The Governor general – a suitable job for a woman
Quentin Bryce’s appointment as Governor General is the best Big Idea announced this week and appropriately it happened before the 2020 Summit. The feedback in the community has been amazing and at the Sydney Institute dinner when the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd spoke of his achievements to date the applause was loud for the Apology and the appointment of the Governor General. Other items received perfunctory acknowledgement. A steady stream of people came to my table to express their joy that at last there was a woman in this position and a woman they admired even if they had no personal connection with her.
Unreconstructed people I know, predominantly males, have been glowing with an enthusiasm they barely recognised as part of their persona. Some have rushed to tell me that their wives are delighted as well.
So why this rush of excitement about an appointment to a position that many Australians would prefer did not exist? Is it the person or the gender? The answer is both. The symbolism of a woman in the top leadership space in the nation is profound. Add to this a woman deputy Prime minister who has been acting PM and Australia looks a different and more diverse place, a place where the leadership of women is recognised. For women in their eighties who have campaigned for this for many years it is a poignant moment. The fact that it may also be the last Governor General makes it more so – a chance to finally make the recorded history a little better balanced.
Suddenly the old arguments about there being no suitable and qualified women fly out the window. This is an appointment about merit. Quentin Bryce has a law degree and is experienced in Administrative law. She understands the legal framework she will be operating in and has a proven track record as a Governor, having been Governor of Queensland for four and a half years. She has been an academic, a Human Rights campaigner and for five years was the federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner. She knows what divides us.
She is a parent and grandparent and as an integral part of her career she has worked for the rights of children to achieve their full potential –as a Visitor to the US state department in 1978, as the National President of the Association of the Welfare of Children in Hospital and as a director of Plan International Australia. Both as a working parent and as the Chair and CEO of the national Child Care Accreditation Committee she has an intimate knowledge of the needs of families raising their children. And for good measure she was director of the Australian Children’s television Foundation. She covers most of the bases of Australian life
Her life and work are grounded in the community and informed by her sense of fairness and social justice. She has used her education and skills in many parts of community life in Oz
Commissioner Broderick has been travelling around Australia since late November meeting with women and men of all ages and from all walks of life in a bid to find out what the Australian public thinks needs to be done to bring about equality between women and men.
“There is no doubt that balancing work with family and caring responsibilities remains a major challenge for many,” Commissioner Broderick said.
“We have been told at every consultation we’ve held around Australia that a paid maternity leave scheme is an urgent and essential measure.
“I was also staggered to hear of the desperate financial situations many Australian women find themselves in when they retire – a legacy of discriminatory policies and practices of the past, the difficulties for women to remain in paid work over their lives and the pay equity gap that still exists between women and men when they are in paid work.
“Sexual harassment also appears to be continuing at an alarming rate. We simply have to educate people that this type of behaviour is not only on the same spectrum as other violence against women but it is unlawful and has been for nearly a quarter of a century,” Ms Broderick said.
Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Susan Booth said the Queensland consultations were an important opportunity for Queenslanders to have a say in a more equal future for Australians.
“I urge Queenslanders to have their say on the important gender based issues we face as a country – particularly concerns around women and work and the economic independence of women,” Ms Booth said.
Many years feminists have spoken of the personal being political