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Thursday, 2 December 1976

Mr CHAPMAN (Kingston) -This evening I wish to raise a matter of discrimination against women. In these enlightened days the opportunities for women have been greatly expanded. Most of us, of course, reject the extremist position of some feminists who, like all extremists who jump on a particular bandwagon, are seeking to use the women's movement purely to pursue their own extreme left wing political and economic ends. Nevertheless there is a strong case for continuing to pursue the elimination of discrimination against women where it exists.

It would seem to me that the Australian Defence Force continues to be a bastion of such discrimination.

Mr Keating - Mr Deputy Speaker,I raise a point of order. I ask the honourable member: What about the women jumping out of the Liberal cake?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order!The honourable member for Blaxland knows that that is not a point of order. I suggest a certain degree of reasonableness in the debate.

Mr CHAPMAN - In May of this year I took up with the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) the case of a constituent of mine, Miss Elizabeth Palmer, who is currently a matriculation student. Miss Palmer is a talented young musician and she had applied to join the Army band corps at the Adelaide recruiting centre. She undertook various interviews, auditions and tests associated with this application and, according to the officers involved, she passed these tests with flying colours. In fact, she looked set for a distinguished musical career in the Army. Then, 2 days before her final medical test the Adelaide recruiting office was advised by the authorities in Canberra that they were not taking women into the band corps and her application was therefore refused. However, subsequent advertisements showed that the band corps was still recruiting men to this sphere of activity.

The Minister advised me in July that a review of the employment of women in the armed forces was being undertaken with the aim of evolving common corps for each Service with like conditions and responsibility for male and female members. The aim was to redress areas identified as discriminatory to women. The Minister said that he was awaiting advice on the implementation of an effective program to bring about this aim. Of course, it was necessary to phase this program in because of practical problems, such as accommodation, changes to Service regulations, training requirementss and the primary and secondary combatant roles of various employment categories. The Minister's answer to a question from the honourable member for Canning (Mr Bungey) a fortnight ago indicates that this review is still going on some 6 months after I first raised the matter with him.

It would seem that the Department is a little tardy in completing its review and coming forward with appropriate advice on which the Minister could act in this matter. Women are already employed in the Army in at least 14 areas- in the survey trades, signal trades, as linguists, in the transport trades, in the nursing corps, in the dental area, in the ordinance trades, in catering, as military police, psychologists, publication illustrators, physical training instructors, as quartermasters and air traffic controllers. There would therefore seem to be no justifiable reason for excluding women from the army band corps. Paragraph 15 of chapter 5 of the Defence White Paper recently tabled in this House states that the Government intends that women in the Services should now have greater job opportunities and closer equality with men in training and conditions of service. It was also accepted that women would be permitted to serve in areas where hostilities were in progress but that they would not be employed as combatants or at sea.

With regard to the last point it could well be said that the distinction between combatant and non-combatant roles is blurred by the degree of technology in modern warfare. Certainly, the Army band corps must be accepted as a noncombatant role and should therefore definitely be open to women. Opportunities for women in the Australian Army are severely restricted by comparison with the United States Army where, of course, President Ford in October signed a Bill authorising women to attend Service academies, and that was a major step forward. Women hold senior positions right through the Armed forces in that country. I therefore urge the Minister to have this review of women's role in the Army completed as quickly as possible and to implement policies which will broaden opportunities for women in the armed forces. Particularly as a Liberal I would urge him to do so because I believe that we, as a Liberal Government, should support the rights of individuals to have their opportunities expanded to undertake a career of their choice.

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