My grandmother began teaching a few years after Federation. When she married my grandfather in 1917, she was forced to resign because the Commonwealth Public Service Act stated that a female officer had to resign on marriage.
Moving on a couple of decades, the Federal Cabinet decided in 1940, as a war measure for the duration of the war, that a female Commonwealth Public Service officer would be allowed to continue her employment in a temporary capacity.
With the War over, Cabinet reaffirmed, in 1946, the Regulation that female officers be required to resign on marriage with the exception of widows, divorcees and married women separated from their husband and not receiving financial support.
Cabinet specifically instructed the Department of Education that it must endeavour to reduce to the minimum the number of married female teachers in temporary employment.
For the following 20 years, the employment of married female teachers conformed to this policy. Married female temporary teachers were dismissed at the end of the year and, dependent upon the exigencies of the Department of Education, varying numbers were re-employed the following year. My mother, who began teaching during the 1940s and married in 1953, faced this uncertainty every year and did not receive entitlements like holiday pay and sick leave.
The video in the following link explains the dilemma facing women in the 60s.
In November 1966 Australia became the last democratic country to lift the legislated “marriage bar”, which had prevented married women from holding permanent positions in the public service for over 60 years.
From 13 February 1969, the permanent head of a State Department could recommend the permanent employment of married female public servants after a consideration of the requirements of the Service and the suitability of the officer. Female teachers were given the opportunity to apply for permanent or temporary status. Permanent status was dependent on the applicant’s efficiency related to experience.
As a result of the criteria applied, however, many of the women who applied for permanent status were refused. In 1970 about 30 per cent of those who applied were unable to gain permanent status. It was not until 1973 that a change in policy made it easier for women to receive permanent status.
In 1976 I enrolled at Sydney University, armed with my teaching scholarship, and blissfully unaware that being female was any barrier. Tony Abbott was very active in student politics and our paths crossed at times. I considered him an ignorant bully boy but he was not alone.
The video in this next link shows the attitudes at the time of Tony’s mentor B A Santamaria and other young men who could well have been Tony’s peers.
Santamaria explains his idea about the roles of people in a family. For him, there are ideally set out roles for the husband and wife. The husband ensures income to the family by participating in a public world, while the wife maintains the domestic or ‘private’ economy. These are the rules of the family system, or at least Santamaria’s idea of it.
In 1977, the Report of the Royal Commission on Human Relationships was presented to the Commonwealth Parliament. The Report stated that women were discriminated against in employment and their work undervalued or underpaid. It also pointed out that work was predicated on men’s life patterns, on freedom from child bearing, and on ability to work; and that when women’s work patterns were broken because of child rearing, penalties were imposed on them.
Faced with an over-supply of teachers in 1978, State Cabinet decided to implement an order of priority in the employment of teachers. Consequently, married women with husbands who worked were placed third on the list of those applying for teaching positions.
In 1981, Cabinet decided that married female teachers would no longer be placed into a separate category for employment. Henceforth, a higher priority was given to a first income-earner, irrespective of sex.
In 1982, the Commonwealth Government announced that it would legislate to prevent discrimination against women. This was a consequence of its action in 1980 when it signed a United Nations declaration condemning such discrimination.
During the time of the Fraser government, Dr Gabriel Moens was appointed by the Human Rights Commission to prepare a report assessing the merits and demerits of affirmative action. He concluded that:
“ . . . the government’s acceptance of affirmative action proposals, initiated mainly by feminist groups, is part of a trend in which the ideal of equality of opportunity has been replaced by an ideal of equality of result. The Human Rights Commission, which is supposed to fight discrimination, seems to consider the anti-discrimination principle a thing of the past – it now appears to favour a distribution of benefits on the basis of sex, ethnicity and colour. This is a very disturbing development in our society.”
The report was dismissed by the Hawke government.
Both Tony Abbott and Dr Moens were great fans of Santamaria. In a speech in 1998 Tony Abbott described him as “a philosophical star by which you could always steer” and “the greatest living Australian”. Abbott has said that what impressed him about Santamaria was “the courage that kept him going as an advocate for unfashionable truths”.
In 2009 Dr Moens gave a speech on the occasion of the inauguration of the B.A. Santamaria Library at Murdoch University in Perth. It was titled “MEN AND IDEAS: Bob Santamaria’s role in Australia’s culture wars.” In his speech Dr Moens said
“Encouragement for the vocation of homemaker is described as a particularly odious form of sexism. Instead, feminism, preferential treatment, alternative lifestyles, infidelity and politically correct speech, just to name a few, are variously described as desirable or even liberating orthodoxies. These new orthodoxies, which are often aggressively promoted by well-funded lobby groups, create a climate of intolerance and instil a sense of genuine fear into a great number of decent people.”
Remember, he said this less than 5 years ago.
And here we are today, with people like Fred Nile and Corey Bernardi in positions of power making decisions about how our country should be run, ably assisted by the likes of George Pell. Not content with that, they also want to run our lives, be our moral compass and our spiritual guides. We have a plethora of men dictating to women what their role should be. Sadly, there aren’t any of us who merit a position in these powerful circles, so we have a misogynist as the Minister for Women, a man who infamously said
“I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons.”
So ladies and gentlemen, gird your loins and pick up your placards – this fight still has a way to go!
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