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Tuesday, 12 June 1984
Page: 2804

Senator GILES —Has the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women read Press reports of the inclusion of Dame Leonie Kramer in the think tank constructed by the former Prime Minister? In view of Dame Leonie's well-known lack of knowledge of and sympathy with lack of opportunity for women in education and her recent denial of any structural disadvantages for women inherent in tertiary institutions, has the Minister any confidence in what, if anything, will be contributed by Dame Leonie to the Opposition's current threadbare policies for women and for education?

Senator RYAN —I did read a report in Saturday morning's Sydney Morning Herald of remarks attributed to Dame Leonie Kramer and in particular remarks about the Government's affirmative action policy. I must express again my disappointment that one of the leading female academics in this country chooses to state publicly, if she was properly reported, that there is no structural discrimination against women within universities. If that is Dame Leonie's view, the implication of what she is saying is that the current situation whereby only about two per cent of Australian professors are women represents the full and real extent of the aspirations and abilities of Australian women scholars.

I certainly do not share that view. I do not know of any other woman academic who shares that view. That view certainly could not be sustained by Professor Kramer were she to read some of the extensive documentation of the kind of discrimination, both direct and indirect, that has been operating against women scholars and teachers in universities for some time, such as the very excellent study called 'Why So Few', the authors of which included Bettina Cass and Sue Wills.

Quite clearly, there have been a number of practices, direct and indirect, which have discouraged women academics first of all at the post-graduate level then at the post-doctoral level, in their aspirations to pursue an academic career within Australian universities. That is not to say that all those practices still persist. A lot of them have been changed; a lot have been changed voluntarily by people who are in decision-making positions within universities.

Nonetheless, there still exists a very serious imbalance within Australian universities between male and female scholars, and it is an imbalance which our Government desires to overcome. In that desire, we are supported by major bodies such as the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee, the various staff associations which represent academics throughout Australia and, of course, women's organisations. Indeed, we are supported in our desire to overcome that imbalance by the Opposition and in particular by its spokesperson on women's affairs, Ian Macphee, who is joining the Government's working party on affirmative action.

So if Dame Leonie has been correctly reported in the Sydney Morning Herald she is certainly out of step both with the facts with regard to the position of women in Australian universities and the views generally held by people who have taken an interest in these matters. What Professor Kramer will contribute to Mr Fraser's think tank with regard to policies affecting women I suppose is only a matter of speculation. But it is quite clear that people in the Liberal Party and people who are involved in planning policies are very well aware of the fact that Australian women in recent years have changed their voting habits significantly and have expressed a great deal of electoral confidence in the Australian Labor Party and in the Labor Government. Indeed, statistics and analysis of women's voting behaviour show that there has been a very significant trend towards the Labor Government. I believe that that trend will continue and strengthen because of the outstanding record of the Hawke Labor Government in the area of women's policy.

However, in concluding my answer to Senator Giles, I simply express the hope that Dame Leonie Kramer has been inaccurately reported in the Sydney Morning Herald and that she might take one of the many opportunities that are no doubt available to her to express her support for justice for women academics within Australian education institutions.