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House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs to inquire into progress made towards the achievement of equal opportunity and equal status for Australian women, particularly young women

BRUCE WEBSTER: This week we focus on MPs who are not members of political parties and we have two committee stories. This week, a Senate committee broke new ground by releasing large-print and audiotaped versions of a report.

Alan Griffiths is chairman of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. To mark the fifth anniversary of the enactment of the Sex Discrimination Act, that committee is to inquire into progress made towards the achievement of equal opportunity and equal status for Australian women. Alan Griffiths with Jenny Hutchison.

ALAN GRIFFITHS: Well, I think anyone who takes seriously the issue of the status of women and opportunities for women in Australian society, will concede readily that vis-a-vis the male of the species, they are, in most areas, at something of a disadvantage. It's a moot point of course, the extent to which legislation can change the objective circumstances and the subtle forms of discrimination that they face, but certainly very few people with an interest in the area would argue that you shouldn't have things like sex discrimination legislation and affirmative action legislation. Rather, I think they would suggest that legislation can only go so far and that you must be looking at other means of changing rather deeply embedded attitudes, clearly mainly amongst men but also surprisingly, amongst many women who are still reluctant to see significant social change and that's not unusual in any area of reform, any area of significant change, you do meet resistance. I mean, people are attracted, I think, almost by definition to the status quo. But in the context of the sort of change that we've seen, I've described it as something of a quiet revolution and I think, in my own experience and with my own generation, one of the most significant changes over the last fifteen to twenty years has in fact been the changed attitude of men towards women and there are certainly significantly more opportunities opening up for women.

They are taking their place, albeit too slowly for me and I think many others, but certainly taking their place in a whole range of leadership positions and having more opportunity just in terms of their normal expected lifestyle. So I think there has been an enormous change for the better. I think particularly in the last few years, last five or so years I think, again it's almost a palpable feeling of change for Australian women and what we're about is to try to ensure that the Parliament has an ongoing role in trying to bring about desirable change and to try to add our power, if you like, to the impetus for change.

JENNY HUTCHISON: The terms of reference of this new inquiry specifically refer to young women.

ALAN GRIFFITHS: Well, I suppose given that in terms of my own personal interest, I think the genesis for me was having to confront these issues because I have two teenage daughters. And I think inevitably, the difficulties of youth and inexperience for male or female, can present significant barriers but when you compound that by superimposing on that, the normal barriers to women, then I think young women are a group of people in Australian society who do have less opportunity to have their voice heard and we are going to try to direct our minds towards ensuring that they have their views known.

JENNY HUTCHISON: On this particular topic, of course, you're potentially talking to or trying to talk to a group of people who might never have thought of approaching a parliamentary committee. I mean, if you're talking about young women, that could seem to them to be worrying, weird.

ALAN GRIFFITHS: Oh yes, I think if someone had of rolled along to me in my dissipated youth and suggested that I make a submission to a parliamentary inquiry, it would have been for me, the intellectual equivalent of flying to the moon. I mean, it was something that you would never, at that age, have considered. But that doesn't mean that at that age, you don't have insights and knowledge and your own experiences that I don't purport to have, and so to the extent that it may be unusual for people of that age group to make a submission to our inquiry, it's probably unusual for politicians to be exposed in any detail to the subtle forms of discrimination that people in that age group suffer. So, it will be an experience for them but equally, it will be an experience for us. I would warmly encourage it. I think they might be a bit reluctant but they should be prepared to do what I always counsel people to do and that is have a go.

BRUCE WEBSTER: Committee chairman, Alan Griffiths. Newspaper advertisements giving details on how to contact the committee, will be appearing shortly.