Attorney-General Rob Hulls said this week: “It seems to me that a contemporary, enlightened and diverse world demands that clubs… should really change their fossil-like views.”
Hulls spoke about the Athenaeum Club excluding female members. But he could have been talking about the ALP, which requires membership applicants to “be a member of an affiliated union if eligible”.
Considering only 20 per cent of workers are unionised, this surely is “fossil-like”, a 19th century view.
In 1999, then premier Steve Bracks called for private men’s clubs to allow female members to join. Now Hulls has proposed to change the Equal Opportunity Act to force them.
But private clubs should be able to decide who can and can’t be a member. If prospective members don’t like the rules, they don’t have to join. If current members don’t like the rules, they can try for change – or leave.
The issue at stake is property rights, not equal opportunity. And making it equal opportunity makes it impossible to design a system that makes everyone happy. Take Fernwood Fitness Centres.
It’s a female-only fitness club that believes there’s a “need for women to have their own special space – a comfortable sanctuary to work out and enjoy regular exercise”.
Similarly, gay nightclub The Peel. In 2007, it was exempted from the Equal Opportunity Act, allowing it to exclude heterosexuals and women to make its target patrons, gay males, feel more comfortable.
There’s fundamentally no difference between The Peel, Fernwood and the Melbourne Club. All are private institutions admitting patrons based on self-imposed rules. In all cases, patrons believe they need a sanctuary from the broad community.
All should operate under the same rules. But that won’t suit anyone. The real objective of Hulls’s proposed changes isn’t equal opportunity, but affirmative action, rooted in “progressive” ideology, to tinker with societal outcomes.
Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Helen Szoke let the cat out of the bag when she talked about Hulls’s proposed changes.
Szoke said “men are over-represented in positions of power and positions of seniority in terms of being significant decision-makers in the community”.
Hulls’ introduction to the Charter of Human Rights says “freedom of association… and other basic human rights are almost universally recognised, yet not always practised”.
But Hulls isn’t practising what he preaches. If he did, he’d let private clubs, not the Government, decide their membership.