Ms. Represented: July 27
This week Annabel Crabb tracks the arrival of a new wave of women into Parliament in the 1970s and 1980s.
Episode three of Ms. Represented, “In The Room” tracks the arrival of a new wave of women into Parliament in the 1970s and 1980s.
In 1979, the House of Representatives heard highly controversial debate on the proposal from one MP that Medicare payments for abortions should be severely restricted. What made the debate more remarkable – for female observers, at any rate – was that the House of Representatives, at the time, had no female MPs at all.
We track the arrival of a new wave of women into Parliament in the 1970s and 1980s, including the influential Margaret Guilfoyle (Lib, Victoria) and Susan Ryan, who was the only woman in three successive Hawke cabinets. Ryan drafted the Sex Discrimination Bill and won support from her male colleagues in cabinet, then pushed it through the Senate amid tumultuous scenes of protest and divided opinion on both sides. The legislation changed life for working women (though things were far from simple, as Ryan herself – a single mother – discovered when she was obliged to seek campaign babysitting assistance from Germaine Greer).
But even having more women in the Parliament did not guarantee an absence of all-male deals that bore a cost for women, as was made clear in 1996 when the new Howard government struck a bargain with the campaigning Tasmanian independent senator Brian Harradine to ban the abortion drug RU486 in return for his support for the partial sale of Telstra. The ban was in place for nearly a decade, until an unprecedented cross-party alliance of female senators came together to change the course of history.
8pm Tuesday on ABC.