WOMEN IN PARLIAMENT

Adjourned debate on motion of Ms Sanderson (resumed on motion).

Ms CHAPMAN ( Bragg—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (17:50): It is a privilege to rise to speak to this motion and to recognise Dr Jessie Cooper and Mrs Joyce Steele, who of course presides over us here in this chamber in her Versace-blue jacket. In particular, I acknowledge their fight to get representation in the parliament and to have their election legitimised. I am not going to dwell on the contribution of each of these women in the parliament, because the member for Adelaide has adequately and concisely outlined that. They will forever be remembered as the first two women elected members in our parliament, and I am pleased to say one in each of our chambers.

Dr Jessie Cooper, together with a Mrs Scott, who were the LCL and Labor candidates respectively for the tickets of each of those parties in the 1959 election for the Legislative Council, became the subject of a very interesting legal battle at the time. Let's go back for a moment and remember that there had been no women elected members of parliament in South Australia prior to this election. Both major parties had nominated women high up on their ticket and both had some reasonable expectation that they would be elected if they were able to continue to stand as candidates.

What occurred at that time was that a Mr Frank Chapman of the Liberal Party, who had lost in a preselection to Mrs Cooper of course to get on the ticket—

The Hon. S.W. Key: Any relation?

Ms CHAPMAN: —no relation whatsoever I am pleased to say—and an accountant, Mr A. Cockington, decided that they would challenge in the Supreme Court the legitimacy of these two women being able to stand. This culminated in a case in the Supreme Court of The Queen v Hutchins; ex parte Chapman and Cockington. They challenged on the ground that the constitution made provision for a man to stand for parliament. Dr J.J. Bray QC, who was later the chief justice of the Supreme Court, opposed the right for women to stand for parliament in his submission, arguing that a woman was not a 'person' under the South Australian Constitution Act 1934.

It is fair to say that these two Adelaide housewives caused a national sensation. It was decided, after having decided to enter into politics, to start a legal battle which then kept three judges and six barristers busy in the Supreme Court for six days. This case attracted attention around Australia. The Australian Women's Weekly wrote an interesting article and sent representatives from Sydney to cover this extraordinary trial. They wrote articles, entitled 'The suffragette fight of 1959' and 'When is a woman not a person? When she wants to be a politician.'

These two women, having been nominated by their respective parties, were challenged for the right to be able to be elected as candidates to the Legislative Council. The ultimate determination of the judges who heard this application was that it really had to be a matter for parliament. Only Jessie Cooper was actually elected under the ballot. Mrs Scott was not successful. Jessie Cooper was able to successfully get the numbers and the court decided that it ought to be a matter for parliament.

After the election, Sir Thomas Playford, as premier, and the then leader of the opposition agreed that there would be an amendment to the Constitution of South Australia to ensure that we would never have this legal debate again. I think it is very important that all members of parliament understand that this was not just the fight for women to come into parliament 65 years after they had been given the legal right to stand with these two women at the forefront, but that it was a challenging passage even though there had been support from their respective political parties. Although Mr Scott was not successful, obviously other Labor women have subsequently been preselected and endorsed and, indeed, other members of other minority parties which have presented female candidates.

In the course of this determination, I am often asked how it could possibly be that a person should be interpreted under our Constitution Act as being limited only to a man when clearly there was other legislation around that indicated that when 'he' was referred to it meant 'he' or 'she'. There was already case law in Australia in which there had been a recognition of both genders when the male reference to 'he' or 'his' was identified, unless it related to Her Majesty, and of course in my lifetime it has only ever been Queen Elizabeth II, but obviously some people are older than I am and they remember her father, King George VI. But I digress. In short, there was a whole line of British commonwealth judgements which had successfully challenged the right of a woman to hold public office, and these were brought to bear in that legal argument.

Having some understanding of the context of the times, I find it is quite interesting to read a number of these cases. It is fair to say that had the judges decided to determine the case on its merits, they would have had to make decisions on these cases as to whether or not they be accepted, overturned, or extinguished for the purposes of allowing there to be a judicial determination. As I say, to some degree they squeaked out and decided that they would leave it to the parliament. Fortunately, I think the parliament did the right thing, but there was a very impressive list of cases from all over the British commonwealth where that had occurred.

There was of course even commentary in the judgement and the submissions at the time which supports the idea that to admit women to public life on what they called 'grounds of decorum' was obviously to be railed against, according to them. Men of the past apparently considered their womenfolk ran a grave risk of losing their dignity and feminine modesty in the hurly-burly of parliament.

Today, this all seems utterly absurd, but in the context of the time it was a sensational case. It was a fight for feminism in 1959, sometime after the war. One has to wonder how this could happen even in 1959, but it did. We have sorted it out, and it has not been a problem since. We have not had challenges on that issue. Perhaps we will have challenges in the future in relation to intersex candidates. I do not know, but hopefully we have sorted that out recently in the legislation.

Dr Jessie Cooper and Mrs Joyce Steele need to be recognised. The one thing I think is important is that shortly, in the next two years or so, we will celebrate the swearing in of Dr Jessie Cooper, which actually took place an hour before the swearing in of Mrs Joyce Steele. We will celebrate 60 years since the election of these women to parliament. I think we are appropriately recognising Mrs Steele in this chamber, and it is about time the Legislative Council, because of course they are a separate chamber—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: And we wouldn't tell them what to do.

Ms CHAPMAN: —we certainly wouldn't tell them what to do—have the opportunity to discuss the recognition of their most prominent woman, the first female member in the parliament. It may be in the form of a tapestry or it may be in the form of a portrait. It is not for us to make that determination, but I hope they would discuss it and it would be on the agenda for recognition in their chamber so that we continue to have an enduring recognition of this famous lady.

Debate adjourned on motion of Mr Treloar .

At 18 : 00 the house adjourned until Tuesday 7 June 2016 at 11 : 00 .