Academic journal article Hecate


Academic journal article Hecate


Article excerpt

This issue of Hecate includes a special Focus section on the struggle for women's suffrage in Australia and, in particular, women's gaining the vote in the Queensland State parliament in 1905.

Australian women (mainly those considered to be white) obtained State votes between 1894 and 1908, and the Federal vote in 1902 and, together with New Zealand women (including Maori) who had been enfranchised in 1893, gave rise to sentiments of the kind voiced internationally by Bessie Rischbieth in 1924 when she suggested that it was, in Australasia, 'possible to sow the seed now of the sort of civilisation women of all countries dream about.' But while (white) women might have constitutional equality, economic equality they had not. Deep-rooted patriarchal ideologies meant that the notion of Australia as an egalitarian society would remain a myth through the twentieth century; it had never been a 'paradise' for the (white) working man and this was even less the case for any other workers within Australia's capitalist economy.

Racism and economic discrimination based upon ethnicity meant that black women, and non-whites in general, were in an even worse situation; with neither constitutional nor economic equality in sight for Indigenous women, their trafficking into domestic service for a 'lousy little sixpence' or less, or being trapped in even more powerless situations, was widespread.

While Queensland was the second last State to enfranchise women, in 1905, it was the second State to allow the right for women to sit in parliament, when the Elections Act was assented to on 23 November 1915.

Edith Cowan in 1921 had made the Western Australian parliament the first to elect a woman. The first woman in the Senate was Labor's Dorothy Tangney in 1943, but there was no Labor woman in the House of Representatives until 1974. The difficulty of women getting into Parliament and their low numbers there until recent times is almost astonishing. Even though Queensland women first went to the polls in 1907, the first woman was not elected until 1929. Irene Longman was the first to stand as a candidate: 'endorsed by the Country-National Party and the Queensland Women's Electoral League' (and, in fact, the first woman MP in every State was from the conservative side of politics, as was the first Federal member, Edith Lyons - who, looking at her fellow MLAs in the 19403, would wonder: 'were there any who even washed their own socks?'). In Queensland, it took until 1966 for a second woman, Vi Jordan, to enter parliament - and she managed a feat that Longman had not in getting a women's toilet in the House. We can, however, thank Longman for women being admitted to the Queensland police force, something originally proposed by the suffragists in the nineteenth century. Longman and Jordan were followed by Vicki Kippen and Rosemary Kyburtz in 1974. Annabelle Rankin was Queensland's first female Federal member when elected to the Senate in 1947, and the first Queensland woman in the House of Representatives was Elaine Darling in 1980. When Kathy Martin (Sullivan) was elected to the Senate in 1974 she was the only Queensland woman in Federal parliament. Flo Bjelke-Petersen and Margaret Reynolds were both elected to the Senate in the 1980s.

The suffragist Elizabeth Brentnall's husband, Frederick, in 1915 had snidely referred to the fact that although women could stand for election to Federal parliament none had yet got there:

Does not the fact that the electors have not yet elected one show that they are wiser than the men who passed the Act?

The patriarchal pomposity documented in John McCulloch's research on Hansard in relation to Queensland women getting the vote was equally evident in debates about women running for election to parliament. justin Foxton in 1894 had insisted:

the entry of women into this House as necessary result of granting the franchise may be decidedly deprecated, as we nave to deal with subjects here which would be very inconvenient to discuss with an audience of ladies. …

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