Media Release by Senator the Hon Amanda Vanstone

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. On such an important day, all Australians should celebrate this achievement and reflect on how it has changed our society for the better.

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.

Today, it is timely to honour the women who created a new legal and political identity for women here in Australia and abroad – women like Vida Goldstein, Catherine Helen Spence, Maybanke Wolstoneholme (Anderson) and Rose Scott. These women through their determination, progressive thinking and perseverance markedly altered our course of history towards a fairer and more representative society.

In reflecting on this achievement, it is important to also pay tribute to the all male Parliament who passed the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902.

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.

However, it was not until 1943 that two women, Dorothy Tangney and Enid Lyons, were elected into Federal Parliament.

Women make up just over half of our population. Yet despite having gained the right to stand for Parliament over one hundred years ago, women still do not form half of our Parliament. Political parties might have disagreements at the edges on the best way of ensuring better representation but few people will disagree with the proposition that more still needs to be done.

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.