Thursday 15 March 2012

Hansard of the Legislative Council


Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Madam President, it was interesting that when I chose a subject for my speech last year to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association's 100th conference in Westminster I had little idea of the richness of the subject matter or that it was in fact the theme of the entire conference. My topic was Women as Agents of Change. The more I looked into the subject, the more I became aware of the tremendous influence that women have had in Tasmania before and after European settlement. However, their acceptance as community, political and business leaders was a long time coming, Madam President, as you no doubt are aware.

An article on my speech in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association journal, The Parliamentarian -

Mr Harriss - Are you in print?

Mr FINCH - I am in print. It has a subheading that says -

Mr Harriss - Does it have a photograph?

Mr FINCH - It has a few photographs. I will show them to you one by one.

' 'Tasmanian women have a long history of becoming involved in elected politics through involvement in community organisations', says a member of the Australian Island State's Upper House.'

I have lost the page now, I was going to say there is a photo of you in here, Madam President - with me - but no doubt you had that framed and blown up.

Madam PRESIDENT - And I put it in a certain place.

Mr FINCH - No wonder I have not seen it in your office. Community organisations are one thing, but it was not until 1948 before the first woman, Margaret McIntyre, was elected to parliament, and the numbers grew relatively slowly over the next 50 years. But my research for my speech led me to believe that we are very close to a very interesting tipping point, Madam President. I base that suggestion on enrolments at the University of Tasmania. Access to education has long been a major factor affecting the role of women in our society, and as I saw at the conference, in all societies as well.

Women now dominate enrolments at the University of Tasmania. In 2009, 58 per cent of students were female. This would suggest that the next generation of community and business leaders might be dominated by women, as they will be the majority of the highly trained sector of the Tasmanian population.

Mr Harriss - We should enrol in uni, brother.

Mr FINCH - They are not ready for you yet.

Access to education by women was one theme of my speech. The other theme was that it is probably easier for women to influence a small society like Tasmania than a much larger one, and if you look at the long path to women's suffrage in Britain I think that really illustrates this. Although there were female convicts and a few free female settlers in the early decades of European settlement, women were very much in the minority, so this gave them a level of influence that grew as the European population increased.

Prior to European settlement women played a pivotal role in Aboriginal society. The Tasmanian Aboriginal society had a very rich cultural and social structure with women playing a big role, made unique by their isolation from mainland tribes, but back to more recent events.

This House has held up the move of Tasmanian women into mainstream politics in the past, but I do not think it will do so in the future. In 1898, after a long public campaign by Jessie Rooke and Georgina Kermode, the House of Assembly passed a women's suffrage bill, very progressive at that time. But the bill was defeated in this House, which meant that Tasmanian women did not gain the vote until 1903, after women had won the vote federally. In 1904 all Tasmanian women became eligible to vote in the House of Assembly elections after the 1903 Constitution Act changed the eligibility term from man to person. This House probably would have continued its opposition but -

Ms Forrest - It would have been a better move. Your first option would have been a better move.

Mr FINCH - That is right. This House would have continued its opposition but it was embarrassed by the anomaly that women could vote in Federal elections, but not for the State ones, and of course it caved in. In those bad old days you could not vote in Legislative Council elections unless you owned freehold land with an annual value of £10 or a leasehold of £30. This was extended to women, but it was obviously very difficult at that time for a married woman to take part in Legislative Council elections and it took until 1921 before women became eligible to stand for election to either Tasmanian House.

In 1921 Alicia O'Shea-Petersen and Edith Waterworth stood, and in 1922 Annette Youl also stood. All were unsuccessful. As I mentioned earlier, it took until 1948 before Tasmanians saw fit to elect a woman to State Parliament. But I did recall on the member for Mersey's electorate tour, and thanks very much for including Home Hill, because a lot of my speech was about Dame Enid Lyons and the significance that she had as a MP in Australian politics, elected to the Federal Parliament in 1943 and the first female cabinet minister in the Federal arena. But it is a rather sad and sorry state here in Tasmania because if we compare ourselves with New Zealand, women gained the vote there in 1893 and in South Australia in 1896 so this House does not come up very well at all. But we now have a woman President and, if my theory about access to education is correct, it is only a matter of time before half the members, or more, of this House are women.

Ms Forrest - We are getting close.

Madam PRESIDENT - Speaking of time.

Mr FINCH - Anyone with a logical mind can only see that as justifiable and a good thing. Madam President, how could previous systems have continued for so long to get it wrong?

Members laughing.