125th Anniversary of women’s suffrage

In Parliament, Motions

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. C. Bonaros: 

That this council— 

1. Notes that— 

(a) 19 September 2018 marked the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand; 

(b) on 19 September 1893 the Electoral Act 1893 was passed, giving all women over 21 in New Zealand the right to vote; 

(c) as a result of this landmark legislation, New Zealand became the first self-governing country in the world in which all women had the right to vote in parliamentary elections; and 

(d) on 28 November 1893, New Zealand women voted for the first time. 

2. Congratulates New Zealand on marking the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand. 

3. Recognises the significant contribution women have made and continue to make in parliaments, and the democratic process across the globe. 

(Continued from 6 December 2018.) 

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:11): I rise today on behalf of the Greens to speak in support of this motion as we are currently well within the celebration of our own 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in this state. I am particularly glad of the opportunity to reflect and commemorate on the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand, just across the ditch. Indeed, as we celebrate with state dinners so many firsts and so much achievement of rights hard fought for, it is a wonderful time to reflect. It is an opportunity to look not just at how far we have come but, of course, how far we still have to go. 

Today, in The Advertiser the Australian Christian Lobby has taken out a full-page ad, which says, ‘SA radical prostitution bill seriously out of touch’. As the head of the Sex Industry Network noted in a comment on Facebook in response to that particular full-page ad commentary, ‘Since when were human rights radical?’ I would have to say, unfortunately, human rights are always radical, they are always hard fought for and they are not easily given. 

Yet again, we are following in baby steps our New Zealand sisters. I hope that we can one day see a time when South Australia yet again leads. I have to say, while suffrage is absolutely worth celebrating and commemorating, I do find it odd that in some ways we talk about women’s equality and enfranchisement yet in many ways we still refuse to fully accept women’s agency, autonomy and control over their own lives. 

Of course, I refer in particular not just to that current debate of the decriminalisation of sex work but also the decriminalisation of abortion. These are two key areas of legislation where we still continue to deny people, predominantly women, the right and agency to make decisions regarding their own lives and their own bodies. While we are comparing these progressive reforms, it is worth noting that New Zealand decriminalised sex work back in 2003. I hope that we can follow New Zealand in that reform, as we did with women’s suffrage, clearly taking a little longer to do so. 

As we celebrate the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand, we also take inspiration from the feminists who fought for those reforms and many others. As Professor Pickles has written: 

At the end of the 19th century, feminists in New Zealand had a long list of demands that included equal pay, prevention of violence against women, economic independence for women, old-age pensions and reform of marriage, divorce, health and education and peace and justice for all. 

Again, it is sad to see that, while we talk about equality and enfranchisement, so many of those issues that I have just listed are still just that: issues and challenges that we face, and we have a lot of work to do. But as Mary Lee would say, ‘Let us be up and doing.’ And as Mary Lee would also say, and did say, sadly not in this place but outside this place while fighting for suffrage: 

Are we free people? If we are, then why are women asking for enfranchisement? Is it that they are not a recognised part of the people? If not, what are they? Chattels? If they are admittedly a part of the people, then it follows that while the franchise is withheld from women our claim to be free people is a baseless claim. It seems a strange anomaly that criminals, lunatics, women and children are classified as unfit to have charge of themselves and their interests, unworthy to be free, incapacitated for the due exercise of the vote…Let us hope that as the work proceeds of pulling down, one after another, the remains of the mouldering fabric of monopoly and tyranny, this one will not be the last to disappear…and before the lapse of another generation the accident of sex, no more than the accident of skin, will be deemed a sufficient justification of depriving a possessor of the equal protection and just privileges of a citizen. 

No truer words were said. Sadly, however, it is far too often the giving of rights that is resisted. You have to reflect that human rights are not pie—there is enough for everyone. When Edward Charles Stirling put the motion for women to be admitted, for the franchise for both houses of parliament, he stated: 

The reason, which made it desirable that men should be represented, made it equally desirable that women, too, should be represented, and I believe it would one day be thought incredible that there ever was a time when the idea of giving votes to women was regarded as dangerous and revolutionary. 

But we know it was regarded as dangerous and revolutionary, and the wonderful dangerous and revolutionary Mary Lee stood firm against the bullies. One particular bully, Ebenezer Ward, the then member for Frome, was a man who made it his business to thwart the advancement of women in this state. He spent some drunken hours in the other place, I do believe, attempting to execute that ambition. I am pleased to say that he did not prevail. Indeed, Mary Lee at one stage of her campaign feared that he would, at least perhaps before she passed, and she stated: 

Sir, it is my fixed conviction that every question that concerns the highest interests of our race concerns the women of our race. Believing I have the highest sanction for this conviction I mean to live for this reform, and if I die before it is achieved women’s enfranchisement shall be engraved upon my heart. 

She stated this in 1888. Fortunately, she went on to be buried in Walkerville without the need for women’s enfranchisement to be engraved on her heart, but it was carried forward by the women of this state in the very giving of our right to vote. As Mary Lee also said: 

Dream on the glorious dream, but act also so as to make the dream a reality. Some people would have us believe that the present world is quite good enough. It may be good enough for them, but it is not good enough for us. We must go forward and upward. There is no finality in human progress. 

In many respects there is no finality in celebrating our 125th anniversary of suffrage and in New Zealand the 125th anniversary of suffrage without recommitting to that progress. We have come some way, we have moved from chattels, we have moved from being viewed as property, but we still have a long way to go to be viewed as having autonomy. We have equal pay in law, but not in culture. We have a woman no longer needing to give up her job or her career in the public sector or elsewhere upon being married, but she will likely retire with far less super. 

Sex discrimination continues to linger and, while it is unlawful, the Me Too movement shows that it is far too prevalent, but clearly time is up. We are done with waiting patiently to be afforded respect and rights. As we debate in coming months abortion law reform and sex work decriminalisation, I hope that we reflect that, while South Australia has once more led the way in our 125th anniversary, let the responsibilities be ours, and ‘let us compel our legislators to recognise the necessity of yielding to the inflexible will of an enlightened womanhood determined to be free’. 

Those words of Mary Lee will echo throughout the actions of this chamber and the other place. I pay tribute in particular to the work of the South Australian Abortion Action Coalition and the Sex Industry Network, predominantly women who are fighting for autonomy, equal rights and human rights in this state. My final words to those women today are again those of Mary Lee: ‘Let those who desire to help women place in her hands the power to help herself.’ 

The Hon. I. PNEVMATIKOS (17:20): I rise to speak on the Hon. Connie Bonaros’ motion noting the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand and to acknowledge the continuing work for gender equality. I also support and endorse the comments made by the Hon. Tammy Franks. Next week marks 125 years since New Zealand women obtained the right to vote. It was the first country in the world to do so and it continues to lead the way in the way women are perceived in the workplace and in parliament. 

We ourselves have had impressive feats in the name of women’s suffrage, with South Australian women not only achieving the right to vote but also the right to stand as members of parliament only a few months later, and have produced iconic leaders such as Julia Gillard, our first and only female prime minister. Although I must mention that I am still deeply concerned by the way her accomplishments were tainted. Her looks, marital and family status were relentlessly brought to public attention as an attempt to discredit and demean our first female prime minister. 

The one time she spoke out about the sexism and misogyny she endured, in fact referring to past events she had endured whilst in her leadership role, she was vilified for playing gender politics. The vitriol she was exposed to was unprecedented. I am yet to see a male leader questioned to the same degree for his genetics and/or personal lifestyle choices. 

Coming back to the women leaders in Australia, we have had six female premiers of states and four female chief ministers of territories. Currently, we have two female heads of government: Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian. However, whilst we have taken steps towards gender equality over the past 125 years, the World Economic Forum predicts that it will be another 167 years before it is achieved. Hard to believe? Possibly, but let us look at the current realities. 

This year, the G7 summit had only one female leader in attendance, despite the participating countries representing 40 per cent of the world’s GDP. Women in national parliamentary roles has only increased by 11.3 per cent over the past 24 years, with only three countries having achieved 50 per cent or greater representation: Rwanda, Cuba and Bolivia, all countries that by Western standards are not fully fledged democracies. 

Less than 40 per cent of countries provide girls and boys with equal access to education. In fact, only 39 per cent of countries have equal proportions of boys and girls enrolled in secondary education. Let’s look at the literacy rates. Of those who are illiterate as adults, two-thirds of all illiterate adults in the world are women, and that statistic has not changed for the past 20 years. 

Women across the globe are facing substantial inequalities in terms of both indirect and direct discrimination, including increasing levels of violence against women and inadequate and substandard reproductive rights. Not only are women generally more disadvantaged, they are working for less and paying for more goods and services because of gendered products and programs; for example, clothing costs, haircuts, through to shaving cream. 

The Hon. Connie Bonaros raised a number of valid points about where we have a problem and where we can do better. I wish to also point out that the current fastest growing subgroup of the homeless is women over the age of 55. Of these women, 61 per cent currently go unassisted. Based on the findings of the Mercy Foundation, these are predominantly women who have led conventional lives and have rented whilst working and raising a family. Only a few have had past involvement with welfare and support systems. 

The study found that the major contributor that has placed these women in this position is that they have taken time out of the workforce to provide an invaluable service to society to care for family members, be it children or older parents. They often exit the labour force at varying stages of life and do so involuntarily due to caring responsibilities or the inability to return to the workforce after having children. Additionally, women in Australia on average have 42 per cent less superannuation when they reach retirement, and one in three will have no super by the time they reach retirement age. On average, women also earn $25,717 less each year than men working full time. 

If you believe that we are excelling in women’s representation in organisations and businesses, think again. Research on board participation rates indicates that we will not see parity levels until the next century, with 35.2 per cent of boards having no female directors and only 17.1 per cent of CEOs being women. The reason for this inequality cannot simply be attributed to skills and experience levels. The strange thing is that, of all the women aged 25 to 29, 44.7 per cent have a bachelor’s degree or above, compared to 32.1 per cent of similarly aged men. This is somewhat incongruous. 

Even in our own chamber, seven of 22 members are women, and 12 of 47 members are women in the House of Assembly. As parliamentarians, we have the ability to foster and reflect a more equal society by promoting laws and programs designed to encourage and promote gender equality, as is the case in society. It is not enough that women are seen at all levels of the law, organisations and society, but that they have a voice and are heard. 

As the Hon. Connie Bonaros mentioned, we are working hard to make women’s voices heard, and we need the support of all of us working together to achieve equality. The houses of parliament and all parliamentary committees need to reflect and represent both men and women in a balanced manner that mirrors the make-up of our society. I look forward to the day in the future when men stand up alongside women and speak on issues of concern to women—not to speak for us but to speak with us on issues that affect us all. 

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (Minister for Human Services) (17:27): I rise to make some remarks in support of this motion and also to commend the previous speakers on raising a number of issues that continue to be matters that we address. I also echo their sentiments that, while it is some time since women won this very important milestone—and we look back on that with some incredulity that anybody could have thought that it was a threat to society that women should have the right to vote or that it was a danger in any way—there are many challenges that we continue to fight for. 

I endorse the motion of the Hon. Connie Bonaros that New Zealand was successful prior to South Australia in granting the women the right to vote. Along with the Hon. Tammy Franks, I reflect on the comments of Ms Mary Lee, who was a staunch advocate, letter writer and speaker at many events in South Australia. She deserves her place in history as somebody who was tireless in pushing for women’s right to vote in South Australia. 

Mary Lee felt bittersweet about the fact that New Zealand had achieved this goal prior to South Australia, as I think is articulated in the book that the Hon. Tammy Franks was quoting from. I think it came out in the last 12 months. It was certainly alluded to by Mr Morris Corcoran, who attended the launch and pointed out that Ms Mary Lee was probably the first community visitor—a role that he holds until Friday—and I acknowledge his retirement and will probably have some more comments to make in the future. 

I would also like to acknowledge that the member for Florey, Ms Frances Bedford, to my understanding, attended in New Zealand to assist them celebrate last year and for her ongoing interest in this issue, and acknowledge all of the speakers today and the mover of the motion who have been members of our 125th committee. 

New Zealand, in terms of its own outcome in this important reform: on 19 September 1893 the Governor of New Zealand Lord Glasgow signed a new electoral act into law and, as a result, New Zealand became the first self-governing country in the world to give women the right to vote in parliamentary elections. In most other democracies, women did not win the right to vote until after the First World War. The achievement followed years of campaigning, similar to South Australia, and a series of significant petitions in 1891, 1892 and 1893, calling on parliament to grant the vote to women. 

Led by Kat Sheppard and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union campaigners, the third and final petition obtained 32,000 votes, almost a quarter of the adult European population of New Zealand. It was a remarkable achievement and reflective of the determination and courage demonstrated by the women of New Zealand—and probably men too, I should say, which would be similar to South Australia. We would not have the vote if men had not been involved in that campaign. 

Under the new law, all women who were British subjects and aged over 21, including Maori, were able to vote. It would take until 1919 however before women could stand for parliament, and another 14 years before the first female member of parliament, Elizabeth McCombs, was elected. New Zealand commemorated its 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in 2018 with a national program of events which focused on diverse backgrounds, highlighting stories of contributions to achieving suffrage for Maori, Pacific and Chinese communities as well as across ages and socio-economic backgrounds. With those few words I commend the motion to the house. 

The Hon. C. BONAROS (17:31): I thank the Hon. Tammy Franks, the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos and the minister for their significant contributions to this important motion congratulating New Zealand on its 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage. I, too, echo the sentiments expressed here today. As has been mentioned we, of course, look forward to our own milestone later this year and acknowledge the number of events that have occurred and are occurring around the state to mark the 125 years of women’s suffrage in SA. 

Of course, I am sure all honourable members encourage all South Australians to take part in the many events to celebrate this significant and proud moment of our democratic history but, as highlighted so articulately by the Hon. Tammy Franks, there is so much more to this debate. In my speech on this very motion I highlighted a number of examples across all sides of politics, demonstrating how far we have to go in how we treat, how we value and how we respect women in politics. 

That was 10 months ago and came after a tumultuous period of politics that saw the unceremonious dumping of a prime minister and allegations of bullying during the tortuous process. Sadly, not much has changed on the public and political landscape. I think, like other members, I despair that it will not get better any time soon. Last month, outspoken conservative broadcaster Alan Jones, the unrivalled champion of the squawk and splutter, took his verbal diatribe transpacific, taking aim at New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, suggesting our own Prime Minister Scott Morrison shove a sock down her throat next time he ran into her. 

What was Prime Minister Ardern’s crime? That she had the temerity to say that Australia has to answer to the Pacific on its climate policy. She was, of course, stating the obvious. For her crime Jones opined that she should be forcibly gagged, preferably in a way that conjures as much violence as possible. To his credit, Prime Minister Morrison said the comments were way out of line, but I much prefer former PM Malcolm Turnbull’s thoughts on Alan Jones, and I quote: 

His pattern of using abusive and violent language against women, particularly women politicians, is disgraceful. He is an appalling misogynist in the way he talks about women. This is the man who said that Julia Gillard should be put in a chaff bag and dropped off the Heads. Then he goes on to urge Morrison to shove a sock down Jacinda Ardern’s throat. 

For her part, Prime Minister Ardern barely gave the attack air, preferring not to give the comments the light of day. In any event, revenge is a dish best served cold, with Prime Minister Ardern telling local radio that New Zealand had got its revenge on Australia when its all-conquering All Blacks beat our Wallabies in rugby. Jones, of course, used to coach the Wallabies. 

For his part, Jones at first doubled down on his comments about the New Zealand Prime Minister until 2GB sponsors started leaving in droves, which forced an apology. Almost four weeks after the controversy, the list of major companies, who are no longer advertising with 2GB, is longer than ever before. It has been reported that the station has already lost a million dollars. But sadly, as we all know too well, our history is littered with such outrageous and misogynist comments. 

In 2013, a Liberal-National fundraiser in Queensland made headlines for all the wrong reasons after its menu made a disgusting reference to former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard. The inclusion caused outrage around the country, leading then party leader, Tony Abbott, to condemn the sexist insults towards the then prime minister. 

Former federal Liberal deputy leader and foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, recently recalled the incident to TV presenter Andrew Denton in an interview, which was just one of many sexist attacks against Gillard during her time in politics, including many heinous attacks by Alan Jones. Julie Bishop sighed as she described the Liberal-National fundraiser incident as ‘grotesque in its brutality, it was so childish, undergraduate—no, not even undergraduate—humour.’ She went further, to quote: 

We have to remember that, until recent times, parliament was all male. So you had a whole bunch of men in Canberra and they set the rules, they set the customs, the precedents, the environment. It was all men…but that kind of behaviour is just pathetic. 

On changing the culture, Julie Bishop said ‘numbers do matter’ when it comes to changing things; namely, getting more women into parliament, as my colleague the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos has alluded to. Bishop also told Denton: 

There must be a critical mass of women and 50 per cent sounds like a good idea. I would think that the more women that are in politics, the more they would say that behaviour was unacceptable. 

That may be the case, but male politicians must also call out such behaviour regardless, of course, of their political stripes. They should be guided by decency and respect and not party politics. Julie Bishop’s interview was further illuminating when she recalled the difficulty more often than not of being the only woman in the room. Referring to former prime minister Tony Abbott’s cabinet, Bishop said she found it disturbing that she was the only woman appointed to a cabinet role. She said: 

It was an issue I raised. I wasn’t actually appointed, because I had been elected as deputy leader so I was there anyway. So, if you put me aside, not one woman was selected and appointed. 

She added that on a regular basis she would experience what she described as ‘gender deafness’. Again, I quote: 

If I spoke in a room of 20 men, if I would put forward my idea, there was sort of silence. The next person would speak as if I hadn’t spoken and then [suddenly] somebody would say precisely what I said or come up with precisely the same idea. And then they’d say, ‘Oh, that’s a great idea. Why don’t we do that?’ And I’d say, ‘Excuse [me], didn’t I say that?’ 

At first, Bishop thought it was a personal thing—an individual problem. Then she realised this was a problem women faced worldwide. I am hearing you. I am sure, too, it has happened to many women in this place where you are the only female voice in the room, but the others—for whatever reason—just do not seem to hear you. Bishop described it best: ‘It’s as if they’re not attuned to it.’ 

Before I conclude, I want to speak to a few examples closer to home. Most of you would know that the 2018 election was my second attempt at getting elected to the Legislative Council, having run as a candidate in 2014. During that campaign, I spoke about my first job interview as a law graduate, something that still haunts me but also continues to inspire me today. 

During that interview, I was told by a very prominent male senior lawyer in Adelaide that I had not one but two things going against me in terms of my career prospects in the legal profession: one, I was female, and two, I was Greek. They were his exact words. I was stunned and I was disheartened, but I could not complain, because you do not complain against prominent legal practitioners in this profession. 

Like others before me, I did not want it to deter me, and the reality is that despite all the advances we have made in terms of gender balance, I, like most other women, work in an environment that I think is far from balanced and far from family friendly. Sadly, the reality is that if my husband and I did not make the sacrifices we make in terms of our home life, I would not be in politics today. 

Like many workplaces, this one, I think, remains a relentless one when it comes to work-life balance, family balance and, of course, gender bias. The reality is that, despite all our hard work and my leading the party that I am associated with, people I meet with each and every day still assume, wrongly, that my male colleague, Frank Pangallo—who, by the way, is doing a great job—must be the one in charge, simply by virtue of the fact that he is the male and I am the female—nothing more. 

I have spoken to enough female MPs in this place and elsewhere to know that these issues are widespread, and we have heard similar sentiments expressed here today. They are not going to go away anytime soon. I know it is not explicit and it is not necessarily intentional, but it is absolutely entrenched. It is things like sidestepping me and going straight to my colleague in the hope of a better outcome, even when someone knows that I have carriage of a particular portfolio. 

It is comments like, ‘Oh, you work with Frank,’ or, ‘We usually meet over dinner. Are you sure you want to do that, given your family commitments with your son?’ or, ‘I didn’t realise you were having a day off today,’ on the odd occasion that I bring my son to work with me, rather than acknowledging that like other working parents I am capable of juggling my roles as an MP and a mum. Male politicians do not get asked these questions—they just don’t. 

In this month’s Quarterly Essay, Annabel Crabb asked the Prime Minister and the federal Treasurer how they manage their family responsibilities. Their responses showed how unfamiliar they were in dealing with the question women deal with every day of our working lives. There are lots of other examples of an unconscious bias, like being invited to an event only to be bumped in terms of your importance when a male colleague accepts the same invitation. I am not talking about a more senior male colleague or a minister, because as we know when it comes to electorates, and indeed when it comes to our positions in this place, there is no rank. Or it is observers downplaying my role in our political party. 

Most of the comments I get are intended innocently, I am sure, but they are constant, and in the context of this debate, words absolutely matter. They point to an unconscious bias. I know that I am in a rare position compared to some, and probably a privileged position, to be able to stand in this place and say things that others cannot because I am not bound by partyroom politics or pressures, but I have spoken to enough female members in this place and in other places and other jurisdictions to know that I am not alone in my views, and I think that has been backed up today by the contributions made by other honourable members. 

Look at Julie Bishop. She chose to speak out so strongly, passionately and eloquently only after retiring from politics. Even though some inroads continue to be made, we still have a long way to go. I am pleased that the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos has raised the issue of committees, because in my view we need look no further than the parliamentary committee structure in this jurisdiction to see just how widespread this issue is. Of the 29 committees in this current parliament, eight have absolutely no female representation. 

It gets worse. A further 11 committees have only one female member, while a further three committees have only two female members. So in 22 of the 29 committees there are only two female members or less. You might say it is because there are not enough female MPs in positions of influence in parliament, you might say it is because there are not enough female members to be represented in all the various committees, you might say it is because the men are better placed to consider issues of such state and national importance, but I think we all know none of the above is true. 

What this highlights is everything that is currently wrong with our parliamentary structure from the bottom to the top, and that is that parliament remains a very male-dominated and driven beast. Gender diversity is all good in theory but it needs to be backed up in practice, and what these committee statistics highlight are that gender balance continues to be ignored even in this place. 

On the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage, why does history keep repeating itself? It is a question we ask ourselves over and over, and it is an issue that has been highlighted well today. This very occasion, congratulating New Zealand on its 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage, seems an entirely appropriate moment to turn the spotlight on this issue. 

Before doing so I also thought very deeply about it and sought counsel from my own advisers on my reasons for doing so, and even some of the ramifications that might flow from it. It came down to this for me: if I did not I would just be part of the problem by remaining silent. If I did not, and I feel so passionately about this issue, I would not only be failing myself but also all the women who live and work in similar environments to me. 

I enjoy banter in this place as much as the next person, and absolutely none of what I am saying today should be misconstrued as banter. It is an unconscious bias that is inherent in our political structures and so many other workplaces, and the worst message any member could take home from this is that this is merely a whinge or that this is an attack on any of our male colleagues, because nothing could be further from the truth. 

I hope all our speeches today—again, in this 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage—help us pause and reflect inwardly on how serious an issue this still remains and on the work we all have to do in accepting and acknowledging that these issues exist, and exist in our own workplace. Maybe by doing so we can help pave the way for the female MPs who will come after us. 

Motion carried.