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Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Page: 6180

Mrs MOYLAN (8:40 PM) —It is over 17 years since I was first elected and sworn in as a member of the House of Representatives. I took my place with just three other women on our side of the benches. Since that time we have seen an increasing number of women take their places in this House. In 1996, a record number of women were elected on our side of the House after a successful national campaign by the Liberal women’s divisions to attract more women to stand for preselection. It was often said that preselectors were prejudiced against women in preselections, and there may well have been an element of truth in that. As American writer E.B. White always said, ‘Prejudice is a great time saver. You can form an opinion without having to get the facts.’ But, to be fair, I believe that the low number of women contesting preselection was a major hurdle. Inevitably there would be several times more men than women standing for preselection, so the odds did not favour women in that process.

An examination of elections since 1943 shows a long drought until the early 1980s. In fact before that time there were virtually no female representatives in parliament. I think there were only one or two female representatives elected before 1943, even though women got the right to vote in 1902. In the early 80s representation by women across both chambers reached 10.1 per cent. There was then a big increase in 1996 when a record number of Liberal women were elected, resulting in 20 per cent of seats being represented by women. By 2007 we had almost reached what is called critical mass, with 30.5 per cent of the benches in this place occupied by women. It has never been easy for women to take their places in the workplace, including in this parliament. I paraphrase a comment by one of the women recipients of the Rural Women’s Award: look behind me and you will see the shadow of women who valiantly struggled for equality long before I came to this place. First, women had to struggle for the right to vote and to take their places in elections. Since then, there have been many high barriers to be dismantled for women in employment.

Tonight I pay special tribute to the women who have occupied these benches. Many of them came into this parliament on our side of the House in 1996 by winning marginal seats. Furthermore, many of them held those seats through successive elections. Some—the members for McEwen, Hughes, McPherson and Riverina—are now retiring. They, along with the members for Fowler and Canberra on the government side, retire from this place after years of service to parliament and to the constituencies they have so capably represented. On both sides of this House we have watched with great admiration young women who have given birth to and cared for children while they juggled the many demands of motherhood, portfolios and committee work along with the inevitable demands of electorate work. They have done this with great success and great flair.

The parliament has been well served by the women who have occupied these benches. They are women who have brought with them a range of experiences that have allowed them to make a particularly valuable contribution to national law-making with positive outcomes for communities. I wish to acknowledge their contribution and I wish all those women on both sides who are retiring from this parliament continuing success in all they do in the future. I also wish to leave women with a thought that came from Birgitta Dahl, a former Speaker of the Swedish parliament. She said:

The most interesting thing about the Swedish parliament is not that we have 40 per cent representation of women. Women are allowed to be what we are and to act according to our own unique personality. Neither men nor women have to conform to a traditional role. Women do not have to behave like men to have power, and men do not have to behave like women to care.