International Women's Day

Ms JODIE HARRISON (Charlestown) [7.07 p.m.]: International Women's Day is a celebration of the world's women and their social, economic, cultural and political achievements. This year's theme is to make a pledge for parity. While we have much to celebrate on International Women's Day, progress towards gender parity has slowed in many areas. I will take this time to acknowledge those who have worked hard and who continue to work hard towards achieving gender equality. More specifically, I will take this time to acknowledge the many women who have gone before me and made it possible for me and other women to stand in this place today. The New South Wales Parliament has certainly come a long way since early colonial days. It was in the late nineteenth century that the fight for women's voting rights began to attract publicity. Premier Sir Henry Parkes proceeded to introduce electoral reform bills into the New South Wales Parliament, which included the provision for the women's vote.

Mr Alister Henskens: Not the Labor Party. Ms JODIE HARRISON: I acknowledge the interjection by the gentleman across the Chamber. Nobody was surprised by the defeat of those bills, but at least the issue was elevated on the public agenda and the debate began. Unfortunately, the media usually trivialised or ridiculed the concept of women voting or entering Parliament—as did many politicians at the time. Sir George Dibbs, in voting against Parkes's bill in 1891 said, which I think some members may find almost agreeable, "The bulk of women are utterly incapable of performing the duties of men." As Dibbs followed Parkes as Premier from 1891 to 1894 the growing women's movement faced an inflexible opponent. In 1891 the New South Wales Womanhood Suffrage League was formed, bringing to prominence the activist Rose Scott and other important campaigners such as Dora Montefiore and Maybanke Wolstenholme. In 1900 and 1901, bills to give women the right to vote were passed by the lower House but were defeated in the more conservative upper House. One member of the Legislative Council, Samuel Charles, argued:

      It is unnatural. If a woman is married her first duty is to try to make her husband and home happy and if she does her duty she will have no time for politics.

Finally, in 1902, women gained the right to vote in New South Wales. However, the actual representation of women in Parliament took much longer. It was another 16 years before women were given the right to stand for the Legislative Assembly and then another 24 years before they were able to join the Legislative Council. The first woman elected to the Legislative Assembly was Millicent Preston-Stanley, who held the electorate of Eastern Suburbs for the Nationalist Party from 1925 to 1927. It was not until six years later, in November 1931, that the first two women were appointed to the Legislative Council. Catherine Green became the first female member of the Legislative Council, with Ellen Webster joining her in the House two days later. I am very proud to say that they were both members of the Australian Labor Party. It is because of the efforts of these women that Australia and New South Wales are the places they are today. Each time a female member is elected it makes it a little easier for the next woman and the next woman and the next woman to enter into public life.

Despite the momentum for change to gender imbalance, women remain underrepresented in the New South Wales Parliament. Currently in the Legislative Assembly there are 28 female members in a House of ninety-three members: 15 from the Australian Labor Party, eight from the Liberal Party, three from The Nationals and two from The Greens. In the Legislative Council there are 10 female members in a House of 42 members: four from the Australian Labor Party, two from the Liberal Party, two from The Nationals and two from The Greens. Today's Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians newsletter sadly indicates that New South Wales is lagging behind other States in women's representation in Parliament, with only Queensland and South Australia with lower representation parity.

While numerous milestones have been reached since the early days of the Parliament, these numbers demonstrate that equal representation is still a long way off. That is why International Women's Day is so important: It ensures gender equality remains at the forefront of the public and government agendas and it ensures that we continue to see the composition of governments change to more accurately reflect our society. Sadly, winning the vote was only the beginning. Today we are still fighting to tackle violence against women, pay equity, affordable child care, the glass ceiling and workplace discrimination. We need purposeful action. I urge all members to join me today in taking the pledge for parity.