Mr SOUTHWICK (Caulfield) — I rise to speak on the Equal Opportunity Amendment Bill 2011. We have heard a whole lot of rants from the opposition tonight on this bill. We have just heard from the previous speaker about the disbanding of the Victoria Police multicultural advisory unit and how we are all going to pack our bags, close the doors and not continue to do the great work that has been done in multiculturalism in Victoria. This is a whole lot of rubbish.
It has been stated by those on this side of the house that we are going to strengthen the multicultural unit, strengthen multiculturalism and continue to build in this area.
We have also heard a whole lot of ranting from the opposition tonight in regard to indigenous communities. Opposition members will use whatever scaremongering tactics they can to try to scare the community about what this is all about. What this bill is about, loudly and clearly, is restoring what has been in place for a long time and in fact is still in place until the legislation introduced by the previous government takes shape. With this new amendment bill we will continue to progress a set of laws which the Victorian community is known to have come to respect, come to work with and come to understand. They are laws that allow a whole lot of different groups to work together to ensure that there is common sense when we talk about equal opportunity.
‘Common sense’ are the two words we need to emphasise when it comes to this bill, because it gives a fair and reasonable look at a whole range of things when it comes to sport, when it comes to schools and when it comes to hiring and firing in the community. Let us start with sport. We have heard a lot about bowls tonight, and some opposition members have gone on a bit about bowls. Bowls is a very important sport. In fact bowls has one of the highest participation rates of all sports in Australia, and we in this government want to keep it that way. If opposition members had their way, they would look at all sorts of ways to reduce that participation by making it very hard for people who want to play.
There is no question. All those on this side of the house have spoken to people from many of our bowls clubs, and we know that participation in bowls will increase if we allow women to play with women, men to play with men and for them to continue to exist the way that they do. We know that is the case. We have gyms for women and we have gyms for men.
When it comes to sport we want women to participate in a comfortable and friendly manner, in the way they wish to, and not feel threatened in any particular way. I feel this bill goes a long way in doing that. We should do whatever we can to encourage participation in sport for a whole host of reasons, and we have heard from members — certainly government members — that increasing participation in sport provides a whole host of other benefits in terms of reducing obesity and strengthening communities, which is what we are all about.
The second item I would like to talk about is something that is very close to my heart, and that is restoring common sense when it comes to faith-based schools. As members know, there are a number of such schools in my electorate of Caulfield. Parents choose to send their kids to those schools for religious reasons, and many of the schools ensure that the sort of values they want to teach their kids are delivered.
For instance, and both sides of the house will appreciate this, the media is not viewed in those schools. They do not have the television shows, including the crime shows, that we are exposed to. They do not show them in those schools. In fact they teach good, hard values. Those schools should be allowed to hire and fire based on their religious values. They should not be told that it is politically correct to have anyone teaching in their school whether or not they believe in the school’s values or are a match for the particular religious school. Heaven forbid that a Jewish school might want to hire a member of the Jewish community or that a Catholic school might want to hire somebody with belief in the Catholic faith!
This comes down to us being able to decide who we want to teach our kids in school and how we want them to be taught. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
We do not just say, ‘What we are going to do is throw the baby out with the bathwater and introduce amendments from the previous government and allow people, in terms of political sensitivity, to hire and fire on that basis’. That is not what this is about. What we are doing is ensuring that we avoid injury to a lot of parents when they make very important decisions about sending their kids to these schools. In many cases they are life-based decisions.
In many instances people will say, ‘These are wealthy families. They are sending their kids to private schools’, and the generalisations will go on. In fact that does not happen in my electorate of Caulfield. There are many parents who are doing whatever they can to keep their kids in school. Many of the schools in my electorate are heavily subsidised. I have a couple of schools where about 80 per cent of the kids are subsidised to stay in them. They are subsidised because the community which they belong to believes it is important for those kids to have the right education. If the choice is being made by the individual, the parents or the community, they do not want to be told, ‘I am sorry, it is not politically correct. A Jewish member cannot be taught in this school because of X’, or, ‘You cannot have whoever you like teaching in the school whether or not they fit with the values of that particular school’. We are looking to match values with schools and to ensure that kids are taught what their parents want them to be taught — that is, they are being taught the values that the parents have been brought up on to ensure that the kids end up being fine citizens who contribute to our society, to our economy and to Victoria.
I would also like to talk about discrimination in employment on the basis of political belief or activity, which is another very important area. Clause 35 of the bill, which inserts new section 17A into the Electoral Act 2002, will enable the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) to discriminate against potential employees based on political belief or activity. The Victorian Electoral Commission is required to publish guidelines setting out the criteria to be applied for refusing employment under this provision.
I would like to share a story quickly. At the 2006 election I was at a polling booth receiving some information. A very interesting person came up wearing an Australian Labor Party hat and scarf and everything and tried to hand me a how-to-vote card. Of course I was not tempted! I walked into the polling booth only to see that person walk into the booth and resume their activity working for the Victorian Electoral Commission in the polling station.
They were torn between whether to be a volunteer or to be a worker for the VEC. We found out later that this person was a member of the ALP and was at the same time working for the VEC.
The bill will ensure that if someone has a political focus that is potentially going to harm, they will be excluded from being employed. It will ensure that there will be fairness and inclusiveness, and it will ensure that there is a common-sense approach to equal opportunity, which, by their comments in the house, opposition members have well and truly failed to understand. I commend the bill to the house.