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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 8 Hansard (19 August) . . Page.. 2730..


The acting clerk having announced that the terms of the petition would be recorded in Hansard and a copy referred to the appropriate minister, the petitions were received.

Death of Betty Searle

MR STANHOPE (Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for Environment and Minister for Community Affairs): I move:

That this Assembly expresses its deep regret at the death of Betty Searle, a social justice advocate, and tenders its profound sympathy to her family, friends and colleagues in their bereavement.

I would like to express sincere condolences to the family of the late Betty Searle. It is with sadness that I learned of the unexpected death, aged 87 years, of this extraordinary woman on 8 July. Betty worked tirelessly to achieve social justice and world peace. She was very much her own woman and always made her views known. She recently protested against the war in Iraq and for asylum seekers in detention, particularly the children.

Betty was the daughter of an English suffragette who was imprisoned in 1911 for her activities and the struggle to bring equal rights to women. Betty dedicated her first book to her mother. This book Silk and Calico: Class, Gender and the Vote is a history of the first wave women's movement in Australia, as well as being a study of gender and class in feminist politics. Among other things, this book analysed the uneasy relationship between first wave feminist unions and the Labor Party.

Betty's groundbreaking analysis looked at the intellectual motivation for the aims of the first wave women's movement, and she concluded that it derived ultimately from the ideology of 18th century European liberalism and the rights of the individual. Yet she concluded that women's main breakthrough in the 19th century sprang from the changing familial role of a woman as wife and mother.

Male structured society and the capitalist division of the labour of men and women into public and private spheres allowed women a role only in the home. However, the rise of the middle class generated benefits that expanded women's power-initially, in the home-and also provided them with the education and leisure to venture outside the domestic milieu. In return, the increased power of the women in the home, and thence society, greatly helped the process of stabilising capitalism.

Betty's work contributed to the growing realisation of the significant contribution of first wave feminists to advancing the rights of women. She reminded the women of her daughters' generation that the women of her mother's generation laid the groundwork for the freedoms that seemed newly minted in the 1970s and 1980s.

While always an ardent feminist, Betty became an activist during the 1960s. In the 1970s she separated from her husband, declaring quite famously that it was so she could do what she damn well liked and to prove that she wasn't a dimwit. Betty worked passionately to improve the status of women and to create a world where social justice was paramount. She proved she was no dimwit through her academic


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