small additional costs can make a business uncompetitive.

3. One cannot make up for past injustice to women by discriminating against men now. I pointed this out to the Governor General, Sir William Deane, who indicated he approved of Affirmative Action because his wife had been discriminated against when she was a lawyer. I told him that to compensate his wife, Sir William should resign his job and ask the Government to appoint his wife instead, because it was his age cohort who had benefited from any discrimination against women in the past. Penalizing the young men today who were not responsible for past discrimination, had not benefited from it and who are not even currently doing as well as women in education at school or university, is totally unjust and discriminatory. You cannot compensate for discrimination by inflicting another discrimination on a totally innocent person and benefiting a young woman who has had equal opportunity all her life. Sir William was not very enthusiastic about my suggestion - his reaction is typical of men who promote Affirmative Action but never volunteer to give up their own jobs so a woman of their vintage can get it. It is always some other hapless man who must pay the price for so-called "past discrimination".

4. All the work and regulation involved in Affirmative Action is a waste of time, energy and money because it produces nothing. A favourite argument of the proponents of Affirmative Action is that Australia misses out by ignoring half the pool of available labour, ie women. This argument might have been valid if the "pool" was a small one, but in fact the available "pool" of male labour is quite large enough to supply top-quality applicants for all jobs, indeed we have a high level of unemployment - too large a pool chasing too small a supply of jobs. Affirmative Action is simply a ploy for giving women preferential treatment in training, employment and promotions. Selection should be strictly on merit, and should be gender-blind and race-blind.

5. While those of us at the Round Table were sitting comfortably around a board table in an air-conditioned office and producing absolutely nothing over 3 hours, the real work of Australia was being done just outside in La Trobe St., where a number of buildings are being constructed by men in hard hats and overalls, working in heavy, dangerous work, high up on scaffolding, work done outside in all weathers. Feminists are notable in their absence as applicants for these jobs. They want comfortable jobs in comfortable offices. Affirmative Action policy is larded with hypocrisy because there is absolutely no .emphasis on encouraging feminists into these tough construction jobs or in driving garbage trucks - they just want managerial jobs in air-conditioned premises and university departments.

The Affirmative Action legislation should be abolished as soon as possible, and selection for training, employment and promotions should be strictly on merit.

Babette Francis

National & Overseas Co-ordinator



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