Tuesday, 21 August 2018
Lyons, Dame Enid Muriel, AD, GBE
Don't you love that quote? She was a trailblazer just for being here, but she also had some extraordinary achievements while in office. Hers was a reasonably short parliamentary career, only eight years. She left out of ill-health in the end. This is extraordinary: she had an undiagnosed broken pelvis, which was from one of her earliest pregnancies. You can imagine, after 12 children, to have an undiagnosed broken pelvis, to have run for parliament and to have sat in the House of Representatives all that time, was an extraordinary physical achievement, if nothing else, and the travel back and forth to Tasmania. We could only imagine what that would have been like.
While she was here, she made some very significant contributions to issues that were important not just to women but also to the nation and specifically with regard to women and children. She had a very unique perspective on women's issues. Things like maternal health care, the widows pension, elimination of employment discrimination and particularly the extension of child endowment to first children. She also fought to see legislation passed which secured citizenship rights for women after marriage to foreigners. It was unusual at that stage for women to maintain their cultural identity after marriage. Also, and I love this one in particular, she ensured that allowances to servicewomen who returned from the Second World War matched those of returned servicemen.
Her electoral successes were also enviable. The 800 votes that she won by in her first ballot she tripled in her primary vote at the next election and quadrupled it after that. If only those of us in this place, and in the other place, could experience such electoral success today I think we'd be very pleased with ourselves.
Prime Minister Robert Menzies promoted her to be vice-president of the Executive Council, which made her the first woman to hold a cabinet position—although it wasn't a portfolio that she held. It was widely regarded that she was certainly capable of being a cabinet minister and holding a portfolio, but her ill health caught up with her. Prior to the 1951 election, she was in quite a significant car accident, went to hospital and had a number of operations. That was what it was that eventually forced her retirement.
I think that her insights, her policy legacy, her wit and her wisdom have endured throughout time. It is, in fact, timeless. She once reflected, and I have used this quote before, that our nation:
… is still a land of promise. We cannot afford to neglect some recognition of our past, even though we gaze into the future.
She certainly was a woman who blazed a trail. In a political climate where voters remain distrustful and removed from their representatives, it's women like Dame Enid Lyons and their legacy that remind us of why we're here, the importance of what we do and the importance of representing not just one section of Australia but all Australians.