Australian Minister for Women

Anne Summers on australian stamp

Australian Post celebrated famous feminist

Australian Minister for Women

Anne Summers

One of the original Australian feminists, journalist, writer, and former Minister for the Office for Women, Anne Summers set up one of the first refuges for women fleeing domestic violence, and she has stayed true to her mission.   Making women visible, aiming for equality.   Currently speaking  at the Sydney Writers’ Festival.     Recently, she interviewed Julia Gillard both at the Sydney Opera House and the Melbourne town hall. Both venues were booked out.   In London for only two days, ionthecity interviewed her, over lunch in March.  Contemporary in age to the Lord Mayor, she has an overview of the gains and losses of women’s’ rights globally.

 I’m now more interested in principles: economic activity, education, right to equal pay,right to control your body, violence against women.    These are things that go across borders.

Interview with Anne Summers

As a child I  didn’t have any role models at a Catholic school, we were to grow up and be good Catholic mothers or nuns.   There was no idea that women would do anything except get married or be a nun.    My aunt, my mother’s sister, was in her 30s, single, and worked in a bank.   She  took me out to dinner at Florentino’s. It was the firs time I had the idea, of women being independent and having fun.

 In my younger journalism and writing career, the people who helped me were men.  There weren’t any women around then. The people I really admired were, Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Margaret Drabble, Doris Lessing Lessing  People who wrote about women’s lives.

 The most important thing that happened to me then was publishing my book Damned Whores and God’s Police. 1975.   That proved I could be a writer.  It took me 4 agonizing years , and  all the time, I doubted that I was a writer. I think a lot of writers have that.

The Australian Prime Ministers varied in their interest in women’s equality.  Bob Hawke set up the Office of the Status of Women, with Susan Ryan a who was a very strong feminist,  she had developed developed women’s’ policies and got the party to adopt them.   Sex discrimination legislation,  affirmative action legislation, major development of child care.    Susan Ryan recruited me. I ran the Office of the Status of Women in 1983 to 1986  for Bob Hawke

I was a  bureaucrat, what we used to call a femocrat, women infiltrating the bureaucracy to work on the feminist agenda.   It was a very interesting time, because we had strong political support, and we were able to do a lot of things   One major development was child care.

Anne Summers Interview

Anne Summers guest speaker at Women of the World

Quotas are absolutely essential. We won’t get anywhere without them.

Quotas are a way of ensuring that merit  gets taken into account.   If merit were taken into account, there would be more women.   The distribution of merit is far more than is represented in major organizations.

“Quotas are absolutely essential.  It’s not happening naturally, we’ve been waiting for 40 years.   The only way it will happen if it’s made to happen.

We have a 17.1%  pay gap,  which is exactly what it was in 1983 when I was running the office for women.    All the important legislation went backwards. all of them under Howard and Abbott.  There’s been political reversal.  It’s all happened before.

That’s why it is  so important to know your history.

Image of Ane summers

Anne Summers speaking at the Sydney Writer’s Festival 2014

We used to have Affirmative action in Australia. Companies were required to report annually the number of women in their companies.

That was the law and everyone was doing it. It was only just coming  into effect, under Gillard.    Every time we get somewhere, a conservative  government comes in, and changes it.   The discussion of feminism, and how it affects men and boys, total waste of time.   Its not a discussion that we have, we don’t talk about that.   The research I have done over the last ten years  shows that child care is the number two issue with women, number one is violence.

There are a number of  equally important  issues.  The most significant Government policies were  the sex discrimination act, getting it known and how to use it.  It was incredibly important because it gave legal protection to women and others for the first time.  Making child care something that the Federal government accepted financial responsibility for.   Under Keating  I was responsible for Child Rebate.

Those Policies that encourage girls into education.   We have done really, really well on getting girls into education, it’s just that we haven’t done so well on the follow through.

Men are the gatekeepers in our  society, and nothing is going to change until they change.



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