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Deborah Lawrie AM

In 1980, Deborah Lawrie was the first Australian woman pilot to stake and win an equal opportunity case.

Honour Roll

On 2 August 1978 Deborah Lawrie (Deborah Wardley at the time) lodged a written complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission in which she alleged that Ansett Airlines had discriminated against her on the ground of sex in refusing to employ her as a commercial airline pilot.

She claimed she had all the qualifications necessary: a commercial pilot's license, morse code rating, over 500 hours flying time, passes in the theoretical subjects necessary for a senior commercial pilot's licence, a Bachelor of Science and a Diploma of Education. The Board ordered Ansett to accept Deborah in as a trainee pilot in their next round of intake.

Ansett objected and began a costly legal case that went all the way to the High Court of Australia. Basically they did not want to take women on because they argued they were more expensive to employ than men, as when women become pregnant and have children they cease flying for long periods. However, it was to prevent such discrimination that the Commission was established.

Deborah won her appeal and began flying for Ansett in 1980. She believes that Ansett continued to try to discourage her from flying as there were always delays with the paperwork. They insisted she wear the same uniform as men, saying, 'You want to be a man, look like one'. After about six months work as a pilot the men began to get used to her.

Deborah firmly asserted her rights. By the time of the 1989 pilots' dispute Deborah was an experienced pilot with more than 6000 hours. Nonetheless, she felt the additional pressure to perform as a woman. She felt that her superiors would pounce on any mistake she made as grounds for dismissal. Following the 1989 pilots' dispute, Deborah left Ansett and began flying with KLM, the Royal Dutch Airline.