15 March 2012
of the Legislative Council
AS AGENTS OF CHANGE
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
article on my speech in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association
Harriss - Are you in
FINCH - I am in print. It
has a subheading that says -
Harriss - Does it have a
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.'
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.
PRESIDENT - And I put it
in a certain place.
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.
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.
Harriss - We should enrol
in uni, brother.
FINCH - They are not
ready for you yet.
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.
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.
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 -
Forrest - It would have
been a better move. Your first option would have been a better move.
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.
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.
Forrest - We are getting
PRESIDENT - Speaking of
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?