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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 2 Hansard (4 March) . . Page.. 772..


MRS CROSS (continuing):

At the time of our settlement the status of women was not what it is today. The first women brought with them over a millennium of attitudes that reinforced gender bias. It is to our credit that Australian women have progressed so rapidly and led the world on a number of fronts. In 1902, Ada Evans became the first woman to receive a law degree. However, she was prevented from practising as a lawyer for another 19 years, the year before non-Aboriginal women in Australia gained the right to vote in a federal election. Unfortunately Aboriginal women, along with Aboriginal men, had to wait another six and a half decades before they were able to do so.

Edith Cowan became the first woman elected to an Australian parliament in 1921. Two years later women could sit on juries for the first time. The first birth control clinic was set up in Sydney in 1933. Here is a good one. In 1966 the bar on married women as permanent employees of the federal public service was abolished. That same year Senator Annabelle Rankin became the first woman to be granted a portfolio in the Commonwealth government ministry.

In 1972 there was another red-letter day for women when the principle of equal pay for work of equal value was adopted. This came after 60 years of repeated attempts; however, few women were able to benefit from the change at that time because men and women worked under different awards. Unfortunately equal pay for women is yet to be fully achieved in this country.

In 1973 paid maternity leave was granted to women in the Commonwealth public service. In 1976 there was another defining moment when Joy Mein became the first woman president of a major political party-the Liberal Party, nationally. The following year 12 months maternity leave was granted to all permanent workers. This decision guaranteed continuity of employment following leave for the birth of a child.

Paid maternity leave is an issue I have been speaking on for many years, particularly in this place. I tabled a paper at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference in South Australia in 2002. I did a comparative analysis of what it costs for maternity leave in Australia for women in the public service and what it would cost to cover all taxpaying women in Australia for such leave. The minimal cost to fund all taxpaying women was the cost of a cup of coffee a month.

When I ask people, "Do you know how much you pay for education in Australia every year?"most people do not know. If you ask them what they pay for unemployment benefits, they would not know. For unemployment benefits each taxpayer contributes approximately $1,800; for education we each pay between $600 and $700 a year; to fund the ABC we pay anywhere between $17 and $100 a year, depending on where you get your statistics. The cost to fund paid maternity leave would be only $30 a year per taxpayer-the cost of a cappuccino a month.

When you explain that to taxpayers they say, "Gee, that is not a lot."It is not a lot of money but the fact is that the issue of paid maternity leave for all taxpaying women in Australia has been used as a political football in this country for many decades. It has been 30 years since women in the public service were granted paid maternity leave. It is a great pity that this issue has yet to be addressed federally, as it continues to be used as a political football between the major parties.


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