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Joan Hartley McClintock (1922–1996)

by Philip Mendes

This article was published online in 2021

Joan Hartley McClintock (1922–1996), social worker and welfare activist, was born on 4 February 1922 at Mosman, Sydney, younger child of Victorian–born Thomas Victor Roberts, accountant, and his New South Wales-born wife Vera Marguerite, née Perdriau. Two features of Joan’s childhood helped to inspire her commitment to social justice: her father lost his job in the Depression, and her brother, Jeffrey, was a deaf mute, his disability contributing to his death in 1937 when he failed to notice a car while crossing a road. She briefly attended (1933) Wenona School, North Sydney, but subsequently studied through the New South Wales State Correspondence School, Blackfriars, while she and her family lived at Woodford in the Blue Mountains in accommodation provided by her mother’s family. After gaining her Intermediate certificate in 1938, she worked as a stenographer and legal secretary.

During World War II, on 6 February 1942 Roberts entered the Australian Women’s Army Service. Trained as a driver, she served with Sydney units, the 2nd Ambulance Car Company (1942–44) and the 8th Advanced Workshop (1944–45), before being demobilised on 15 December 1945 with the rank of driver. Army life, combined with her ‘lively intellect, flair for friendship and responsive nature’ (McLelland 1996, 55), broadened her understanding of people from social backgrounds beyond her own middle-class upbringing. She completed her Leaving certificate and studied at the University of Sydney (DipSocStud, 1949). On 15 November 1949 at St Andrew’s Church, Wahroonga, she married Roland George McClintock, a law student. Marriage initially precluded her from paid work, but she volunteered for counselling and welfare organisations including the Marriage Guidance Council of New South Wales, the Legacy Club of Sydney, and the New South Wales Council of Social Service (NCOSS). At NCOSS she refused to use a central index system to check claims made by recipients of emergency relief, reflecting her objection to the implied moral judgement that they would cheat unless monitored. This, she recalled, resulted in her being ‘practically put out of the Australian Association of Social Workers’ (1993), the profession’s national representative body.

In 1968, her family being in financial difficulties, McClintock commenced part-time paid employment as an assistant executive officer with the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), the peak lobby group of the community welfare sector. She went on to hold increasingly senior positions within the organisation, becoming deputy secretary-general (1971–75, 1976–80), acting secretary-general (1975–76, 1980–81), and secretary-general (1981–83). The transformation of ACOSS from a coordinating and representative body for non-government welfare service providers to an organisation that advocated for the interests of low-income and disadvantaged Australians owed much to her. She was influenced by Joan Brown, ACOSS’s first full-time secretary-general (1970–74), who sought to raise public and media awareness of social policy issues and, unlike her predecessors, eschewed economising in favour of finding ‘means of raising money to employ people to make ACOSS a more effective and professional organisation’ (McClintock 1993).

Also important to McClintock was her working partnership with the ACOSS policy officer Philippa Smith. McClintock concentrated on internal administration and ‘keeping the membership happy’ (McClintock 1993), while Smith became the public face of ACOSS. Under their guidance, the organisation contributed to macro-economic debates with the aim of broadening the revenue base available for welfare expenditure and services. McClintock saw poverty as ‘not simply lack of income,’ but as a ‘lack of access to all those goods, services and information essential to full participation in the community’ (1981, 32). She became a strong critic of the Fraser coalition government’s reduced payments and support services for low-income earners.

 Within ACOSS, McClintock undertook an impressively wide range of tasks. She edited its publications Australian Journal of Social Issues and Australian Social Welfare Impact, sat on its law and social justice policy co-ordinating committee and associated subcommittees, and was the ACOSS representative on the Australian Refugee Advisory Council. Her advocacy included such social policies as legal aid, freedom of information, family law, health insurance, and social security appeals. She helped prepare submissions to the 1975 Commission of Inquiry into Poverty (chaired by Ronald Henderson), played a key role in the 1980–81 campaign to restore the rights of invalid pensioners, and represented Australia at international social welfare conferences. Additionally, she mentored many younger social justice advocates who later held significant roles within and beyond ACOSS.

McClintock also established strong relations with government ministers and shadow ministers from both major political parties, particularly Labor’s Senator Don Grimes, later minister for social security in the Hawke government. In 1982, after years of lobbying, she secured pre-budget meetings with the prime minister and his leading ministers. She attended Prime Minister Hawke’s National Economic Summit in April 1983 as one of the four ACOSS attendees. Yet ACOSS increasingly was plagued by factional disputes over such issues as universal as against means-tested welfare payments. The choice in 1983 of Colin Menzies to succeed McClintock as secretary-general instead of Smith, who favoured means-testing, led to McClintock’s resignation from the organisation.

Known for her ‘warm regard and love for others’ (McLelland 1996, 55), McClintock during her busy retirement served on an array of public bodies that included the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (1983–92), the New South Wales Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (1992–96), and the Gas Council of New South Wales (1995–96). She was appointed AM in 1984. In 1989 she completed a bachelor of legal studies at Macquarie University. She died at Hunters Hill, Sydney, on 9 September 1996 and was cremated, predeceased by her husband and survived by three of their four sons.

Research edited by Stephen Wilks

Select Bibliography

  • McClintock, Bruce. Personal communication
  • McClintock, Joan. ‘Health and Poverty.’ Australian Social Welfare Impact (Surry Hills, NSW), November 1981, 32–33
  • McClintock, Joan. Interview by the author, 11 July 1993
  • McLelland, Mary. ‘Obituary Joan McClintock AM 1922–1996.’ Australian Social Work (North Richmond, Vic.), December 1996, 55
  • Mendes, Philip. Inside the Welfare Lobby: A History of the Australian Council of Social Service. Brighton, UK: Sussex Academic Press, 2006
  • National Archives of Australia. B884, N389431
  • Smith, Philippa, and Clare Petre. ‘Joan McClintock 1922–1996.’ Impact (Surry Hills, NSW), October 1996, 8

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Citation details

Philip Mendes, 'McClintock, Joan Hartley (1922–1996)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2021, accessed online 25 June 2024.

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