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MP told 'women don't want superannuation'

DIVERSE LIFE: Retired cabinet minister and member of the Toogoolawah & District History Group Beryce Nelson.
DIVERSE LIFE: Retired cabinet minister and member of the Toogoolawah & District History Group Beryce Nelson. Rob Williams

WHEN she was a young woman, Beryce Nelson was forced to leave a job she loved as soon as her boss found out she was pregnant.

The happily married radiographer lived in a time when women hid their engagement rings underneath their clothes on necklace chains in fear of being pressured out of work.

Today, this would make headlines but in the early 70s in Australia it was simply the norm.

The current Toogoolawah resident said it was this and a string of other issues which she found herself confronted with which led her into politics.

"I was never born with the desire to rule as such but my mother was someone who said women could do anything. The last thing she said to me before she died was 'the sky is the limit'," she said.

"I worked in paediatric radiography because I loved children. When you got married in those days if you had children they fired you. Today it's unbelievable. I was still a feminist in those days I just thought it was outrageous.

"I flashed my engagement ring and thought I'm not hiding the fact I am getting married. They told me I'd have to leave and I just said, why?"

 

Bereyce was Government Deputy Whip.
Bereyce was Government Deputy Whip. parliament.qld.gov.au

The 70-year-old has always been a proud feminist and feared after so much progress for women there was still much to do if true equality was to be achieved.

"Even today there aren't many women to get high placed positions because there is still that mythology that they'll get married and have children as if it's a disease," she said.

"I remember in the 1980s someone asked me how long I thought it would be until we had equality and I said, 'about 100 years' and they weren't happy with that.

"To be realistic there are a lot of walls to knock down yet and if you look around the world, that's still the case.

"I think we've actually gone back a bit. I mean look at Donald Trump. How far have we gone when somebody who treats women, and men, so disgracefully can be elected as a President?"

The retired politician has had a varied life and achieved a lot for the people of Queensland during her time in state government.

"I didn't go out and wave the feminist flag. I felt it was more important to effect legislative change," she said.

"My biggest achievement was getting women superannuation," she said.

"I was told in the party room that they'd asked their secretaries and they said they didn't want it and said there wasn't a need for it. I said, so that's your research base?

"They said if you want it prove it so I went to the teachers and nurses unions and a couple of others and got 12,000 signatures in two weeks.

"I put them into Parliament 500 and a time and after about a week the guys said ok, we give up."

Beryce said many of the male politicians around her were a great help in pushing vital legislation forward.

"Rape in marriage was made illegal, that was a first in Queensland," she said.

"I wasn't the only one pushing those changes through, there were 89 members who had to get it through so there were a lot of good people here."

In August of 1983 during her first term in parliament, Beryce was the first woman to be appointed Government Deputy Whip.

"Back then there were only two women in Parliament and I worked really hard to encourage more women to actually run and in particular for married women to run because they offered a different perspective," she said.

"We achieved that and a lot was achieved in the 80s and 90s.

"But I have noticed particularly on the conservative side huge backwards steps taken in the last 20 years. There has almost been a fundamentalist approach to put women last on Senate tickets and to not endorse them for safe seats and that's a real tragedy."

At the age of 38 Beryce was defeated at the October 1983 election and resigned from the Liberal Party in 1984.

She joined the National Party in 1985 and won the seat of Aspley the following year.

She was appointed Minister for Family Services in 1989 and was the third woman to hold a ministerial portfolio in Queensland.

"I learned a lot. Even though I was young and naïve the (other members) were very good to me," she said.

"Our second child was born with a disability so we started Down Syndrome Association in 1976. It was the first organisation of that nature in the world.

"Up until that time people with Down syndrome were referred to as mongoloid and that was the medical term. We campaigned to change the medical and legislative language and that was a tremendous breakthrough."

Mrs Nelson eventually left politics but continued to camping for marginalised groups in Australia.

She worked in public relations while also working as an executive on the boards of Musica Viva and the Abused Child Trust.

The former politician officially retired to the Lockyer Valley and is now a member of the Toogoolawah & District History Group.

Topics:  beryce nelson politics qt country toogoolawah


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