The Liberal Party of Australia and the Australian Women's Movement against Socialisation 1947-54

By Eather, Warwick | The Australian Journal of Politics and History, June 1998 | Go to article overview

The Liberal Party of Australia and the Australian Women's Movement against Socialisation 1947-54


Eather, Warwick, The Australian Journal of Politics and History


During the Liberal Party of Australia's formative stages in the 1940s and early 1950s, the Federal and New South Wales Divisions of the Party tended to ignore and/or down play the activities of their women members and office bearers. The gulf that existed between the theory and practice in the Party was further highlighted by the formation and rapid growth of the Australian Women's Movement Against Socialisation, a right wing organisation that was formed in September 1947 to combat the Chifley Government's decision to nationalise the private banks. In New South Wales the AWMAS attracted a large number of women who were members and supporters of the LPA, many of whom were disillusioned with the Party. This article begins with an analysis of the rise of the AWMAS. This is followed by a review of the activities undertaken by women activists in the New South Wales Liberal Party who tried to introduce changes within the Party that would allow women members greater opportunities and thus combat the influence of the AWMAS. This is important because it sheds light on efforts to make the Party more attentive to the political needs of women, while it was still going through its formative stages. More importantly, the outcome of the conflict set the parameters for what women activists could hope to achieve in the short term in the Party in New South Wales and at the federal level.

On 6 October 1949, Mabel Eileen Furley, a leading activist in the New South Wales Division (NSW Division) of the Liberal Party of Australia (LPA) and the newly elected Vice-President of the Federal Division of the Party, wrote to the Federal Director to voice her concern over the failure of the Party to take seriously the important role women could play in the Party. Women had had reserved "high" positions at the state and federal levels, but these positions lacked any real substance. For example, she claimed that the Women Vice-President lacked any designated duties, was not informed of important happenings within the Party, had no contact with the Federal President, and was not a member of the Federal Executive. She was "becoming personally embarrassed by holding a title which apparently means nothing at all". As well, she was irked by the failure of the Party machine, federally and in New South Wales, to keep her informed of events; she learned of a visit of the Federal President by reading about it in the newspapers after the event, and about policy decisions that had been made by the NSW Division after they had been announced. In addition, she believed that the Party was not "making as much capital politically out of the fact that women are given such high positions in Party organisation".(1)

Furley's letter highlighted the wide gulf that existed between theory and practice regarding the roles women members could play within the LPA, and stressed the frustration that she felt by this neglect. Her stated purpose in sending the letter was to make the role of the Women Vice-President a more positive one, but it was also part of a wider campaign that was being waged by women activists in NSW at this time to make the Party more "attractive" to women in an attempt to offset the growth and influence of the Australian Women's Movement Against Socialisation (AWMAS). The AWMAS had been formed in September 1947 to combat the bank nationalisation proposals of the federal Australian Labor Party Government, and attracted the support of an ever increasing number of women, many of whom had been active in the LPA. These women had deserted the LPA because they felt the Party was not doing enough to involve women in the political process, something the AWMAS actively encouraged, especially at this time when fears about communism and the Cold War were a major concern. In an attempt to retard the growth of the AWMAS, women activists in the LPA fought to make the Party more attentive to women's needs, but their efforts achieved little. Leading men in the NSW Division and in the Federal Secretariat continually stymied attempts to change Party policy and/or the Federal Constitution. …

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