Fact Sheet I4

Fact Sheet I4 Women in Parliament

 

Summary: Women first voted in Victorian elections in 1908, but could not become members of Parliament until 1924. Since then Victoria has had many female members, including ministers, and a female Premier.

Women and the vote

First women to run for Parliament

First female Assembly members

First female Council members

Trend since the first female members

Women in cabinet

Presiding officers

First female Governor

Female Clerks

Breastfeeding in the Chamber

 

Women and the vote

Victorian women could not vote in State elections until 1908, making Victoria the last state to give women the vote.  From 1889 to 1908 many private members’ bills were introduced in an effort to grant women voting rights.

Victorian women first voted in the Legislative Council election of 1910, and then in the general election of 1911.  It wasn't until 1924 that women were allowed to stand for Parliament in Victoria. 

Resistance to granting women the vote

Many arguments were raised in both Houses of Parliament against women voting, including:

• women will be harmed by the rough and tumble of political life

• women have no interest in political matters

• women will only vote as their husbands tell them to

• the majority of women do not want to vote

• women should influence Victoria through family duties, not by voting

• women are naturally incapable of performing the same duties as men

• legislation will become hysterical, as men will have no check on women’s behaviour

• women have something higher and nobler to aim at than voting. They have their homes to look after, and children to raise.

Parliament granted women the vote accidentally

Parliament accidentally granted women the right to vote in Legislative Assembly elections in 1863.

The Electoral Act of 1863 allowed all ratepayers listed on local municipal rolls to vote in Assembly elections. Parliament had overlooked a local government law which included women in municipal rolls for local government elections. Those women could vote in the general election of 1864.

Parliament reversed its error in 1865 by restricting the vote to male ratepayers only. It took 43 years before women were again granted the vote in Victoria.

Monster petition

In 1891 members of women’s suffrage groups collected signatures for a petition requesting the vote for women. They collected almost 30,000 signatures, a record at the time.

Premier James Munro tabled the petition in Parliament on 29 September 1891.  The petitioners believed that ‘Women should Vote on Equal terms with Men’ and asked the Assembly to give women the vote.

The original signature sheets are stuck to a fabric backing, creating a continuous list of signatures almost 260 metres long.  The petition is stored at the Public Record Office.

First women to run for Parliament

Women could not stand for election until 1924. The first female candidate for the Assembly was Alicia Katz, who ran as a Labor Party member in the Barwon electorate in 1924.

The first female candidate for the Council was Grace Muriel Stratton.  She stood as an independent in the Higinbotham electorate in 1952. 

Both candidates were unsuccessful.

First female Assembly members

The first female member of the Parliament of Victoria was Lady Millie Peacock. Her husband, Sir Alexander Peacock, died while he was the member for Allandale. Lady Millie was elected unopposed at the subsequent by-election in 1933.

Lady Millie only made one speech during her time in Parliament, in support of improving working conditions in shops and factories.  She did not seek re-election.

Ivy Weber was the first woman elected to the Parliament of Victoria at a general election. She was the independent member for Nunawading from 1937 to 1943. She had 11 children and was a member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union and the National Council of Women.  

First female Council members

The first women to win a seat in the Legislative Council were Gracia Baylor, Liberal member for Boronia Province, and Joan Coxsedge, Labor Member for Melbourne West. Both were successful in the 1979 election.

Trend since the first female members

Between 1948 and 1967 there were no female members in the Victorian Parliament. This followed the general trend of women resuming traditional gender roles after the end of the Second World War, as men returned from service.

Five women were elected to Parliament in the 1970s. Since then women’s participation has steadily increased to the current 49 out of a total 128 members of Parliament.

Women in cabinet

In 1990 Joan Kirner became the first female Premier of Victoria, and the second in Australia.  She is still the only woman to be Victorian Premier. She held power from 10 August 1990 until 3 October 1992.

Pauline Toner was the first female minister in Victoria. She was appointed minister for Community Welfare Services in 1982.

There are currently nine female ministers.

Presiding officers

In 2003, Judy Maddigan was elected as the Assembly’s first female Speaker. Before this she was the first woman to be Deputy Speaker.

Monica Gould was the first female President of the Legislative Council. She was also elected in 2003.

Find out more, please see: Fact Sheet H2: The Speaker

First female Governor

The current Governor, Linda Dessau AM, is the first woman in the role. She became Governor on 1 July 2015.

Female clerks

The Clerk advises the Speaker and members impartially on parliamentary procedure and manages the Department of the Legislative Assembly.

The first woman to become a clerk was the Deputy Clerk appointed in 2004. In 2007 the Assembly appointed its first female Serjeant-at-Arms. Find out more, please see: Fact Sheet H3: The Clerk, Fact Sheet H4: The Serjeant-at-Arms

Breastfeeding in the Chamber

Shortly after the 2002 election, the new member for Forest Hill, Kirstie Marshall, brought her baby into the Chamber to breastfeed. Under the rules, only members and parliamentary staff are allowed in the Chamber during debates.

The Speaker did not allow her to stay and Ms Marshall left the Chamber with her baby.

This incident sparked a lot of media and public comment about breastfeeding in Parliament and other workplaces.  A few weeks later the Speaker relaxed the rules.  Now, if a member needs to be in the Chamber, they can bring an infant in to breastfeed.

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Issued by the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, September 2015

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