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Tuesday, 9 February 1999
Page: 2258


Ms JULIE BISHOP (10:33 PM) —This year, 1999, is a significant year in Western Australia's political and social history for this year we celebrate 100 years since Western Australia granted women the right to vote. It is interesting to note that the first state to grant women the vote was South Australia in 1896, with its traditions of liberalism and religious non-conformity, and then Western Australia in 1899. It seems that Sir John Forrest, the then Premier, was a pragmatic conservative who could welcome and facilitate change.

It has often been suggested that women in Australia had no part in the formation of the Constitution. That is only partly true. Women were not present at the constitutional convention debates of the 1890s. However, women in South Australia were able to vote to elect their representatives for the 1897 convention, and of course women in both South Australia and Western Australia were able to vote in the referenda that ratified the Federation and the Constitution. Contrary to some current commentary, Australian women were not passive spectators in the process that gave us a balanced democratic and federal constitution. They were very much involved in the grassroots campaigning through the Women's Christian Temperance Union and later the Women's Federal League. They were involved in a constructive, commonsense way, which is possibly why the feminists of a century ago are not household words in Australia today.

This was the beginning of the process of female enfranchisement which eventually swept across the country. This act of enfranchisement in 1899 added to Australia's international reputation as a pioneer of women's political rights. In this year, the centenary of women's suffrage in Western Australia, we should not forget that when Australian women achieved the right to vote in federal parliament in 1902, there was no other country in the world where women could both vote and stand for the national parliament.

I raise this topic tonight for last Wednesday I had the pleasure of opening a display to launch the centenary of women's suffrage in my electorate of Curtin. The display was funded by the Office of Women's Interests in the Western Australian government and was a joint initiative of the town of Claremont, the Nedlands Library Service and the Claremont Museum. It was a celebration, not only of our courageous and astute female political pioneers, but a recognition of the achievements of women towards equality since the granting of the vote. Most appropriately the display recognised the achievements of women in our local community.

There is a tendency for us to focus on the achievements of charismatic or powerful women in politics, in business and in sport, women who have received deserving recognition for their energy, drive and ambition. We focus on the women who are considered to be trailblazers, those who achieve the status of being the first woman appointed to this or that position. Yet there are many women across Australia who have made significant achievements by their commitment and contribution to their local community.

At the launch I attended last Wednesday we had a shining example of a deserving citizen when Dorothy Bennett was named the City of Nedlands Citizen of the Year for her uncompromising commitment to her local community. Dorothy has lived in Nedlands for 56 years, and for the past 30 years has run the Dalkeith preschool. As well as her loyal devotion to the preschool, Dorothy has contributed to the community in a variety of ways by doing voluntary work for children: running a church school, a summer holiday program, netball coaching and youth leadership training. She expressed her delight that she is now teaching sons and daughters of the children she first taught at the Dalkeith preschool. Dorothy was quoted in the Post newspaper, one of our most widely read and respected community newspapers, as saying that her motto had always been, `It is better to build children than repair men.' She is an example of the many women who are prepared to make generous sacrifices of their time and efforts for the betterment of their community.

Last Wednesday's display launch is but one of the many ways in which the Centenary of Women's Suffrage will be celebrated in Western Australia throughout this year.