Wednesday, 22 August 2018
Lyons, Dame Enid Muriel, AD, GBE
I stand to pay tribute to Tasmania's Dame Enid Lyons, the first woman elected to the House of Representatives and the first woman to serve in a federal Australian cabinet—75 years ago this week. It is worth noting that, at the same election, Western Australia's Dorothy Tangney became the first woman elected to the Senate. My electorate is named jointly after Dame Enid and her husband, Joe Lyons, who to date—and I stress 'to date'—remains the only Tasmanian to hold the office of Prime Minister.
Dame Enid was, however, a formidable politician long before she was elected in 1943 to the federal seat of Darwin, which is now known as Braddon. That seat is held by my colleague Ms Keay, who will speak after me. For many years Dame Enid accompanied her career politician husband on the campaign trail, not just as a devoted wife but as a key confidant. In the days before politicians were gifted with paid staff and advisers, Enid played the role perfectly.
Dame Enid was born Enid Burnell in 1897 in a remote north-west Tasmanian timber camp. She grew up in Smithton, a nearby town. In her mid-teens she became a trained teacher. In 1912, while visiting the state parliament in Hobart, which back then was some distance away by train, Enid was introduced by her mother to Joseph Aloysius Lyons, who at the time was a state Labor MP for the seat of Wilmot. In 1915, following what has been described as 'decorous correspondence' between Enid and Joe, who was now state Labor Treasurer and education minister, the pair wed. Joe was 35 and Enid 17.
By 1922 Enid was mother to six children, but she took a leading part in election campaigning by talking to women about pots and pans, and children's shoes—what we call these days grassroots politics. While I hesitate these days to mention a working woman's family life, it's important to reference it in this context because the times were so different. There would have been an expectation and understanding in 1920s Australia that a woman's place was in the home and that her primary role was as a caregiver. Still in her mid-20s Enid was mother to six children and yet was also a significant party campaigner and key adviser to her husband. This was trailblazing stuff. Enid would go on to have 12 children by 1933.
In 1923 Joe became the Labor Premier and in 1925 Enid stood as a Labor candidate for the state seat of Denison, a Hobart based seat. She lost by just 60 votes. A whooping cough epidemic during the campaign attacked five of the Lyons' children and their 10-month-old baby died of pneumonia. In 1929 Joe Lyons was elected as the federal Labor MP for Wilmot, now Lyons, and Enid's political focus shifted to the national stage. She is reported to have played a critical role in Joe's decision to break with the Labor Party. We've got a term for that in the Labor Party, but, given the valedictory nature of this speech, I won't reference it. Enid had never been a true believer in Labor but she did retain a lifelong commitment to equality, security and social justice. These are traits we all share.
Ambitious for her husband, she was a political pragmatist by nature and she had been concerned by Labor's response to the financial crisis caused by the Great Depression. She had no problem urging Joe to jump ship. In 1931 Joe left Labor and he helped form a new party—the United Australia Party—which included in its number former Labor and Nationalist Prime Minister Billy Hughes, who was even then as old as Methuselah, and future Prime Minister Bob Menzies. Joe was the party's first leader. Of course, as we all know, the UAP later rebadged itself as the Liberal Party. I think after its formation it went on to win two or three elections, so it was very successful in its formative years. If Enid hadn't whispered to her husband, the first leader of that party, who knows where Australian politics would be today? She was a very significant figure.
Enid was an enthusiastic campaigner for the UAP, so much so that Menzies is said to have complained that she was stealing the men's limelight. She's reported to have later said, 'Together on a platform, Joe and I worked like partners in a game of bridge.' Everything that Joe and Enid did was done together. Upon winning the December 1931 federal election in a landslide, defeating the Scullin Labor government after just one term, Joe's first act was to write to Enid, 'Whatever honours or distinctions come are ours, not mine.'
I could go on about her life before her parliamentary career and talk about some of the issues that she cared about, but I want to say this. In 1938, and with the drums of war beating in Europe, Enid gave speech after speech on the subject of peace and disarmament. She was a staunch defender of Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement towards Europe's fascists, and she was not alone in that. At the time a lot of people thought the best way to avoid war was to appease the fascists. But after Hitler's treachery with Poland, she said, in her first speech, that she could 'never again advocate such a policy'. She became very much an ardent supporter of Australia being able to support itself militarily.
She suffered deep depression following her beloved husband's death in office. He remains, to date, the only Prime Minister to have died in office. For 24 years they'd been virtually inseparable. But she continued to be politically active. Enid stood for election for the federal seat of Darwin, which covered the Lyons's home in and around Devonport, and was elected in August 1943—the same year she was made a Dame by the King. In her first speech she spoke about the issues she'd always sought to advance: the need for a robust social security system, Australia's declining birth rate, housing, family, the need to extend child endowment and the importance of planning for a postwar future where hundreds of thousands of men would be returning from the front.
In the matter of social security, one thing stands out clearly in my mind:
Such things are necessary in order that the weak shall not go to the wall, that the strong may be supported, that all may have justice.
These were the words of Dame Enid Lyons in her first speech. She also said:
We go along, thinking always that we progress, but sometimes we have to pause and take stock. I think that every Australian should pause now and again and say to himself, "Only 150 years ago this land was wilderness. Now we have great cities, wonderful feats of engineering and beautiful buildings everywhere. And this is still a land of promise".
In 1949, Dame Enid was elevated to sit in Bob Menzies's cabinet, though without portfolio, which she was very unhappy about. She retired from parliament in 1951, but certainly not from public life. She was an active newspaper columnist. She chaired the Jubilee Women's Convention in 1951 and was a member of the ABC from 1951 to 1962. She was a longstanding member of the Victoria League, the Housewives Association and the CWA. And it must be said: she was a beloved lifelong member of the Liberal Party in Tasmania, where she continues to be revered.
She also wrote articles and autobiographical volumes, and I think one title referenced Billy Hughes once saying of her that she was like a 'nightingale amongst the carrion crows'.
I'm the biggest crow they've ever seen! I think one of her volumes referenced that quote.
So while Dame Enid did leave the Labor Party, many of her principles and ideals continue to hold true to Labor ideals. And irrespective of her politics, she is a highly significant figure not just in politics in general but also for the advancement of women in politics. I think it's wonderful that, no matter which side of the aisle we're on, we stand here, we stake stock and we honour those women who did blaze a trail, whether it was Enid Lyons or Dorothy Tangney in the Senate. They all deserve recognition. I can't imagine how difficult it must have been for them just putting up with the nonsense that men must have given them, and to get through it all. So, my hat goes off to Dame Enid Lyons; she has my great respect. Vale Enid Lyons.
I, again, share your congratulations and acknowledgement of the member for Lyons's contribution. That was a lovely reflection on Dame Enid Lyons and her husband, Joseph Lyons, who were fine Tasmanians.
As we know, we're here to commemorate Enid Lyons's election to the House of Representatives. Yesterday, 21 August, marked the 75th anniversary of her election to the House of Representatives in 1943. She was the first woman elected to the federal parliament in the House of Representatives, and she went on to become Australia's first female cabinet minister.
Enid Lyons was a remarkable woman, and her career, her family life and her relationship with her husband, Joe Lyons, really reminds me of another remarkable woman, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. I think there are a lot of commonalities between them, with their strong family life and their dedication to serving the public throughout their lives.
As has been noted, Dame Enid was born in 1897. Remarkably, she first stood for the Tasmanian parliament in 1925 when she had six children, and she only lost the seat by six votes. She was married to Joseph Lyons, who became the Tasmanian Premier and, of course, became the Prime Minister of Australia between the years of 1932 and 1939. Between them, they had 12 children, one of whom tragically died at the age of 10 months from pneumonia. By all accounts, Enid Lyons and Joseph Lyons were a very close couple. They had a loving relationship, and they supported one another in their public lives and public roles.
I do want to quickly read from the Australian Dictionary of Biography, which notes, amongst other things, what was happening at the end of Joseph Lyons's life. He died at the age of 59 years, so he died at a very young age. Things had been very stressful for them around politics and his prime ministership. As the Australian Dictionary of Biography records:
His final months were miserable as his government became increasingly unstable. Apart from Menzies, there were other threats, particularly from Charles Hawker. According to Enid Lyons, Hawker was on his way to Canberra to challenge Lyons when he was killed in a plane crash in October 1938. … Although Menzies never issued a direct challenge, he made pointed public comments about lack of national leadership; through 1938-39 his claims were advanced in the newspapers of Sir Keith Murdoch, previously an enthusiastic supporter of Lyons. …
The dictionary goes on to say that Sir Joseph Lyons:
… was able to thwart the implicit Menzies challenge in the final months of 1938. On 14 March 1939 Menzies resigned from cabinet because of the deferment of the national insurance scheme.
Not long after, Sir Joseph Lyons died in Sydney in hospital on 7 April 1939.
This was an incredibly, understandably, stressful time for Dame Enid. She was 41 years old, she had 11 children, and her husband had just died at a very young age. As the Australian Dictionary of Biography also records:
When Joe Lyons died on 7 April 1939, Enid, exhausted and grief-stricken, plunged into a depression that only fully lifted when a daughter, noting that their Federal local member was retiring, persuaded her to stand for the House of Representatives.
As we know, as I remarked, yesterday, 21 August, was the 75th anniversary of her election.
I have read Dame Enid Lyons's speech a number of times since I became a candidate, in my previous life doing research and, certainly, since I've been elected. Her speech is really remarkable and I want to reflect on that today. I think, for all of us who get elected to this place, your maiden speech is one of the most stressful. It's a stressful moment, but it's also very emotional and very personal. I had the great honour of doing the very first maiden speech for this parliament, the address-in-reply speech. There have been nine women in this place who have given the very first speech to new parliaments—I think five Labor and four Liberal women. I want to thank the Parliamentary Library for gathering those statistics.
You certainly do feel the pressure when not only is it your maiden speech but you are the very first speech of all of the maiden speeches, so I can only imagine how Enid Lyons felt giving her first speech to the parliament. It really was a remarkable speech not just because she was the first woman—and, as I'll read in a moment, she took that responsibility very seriously—but given the political circumstances and the fact that Robert Menzies was still in the parliament and that her husband had recently passed away. So there she was amongst her husband's colleagues and with people who had caused him great stress at the end of his life, and caused her, of course, great stress as well. She delivered the speech with wonderful humour and made a very serious policy contribution, but she really held her emotions in check, which I think is just a remarkable testament to the sort of woman that she was. It's a remarkable achievement and also a testament to the woman that she was.
As Dame Enid Lyons said in her first speech:
It would be strange indeed were I not tonight deeply conscious of the fact, if not a little awed by the knowledge, that on my shoulders rests a great weight of responsibility; because this is the first occasion upon which a woman has addressed this house. For that reason it is an occasion which, for every woman in the Commonwealth, marks in some degree a turning point in history. 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 we know, not that many women have followed Dame Enid—not as many as we would like—into public service in the House of Representatives. I believe it's something like 115 women who have been elected since Federation, and certainly since 1943 when Dame Enid was elected. I want to recognise her today for the fact that she was an absolute trailblazer. She is one of my heroes and one of the reasons why I've worked very hard as a female member of the Liberal Party to do my bit to encourage other women to consider putting their hand up to become candidates for the party.
I'm grateful to my good friend and colleague Nick Cater for working with me and engaging me through the Menzies Research Centre on a 2015 report Gender and politics, which examines women in the Liberal Party and what we can do to encourage more women to get involved. Nick is a true champion of women in the Liberal Party. We revised the report in 2017, and I commend it to everyone, particularly people in the Liberal Party. Have a look at the suggestions we have as to how we can encourage more women to put their hand up for preselection and then support them to become elected, whether it is for the state or federal parliament. The most crucial message, though, I think, from the report is that the Liberal Party must always remain true to its principles when addressing the issue of female representation in the party. Robert Menzies really did put this very well back in 1943 and I want to read this quote because it's really important and it explains why the Liberal Party, certainly on my watch, will do everything to prevent quotas being introduced, because quotas are absolutely inconsistent with our principles. We need to find the best people for the job, which means that we can never support quotas. As Menzies said:
Of course women are at least the equals of men. Of course there is no reason why a qualified woman should not sit in parliament or on the bench or in a professorial chair or preach from the pulpit or, if you like, command an army in the field. No educated man today denies a place or career to a woman just because she is a woman.
But there is a converse position which I state with all respect but with proper firmness. No woman can demand a place or a career just because she is a woman. It is outmoded and absurd to treat a woman's sex as a disqualification; it seems to me equally absurd to claim it as a qualification in itself.
This is the beauty of the Liberal Party. This is why I am a Liberal: it is about giving people equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome.
'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.
On 21 August 1943, Dame Enid Lyons was elected to the House of Representatives. While in this day and age having women in parliament is nothing unusual, when she and Dorothy Tangney entered the white building down the hill, it caused quite a stir. Female toilets had to be designated. The procedure of the opening of the parliament had to be slightly amended—no more 'gentlemen members and gentlemen senators' in the Governor-General's opening.
Dame Enid first came to the public's attention as the wife of Prime Minister Joseph Lyons, and everyone knew that they were a true team. She took to the role of prime ministerial spouse at the time with great enthusiasm, using it as a platform to give speeches, write newspaper articles and generally promote traditional values. When her husband died in 1939, she withdrew from public life for a time. By the time of the 1943 election, she was convinced to run for the UAP for the Tasmanian seat of Darwin. She won and entered the House of Representatives, changing the House forever.
Dame Enid was the first woman to serve in the House and, subsequently, the first woman to serve in cabinet. She was an absolute trailblazer for all of the women who have followed her, including me. Her maiden speech to the House covered many topics, from the political situation in Europe to the employment situation here in Australia. But a common theme running through the entire speech was the central position of the family as the foundation stone of society. That is something that permeates in our party to this day. She quoted the late King George in her speech saying, 'The foundation of a nation's greatness is in the homes of its people.' For her, family was everything and provided much stability in her life. She and Joseph had 12 children. They were a great comfort throughout their lives.
She believed in hard work and the rewards that came from that. She believed that women should earn equal pay with men if they went out and worked. That was quite a radical idea at the time, considering that hers was an era and a time when women stayed at home. Dame Enid was instrumental in bringing in welfare payments for mothers as well as equal training for both men and women. She was a visionary. Dame Enid Lyons was one of the most highly decorated women of her generation. She was awarded the Dame Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
She was a household name across the country. She even wrote a column in The Women's Weekly and remained a commissioner of the ABC until 1962. As the first female chief whip of the Liberal Party in a sitting government, I'm one of those women who is very proud to follow in her trailblazing footsteps. We do need to keep celebrating the firsts in our party and in this parliament. Certainly Dame Enid has been honoured in many ways, from the naming of Dame Enid Lyons Place here in Canberra, to her being made a Dame of the Order of Australia in 1980. In the event that was held last night to recognise Dame Enid Lyons we saw so many of her family present. There was a re-enactment of her first speech, which was delivered so well and gave us a great sense not only of how Dame Enid would have spoken but of her feelings at the time.
I feel a great sense of pride in being in the same party as Dame Enid. Hers is a legacy that blazed a trail for women across all political persuasions, but I'm very proud that the first woman in the House of Representatives was Dame Enid Lyons. It is an absolute legacy that the women in the Liberal Party are proud to look up to and that we should never forget or stop celebrating. She placed her family and her country at the centre of her life, and that shone through in her contributions not only in the parliament but in the community during her three terms in this House. Three terms is a fantastic achievement.
It's absolutely a privilege to rise and speak on the legacy of this great Liberal woman. She paved the way for all women, including the women sitting in this chamber right now, who have followed her into this House. Her legacy is just as relevant today as it was in 1943.
I echo many of the comments of the member for Forrest. Dame Enid Lyons was the first. I cannot imagine how challenging it must have been for Dame Enid. Let's think about that time. Australia was at war. Darwin had been bombed. Our troops were fighting with the Allied forces on many, many fronts. On the home front, women were dealing with the consequences of war. They were managing children and family responsibilities alone. There were shortages of resources as well as fears for the future and the grief and trauma of losing young ones. Many women were also actively involved as nurses and many other active duties and contributed more actively to the war efforts through military service. At this time, quite extraordinarily, we had a woman in parliament—a widow, a mother of 12, a wife to a former member of parliament. I believe Dame Enid Lyons illuminated the way for all of the women who have followed her into the federal parliament, and now there is a long line of distinguished female parliamentarians. I'm so humbled and thankful to be a woman in this parliament and the first woman from my part of South Australia.
I will speak only briefly on this motion, but I would like to enter into my speech a small excerpt from Dame Enid Lyons's first speech, which was delivered on 29 September 1943. She commenced her speech:
It would be strange indeed were I not to-night deeply conscious of the fact, if not a little awed by the knowledge, that on my shoulders rests a great weight of responsibility; because this is the first occasion upon which a woman has addressed this House. For that reason, it is an occasion which, for every woman in the Commonwealth, marks in some degree a turning point in history. 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.
I believe that Dame Enid Lyons did a great service to women in this parliament and to our great nation, so I think it timely that we remember her speech from September 1943, and I thank her for her contributions to this great place.
Can I first reflect positively upon the contributions of the members for Mayo, Lyons, Braddon, Boothby and Forrest, who all spoke of the significance of Dame Enid Lyons. The member for Boothby told me that she hadn't really had a chance to properly consider her speech, but it was probably one of the best researched speeches that I have heard given on a motion of this nature, in particular her reflection upon the emotional context in which Dame Enid Lyons would have given her first speech, which Dame Enid did in the chamber after her husband had recently passed away and in front of so many of those who, she probably felt, had caused his early death through the stress that they had caused him.
Dame Enid Lyons was a pioneer for women in politics in Australia. It is 75 years since Dame Enid was elected the first woman in parliament. She paved the way for so many women to follow her journey to public life. In today's parliament there are 76 women. Enid narrowly won the seat of Darwin in Tasmania for the United Australia Party at the 1943 election. At the same election, Dorothy Tangney was elected as a Labor Party senator representing Western Australia. She was the first female senator to be elected.
Dame Enid's election in 1943 was not her first stint at politics. She narrowly lost the 1925 election for the seat of Denison by only 60 votes. Enid also supported her husband, former Prime Minister Joe Lyons. Enid and Joe were Australia's first political couple, and their children were the first children to live in the Lodge. In fact, the Lyons children were famous across the nation, with Joe and Enid inviting the press into the privacy of their home to take pictures of what was then a very new thing in newspapers. Of course, we need to also consider that travel in Australia in the 1920s was not as easy as it is today. So for Joe and Enid there was only one practical solution, and that was to move their family to Canberra.
Enid and Joe campaigned together. Enid made speeches and radio broadcasts for her husband and also alongside her husband. They thought of themselves as a team, and a true team they were, sharing and advancing so many of the political ideals and ideas that formed much of early Australia. But when Joe Lyons died in office in April 1939, Enid's greatest contribution to public life was still to come. Enid was left a widow, a widow with 11 children. Her husband's death was tragic and a tremendous loss not only for her but for this nation, whose democracy, at that point, was less than three decades old. She made the decision to enter parliament in her own right. It was a decision that, at the time, could not have been taken lightly. Her maiden speech, which many of the speakers today have referenced, was one that, no doubt, would have had more poignancy than most other maiden speeches, given the circumstances in which it occurred.
The anniversary of her first speech occurs next month. She must have thought very long and hard about what she would say in the chamber, given the death of her husband, and given that many of the people who had known him so well and caused him so much angst would be listening. She was re-elected twice, and after those elections Enid became the first woman to be in cabinet when she became the Vice-President of the Executive Council in 1949. She was widely credited with the Menzies government's decision to extend child endowment beyond the first-born child. This was a significant advancement for Australian families. It was a significant advancement for the federal government at a time when most people looked to their state governments, not to the Commonwealth, for such measures. To take this measure, as the Menzies government did—at a time when many people presumed the role of the Commonwealth government was a very limited one—was significant, but it was also a reflection of Enid and her husband's view that the family was the core of our society and anything the government could do to help advance that institution it should do. She advocated fervently, sensibly and, most importantly, persuasively for the raising of allowances paid to returned service women.
She was outspoken against the debarring of married women from employment in the Public Service. I was amazed to read only the other day that it was the Fraser government that actually got rid of the provision in the Commonwealth Public Service Act that said that when a woman became pregnant she had six months before she had to resign her position in the Commonwealth Public Service. Such provisions, it is amazing to think, Deputy Speaker Gee, were still in force in our lifetime. When you think about those things it is important to remember the massive advancements that we have made in the provision of equality of rights for all people in Australia, including, in this instance, pregnant women who are employed by the Commonwealth Public Service. Dame Enid Lyons was talking about this in the 1920s and 1930s, and the fact that it was not acted upon for 40 years is, I think, a testament against apathy and inaction—things are not inevitable. There is a current generation of people who believe quite fervently that things just get better. But this particular instance shows that it took nearly 40 years for something that was one of the core issues of one of the most important parliamentarians in the history of our nation to actually get advanced and to take effect.
In this very emotional speech, Enid's first speech, she canvassed policy ideas on an absolute multitude of issues. These issues were very relevant at the day but, when we go back and look, there was extraordinary foresight in those speeches as well. It is incredible that, even back in the 1930s, Dame Enid was talking about decentralisation. That's something that, frankly speaking, we have continued to try, but it has not successfully happened. I had someone the other day talking to me about traffic congestion on the northern beaches in my electorate of Mackellar. They said: 'Didn't the Fraser government try decentralisation? Whatever happened to that?' In actual fact, I was amazed to find in Dame Enid Lyon's first speech that she'd been talking about it in the 1930s. She also said—talking about her political philosophy:
… the problems of government were not problems of … statistics, but problems of human values and human hearts and human feelings …
She also 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.
Dame Enid put it so beautifully—so beautifully, I felt. She went on:
… and I believe this, too, with all my heart: that the duty of every government, whether in this country or any other, is to see that no man—
by which I presume she meant 'no person'—
because of the condition of his—
life, shall ever need lose his vision of the city of God.
Earle Page, the great National Party leader, nicknamed Enid 'the woman who wouldn't be sat down'. I think that that goes to the proud idea that she stood up for what she believed, and she stood up for what she believed at a time and at a place when often groupthink is too easy to accept, to know. Others referred to her as the 'lady member'. She was both literally and figuratively a lady, and the sole female member of the House of Representatives.
Dame Enid suffered from various illnesses and ailments during her life and, ultimately, it was her ill health that forced her early retirement at just 53. Of course in the 1920s and 1930s life expectancy was much lower and 53 was considered to be quite a senior age. Now I hear that 70 is the new 50—as I approach my 50th birthday, I hope that's true. We owe her and Dorothy Tangney, through their election to the parliament, a very significant debt. It was a very significant moment in our history. We honour their memory. I would like to thank all the members who felt it proper to give speeches on Dame Enid today, especially the members for Lyons and Braddon, and in particular the member for Boothby, who gave an incredibly eloquent and well-researched speech.
Seventy-five years have passed since Dame Enid Lyons gave her maiden speech in the federal parliament in 1943. She was the first woman ever to be elected to the Australian House of Representatives, and also the first woman to serve in federal cabinet. But these historical snapshots are among many of her achievements. Enid Muriel Lyons was the mother of 12 children, which even today might make thoughts of an additional occupation well-nigh impossible. She has been described as living life at a killing pace. Not only managing all of her family responsibilities, she was also actively involved in her husband's political career.
Long before Enid's election to the House of Representatives she was an articulate and persuasive speaker. Her mother ensured that she took elocution lessons and encouraged her to speak or perform whenever she had an audience. She also took her to the Tasmanian state parliament, where the fresh-faced 15-year-old first met Joseph Aloysius Lyons, Labor member for the state seat of Wilmot. They would eventually marry on 28 April 1915 at Wynyard. Joe was 35 and Enid just 17. After Lyons moved to the federal House of Representatives in 1929 Enid remained closely involved in his career. In 1932 several nationalists revolted and brought down the government. With Enid's encouragement Joseph Lyons was elected leader of a minority Labor government, before the United Australia Party split, becoming Prime Minister until his passing in 1939. His first act as PM was to write to Enid, noting, 'whatever honours or distinctions come are ours, not mine.'
After Joseph passed away, Enid fell into a deep depression, which, by her own admission, was likely caused by inactivity. She then decided to pursue her own political career. In her maiden speech she spoke on social security, a declining birth rate, the need for an extension of child endowment, housing, the family and the importance of looking ahead to postwar policies. She really did have a strong belief in the right of women to take their place in government. I quote from her maiden speech to federal parliament in 1943:
I believe, very sincerely, that any woman entering the public arena must be prepared to work as men work; she must justify herself not as a woman, but as a citizen; she must attack the same problems, and be prepared to shoulder the same burdens. But because I am a woman, and cannot divest myself of those qualities that are inherent in my sex, and because every one of us speaks broadly in the terms of one's own experience, honorable members will have to become accustomed to the application of the homely metaphors of the kitchen rather than those of the operating theatre, the workshop, or the farm. They must also become accustomed to the application to all kinds of measures of the touchstone of their effect upon the home and the family life …
I am delighted that the honorable member for Denison Dr. Gaha should have secured the honour of having introduced to this chamber, in this debate, the subject of population … I, like him, have pondered on this subject—not with my feet upon the mantle-piece, but knee-deep in shawls and feeding bottles … I consider that something more than decentralization is necessary if the population of Australia is to be increased.
The response from politicians, the press and the public was overwhelming. She would note afterwards: 'In that place of endless speaking, no-one had ever made men weep, and I wasn't even trying to do so.' As a politician, Enid was a strong advocate for women, yet not necessarily a feminist, debating robustly on issues including population, immigration, international affairs, agricultural development, finance and energy.
Enid Lyons did not lead an easy life, suffering a host of medical conditions and recurring ill health. Her health was much improved after she retired from politics in 1951 to become a newspaper columnist and to serve as a commissioner of the ABC from 1951 to 1962. Remaining active, Enid published three sets of memoirs and was vocal always in family's and women's issues. She was made a Dame of the Order of Australia on Australia Day in 1980. She passed away the following year, late in 1981.
I encourage the women in our federal and state parliaments, who come to these places with a path much easier than Dame Enid had, to consider the example of Dame Enid and reflect on all the things she achieved. She's known today, but not well known, and I think she should be a lot better known. I really thank my colleague, the Minister for Revenue, Kelly O'Dwyer, for moving this motion and for highlighting the extraordinary life of Dame Enid. I will just quote from the Minister for Revenue's final remarks about Dame Enid:
Tonight we celebrate Enid's achievements and forge our future. Like Enid, we have a duty to our country to carry the lamp that she lit on that spring evening in 1943 and to ensure that many more women will follow in our footsteps to serve and contribute to our nation. Although she was famously described as a 'bird of paradise among carrion crows', I prefer to think of Dame Enid in far more sturdy terms as someone who was smart, energetic and determined, as someone passionate about politics, her husband, about her 12 children, and about our nation. She was seen and heard and she was magnificent.
I'm very proud to add my name to the list of speakers on this motion commemorating Enid Lyons's election to parliament, one of the pivotal figures in Australian history. I would also like to acknowledge my female parliamentary colleagues on all sides of politics. They truly do a wonderful job not only of representing their constituents but also exemplifying the opportunities that exist for women right around Australia. As we say, you can't be what you can't see.
I had the honour of attending an re-enactment of Dame Enid Lyons's maiden speech in Old Parliament House last night. It truly was a wonderful event. It was impossible not to be moved by the poignancy of the moment. The first woman to be elected to parliament and also the first woman to be elected to cabinet delivering a speech that would be etched into Australian history. And, of course, the words reflected a different era. Much has changed over the last 75 years but also a lot has not changed. In her introduction, Dame Enid captured the feeling of trepidation that accompanied a turning point in history, as she said:
I know that many honourable members have viewed the advent of women to the legislative halls with something approaching alarm; they have feared, I have no doubt, the somewhat too vigorous use of a new broom.
I can't recall her exact words but she did go on to talk about that she did know a bit about brooms given she had had 12 children and had to do her fair share of cleaning up. But she was a new broom in terms of the way that business was done 75 years ago in federal parliament.
In present day Australia, women in the parliament have become more commonplace. I and millions of other people believe Australia is a better country for that. The parliament and indeed the country is a much more inclusive environment in the modern world. Yet the work is far from over. Seventy-five years after Dame Enid entered parliament, women still make up less than half of this parliament. Women are still less likely to be promoted and are underrepresented in senior positions. And there is a persistent view that, when women do make it to senior positions in any workplace, not just federal parliament, there are finite positions available. There is also a view, and my own experience has borne this out, that a woman needs to be better than her male counterparts to get ahead. The idea that only a certain number of women can fit into the structure of a management or executive team or a board remains one of our greatest challenges, and it holds the nation back.
I personally don't support quotas, preferring that people are selected on merit, but that has its challenges. I do support targets, but they need to be taken seriously by the party, and we're not there yet—we are far from it. The Liberal Party has a target of preselecting women to 50 per cent of winnable seats by 2025. I think there are a few practical things that the party ought to do to be able to achieve that target. Firstly—and I think this is key—we need to work a lot harder to support the female members of parliament that we have and then to encourage aspiring MPs. We do need a formal sponsorship program that gets more women into the pipeline and exposed to preselectors, which is the key. The WA Liberal Party I believe are starting to take action on this front. I congratulate them for that. I'm doing my bit to support them.
We know that diversity is an asset. An equal, balanced workplace leads to better outcomes, higher productivity and greater efficiency. A McKinsey Global Institute report in June 2017, which investigated advancing women's equality in Canada, found that increasing diversity correlated with better business practice. That report suggested a more diverse workforce had the potential to add $150 billion to the country's incremental GDP by 2026. Similar studies have suggested that, globally, GDP could increase by $12 trillion by advancing gender equality.
We've some way to go, I'm sure you would agree. The reasons for pursuing such a goal are valid on a number of fronts. The economic arguments alone are worth pursuing. Why shouldn't we create a culture that encourages a diverse workforce and signals to young women all around the world that they can aspire to the highest level of their profession? This is a universal issue that requires a united approach from both men and women. It's not just a women's issue; it is a men's issue as well. Women of this parliament and female leaders across the nation share this responsibility. Dame Enid recognised it from the moment she made history with her inaugural speech, when she said:
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.
It's a potent message that still resonates today. Strong female leaders are role models for their younger peers in this nation, and we must never lose sight of this. It is a huge responsibility for female politicians.
We've come a long way since Dame Enid gave her inaugural speech to the Australian parliament on 29 September 1943. Much of the progress we've made can be attributed to the foundations laid by Dame Enid and the Australian women who dismantled the stigma that women are unfit to be leaders of our great country. Our duty now is to continue this work so that future generations may reap the benefits that a diverse and accepting nation has to offer. Once again I would like to pay my respects to Dame Enid Lyons, a champion of women and a champion of Australia.
Federation Chamber adjourned at 12:19