Legislative Council: Wednesday, September 28, 2022


McCulloch, Ms D.E.J.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (16:05): I rise to make some remarks in honour of Deborah Elizabeth Jane McCulloch, otherwise known as Deb McCulloch, who passed away nearly 12 months ago and was well known to a number of us. Deb was the elder daughter of an artist and an entomologist. She was born in Sydney in 1939 and was educated at Girton Proprietary School for Girls, the University of Adelaide, where she achieved a Bachelor of Arts with honours and a diploma of education, and Flinders University, where she achieved a doctorate in sociology.

Deborah taught at Adelaide Girls High School from 1960 to 1966, Daramalan Catholic Boys High School from 1967 to 1968 and Elizabeth High School in 1969. She was a researcher for the Australian Dictionary of Biography and also lectured at the Salisbury CAE. Deborah instantly, according to the records, became a feminist in 1971 when she read Shulamith Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex. She threw herself into women's liberation and was approached to set up the Women's Electoral Lobby in Adelaide, of which she held the first meeting here in South Australia at her home in July 1972.

Deborah is well noted for her role as women's adviser to the South Australian government from 1976 to 1979. She had been given a brief by Premier Dunstan to eliminate sexism in the South Australian Public Service, and she initially focused in that role on employment and education. She was also responsible for ensuring that cabinet submissions were inclusive of women and for developing women-specific policies. She was considered to be a very important contact point between government and community women's organisations.

Part way through her tenure she changed her focus and her role from changing existing structures to starting to put in alternative structures. One of her staff had been in San Francisco and seen a women's information switchboard. Using this model, she set up the Women's Information Switchboard (WIS) in Adelaide in 1978, which became a model for similar services around the country, and the WIS celebrated 40 years in 2018.

WIS, which is now known as the Women's Information Service—it carries the same acronym—was famous for its phone-ins, which allowed women to give direct feedback on issues. It provided many unique and important services over the years, including accompanying women to medical appointments for family planning and to Family Court hearings, assisting women in how to present to court for the benefit of their case, re-educating family lawyers about how to communicate with their vulnerable clients, and many other things.

It has been described to me as having undertaken some fairly radical things at the time, such as assisting with access handovers of children in violent families. WIS staff had no fear of ringing up anyone within government or the political system when they thought they needed to, whether it was a minister, a head of department or other members of parliament.

WIS carries, as I said, the same acronym and remains as relevant today as it was then. It still does court support, as well as tax help and other practical supports. It has children's centres and havens, which are staffed by well-trained volunteers, to provide a safe space for women to receive support. Under the Marshall Liberal government, the havens were expanded as a key implementation of an election commitment to provide safety hubs in regional areas, and I am very pleased that this model is now operating at Gawler, Goolwa, Mount Barker, Mount Gambier, Murray Bridge, Port Pirie and Whyalla.

The alternative structures I referred to previously that Deb set up would become familiar as women's services, or specialist women's services. These include not just the Women's Information Service but also the Working Women's Centre, the Rape Crisis Centre and the women's health centres, which we can all credit to Deb.

As we know, the first discrimination legislation in Australia was the South Australian Sex Discrimination Act, which was passed in 1975. Deb was excited about the opportunities it was going to open up because it was a piece of legislation that had teeth. She was later appointed to the Sex Discrimination Tribunal, holding that post until 1982. She was very active in a range of areas, and we are grateful for her service.