Advising the Government on Behalf of Women

In the mid-1970s the second wave of feminism spread from lobbying and liberation into social change through government structures. Kim Boyer was appointed as the first Tasmanian State Government Women's Adviser in 1976. She entered a rigid bureaucracy, with women confined predominantly to support positions. Permanent, promotable leadership positions were the domain of men and a handful of single women.

In 1998 Kim Boyer became the first woman to be Acting Chancellor at the University of Tasmania
(University of Tasmania)

The Women's Adviser had wide responsibility to improve access for women to government services, introduce new services and improve the status of women in government employment. The bureaucracy reacted with a mixture of alarm and indifference, but strong support by two premiers, a handful of ministerial champions and the powerful women's movement were key drivers in the policy change agenda.

Cabinet agreed to priorities in public employment, equity, childcare, education and law reform, and new positions created to assist in implementation included an Equal Employment Opportunities Officer and education and child care advisers. The Women's Adviser encouraged many initiatives, and obtained Cabinet support for many, including women's refuges in Hobart and Launceston; women's neighbourhood houses in Housing Department areas; rape and domestic violence law reform; women in apprenticeship initiatives; education curriculum changes to remove some gender specificity; an education programme for young pregnant women; wider maternity leave options; and increased child care. She also persuaded Cabinet to agree to Tasmania's first Anti-Discrimination bill, though this was defeated by the Legislative Council. Liberal Premier Gray abolished the Women's Adviser position in the first days of government in 1983, saying his wife could advise him on women's issues if necessary (!), but the legacy of the reform years remained embedded in the bureaucratic system, to be reignited in the post-Gray years.

Further reading: M Sawer, Sisters in suits, Sydney, 1990; M Lake, Getting equal, Sydney, 1999.

Kim Boyer