Thursday 28th of January 2021

a fish without a bicycle...

A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle. Did the slogan that adorned many of the doors and walls of women's liberationists in the 1970s imply anything about women and politics? Women in Parliament are not women without men, they are women surrounded by them. But in making their way through the congestion of legislation, policy, scrutiny, representation, electioneering and leadership, are women as unnatural and unlikely as fishes on bicycles? Do a few fishes on bicycles change our perception of fish?

According to which social commentator you favour, social change is either excruciatingly slow or frighteningly rapid. It depends on your viewpoint and the issues. In the history of the human race, or even the history of the Australian Parliament, seventeen years is not a long time. It will be seventeen years this December since I was elected to the Senate. The changes to the parliamentary program, to policies and legislation, to the media's expectation of what happens in Parliament and to the community's expectations about who their political leaders will be and what they should look like, have changed in that time.

When I went into Parliament women parliamentarians were not quite as rare a sight as a fish on a bicycle : they actually did exist.

After being elected in 1975, I joined four women who had already been in the Senate for a short period, Liberal Senators Guilfoyle and Martin, and Labor Senators Coleman and Melzer. Senator Walters from Tasmania was also elected in 1975. So there were six: a small but noticeable number. Across Kings Hall in the House of Representatives there were no women. Four women had been elected to sit in the House of Representatives since Enid Lyons broke that barrier in 1943, but in 1975 there was none. There was no woman leader or minister in any state parliament. The memory of Enid Lyons had faded. Margaret Guilfoyle became the first, and sole, female cabinet minister in the Fraser Government.



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vale susan...

Susan Ryan, a trailblazing figure for women in politics who later served as Australia's first age discrimination commissioner, has died aged 77.

Ms Ryan served as a minister in Bob Hawke's Labor government, holding titles including special minister of state, minister for education and minister assisting the prime minister for the status women.

She was the first woman to hold the portfolio relating to women's affairs, and the first female minister from the Labor Party.

Key laws enshrining opportunity and rights for women were legislated on her watch, including the Sex Discrimination Act.

She would later be quoted as calling the Sex Discrimination Act "probably the most useful thing I've done in my life".



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