New Zealand Women's Suffrage Anniversary


I rise today to second the motion by the member for Florey and, in so doing, reaffirm the commitment of the entire parliament to celebrating the achievements of the women's suffrage movement and our desire to see the contribution of women in this parliament acknowledged.

As the member for Florey has already stated, New Zealand was the first nation to grant women the right to vote, or at least a region thereof at the time. I recognise this historic achievement and note her intention to visit New Zealand to participate in the celebrations. South Australia was the second jurisdiction in the world to grant this right and, just as importantly, the first in the world to grant the right to stand for parliament. In South Australia, 18 December 2019 will mark the 125-year celebration of the passage of landmark legislation of this historic political moment. Our history is a proud one, as is New Zealand's.

However, in the recognition of New Zealand, I acknowledge that our historical achievement was not one that was easily well run and fought. I want to acknowledge a few men who tried and failed and the many men who were in the colony of South Australia at the time. If it were not for their drunken habits, we probably would not have achieved the passage of this legislation. Drunkenness in the colony was a major social problem and a very strong basis upon which women wanted to have the right to participate in making decisions that later culminated in other things that we still argue the point about today in relation to the restrictions on alcohol trading.

I acknowledge Dr Edward Stirling, who passed a successful resolution to give widows and single women who owned property the right to vote in 1885. His introduction of a bill failed to be successful in 1886. Robert Caldwell introduced bills in 1888, 1889 and 1890. All of these were unsuccessful. We had John Warren MLC introduce a bill to grant women of property the vote in 1891. It was unsuccessful. J. Cockburn had an unsuccessful introduction of a bill in 1893.

By that stage, there was certainly significant movement from women and a number of petitioners, led by such notables as Mary Lee and Catherine Helen Spence, who look over us in the tapestry in this chamber. Catherine Helen Spence was known to have put a representation claiming that she was 'in her seventh decade and still had no more vote than a child of three years', believing that it was 'perfectly absurd to condemn half the human race to silence upon public questions'. In 1894, John Hannah Gordon MLC introduced his bill, which ultimately we know was similar to the 1893 bill. Finally, on 18 December 1894, this bill passed and had Her Majesty Queen Victoria's royal assent on 21 March 1895.

We recognise in this motion the Woman's Christian Temperance Union in both New Zealand and South Australia, having played a leading role in the emerging suffragette movement and the advancement of women's rights in an era when women faced legal and social restrictions, such as property ownership, education and work opportunities. The campaign for women's suffrage sought to gain the vote for women as a means of representing social values, then unrepresented in the parliament.

We can look back in relation to women's rights and women's right to employment, opportunities for employment, protection of and promotion of children's rights and, controversially. today still, the trading restrictions on alcohol. For anyone who wants to follow the passages of significance of the social ills that prevailed in the 1890s, one can just look at the marches in the 1920s. These culminated in the 6 o'clock closure of public establishments after women marched in the streets to try to get their husbands home, trying to minimise the risk in relation to alcohol consumption in the colony and the incredible toll it took on the social fabric of that community.

What is often forgotten is that the desire to get more women into parliament was not largely because there was a desire for women to have equal rights or greater opportunities but, rather, because it was believed that having more women in politics would lead to greater social morality. The Woman's Christian Temperance Union and the Social Purity Society were also opposed to the legalisation of prostitution, abortion and contraception. This was as much a Christian movement as a women's movement. That is not to say that suffragettes were doing this for these reasons, but it is important to remember the genesis of the movement.

Today, women's suffrage is not about these original issues; it is about women having an equal say in the decision-making in their community. I note in the text of this motion that the Temperance Union advised South Australian women also to demand the right to vote as part of any bill. In 1891, in New Zealand, the MP Walter Carncross moved an amendment to allow women to also sit in parliament, which ensured that the conservative upper house would reject the bill. Women did not get the right to stand there until 1919.

A similar tactic was used, or at least attempted, in South Australia by a member of the upper house, Ebenezer Ward. The amendment passed but, when he and the opponents realised that there was a majority for it, it was really humiliating when he tried to remove the amendment and failed—serves him right, I say. Clearly, this was a tactic that backfired. We not only got the right to vote but we also got the right to stand for parliament. All Ebenezer did was ensure that we in South Australia got the right to stand much earlier. These were initial achievements.

Because this is a motion going to New Zealand, who also have an Indigenous people I just wish to recognise that Aboriginal people in Australia, and in South Australia in particular, had an unusual voting history. In fact, they have always had the same voting rights as other South Australians, though they were not always encouraged to exercise those rights. Aboriginal people did not lose the right to vote in South Australian elections when South Australia became a state in 1901. However, a narrow interpretation of the Australian Constitution meant that this right was not transferred to the commonwealth elections from 1901.

In 1949, the law was clarified, extending the vote in commonwealth elections to those Aboriginal natives of Australia who were entitled to vote in state elections. This meant that Aboriginal people in South Australia could vote in commonwealth elections. In 1962, the commonwealth franchise was extended to Indigenous people in all states and territories. What is important to note in South Australia is that black men had the vote before white women.

The first woman to sit in this house was elected in 1959. The lovely Joyce Steele was the first woman elected to cabinet, and she represented the seat of Burnside. She sits there in her Versace blue jacket and watches over us still today. New Zealand's first female MP was elected in 1933 and, of course, they have now had their third female prime minister. We have had a female prime minister in Australia. We are yet to have other firsts but, significantly, women's representation in politics must continue to be pursued and I note, heartfelt, the advance of women who have nominated for the current local council elections.

I congratulate New Zealand on championing women's suffrage 125 years ago. I thank them for the support they have given us, and I thank the mover of this motion for her commitment to the advancement of this and her proposed trip to New Zealand.