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Tuesday, 21 August 2018
Page: 7971

Ms PLIBERSEK (SydneyDeputy Leader of the Opposition) (16:34): The 1943 election was a great one—a landslide win for the Curtin Labor government and the first women elected to the Senate and the House of Representatives. We mark today the 75th anniversary of those first two women in the Commonwealth parliament. Dame Enid Lyons of the United Australia Party, the forerunner of today's Liberal Party, and Dorothy Tangney of the Australian Labor Party were both elected on this day in 1943. Welcome to Enid Lyons' family, who have joined us today in the chamber. I also want to acknowledge Dorothy Tangney's family, who are celebrating her historic Labor election win, and we'll celebrate that in more detail later this year. Both of these women were originally teachers but from different parties and from different backgrounds. Both of them made an enormous impact.

Enid Lyons ran for parliament for the first time in 1925 in the seat of Denison, losing by just 60 votes. She supported her husband's, Joe Lyons, move to Canberra, campaigning vigorously all over the country, even when she was pregnant. On becoming Prime Minister in January 1932, Joe Lyons' first act was to write to her, 'Whatever honours or distinctions come are ours, not mine.' Enid became an integral part of his leadership team. Following her husband's death, Enid successfully ran for the Tasmanian seat of Darwin, now Braddon. This self-confessed rabble-rouser was a great orator at a time in politics where this mattered a great deal. Robert Menzies once said that she could move him to tears over the condition of a railway track.

After being re-elected twice, she became the first woman to hold a federal cabinet position when she became the Vice President of the Executive Council in 1949. Enid Lyons was widely credited with the Menzies government's decision to extend child endowment beyond firstborn children. She advocated raising allowances paid to returned servicewomen to equal those of returned servicemen and was outspoken against the debarring of married women from employment in the Public Service.

In the same election that saw Enid Lyons elected to the House of Representatives, Dorothy Tangney became the first woman elected to the Australian Senate. Dorothy Tangney, one of nine children, grew up in Perth in very difficult financial circumstances after her father was severely injured at work. Her political sensibilities were formed by witnessing the deprivations of her own family and so many others during the Depression. She joined the Australian Labor Party at 17 and quickly became an active and involved member. Like Enid Lyons, she unsuccessfully ran for state parliament in 1936 and 1939 and also for the Senate in 1940 before winning a spot in the Labor landslide of 1943.

In the Senate, she had some views in common with Enid Lyons, supporting recommendations for increased child endowment and pensions for deserted wives and civilian and war widows. She was a passionate supporter of education and a strong proponent of free university education as well as of national health care, successfully seeking to introduce pensions and hospital and medical benefits for tuberculosis patients and the blind. In her first speech, she emphasised the importance of a woman's place in parliament as equal partners in Australian society saying:

I also realize my great honour in being the first woman to be elected to the Senate. But it is not as a woman that I have been elected to this chamber. It is as a citizen of the Commonwealth …

Throughout her career, she campaigned for equal pay and equality in matters relating to divorce and child custody.

We pay tribute to these trailblazing women today and we try to imagine just how strange and lonely it would have been at times to be the only two women in this place. How different this place would look to Dorothy Tangney and Enid Lyons today—I imagine particularly for Dorothy Tangney, who was for 25 years the only woman in the Labor caucus. How pleased she would be to see that about half of our members today are women. How pleased both of these women would be to see women in leadership positions across major parties and to have seen a female prime minister. None of this could have been achieved without these pioneers, and we honour their achievement and their work today.