Labor anti Goward appointment

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Labor anti Goward appointment

While the Howard Government said today’s appointment of former broadcaster Pru Goward as the new federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner was simply a matter of choosing the best woman for the job, the Opposition has pledged to review the appointment if it wins Government later this year.

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While the Howard Government said today’s appointment of former broadcaster Pru Goward as the new federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner was simply a matter of choosing the best woman for the job, the Opposition has pledged to review the appointment if it wins Government later this year.

Attorney-General Daryl Williams said at the announcement in Canberra today that Goward, who was previously head of the Office of Status of Women, was the best of more than 50 applicants for the job. He said her experience as a former ABC broadcaster would be vital in successfully communicating issues of sex discrimination.

But others, from the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Dr Jocelynne Scutt to the union movement and Women’s Electoral Lobby, expressed disappointment. And the Federal Opposition said the appointment was a political one, with Goward not the preferred choice of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission or the Attorney-General’s Department.

Labor said her five-year term - two years more than the previous commissioner’s - could be reviewed if it won the election. Opposition spokesperson on the status of women, Carmen Lawrence, said Labor would find it ‘very difficult’ to work with Goward. Her recent launching of the Liberal Party’s campaign for ACT election women candidates showed she was ‘far too close politically’ to the Coalition.

Goward, who has been criticised for her personal friendship with the Prime Minister (she and her husband, journalist David Barnett, wrote John Howard’s biography) said the independence of the position was vital in convincing her to take the role.

She has also come under fire by the Women’s Electoral Lobby for not advancing the cause of women during her time at OSW, which coincided with cuts to child care funding and a flow-on perceived erosion of women’s rights. Currently the national director of the Australian Property Institute, she is also a former Olympic Liaison Officer.

The previous Commissioner, Susan Halliday, who was a constant thorn in the Government’s side, especially over its delay and failure to implement many recommendations she made (see previous story 71/2001), including its failure to implement paid maternity leave, said it was too early to say how Goward would perform.

Halliday, who ended her three-year term on April 26 (HREOC President Alice Tay has been acting in the position since then), said Goward’s contribution could be properly assessed when she finished up.

Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Scutt said Goward’s track record had not always been strong, but said she was prepared to give her a chance, as her contribution behind the scenes may have been larger than realised. She warned Goward would need ‘enormous reserves of courage and strength’, and would be required to act ‘without fear or favour’ (see previous story 91/2000 for more of Scutt).

Australian Council of Trade Unions President, Sharan Burrow, speaking on the 50th anniversary of the International Labour Organisation’s equal pay convention, said Australian women had been ‘devastated’ by the Government’s refusal to reappoint Halliday. There was ‘no comparison’ between Halliday’s efforts and Goward’s advocacy at the OSW. She remained concerned that Goward had not taken the OSW very far during her time there, from 1997 to 1999.

Ahead of the ACTU Executive meeting next week which will discuss a new equal pay case, first announced in WorkplaceInfo earlier this month (see 119/2001), Burrow called on the Government to take action to reverse the pay gap, with Australian women earning $166 a week less than men.

While she has not spoken publicly on the case since her announcement, WorkplaceInfo believes a recent meeting of the ACTU’s women’s committee has decided the peak body will support a work value test case in Queensland, centring around dental assistants (the main subject of the Qld pay equity inquiry, see 70/2001).

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