The fruits of FEMINISM

It’s the flavor of the month – if not the year, or the decade. But how far has feminism really brought us and how much more social change do influential Australian women want? Karen Kissane reports.

PERHAPS Thelma and Louise, Hollywood’s glam refugees from patriarchy, drove over that cliff too soon. Men still run the world but, 10 years after the passing of the Sex Discrimination Act, they’re running a very different one: one with increasing numbers of women and strict rules about how they must be accommodated. And the Earth has yet to stop moving under our collective feet.

Twenty years after the street marches for equal pay and abortion, after the first cautious venturing into feminist waters by Malcolm Fraser and the high-dive by Gough Whitlam that followed, the unthinkable has become not only achievable but uncontroversial. The principles of equal opportunity in the workforce, once vilified as destroying the family, burdening commerce and laying men open to victimisation by false claims, are now widely accepted in the business world. Women’s jobs are held for them while they have babies, they have equal pay and they have the right to work without enduring humiliation, as the former NSW Police Minister recently discovered when he was forced to resign after reported allegations of sexual harassment against him.

Women have surged into the workforce and their issues have soared to near the top of the Federal Government’s agenda. At a time when the “women’s movement” – if there ever was such a collective creature – is being portrayed as divided, and is under attack from critics including some younger women, women’s policy and legislative change are barrelling along at a head-spinning rate. This week alone, the Australian Law Reform Commission has released the second stage of its report into justice for women in the legal system, the Prime Minister has announced moves to strengthen sex discrimination laws, and family leave to care for sick relatives is being debated – not in terms of whether or why, but when and how.

This week, too, Melbourne is hosting the International Feminist Book Fair. In October, Adelaide will host an international conference on Women, Power and Politics to commemorate the centenary of women’s suffrage in South Australia. A recent Sydney forum was organised to discuss women and the republic. When the committee that drew up Australia’s Constitution was formed, women were not included.

Australia had no founding mothers first time around, and influential women are determined that in the debate about the republic and constitutional change, women must help to shape the new nation in which they would live.

Has Australian feminism, as it nears the millenium, reached a point of critical mass, where the process of change it has triggered has become unstoppable? Is it developing a momentum of its own, ensuring that there will be no turning back? Today’s gains seem more solid than those of the women who ran Australia’s farms and industries during World WarII, only to lose their independence and return to hearth and home when a post-war society deemed it time. But how vulnerable would the wins for today’s women be to changes in policy, or a change of government? To what degree have feminist goals become common ground between the major parties? And to what degree do the divided visions of Australian women themselves threaten the momentum? There were no divisions among the 12 women interviewed for this story in terms of what they saw as the main issues for next century’s agenda: the need to improve women’s economic status, to ease their burden of family responsibilities and to move them into decision- making positions in society.

But, although there is still a long way to go before any claim of equality for women can be made, the gains of the past decade are significant.

Snapshots of change: More than 53 per cent of women are now in the workforce, up from 45 per cent in 1984. More than 82 per cent of girls now complete year 12 and 53 per cent of higher education students are now women. Of the 230,000 jobs created in the past year, 122,000 of them have gone to women. About one-third of Australia’s small and medium-sized business enterprises are owned by women, and another 28 per cent are owned jointly by women and men.

The number of Commonwealth-funded childcare places has gone from 46,000 in 1983 to 220,300 at the end of 1993, and the costs of childcare have been recognised as a legitimate expense with the introduction of the child-care rebate.

The decade has seen the first woman appointed to lead a national political party (Janine Haines, the Democrats, 1986) and the first woman premiers (Carmen Lawrence and Joan Kirner). The proportion of women in Australian parliaments is still meagre (14.5 per cent) but that is a doubling of the figure in the ’80s. Such indicators are being watched so closely by so many that the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Office of the Status of Women will later this year produce the first annual `Australian Women’s Year Book’.

In terms of women’s roles, there will be no going back, says Quentin Bryce, the former Sex Discrimination Commissioner. Community attitudes in Australia have changed too much, and they are supported by changes internationally: “This has all been happening as part of the more general human rights movement, which grew out of the Holocaust of World War II. Worldwide, there is a growing recognition of the dignity and worth of a human being, and that includes women … Sisterhood is global.”
But Dr Anne Summers, journalist and former adviser to Labor Governments on women’s affairs, sees the gains as more fragile.

“Feminism has reached a critical mass in the sense that a huge number of people are involved … and I think any government would have to address women’s issues, these days. Whether it would be done in a feminist-friendly fashion remains to be seen. I don’t think we have heard Alexander Downer speak on these subjects; certainly, if John Hewson were still in charge, I don’t think that would be the case.

He’s definitely not supportive of existing policies and is trying to wind back the clock.”
Would women’s rights fare well under a Liberal Government? Policies cannot be directly compared yet because the Opposition is redrawing.

But the prominence of women’s issues “is a worldwide trend,” says Judi Moylan, shadow minister assisting the Opposition Leader on women’s affairs. “I don’t think that it’s linked all that much to which political party is in power. (British Prime Minister) Major had a policy, `Towards 2000′, to elevate women to higher positions in the public service. A lot of ground-breaking work has been done by conservative governments; it was Fraser who began to fund child care, and who signed the UN Convention on Elimination of Discrimination.”
Mrs Moylan says the Labor Government has focused on “negative things to do with women”: “There’s been a heavy emphasis on women as victims, whether it’s through sexual exploitation or job opportunities. Whereas I think women have begun to realise they have a lot going for them, and one of their great strengths is political clout.”
THAT clout has made the federal ALP more sensitive to women’s issues ever since research in 1977 showed it owed its failure to win and hold office to the gender gap, according to a former Labor Minister, Susan Ryan, who conducted the research. Its list of initiatives over the past decade is long and seemingly impressive: equal opportunity programs in girls’ education and the public service, community awareness campaigns about violence against women, working women’s centres, the Affirmative
Action Act, a parliamentary inquiry into the status of women, two wide-ranging “national agendas for women”, a commitment that all government boards and bodies will have equal representation by 2000, and the ratifying of the ILO convention on work
and family needs, among others.

But despite all this effort, women are little or no better off where it counts most: in the money stakes. Only one in a hundred earns $50,000 or more. Women’s average weekly earnings are still only 66.6 per cent of men’s (10 years ago, the figure was 66.5). It’s not just women’s greater share of part-time work that has frozen their pay progress; women who work full-time earn 79.8 per cent of male full- timers, only a slight increase on the 77.6 per cent of a decade ago. A smaller percentage of women were employed as managers and administrators in May this year (6.3 per cent) than in 1987 (6.6 per cent). Overall, 76 per cent of managers are men and 24 per cent are women.

Australia still has one of the most sex-segregated workforces in the world and the issues that concern women – violence, income security, child care, family assistance and valuing of women’s paid and unpaid work – are the same ones espoused by suffragists at the beginning of the century and will still need to be dealt with at the beginning of the next. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Could gains be undermined by divisions between women themselves? Many refuse to tag themselves feminist, even when they espouse the principles, and media debates often highlight the differences that exist even between those who are happy to use the name and openly work for change. But, although there might be argument over the best way to achieve a goal, the goals themselves are never in doubt. Professor Robyn Rowland, director of the Australian Women’s Research Centre at Deakin University, says: “There’s this enormous common ground.

There’s a whole lot of unanimity about the importance of issues such as child care and the need for flexibility in family and work arrangements.”
Although the big three issues underlay the concerns of the women interviewed here, they each tackled different aspects of the problems.

Margaret Fitzherbert, state president of the Young Liberals, says, “Universal childcare is crucial.” She argues public education campaigns should be mounted to change the perception that housework is women’s work and encourage men to share the load.

Julie Kun, women’s convenor of the Young Labor Left in Victoria, agrees that the need now is for “in-depth socialisation” to change views that women are the natural carers: “Legislation alone won’t make people see that caring is the work of everyone in society.”
Susan Ryan says enterprise bargaining must be watched to ensure it does not disadvantage women, and the pressure must be kept on big businesses to improve their employment practices: “There’s still no female chief executive of a major company, like BHP or Coles Myer.”
Irina Dunn, a board member with the National Foundation for Australian Women and organiser of the Women and the Republic forum, says women must ensure that the republic debate is not hijacked by men, and that parliaments should be made more woman-friendly with shorter sitting hours and on-site childcare centres.

Sue Tongue, deputy president of the Australian Law Reform Commission, says that its consultations with women have found that, “they want to be valued, whether they they are housewives or workers outside the home. They want to feel that the legal system is theirs too. And they want their daughters to have equal opportunities with their sons”.

Sandra Yates, who chairs the Australian Council for Women, says its consultations have found that most women fear street violence and resent how it limits the way they must live. They want their unpaid work valued. And they want to see more women in Parliament, big business and other powerful institutions.

Successive Governments have not yet solved all the problems of womankind, but their commitment to inquiry and consultation has at least resulted in a solution to the mystery posed by a befuddled Freud: “What do women want?” The way to find out, of course, is to ask them.

First published in The Age.

Still they call Australia home

Many naturalised migrants who regard themselves as “dinky-di” are pained that a High Court ruling has turned them into second-class citizens unable to stand for Parliament, writes Karen Kissane.

JOHN DELACRETAZ took his Australianness, wrapped it around a rock and lobbed it through a window at the High Court of Australia – figuratively speaking. He had been born in Switzerland, a country that would always have a place in his heart, but he and his wife, his multi-million-dollar business and two younger generations of his family had been firmly planted in Australia for decades. Long before he and his wife took out citizenship in 1960, “We were already Australian by heart; Australian by fait accompli.”
The High Court, he says, took that away from him, turning him and many other naturalised migrants into second-class citizens. In 1992, the court ruled that the Constitution forbade anyone who held dual citizenship to stand for Federal Parliament. Mr Delacretaz, who had been the Liberal candidate for Wills, would have to renounce all connection to Switzerland if he wished to stand again. Instead he wrote an angry letter to the High Court renouncing his Australian citizenship.

“It was sad, but what could I do?” he asks. “I was furious. I was Australian! It was a slap in the face to say: `You have to send a letter to your mother saying you are no longer her son.’ I wouldn’t have it. I was very hurt.” In his letter he wrote, “If I had known in 1960 that one day I would be branded a second-class citizen, I would never have accepted Australian citizenship. My conscience and my honor oblige me to cancel. Neither the certificate nor the passport are true to name (or) worth the paper they are written on.” He was certain that the Mayor of Coburg, who had presided over his naturalisation, and the migrants who had shared it with him had not known of “the fine print lost under the dust of the Constitution”.

The “fine print” was section 44(i) of the Constitution, and the way it was interpreted by the High Court sent politicians of all parties scurrying to check their citizenship status for fear of losing their seats. The section says that “any person who is under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power” cannot enter Parliament. In some ethnic groups, even second-generation Australians are affected: many nations still recognise as citizens not just their native-born who migrated to Australia, but those migrants’ children and grandchildren as well.

The High Court made the citizenship judgment in the Cleary case, where it found the election of independent Phil Cleary to the seat of Wills to be void because, as a teacher, he held an office of profit under the Crown, making him ineligible to stand. The court said that the seat could not be filled by a recount of votes because the other two main candidates – Mr Delacretaz and the ALP’s Bill Kardamitsis – were ineligible because they had not taken “all reasonable steps” to renounce their other citizenships.

The finding enraged many migrants and the High Court was accused of “ethnic cleansing” of the Australian political system. Naturalised Australians were confused: what does it take to prove loyalty to this country, to become truly Australian? Is it right that a higher proof of loyalty be demanded of MPs than of others? The judges themselves were divided about this; two considered that Mr Kardamitsis and Mr Delacretaz had taken “all reasonable steps” when they made oaths of allegiance and renunciation at their naturalisations. The majority verdict, however, held that they were required to write to their countries of origin, formally renouncing any citizenship rights.

Citizenship is in the eye of the bestower. Nations decide whom they consider their citizens, and some can be reluctant to accept renunciations. Says an exasperated Mr Kardamitsis, who was born in Greece but became an Australian citizen in 1973: “Am I supposed to take up arms and go and shoot all the parliamentarians in Greece and ask them to change their Constitution? The fact that the Greek Government wants to recognise me as one of their citizens is their problem. I can’t help it. It’s got nothing to do with me. And there’s no way Australia can impose on other countries to change their constitutions to suit us.” Mr Kardamitsis wrote his letter to the Greek Government and received no reply, but, according to the High Court ruling, he does not need evidence that his renunciation was accepted, only that it was made.

At one stage it was thought the Labor Party’s Theophanous brothers, Andrew and Theo, might be up for three renunciations: the Cyprus in which they were born, and the Greece and Turkey that claimed its territory. As it turned out, they were safe because they had emigrated while it was still under British rule. But, says Theo Theophanous, Leader of the Opposition in Victoria’s upper house: “It seems to me absurd that we in Australia should rely on what another country does in relation to its citizens in order to determine whether they qualify for citizenship rights in this country.”
The points on which such issues turn can be ludicrously fine. Greens senator Christabel Chamarette was born in India of British parents and came to Australia when she was four. Her post-Cleary inquiries elicited that her status depended on whether her father, who had been a doctor, had worked in private practice in India or in British Government service. Because he had worked privately, she did not have dual citizenship.

The Western Australian Labor backbencher Graeme Campbell forfeited his British citizenship, despite his belief that it was not a problem – “At the time the Constitution was written, we were all British citizens” – because he had no time for a court
battle before the last election.

Labor senator Jim McKiernan, who was naturalised in 1978, found it “very, very hard” to renounce his Irish citizenship. “I felt like I was tearing up and shedding my roots,” he says. “Really, in retrospect, it doesn’t make any difference. It hasn’t changed my accent. It hasn’t changed the fact that I was born and spent 16 years in that country. But now, I can’t go into the country where I was born and enjoy its citizenship rights.”
The Cleary case merely drove home what several review bodies had already pointed out. A Senate standing committee, a constitutional commission and a constitutional convention had all expressed concern about the potential consequences of enforcing section 44(i), according to Geoff Lindell, a reader in constitutional law at Melbourne University.

In the 1980s the Senate standing committee on legal and constitutional affairs recommended that the provision be abolished and replaced with a statutory requirement that candidates make a declaration about whether they held dual citizenship and, if so, what steps they had taken to renounce it. The committee believed that candidates who refused to take such steps should not be automatically disqualified, and that it should be left to voters to decide on their suitability.

But any change to section 44, Mr Lindell says, would require a constitutional referendum.

The provision was designed by a white colonial Australia to try to protect the nation from subversive intervention by foreign powers.

Today, says Cheryl Saunders, professor of law at Melbourne University, “the really interesting question is whether this is still a sensible policy. My own view is that it’s going to become increasingly difficult to sustain. As people move around the world more, and while the citizenship laws of different countries remain so different, I think we will find it necessary to relax this.”
If change does come, it will not be soon. The Opposition, the Government and the Democrats have no policy on the issue and no plans for a referendum. A spokesman for the Attorney-General, Mr Lavarch, says: “It may be the sort of thing that might be considered as a consequence of the republic process, but for the time being it’s not a live one.” In the short term, at least, candidates will have to comply or bow out. But while it may be a matter of indifference to mainstream politicians, the issue is hotly debated in ethnic communities.

It is not as if loyalty to the old country negates loyalty to the new, says John Delacretaz – they exist together. He points to his involvement in the Australian community – the local church, the chamber of commerce, 22 years in the Rotary Club of Coburg – and says: “We have done a lot of things for Australia. And our true nationality is where our children are born, much more than with the land of our ancestors. But we should not have to lose our heritage; we are all very proud of our ancestry. I heard the former minister, Mr Kerin, say he was proud of being a descendant of convicts. We are all proud, wherever we come from.”

First published in The Age.

How much Victoria’s doctors are earning

If you believed the 1991 Census, you would argue that medical specialists well and truly deserved a pay rise. More than a third (4740) reported earning less than $60,000 a year (8330 reported earning more than $60,000), and their average weekly earnings were a mere $1305.50. Professor Stephen Duckett does not believe those figures for a minute: “It’s self-reporting.”

Professor Duckett, dean of health sciences at La Trobe University, estimates specialists’ median earnings about $160,000, with high- flyers in certain disciplines bringing in much more: “More than a quarter of gynaecologist-obstetricians get more than half a million dollars a year,” he says.

Earlier this year, Dr John Paterson, secretary of the Department of Health and Community Services, wrote a paper for the Australian Health Ministers Council that used Medicare figures to estimate earnings in different specialities. The top 25 per cent of cardio-thoracic surgeons earned almost $700,000 each (the average cardio-thoracic surgeon, just under $400,000).

Top incomes for ophthalmologists were close to $600,000 (average $350,000), and top cardiologists, plastic surgeons, gastro- enterologists and dermatologists earned more than $500,000, with average earnings in those areas between $300,000 and $400,000.

Bottom of the heap were paediatricians, general physicians, anaesthetists, psychiatrists and GPs, where the top 25 per cent brought in less than $300,000, and averages ranged from $100,000 (anaesthetists) to $200,000 (paediatricians).

Professor Duckett says there are some anomalies in the payments system that should be fixed, such as the failure of the schedule-fee system to keep up with technological advances in medical procedures: “Some doctors can be paid hundreds of dollars for a quarter of an hour, because the operation used to take two hours but now only takes 15 minutes.” But, he says, these and other anomalies do not justify $100million in extra public hospital payments to doctors.

“Should Victorian doctors get the same as New South Wales doctors, or should the New South Wales doctors get the same as the Victorian doctors? Which is the right base? Some surgeons get four or five times as much as the average worker in a hospital. Is that fair? The doctor is clearly a key person, but so is the nurse, the physiotherapist, and the occupational therapist.”
Nor should it be forgotten that the money to train doctors and specialists comes out of the public pocket (it costs about $150,000 to train a doctor to GP level).

Professor Duckett also argues that a federal health system should introduce a federal award for visiting medical officers to make doctors’ public hospital payments nationally uniform.

If doctors’ workloads in public hospitals have increased under case- mix, he says, they should be paid for any extra sessions, but the payment per session should not increase.

But Mr Graeme Brazenor, a neurosurgeon and chairman of the visiting medical officers’ subdivision of the Victorian AMA, argues that specialists must be compensated for the stresses of increasing workloads and lousy conditions.

Mr Brazenor says many of his colleagues have already quit and he has come close himself: “My public hospital called me to see a man who was dying because he had a bleed into his brain stem. It took them two hours to find a theatre because there were not enough nursing staff.

The registrar was not rostered on to assist; the person rostered was the casualty intern. There was nothing in his training to prepare him to approach a brain stem so we didn’t call him and I operated without an assistant.”
After this operation he had to perform emergency surgery on a young woman who was bleeding into the part of the brain that controls speech and understanding, but the anaesthetist disappeared for more than an hour. There had been a cardiac arrest in the intensive-care unit and she was the only person in the hospital senior enough to resuscitate.

Mr Brazenor “sat with the young lady while she pushed her brain out through the floor of her skull like toothpaste”.

Twice during her surgery he was forced to “unscrub” and leave theatre to search for sutures, a job that would have been the task of the scout nurse, if only there had been one. He left the hospital at 7am, ready to quit, but says he decided to stay and fight for the system instead.

First published in The Age.