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Tuesday, 14 October 2008
Page: 9044

Mr LINDSAY (8:40 PM) —Tonight I want to recognise a celebration of women in the Australian Defence Force and I would like to acknowledge the contribution that the head of the National Operations Division of the Australian Defence Force and Australia’s first female general, Major General Elizabeth Cosson, has made to this celebration. Australian women today live in a world of opportunity and we have come a long way since George Hegel in the 1800s suggested:

Women’s limited mental capacity equips them only for housework and child rearing. Women … are incapable of intellectual achievement.

It is important that today’s women realise that these opportunities to pave the foundation for the future and ensure the concept of women in positions of power and authority is reality.

Tonight I would like to reflect and share the journey of women in defence, as women have been giving over a century of service in uniform, in public service or indirectly in serving our nation. Firstly, women in the military can be traced back as far as 1899, when the first army nursing service was set up in NSW and army nurses sailed for South Africa to serve in the Boer War. More than 3,000 Australian Army nurses stepped forward to tend to injuries of wounded Anzacs at Gallipoli and in France. During World War II, 71 nurses died on active service. A shortage of males led to the formation of the women’s services during World War II. There were over 60,000 women in the three services. More recently, women have deployed to all Australian Defence Force operations—Cambodia, Rwanda, Somalia, East Timor, Bougainville, the gulf, the Solomon Islands, Iraq and Afghanistan. We cannot overlook those women who, although not directly engaged in the physical act of combat or near the battlefield, remain part of the process of war.

There are also those wives and husbands who were prepared to forsake careers to tend to the home fires in support of loved ones who deployed from home. They all faced the reality of war, with all its horror and its danger, with a clear vision of the future they were working to protect. The energy and value of these women who challenged the social conventions of their day to serve in the difficult and dangerous conditions of war have not gone unrecognised by those who follow.

Some went to seek the adventure, some were driven by patriotism and some went for humanitarian reasons, and there are those who wanted to contribute to a cause. There are even instances where women have served in conflict in order to be close to their husbands or to escape their husbands. Regardless of the reason or the type of service, whether in uniform or in a civilian capacity, women have made a significant contribution to our country during our involvement with war.

It is important to recognise the journey of women in the military. Since the 1970s, a number of significant changes have been driven by the senior leadership in defence: the marriage bar for women in military service was lifted in 1970; from 1974 women did not have to separate from the military because they were pregnant; and equal pay for equal work was awarded in 1978. 1979 was the year that female officer training was aligned with male colleagues undergoing training at Portsea, Victoria. This year was also the first year that females were provided training in military tactics and weapon handling and were provided employment opportunities beyond those traditionally held by women.

It was in the 1980s that we saw the greatest change for women in the ADF. By 1984, 23.5 per cent of positions were opened to women in competition with men. In the mid 1980s the Navy permitted women officers to complete full training courses on board HMAS Jervis Bay. In 1986 the Air Force had its first female pilots graduate. In 1988 the Navy appointed the first female commanding officer. By 1989, 43 per cent of positions were open to women in competition with males and today it is over 90 per cent.

As a previous Chief of the Australian Defence Force, Admiral Barrie, wrote:

Women have in many ways been at the very centre of the events that have shaped our military, its approach and its very character.

Women for the past 30 years have been afforded opportunities to compete with male colleagues based on shared experience, education and training.

Today there are over 7,000 women in the ADF, which represents 13.4 per cent of the total workforce, there are 3,800 women in our reserves, representing 16 per cent of the workforce, and in our Public Service women represent 38.5 per cent of the workforce. Women now hold senior appointments and serve in key leadership roles on operations and in support roles in Australia. In 2006, for the first time in defence history, we had one star-ranked woman in each of the services. Today we have two in Navy, two in Army and one in the RAAF. Women in the senior leadership group represent 4.3 per cent of the workforce, compared to the Australian Public Service senior executive service, where women represent 23.7 per cent.

One of the biggest challenges facing defence is the shortage of the right people with the right skills. Defence cannot ignore 50 per cent of the Australian population— (Time expired)