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Thursday, 9 December 2004
Page: 123


Senator BARNETT (4:50 PM) —I rise in the adjournment debate to pay tribute to the memory of Dame Enid Lyons. She was born on 9 July 1897 and lived to the ripe old age of 84, when she died on 2 September 1981. She has been referred to in a number of publications and books, including Prime Minister's Wives by Diane Langmore, where she says:

Enid Lyons, wife of Joseph Aloysius Lyons, was the only Australian Prime Minister's wife who, having played an exceptionally prominent part in her husband's public life, went on to a political career of her own: she became the first woman member of the House of Representatives.

Yes, she was married to a famous Tasmanian, a former Tasmanian Premier. Joseph Lyons, a member of the United Australia Party, became Prime Minister and was sworn in on 6 January 1932. He died in office of a heart attack on Good Friday, 7 April 1939.

Dame Enid had many qualities. In Prime Minister'sWives, Diane Langmore says:

The firm upbringing given Enid by her mother equipped her for her later life. Through her she developed ambition, determination, a strong sense of duty and responsibility, civic awareness, a strict morality and a skill in the use and appreciation of the English language. But that was only half her inheritance. In childhood Enid also had a sneaking attraction to the very different qualities of her father: his lightheartedness, his wit, his colourful vernacular speech and his gift for anecdote uninhibited by concern for veracity.

Interestingly, Dame Enid and Joseph Lyons met in Hobart when Joe was Premier of the state of Tasmania. She was aged only 17 years and he was aged 35, in fact over twice her age. They were married in Hobart. Funnily enough, they honeymooned at the premiers conference in Sydney, which certainly shows a depth of dedication to her husband. It is fascinating that a couple would have a honeymoon at such an event as that.

Dame Enid was elected to parliament on 21 August 1943 and she gave her maiden speech on 29 September 1943. I want to read an extract from her maiden speech to highlight the type of woman that she was and the contribution that she made to this country of ours. I also want to refer to yesterday's book launch of Speaking for Australia: Parliamentary Speeches that Shaped a Nation, edited by Senator Rod Kemp and launched by the Prime Minister. I congratulate Senator Kemp on its launch and I am sure it will be well received. In that book is the maiden speech of Dame Enid Lyons. She talks about the fact that she was the first woman member of the House of Representatives and how she wanted to be considered and have her contribution considered on its merit. She spoke in her maiden speech about the character of the nation and how important it was to stick by things such as hatred of oppression, the love of a fair go, a passion for justice and those types of qualities.

She spoke of other issues such as decentralisation and the declining birthrate. She spoke of the housing issues and the effects of the war. But in her concluding remarks, she said this:

... I bear the name of one of whom it was said in this chamber that to him the problems of government were not problems of blue books, not problems of statistics, but problems of human values and human hearts and human feelings. That, it seems to me, is a concept of government that we might well cherish. It is certainly one that I hold very dear. I hope that I shall never forget that everything that takes place in this chamber goes out somewhere to strike a human heart, to influence the life of some fellow being, and I believe this, too, with all my heart that the duty of every government, whether in this country or any other, is to see that no man, because of the condition of his life, shall ever need lose his vision of the city of God.

What a wonderful quote and something that is still true today. The Senate passed a motion of regret on 8 September 1981 after Dame Enid's death. That motion read:

That the Senate expresses its deep regret at the death on 2 September of the Honourable Dame Enid Muriel Lyons, a member of the House of Representatives for the division of Darwin from 1943 to 1951, Vice-President of the Executive Council from 1949 to 1951—

of course, that was in the government of Sir Robert Gordon Menzies who was a great Liberal Prime Minister of this country—

and widow of the former Prime Minister the Right Honourable J. A. Lyons, places on record its appreciation of her long and meritorious public service and tenders its profound sympathy.

There were a number of other contributions made in the Senate at that time, including those from a fine Tasmanian senator at the time, Brian Archer, and the Acting Prime Minister at the time, Mr Doug Anthony. I will not read them now but they are on the record and highlight her contribution and the fact that she was not only the first Australian woman to become a member of the House of Representatives but a fine and outstanding Australian.