Equal Opportunity (Misc) Amendment Bill 2008

24 Mar 2009 speecharchive

This speech is to indicate that the Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK is broadly supportive of the Equal Opportunity (Misc) Amendment Bill 2008.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (20:21): I rise to make some comments on this bill. I would like to commend the comments of our learned colleague, the preceding speaker in this debate, the Hon. Robert Lawson, and also refer to the speech made by our lead speaker on this debate, the Hon. Stephen Wade, on 3 March. He has outlined for the parliament what the Liberal Party's position is in relation to which aspects of this bill will be party votes and which will be conscience votes. I would also like to commend the member for Heysen in another place who has, I think in good faith, attempted to negotiate a position which Liberal members would find more satisfactory. As preceding speakers have already referred to, there have been, in the previous iterations of this bill, many things which members on this side of the council would have vehemently disagreed with.

I recognise that all legislation that tries to address equal opportunity and discrimination does need to be modernised over time and, therefore, this bill needs to be given due consideration. I think in the initial bill some 80 per cent of the content was not regarded as contentious, but some of it was quite ludicrous. One ground that springs to mind quite easily is on the basis of one's trade; another is on the grounds of one's geographic residence. I scratch my head trying to understand why that sort of thing would be included in the legislation.

I think that this bill has been quite a burr in the side of the government and has exposed the vast differences in opinion between the left and right of the Labor Party. As I have said, there have been attempts in good faith by our negotiator to negotiate a responsible position in relation to equal opportunity. I would also like to echo the words of the Hon. Robert Lawson in that this is an aspirational piece of legislation. I think it is unrealistic to expect that every instance of discrimination could possibly be properly addressed or every grievance could ever be addressed through the Equal Opportunity Act, and it would be incorrect to attempt to enact symbolism through a piece of legislation such as this. It needs to be realistic in that advancements can be made in correcting some grievances but, ultimately, it is educating people to understand that difference is not a reason to discriminate.

To briefly recap, the Liberal Party has a firm position in relation to caring relationships. It has a position which also supports the inclusion of domestic partners and, in relation to the tribunal being constituted of a presiding member or deputy presiding member, we have an amendment which will seek to ensure that one party will not be unfairly advantaged by having legal representation without the agreement of the other party, which I understand is a key provision of the Magistrates Court operation, and there may be other areas. The Hon. Stephen Wade referred to particular amendments proposed in this regard, and I refer members to his speech in relation to those.

There are areas in which Liberal members have been provided with a conscience vote, including chosen gender, religious dress or adornment, the right of religious institutions to discriminate on the basis of sexuality, or in respect of sporting or other clubs. I indicate that I will place my position formally on those matters when we debate the substantive clauses of those provisions.

I also refer to correspondence we have received from various stakeholders: Carers SA, the Mental Illness Fellowship, the Mental Health Coalition and the Premier's Council for Women. Members who have been aware of my interest in parliamentary matters over the years would understand that I have great sympathy for the position that has been placed on the record to each of us by those groups.

It is curious that the Premier's Council for Women—an advisory body for government—has written to all members, and I ask the government whether this is the first time the Premier's Council for Women has ever written to members of parliament in relation to a bill before parliament and whether it will be an ongoing practice. The way that organisation is constituted, I did not understand that that would be part of its role.

In relation to some of the matters that will be a conscience issue for members, a couple of areas I will touch on are in relation to independent schools. I listened with interest to the Hon. Ann Bressington, who spoke passionately about her sister's situation, and I can understand that it is very personal for her. She has great concern, and that is understandable but, on balance, in relation to independent schools we must understand as a parliament that they have particular strongly-held beliefs, which have not, as the preceding speaker stated, caused undue grief in South Australia, and I think they have valid reasons for wishing to continue to have those rules. I also agree with our preceding speaker that it was a petty provision of the government to insist that those policies be published on the internet as if to say that they should be outed and made ashamed of themselves and forced to publish those rules on the internet.

As the member for Heysen stated in another place in relation to this bill in some previous iteration, we are not requiring organisations to publish their occupational health and safety policy, so why should we do the same in relation to those aspects of it?

With those remarks, I indicate that I am broadly supportive of the bill. However, we will examine each clause, and I do have some sympathy for particular amendments that are being proposed.