Premier Don Dunstan fights all sides to push world-first law against rape in marriage


Premier Don Dunstan’s 1960s/70s reforms emphasising equal opportunity for women coincided with a second wave of feminism in South Australia.

This second wave was spearheaded by the Women’s Liberation Movement (1969) and Women’s Electoral Lobby (WEL, 1972). They were concerned with issues such as family planning, abortion, child-care, rape in marriage, domestic violence, social welfare and divorce.

English teacher Deborah McCulloch belong to both Women’s Liberation and WEL. In 1976, Dunstan appointed her Australia’s first women’s advisor to the premier. Another first was the government’s equal opportunity unit.

Resources such as the Women’s Information Switchboard, the Rape Crisis Centre and shelters for women and children seeking refuge were set up.
Dunstan created another world first with laws to outlaw rape in marriage. He faced down conservative opponents to these laws not only in the parliament but from the trade unions.

In 1972, equal pay for equal work was accepted in South Australia by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. Women teachers were no longer forced to resign when they married. Until then, newly-married teachers had to return to the bottom of the ladder as a temporary assistant, losing all seniority and entitlements such as long service leave.

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