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Thursday, 17 November 1910

Senator RAE (New South Wales) . - I move -

1.   That this Senate is of opinion that the extension of the suffrage to the women of Australia for States and Commonwealth Parliaments, on the same terms as to men, has had the most beneficial results. It has led to the more orderly conduct of elections, and, at the last Federal elections, the women's vote in a majority of the States showed a greater propor-tiona te increase than that cast' by men. It has given a greater prominence to legislation particularly affecting women and children, although the women have not taken up such questions to the exclusion of others of wider significance. In matters of Defence and Imperial concern they have proved themselves as far-seeing and discriminating as men. Because the reform has brought nothing but good, though disaster was freely prophesied, we respectfully urge that all nations enjoying representative government would be well advised in granting votes to women.

2.   That a copy of the foregoing resolution be cabled to the British Prime Minister.

I think that the greater number of the statements contained in the motion, which, I admit, is rather lengthy, are beyond serious contention. The latter part of it has been questioned, on the ground that it is a large order to urge that "all nations enjoying representative government would be well-advised in granting votes to women." I may mention incidentally that a similar motion has been given notice of in the other House. Some honorable senators felt rather touchy on the question of doing anything which might be thought to be in the nature of giving advice on an internal matter to the British Government. Therefore, the wider method of expressing the sentiment by referring to "all nations enjoying representative government " was deliberately chosen. I think that no honorable senator can now say that that objection can be fairly urged. A mere expression of opinion is not by any means dictation. It would ill become any honorable senator to seriously urge that position, seeing that on many occasions the Federal Parliament has expressed its opinion on very much more controversial matters. . It would, indeed, be straining at a gnat after having swallowed a camel if such an objection were raised in this instance. No one can fairly urge that womanhood suffrage is a party question. It will be remembered that a few months ago, in the House of Commons, a Conciliation Committee, representative of all parties - Conservative, Liberal, Labour, and, I think, Home Rule - was formed, and that it agreed upon the substance of a measure granting womanhood suffrage. Of course, in the Old Country the question is tangled up in a way which does not obtain in the Commonwealth or the States. Here the principle of one man one vote was conceded many years ago, and obviously it was only possible to grant the suffrage to women on the same terms as it was held by men. But in Great Britain, owing to the property qualification and the relics of the Feudal system, there has been some measure of disagreement, not so much on the abstract justice of granting the franchise to women as on the question of whether it should be conceded to all women or to only those who are ratepayers, or how political power should be apportioned to them. No such question can arise with us. We are not asking that any special stand should be taken by the Senate as regards the details of any suffrage proposal in the heart of the Empire, it is merely asked to state that in Australia the granting oT the franchise to women on the same terms as to men has, though it met with some opposition at the outset, not given rise to serious criticism. And, that being the case, we are simply asking the Senate to affirm in the broadest fashion that every nation enjoying representative government should give the franchise to women. I think that the time has gone by when an enlightened nation can contend that women are not tnf equals of men.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.

Senator RAE - I am not unaware of the fact that there has been some criticism of this proposal upon the ground that it seeks to dictate to the Imperial Parliament upon a matter of domestic legislation. One honorable senator opposite put the position to me in this way: "What would this Parliament say if the Imperial Parliament were to pass a resolution objecting to our Federal land tax? Do you think we would not resent any such resolution?" In reply, I said, " Probably we would if one can imagine the Imperial Parliament being so foolish as to interfere in such a matter. But there is a wide difference between a question of internal taxation and a matter affecting human rights in their largest and most important aspect." The argument cannot fairly be advanced that this Parliament should not express its opinion upon matters of vital concern to it - especially when they are non-party matters - seeing that it has already expressed a most emphatic opinion upon questions which most acutely divide political parties in the Old Country. I need only refer to the resolution which it adopted in regard to the employment of Chinese on the Rand, to that which it affirmed in reference to the Dogger Bank incident during the progress of the Russo-Japanese War, to the motion which it passed in regard to Home Rule for Ireland, and to the opinion it expressed upon a question which is apt to rouse the strongest passions in political circles at Home - I mean the form of the Coronation Oath. When we reflect that all these are controversial matters upon which the British public is divided, honorable senators will be straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel if they object to my proposal upon that ground. It is true that the purpose of the motion is to intimate, in the most courteous terms, to our friends and blood relations in the Mother Country, that we are of opinion that the British Government, amongst others, will be well-advised if it extends the franchise to women. I am not concerned with the detailed objections which may be urged to the adoption* of that course. We know that one of those objections is that the women of Great Britain outnumber the men by some millions, and thai, consequently, they would reign if they fully availed themselves of the franchise. That is an undemocratic objection, and an absurd one, upon its face, because we do not find that, upon matters of practical legislation, divisions of opinion are based on sex grounds.

We do not find all the women voting upon one side in respect of any question submitted to the electors. Both women and men hold certain opinions, and are able to express them. It would not be wise for me to labour this motion, which I have brought forward in all sincerity. I trust that it will be carried, and that it will assist, in some measure, to settle this vexed question. It is idle to say that any feeling will be aroused as the result of its adoption, because, in the first place, we know that the female suffrage movement in Great Britain has progressed to such an extent that it is now admitted by all parties that the reform is within the region of practical politics. Only yesterday, the cable announced that it is a question of such importance that the present Government declare that it must be settled at a very early dateto avoid serious embarrassment. When we find it coupled with the question of Home Rule, and with the Osborne judgment which affects trade unionists, we must admit that its settlement cannot be much longer delayed. One reason why it should be settled speedily is that, when once the vote is granted on equal terms to women and men, a great political subject will have reached finality ; and the road will be open to reform on other matters affecting the social and economic condition of the people. Therefore, the least that we can do is to send word to our kith and kin in Great Britain that we have found this great measure of freedom which has been granted to our women to work well in every particular ; and that it has falsified every prediction which was urged against its acceptance. I trust, therefore, that honorable senators will unanimously support the proposal.

Senator Lt.-Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD (New South Wales) [8.9].- I think that the Government are deeply indebted to Senator Rae. He has been afforded an opportunity of retaining the attention of honorable senators at a period when we had no other business to transact. If for no other reason they should at least be grateful to him for the effort which he has made to prevent the Senate from dying of inanition. From the terms of the motion, there can be no question that, in the eyes of the world, this Chamber is entitled to take a leading position. After praising the result which has followed the enfranchisement of women in Australia, it declares that that step has proved of great value to the community, notwithstanding that disaster had been freely prophesied; and it then invites us to ask other countries to look to Australia for guidance as to the way in which they should manage their own affairs. It reads-

We respectfully urge that all nations enjoying representative government would be well advised in granting votes to women.

That may be perfectly true-

Senator Stewart - It foreshadows the federation of the world.

Senator Vardon - Then the Sultan of Turkey should give the women of his harem votes.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - This motion asks the Senate to pose as a body which is to advise the nations of the world. In other words, the youngest nation is to undertake the teaching of the most venerable nations. There is a very homely proverb about youths teaching their grandmothers to suck eggs.

SenatorO'Keefe. - What about the other proverb of the child and the father?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - The child is the father of the man, and this child is going to advise the man as to what he ought to do. The proposal affirms that we should particularly give the benefit of our opinion to Great Britain. It provides that a copy of the resolution shall be forwarded to the Prime Minister of Great Britain, not in the ordinary way, but bya cable message. Through him the whole of the British nation is to be apprised of the importance of the question of women's suffrage. But, as a matter of fact, we know that for some time an agitation has been in progress in Great Britain in regard to this very question, and that peculiarly advanced suffragettes have made all sorts of demonstrations to impress on the Government the advisableness of extending the franchise to women. We know that a little time ago Mr. Asquith dare not play a game of golf without having two or three policemen to protect him against the energetic assaults of these ladies. We are now asked to help him out of the difficulty by telling him our opinion and giving him our advice. Is it desirable that we should take upon ourselves the duties of a mentor to the British Parliament in the regulation of its own affairs? It is true that we have enfranchised our women, and that we have no reason to regret that step. But there is no necessity for us to adopt a motion of this character. Quite recently we passed a Bill relating to land taxation. Let us suppose that the

House of Commons or the House of Lords forwarded us a resolution setting out what in 'their opinion are the disadvantages associated with such legislation.

Senator Story - That is a different thing.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD. - The only difference is that in that case our seniors would be pointing out to us what they considered the best course to adopt, whereas, in this instance, we who are the juniors are pointing out to them what they should do.

Senator Rae - We are not juniors; that is a fallacy. We belong to the same race. We are legislating here, and the British Parliament is legislating for its own people.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD. - But our institutions are very much younger than theirs. We are a very much younger nation. We are attempting to go to the very root of the institutions of Great Britain by telling the people there whom we think ought to be enfranchised. Surely honorable senators see what a ridiculous position we shall place ourselves in by passing such a motion. It is the sort of thing one might expect from young men at a School of Arts Debating Society casting about for something to talk about.

Senator de Largie - Has not the question of women's franchise passed the debating society stage?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - The question has passed that stage in Australia, but not in Great Britain; and we are only making ourselves ridiculous by attempting to dictate to that country as to what it shall do. I do not know what may be the opinion of honorable senators generally. There may be some who think that it is " about up to " the Commonwealth of Australia, through the Senate, to teach other nations. But I have not advanced to that position yet. I think that it would be very much better for us if we were to mind our own business. We should certainly resent it if the House of Commons or the House of Lords passed a resolution with regard to legislation which Australia thought was in her interest.

Senator Guthrie - Does not Great Britain veto some of our legislation?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - She may do so; but that is no reason why we should attempt to teach her what she should do. We are not authorized to veto British legislation. A motion of this kind is beneath the dignity of the Senate. If we are to pass it, however, it might be desirable to go further, and to cable the motion to other nations that at present enjoy representative government.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Will the honorable senator move an amendment to' that effect?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - I should be very happy to do anything within reason that would please the honorable senator; but I do not contemplate submitting such an amendment myself, though I certainly think that there is just as much reason for it as there is for the motion. The nations of the world would then realize that we in Australia have attained to such a position that we are able to teach them what they ought to do, and to lay down an invariable rule, by means of which they may advance their interests.

Senator Ready - There is no reason why we should not give them the benefit of our experience.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - I heard an interjection a little while ago about children teaching their parents. Nowadays it appears that the more juvenile a man is, and the less experienced he is in the ways of the world,, the more he thinks himself fitted to direct his seniors, who have had the advantage, or disadvantage, of experience that has not yet been attained by him.

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