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Senator Pat Giles discusses the forthcoming all women's delegation to the Soviet Union and her subsequent visit to Canada and Harare in Zimbabwe

JENNY HUTCHISON: Senator Pat Giles, a Labor Senator from Western Australia, was the inaugural convenor of the Women's Electoral Lobby in Perth and chair of the ACTU Women's Committee between 1978 and 1981; and since entering the Senate, she's chaired the Status of Women Caucus Committee. Over the past five years, she's led Australian delegations to several international women's conferences. She's currently overseas attending two such meetings, as well as leading a delegation of Federal MPs to Russia - Pat Giles.

PAT GILES: This is a unique delegation. There've been delegations of parliamentarians going to the USSR and to Eastern Europe for many years of course, but this is the first occasion on which it's been a purely women's delegation and which has included women from the Liberal Party, and we have a Democrat coming with us, as well the two Labor women. We haven't details of the programs so far but we've been asked about our interests and for example, Senator Newman is interested in defence matters, and somebody else in the delegation would like to have a briefing from the KGB. Most of us are concerned about issues of importance to women; health, childcare, training and education, and so forth. What all of us are fascinated by, of course, is the very rapid changes that are taking place in the USSR. We'll be in both Moscow and Leningrad; we'll have plenty of time in which to talk to the women of the Soviet Women's Committee who are actually organising our visit and I have asked if I can speak to somebody who's in the Presidium or in a reasonably senior position, in view of the fact that I'll be taking a message from Harare, where I'll be, before going on to the USSR, at a conference, the fifth world conference of World Women Parliamentarians for Peace. So we're all following through our interests in that way.

Ms Fran Bailey, from the House of Representatives, is bringing messages from school children in her electorate, I understand. And, we'll have the opportunity, I think, to see communities at work. Fran, I think, also wants to see how services are delivered to rural communities and so forth. So we're going to have a busy and fruitful, I believe, ten days and we hope this will be followed by more exchanges. The women of the USSR - those who are in the policy making groups such as the Soviet Women's Committee - have been a great deal more open over the last few years and, in fact, I think their policy's rather pre-dated, glasnost and perestroika; so that those who've been coming to Australia for five years now, have been talking very frankly to us about what they saw as the limitations of their system. We've been comparing notes, in some respects of course, their services are greatly superior to ours and their access to education and health and childcare, children's services and so forth. But they have very much the same sort of problems as we have in educating the male hierarchies of one sort or another, and I'm sure there's an enormous amount we can learn from each other.

JENNY HUTCHISON: You mentioned that, in addition to going to Russia, you're going to Harare and, I gather that there's some other port of call on your forthcoming absence from the Parliament.

PAT GILES: Yes, after the USSR, I'll be going on to Canada where the third meeting of Commonwealth Ministers for Women's Affairs is being held. The first time this group of Ministers met was in 1985, when we were all in Nairobi for the UN End of the Decade for Women conference; and the second of these meetings was held in Harare, in 1987. I attended that too. On this occasion, once again, the Minister herself is unable to be there and so I have the pleasure and the honor of representing Australia once again, renewing some old acquaintances and working to expand upon the contracts and the level of activity that we've established previously. Countries other than Australia are always very, very keen to hear about the things that we've instituted through our Office of the Status of Women, over the last seven years. Our women's budget statement, for example, is unique and is seen as being an extremely valuable measure and many of the other initiatives that we've adopted here also are seen as being matters that can be transferred all over the world and implemented to one degree or another to enhance a government's sensitivity to the needs of women and to monitor the changes that are occurring.

JENNY HUTCHISON: West Australian Labor Senator, Pat Giles. Well, the Parliament's up for another week, but many parliamentary committees are meeting around the country. For example, next Tuesday and Wednesday, Sydney residents can attend public hearings of a Senate committee that's inquiring into employment for people with disabilities. That's at the New South Wales Parliament House. Similar hearings will occur at the Brisbane Parliament House on Thursday and Friday, and back in Canberra next Monday. Also next week, several past and present Senators will be speaking at a special conference marking the 20th anniversary of Senate legislative and general purpose committees and estimates committees. Well, until next week, this is Jenny Hutchison thanking the Ring the Bells team of Ross Nerdal, Michelle Drnekovski, Russell Thomson and Jim Trail.