Pru Goward defined her role on the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission very eloquently when giving evidence 11 months ago to a Senate Committee. “It is our duty, in a sense,” Ms Goward told members of the Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Legislation Committee, “to present the worst-case scenario.”

She then proceeded to outline HREOC’s “grave concerns about the implications of dismantling or removing any significant planks of a social, legal and economic contract in Australia which has evolved over 100 years and around which a variety of institutions, policies, cultures and government programs have grown up.”

Ms Goward is still the Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner but the sense of duty appears to have changed. Since being endorsed as the Liberal Party candidate for the seat of Goulburn, a duty to present the worst case scenario has been replaced with the observation that “I’m not sure that I’ve been such a strident critic of WorkChoices.” Read her evidence for yourself and judge whether the following comments are those of a strident critic:

  • the spread of AWAs will inevitably mean that the present system of employer funded paid maternity leave will disappear.
  • the bill fails to adequately protect vulnerable employees and job seekers, particularly workers with disabilities;
  • depending on labour market conditions, it will leave some workers worse off in terms of either wages or conditions—and, as I say, that especially includes low-skilled people, mothers returning to the work force after considerable absences and single parents;
  • While low-paid workers will have less return on excess hours, they will need to work more hours to maintain the same standard of living and family arrangements. Protecting men from excess hours is critical for their access to family life, including post separation and divorce.

What is clear from interviews by Ms Goward yesterday is that her tone will be far more moderate now that she wears two hats rather than one. Of the Workplace Relations law she is now “very supportive of it as a creator of jobs” rather than gravely concerned.

On the possibility of conflict of interest between being a fearlessly independent and impartial public servant and a loyal representative of a political party, Ms Goward seems ambivalent. On the one hand she refers to legal advice obtained by her employer that she does not have to resign from her job but then says she will step down from it on 3 November so she can begin full time campaigning.

The report that her job will be available to her if defeated suggests that it’s leave of absence Ms Goward is taking rather than resignation. Her fellow Liberal candidate with a dual role as a public servant, NSW state deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Greg Smith, will retire as a public servant on the same day and will not have the safety net of guaranteed re-employment.

Peter Fray

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