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Wednesday, 28 March 1984
Page: 839


Senator MAGUIRE(7.13) —This evening I draw attention to the lack of Federal electorates in Australia which are named after women. Indeed, one could conclude from the number of electorates which are named after women that few, if any, have contributed to public life in this country. Of course, that is not at all true. Many women have left their mark on Australian public life and on Australian society. I think the increase in the size of the House of Representatives which is to take place this year is a great opportunity to give more public recognition to women in our country. This year we face the prospect of some 23 extra Federal electorates being created. In addition to that there will be major changes to a number of other Federal electorates which could result in the renaming of those electorates. The changes to the electoral boundaries in the five mainland States particularly should offer some opportunity to increase the number of electorates named after Australian women of achievement.

On my calculation, following quite extensive research, it appears that only four of the current 125 House of Representatives divisions are named after women . That represents less than 4 per cent of the total number of seats. The only four electorates that I have been able to identify that appear to be named directly or indirectly after women are Adelaide-that was basically named after the capital city of my State rather than the Queen Consort of William IV after which, in turn, it was named-Chisholm, in Victoria, which was named after Caroline Chisholm who did a great deal of work for immigrant women in Australia in the nineteenth century, Mackellar in New South Wales which is named after Dorothea Mackellar, the poetess who wrote, amongst other things, My Country and, of course, Tangney in Western Australia which is named after Dame Dorothy Tangney who was the first woman elected to the Senate. She was elected in 1943.

From what I have been able to ascertain there are no Federal electorates named after women in either Queensland or Tasmania. I believe that, in the ideal situation, at least half of the new Federal electorates to be created this year should be named after women. I think that would raise somewhat the proportion of electorates so named from its current abysmal level.

For too long, House of Representatives electorates have been named after geographical regions, male explorers, royalty or former members of parliament, and usually they have been males. The practice in Australia is certainly more original and more interesting, even as it is at the moment, than the practice which applies in other countries. For example, in the United States of America, the electorates in the House of Representatives are given numbers such as the first or fifteenth district of a State. I think that is basically the practice that applies in France. In Great Britain electorates tend to be named after localities and major towns.

Given the existing situation we should take note of the fact that there have been many Australian women of public and social achievement and more of the electorates in the House of Representatives should bear the names of women. I think the practice should be looked at at the State level too. It seems that only in South Australia and one other State are there electorates named after women. I was able to identify one electorate out of 99 in New South Wales that is named after a woman. I think that is the electorate of Elizabeth. There are four or five in South Australia which are named after women. Beyond that it is not very easy to identify such electorates.

I have written to the Australian Electoral Commissioner, Dr Hughes, about the matter. He has undertaken to draw the proposal to the attention of the electoral redistribution committees in each of the five mainland States where the extra electorates are to be created. I have also made a public call to individuals and groups to put forward names of women of achievement to local members of parliament and senators. In particular, I have asked political parties to put in submissions to electoral redistribution committees in their own States. I believe that the electoral redistribution committees are now operating in at least two States. Certainly the committee is operating in my State of South Australia. There will be two extra House of Representatives divisions in that State. I believe that at least one of them should be named after a woman. I have suggested that the names be chosen from such names as Mary Mackillop who was an educationalist in South Australia. She was the joint founder of the Sisters of St Joseph who have had a great record of achievement in education in country areas of South Australia and in the metropolitan area. Another name to be considered is that of Helen Mayo who was the first woman to be elected to a university council in Australia. She had the great distinction of founding the mothers and babies health association in our State and also founded St Ann's Women's College at Adelaide University. I have also put forward the name of Augusta Zadow who was the first woman inspector of factories in South Australia. She showed great concern and commitment in dealing with the problems faced by working women. The fourth name I have out forward is that of Ida Halley who was a medical officer and one of the earliest feminists in Australia. She was among the first women medical students at the University of Melbourne. Her great contribution was to establish the medical branch of the Education Department in South Australia in 1913.

I am also very pleased to note that one trade union in South Australia has already taken up my suggestion and has put forward a name for consideration by the electoral redistribution committee in my State. I urge other honourable senators interested in this proposal to research names of women in their own States who have been great contributors in public life and to ensure that those names are put forward to the redistribution committees in their States. I think Western Australia has an excellent opportunity. Two extra seats are to be created in that State. It is interesting to note that the first Labor woman member of parliament in Australia, Mary Holman, was elected in Western Australia . For too long women's achievements in Australian public life have been overlooked. Naming electorates after women would underline their contributions to the community and would be a constant reminder of their impact on the community.