New Zealand Women's Suffrage Anniversary

The Hon. R. SANDERSON (Adelaide—Minister for Child Protection) (16:40): I rise in support of the member for Florey's motion. In 1893, 125 years ago, New Zealand's Governor, Lord Glasgow, signed a new electoral act into law. This led to New Zealand becoming the first self-governing country in the world to give women the right to vote in parliamentary elections.

It was eight years earlier, on 22 July 1885, that Dr Edward Stirling introduced a resolution into the South Australian parliament's House of Assembly. Cautiously, he moved in favour of women's suffrage for both houses of parliament, limited to property-owning widows and single women. I say the approach was cautious as the resolution excluded married women. Dr Stirling explained that he thought a restricted proposal would have a good chance of acceptance, as opposed to a more universal approach.

In his speech, Dr Stirling pointed out that women's influence should be open. He argued that women were a responsible sex and that some were unfairly saddled with taxation, yet had no say in the disposal of those moneys. He argued that some were employers who were unable to vote while often employing disenfranchised male labourers who could vote.

Significantly, Dr Stirling recognised the value that the opinion of women could contribute on topics such as education, especially of the young; the condition and treatment of the poor and sick; the discipline and management of prisons and reformatories; the regulation of hours of labour for women and children in factories and other places; the efficient maintenance of charitable institutions and the distribution of charities; and the laws relative to the protection of females.

In July 1888, at a public meeting held just up the road from here in Gawler Place, the Women's Suffrage League was formed. The league spearheaded the campaign for the women's right to vote in South Australia. Dr Stirling was the league's first president, but stood aside after four years, becoming the vice-president. This allowed for the appointment of Mary Colton as president at the May 1892 annual meeting and Mrs Mary Lee was elected as secretary. The electorates of Lee and Colton now carry their names on into this place.

Over time, the league successfully maintained public pressure on politicians on the question of suffrage. It arranged regular public meetings, drew public reporting, held public addresses, was involved in the sale of literature, used the press to publish favourable reports and used the correspondence pages to generate public debate. Women also filled the public gallery any time the question of women's suffrage was debated in parliament.

Arguably, one of the most influential tools used by the league was petitions. Upward of 20,000 signatures appeared on the earliest petitions. It is said that Mary Lee sent them out in all directions. In September 1891, Mary Lee wrote, 'I see that New Zealand is moving on bravely. We are racing each other! How grand it is.' Most of us watched the Melbourne Cup yesterday and may have experienced for a fleeting moment the competitive spirit that Mary Lee had. There is no question that these women were leading the way in South Australia and keeping a keen eye across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand and even further across the globe.

Regrettably, due to political and economic factors, no bill was presented in 1892. However, it was in 1892 that the Woman's Christian Temperance Union's offer to assist in collecting signatures for the league's petition was accepted. Persistently, the league continued to campaign on the single issue of women's suffrage and was ultimately supported by the Woman's Christian Temperance Union in August 1889, when the union adopted women's suffrage as one of its main aims.

Between April and August 1894, the league made a large effort to circulate the new petition throughout the colony. Mary Lee boarded the train and travelled as far north as Quorn, talking to groups of people. There were 17 signatures from men from the remote town of Andamooka. At Orroroo, male signatories included their occupations: milk hand, carpenter, farmer, labourer, blacksmith, miller, bank manager, engine driver, and Baptist minister. There were also signatures from the South-East, as far as Mount Gambier.

The petition was signed by 11,600 people, about two-thirds of whom were women. The Woman's Christian Temperance Union claimed to have collected 8,000 of those signatures. End to end, the petition measures some 122-metres long.

The final suffrage measure was introduced in the Legislative Council on 4 July 1894 by chief secretary John Gordon, who had guided it through the debate and the committee stage. While recognising the right to vote, the bill excluded women from standing for parliament. At this time, Ebenezer Ward, an outspoken opponent of women's suffrage, successfully moved that the clause excluding women from standing in parliament be removed. While his goal was for the seemingly ridiculous amendment to result in the bill being voted down, his plan backfired. The amendment was accepted, giving the women of South Australia complete parliamentary equality with men.

Meanwhile, the petition was presented to the House of Assembly by the Hon. George Hawker on 30 August 1894. The legislation passed on 18 December 1894 and was signed by Queen Victoria on 21 March 1895. Significantly, Mary Lee did not stop her advocacy after women had won the right to vote. She was active in voter education, encouraging women to enrol to vote. By her 75th birthday, 60,000 women were registered on the electoral roll.

It is due to their tenacity and perseverance that South Australia has such a proud, political history. I am proud to be here as a woman, representing my constituents from the electorate of Adelaide. I am proud to be the second female state member for Adelaide and the first female Liberal state member for Adelaide.

With the election of the Marshall Liberal government, it is the first time the position of Deputy Premier has been held by a woman and the first time that the position of Attorney-General has also been held by a woman, both positions being held by the member for Bragg. In August this year, for the first time, there was an all-female meeting of the state's Executive Council at Government House, with the member for Bragg being the Acting Premier, and the Lieutenant Governor, Professor Brenda Wilson, being Acting Governor.

We can only imagine how proud Mary Colton and Mary Lee would have been had they known what their tireless efforts were to achieve in the future. The contribution of these women to South Australia was profound. We can be proud of their legacy and their significant contributions to the political landscape of South Australia, which have been suitably recognised since 1993, after the electoral redistribution and creation of the neighbouring seaside electorate districts of Colton and Lee. I thank the member for Florey for bringing this motion and I commend the motion to the house.