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Thursday, 17 November 1910

Senator STEWART (Queensland) . - It gives me much pleasure to have this opportunity of supporting the motion submitted by Senator Rae. I was very much surprised at the attitude assumed by Senator Gould and Senator Walker. Both of them are fervent Imperialists. They believe in the Empire above everything. I am not an Imperialist; but, while we remain a portion of the British Empire, it is quite permissible and justifiable that every portion of that Empire should take an interest in the whole of it. and especially in its good government. Having discovered a good thing in Australia - having found, from practical experience, how excellent women's suffrage is - -seeing that, as some honorable senators have claimed, women's suffrage has been the means of placing the Labour party in power - surely we should be failing in our duty if we did not carry the good tidings to the uttermost ends of the Empire. The only objection which the Opposition have to the motion is that they say we are interfering with a matter that does not concern us. I say, however, that it does concern us. The good government of the Empire concerns every citizen of the Empire. We in Australia, having found women's suffrage to be of such advantage to the community from every point of view, are in duty bound to tell the people of. Great Britain our experience. I understand that Miss Pankhurst, who is one of the most. active advocates of women's suffrage in Great Britain, cabled out to the Prime Minister, asking what had been the experience of Australia' in this matter. That being the case, it is but right and proper that we should testify as to what has happened. That is all that we are doing. By means of this motion, we are simply telling the people of Great Britain what the result of female suffrage in Australia has been.

Senator Walker - I have just written Home, telling people that myself.

Senator STEWART - The honorable senator is, no doubt, a most important individual. But he must remember that no individual, however great he may be, can hope to have equal influence with a House of the Legislature. In this case, .the Senate of Australia will be speaking, and telling the people of Great Britain how female suffrage has affected the well-being of the Commonwealth.

Senator Walker - Has not Sir George Reid told them that already?

Senator STEWART - Sir GeorgeReid is only another individual.

Senator Walker - He is our High Commissioner.

Senator STEWART - But the Senate, I submit, is even greater than Sir George Reid. The Senate represents the people of Australia directly. Sir George Reid is the mere nominee of the Government of Australia, and cannot speak with the authority of those who have been chosen in their places in this Chamber to the electors of this country. I was very much amused - though there was a great deal of anger mixed with my amusement - when I read of the indignities which the women suffragists were subjected to in Great Britain. The facts brought home to my mind with tremendous force what barbarians our men are, and what selfish views they take of their position. To my mind, there ought to be no sex in citizenship. There should be no political difference between man and woman. Each has his or her own work to do, and each is essential to the well-being of the nation. In Scotland a thousand years ago there was a Parliament of the people. I do not mean that there was a Parliament such as we have now, but the people themselves assembled once a year, and discussed the affairs of their community. Every man in that assembly was accompanied by his wife, and the women had as much voice in the debates as the men had. When a question was put, the women voted with the men. So that women's suffrage, in reality, is not new at all.

Senator Walker - Were there any women without husbands there?

Senator STEWART - I do not remember reading that there were women without husbands, because in those good old days there were very few women without husbands, and there were very few bachelors. It is extraordinary how history repeats itself. I suppose that when honorable senators read some time ago of the ill-usage to which the women suffragists were exposed, they said to themselves, " Surely this is something new under the sun, something which never happened before in the history of the human family." But I find, from an article in the Contemporary Review, that about 2,000 years ago there was exactly the same trouble in ancient Rome. Honorable senators may find the passage which I am about to quote in volume 97 of the Contemporary Review. The article is called "The Roman Lady," and the passage which I wish to read is this -

When the second Triumvirate were driven to every expedient to find money foi the war with Brutus and Cassius, they published an edict requiring fourteen hundred of the richest women to make a valuation of their property, and to furnish for the war such portion as the triumvirs should require from each. A body of the women concerned forced their way to the tribunal of the triumvirs in the Forum - a thing no man durst do in those days. Hortensia, daughter of the great Hortensius, a leader of the bar, Cicero's rival, Verres' counsel, was their spokesman. Appian gives us her speech.

This is what she said - " As is befitting women of our rank addressing a petition to you, we had recourse to your female relatives. Having suffered unseemly treatment on the part of Fulvia, we have been compelled to visit the Forum. You have deprived us of our fathers, our sons, our husbands, and our brothers, whom you accuse of having wronged you. If you take away our property also, you reduce us to a condition unbecoming our birth. If we women have not voted you public enemies, have not burnt down your houses, or led an army against you, why do you visit upon us the same punishment as upon the guilty, whose offences we have not shared?

Here is the crux- of the matter - " Why should we pay taxes when we have no part in the honours, the commands, the statecraft for which you contend ? ' Because this is a time of war,' do you say? Let war with the Gauls or Parthians come, and we shall not be inferior to our mothers in zeal for the common safety ; but for civil wars may we never contribute." When Hortensia had thus spoken, says Appian, the triumvirs were angry that women should dare to hold a public meeting when the men were silent. They ordered the lictors to drive them away from the tribunal, which they proceeded to do until cries were raised by the multitude outside, when the lictors desisted and the triumvirs said they would postpone till the next day the consideration of the matter.

That is history almost repeating itself. They did not beat the women directly in England recently, but they went very close to it.

Senator Guthrie - The police used their batons.

Senator STEWART - I believe they did. The passage goes on - .

On the following day they reduced the number of women, from fourteen hundred to four hundred.

Apparently that deputation had some result. I hope that the Parliament of Great Britain will take the advice tendered to it by the Senate- of the Commonwealth, and remove the injustice under which a large number of women are undoubtedly suffering in Great Britain. With regard to our pious hope that " all nations enjoying representative government would be well advised in granting the franchise to women," I ask, " What is there to object to in that?" If the women of Germany, in France, and in Russia had votes, does any one imagine that war would be as common as it is? Do honorable senators think for a moment that if the women of Europe were enfranchised equally with the men, the nations would rush at each other's throats as they do to-day? If they believe in the era of peace honorable senators should advocate the extension of the franchise to women. That would be one of the surest means of sweeping war utterly off the face of the earth. The temperament of women Fs entirely against bloodshed. It is quite different from that of men, and I am sure that their influence when they have the power will be directed towards the promotion of peace. Senator Walker seems to be very much concerned about Turkey. It is the only European country he has mentioned. I do not know whether he has been there in his travels. Probably the honorable senator has some experience of those unique institutions which are to be found in Turkey. I know nothing whatever about them, except what I have heard.

Senator Walker - Nor do I.

Senator STEWART - I could not understand the reason why the honorable senator should be so much concerned about Turkey.

Senator Walker - It was because honorable senators opposite spoke of all countries having representative government.

Senator STEWART - I think -it would be a most excellent thing if the women of Turkey had votes. I am sure that if they had, the system to which the honorable senator has alluded would be very soon swept away. They would not tolerate a system under which one man may have 500 wives, and 500 men may have no wife at all. I am as sure as that I am standing here, that if the women of Turkey or of any other country in which similar institutions exist had a voice in the government such a system would be swept out of existence immediately.

Senator Barker - It is a degradation.

Senator STEWART - It is a degradation of women. It is contrary to the laws of nature, against the laws of God, and the best laws of man, and it ought to be, and would be, stamped out if the women of Turkey or of any other country that suffers from evils of the kind had any political power at all. To come back for a moment to the principal argument used by honorable senators on my right against this motion, that it proposes an interference in a matter which does not concern us. Let me say again that the government of the Empire does concern us. We are a portion of the Empire. I am sure that no members of the Senate would be more strenuous in their opposition to anything which would tend towards the dismemberment of the Empire than would Senators Walker and Gould. If they desire that the Empire should continue they should be anxious that the very best kind of government possible should obtain throughout the Empire. I regard Australia as a sort of social laboratory where social* industrial, and political experiments are carried on for the benefit of humanity. Having found that some of our experiments have brought about excellent results, surely we should be failing in our duty if we did not communicate those results to our fellow-citizens throughout the Empire? If the citizens of Canada, for instance, discovered some new cereal which would be of great benefit to their feilow-citizens of the Empire in other parts of the world, should we not say that they were exceedingly selfish if they did hot communicate that discovery to us? Discoveries in social or political science are of greater importance than discoveries of any other kind, because upon them may depend the happiness and welfare of the human family. I am exceedingly glad that Senator Rae had the forethought to propose a motion of this kind. . I trust not only that ir will be carried here, but that it will have some influence with the people to whom, through the Prime, Minister of Great Britain, it is to be addressed.

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