Liberal David Tonkin's Australian-first sex discrimination law changes the workplace
South Australia’s Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 – a first for Australia – had a profound effect on the state’s workplace and elsewhere.
In the SA police force, for instance, women could now be promoted into all areas and they also were allowed to remain in the department after marriage.
In the wake of the bill, Mary Beasley became Australia’s first commissioner for equal opportunity to oversee reforms on a wider scale.
Liberal backbench member of parliament (later premier) Dr David Tonkin had introduced the legislation as a private member’s bill in 1973 to focus on investigating and fixing sex discrimination.
The bill covered sex discrimination in employment and jobs training, services and the granting loans. Dr Tonkin was motivated to introduce the bill having grown up with a widowed mother who struggled to provide for her family during the Depression.
His bill was passed after a committee took evidence from individuals and groups representing employers and employees. The committee clearly found discriminatory practices, based on sex and marital status, within the community and laws were needed as a remedy.
From 1976 to 1977, files were opened on 154 discrimination complaints on the grounds of sex or marital status. Of these, 127 were from women, 27 from men. Employment practices generated 70 complaints: 56 from women, 14 from men. Education: Four complaints; three from females, one from a male. Accommodation: Eight complaints: five from women, three from men. Other goods and services: 54 complaints; 45 from women, nine from men.