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Elizabeth Reid AO

In 1973, Elizabeth Reid became the first Women's Adviser to an Australian Prime Minister.

Honour Roll

Elizabeth Reid was born at Taree in New South Wales in 1942. She attended St Felix's School in Bankstown, St Christopher's School in Canberra and Canberra High School. She then studied at the Australian National University (ANU) and Oxford University.

Elizabeth returned to tutor philosophy at the ANU (1970-73) and became active in the Women's Liberation movement and particularly the Women's Electoral Lobby. Teaching women's studies put her in the running to be appointed to the newly created position of adviser on women's affairs to Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. Elizabeth was chosen by the selection panel because of both her commitment to women and her intellectual ability. She worked as the adviser from 1973-75, apparently the first such appointment in the world.

She spent the first thirteen months of her appointment travelling around Australia listening to women as they aired their concerns. Press interest in the position meant it became very public. Elizabeth suggested that an 'impact on women' statement be attached to all government submissions, which was eventually achieved under Prime Minister Hawke in the following decade. Elizabeth worked tirelessly and some of her achievements were Commonwealth underwriting of the delivery of women's services, including women's refuges, rape crisis centres and women's health centres, of child care, and of working women's centres.

She also pushed for policies for equal opportunities for women and girls in education, training, employment and access to housing. Important initiatives which came into place in 1973 were the Supporting Mother's Benefit and, for the public service, three months' paid maternity leave together with one week's paid paternity leave.

Elizabeth persuaded the Whitlam government to commit to a community-based International Women's Year program in 1975. The objectives were to change attitudes, lessen areas of discrimination against women and contribute to women's creativity. Grants or seed funding were provided to an immense range of women's services, conferences, films, books and festivals. However there was a media backlash against the wasteful, spendthrift nature of the government and Elizabeth was targeted. Throughout her term she was dogged by the press who called her 'the PM's Supergirl' yet suggested she could do no right. By 1975, Elizabeth was suffering from exhaustion. She resigned and went overseas.

She continued working as an adviser, administrator and researcher on topics related to women and development for many organisations. She was principal officer of the United Nations (UN) Secretariat for the 1980 World Conference of the Decade for Women and later directed the UN HIV and Development Program in New York. Elizabeth achieved a lot in a short time to encourage change for women. Her task was difficult because she faced opposition from male bureaucrats and politicians and distrust from a more radical section of the women's movement. Nevertheless, she was a pioneer for, and with, women.