Joint Committee on the 125th Anniversary of Women's Suffrage

Parliamentary Committees

I support this motion to receive and note the report of the 125th anniversary of women's suffrage, entitled Interim Report. It has the interesting fore-quote from Tennyson's The Princess: 'The woman's cause is man's: they rise or sink together, dwarfed or godlike, bond or free.' How apt.

Firstly, may I thank those who are members of the committee: the Hon. Michelle Lensink, the Hon. Tammy Franks, the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos, the Hon. Connie Bonaros, and members of our House of Assembly, being the members for Reynell, King, Elder and of course the wonderful member for Florey. Obviously we have to give different titles depending on the house. Equally, all of them have made a contribution in providing this report to us.

The importance of giving an interim report, they claim, is to raise awareness of the celebrations in 2019, to highlight what activities the Office for Women, Department for Education, History Trust of SA and other community organisations and NGOs will do or are proposing to do, and to really encourage members of our house, now that we are noting this report, to take an active interest in the celebrations of this in respect of sharing their experiences with their colleagues and the community and their constituencies. I think that is a worthy cause.

I stood here yesterday talking about the feminisation of farming. It took us 65 years to get women in the parliament after the law changed; nevertheless, it is important that we recognise the important event to give suffrage—that is, the right to be able to participate in voting and, as has been pointed out, uniquely, the world-first opportunity to stand for parliament. Much has been said about the circumstances surrounding that, that is, attempts to sabotage women's right to vote by adding in what they considered to be the untenable and unacceptable opportunity to stand for parliament that would so offend the members of the house that it would be thrown out of the chamber. Well, that failed. That conduct should be a lesson in how to deal with the political strategy of bills in the parliament.

We as members of the female gender are the beneficiaries of suffrage, having the opportunity to be here. I consider the other gender—or genders, I have to say these days—is better for it. Some might not think so; nevertheless, we are here to stay. Finally, I think the general community also benefits from the diversity of representation.

Perhaps our next challenge in relation to parliamentary representation is to ensure that we also have a diversity of cultural backgrounds. I am proud because I know that a number of my colleagues on this side of the house have very varied and interesting cultural combinations in their history, and they are proud of that. I am sure that members of the opposition are equally proud of their heritage, whatever mixture that may be. I think we should be proud of that, but we also need to recognise the members of contemporary migrants to South Australia and their opportunity to have a voice in our house.

The Adult Suffrage Bill 1894 comes up for its quasquicentenary next year. It will be a proud occasion of celebration. Some of the recommended events include nominations for national honours by the Australia Day Council of South Australia; events with women artists at the Adelaide Fringe; a panel discussion on gender equality organised by the Australia Day Council; social media campaigns, such as 'What does suffrage mean to you?' and 'Do you know that…'; Women's History Month; the Gladys Elphick Awards; a gender equality symposium; a symposium on past research by recipients of the Catherine Helen Spence Memorial Scholarship and other women academics; and of course, Youth Parliament. These are all opportunities the Office for Women will exploit for the purpose of ensuring that we are all active in this space.

I also want to thank those who made very considered written submissions to the committee, including the Multicultural Communities Council of SA, the Council of the Ageing SA, the Multicultural Affairs division of the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, the National Council of Women South Australia Inc., and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union of SA Inc. I am not sure how many members have regular correspondence from the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, I certainly still receive them, and they are still an active organisation. Next time you drive past a little hall sitting on the side of the road, which has 'Woman's Christian Temperance Union of SA Inc.' across its arched frame, spare a thought for the fact that they have contributed to the advancement of good and proper law in this state for over 100 years. I thank them for their continued efforts in that regard, together with those of the National Council of Women, which has had a very strong presence as an overarching body of women's organisations in our state and indeed throughout Australia. I particularly recognise the South Australian chapter of the council today.

I can recall the centenary celebrations in 1994, which was some time ago. I also recall the women representatives in the parliament, from across the political divide, being very active in this space. They ensured the development and creation of the magnificent tapestries which now hang in the chamber. I think at one stage I said to the Hon. Graham Gunn that they would remain here and be removed over my dead body. He had a slightly different view, but they are here and he is gone. He of course made a very extensive contribution to the parliament, but that was not one of his best ideas. In any event, they are still here.

For the benefit of members who may not know, tapestries are the formal record on which we record historical events of significance. Accordingly, tapestries were commissioned. All women in South Australia—in fact, anybody, but mostly women—from all across the state were invited to go into the ground floor of the bank across the road—it is a Jamie Oliver restaurant now—where these were displayed. There was an opportunity for each person to put a stitch into the tapestry.

Literally thousands of women turned up to do that because they were very proud of what it stood for, not just for themselves but also for their girls and grandchildren who would follow and know their legacy, so it is significant that we recognise the centenary celebrations. As a matter of record, some recommendations were provided in the report from that committee at the time, and they were very keen to recognise the importance of having a family-friendly environment that would encourage women to join the parliament and make a contribution.

At any one time, we have women in the parliament who have the care and responsibility of young children, aged parents or a disabled member of their family, for example, and they carry a significant load in being away for very long hours. I am very pleased that in the time I have been here the rules have changed—for example, to enable there to be the minimum use of late-night sittings. To do that, we start earlier in the mornings, subject to being able to accommodate committee obligations. This was a direct result of an acknowledgement by this parliament that people have these other commitments and that it would be of benefit, if we were genuine about encouraging women to stand for parliament, that they do so.

Much will be said about the trail and the struggle for women to get the vote. It was a long journey. As recommended by the mover of the motion, I also endorse the significance of the leadership of women in our Indigenous communities and that this should play a role in our celebrations next year.