Women and government in Australia

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From the turn of the 20th century, women have participated in government in Australia. Following federation, the government of the newly formed Commonwealth of Australia passed the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 allowing most women to both vote and stand at the 1903 Federal election. South Australia and Western Australia granted women the vote before federation, and the states of New South Wales, Tasmania, Queensland and Victoria also passed legislation allowing women to participate in government at the state and local levels following federation. Indigenous Australian women did not achieve suffrage at all levels of government and in all states and territories until 1962.

Federation of Australia process by which six separate British self-governing colonies became the country of Australia

The Federation of Australia was the process by which the six separate British self-governing colonies of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, and Western Australia agreed to unite and form the Commonwealth of Australia, establishing a system of federalism in Australia. Fiji and New Zealand were originally part of this process, but they decided not to join the federation. Following federation, the six colonies that united to form the Commonwealth of Australia as states kept the systems of government that they had developed as separate colonies, but they also agreed to have a federal government that was responsible for matters concerning the whole nation. When the Constitution of Australia came into force, on 1 January 1901, the colonies collectively became states of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Government of Australia federal democratic administrative authority of Australia

The Government of Australia is the government of the Commonwealth of Australia, a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy. It is also commonly referred to as the Australian Government, the Commonwealth Government, Her Majesty's Government, or the Federal Government.

Australia Country in Oceania

Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania and numerous smaller islands. It is the largest country in Oceania and the world's sixth-largest country by total area. The neighbouring countries are Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and East Timor to the north; the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to the north-east; and New Zealand to the south-east. The population of 25 million is highly urbanised and heavily concentrated on the eastern seaboard. Australia's capital is Canberra, and its largest city is Sydney. The country's other major metropolitan areas are Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.


While the Commonwealth Franchise Act allowed women to stand in the 1903 and subsequent Federal elections, it was not until the 1943 election that Enid Lyons and Senator Dorothy Tangney became the first women to be elected to the Australian Parliament. The first female to lead a state or territory government was Rosemary Follett serving in 1989 and again between 1991 and 1995 as chief minister of the ACT. The first female premier was Carmen Lawrence, leading Western Australia for three years until 1993. Joan Kirner was the first female premier of Victoria, serving from 1990 to 1992. In the Northern Territory, Clare Martin became the first female chief minister in 2001 winning from opposition and was reelected in 2005 with an increased majority. In 2007, Anna Bligh became the first female premier in Queensland after the retirement of Peter Beattie, and in 2009, Bligh became the first popularly elected woman premier. In NSW, Kristina Keneally became the first female premier of the state in 2009 and was defeated at the 2011 state election. Lara Giddings was the first female Premier of the state of Tasmania between January 2011 and March 2014. In 2015 Annastacia Palaszczuk of Queensland became the first woman to be elected premier from opposition and was the first female premier to be elected for a second term after winning the 2017 Queensland state election. Despite being the earliest state to grant voting rights and allow women to stand in parliament since 1895, South Australia has never elected a female premier.

Enid Lyons Australian politician

Dame Enid Muriel Lyons was an Australian politician who was the first woman elected to the House of Representatives and the first woman to serve in federal cabinet. Prior to her own political career, she was best known as the wife of Joseph Lyons, who was Prime Minister of Australia (1932–1939) and Premier of Tasmania (1923–1928).

Dorothy Tangney Australian politician

Dame Dorothy Margaret Tangney DBE was an Australian politician and the first woman member of the Australian Senate.

Rosemary Follett is a former Australian politician who was the inaugural Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory, serving in 1989 and again between 1991 and 1995. She was the first woman to become head of government in an Australian state or territory.

Julia Gillard became Australia's first female prime minister on 24 June 2010.

Julia Gillard Australian politician and lawyer, 27th Prime Minister of Australia

Julia Eileen GillardAC is an Australian former politician who served as the 27th Prime Minister of Australia and Leader of the Australian Labor Party from 2010 to 2013. She was previously the 13th Deputy Prime Minister of Australia from 2007 until 2010 and held the cabinet positions of Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion from 2007 to 2010. She was the first and to date only woman to hold the positions of Deputy Prime Minister, Prime Minister and leader of a major party in Australia.

Women's suffrage

Suffragette Mary Lee. Mary Lee (suffragette).JPG
Suffragette Mary Lee.

Women's suffrage groups began to appear in the Australian political landscape in the 1880s. The first, the Victorian Women's Suffrage Society, was formed by Henrietta Dugdale in Victoria in 1884. The organisations involved in the suffrage movement varied across the colonies. A unified body, the Australian Women's Suffrage Society was formed in 1889, the society's aims were to educate women and men about a woman's right to vote and stand for parliament. Key figures in the Australian suffrage movement included, from South Australia Mary Lee and Catherine Helen Spence, in Western Australia Edith Cowan, from New South Wales Maybanke Anderson, Louisa Lawson, Dora Montefiore and Rose Scott, Tasmanians Alicia O'Shea Petersen and Jessie Rooke, Queenslander Emma Miller, and Victorians Annette Bear-Crawford, Henrietta Dugdale, Vida Goldstein, Alice Henry and Annie Lowe.

Womens suffrage the legal right of women to vote

Women's suffrage is the right of women to vote in elections. Beginning in the late 1800s, women worked for broad-based economic and political equality and for social reforms, and sought to change voting laws in order to allow them to vote. National and international organizations formed to coordinate efforts to gain voting rights, especially the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, and also worked for equal civil rights for women.

Henrietta Dugdale Australian suffragist

Henrietta Augusta Dugdale, néeWorrell was a pioneer Australian who initiated the first female suffrage society in Australia. Her campaigning resulted in breakthroughs for women's rights in Australia.

Mary Lee (suffragette) Australian activist

Mary Lee was an Irish-Australian suffragist and social reformer in South Australia.

In 1861 land-owning South Australian women were able to vote in local elections. In 1894, South Australia followed New Zealand in extending the franchise to women voters – but went further than New Zealand and offered women also the right to stand for the colonial Parliament. South Australian women voted for the first time at the 1896 South Australian election. In 1897 Catherine Helen Spence became the first woman political candidate when she ran for election to the National Australasian Convention as one of ten delegates, but came 22nd out of 33 candidates. In 1899 Western Australian women achieved voting rights for colonial elections but not the right to stand for the colonial Parliament. Women from both South Australia and Western Australia voted at the 1901 election.

South Australia State of Australia

South Australia is a state in the southern central part of Australia. It covers some of the most arid parts of the country. With a total land area of 983,482 square kilometres (379,725 sq mi), it is the fourth-largest of Australia's states and territories by area, and fifth largest by population. It has a total of 1.7 million people, and its population is the second most highly centralised in Australia, after Western Australia, with more than 77 percent of South Australians living in the capital, Adelaide, or its environs. Other population centres in the state are relatively small; Mount Gambier, the second largest centre, has a population of 28,684.

Catherine Helen Spence Scottish-born Australian author, teacher, journalist, politician and suffragist

Catherine Helen Spence was a Scottish-born Australian author, teacher, journalist, politician, leading suffragist, and Georgist. In 1897 she became Australia's first female political candidate after standing (unsuccessfully) for the Federal Convention held in Adelaide. Called the "Greatest Australian Woman" by Miles Franklin and given the nomenclature of "Grand Old Woman of Australia' on her eightieth birthday, Spence was commemorated on the Australian five-dollar note issued for the Centenary of Federation of Australia.

Western Australia State in Australia

Western Australia is a state occupying the entire western third of Australia. It is bounded by the Indian Ocean to the north and west, and the Southern Ocean to the south, the Northern Territory to the north-east, and South Australia to the south-east. Western Australia is Australia's largest state, with a total land area of 2,529,875 square kilometres, and the second-largest country subdivision in the world, surpassed only by Russia's Sakha Republic. The state has about 2.6 million inhabitants – around 11 percent of the national total – of whom the vast majority live in the south-west corner, 79 per cent of the population living in the Perth area, leaving the remainder of the state sparsely populated.

On 12 June 1902 the Commonwealth Franchise Act came into effect, granting most Australian women the right to vote and stand in Commonwealth elections. Franchise of Indigenous Australians at the federal level was not universal until 1962, and voting by Indigenous Australians was not compulsory until 1984. The first election at which women used both the right to vote and stand for election was the 1903 election, held on 16 December.

Following the inclusion of women in the 1903 election, many Australian women and the Australian government, led by Prime Minister Alfred Deakin, used their experience to promote women's suffrage in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. 'Trust the Women Mother, As I Have Done', banner painted by Dora Meeson was carried at the head of the Australian and New Zealand Women Voters' Committee contingent in the Women's Suffrage Coronation March in London on 17 June 1911.

New South Wales, Tasmania, Queensland and Victoria followed the lead of the other states in allowing women to vote, and later to stand for election. Victoria, the last state to grant women's suffrage, had briefly allowed women to vote when the Electoral Act 1863 enfranchised all ratepayers listed on local municipal rolls. Women in Victoria voted in the 1864 general election. The legislative mistake was quickly repaired in 1865, and it took 19 private members' bills from 1889 until Victorian women gained the vote in 1908, and were able to exercise the vote in 1911. Women in the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory were, as federal subjects, eligible to vote at the federal level from their establishment. By the time the territories achieved self-government in 1978 and 1989 respectively, they did not need to enact specific legislation to enable the women's vote.

The right to vote in local government elections was granted later in most jurisdictions than it was at the state and federal levels. The right to vote in local elections was also not automatic, as property ownership qualifications limited the eligibility to vote and stand for local elections.

Significantly from 2010 to 2011 the city of Sydney was operating totally under female governance: from the Lord Mayor and State Member for Sydney Clover Moore, to State Premier Kristina Keneally, to State Governor Marie Bashir, to Federal Member for Sydney Tanya Plibersek, to Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard, to Governor-General of Australia Quentin Bryce, and of course, to the Australian Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II.

The first women elected to Australian parliaments have generally been members of the non-Labor (i.e., conservative) parties. This was the case in every state except for Tasmania, where an independent, Margaret McIntyre, was the first woman elected to parliament. The Labor Party first began to regularly nominate female candidates to parliament in the 1950s, generally only to the upper houses at first.

Since 2015, 12 Indigenous women have been elected to state, territory or commonwealth parliaments, with 5 of whom having been ministers in a government starting with Marion Scrymgour in 2007.

The introduction of women's political rights in Australia
ParliamentRight to vote (a)Right to stand
Commonwealth1902 (b)1902
South Australia18941894
Western Australia18991920
New South Wales19021918
(a) The dates for the right to vote at State level refer to equal rights for women and men, but not necessarily universal rights;
(b) Women in SA and WA were able to vote in the 1901 federal election.

Women in politics

Female participation in political life
ParliamentRight to standFirst elected to lower houseFirst elected to upper house
Commonwealth19021943, Enid Lyons (UAP)1943, Dorothy Tangney (ALP)
South Australia18941959, Joyce Steele (LCL)1959, Jessie Cooper (LCL)
Western Australia19201921, Edith Cowan (Nationalist)1954, Ruby Hutchison (ALP)
New South Wales19181925, Millicent Preston-Stanley (Nationalist)1952, Gertrude Melville (ALP)
Tasmania19211955, Mabel Miller
and Amelia Best (both Liberal)
1948, Margaret McIntyre (independent)
Queensland19151929, Irene Longman (CPNP)n.a.
Victoria19231933, Millie Peacock (UAP)1979, Gracia Baylor (Liberal)
and Joan Coxsedge (ALP)
Two women, Catherine Green and Ellen Webster, were appointed to the NSW Legislative Council in 1931.

Commonwealth government

British-born Julia Gillard is the only woman to have served as Australia's Prime Minister. Julia Gillard 2010.jpg
British-born Julia Gillard is the only woman to have served as Australia's Prime Minister.

The Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 , which enabled women to vote at federal elections, also permitted women to stand for election for the federal Parliament. Four women stood for election at the 1903 federal election. [1] They were Mary Moore-Bentley and Nellie Martel from New South Wales, and Vida Goldstein from Victoria, all of whom stood for the Senate, and Selina Anderson who contested the Sydney House of Representatives seat of Dalley. All failed to get major party endorsement and stood as independents, and all were unsuccessful. Goldstein stood for the Senate again in 1910, 1913, 1914 and 1917, all without success.

In most countries, women entered parliament soon after gaining the right to stand. The first women elected to the Commonwealth government were both elected in 1943, 40 years after they were able. The major Australian political parties did not support any female candidates until the Second World War, until this time all female candidates were independent or backed by minor political parties. At the 1943 federal election, with the backing of the United Australia Party, Dame Enid Lyons was elected to the House of Representatives as the member for the Division of Darwin, which was located in Tasmania. In the same election, Dorothy Tangney, with Australian Labor Party endorsement, was elected to the Senate representing Western Australia, an office she held until 1968. In 1949 Enid Lyons became the first female cabinet member, as Minister without Portfolio, to enable her appointment to the honorary office of Vice-President of the Executive Council, an office she held until her retirement from parliament in 1951. In 1966 Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin became the first woman with a federal portfolio when she became Minister for Housing. In 1975 Senator Margaret Guilfoyle was the first female cabinet minister with a portfolio, Education.

In 1983 Ros Kelly was the first woman to give birth while an MP. In 1986 there were two firsts, Joan Child became the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives and Janine Haines became the first woman to lead a parliamentary party when she became head of the Australian Democrats. Margaret Reid became the first female President of the Senate in 1996. Nova Peris and Jacqui Lambie were the first two indigenous women to enter federal politics in 2014.

Kathy Sullivan was the first woman to have served in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

On 24 June 2010, Julia Gillard became the first woman to lead one of the major political parties at the federal level as Leader of the Australian Labor Party, as well as the first female Prime Minister of Australia. However, as it became clear that her minority government was headed for an unprecedented landslide defeat, she was deposed by her own party in June 2013 in favour of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, whom she had replaced in a similar coup.

In December 2014, Bronwyn Bishop eclipsed Kathy Sullivan's earlier record of 27 years to become the longest-serving female Member of the Australian Federal Parliament. [2]

Following the Australian federal election, 2016 there were 73 women members of both Houses of the Australian Parliament, representing 32% of all seats in the Senate and House of Representatives. [3]

Commonwealth Public Service

The Commonwealth Public Service Act 1902 stated that every female officer was "deemed to have retired from the Commonwealth service upon her marriage". The very great majority of women were effectively blocked from non-secretarial positions in the Commonwealth Public Service. In 1949 women were allowed into the clerical division of the service but they remained restricted by the marriage rule. In 1966 Australia became the last democratic country to lift the ban on married women in the public service.[ citation needed ]

State and territory governments

The first woman elected to a state parliament was Edith Cowan, when she was elected to the Western Australian Legislative Assembly in 1921. Millicent Preston-Stanley was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1925, Irene Longman was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Queensland in 1929 and Millie Peacock was elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly in 1933. Ironically, South Australia as the first state to allow women to sit in state parliament, was also the last to have a female sitting member when Joyce Steele and Jessie Cooper were elected on the same day in 1959. Both the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly and Northern Territory Legislative Assembly had women in their inaugural Parliaments. Women were not elected to the upper house of state parliaments until after World War II; no woman was elected to the Victorian upper house until 1979, when Gracia Baylor (Liberal) and Joan Coxsedge (ALP) were elected.

In 1989 Rosemary Follett became the first female head of government in Australia, as Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory. Carmen Lawrence was the first female premier of an Australian state when she took the office of Premier of Western Australia in February 1990. She was followed by the appointment of Joan Kirner as Premier of Victoria, in which position she served from 1990 to 1992, when her party was swept from office by Jeff Kennett's conservatives. Clare Martin was Chief Minister of the Northern Territory from 2001 to 2007. Anna Bligh became Premier of Queensland in 2007 when Peter Beattie retired. In 2009, she became the first woman in Australia to be elected Premier, though she subsequently suffered a landslide loss to Campbell Newman's LNP in 2012. On 4 December 2009, Kristina Keneally replaced Nathan Rees to become the first female Premier of New South Wales. As Carmel Tebbutt retained the role of Deputy Premier, Keneally also led the first executive in Australia to be led by two women. [4] However, Keneally would also go on to suffer a crushing defeat at the hands of Barry O'Farrell in 2011. In 2011 Lara Giddings became the first female Premier of Tasmania, serving until 2014 when she likewise suffered a crushing loss to conservative leader Will Hodgman. This again leaves South Australia as the only state or territory not to have had a female head of government. Marion Scrymgour is to date the highest ranked Indigenous woman in a government in Australia when she was Deputy Chief Minister of the Northern Territory from 2007 until 2009.

Prior to Labor's massive loss in 2012 the Legislative Assembly of Queensland had the highest female parliamentary representation in Australia and the third highest in the world, with 30 out of 89 Members having been women. [5] [6] However, the next state election resulted in Annastacia Palaszczuk becoming the first woman to become Premier from opposition. The subsequent government would become the second in Australia to be headed by two women and the first ministry in Australia to have a female majority. [7]

On 3 March 2018, Australia passed another milestone when, at the 2018 Tasmanian election, Tasmanians elected a majority of women to the Tasmanian House of Assembly, with 13 women and 12 men. [8] Seven of the ten Labor members are women, four of the 13 Liberals and both of the Greens. On 27 November 2018, it was announced that 50% of Ministers in the second Victorian Andrews Government were female. [9]

Local government

The first woman elected to a local government authority in Australia was Grace Benny, who was elected to the Brighton Council in South Australia in 1919. In 1920 Mary Rogers was elected to Richmond City Council, Victoria and Elizabeth Clapham was elected to Western Australia's Cottesloe Municipal Council. Queensland's first female councillor was Dr Ellen Kent-Hughes, elected to Kingaroy Shire Council in 1923. [10] New South Wales' first female alderman was Lilian Fowler, elected in 1928 to Newtown Municipal Council; she was later to become Australia's first woman mayor. New South Wales also produced Australia's first female Lord Mayor, Alderman Joy Cummings, who was elected to Newcastle City Council in 1974. Dorothy Edwards, Tasmania's first alderman, was elected to Launceston City Council in 1950.

In 1951 the Australian Local Government Women's Association (ALGWA) was formed. The ALGWA is an association of local government women helping other women to join them.

In 1975 Western Australia and the Northern Territory elected their first women mayors, Councillor Evelyn H. Parker of Subiaco and Dr Ella Stack of Darwin City respectively.

In the 1980s women began to hold the position of Lord Mayor in the capital cities for the first time, including:

Women's participation in local government in Australia
Right to vote (a)Right to standFirst elected
South Australia186119141919, Grace Benny
Western Australia187619191920, Elizabeth Clapham
Victoria190319141920, Mary Rogers
Queensland187919201923, Ellen Kent-Hughes
City of Brisbane192419241949, Petronel White
Rural189319111957, Florence Vivien Pendrigh
Hobart City Council189319021952, Mabel Miller
Launceston City Council189419451950, Dorothy Edwards
New South Wales
Sydney City Council190019181965, Joan Mercia Pilone
Municipalities and Shires190619181928, Lilian Fowler
(a)The right to vote in local elections was not necessarily universal since there were property ownership restrictions on the right to vote in many local jurisdictions. [11]

See also

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Timeline of womens suffrage

Women's suffrage – the right of women to vote – has been achieved at various times in countries throughout the world. In many nations, women's suffrage was granted before universal suffrage, so women and men from certain classes or races were still unable to vote. Some countries granted suffrage to both sexes at the same time. This timeline lists years when women's suffrage was enacted. Some countries are listed more than once, as the right was extended to more women according to age, land ownership, etc. In many cases, the first voting took place in a subsequent year.

There have been 101 women in the Australian Senate since the establishment of the Parliament of Australia. Women have had the right to stand for federal parliament since 1902, and there were three female candidates for the Senate at the 1903 federal election. However, it was not until Dorothy Tangney's victory at the 1943 federal election that a woman was actually elected. Since then, all states and territories have had multiple female senators – in chronological order: Western Australia (1943), Queensland (1947), Victoria (1950), South Australia (1955), Tasmania (1975), the Australian Capital Territory (1975), New South Wales (1987), and the Northern Territory (1998).

1901 Australian federal election

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1903 Australian federal election

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Womens suffrage in Australia

Women's suffrage in Australia was one of the earliest objectives of the movement for gender equality in Australia. It began to be socially and politically accepted and legislated during the late 19th century, beginning with South Australia in 1894 and Western Australia in 1899. In 1902, the newly established Australian Parliament passed the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902, which set a uniform law enabling women to vote at federal elections and to stand for the federal Parliament. This removed gender discrimination in relation to electoral rights for federal elections in Australia. By 1911, the remaining Australian states had legislated for women's suffrage for state elections. It took longer before women could stand for parliament throughout Australia and even longer before they were actually elected.

Suffrage in Australia refers to the right to vote for people living in Australia, including all its six component states and territories, as well as local councils. The colonies of Australia began to grant universal male suffrage during the 1850s and women's suffrage followed between the 1890s and 1900s. Today, the right to vote at federal, state and local levels of government is enjoyed by all citizens of Australia over the age of 18 years.

Australia has a long-standing association with the protection and creation of women's rights. Australia was the second country in the world to give women the right to vote and the first to give women the right to be elected to a national parliament. The Australian state of South Australia, then a British colony, was the first parliament in the world to grant women full suffrage rights. Australia has since had multiple notable women serving in public office as well as other fields. Women in Australia with the notable exception of Indigenous women, were granted the right to vote and to be elected at federal elections in 1902.

The Women's Equal Franchise Association (1894–1905) was a women's suffrage organisation in Queensland, Australia. The association was founded in March 1894 at a meeting in the Brisbane Town Hall with approximately 110 members. Mrs John Donaldson was the founding president and Charlotte Eleanor Trundle was the secretary. The initial aim of the association were to secure the right to vote for every adult women.


  1. "Electoral Milestones for Women – Australian Electoral Commission". Aec.gov.au. 2008-12-17. Retrieved 2011-04-19.
  2. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/hard-work-brings-bishop-a-record/story-fn59niix-1227146499189
  3. https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/FlagPost/2016/August/The_gender_composition_of_the_45th_parliament
  4. Clennell, Andrew (3 December 2009). "Keneally first female NSW Premier". The Sydney Morning Herald . Retrieved 3 December 2009.
  5. Sanderson, Nicole (December 2006). "in the hot seat – Lindy Nelson-Carr" (PDF). profile. CityLife Townsville. Retrieved 2007-07-29.[ dead link ]
  6. "Women in the Queensland Parliament". Archived from the original on 15 May 2009. Retrieved 30 July 2007.
  7. "Historic day for women in Queensland". Sunshince Coast Daily. 16 February 2015. Retrieved 27 April 2015.
  8. ABC News, 16 March 2018, Tasmania leading the way on female representation in Parliament
  9. Daniel Andrews gets gender parity in fresh cabinet
  10. "WOMEN IN POLITICS". Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 - 1947). 1923-09-15. p. 12. Retrieved 2018-10-15.
  11. Modified from Sawer, 2001