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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 2 Hansard (6 March) . . Page.. 660..


International Women's Day

Discussion of matter of public importance

MR SPEAKER: I have received letters from Ms Dundas and Ms MacDonald proposing that matters of public importance be submitted to the Assembly. In accordance with standing order 79, I have determined by lot that the matter proposed by Ms MacDonald be submitted to the Assembly, namely:

The importance of International Women's Day.

MS MacDONALD (4.18): I appreciate this opportunity to speak about International Women's Day, an important day for the whole community to reflect on the status of women in our society. Since the inception of International Women's Day early last century, women's issues have been subject to many ebbs and flows on the political agenda. Over the years these issues have included pay equity, the right to vote, the rights of indigenous women, peace, child care, access to education, and reproductive health. All of these issues, except for the right to vote, continue to be major topics of debate and concern for women.

What has winning the right to vote meant to women contributing to political decision-making, indeed decision-making at all levels in the Australian community? One hundred years ago most Australian women won the right to vote in federal elections. At the same time they won the right to stand for election. I say "most", because indigenous women did not win the same rights for another 60 years.

Australia was undoubtedly a pioneer of women's political rights. At the time the only other country where women could vote was New Zealand. Across the Tasman, however, women did not have the right to stand for election. They did not receive that right until 1919.

Although women here in Australia have had that right since 1902, it was another 41 years until the first women were elected to the federal parliament. That occurred in 1943, when Dame Enid Lyons was elected to the House of Representatives as the federal member for the Tasmanian seat of Darwin, which has since been renamed Braddon, and Dame Dorothy Tangney was elected as a senator for Western Australia. This was an important milestone for Australian politics, although it was somewhat belated.

Of all the Western democracies, Australia had the greatest time lag between being eligible to stand for election to the national parliament and actually being elected to it. It is important to remember that, although women were able to vote and stand for election in the federal parliament in 1902, in many states they did not enjoy a corresponding right to vote for state elections or to sit in their state parliaments.

At the time of federation women could vote in only two states: South Australia and Western Australia. To date no indigenous woman has been elected to the federal parliament. The first Aboriginal woman elected to a state parliament was Labor's Carol Martin, who took her seat in the Western Australian Legislative Assembly in 2000. We in the Labor Party were all very pleased.


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