Academic journal article Hecate

The Struggle for Women's Suffrage in Queensland

Academic journal article Hecate

The Struggle for Women's Suffrage in Queensland

Article excerpt


Several failed attempts were made to extend the franchise to women in Queensland between 1890 and 1904 (1) before success was finally achieved by the passing of the Elections Acts Amendment Act in early 1905. They must be seen in the context of the prevailing conditions in the new colony, and in the context of the major stakeholders of the day.

When Queen Victoria signed the Order-in-Council of 6 June 1859 to excise the northern two-thirds of New South Wales to form the new colony of Queensland, the men over twenty-one who lived up there and earlier that year had voted for the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, would probably have assumed they would remain enfranchised. Unfortunately, Queen Victoria had signed the Order of Separation prior to NSW granting manhood suffrage, and when the first Queensland election was held in April and May of 1860 a NSW roll from which about a third of the names had been removed was used. (2) Accordingly, a large section of the males in the new colony were disenfranchised.

The new colony repealed many of the provisions of the 1858 New South Wales electoral legislation pertaining to the collection of electoral lists, (3) and enacted fairly stringent conditions that had to be met before your name could be entered on the voter's roll. You had to be a man of twenty-one years, a natural born or naturalized subject of Her Majesty or legally made a denizen of Queensland, and there were various property qualifications. (4)

Thus, instead of manhood suffrage for all males over twenty-one, as was the case in South Australia (1856), Victoria (1857) and New South Wales (1858), the new colony adopted a system designed to favour the conservative pastoral interests. In fact, the new colony at that time could be fairly described as Australia's equivalent of the American Wild West, controlled by wealthy pastoralists. Like the Wild West there were vast lands to be opened up, native inhabitants to oppress, and gold to be found. The Wild West differed in one important aspect, apart from everybody carrying guns, in that it had already enfranchised its women. (5)

It wasn't until 1872 that there was anything remotely resembling manhood suffrage in Queensland. The six months residency qualification was retained, but property qualifications were relaxed in as much as you could now register if your leasehold property only had eighteen months to run, or if you had been in possession of leasehold property for eighteen months instead of the previous three years requirement. Also the maximum vote that could be cast by an individual in the same electorate was now one. However, this new legislation also introduced a restriction that did not exist before: "Provided also that no aboriginal native of China or of the South Sea Islands or of New Holland shall be entitled to vote except under a property qualification." (6) Presumably this measure was introduced to ensure that the Chinese on the goldfields in the 1870s, and the Kanakas imported to work in the cane fields were not enfranchised.

The retention of the six months provision continued to disadvantage the mostly single male itinerant workers who never stayed in a place long enough to fulfil the residency requirement. A significant sector of the over twenty-one male population was disenfranchised because they were unable to fulfill the six months residency qualification, or own or lease property. Rich men could make multiple registrations to vote if they owned multiple property. The voting system, known as plural voting, allowed a man to vote in any electorate in which he held property. A wealthy pastoralist could cast multiple votes at a single election and, in theory, also buy votes by sub-dividing his land and registering the various lots in the names of friends and supporters who would then presumably vote for him.

Needless to say there were many even in the 1890s who were still opposed to electoral reform. …

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