06 April 2016

Marie ColemanA pioneering advocate for women, who became the first woman in Australia to head a government agency, Marie Coleman, will be awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of South Australia today.

Coleman, a retired Commonwealth public servant who headed the Australian Social Welfare Commission during the Whitlam era of government, and who was the founding Secretary of the National Foundation for Australian Women was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2011.

That appointment followed an illustrious career in which Marie Coleman advocated and advanced the cause for women across a range of professional roles and personal commitments.

Born and raised in rural New South Wales during the Great Depression, Marie studied for a Bachelor of Arts and a Diploma of Social Studies at the University of Sydney in the 1950s, before embarking on a career as journalist, social worker, teacher and scriptwriter.

She was recruited to public service by Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1973 at a time of great change for women and Australian society.

 As head of the Australian Social Welfare Commission, Coleman introduced the Australian Assistance Plan, the aim of which was to provide support for local community organisations and get community input into planning processes.

 As founding Secretary of the National Foundation for Australian Women, Coleman was on the board of directors that worked to establish the Australian Women’s Archive Project to build knowledge and recognition of the contribution made by women to Australia.

 Coleman has been significant in that contribution; from spearheading the campaign that led to the Productivity Commission Inquiry into a national paid maternity, paternity and parental leave scheme, to playing a leadership role for national women’s organisations in examining the impacts of the former WorkChoices and Welfare to Work policies on women.

 UniSA Vice Chancellor, Professor David Lloyd says honouring Marie Coleman is an acknowledgment of the huge strides she has made for women in Australia across the past half century.

 “Marie has had a significant impact on Australia, by advocating and providing a positive outlook for women during a period of massive social change,” Professor Lloyd says.

 “For over 60 years her name has been synonymous with the women’s movement in Australia, as well as being linked to causes including indigenous rights, paid parental leave, the gender pay gap and child care funding.

 “We are very proud to recognise that invaluable contribution.”

 Media contact: Will Venn mobile 0401 366 054 email will.venn@unisa.edu.au

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