House debates

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Private Members' Business

Country Women's Association

12:10 pm

Photo of Anne WebsterAnne Webster (Mallee, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) recognises the importance of the Country Women's Association (CWA) in the lives of rural and regional towns across Australia;

(2) notes that the mission statement of the CWA is 'to advance the rights and equity of women, families and communities in Australia through advocacy and empowerment, especially for those living in regional, rural and remote Australia';

(3) acknowledges the:

(a) CWA has over 44,000 members in 1855 branches across Australia; and

(b) vision of the founder of the CWA, Ruth Fairfax OBE; and

(4) congratulates the CWA on almost a centenary of service to rural and regional Australia.

Ruth Beatrice Fairfax was born in October 1878 at Lue, near Rylstone, New South Wales. On 2 February 1899 she married John Hubert Fraser Fairfax, with whom she had one child. In 1922 she was elected president of the newly established Queensland Country Women's Association, and she spent the subsequent six months touring the Queensland outback, establishing branches of the Country Women's Association. Ruth was a principled woman and lived her life by the code that now guides all branches of the Country Women's Association. Ruth led by example and opened her property for fetes, pageants, meetings and entertainment for patriotic and charitable causes. She exhausted her efforts to advance the rights and equity of women, families and communities in regional, rural and remote Australia.

Ruth is now immortalised as the namesake for the federal electoral division of Fairfax in Queensland, represented today by Mr Ted O'Brien. Her legacy is also taken up by the 1,855 branches across the country that continue her inspiring work for the benefit of country women and their communities. For example, just three years ago, the CWA of Australia commissioned research in partnership with the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the National Farmers Federation to investigate the health needs of rural, regional and remote Australia, with a report launched in August of 2017. This research has provided knowledge to all of us about rural and regional health and the inequities experienced in our communities. It provided an insightful perspective into how funding needs to be spent, which has informed policy decisions from the government.

The Victorian branch of the CWA and its 5,000 members are also carrying the torch lit by Ruth Fairfax. Each member belongs to one of 300 branches across Victoria that maintains its own program and is empowered to meet community needs. It's a vibrant, self-funded volunteer philanthropic organisation with a focus on friendship and personal development and advocacy. Its commitment is to make a difference in each community and advocate on community issues, sustainable development and the protection of the environment, as well as social issues. The CWA of Victoria awards education grants and scholarships while providing training and leadership opportunities to members. State president Marion Dewar says:

The Country Women's Association of Victoria has helped women, children, families and communities for over 92 years. We pull together and use our resources to benefit people in our local areas and beyond. At the same time, we enjoy the support of fellow members and learn new skills.

In Mallee, there are over 35 CWA branches, some of which I've had the privilege of speaking to. The sense of community and purpose within these organisations is wonderful, and the diversity of membership is perhaps their greatest strength. Membership to these groups is not based on any particular attribute other than being a woman. The Victorian branch has contributed greatly to agricultural life in Victoria. It has assisted in the coordination of numerous drought support initiatives and has recently been contributing to WorkSafe Victoria's agricultural safety reference group to improve safety and reduce the number of workplace deaths and serious injuries occurring on farms.

The CWA and its many branches has proven its heart and commitment for rural and regional Australians, for women, children and families, for nearly 100 years, and I commend them for this ongoing service to communities across Mallee and Australia.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member. Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Julian SimmondsJulian Simmonds (Ryan, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

12:15 pm

Photo of Helen HainesHelen Haines (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

As country women, we know that the Country Women's Association of Australia is more than an organisation; it is the lifeblood of so many rural and regional communities. Few institutions win as much respect from right across the country as the CWA, and for good reason. These are women doing important work on behalf of all rural and regional Australians. The CWA is much more than a bunch of ladies having tea and baking scones, although they do plenty of that. The CWA is a progressive organisation, taking stands on issues most important to rural people. Much like a good ginger fluff, the CWA may appear genteel, delicately mixed and expertly baked, but there's a good dose of spice! In its own words, the CWA 'advances the rights and equity of women, families and communities in Australia through advocacy and empowerment, especially for those living in regional, rural and remote Australia'—equity and empowerment. This year, the Victorian state conference, which would have been held on the last weekend of May, was to debate motions on issues as diverse as plastic pollution, TV gambling, mobile telecommunications, the age pension and e-cigarettes. The women of the CWA are no shrinking violets. They are powerful advocates for the bush, looking out for the interests of regional Australia and showing our city cousins the best that the regions have to offer. They fund research into rural health and professional development scholarships for nurses and midwives, they promote farm safety, and they are a powerful voice for mental health.

I'd like to pay tribute today to all the CWAs across the country and to all the women who lead them, particularly the 24 branches of the CWA in my electorate of Indi, from Kinglake and Yarck in the south to Kergunyah, Cudgewa and Tintaldra in the Upper Murray. There are many extraordinary examples of the work of the CWA, but today I'll illustrate the leadership of some of them. There are women like Dhirleen Clark and Elizabeth Harvey, president and secretary of the Wodonga CWA. In Wodonga, Dhirleen and Elizabeth lead a group of women who cook for local events, raise money for local projects through sausage sizzles and the like, and advocate on issues important to women. Their main goal this year is to raise money to build a covered pathway from the Hilltop cancer hostel to the Albury-Wodonga hospital. This is classic CWA—seeing the hidden needs of the community and quietly going about their business to get things done. On top of that, they're doing this project hand in hand with the local Men's Shed.

But this year also brought a pandemic. Building on the theme 'Grow, connect and improve', the Wodonga CWA have developed an impromptu support network to help their most vulnerable members through the crisis. For many of the older women, many of whom aren't online, the CWA is the main source of social interaction, so the Wodonga CWA started a phone chain to ensure that all women continued to maintain social contact, even as the lockdown was imposed. Recognising that the lockdown means many women will be placed in vulnerable situations, they've been advocating strongly on violence against women and domestic violence—tragically, issues that are all too important in 2020. The pandemic, of course, threw off many plans. The Wodonga branch had planned an outreach event with women from the local African community, which is growing in Wodonga. Those plans have had to be delayed, but I look forward to both communities coming together when we're able to again.

I'd also like to recognise the North-Eastern CWA group, led by their president, Wilma Bright, for their work during the bushfires. When fires came to Corryong, the women from Rosewhite branch cooked 360 meals, hopped into their cars, went to the Corryong area and knocked on any door where it looked like the people were affected by bushfire or could use a meal. The Oxley-Milawa branch sent personal care bundles, and women across the region spent countless hours knitting and crocheting for bushfire affected communities. The bushfires brought out the best in us, and the CWA is the best in us. The CWA is a treasured national institution and I hope it remains that way for many years to come. To all its 44,000 members, thank you, and I wish you well.

12:19 pm

Photo of Julian SimmondsJulian Simmonds (Ryan, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In starting, I thank my very good friend and colleague the member for Mallee for the opportunity that this motion affords, and that is to rise and pay testament to the wonderful women of the Queensland Country Women's Association. With three regions, 20 divisions and over 240 branches, the QCWA is the largest and most widespread women's organisation in Queensland. Since 1922, the QCWA has ensured women from all over Queensland have come together for fellowship, to share skills and to support their local community with fundraising. The QCWA now has more than 3,800 members statewide at over 240 locations—a tremendous outcome for service organisations at a time when other service organisations are struggling. The vision of the QCWA as an organisation is a testament to their community focus. It reads:

For the women of Queensland to come together to support communities whilst celebrating their interests and forging friendships in a respectful and caring environment.

In my electorate of Ryan, the QCWA women are certainly living up to that vision. There are QCWA branches at Toowong, Kenmore, Brookfield and Moggill. And, lest anyone think that my primarily urban electorate doesn't warrant CWA representation, I'll have them know that the Moggill branch of the QCWA is, in fact, the largest in the state, which is something that those members should be incredibly proud of. That's primarily due to the exceptional efforts of Christine King, now state president, who has long been a driving force for the CWA in the electorate of Ryan. I congratulate her on those efforts. The CWA are always there to support their community and particularly their regional and rural sisters. Much of the QCWA's work over the past 20 years has focused on assisting drought affected or flood affected women and their families. In particular, I recall that during 2011, during the terrible flood that impacted Queensland and Brisbane and which traumatically impacted my community in Ryan, the QCWA raised and distributed over $400,000 to support more than 500 families—a tremendous effort.

In the electorate, we are particularly proud of the annual Moggill QCWA Christmas craft store, which is the highlight of the local calendar, raising much-needed funds for issues including drought and flood relief. The community enjoys purchasing quilts, Christmas decorations, fabrics and toys, many of them homemade, in support of these wonderful and dedicated women. Lest anyone think that there isn't a place for service organisations in this now fast-paced and sometimes selfish world, I recall that it was only 12 months ago this month that we were acknowledging that the QCWA had achieved a 10 per cent membership jump in just six months and were reopening branches across the state, some in entirely new locations.

On a personal note, I want to record in the Hansard, and for the chamber, that my grandmother, with whom I was exceptionally close, was a member of our local Brookfield branch of the QCWA in my electorate. She loved the fellowship, particularly her participation in the choir, and, as she progressed through an illness that would ultimately see her pass, I remember the great joy she took from the friendships she gained at the Brookfield QCWA, particularly the women who continued to come around to her place and support her long after the illness meant that she couldn't, herself, attend the meetings. Our family will always be grateful for the support that those wonderful women of the CWA in the Brookfield branch provided to my grandma and that I know they are providing to women right across the state.

It is a pleasure to pay tribute to all of those women in the Ryan electorate and around the state of Queensland who are part of the QCWA. Together, they are improving the lives of their local community members and of people living in regional, rural, and remote Queensland. I encourage women in the electorate of Ryan to consider the QCWA local branches as their first option if they are seeking to make a contribution, if they are seeking friendship, if they are seeking to make a meaningful contribution locally.

12:24 pm

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Oxley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

For decades, the Country Women's Association of Australia has been an essential voice that has advanced the voice and rights of women across Australia. Their advocacy on behalf of Australian women is as strong as it was 75 years ago. Their voice influences change across our nation—a change which is empowering and improving the lives of women, their families and their communities, particularly those living in regional, rural and remote Australia. Not only does the CWA provide a voice for these women; it also provides a community that connects 44,000 members in 1,855 branches, as we've heard, across Australia. Amongst many things, the CWA provides communities with support and a sense that they are never alone as they persevere through some of the great challenges that regional, rural and remote communities experience daily. One example is the current drought in Australia. The CWA has distributed over $30 million in household support to affected families. In the words of founding president Ruth Fairfax, 'Branches meet together every month socially and to discuss the affairs of their district and help to further its interests, trying to break down the barriers that have gradually arisen between people and do away with suspicion and the fear of being belittled.' In 10 August 1922, in the Albert Hall in my home city of Brisbane, a need was seen for the connection and networking of regional and country women. This is where Ruth Fairfax was elected president of the Country Women's Association in Australia. From here, she began her tour of outback Queensland, where she established the outback branches and suburban branches, including the Oxley CWA.

Since March 2020—fast-forward—the members of the QCWA Oxley branch have continued to work with their community to aim to reduce the impact of COVID-19, particularly on women and children, and have supported many initiatives aimed at providing support for those facing addiction or domestic violence. The division of the Oxley CWA is for women of Queensland to come together to support their communities whilst celebrating their interests and forging friendships in a respectful and caring environment. They've achieved this via advocating and providing opportunities for women centring on education, health and community throughout every phase of a woman's life.

I've proudly supported the Oxley Country Women's Association for many years, including my time as the local councillor representing the suburb of Oxley. I was able to support the relocation of their hall due to a railway infrastructure upgrade—a vital move to ensure the Oxley CWA still had a place they could meet and gather. They moved into a brilliant new all-purpose-built hall in Cawonga Park, Oxley, in February 2011. The old hall has been moved out to Warwick and is still used by the community there.

I'd like to make special mention and show my gratitude to the current executives and hardworking women of the Oxley women's CWA, including Jane Clark, who's done a remarkable job stepping up to this role in the last year. I'd also like to thank the current serving office-bearers: Lyn Lincoln, Sally Gardner, Diane Wootton, Pat Burgess and Norma Lovelace OAM. I know Norma, Lyn and Pat are long-serving members and have helped advance this vital social network, connecting families and women in the Oxley electorate. They do a remarkable job month in, month out looking after, particularly, new residents and new younger members, which has been a hallmark of the current executives' focus.

Over the years, I've attended a number of events that the CWA has put on, particularly their latest events the Easter competition and Christmas cake-eating competition, which I have become a master of. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there's never been a better time for the community to come together. As the member for Oxley, I've been consistently blown away by the tireless and enormous effort that community groups have displayed over the last six months. I want to place on record in the parliament of Australia my thanks to the Oxley Country Women's Association, and the entire CWA, for nearly 100 years of service to our country, alongside all branches nationally, as they play their part in connecting with, and advocating for, the safety and wellbeing of the community. Congratulations, Oxley CWA, and congratulations to the Country Women's Association in our nation.

12:29 pm

Photo of Tony PasinTony Pasin (Barker, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Firstly, I would like to begin by congratulating Dr Webster, the member for Mallee, for bringing this motion to this place and drawing the attention of the parliament to the very significant and important work that the Country Women's Association does right across the nation.

Like other members in this place who represent rural, regional and remote communities, my electorate is blessed with very many branches of the CWA working across all fields, and, on reflecting on this motion, I thought I could refer to one effort which I think is emblematic of the work that the CWA does across the nation. This work doesn't take place in my electorate; it's actually at the Royal Adelaide Show. The Royal Adelaide Show is, as you'd expect, a bustling hive of activity, where people are very busily getting on with having the fund that's associated with show endeavours. There's the type of food which we all shouldn't be consuming—there's the fairy floss, the sweets and the fried fare. Amongst all that chaos of activity, there's one sanctuary. That sanctuary, for as long as I can remember, has always been the CWA Country Cafe.

This is a place where, amongst all that bustling activity at the Royal Adelaide Show, you are met by friendly volunteers from branches across the state, where you can eat some home-cooked, hearty fare. It's a place where you can pause for a moment over a cup of tea and inevitably some home-cooked traditional scones. In that chaos that is the Royal Adelaide Show, there's just this quiet sanctuary.

I think that's emblematic of the work that the CWA does across my electorate, with volunteers coming together to support each other but, more broadly, to support the community. There is obviously a long tradition with cooking of a homely nature and high quality, and that happens at the Country Cafe as well. There is also an opportunity for people to pause and reflect on what's important in the context of a very busy and stressful world.

In addition to that, I would reflect on the fact that there is, increasingly, another role undertaken by the Country Women's Association that we wouldn't traditionally identify with the association. That role principally is in advocacy. As someone who came to this place seven years or so ago, I hadn't fully appreciated how much significant advocacy and agency is undertaken through the work of the CWA. I'm regularly contacted by the CWA about better health services for regional Australians and better telecommunications and connectivity and about issues relating to remote schooling. So, whilst we all immediately associate the CWA with scones, craft fairs and getting together and discussing issues in local communities, increasingly I'm noticing a push into the world of advocacy—and it's incredibly powerful.

The other phenomenon I have seen in my electorate which I'm really pleased to see is the demographic change in the CWA. Increasingly, young regional women are getting involved in this organisation. That's a shift that's occurred in, I'd suggest, the last decade. In particular, there's one branch of the CWA in my electorate in Naracoorte which are all young mums. They work alongside the longstanding traditional branch, but they have formed their own sub-branch. They do that because they are interested in working together on matters that are relevant to them.

To the volunteers of the CWA in my electorate, I say thank you very much for everything you have done over the long course. You're a testament to the resilience of regional Australians. You work very hard to ensure we have that resilience. When I reflect on the very good work you do in my electorate, I look to the example at the Royal Adelaide Show. I go there every year with my children, and I see there the good work and the agency that you do across South Australia and, by extension, across our nation. I think it is a great example of the very best of what the WA does.

12:34 pm

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise to support the proposition put forward by the member for Mallee, and I congratulate her for doing so. The story of rural and regional Australia is one of challenge, hardship and opportunity. This vast country of drought and flooding rains and those who have worked its natural resources are an iconic part of the Australian story. For almost 100 years, the women who are part of the Country Women's Association have been a crucial part of the story too. The formation of the CWA in 1922 was borne out of the shared struggle of rural families facing all the challenges you'd expect to be put in front of them as a result of isolation, or in some cases just relative isolation. The organisation's 1,855 branches boast 44,000 members. Despite all the changes in our society over the past 98 years, including of course on the technology front, the CWA is as relevant today as it was in 1922. What a tribute that is to the founder, Ruth Fairfax, and all those who have been and are involved in the organisation. In 1922, and for a long time after, women had very little role to play in the production of our food and fibre. Thankfully, we are a far more enlightened society today, and the skills and talents of Australian women are put to use in management, production and, of course, still in family roles. They can do it all. They are a part of policymaking and advocacy too—a key role for the CWA—and, of course, the current president of the National Farmers Federation is Fiona Simson.

Members of the CWA are often recognised for their cooking and craft skills. I can attest to some of those talents—I have been the beneficiary!—as can, of course, millions of other Australians who have benefited from their work. But cooking and craft are, of course, just a sample or a part of the work done by the women who make up the CWA. It is just a small part, really, of the work they do in our local communities.

Just as their work was so important during the Great Depression, their work has come into its own during floods and droughts, including the most recent drought, when we all saw the CWA playing a very, very important role. They are crucial when our rural Australians are facing the challenges put up by this great country of ours. Of course that's also been true throughout the course of this terrible COVID-19 period that we have been challenged by.

The CWA is also an organisation which is not fearful of speaking an independent mind, always. I think that's a very, very important part of the success and longevity of the organisation. Just this year, for example, the CWA expressed deep disappointment at parts of the government's response to the drought and assistance to drought-affected families. Indeed, the CWA described the $500 voucher for drought affected families as 'disappointing, infuriating, insulting, and disrespectful'. It's a matter of public record now that the CWA refused to be part of the distribution of that voucher system. An independent voice is exactly what rural and regional Australia needs, and it is something that it has enjoyed from the Country Women's Association.

I have a number of branches in my own electorate. I have had a lot of engagement with the women who formed those branches. I hold community morning and afternoon teas in various towns around my electorate, and more often than not I hire the CWA hall. It is a perfect quid pro quo, because I get to host my morning teas in a quality venue, and the CWA ladies get a donation from me as a result of those meetings—I pay very happily—and often provide the cup of tea and the sandwiches for those occasions. What a wonderful organisation. What a wonderful celebration. What a wonderful motion this is. It's been my great pleasure to support it.

12:39 pm

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (New England, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The CWA is an organisation that I've had a long involvement with through my family. Probably most prominent was my grandmother. My grandmother was one of the chairs of one of the divisions in her area. She lived at Adelong. I remember at one stage watching Four Corners. It was around the time of Germaine Greer and The Female Eunuch. On Four Corners there was a women's meeting. As I watched it I saw this lady in a big hat. She was holding forth, with a whole group of other people baying around her, trying to tear her argument limb from limb. I said to Natalie at the time, 'Look at this lady. Look at her bravery. She's standing up and really giving her position and argument, and she seems to be doing it in a very dignified way.' Then I looked at it and said, 'Hang on. That's my grandmother.' That personified what was there. My grandmother was not a shrinking violet. She was an early graduate of the University of Sydney. She had been a teacher in country areas. But her vision, I suppose at that time portrayed through the CWA, was that you can get a long way by being dignified and emotionally sober and presenting a point of view, and people will listen to that more than they will listen to volume. I suppose I should have taken more notice of her.

The CWA was formed in 1922. It's slightly younger than the National Party, so they have lived a parallel course. Its purpose, of course, was the benefit and advancement of women and children in regional areas; not exclusively regional areas, but especially regional, remote and agricultural areas. It was so vitally important in those days, as it is today, that people have the capacity to go out and meet other people and have that social interaction that alleviates some of the concerns that might be present in their minds and work to a common purpose of bringing about betterment to others.

It has a conservative moniker in 'honour to God, loyalty to the throne and service to the country'. But I suppose many members decide which parts of that they pick and choose. Service to the country, I believe, has been a pre-eminent form through that. For my grandmother, honour to God was also a strong issue. I don't know quite where she would have fitted on loyalty to the throne.

It is so incredibly important that we understand that the work of the CWA goes on. In recent times, especially with the drought, they have been exemplary in trying to do their part in getting aid, especially assistance with stock, out into the areas that have been afflicted by the drought. It is an issue that they have prevailed on, and people sometimes are cynical towards them, but as an organisation they have survived longer than others that have come and gone before them, I would dare say political parties that have come into existence and disappeared. It is a fact that sometimes there might be a cynicism about the so-called tea and scones group, the cranky women's association, all these pejoratives that might have been cast in their direction. But they are still there. In fact I think that they are growing now, probably more in urban areas than in regional areas. This in itself brings a change in the complexion and tenets of the organisation and where their motivations are. Maybe, to be quite frank, some of their political leanings have gone. That's entirely okay. Any organisation that is dynamic and can survive over a long period of time has to change with the times and evolve. The CWA is doing precisely that.

I remember the Latin quote—I think it was by Virgil—dux femina facti, which is 'the woman leads events'. That was a reflection on the queen of Carthage, Dido. That in itself has always shown that there are certain times which are pre-eminent in history and of the day, where the women will lead the events. The Country Women's Association of Australia does precisely that.

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There being no further speakers, the debate is adjourned. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.

Sitting suspended from 12:44 to 16:0 1