COMMONWEALTH FRANCHISE BILL

23 April 1902, House of Representatives, p. 11929

COMMONWEALTH FRANCHISE BILL.

Second Reading.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE (Hume Minister for Home Affairs). I move

That this Bill be now read a second time.

On previous occasions I have moved the second reading of State Bills corresponding in their provisions with the present measure, regarding which I have felt that I was leading an almost forlorn hope. I have, however, no fear of failure on the present occasion. The agitation for the reform contemplated by this Bill dates back very many centuries. We find on looking round us that the neighbouring colony of New Zealand, which was the first to adopt Woman s Suffrage, has been followed by the States of South Australia and Western Australia in a course which I hope the Commonwealth will decide to pursue. It was the intention of the Government in the first instance to introduce the Bill into this Chamber, but, as honorable members know, we have been so continuously occupied during the last twelve months that no opportunity has been afforded for discussing the measure here. We therefore arranged to have it first submitted to the Senate, and I was very glad indeed that the Vice-President of the Executive Council undertook to pilot it through that Chamber. It was very successful there, and passed its second reading without a division. I hope that it will be equally successful in this Chamber. I am satisfied that if a division be taken upon its second reading a majority will be found voting in favour of the proposed reform. At this stage I should like frankly to avow that I have not always favoured the extension of the franchise to women. Some years ago, when I was very young in politics and probably my thoughts were less matured, I was hostile to the proposal. Gradually, however, as the result of my reading, and in consequence of the advance of thought which has taken place upon this question, not only in Australia, but throughout the world, I was induced to take an opposite view of the matter. Thus it came about that some ten or twelve years ago I formed the conclusion that not only was it just to accord women the vote, but that it was in the best interests of the entire community. The form of this Bill, as introduced into the Senate, has been somewhat altered. The principal amendment which was made there has reference to the aborigines. As originally drafted, the Bill provided that no aboriginal should be allowed to vote, notwithstanding that at the present time, in some of the States, aboriginals are endowed with the franchise. The measure also provided that the suffrage should not be extended to half-bloods. Personally, I think it would be a serious mistake to deny half-bloods the right to vote in their native country. A further provision has been added to endow the New Zealand Maoris, or their descendents, with the franchise if they became residents of the Commonwealth.

Mr. O Malley. An aboriginal is not as intelligent as a Maori. There is no scientific evidence that he is a human being at all.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE. In view of the fact that in some of the States aboriginals are allowed to vote at the present time, the Bill has been amended to provide that all aboriginal natives of Australia may exercise the suffrage.

Sir Edward Braddon. And their gins, too.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE. The provisions of the Bill apply to both sexes. I wish briefly to outline to honorable members what has taken place in the Australian States in regard to the movement to enfranchise our women. It will be recollected that in New Zealand the first Act for the purpose of endowing women with the right of citizenship was passed in 1893. At that time it was urged by opponents of the reform that the women of that colony did not desire to exercise the franchise. Indeed the statement is still freely made that a referendum of the women of the Commonwealth would prove that they are opposed to the reform, but I very much question its accuracy. The passage of the Act in New Zealand has resulted in the women taking a greater interest in public questions of the day than do the men. I have many times regretted that we have not some law under which, if men do not exercise their rights of citizenship, they will be disfranchised. However, there is no law to that effect. In the election which took place in New Zealand immediately following the extension of the franchise to women, 88 per cent. of the females upon the rolls voted, as against 69.6 per cent. of the men.

Mr. Page. The novelty of the thing has worn off since.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE. If anything could point to the interest which is taken in political questions by women, surely it is the fact that that they attended and voted in such large numbers. If, as the honorable member for Maranoa suggests, it was the novelty of the proceeding which induced such a large percentage of female votes to be recorded upon the first occasion, how is it that at the next election, which occurred in 1896, a larger percentage of women voted than of men ? From the returns I conclude that less interest was taken in that election, because the votes cast upon either side were not so numerous as the votes recorded in 1893. At the first election I believe that the question before the people was that of local option. That accounted mainly for the large number of votes registered by both sexes. In the second election which took place under adult suffrage, 76.4 of the women of the colony voted as against 75.9 of the men. These figures absolutely shatter the statement that the percentage of female votes cast in at the election in 1893 is to be explained by the novelty of the reform. Moreover, I am firmly of the opinion that the extension of the franchise to women will cause men to take more interest in political matters and to vote in larger numbers than they have done heretofore. The fact that wives and daughters in the home will be able to discuss political subjects which affect everyday life, will bring to the mind of the male portion of the community the necessity for recording their votes at election time. I speak as one who has had a very long training in politics, and I know the difficulty which exists when there is nothing to excite popular feeling in inducing electors to exercise their franchise. That is not a healthy condition of affairs to obtain in a young community. I admit that in certain parts of the Commonwealth, where great distances have to be travelled, it is not so easy for electors to vote as it is for residents in the centres of population. To overcome that difficulty, however, provision is made in the Electoral Bill for voting by post. I am not prepared to say whether South Australia took her cue from New Zealand, but probably the fact of the reform having come about in the latter colony brought the position home more acutely to the people of South Australia, and caused the Government to pass a similar law there. In South Australia the first general election under adult suffrage took place in 1896. The percentage of female votes recorded on that occasion was high, closely approximating, but greater than that of men. I am not in possession of the exact numbers. At the next election, in 1899, there was a falling- off generally in the number of votes recorded by both sexes, but the female vote had not relatively decreased. Western Australia was the last State to adopt adult suffrage, and I am not aware that since the reform was instituted there a general election has occurred.

Mr. E. Solomon. When the federal election took place a very small proportion of the women had been sufficiently long upon the rolls to qualify them to vote.

Sir WILIAM LYNE. I think that what I have quoted shows that as far as the Australian States are concerned there is a strong feeling in favour of extending the franchise to women. But that feeling is not confined to Australia ; it obtains throughout the world. If honorable members will take the trouble to make themselves familiar with this subject, they will realize what a rapid advance the movement has made both in England and in America.

Mr. O Malley. In America they are not yet sufficiently civilized to adopt the reform.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE. Still the movement has advanced with remarkable strides. In 1899, and American female author read a paper at the International Congress of women, from which the following is an extract : -

Fifty years ago women in the United States were without a recognised individuality in any department of life. No provision was made in public or private schools for her education in anything beyond the rudimentary branches. An educated woman was a rarity, and was gazed upon with something akin to awe.

In the United States, only 50 years ago, women were thought fit merely to look after their house-work and families for a miserable pittance. The account proceeds

Very few women were sufficiently educated to teach, but those who could do so received from 4 dols. to 8 dols. a month and "boarded round ;" while men, for exactly the same service, received 30 dols. a month and board.

At the present time women are educated to the highest degree, and there are large numbers though I have not been able to obtain the exact figures in the time at my disposal who possess educational honours of various kinds. Women have been given votes in municipal and other elections, but have up to the present been denied the parliamentary franchise. We are informed that

In 25 States, women possess suffrage in school matters ; in four States they have a limited suffrage in local affairs ; in one State, they have municipal suffrage ; in four States, they have full suffrage local, State, and national. Women are becoming more and more interested in political questions and public affairs. Every campaign sees greater numbers in attendance at the meetings, and able women speakers are now found upon the platforms of all parties. Some of the finest political writing in the great newspapers of the day is done by women, and all the papers are extensively read by women of all classes.

In only a few of the American States women have the full franchise at the present time ; but I do not think it will be long before the privilege is there extended to all women.

Sir Edward Braddon. Recent history does not point in that direction.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE. - If the right honorable member were to read this work from which I am quoting, I think he would say that history does point in that direction. The list of names of those who took part in the congress of women, which took place in June, 1899, in support for this reform, includes some of the first in the land, both in the United States and Great Britain, and the papers read are perhaps the ablest that have been written on this and kindred questions.

Mr. Knox. Will the Minister refer to the papers which were read against women s franchise on that occasion?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE. The conference to which I am referring is not the conference now mentioned by the honorable member for Kooyong. There was what was called the Women s Anti-Franchise League, and an application was made by a lady belonging to that body for permission to read a paper in opposition to the granting of the franchise to women. It was only with difficulty that permission was obtained, and the paper did not get much, if any, support. The conference was absolutely in favour of extending the franchise for national elections to women ; and one lady, Miss Susan Anthony, said very truly

We are asking for nothing new, but simply for the practical application of the old doctrine that was declared by Hancock and Adams and the old revolutionists.

If honorable members refer to history, they will see that Pitt strongly advocated the enfranchisement of women. On the 27th of April, 1892, a Bill with this object was introduced into the British Legislature ; and Mr. Balfour and several others spoke warmly in favour of the reform. Mr. Balfour said

I think those who wish to be enfranchised have used the only methods they could use in the matter that is to say, they have expressed their desire to obtain the vote, on platforms and by public meetings, and by whatever other means were open to them.

He went still further, and, referring to the fact that exception had been taken for various reasons to women exercising a vote, said that if women could not be called upon to shoulder a rifle though some women had done so they were called upon to pay the bill, and therefore ought to have some voice in electing representatives to deal with questions relating to war, and affecting the lives and properties of individuals. He went on to say that that objection to extending the franchise

does not appear to be an adequate reason for refusing them some control over the policy by which the foreign relations of our country are conducted, and means of defence are to be secured. We have been told that to encourage women to take an active part in politics is degrading to the sex.. . . . I think I may take it that every section of this House is only too glad to use the services of women when they can profit by them, and it does not lie in the mouths of any of us to say that taking part in framing the policy of the empire is degrading to the to the sex. . . . I understand one plank of the Newcastle platform was "One man, one vote." When that is brought forward I believe we shall have all the old flesh and blood arguments urged again, all the old arguments for political liberty, and the whole train of commonplaces again thrust before us for our acceptance, by which each successive change in the franchise has been accepted ; and yet the very gentlemen who say they are going to bring forward that programme, at this moment absolutely refuse to admit the validity of a single one of these arguments when they are directed towards enfranchising, not the least worthy class of the community, but what I believe to be one of the worthiest. You will give a vote to a man who contributes nothing to taxation but what he pays on his beer, while you refuse enfranchisement to women because she is a woman, whatever her contribution to the State may be.

Can anyone stand up in this Chamber and say that is his experience he has not known hundreds, nay, thousands, of cases in which families have been maintained by the mother ? Are there not hundreds of cases in which the father is either a drunkard or unable to get work, and in which the mother, with a small pittance, has supported a large family in greater comfort, perhaps, than the supposed bread-winner could have done ? Only last Sunday week I saw in one of the suburbs of Melbourne a lady whose husband, some three or four years ago, left her with a large family and no means. The eldest of the eight or nine children is fourteen or fifteen years of age, and during those years that lady, by means of her own labour, has maintained the family better than the husband did when he was at home. There are many other similar instances, one or two of which I shall quote. It seems a cruel thing that women of intelligence and courage should be deprived of the privilege which it is now proposed to give them. We know that in respect to her family a woman often displays greater courage in the face of poverty than does a man ; and in carrying out her mission she can often maintain the home on less means than would support the husband alone.

Mr. Sawers. - Why does the Minister not appoint a woman his private secretary ?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE. The honorable member had better ask why I have appointed several women as typewriters. I have no doubt that a woman if she had the opportunities for education would, under all the circumstances perform the duties of a private secretary, just as well as would any man ; indeed similar duties have been discharged by women in thousands of cases. It is pointed out in one or two of the extracts that I have by me, that is the United States, 5,000,000 women have day by day to do ordinary work in the fields, mines and factories.

Mr. Wilks. - That is found in Belgium and Germany.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE. - I do not say that women do not do similar work in those countries. I have been unable to get the exact figures, but so far as I can ascertain, there are at the present moment 30,000,000 or 40,000,000 white women putting aside Asiatics, Hindoos, or Chinese who to-day are earning their livelihood in the fields, and in mines and factories ; and a large proportion of these women are in the British Isles.

Mr. Conroy. Is not the whole question practically concluded by section 41 of the Constitution which deals with the rights of the electors of States ? In three of the States there is woman suffrage, which under the Constitution cannot be taken away.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE. The honorable member must not be in such a hurry for me to conclude. Had I a feeling that this Bill would not be carried by a large majority I should speak at greater length, but I cannot sit down after moving the second reading of a measure so important without giving a few facts for future reference. I have heard of a case in which a candidate, who was altogether against women s suffrage, canvassed a drunken man, whose wife indignantly pointed out that though she had kept the family for three or four years she was debarred from exercising a vote. That candidate afterwards became a strong advocate of women s suffrage, and I think he was quite right. The progress of this moment has been so rapid that whereas 50 years ago women were not allowed to take degrees in medicine, law, or other learned professions, they to-day present themselves in large numbers at every annual examination, and pass with perhaps greater credit than do the young men with whom they work side by side. Only last week in Sydney, for the first time in that State, a lady took her degree as a barrister. I do not know whether that is a profession which a woman will greatly care to practice, but I do think that, as members of the medical profession, they may do as good work, and perhaps better, in some directions, than medical men. The growth of the feeling in favour of the extension of the franchise to women has, I say, been so rapid that the tide can no longer be stemmed. I feel that the moment has arrived when we must extend this privilege to the women of the Commonwealth. In the various States there has been some hesitation in adopting this proposal, and Bills to give effect to it have been defeated on many occasions. I think that in Victoria a measure to give effect to the proposal was passed through the Legislative Assembly on six different occasions, and rejected by the Legislative Council. A similar measure was passed twice by the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, and rejected by the Legislative Council there. A similar measure was passed by the Legislative Assembly of Tasmania, and rejected by the Legislative Council of that State. When honourable members come to consider the number of women who will be affected by this proposal they must give some heed to it. In New South Wales, out of a population of 1,359,133, there are not less than 383,000 males and 320,000 females of 21 years of age and upwards. In Victoria, out of a population of 1,201,505, there are 325,215 males and 321,000 females of 21 years of age and upwards. In Queensland, out of a population of 503,256, there are 157,606 adult males, and 104,382 adult females. In Tasmania, out of a population of 172,475, there are 45,961 adult males, and 40,435 adult females. It is estimated that the passing of this Bill will confer the franchise upon 760,000 women of Australia who do not at present possess the privilege. If uniformity is to be observed, and electoral equality is to be maintained throughout the Commonwealth, adult franchise in the whole of the six States is imperative. That is what this Bill will provide for, I hope, before the next by-election or general election for the Federal Parliament, if it be passed side by side with the Electoral Bill. Dealing with the rejection of measures to give the franchise to women by the State Legislative Councils, I am reminded that one of the writers of these papers says that the Lords in Great Britain have excelled in the gentle art of making enemies, and I venture to think the "Lords" in Victoria, New South Wales, and some of the other States, have also excelled in the gentle art of making enemies in refusing to pass a Bill which the Senate of the first Commonwealth Parliament has passed even before the House of Representatives. It speaks volumes to the credit of the Senate that they have passed this Bill on the first occasion upon which it was submitted to them, and even before it had the indorsement of the House of Representatives. How can we for a moment imagine we shall not find the education, ability, and every quality necessary for the exercise of the franchise in women, when we know that many of them have proved themselves to be amongst the ablest writers in the past and at the present time. I do not intend to mention a long list of eminent and able women, but I may refer to the names of Elizabeth Fry, Lady Huntingdon, Mrs. Browning, Lady Somerset, Marie Corrli, Edna Lyell, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Annie Swan, Mrs.Yonge, Beatrice Harridan, Florence Nightingale, the Countess of Aberdeen, Lady Francis Balfour, Mrs. Bernard Bosanquet, Rosa Bonheur.

Mr. Page. What about Miss Braddon ?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE. - And Miss Braddon also. I am glad the honourable memberhas mentioned her name, because here we find Miss Braddon s brother opposing the extension of the franchise to that highly educated lady.

Sir Edward Braddon. I could not give it to her if I would.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE. I would add also the names of Miss Herschell, Mrs. Dr. Fawcett, Lady Knightly, Louisa Stevenson, Miss Isabella Ford, George Eliot, and the Honourable Mrs. Arthur Lyttleton. That list could be extensively added to ; and though we have not extended the franchise to women up to present, we have been ruled, by women, and by women of the highest class. We have been content to allow a woman to rule us, and whom we could put higher than out late beloved Queen, the mother of us all, who, after a very long reign, died more beloved than any monarch in history. It is anomalous that we should hesitate to extend the franchise to the women of our community when in the past we have been content to sit under the domination of Queens who have ruled well and ably. I feel sure that this Bill will be carried, and the statements we have heard repeated that this proposal will destroy the cottar s home, will take the mother away from her children and allow them to run wild, may be forgotten as though they had never been made. The effect of extending the franchise will be to elevate the women of the community, and to cause them to take a greater interest than they have ever taken before in questions of the day which affect not only their husbands and their children, but also most vitally affect themselves. We shall induce women to take a lively interest in all questions that are being publicly considered, with the result that their discussion at the hearth between husband and wife and brother and sister will enable husband and brother to know more than they have ever known before of questions in which they should take a great interest, and for the first time a lively interest will be taken by women in the consideration of questions upon which they will have to record their votes. I believe that instinctively a woman knows the character of a man better than a man does, and I believe women will be able to record a better vote in the selection of the best men to represent the community in the halls of the Commonwealth or in the halls of the States if they are endowed with the franchise. We know the number of those who in the past have refrained from exercising the franchise, and the large percentage of voters who have been unaccounted for at the ballot-box. I believe that the effect of women taking an active interest in the political life of the community will be to purify it and, in addition, to cause a greater interest to be taken by all in public questions which affect the well-being of the community. Not only shall we be helping ourselves by adopting this proposal, but we shall be setting an example of advancement to other parts of the world. I have referred to the conferences which have been held in the Dominion of Canada and in many of the States of America, in which able men and women have taken part, and which have been presided over by able women, and sometimes by able men. In the conference to which I have just referred, the Agent-General of New Zealand, Mr. Reeves, took part, and he delivered a most eloquent and instructive speech, in which he described the benefit of extending the franchise to the women of New Zealand. In concluding that speech he said that prophesies had been made as to the great injury that would be done by extending the privilege of the franchise to women, but that every step taken by the New Zealand Legislature since the adoption of adult suffrage had been an improvement upon the legislation which had gone before. It had been legislation in the interests of the masses of the community to a greater extent than, perhaps, had ever before been passed in any part of the King s dominions. He said that the fears entertained as to the result of the operation of women s suffrage had not been realized during the six or seven years it had been in force in New Zealand, and that the people there would not think of attempting to take away the franchise from the women of the community. All its effects have been for good and none for evil. I say that his words should find an echo from one end of Australia to the other. I believe that by the extension of the franchise to women, we shall get a better Parliament than we otherwise should have, and a greater interest will be taken in its work. I wish to see this measure through as soon as possible, and that must be my excuse for putting on one side a great deal of the literature upon the subject that I have by me. I may say that I feel there is no occasion to use it, because I am firmly convinced that the second reading of this Bill will be carried, and if it is, I hope that it will go through committee without unnecessary delay.

Mr Tudor. To-night ?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE. I could wish that honourable members would agree to that. I am curtailing my speech upon the measure in the hope of getting it advanced ; and I feel that, by passing this Bill, the Commonwealth Parliament will have added another to the number of good Acts which it has passed during this long session, and one which will bring great good to the community in which we reside.

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