Tuesday 18 September 2018
Hansard of the Legislative Council

Women in Parliament

[11.10 a.m.]
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, I am sure the member for Windermere would remember a song many years ago by Harry Belafonte called Man Smart, Woman Smarter.  The main theme went something like, 'Since the world began, women have been smarter than man in every way …'

I am not going into a discussion about brain equality.  We know the cognitive abilities of the sexes are equal, but gender equality, or the lack of it, in Australian parliaments has become a hot issue.  I am watching the debate with interest.  During the 100th anniversary of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, I was fortunate to go to Westminster, where I made a speech on women as agents of change.  I took part in a lengthy discussion program and some of my notes come from the speech I presented there. 

In society, while remuneration is probably one of the biggest inequalities, there are numerous other problems.  One of them was highlighted in federal parliament and it might be opportune to look at that first.  There is little representation of women on the conservative side in the House of Representatives and there are a number of reasons for that.  Others might have different adjectives they might like to contribute in their own mind.  As we have seen overnight, with the speech in federal parliament, incidences of bullying and intimidation are hardly going to help recruitment.  It will be interesting to see what resignations occur in the near future and how many women are actually diminished or leave parliament because of the circumstances.  To focus on the Tasmanian Parliament, we can be proud both Houses are way ahead.  We have had a few cases of bullying, but very few compared to what has been happening in federal parliament.

Looking at the representation of women in the wider community:  Tasmania has women represented across all sectors of society.  When I was a journalist with the ABC, it was newsworthy if a woman was appointed to a senior role in society.  It is no longer newsworthy, it is de rigueur - it is what we do.  Our state Governor at the moment is a woman; Sue Smith, the first female President of the Legislative Council.  The list goes on.  In the antechamber outside this room are photographs of women showing the roles and elevation they have been able to succeed to in the Parliament of Tasmania.

The present situation has not been the norm.  Women did not enter parliament as members until 1948, the year Margaret McIntyre was elected to this House, despite the fact in those days almost all electors were male property owners.  It was not very democratic.

It is worth noting a speech Margaret McIntyre made in Launceston in 1948 when she was elected.  She said-

As the world has been run by men for so long, and they do not appear to have made a very good job of it, isn't it time we women tried to use more influence in national affairs?  It is no use just sitting back and bewailing the state of the world and thinking how helpless each of us is to alter it.  Everyone can do some little thing to help, mothers and teachers especially.

That was a speech that this House recognised, and it was history in 1948.  Unfortunately, Margaret only served for about a year before she died in a plane crash.

Mr Dean - Could you start again?

Mr FINCH - I will send you a copy of a video recording of the speech, member for Windermere.  It took until 1953 before two women were elected to the House of Assembly.  Prior to that, Dame Enid Lyons was elected to federal parliament in 1943, which was a great breakthrough. 

We elect women to all tiers of government as a matter of course now.  A major factor that affected the role of women in Tasmania was greater access to education.  Women now far outnumber men in University of Tasmania enrolments and have done so for more than a decade.
This suggests that the next generation of community and business leaders could be dominated by women because they will be the majority in the highly trained sector of the population. 

In a small community like Tasmania, the starting point for many political careers and community activism is local government.  The expectation is that female involvement at this level is increasing.  I might give a shout out to our mayor of the West Tamar, Christina Holmdahl, who has been doing a terrific job as mayor.  I am not part of her re-election campaign, by the way - do not get me wrong.

It is my argument that voters are beginning to trust women candidates more than men, and I am talking about voters of both genders.  That gives me hope for the future, but, as I said earlier, let us not be complacent - we must encourage more women into politics and elsewhere in the Tasmanian community where important decisions are made.  We are doing well, and we can do even better.