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Thursday, 30 September 1993
Page: 1572


Senator CROWLEY (Minister for Family Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) (8.18 p.m.) —I am very pleased to rise in this place to support this motion moved by Senator Kernot, which marks the 50th anniversary of the first speech in the Australian Senate by a woman, Dame Dorothy Tangney and the 50th anniversary of the first speech in the Australian House of Representatives by a woman, Dame Enid Lyons. The motion also notes that we have had only 59 women elected since then and it congratulates Ms Ann Millar on her book Trust the Women.

  I am delighted to rise in support of this motion. One of the things that I liked very much about the book was to find the maiden speeches of Dorothy Tangney and Enid Lyons in the back of it. For those who have time to search the library or who have not misplaced their previous copies, it is very good to find those speeches in the back of the book.

  I was particularly struck by the similarities and the points of difference in the comments of Dorothy Tangney and Enid Lyons all those years ago. Two points made by Dorothy Tangney stand in my mind. First, we must remember that her speeches were made in 1943 when Australia was still well engaged in the Second World War. In her remarks Dorothy Tangney said that she hoped Australia would recognise the importance of having a new view of itself and its place in the world—that is, its place in the Pacific—and the importance of working with the countries that are near neighbours. That was an acute observation by Dorothy Tangney all those years ago.

  Further on in her speech Dorothy Tangney referred to the fact that the Australian people were finding #1.5 million for the war effort. She sincerely hoped that they would find #1.5 million for the peace effort, particularly when the war ended to assist people to get established in Australia with the change in industry and all the other things that went with it.

  I also particularly enjoyed reading Enid Lyons's comments about new brooms sweeping things clean, while not wanting to refer to the House of Representatives as a cupboard. I am not sure whether such metaphors should be commented upon. I thought it was rather well set; I enjoyed the way she set it out. There is probably some awful apposition about the use of a broom to sweep clean the House of Representatives. I also liked her reference to heat in kitchens. As I remember it, that phrase belongs to some American politician. I think the place of women has always been in politics, if only in metaphor.

  Clearly this book by Ann Millar highlights, as Senator Kernot said, the significant dearth of women in this place—dearth as to their number rather than their contribution. There are 59 women on the cover of the book and I like that line very much. It is Senator Kernot's line, but I will use it again, if I may.


Senator Kernot —I have not used it lately, so you can.


Senator CROWLEY —I thank Senator Kernot. I make the point that we can have all the women who have ever been in parliament on the cover of one book. I hope that the next time we publish an updated version of Trust the Women the number of women will be far more than one cover's worth.

  A month or so ago I was able to join state ministers at a meeting of Commonwealth-state ministers on the status of women, which was held in Wellington, New Zealand, to acknowledge the suffrage celebrations of the women's vote in New Zealand. I join in congratulating New Zealand on that achievement a hundred years ago. I had the pleasure of doing that more formally in the New Zealand High Commission just the other night.

  In particular, the woman acknowledged for leading the campaign in New Zealand is Kate Shepphard. The day after the election she presented a white carnation to the parliamentarians who voted yes for women's suffrage. When we were in Wellington, Minister Jenny Shipley was fascinated to comment on the foresight and planning of women. Two years before this centenary celebration, some women, recognising the opportunity, bred a new camellia which they named the Kate Shepphard camellia. It is now planted the length and breadth of New Zealand. It is turning out to be a very successful program. The camellia is worth it in its own right and it is a very striking highlight of this year's celebration. Again, I acknowledge the wit, wisdom and inventiveness of women's minds.

  Another thing I would love to share with this parliament is an account of one of the many celebrations in New Zealand this year. On this occasion women walked, jogged, rode, hiked, backpacked, mountain climbed and rock climbed to the top of seven mountains. From the top of those seven mountains they were able to speak to each other by a Telecom hook-up. The whole episode was filmed from a helicopter. The people of New Zealand were able to see these women covering the slopes and getting to the tops of mountains. As much as it demonstrates the physical prowess and capabilities of women, it is nice to think how high women can go—even to the tops of mountains, given half a chance.

  I am also pleased to have been able to participate in New Zealand's centenary celebrations because next year is the centenary of suffrage in South Australia, my own state.


Senator Loosley —Hear, hear!


Senator CROWLEY —I thank Senator Loosley. It is a matter of great celebration. While we mark this year as a centenary of the women's vote in New Zealand, next year in South Australia we will mark a particularly significant first. Not only did the South Australian women get the right to vote, but they also got the right to stand for parliament.

  As I understand it, this was not the intention of the people moving the motion at the time. An amendment was moved as a tactic to try to defeat the bill for yet a third time on the grounds that it might get women the vote but certainly would not enable them to stand for parliament. But the people moving the amendment did not get the numbers right. So as a result of a grudging contribution, in 1894 women in South Australia not only had the right to vote but also the right to stand for parliament.

  Very importantly, that voting right also covered Aboriginal women. There are some histories and records of Aboriginal women who were able to exercise their right to vote in South Australia. The history is still a bit cloudy as to whether Aboriginal women did have the right to vote in the 1902 bill. It is certain that very few were able to exercise it because they were not encouraged to vote or advised on the matter, or indeed even knew how to get on the electoral roll. We do know that post 1967, Aboriginal women and men were finally acknowledged as citizens in their own right in their own country. Since then, of course, Aboriginal women have been able to exercise their right to vote.

  In some countries I have visited—for example, Mozambique—Australia's expertise in assisting people to get on to the electoral roll and to learn of their right to vote in a democracy has been one of the stunning successes enjoyed by this country and a service that we have been asked to provide to other countries. We are very pleased to assist. The people in Mozambique, who are preparing for their first democratic elections, have been assisted by our Electoral Commission.


Senator Loosley —It has done a magnificent job.


Senator CROWLEY —Yes, it certainly has. Those countries have been interested to know about the Australian Electoral Commission's capacity to be able to go to remote places and to talk with people. For example, it has talked to Aboriginal people, whose first language is not English. Indeed, it has been at pains to reach people in Australia, particularly those in rural, remote and Aboriginal communities. It has served as a model that is now much sought after by countries such as Mozambique. It is one of the things that makes me very proud of this country. It is vitally important that the democratic right to vote is experienced by women in Australia.

  For the record and the edification of some senators, I simply conclude my comments about South Australia by saying that, as late as 1959 in South Australia, a woman who was elected to parliament—Jessie Cooper—had her right to sit in parliament challenged in the Supreme Court by the Liberal man who was defeated in preselection. The case he brought against the Electoral Commission was to the effect that Jessie Cooper was a woman and not `a person' under the act. That occurred in 1959 in South Australia.

  Mr Acting Deputy President, you will be pleased to know that the president of the time, Mr Playford, made it quite clear, by amending legislation, that women were persons, which is what the Supreme Court found. It is a case that is not without quite a lot of precedent in England. Indeed, the reason it was able to be argued that women were not `persons' flowed from a widely held view that women were not fit for public office. This was spelt out in all sorts of ways in court cases in England in the 19th century. Unfortunately, in some cases it has been repeated in courts in Australia.

  One of the best examples I know is the campaign against women getting into universities in the late 19th century. Senior Victorian politicians and public figures argued strenuously in the late 19th century that if women went to universities their uteruses would shrivel! There ought to be a loud hoot of laughter. It is quite clear that gender transliteration of that kind of comment would never be said because women are not so silly—neither are most men these days. That is just one example of the absolute stupidity that women had to campaign against. It was not just a battle for their rights, but they also had to deal with a campaign of folly, of put down and of destruction—a clear denial of rights for women. Our grandmothers had to muster all the possible arguments to counter nonsense of that sort—at a time when they did not have access to property, to a university education or to the vote, in many cases.

  The history of their fight in Australia is something about which we should be remarkably proud. Until this book was written, we knew very little about this history. I congratulate Ann Millar for writing this book. She has actually given us a volume that we can present to our sons and daughters, to our schools and to our communities so that that history is not forgotten, not written out of existence and not overlooked, but powerfully taught. It ought not be just a matter of women's rights, although that seems to me to be sufficient justification—


Senator Loosley —It's a matter of human rights.


Senator CROWLEY —Yes, Senator Loosley, it is a matter of human rights. It is also a matter of a great achievement for democracy. Australia, with New Zealand, was teaching the rest of the world—as the title of the book and that wonderful banner suggest—that people can trust the women, however one wants to interpret that. I do not know how Hansard can show the difference between `trust the women' and `trust the women'. It looks the same on paper, but there are two meanings.

  It is certainly interesting to note that in 1911 that banner painted by Dora Meeson was being paraded in England in, I think, the coronation suffrage parade. It was only two years after that, in 1913, that the cat and mouse acts were introduced into English law to deal with those outrageous creatures—women—who were being taken to gaol, going on starvation—


Senator Loosley —They were on hunger strike and were being force fed.


Senator CROWLEY —They were being force fed because they refused to eat. I am doing very well with the assistance of my colleagues!

  The cat and mouse acts were introduced to enable the force feeding of those women who then recovered enough to come out of gaol, to demonstrate again, to be arrested, to go into gaol, to go on hunger strike, to be force fed and around they went again. Here were the women of England in 1913 being submitted to that kind of legislation. I wonder what we would be saying in this place if the government or another party tried to introduce that kind of legislation. Here was England going to such lengths to stop women achieving the rights that Australian and New Zealand women had achieved some 20 years earlier. I actually think it is a remarkable achievement for the antipodean countries of New Zealand and Australia. I am pleased to speak about this at every opportunity I get and I am, indeed, very proud of those achievements.

  The book has many photographs and I am delighted that Senator Kernot referred to one. Contemporary photos being what they are, I say, `That is nice, there are my friends'. But the photo I particularly like is the one of Vida Goldstein looking absolutely splendid going off to be a candidate in the election in 1903. I am not sure that I could ever look like Vida Goldstein, but I refer anybody reading the book to that photo—there is a model for us all. What a feisty and spunky lady she was.

  I think it is very important that we have this history for our sons and daughters to read. It is also an acknowledgment of the contribution women have made to building this country.

  I reiterate what has been said here and in other places: quite clearly we do not have sufficient numbers of women in parliament—either in our federal parliament or in our state parliaments. Quite clearly we do not have enough women on the boards of management in this country, in senior management positions, as senior members of our universities or in senior positions in our public sector. One could not be satisfied with the representation of women in any of those positions.

  It is important that we campaign to get fair and reasonable representation of women—at least 50 per cent as a goal—in all of those positions. It is not a question of just going for a quota; it is striving for fair recognition of the variety of talents and contributions that women can make. As I have said in other places, it is a profligate country that is prepared to waste the talent of 51 per cent of its people. It is a matter of justice, it is a matter of equity and it is also a matter of best practice. If one deliberately overlooked talent in trying to fill positions in management, then I think it would be a measure of inadequate management or poor hiring practices. We do not have enough women in those positions and we suffer because we do not utilise their talents.

  In supporting this motion and congratulating Ann Millar on her book, I certainly believe that we have a wonderful marker in the continuing struggle for a fair representation of women here and in other forums. There is absolutely no doubt at all that the contribution made by women over the years in this place is no less and indeed very often much more than the contribution of other senators. Women can certainly make their contribution in this place—they have done so and they will continue to do so.

  I believe it is a matter of equity and opportunity for this country that we ensure that the balance changes. That is something which is of great concern to the Labor Party and is being rigorously debated in all quarters of the party. I am very pleased to know that that debate is taking place.

  It is not a question of whether there will be more women, but how more women will be preselected. I would like to think that the expectation now is that women do not have to fight to justify their capacity. What we have to do now is merely fight for the opportunity to have a go and to take a place in society. That is one of the great cries of this country. It is certainly time to make sure women have a piece of that action.