Pru Goward

on Sunday, 13 May 2012. Posted in Leadership Interviews, Issues Motivated Leadership

Pru Goward
Paid Maternity Leave
Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner (2005-2007)

Pru Goward was elected to the NSW Parliament in March 2007 as the Member for Goulburn. She has served in the position of Shadow Minister for the Environment and Shadow Minister for Women, and from 2008 to March 2011, as the Shadow Minister for Community Services. Pru is delighted to be the NSW Minister for Family and Community Services and the Minister for Women, following the victory of a NSW Liberals and Nationals Government on 26 March 2011.

Prior to entering Parliament, Pru served as Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner for six years from 2001, and the Commissioner responsible for Age Discrimination from 2005 to 2007. During her time with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission she became best known for her advocacy of a national paid maternity leave scheme, the implications of demographic change, and the challenge of work-life balance.

An economist by training and a broadcaster by practice, Pru spent 19 years with the ABC as a reporter and national political commentator for television and radio. She has received a number of awards for journalism, including a special Walkley Award, journalism`s highest honour.

In 1997 Pru left broadcasting to become Executive Director of the Office of the Status of Women in the Commonwealth Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and was later appointed Government Spokesperson for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, responsible for media management of the thirty Commonwealth Government agencies.

Pru started work as a shop assistant and later as a cleaner and waitress. She has also been a university Economics tutor, a University lecturer in Broadcast Journalism, a high school economics teacher and media consultant. She has authored two books: A Business of Your Own, success strategies for women in business, and co-authored, John Howard, a Biography with her husband, David Barnett.

Pru is a former Chair of the Council for Australian Arab Relations, Deputy Chair of Anglicare (Canberra and Goulburn), and a former member of a number of boards including the John Curtin School of Medical Research. Pru has represented Australia at international forums and negotiations, including APEC, and has been an official guest of the Governments of the United Kingdom, Germany, New Zealand and Israel. Her speeches have been reproduced in several important collections.
In 2001 she was awarded a Centenary Medal for her services to journalism and women’s rights, and in 2007 an Honorary Doctorate of Business from Charles Sturt University. 

Pru Goward launched her interim paper on the issue of Paid Maternity Leave in April 2002. Of the public and political debate that has ensued since then, she asks,

"We have to wonder, is the volume of debate that has been generated around this issue really warranted? This is not a debate about hard hitting ethical issues. We are not contemplating stem cell technology, the finer points of human cloning or the right to life.This is a debate about providing women in Australia with a basic payment. A payment that has been available to women in most other countries for decades now. Introducing a national scheme of paid maternity leave in Australia in the year 2002 is hardly revolutionary thinking! It is not going to place Australia at the global forefront of innovative social policy measures.To the contrary - it will simply counteract our lag!"*

Arguing that the amount of money required to "fund a national scheme of paid maternity leave - considering the objectives and nature of such a scheme - is hardly a figure to raise eyebrows"* and that "despite hard evidence, Australian companies record higher retention rates since introducing paid maternity leave and that she will not "recommend that employers alone pay for paid maternity leave,"*  Goward continues to vigorously and publicly debate those who believe that paid maternity leave is not a desirable option.  This has clearly meant going against the Government that appointed her and continues to oppose the introduction of paid maternity leave.

"Under our current system of paid maternity leave - ad hoc and employer pays - women with high education and skill levels in full time work have greater access to paid maternity leave...It is women on low incomes who are therefore least likely to have access to paid maternity leave, and who, along with their babies, would benefit most from the introduction of a national scheme of paid maternity leave." *

* (Speech delivered by Pru Goward, Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner at Frozen Futures, co-hosted by the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health and National Investment for Early Years, University of Sydney, 14 November 2002) 

Interview with Pru Goward 

How did you come to be of the view that favours Paid Maternity Leave for women? Was this a personally held view or did it emerge from researching the issue? 

It emerged from researching the issue. It was only after seeing the return to work figures that I realised so many women were coming back to work with young babies (not the case in my day). Hearing the evidence from employers’ groups and unions only confirmed that many young families have no choice but to have both parents working when their babies are tiny. While the idea of enterprise bargaining fixing the problem seemed attractive, it is unlikely to ever extend to lower-paid and lower-skilled workers, and for this reason I believe a national scheme is necessary. Primarily, I saw it as a health and wellbeing issue for women and their babies that was well over due, and was strongly supported by evidence I received from health professionals. However, as we increasingly examined the conditions under which women in Australia work with children, it was clear that the lack of support was also affecting the number of women wanting to have children and the number of children they could have. 

What difficulties have you encountered in wanting to secure a national scheme for Paid Maternity Leave for women and how are you mentally coping with this challenge? 

There are a range of social critics and people in political and business circles who are opposed to the proposal. The scheme is very affordable ($213 million a year for 85,000 women) so the objections are not about the cost. This is frustrating, but completely understandable and it will be a challenge winning them over. I am a strong believer in evidence-based arguments, and I think the Australian public is always interested in factual information. The facts are on the side of paid maternity leave, so the facts will do me. 

Given that the disadvantages that women experience in the workplace, for example, the gender pay gap and lack of opportunities for promotion for women employees, is as a consequence of being the bearers of and the primary carers for children, what do you see as being necessary to change policies and mindsets that continue to not accommodate the life experience of women who work and mother. 

Firstly, we have to value parenting more and encourage the development of work and family practices that create and maintain happy families rather than work against them. We have tried ignoring the needs of working parents and all we have achieved are unhealthy levels of stress that result in not having enough family time. It’s time to take positive steps to strengthen families and paid maternity leave is a fundamental step along the road to stronger parent-child bonding. 

We also need a change in mind set to ensure men feel part of families and want to take an equal share of the parenting load. No man ever died wishing he had spent more time in the office and we need to ensure our young fathers have the opportunities to care for their children that their fathers did not. 

What do you see as being some of the significant successes you have achieved in your appointment as Sex Discrimination Commissioner?

That’s really for others to answer, but clearly the country is now having a very vocal and thorough discussion about these issues which was not the case even two years ago. The discussion needs focus though and paid maternity leave has provided this focus. 

What are your thoughts on the proposed amendments to the HREOC Bill, which as I understand, will lead to your position and the other commissioners being replaced by 3 generic commissioners and will require the new Commission to seek approval by the Attorney-General to intervene in court proceedings that raise human rights issues? 

The Commission's position on the Australian Human Rights Commission Legislation Bill 2003 can be accessed on our website at  

Since taking on the position of Sex Discrimination Commissioner, I have found the Sex Discrimination Act to be badly in need of jurisprudence and case law so I am keen to see that we are able to intervene as often as we believe to be useful. The potential loss of specific titles such as Sex Discrimination Commissioner would be frustrating for members of the community who want to take their concerns to someone who is identified with the issue and has expertise in this area. The problem for Commissioners is that this expertise takes time and experience to develop. If Commissioners were responsible for any and every form of discrimination it makes it much harder to develop an expertise in any of these very complex social and legal areas. However, with good will, the Commission should be able to ensure that, regardless of our titles, we will retain our specialist areas of interest. We will be de factos rather than de jures!

What action are you taking about these proposed changes to HREOC?

The Commission has already provided a submission to the Senate on the proposed legislation and it is now a matter for parliament. (see website above)

What advice would you give to other women who are interested in being employed in senior leadership positions related to women’s issues in the public sector?

Ensure you have a very thick skin, because even among women you will never please everyone and sometimes not even a majority.

Like all leadership positions, it is important that the positions you take and the changes you propose are evidence-based and relevant to community interests. If this is not the case then you should be asking why you are spending time on it.

Have patience and learn the joys of repetition and iteration - saying or doing something once is never enough.

If you are in the public sector, remember that you are a public servant and there are certain limitations accompanying this. If you are in public life, remember that yours will never be the only view point. Learn to understand and proactively out-argue your opponents.

To view the speeches and Reports by Pru Goward on Paid Maternity Leave see the Website of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission at