Media Release by Senator the Hon Amanda Vanstone

Public Artwork to celebrate the Centenary of Women’s Suffrage

Today marks the one hundred year anniversary of women in Australia being granted the right to vote and stand in Federal elections. To commemorate this important event, the Commonwealth Government is pleased to announce the commissioning of a major public artwork.

Australia was the first nation to give women both the right to vote and the right to stand for Parliament. Only one other country, New Zealand, beat us to giving women the vote but Australia was the first to do both.

Women obtained the right to vote at the federal and state levels after a considerable struggle. This effort culminated in the signing of the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 by the Governor General on 12 June 1902. Full voting rights were not, however, granted to Indigenous people until 1962. Australian women exercised these newly won rights for the first time on 16 December 1903.

In reflecting on this achievement, it is important to pay tribute to the suffragettes whose determination made this dream a reality and also to the all male Parliament who passed the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902.

The artwork announced today will recognise the extraordinary efforts of those Australians who, early in Federation, achieved for women both the right to vote and stand in federal elections. It will be commissioned in the next six months and will be unveiled in late 2003.

I am pleased to announce that the artwork will be at the Centre of the Parliamentary Triangle, on the Land Axis which connects Parliament House to the War Memorial and to Mt Ainslie.

The axis is central to Walter Burley Griffin’s design for the National Capital. Not only is the site on that axis, it is also appropriately placed between the Old and New Parliament Houses.

The symbolism of the site being on the Land Axis and between the Old and New Parliament Houses is very strong.

The site is on the northern end of Federation Mall and can be clearly seen as you look out from the front of the New Parliament House from the Queen’s Terrace.

While important decisions were of course voted on in the Chambers of the Old House, they were more often than not made in the Old Members Dining Room and Old Members Bar. These facilities are now used for conventions and are central to Old Parliament House at the rear. As convention guests leave their function, they will walk around the artwork and look up Federation Mall to the New Parliament House.

I am also delighted that three high profile fine art experts have agreed to form a Steering Committee to select a winning artist to carry out this important project.

They are Ms Betty Churcher (Chair) former Director of the National Gallery of Australia; Ron Radford, Director of the Art Gallery of South Australia; and Ms Anna Waldmann, Manager, Visual Arts/Craft, of the Australia Council for the Arts. The Committee will select an artist by November 2002 and development and installation of the artwork will be carried out during 2003.

In many ways, women’s suffrage signalled the start of women’s involvement in the political process and led to changes that enabled women to more fully participate in society.

The Howard Government looks forward to celebrating the Centenary of Women’s Suffrage and providing more information about this exciting public artwork project as it unfolds over the next 18 months.