Senate debates

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Ministerial Statements

Lyons, Dame Enid Muriel, AD, GBE

6:07 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

Today we celebrate a great Australian, a great Tasmanian and a great woman. Seventy-five years ago she won the first seat for a woman in the House of Representatives, a milestone in the history of the development of our democracy in Australia. I'm very pleased to say that she did so as a member of the party that I have the honour of representing, just as much as the party that I have the honour of representing can also boast the fact that we achieved the first Aboriginal in this parliament in Senator Neville Bonner and, of course, the first Indigenous minister in the honourable Ken Wyatt. The Liberal Party has a proud history in this regard.

Today we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the election of Enid Lyons to the seat of Darwin, and as has been recalled it was a very close call on the first occasion; the second occasion, a bigger margin; and the third time an even bigger margin, which is indicative of the way that she was able to interact with her fellow citizens. She was a much loved woman right around Australia, given that she had such a high profile—especially for those days—as the wife of Prime Minister Joe Lyons.

Indeed, he knew her electoral dynamism that much that on many occasions when they travelled he would physically encourage her to go onstage to talk to the people that he had also been addressing. He acknowledged how very successful she was in his political career. Theirs was a true partnership, a partnership of love to each other, dedication to each other and their family, and also service to the nation.

It was one of those things that, as the then Prime Minister Joe Lyons lay dying in a hospital bed, she was able to come up from Tasmania and see him before he passed—something that was very poignantly recorded for us in some of the wonderful writings of Anne Henderson, who has written on both Joe Lyons and Enid Lyons and has recorded their very important role in Australia's development, especially through the Great Depression. Mr Lyons was able to manage the Australian economy in ways that allowed us to recover from the Great Depression so much more quickly and better than, for example, the United States. I have no doubt that part of that economic management and the plan for that—that when times are tough you tighten your belt a bit—would have come from Enid Lyons herself, the strength that was so important to the success of Prime Minister Lyons's time in office and, of course, to the great benefit to the Australian people.

Enid Lyons was a person who served her God, who served her family and who served her nation, and somebody who was more than willing to put service above self. Indeed, many a time, she suffered from the long absences of her husband—because, when Mr Lyons first started, getting to parliament wasn't a simple aeroplane trip; you had to get a steamer across Bass Strait and then a train to Canberra. Just for the record, Mr Lyons was the first Prime Minister that entered into an election campaign travelling by commercial airline, and it was seen as something quite fantastic that a Prime Minister could appear in Melbourne and Sydney on the same day to give election speeches. Nowadays, I think they do about four or five capital cities in the one day, given the various time zones. In those days, it was trailblazing—but it was also very, very long absences from each other for a couple whose love for each other was there on display, for all to see.

It was a great privilege of mine to be able to actually meet Dame Enid Lyons when she came to a few Liberal Party state council meetings when I was a few years younger. She was a hit. Irrespective of who may have been the guest speaker or the parliamentary leader at the time, everybody wanted to make a beeline for Dame Enid Lyons and shake her hand. She really was a person of great stature, metaphorically speaking, because she was not physically of great stature but a wonderful individual, a person who lit up the room when she entered it and whom everybody fussed over. And that was very much deserved by her, given her wonderful contribution, her selfless contribution, first to her husband and her family, and then to her nation, rising to be not only the first woman elected to the House of Representatives but the first woman in a cabinet position.

It is appropriate that we as a nation do stop from time to time to consider these milestones in our electoral and democratic system, and Dame Enid Lyons's contribution has to be seen as one of those very, very significant milestones. I simply finish by saying that Dame Enid Lyons was a role model for everybody, irrespective of whether you were male or female. But, of course, she was a trailblazer for women in this country. She's someone we should all aspire to emulate, irrespective of our political branding. Tonight I'm delighted to be able to join in saluting the service of Dame Enid Lyons and celebrating the occasion of the 75th anniversary of her election to this parliament.


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