Page 806 - Week 03 - Wednesday, 9 March 2005
well-educated women—what some people then would have called, possibly not complimentarily, femocrats—who were able to steer policy, to some extent, towards a woman-friendly context for people like me.
I endorse almost everything Ms Porter said, and a lot of what Mrs Burke said. While the number of women getting to the top of the public service is increasing, there still is, from the annual reports that I have perused this year, a tendency for women to be clustered around the bottom to middle level positions. I am hoping that situation will change, as the competence of women to take those top positions becomes very clear. I certainly commend the ACT women’s plan but, as Mrs Burke said, the proof is in its implementation.
I note that the wages for women working in schools as teachers—the teaching profession being largely composed of women at this time, though when I went to school it was the other way—as nurses in hospitals, in aged care and in childcare are often lower than they might be, if we were comparing the hours that they work and the type of work that they do. I do not know whether there is still that old idea that women are just doing what comes naturally to them—caring for people—and that therefore they are not putting any particular effort into that. That certainly was a factor in setting wages in earlier years and I fear it may still be so even though our rhetoric has changed. I am aware that childcare workers still are underpaid for the work that they do.
I also commend the women working in the community sector of this town. I am aware that we have very strong women leaders in a number of our important community organisations—ACTCOSS for one and Winnunga Nimmityjah for another—and in many of the health consumers organisations and disability advocacy groups, and I could go on there. In a way, I think this is a reflection of the fact that women so often see themselves as embedded in communities, whether it is in their street or at work. They are the ones out in the streets talking to each other and they are often the first to notice that a neighbour needs a visit. Women working in the community sector have chosen to work with some of the most disadvantaged people in our society and often they are working on lesser rates of pay, comparative to similar positions within the public sector. It is an area that we need to look at. We need to ensure that the people who are, in a way, holding our society together are rewarded as they ought to be and work in conditions that allow them to do their best work.
Then there are the women who work specifically in women’s services. In the 1970s, women had to fight very hard. They started off voluntarily running refuges and assisting women in violent domestic relationships. It has been through their blood, sweat and tears that organisations such as Beryl are receiving the recognition that they deserve. Much will be said over the period of this Assembly about these sorts of services, and this kind of work, but I just wanted to touch on it here.
I also want to respond to what Mrs Burke said about our focus being on the local. Of course, it is absolutely essential we focus on the community that elected us to serve them but, if we do not keep our eye on the regional, the national and the global, we will be setting our benchmarks too low. It is really important for us to be aware of the fact that we are actually a very privileged society, although we have our disadvantaged people, and that we can afford to assist communities elsewhere in the world, and I think women in Canberra are very aware. We saw yesterday at the Unifem lunch the number of people