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To the annual conference of the liberal party (Victoria) women's sections



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Leader of the Opposition

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SPEECH BY THE HON. ANDREW PEACOCK, W.P. TO THE ANNUAL CONFERENCE OF THE LIBERAL PARTY (VICTORIA) WOMENS SECTIONS - MONDAY, 24 OCTOBER, 1983

When I was preparing the Deakin Lecture earlier this year, I chose as ray theme, the "Challenge of Change" because that was the most important issue facing political parties and government today.

It le most appropriate you should.also have chosen it as your theme for this conference. As you will know better than most, women have been at the centre of change in our modern society. The Liberal Party itself ie going through a period

of change, of readjustment, of rebuilding following our electoral defeat.

I therefore commend the Womens Sections for facing up to the challenges ahead, for showing a willingness to address the problems presented by rapid social and economic change.

Deakin Lecture

- In the Deakin Lecture I sought to identify the nature of change in Australian society and to explore ways in which we as Liberals should respond to it.

1 drew two principal conclusions:

- First, that the ability to make change work for a nation rather than against it was the crucial yardstick in measuring the worth of a political party.

- Secondly, that a party which bad a firm foundation in genuine Liberal principles was best equipped to turn change to the benefit of the whole community.

I said that because the essence of Liberal principles is respect for the individual and genuine freedom of choice. As I said then:

"It is Individuals who generate change. Individuals constantly have new ideas, a desire to create, innovate, build. They have objectives - and their determination, great or small, to fulfil those objectives drives the community forward,"

We will succeed as a Party if we stick to these principles. If we have failed it is because we have become distracted from those principles and no longer sufficiently responsive to changing needs and aspirations of our society. This was the essential message of the Valder Report and at the Federal level we are determined to heed that message.

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The decision to establish the Committee of Revew, under the Chairmanship of John Valder, was itself a reflection of our determination to rebuild and revitalise our Party,, to equip it to meet the challenge ahead. The Committee's report should be

essential reading for all Liberal Party members, for it will provide the blueprint for reform, and I thank those of you who have contributed to its work.

In the Federal Parliamentary Party, Shadow Ministers are well advanced in redrafting party policies and I outlined the broad approach in key areas at the recent Federal Council, John Howard is chairing a Policy Review Committee which is

co-ordinating policies to go to Shadow Cabinet.

We are anxious to consult as widely as possible within the Party and the community - all Shadow Ministers will welcome your views, particularly on issues affecting women, and I know that Ian Macphee in particular, is very keen to consult with you.

Changes Affecting Women

The role and status of women in society have undergone profound change since the Second World War. Much of this has been made possible by technological change and economic progress.

Advances in medicine made it possible to control the size of families. Families are now smaller and child-bearing and child-rearing takes up a much shorter period in the family's life. Technological progress has produced labour-saving devices which reduce the time spent on household tasks. Technological

progress has also helped reduce the bias towards men in employment because fewer jobs rely on physical strength.

Greater community wealth has extended the opportunities for all Australians, Higher education standards for both men and women have changed community attitudes on important social issues and changed the aspirations of women themselves.

All these factors have made possible - and Indeed acceptable - the greatly increased participation by women in the workforce. Over 40 per cent of women are now in the workforce, and this Includes married as well as single women, women with children as well ae those without.

Those of you who are in the workforce will know that women, like men, seek employment for a variety of reasons.

Personal fulfilment, financial independence and security, self-esteem, a feeling that you are making a contribution, are all important motives. And it is important that we not undervalue the Contribution which women can and do make. After all you

represent 51 per cent of the talent we possess. Women have added enormously to the capacity of the economy - and indeed society - to Innovate and develop.

Some of the married women among you will work to help provide the best possible opportunities for your family. It might be to help buy a home or to pay for private school fees, Labor's cuts in funding for non-Government schools have brought

home to us just how many women work principally to help pay for their children's education. Peter B&ume will be talking to you about that.

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Other women work out of sheer economic necessity. Most of-us will probably never have known real poverty or financial insecurity, but it ie a fact of life for more and more women and tbeir children, particularly those in single parent families.

Sometimes this occurs because of the death or unemployment of a spouse, but increasingly it is because of marriage breakdown and other changes in family relationships.

Although they Inevitably disguise the human aspect, the statistics describe the enormous change which has occurred in the nature of the family in Australia, Around one in three marriages now ends in divorce. One parent families are now over

10 per cent of all families, and 90 per cent of these are headed by women.

Unless and until they remarry, such women simply must find work, or else rely on government support, as so many now do, About 85 per cent of women who are single parents receive the supporting parents benefit and for most of them it is the only source of income. The financial cost to the community is well over a billion dollars a year; the cost to the families

themselves probably cannot be measured.

Unfortunately, few women can rely on continuing support from their former partner, sometimes because of neglect but often because that partner takes on new family responsiblities.

Of course, these changes do not affect women only. More and more men are single parents at some stage in their life.

The social change we are experiencing is complex and difficult to understand. It presents a whole range of new issues. The challenge for us as a Party is, how do we respond to that change, how do we put out Liberal principles to work for the benefit, of society?

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The Liberal Response

Liberals believe profoundly in the family as the basis for a better society. Such a belief is fundamental and programs to assist, families are fundamental to Liberalism. Nevertheless if we fail to understand the changes I have referred to, then we will

fail to understand today's society.

Some of these changes we welcome, others we deplore. But they cannot be reversed, certainly not by any law or regulation that Liberals would not find utterly repugnant,

Our task is to devise policies which give effect to our attachment to individual freedom, equality of opportunity and tolerance of diversity, acceptance of change while proclaiming and assisting the family as the basic unit in our eociets'.

In practical terms this means;

1. Expanding the number and range of job opportunities available in the economy.

2. Removing unfair discrimination on tbe grounds of race, sex or creed, creating genuine equality of opportunity.

3. Devising social policies which provide real choice to families and cater to their changing needs.

4. Ensuring that women are adequately represented in the political process, that· their voice is heard and heeded.

I will deal with each of these points in turn.

Economic Growth

Policies which encourage economic growth and expanding job opportunities are probably the single most important contribution a government can make to the welfare of the community. It is the principal means to achieving a better society, one which

is better able to absorb change, promote individuality and care for those in n eed.

The massive unemployment we are now experiencing is bitter testimony to the need for growth. Women, as well as tbe young, are bearing the brunt of the recession. The unemployment, rate among women is now 11 per cent, and that figure undoubtedly understates tbe real rate because so many have dropped out of the workforce.

It is a stunning indictment of the Hawke Government, and a measure of their betrayal of unemployed men and women, that they continue to pursue economic policies which destroy jobs. Their deal with the unions cheats those who want to work.

Equality of Opportunity

Policies which condone the continuing existence of discriminatory regulations and practices in society are at odds with our Liberal values and do little to enhance the freedoms we seek to protect.

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Many of you may not have experienced discrimination at first hand: the difficulty of getting a Job or a promotion, a housing loan or rental accommodation, simply because you are a woman. Those of you who have will know that discrimination does

exist. You will know the anger, frustration and humiliation it entails, and understand the desperation felt by women with children to support,

Such discrimination should not be tolerated in a civilised society. The Liberal Party supports legislation that will remove barriers to equal opportunity, although we recognise that real change will be brought about only through a long term educative process.

It was a Liberal Government here in Victoria which introduced the first equal opportunity legislation in Australia. That legislation is working well and fairly and has enhanced the opportunities for women in this State. A notable success was

the employment of women as airline pilots, something we now take for granted, but which might still not have occurred in the absence of legislation. In 1980 the Fraser Government made a commitment to introduce a Sex Discrimination Bill to complement those in Victoria and South Australia.

It is for this reason that we support the objectives of the Commonwealth’s Sex Discrimination Bill, though we have very serious reservations about the Bill itself. The Bill has been subjected to a great deal of criticism in the community, Much of that

criticism is totally unfounded, but most is justified.

The Liberal Party objects to the Bill’s reliance in part on the external affairs power of the Constitution. We will be proposing an amendment to excise those parts of the Bill.

We are also seeking to exempt non-Government schools from the ambit of the Bill to preserve the right of parents to have their children educated in schools adhering to certain moral standards. We are confident that the Government will meet our

requirements in this respect.

But over and above that the Bill is ombigiious in parts, confusing and very poorly drafted. It shows an appalling disregard for the due processes of law in a Government professing a commit­ ment to the protection of civil liberties. The Government's

incompetence Is illustrated by the fact that it has itself proposed no less than fifty amendments to the Bill.

Our view is that the Bill should be withdrawn and redrafted. If the Government refuses to do this, the Opposition will propose a series of detailed amendments to the legislation to make it acceptable, If these are rejected we will have to determine what other action might be taken to ensure we do have a good law,

Social Policies .

Changing the law is only part of the answer. It is only one step in the process of helping all Australians to achieve their full potential and enjoy genuine freedom of choice. Social policies which support that process are an essential part of the equation.

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Since the Party’s foundation, Liberals have had a strong commitment to the family. It is the building block of our society. When we speak of freedom of choice, we mean not only for the individual but also for the family. Respect for the family is

central to our social policies. While the traditional nuclear family is the ideal for most of us, we recognise that it is no longer the norm.

Concern about the breakdown of traditional family life has prompted some of the criticism of the Sex Discrimination Bill and I believe this is a legitimate concern.

But 1 do not think that rejection of good anti-discrimination legislation is the answer. It will simply make more difficult the personal circumstances of those who wish or need to work and place added strain on their families. It will put at continuing disadvantage those who never marry or never have children. And we cannot assume that women who stay at home because they cannot

find work will be happier, or better wives and mothers.

What is required - and what we are developing - are policies which will genuinely extend the choices and opportunities of all men, women and their families. But as well as promoting freedom of choice, our policies will encourage self-reliance and a sense of

duty and responsibility - towards the family and society at large.

To give you an idea of the sort of approach we have in mind;

- We will pursue a taxation/welfare policy which recognises and supports those women and their families who choose a traditional lifestyle and which recognises the additional financial burden on families with children}

- we will provide compassionate support for single parents without other income;

- we will continue to support the provision of quality cost-effective child care, so that the children whose parents are in the workforce are not disadvantaged;

- we will pay special attention to the needs of children in our changing society;

- we will encourage greater flexibility in employment, so . that the special needs of women are recognised and so that the burdens and joys of child raising can be more evenly shared between parents where this is their desire;

- and we will do what we can to increase the awareness of

women’s needs and concerns throughout the community.

Women in Politics

This brings me to my final point and the one that addresses most directly the task ahead of you here today.

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Success in achieving these aims, in ensuring that the special.interests and concerns of women receive due consideration, will depend importantly on what women themselves do,.and much of the responsibility for ensuring those aims are achieved in line with Liberal values will rest with you.

Women 1 b representation in the political process must be improved and it ie a matter of great disappointment to us that Mr Hawke has chosen to abolish the National Women's Advisory Council. Under the very able chairmanship of Dame Beryl Beaurepaire and later Quentin Bryce - the Council drew on the resources of women

across the political, economic and social spectrum. It was a great asset to us in Government,

Its abolition was a further reflection of the Hawke .

Government's retreat to the corporate state, consulting and drawing advice from ever reducing circles in the community. It was typified by the exclusion of many groups, including women, from the National Economic Summit. We reject this approach, as

I am sure the women of Australia will reject it.

In looking to what the Liberal Party itself con do to represent more adequately the views and aspirations of women, we can take guidance from the Valder Report.

As the Committee points out, the Liberal Party has been unique in the prominent role accorded to women in its organisation since the outset. This is so particularly in Victoria, But as the Committee notes, this has not been translated into adequate

representation at the Parliamentary level, We have some very distinguished women in our ranks such as Dame Margaret Guilfoyle, and others are making their marks in all States.

We must actively seek women as members of the Party and as Parliamentary candidates. To attract them we will need not only attractive policies. We will also need to get out and sell them and sell the Party, and I welcome the suggestions put forward by the Valder Committee in this regard.

Conclusion

To conclude there are great challenges ahead of us as a society and as a Party.

The greatest challenge will be responding positively to change, turning it to our own advantage, exploiting the opportunities it provides. . . .

Women have a key role to play and while I am its Leader, the Liberal Party will do all it can to encourage them in that process.