About this record
This document, written by Gough Whitlam, outlines the Whitlam Government’s achievements in the areas of human rights and women’s rights after their first year in government. This record demonstrates the ambitious policy program of the Whitlam Government.
In 1972 Gough Whitlam became Prime Minister, ending 23 years of conservative government. His time as leader of the Labor Party between 1967 and 1977 coincided with a period of immense social change. The generation born after World War II became adults and became politically active on issues such as the war in Vietnam, Aboriginal land rights and women’s rights.
In this document Whitlam restates his government’s ‘three great aims’, announced during the election campaign: ‘to promote equality’; ‘to involve the people of Australia in the decision-making processes of our land’; and ‘to liberate the talents and uplift the horizons of the Australian people’. Addressing barriers to women’s advancement aligned with all three of these aims.
In 1971 women experienced high levels of discrimination in the workplace and lacked autonomy in their personal lives. Women received only 75 per cent of the male wage and many positions, particularly supervisory roles, were reserved for men.
The Whitlam Government sought to eliminate this discrimination, including by amending legislation governing the Commonwealth Public Service to remove discrimination from new vacancies. They also lobbied the Conciliation and Arbitration Committee to review the National Wage Case and to implement equal pay for work of equal value, irrespective of gender. This occurred and led to over half a million women receiving approximately 30 percent more pay.
The Whitlam Government set an example for other employers by passing legislation to allow female Commonwealth Public Service employees access to twelve months maternity leave, including three months of leave on full pay. This demonstrated a significant shift in attitudes to female workers who had been forced to resign after marriage up until 1966. Female participation in the workforce was further supported by the Whitlam Government’s provision of grants to not-for-profit childcare services and funding for training programs specifically targeted at women.
The Whitlam Government made contraception more accessible. This included removing the sales tax on the contraceptive pill and placing ‘the Pill’ on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule, which reduced the cost to about $1 a month in 1972. Whilst the contraceptive pill had been available in Australia from 1961, many people, including doctors, did not agree with its use, due to their religious beliefs. Making this form of contraception more accessible gave women greater control to decide when, and if, they wanted to have children.
The Whitlam Government also introduced the Single Mother’s Benefit, which included payments to single mothers. Previously, many single mothers had been forced to relinquish their children to adoption. This measure gave single mothers the ability to independently care for their children.
These changes highlight the Whitlam Government’s first year in office. In the following two years the Whitlam Government would continue to make lasting changes that would forever transform the lives of women in Australia.