Finally, the Aussies embrace girl power

By Greg Ansley

CANBERRA - Australia's glass ceiling has been seriously cracked with the appointment of the nation's first female Governor-General.

Queensland Governor Quentin Bryce, women's and indigenous rights advocate, lawyer, and former federal sex discrimination commissioner, will replace Major General Michael Jeffery, who retires in September.

"I think it's a great reflection on the fact that modern Australia is about the proper role of women in our society," Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said after announcing the appointment.

Bryce agreed: "I grew up in a little bush town in Queensland with 200 people, and what this says to Australian girls is that you can do anything, you can be anything.

"It makes my heart sing to see women in so many diverse roles across our country in Australia."

Her appointment came as the Anglican Church in Australia appointed its first female Bishop, Archdeacon Kay Goldsworthy, who will be consecrated next month in Perth.

But despite a roar of applause at the appointment from women's groups, their path to the top remains a long, hard haul.

There is only a sprinkling of women at the top of Australia's corporate ladder, average pay scales remain skewed towards men, and despite quotas and other much-trumpeted measures to open the gates to power, women remain seriously under-represented in politics.

Notable exceptions include the present Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh, and former Premiers Joan Kirner of Victoria and Carmen Lawrence of Western Australia.

Other female leaders have included the former chief ministers of the Australian Capital Territory, Kate Carnell, and the Northern Territory, Clare Martin, and several former leaders of the ailing Australian Democrats.

Heather Ridout, chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, was moved to note at a conference during Prime Minister Helen Clark's business tour of the eastern states last year that she felt at home in New Zealand because of the relative plethora of women in power there.

And Kirner told the Australian after Bryce's appointment: "It means we are catching up with New Zealand. All we have got to have now is a female chief justice and a female prime minister. It means, after 200 years, we are finally beginning to reflect the diversity of Australia."

Julia Gillard, who has reached higher than any other woman in federal politics to become Deputy Prime Minister, said that with merit distributed equally between the sexes, it was time a woman became Governor-General.

"I think it is a sign that our society is changing," she told Channel Nine.

"For many of those 107 years [since federation] women wouldn't have been considered as appropriate for appointment to an office like this.

"It's probably in the last 10 or 20 years we've opened out eyes."

Bryce, 64, grew up in the hamlet of Ilfracombe, near Longreach, graduated from the University of Queensland in arts and law, and became one of the first women admitted to the State bar in 1965.

She later taught law at the university, has been president of the Queensland Council of Civil Liberties, a member of the Australian delegation to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, and an advocate for the rights and welfare of women, children, the disabled, the mentally ill, and even women's cricket.

She said that helping to close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians would be a key priority.

- NZ Herald

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