OPENING OF THE SESSION. A CEREMONIAL PROCEEDING. THE GOVERNOR’S SPEECH. EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES FORESHADOWED.
WOMEN’S FRANCHISE BILL. A LIVELY DEBATE. THE GOVERNMENT DEFEATED. A NEW MINISTRY TO BE FORMED.
The first Session of the Warragul Parliament was opened in the Public hall, on Tuesday evening, in the presence of a large attendance of the general public. Fully half of the space was set apart for the accommodation of “the House” and the remaining half was occupied by about three hundred spectators, in addition to whom some fifty ladies crowded the Speaker’s Gallery, for which the stage was set apart. The furniture of the House was arranged in strictly Parliamentary order and about sixty members put in an appearance. Everything being in readiness for opening the proceedings, the Speaker Mr Jas. Gray, preceded by the Sergeant-at-Arms, Mr. W. J. Morse carrying the gilded mace, entered the Legislative Chamber in processional order from the rear of the hall, and all the members rose in their seats to salute him. The Premier Mr. W. B. Harvey-and Leader of the Opposition Mr. P. J. Smith then retired and immediately returned escorting His Excellency the Governor Mr. E. W. Friend into the Assembly.
His Excellency at once surmounted the temporary platform on which was located the Speaker’s chair immediately in front of the stage, and withdrawing the GOVERNOR’S SPEECH from his pocket, proceeded to read it as follows: Mr. Speaker, and gentlemen of the Warragul Parliament. I have called you together to consider measures necessary for the carrying on of the business of the Country and the advancement of the National weal. Measures will be submitted to you, proposing that Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen, should confer the honour of Knighthood upon all Ministers, in lieu of pecuniary remuneration, and grant Certificates of Merit to all members of this honorable House, as compensation for their services. The insanitary condition of the drain, at the intersection of Queen and Smith streets is a cause of much uneasiness among the residents of Warragul, and a measure will be introduced to render compulsory on the responsible parties, the daily cleansing of this polluted channel. The erratic movements of the Post office clock have resulted in unspeakable annoyance to the general community, and in order to prevent a recurrence of these vexatious vagaries, a measure will be placed before you, proposing to administer condign punishment on the local postmaster, and all his subordinates. The financial position of the Warragul Shire Council is involving the Ratepayers in such a hopeless dilemma, that it is feared they will repudiate payment of the interest on the loans, amounting to £1700 a year, unless an effort is made by the Government to modify the burden.
In these circumstances the Government will ask your sanction to a measure, compelling the interest to be paid by those councillors who were responsible for this reckless borrowing, and thus deter future representatives from committing similar follies. There being no possibility of the Warragul Hospital being utilised for the purpose for which it was originally intended, your sanction will be asked to a measure authorising its sale by public auction, and the application of the proceeds to supplementing the altogether inadequate salary of, the shire official who fills the combined offices of secretary, engineer, nuisance inspector, valuer, rate collector, dairy fee worrier, dog tax enforcer, sanitary supervisor, and general entertainer of councillors and the public at all hours of the day and night. In consequence of the over-crowded state of the Warragul market, a measure will be introduced compelling owners of all vehicles with produce to proceed along Victoria st. in processional order, and unload in regular turn at the main entrance. The Warragul police will regulate the traffic on such days, provided they are not engaged in writing letters to the press, canvassing members for the A.N.A. or cultivating vegetables for the Agricultural Show.
In recognition of the brave and disinterested exertions of the ladies of the Warragul Benevolent Society, a Bill will be submitted for your approval, proposing to confer a sum of £1500 a year on such ladies, and giving them full permission to ride bicycles along the footpaths, and over the corduroyed portions of the public roads. A plague of auctioneers, and land and commission agents, having in recent years infested the town of Warragul it is proposed in order to mitigate the evil that from the 1st January next, all auctioneers shall pay a licence fee of £1000 and commission agents a fee in proportion to the amount of business done, the minimum fee to be fixed at £500. A measure will be at once placed before you, proposing to extend the franchise to women, and thus give state recognition to the principle of the political equality of the sexes.
I earnestly hope that your deliberations may advance the prosperity of the Warragul district, and conduce to the material well being of its impecunious people. The delivery of the speech was freely punctuated by outbursts of laughter, and on concluding the reading His Excellency handed it to the Clerk of Parliaments Mr. W. M. Clinton and retired from the Chamber escorted by the Sergeant-at-Arms. The Speaker then took the chair, and Mr. W. J. Langdon moved that a committee be appointed to draw up a reply to His Excellency’s speech. Mr. C. H. Round seconded, and the motion was carried on the voices. A number of questions having been asked and satisfactorily answered by Ministers, The Premier asked leave to introduce a Bill for the EXTENSION OF THE FRANCHISE TO WOMEN, and moved that it be read a first time. The motion was seconded by the Attorney-General (Mr. G. T. Wood) and having been agreed to on the voices.
The Premier rose amidst general cheering to move its second reading. He said: Mr. Speaker. It is now my privilege and pleasure to congratulate this honourable House that on this, the first night of its first session, it is to be engaged in considering a measure proposing to raise the status of women and for ever terminate what the Government contends to be a condition of indefensible injustice. (Hear, hear). To enable members to accomplish this object I have the honor to introduce for its second reading a Bill for the political enfranchisement of Women. Honorable members are already acquainted with its provisions. They are very simple and very few, and consequently will not require a lengthy speech to explain them to the House.
We, in short, propose to extend to women the same political freedom that the opposite sex enjoy, and to abolish that invidious and insulting distinction which places man at the apex of the political pedestal and allows woman to grovel helpless at its base. (Ministerial cheers). No woman, in the first place, will be entitled to vote who has not attained the age of 21, and, in the second place, no woman will be qualified as a voter unless she has resided for six consecutive months in a given constituency prior to the date of a general election. I am aware, sir, in submitting the measure to this Assembly, and in making it a question upon which the Government is prepared to stake its existence, that we are practically courting political disaster.
The measure, however, embraces a vital principle-the principle of the equality of the sexes-and the Government is quite prepared to pay the penalty of loyal adherence to that principle and its endeavour to put it into practice. (Loud cheers). In so doing I would remind the House that we are not proceeding without a precedent. This is no fantastic innovation in the legislation of the world. It has long since passed the experimental stage, and has been demonstrated to be a safe and honourable path along which a nation may travel. New Zealand to-day enjoys the distinction of having women voters on its electoral rolls. (Ministerial cheering). The Parliament of that colony was sufficiently far-sighted to recognise that the introduction of the feminine element into political affairs would exercise a beneficent influence in the Government of the country, and was sufficiently just to grant to its women the power that was theirs by inalienable right. (Hear, hear).
The conduct of that Government has been amply vindicated by the results. The new order of things came into operation at the last general election, and the analysis of the voting on that occasion gave the final quietus to the opponents of the measure in that advancing colony. The thread worn argument that women take no interest in political affairs was given a convincing denial, and we have it on record that the women there exercised the franchise in thousands, and in a more orderly and more intelligent manner than many of the men. (Loud cheers). What is possible in New Zealand is possible elsewhere. South Australia has therefore followed suit, and at the next electron in that adjoining colony the women will constitute a factor which no discerning candidate will venture to despise. (Hear, hear).
Looking further abroad we find that in the State of Wyoming, where women enjoy equal political rights, the testimony as to its benefits is decisive, and comes from governors, judges, superintendents of school boards, and many prominent citizens. Better legislators, better laws, and quietness and order at the polling booths, have been the result of more than twenty-one years trial of it. (Cheers). A similar measure has just been introduced into the Legislature of Victoria, and it will be a lasting stigma on the Parliament of Warragul if it tonight declines to move onward in the progress of the world. (Loud ministerial cheers). Opposition, however, we must expect, and opposition we shall have. But it is merely that opposition which attempts to frustrate every reform, and which in the end has to give way and fall as flat as the walls of Jericho. (Hear, hear).
Certain Hon. gentlemen opposite occupy the position of municipal councillors-a position to which they have been elected on a franchise which embraces womanhood suffrage in a limited degree. And although these enlightened custodians of parochial affairs are only too delighted to beam benignantly on their female supporters at the triennial elections, yet when tasked to give the same women similar power in the political world, they throw up their hands in holy horror and pronounce them absolutely incompetent to discharge this higher function. Where, gentlemen, is the consistency here ? I am aware that only rate paying women are allowed to vote at municipal elections, whereas under this Bill all women are included But what of that? Will hon. gentlemen opposite support this measure if its provisions are modified so as to extend the franchise to those women only who pay municipal rates ? (Loud Opposition cries of “No.”) This outburst of antagonism only emphasises the weakness of our opponents’ case, and their position is rendered the more perplexing from the fact that they view with complacency the installing of women as station-mistresses on our railways, as mistresses of our post offices, and as teachers in our public schools. Are not these important positions demanding the exercise of intelligence and judgment and requiring a knowledge of public affairs?
We, as men, should be proud of the women who can manage a station, conduct the business of a post office and excel in the art of teaching the young. And instead of questioning their fitness to discharge the duties of electors, should gladly welcome most of them as equal to ourselves, (Cheers) Perhaps the most important position that a woman can occupy in the public life of England today is that of a seat on the County Councils. Each county has its council, or local parliament, consisting of about 70 members-nearly as large as the Victorian Assembly-and the Imperial Parliament has delegated to these local government bodies many of the important functions it formerly discharged itself. The women members there are models of common sense and tact, (Ministerial cheers). There are no Mrs. Yates’ there.(Jeers from the Opposition). She is the exception which proves the rule and does not by any means represent the best product by which any system is entitled to be judged.
Women have also been a great success on the school boards of England, and to still further clinch the argument in support of the capability of women, and of the interest they take in national affairs, we have only to point to that very potent factor in English politics today the Primrose League, which consists mainly of women, whose objects are entirely political, and which numbers over a million members. (Loud cheers). The women of England have not yet been granted the franchise, but they exercise a mighty influence through the medium of the Primrose League, and thousands of them were actively engaged, in the recent elections throughout the length and breadth of the land. I will not dwell upon the many minor associations established and carried on by women, I will not dilate upon the splendid work they are doing as members of our Temperance Unions, nor refer to her achievements in the realm of literature and other professions, nor speak about her courage on the battle field, and her self-sacrificing devotion to the still small voice of duty. All such lofty appeals could awaken no response in the adamant breasts of hon. members yonder. (Ministerial cheers and ironical Opposition cheering). They would rather enfranchise wallabies than women. (Cheers and laughter).
Such is their exalted estimate of the feminine character. But that estimate will have to be revised. The intellect of the world ranged itself on the side of women. Mr Balfour, the leader of the British House of Commons, is an ardent supporter of the measure and Mr. Chamberlain, who is recognised as one of the ablest statesmen in Europe, in addressing a meeting of Liberal Unionist women in Birmingham, made use of the following remarks:- “I understand that you have occasionally meetings for the purpose of discussing political and social subjects. I think that is most desirable; but what I would press upon you is that you should take the occasion of these meetings to consider among yourselves the wants, the special wants and requirements of women in the matter of legislation.
There are a great number of instances in which, as women, you have a deep and special interest. There are for instance, such matters as the restrictions upon the employment of women, and there is the question of the laws of divorce and judicial separation, There is the question of the custody of children. There is the question of brutal assaults upon women and there is the great question of temperance. Now, these are all matters which, in my opinion, require to be considered in the light of women’s experience and if a great association like this would do something to fix your opinions and to bring your experience to bear, I have no doubt whatever that it would have powerful and very proper influence.”
Even Lord Salisbury, a conservative of conservatives, a Tory among Tories, has more liberalised views than gentlemen opposite and is an enthusiastic advocate of the extension of the franchise to women (ministerial cheers). The spirit that keeps woman out of politics today keeps her out of the Universities and out of the professions. It is the spirit of exclusivism and selfishness. Men are afraid of her as a competitive force (Derisive cries from the Opposition), and are foolishly parading their impotence by futile attempts to deny her justice. No power on earth, however, can stop the march of the coming woman. (Ministerial cheers). She in fact is with us already and has come to stay and whether hon. Gentlemen like it or not, they will have to accept her and listen to her demands. One of those demands is for the political franchise and like the child in a celebrated picture she won’t be happy until she gets it.
The forces arrayed against us may defeat our intention tonight, but the time will come when this Parliament will be differently constituted, when its members will have a higher opinion of the feminine intelligence and when its ethical standard will be raised to a more exalted level. Then the Old Conservatism will give way to the New Liberalism, and that will usher in the reign of equity and justice. In that day woman will rank equal to man in political power and will exercise a great moral influence in the Government of the nation. Hon. members will then cease to be provided with shirts (interruption and laughter)–shirts made by aching fingers at the rate of 1s a dozen, and woman will not be deprived of her right of divorce because her brutal husband has not been helplessly drunk every day of the week for three consecutive years. Then, too a woman will have a voice in the ownership of her child.
At present no married woman has a legal claim to her offspring. Let me illustrate what I mean by reading the following extract from a speech recently delivered by Mrs. Harrison Lee as reported in the ‘Alliance Record.’ She said :-
“A Chinaman married an Irish servant girl, and three days after their baby was born he sent it away to China to be reared in heathendom. The poor mother thought she had a right to her own child, and went to law to endeavour to have it restored to her, but the Judge said that the father only had a right to it and the mother was powerless in the matter. Again, a young dress maker had saved a little money, fell in love with a penniless young man who was dying of consumption, and she married him for the sake of taking care of him. She lavished on him all her woman’s self-sacrificing love in order to protect and care for him in his last days. Just before his death he asked to be allowed to make his will, although be had no money to leave, or even enough to pay the lawyer to draw up the will. But the young wife paid the lawyer out of her own money, so as to humour her dying husband. He died and her baby came. The mother was proud of her little one, and loved it with all her mother’s love, and though it was going to be her blessing and her comfort, but soon afterwards strangers came from another part and claimed the baby. The mother said, “No, it is my child.” They then produced the will that she had paid for, and it was found that the man had willed his own baby away to other people, and the woman could not stand against it. Such a law, gentlemen, is a disgrace to the Government of any civilised country. It is iniquitous in conception and tyrannical in operation. (Cheers). Women, however, have to submit to these man-made statutes, and I contend in the name of justice that if women are to conform to the laws of this land they have a divinely implanted right to a voice in their enactment”. (Ministerial cheers).
Woman has many grievances to remedy. And she will remedy them too—not by going to Parliament herself, but by returning men who accord with her views and who will have the moral courage to bring about the requisite reforms. This Bill does not provide for the admission of women to Parliament. Women have no desire to sit on the cushioned seats of our Legislative chambers. They recognise that the country possesses more good men than they require to represent them there and all they ask for is the power to send such men to the House. Perhaps this explains the antagonism of gentlemen opposite. Their seats would be in danger in the hands of women electors. (“Oh Oh.”) They would be weighed in the balances, and found wanting. They have their vested interests to conserve—interests represented by a seat in this Honorable House.
The main spring of their unjust conduct towards his measure is fear–craven fear, but if they cannot be so harmless as doves they should, at least, try to be as wise as serpents by preparing for the inevitable and revising their opinions before the reckoning time arrives. In conclusion, sir, I leave this measure in the hands of the House, and if rejected tonight, I venture to predict that the day will speedily dawn, when this just and righteous enactment will be inscribed on the Statute Book of the realm. (Loud Ministerial cheers.)The Minister of Defence (Mr. D.McNeil) having seconded the motion.
Mr. P. J. Smith, whose rising was the signal for enthusiastic cheering said:- Mr Speaker, while I cannot profess to he convinced by the arguments of the honorable gentleman opposite, I must congratulate him on the manner in which he has laid the subject before the House. He has supplied us with a number of arguments and an abundance of illustrations. In fact, he gave us so many that at last I began to feel quite confused myself, though one thing was clear enough to me, that he had altogether failed to make out a case that it would be safe for the House to accept. (Opposition Cheers). I willingly allow all that he has advanced in relation to the high qualities that adorn the character of women, and the superior intellectual gifts possessed by many of them. I could not help thinking as I heard him speak that it would be well for his side of the House, if they were being led this evening by one of the women he has described, instead of being led by the honorable gentleman himself. (Cheers and Laughter).
The change which he asks us to make I regard as a dangerous proposal, fraught with the most serious risk to the people. Where are we to find justification for it? I had intended, sir, so far as my regular avocations would permit, to consult some authorities on the question; but when I came to look over the few hundred books on my shelves, I was glad to find that there was not, among all those works, a single volume advocating the dangerous and revolutionary doctrine, which he is proclaiming tonight. (Op-position cheers and Ministerial dissent)
The Premier: It is reform, not revolution. (Ministerial cheers). Mr. Smith: I say it is revolution, not reform. It is also wrong in principle, and detestably deficient in detail. I listened carefully to the honourable member, but not one word did I hear indicating that the government were prepared to carry successfully into practice their own scheme. The honorable member nowhere indicated that provision would be made for extra accommodation, required at polling booths, in the event of this Bill becoming law. The room which does well enough under present circumstances would be quite unsuitable for the graceful movements of ladies crowding in to record their votes. Many of the new voters will naturally be accompanied by the inevitable perambulator, and what, I would ask, is to be done with that? (Loud Laughter).
An Honorable Member: Take it in with them Mr. Smith. To do that would be to afflict the youthful occupant with fright, and distress, those present by his piercing complaints. (Renewed laughter). Besides which, these small conveyance, are not always occupied by only one. (Laughter). The whole scene would be distressing in the extreme for the officials. Now, sir, I ask how is it possible to accept a Bill which asks us to revolutionise the whole constitution of the country, and fails to provide for the painful emergency I have just referred to?
The Premier has done his best to disguise the real tendency of the Bill. He says we must elevate women, so that she may take part in governing, and calls the movement an onward movement, and a progressive step forward I should be inclined to stigmatise it as the very opposite. (Opposition cheers). Does my honorable friend intend to deny that in our early days we were all under that kind of government, woman’s government? He may do so, but I clearly recollect it. It was doubtless good government so far as it went, tempered with much kindness but marked also by occasional acts of discipline. (Laughter). The honorable member asks us to go back to that elementary, undignified and humiliating state of things, and calls it a step onward. I say it is a step backwards, and shall stand up to the last extremity for the rights of man. (Opposition cheers).
The Premier: What about the wrongs of women? (Ministerial cheers). Mr. Smith: I don’t know anything about them. The hon. member seems to know a great deal about the wrongs of women. (Great laughter). Hon. members must have noticed a suspicious circumstance when he was about to read that last extract to the House. He took up the magazine and it opened at the very page about the wrongs of women. (Laughter). I stand here as an advocate of the rights of man, and I say they are hard to maintain now, without altering the law so as to make us look smaller still. Hon. members are aware that at times we have to debate subjects in our own homes, a lady taking one side of the question, and they will bear me out when I complain that we do not always come off as well as we could wish.(Hear, hear, and laughter).
The pernicious and dangerous measure now before us aims at making things still worse. The hon. member disclaims all idea of admitting women to Parliament, but how is he to prevent that ? On what principle applicable to the extension of the franchise could here fuse them admission to Parliament? I say, sir, that it must follow, and I think that the Government have failed to see the magnitude of the change.(Opposition cheers). At the present time the male voters in this country are represented by 95 gentlemen members in the Lower House. If this Bill becomes law, and the hon. Member believes in what he has said about the equality of women, then the lady voters will elect 95 lady members. (Ministerial laughter).
Some of those lady members may possess great personal attractions, and I should like to ask the hon. gentleman how he proposes to deal with that difficulty. (Renewed laughter). In my opinion such a House would be hard to manage. Members might still be willing to “pair” off (laughter) as they do occasionally now. But how does the hon. Gentleman propose to deal with the case when several hon. members wish to pair with the same individual. (Loud laughter). I fear that much confusion would ensue, In fact, the measure abounds in difficulties and dangers, and for the reasons I have given I now beg to move that the Bill be read a second time this day in six months. (Opposition cheers and Ministerial disapproval).
The Chief Secretary (Mr R. Hillard) said the able and exhaustive speech of the Hon. the Premier left him with little to say on the subject. The reply of the hon. the Leader of the Opposition was weak and evasive, and was an apt illustration of the old adage, “No case, abuse the other side”. (Ministerial cheers). There could not be a doubt about the reasonableness and justice of womanhood suffrage. It was a principle of our civilisation that those who obey our laws should have a voice in making them. (Hear, hear). Re-presentation should go with taxation. The opponents of the measure were loud in proclaiming that women did not want the vote, that if they had it they would not use it, and that too much of their time would be taken up in studying political questions to the neglect of home duties.
The experience of how the franchise was taken advantage of by the women of New Zealand, and of how they conducted themselves, furnished a complete answer to both those objections, as at the last general election in that colony over 66 per cent. of women voted, and the orderly and intelligent manner in which they conducted themselves on polling day was highly commendable. (Load cheers). It was simply claptrap to talk about them wasting their time going to record their votes. The experience of this colony at municipal elections was proof of how they would use the franchise. They would not, like scores of men, disgrace themselves by selling their votes for a pint of beer. (Ministerial cheers).
The influence of women in politics would be an influence for good, and if women had votes political life would be purified. Whatever they might say women, as a whole, were better than men (signs of approval in Ladies Gallery), purer, and more moral, and if women were given political rights their influence would have a tendency to raise public life to a higher standard. That had beyond a doubt been the experience of New Zealand. As a question of abstract justice, women were entitled to the franchise. In New York 127,000 women supported their husbands and families. Should these industrious bread winners not have a voice in making the laws they have to obey as well as their indolent good-for-nothing husbands. (Ministerial cheers and Opposition laughter).
Hayters statistics showed that 40 per cent of all the women in Victoria were unmarried, and dependent upon their own resources. Who would dare to say that the 114,266 women returned as bread winners and pay taxes, should not have their political rights? Every high-minded and honorable man in Victoria ought to support the enfranchisement of woman, and the Bill should receive the support of the House. (Cheers).
Mr. Hansen remarked that when he rose to oppose the Bill he wished it to be distinctly understood that it was from no desire to hamper or oust that impotent and imbecile Ministry, which, after cudgelling its joint and several brains for the last three months, had failed to evolve anything more useful, or less dangerous, from their ponderous intellects than that tawdry measure styled women’s suffrage. Nor did he oppose it with a view of relegating them to that obscurity from which creatures of their mental calibre should never have emerged. (Laughter). Their own abortive measures, as foreshadowed by the Governor’s Speech, will bring about that much-to-be desired end in a far more summary and effective manner than they probably anticipate. (Hear, hear).
The only reasonable excuse their miserable apology for a Government could have for bringing forward such an iniquitous measure as the Woman’s Suffrage Bill was their desire to increase slander, libel, and divorce actions for the benefit of fossilised lawyers and indolent newspaper editors. (Loud laughter). The true woman wants no such measure. Her undivided undying love for home, husband and children secures for her the undisputed dominion in her own household, which she would not exchange for the highest position in the most influential Parliament in the universe. (Opposition cheers and Ministerial jeers.) The Attorney-General (Mr. G. T.Wood) said there could be little doubt in the mind of any right-thinking person that in excluding women from exercising their benign influence on the laws of our God-gladdened country we were not only excluding them from their natural rights, but excluding our great and glorious nation from reaping the benefits which must necessarily arise from the influence which an enlightened, honorable, and conscientious section of the community would bring to bear upon the framing of laws by which we, as well as they, are governed. (Ministerial cheers).
The extension of the franchise to women was but one more step towards the enlightenment of the masses, and one which was bound to come in its turn, just as many other reforms have crept in from time to time, though opposed tooth and nail, and just as surely as day follows night, and one season follows another. (Hear, hear). Women have been coming to the fore in every walk of life where brains and intellect have their sway, and he said without fear of contradiction that the average woman was as capable, if not far more so, of exercising a wise and beneficial choice in her vote as the average man. (Cheers).
If that be so, then by what right had they, merely because they had the whip hand, merely because their bodily strength was greater than theirs, to thrust them away from the polling booth? He felt that no honest man in the House that night would refuse to recognise the inborn right of all individuals, be they man or women, to vote for the framing of the laws by which their country is governed, and thus hasten the arrival of the crowning point on what he could not refrain from calling the emancipation of our British women. (Loud cheers and Opposition dissent).
Mr. Judd said in reference to the Premier’s quotation of Mrs. Harrison Lee, that when that lady was on her lecturing tour she was asked by one of her audience, if she could knit a pair of socks or make clothes for her children. (The Premier: “She hasn’t any” and laughter). She replied “No, she could not,” and her interlocutor then advised her to advocate domestic duties for women, rather than seek to elevate her to the platform. (Opposition cheers).
With all due regard to the fair sex he thought they were intended by the creator always to hold a subordinate position to man (Ministerial interruption) and by attending to the manifold duties of the household and the requirements of the family circle, they would exercise a far greater educational influence on the rising generation, than they ever would do in the exercise of the women’s franchise. (Cheers and cries of “No”).
The Minister of Lands & Mines (Mr. Giddens) said that whenever it was our duty to do a thing it must necessarily be our right also, to do that thing. Duties and rights therefore, it seemed to him, go hand in hand, and if we improve upon women the duty of obeying our laws, we ought also to give them the right to a voice in the making of those laws. (Ministerial cheers).
We already had women in the professions, from which they were once rigidly excluded and it was only right that they should enjoy that privilege. In the medical profession especially, women were particularly useful, and the time would come when there would be men doctors for men, and women doctors for women. Once women got into Parliament they would soon exercise a beneficient influence on the members of the opposite sex, especially in all matters affecting the great social questions of the day.(Hear, hear). As for the silly questions put to Mrs. Harrison Lee, suppose the same questions had been put to Florence Nightingale, or Grace Darling, or many others of our brave and illustrious women ?
Was the standard of a woman’s intellectual ability, or her moral influence for good over the minds of her fellow men and women to be gauged, by the excellence of her knitting ? (“No” and hear, hear). Some of our best and most illustrious women never saw a knitting needle. A nation’s advance in the march of civilisation might be accurately determined by the status of its women. Tell him the social status of women in any nation, and he would at once be able to tell them the moral and intellectual state of that nation.(Cheers and Opposition interjections)
Mr. Ryan remarked that a good deal had been said upon the subject, but he regretted very much that neither the Premier nor any of his colleagues had brought forward a single reason for giving the franchise to women. (The Chief-secretary: “You’ve been asleep” and laughter). As a matter of fact women take no interest in public affairs, many of them scarcely read the daily papers, and if they do, they seldom get farther than the column devoted to births, marriages and deaths. (Opposition cheers). Women already exercise an indirect influence over the affairs of the nation in proportion to the influence she wields over their husbands whose votes at the polling booth are determined by that influence.
She already enjoys many privileges which are denied to men. A woman may leave her husband for an indefinite time and she cannot sue him for maintenance. (Ministerial laughter). She can also wear the biggest hat she possesses in the theatre, or church, while a man is obliged to doff his headgear. (Loud laughter).
The Minister of Defence (Mr. M’Neil) said the Opposition contended the Government had put forward no arguments in favour the bill, but their failure to see the points of those arguments must be attributed to their own intellectual denseness (Ministerial cheers). Provided they were physically and intellectually capable, why should not women hold the highest positions in the land? Our gracious sovereign who exercises her beneficent sway over the whole of this vast empire was a woman, and this fact should be an object lesson to their opponents opposite.(Ministerial cheers. Opposition: A figurehead only). He considered the moral influence of women in our Legislature would have a most beneficial effect upon the social legislation of our country.
Many of the scandals and wrongs which now exist would soon be retrieved, and ultimately, forgotten altogether. A good woman would always influence for good a reasonable and right-minded man. (Hear, hear). If many a man had only listened to the advice of his lady friends, how often would he have been (Leader of the Opposition: “In hot water” and laughter) saved the bitterness and remorse of some indiscreet action on his part? (Cheers and cries of “Divide.”)
The Speaker then intimated that as the hour for concluding the discussion half-past ten had arrived, he would ask members to vote on the question that the franchise be extended to woman. There were loud cries of “Aye” and loud cries of “No.”
“The Ayes have it,” said the Speaker, whereupon the Opposition called for a division.
Mr. J. L. Parkes was appointed teller for the Ministerial side and Mr. J. M. Steedman for the Opposition, the result being as follows, in spite of the activity of Mr. A. C. Lewis, Government Whip:
- For the Bill … 21
- Against … 32
- Majority Against … 11
The result was received with enthusiastic Opposition cheers and as soon as silence could be restored The Premier rose and, in view of the adverse vote, moved the adjournment of the House to enable the Government to consider its position.
The motion was seconded by the leader of the Opposition and agreed to. The Speaker, preceded by the Sergeant at-Arms with the Mace, then left the Chamber and the House rose in a state of great excitement.
Originally published in The Warragul Guardian (Warragul, Vic. : 1895 – 1900)