House debates

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Ministerial Statements

Lyons, Dame Enid Muriel, AD, GBE

11:35 am

Photo of Justine KeayJustine Keay (Braddon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

'The foundation of a nation's greatness is in the homes of its people.' That was something that Dame Enid Lyons said. I think that's very apt, a great way to sum up her life and her view not only of her as a female politician but as a participant in Australian society. In my first speech I actually quoted Dame Enid Lyons's first speech. I was proudly the first woman elected to the division of Braddon. It took 61 years for that to occur. The division of Braddon was formerly the division of Darwin. But I'm not the first female to represent the people of the North West coast of Tasmania. Sixty-five years on, I proudly follow in the footsteps of one other women, a member for the former division of Darwin, the first woman elected to the House of Representatives and the first woman in federal cabinet, Dame Enid Lyons.

In her first speech, Enid said:

I hope that I shall never forget that everything that takes place in this chamber goes out somewhere to strike a human heart, to influence the life of some fellow being …

It was very, very powerful. Indeed, as the member for Boothby said, our first speeches are not only a very important part of our career in politics and the way we communicate with people in our electorate; they have a long history as well, and Enid's first speech was absolutely remarkable. Dame Enid has left a rich legacy in my electorate and in my home town of Devonport.

As wife of Tasmania's only Prime Minister, Joe Lyons, Devonport is very privileged to have a Prime Minister's residence, Home Hill, just up the road from where I grew up, with Dame Enid's personal touches gracing every inch of this wonderful home. It was built for the family in 1916 in Middle Road, Devonport for a cost of £390 by Wilson Brothers. It is a very elegant homestead and remains largely as it was when Dame Enid last lived there in 1981. It is absolutely complete with original furnishings and memorabilia. You just have to walk through Home Hill to get a fantastic, wonderful sense of who Dame Enid actually was. She painted the walls. It was quite remarkable. She was a woman who did everything and anything. I don't think she ever sat down for a quiet moment. As you walk through, you can see wonderful drawings on the walls as they were in their original state. She made all the furnishings, all the upholstery and the curtains herself. Think about how busy her life was going around campaigning with Sir Joe, raising 11 children—one sadly dying in infancy—and her own political career yet she put her heart and soul in it to have such a homely house to raise her family in not only inside the property but the outside as well, which has the most remarkable garden that is still pretty much the way she left it. It's truly an amazing place.

I was very privileged to go on a tour with the National Trust, which has looked after the building very well in the time that it's been in their possession. I really hope that people when they do visit Tasmania go to my home town of Devonport, which is the sea gateway of the state, and visit Home Hill. It's a fantastic piece of not only Tasmanian history but Australian history as well. She has some fantastic mementos in that home.

A lot of volunteers volunteer at Home Hill. I commend their work and their passion for the Lyons family and for Tasmanian history. Enid had some little boxes of mementos that were very close to her heart—handkerchiefs of Sir Joe, some baby clothes of the infant that she lost—just truly touching bits of memorabilia from a remarkable woman. In a poignant letter penned in early 1939, Joseph noted that he was:

… always longing for the time when, if God spares us, we can be together in our beautiful home, forgetting all the problems of politics.

I think we can all relate to that a little bit but, sadly, Sir Joe died not long after penning that letter.

From her election in 1943, Dame Enid, at that stage a widowed mother of 12 children—one of whom had died in infancy—successfully led the way for women in federal politics. As she said in her first speech:

I am well aware that, as I acquit myself in the work that I have undertaken for the next three years, so shall I either prejudice or enhance the prospects of those women who may wish to follow me in public service in the years to come.

As a politician, Enid Lyons made a modest contribution to politics, with a particular emphasis on the role of women and progressive measures that paved the way toward gender equality, despite her very conservative moral views on issues such as abortion and homosexuality and her disapproval of early sex education. She led the way to increased welfare payments to women and children, such as the extension of child endowment. She also campaigned for an end to discrimination against women in the workforce and increases to the allowances paid to returned servicewomen and pensions for widows. Tasmanian Liberal politician Michael Hodgman—who we Tasmanians knew really well—knew Enid Lyons well and recalled:

She wasn't a stuffy person. She had strong ideas on social justice. And she wasn't your conservative at all. She was a reforming Liberal from good solid Labor stock.

A good combination, actually! That's fabulous, coming from Michael Hodgman, whose son is now the Liberal Premier of Tasmania.

We have come a long way since Dame Enid in terms of gender equality, but I have to recall a photo in Home Hill, on one of the walls there, of the 1949 cabinet. It's a very stark reminder of how far we have come. It's an amazing photo, obviously in black and white. It's a sea of suits. The cabinet is standing outside Parliament House, but there's Dame Enid in her light-coloured dress and very wide-brim hat, standing out like a sore thumb. It's absolutely remarkable. What I encountered when I first came to this place was sitting on the opposition benches, surrounded by many fantastic Labor women, but, sadly, looking at the government benches and not seeing much of a difference since 1949. I'm pleased to hear the member for Boothby saying that they're looking at addressing—in a different way to ours—women's representation in parliament. But that photo reminded me that one side of politics has probably progressed a little bit more than others in terms of female representation.

I will finish off on this note. Television reporter George Negus signed off a 2003 documentary piece on Enid with:

It's fair to say they just don't make them like that any more. Dame Enid Lyons—despite poor health, the first Australian woman to burst through the political glass ceiling into the boys' club.


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