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Melbourne Club compares itself to Men's Shed -

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ELEANOR HALL: To Melbourne now and the exclusive Melbourne Club has taken a new approach as it
defends its male only membership.

The Victorian Government is reviewing the Equal Opportunity Act and any changes to the act could
make it more difficult for the Melbourne Club to maintain its single-sex membership.

So the Melbourne Club is now comparing itself to anti-depression initiatives aimed at men. But the
Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard has poured scorn on that claim.

In Melbourne, Emily Bourke reports.

EMILY BOURKE: Community, business and religious organisations as well as human rights and gay lobby
groups have put forward their ideas on how the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act could be improved.

Currently private clubs have an automatic exemption from anti-discrimination laws but that could be
about to change.

The Melbourne Club is one such club. It's one of the city's oldest gentlemen's clubs and regarded
as the headquarters of the Melbourne establishment. But its strict male only membership policy has
been a subject of debate and criticism.

In a written submission to the Victorian Government's review the Melbourne Club's president Bill
Shelton has defended the policy, comparing the club to the men's sheds anti-depression initiative.

EXTRACT FROM WRITTEN SUBMISSION: The mere gathering of men and women in groups separate from each
other does no harm and can do a lot of good. The increasingly popular and successful Men's Shed
programs for example provide many social and emotional benefits to their participants.

The club remains as it has always been - a haven for relaxed social discourse and a means of
getting away if but briefly from day-to-day responsibilities. It is not a place where business is
done.

EMILY BOURKE: But on local radio in Melbourne this morning the Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard
wasn't convinced.

JULIA GILLARD: Not at all. I know a bit about the Men's Shed movement mainly because my partner Tim
is actually a patron of it and spends a bit of his time associated with Men's Sheds and they are
about bringing men and boys together to talk about depression, to be there doing things, carpentry
and metal work, transferring skills but also socialising and having that sense of mutual support
that's very important.

I think the Melbourne Club is a relic of earlier times.

EMILY BOURKE: Dr Helen Szoke is the CEO of the Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity
Commission. She says the Melbourne Club must prove that its policy promotes equality.

HELEN SZOKE: The position of women now as compared to when a lot of these private clubs were formed
is very different in our community. And if there is a very strong case that as the Melbourne Club
is trying to suggest, that these men who are members of those clubs need to have a restricted
membership then let them put that on the table.

Let them go to the tribunal just like women only gyms have to do just like women specific services
have to do, just like particular ethnic clubs have to do to indicate how that might promote
equality.

EMILY BOURKE: But the head of Men's Sheds Peter Sergeant says there are similarities between the
Melbourne Club and his organisation.

PETER SERGEANT: Off the top of my head I'd say yes it can be compared to Men's Sheds in that it is
a men's domain. Now I don't care how much money you've got, who you are, if you're a man you need
to be mixing with other men. You need to have a vehicle where you can communicate with other men
and feel comfortable with other men and the Melbourne Club provides that.

So to be able to go to a club where they know people and they can talk through their problems and
so on is absolutely no different to a Men's Shed.

The difference is of course that it's exclusive as against the Men's Sheds. We operate, the Men's
Sheds we help support are not exclusive. They take all comers.

EMILY BOURKE: And he's gone so far as to offer his advice and services to the Melbourne Club.

PETER SERGEANT: I'd love to have a phone call from them because I think that they could be playing
a very good role with perhaps a little bit more focus on some of these issues.

I mean I can remember the times that I've been in that club. I don't remember discussing men's
health and mental illness and all those kinds of things and I can, I'd almost bet my life on the
fact that the Melbourne Club has men in there that are really struggling with life right now.

ELEANOR HALL: That's the head of the Men's Sheds organisation Peter Sergeant, ending that report by
Emily Bourke in Melbourne.