“Women have a contribution to make to the life of the nation which only they can make,”
said Millicent Preston Stanley (pictured) the first female parliamentarian in New South Wales.
Millicent was elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1925. Millicent was a fierce advocate for matters affecting the welfare of women such as improvement in mortality rates at childbirth, reform in child welfare legislation and more equitable custody rights in divorce.
Despite Millicent beginning to break down the barriers to women entering NSW Parliament, over the next 50 years there were only three women elected to the Legislative Assembly and 12 appointed to the Legislative Council.
Catherine Green and Ellen Webster
Catherine Green and Ellen Webster were the first women appointed to the Legislative Council in 1931. Catherine used her time in the Council to advocate on issues including maternal care, equal guardianship of children, and equal wages for women. Ellen too was a passionate champion for the community, showing particular concern for the plight of farmers during the depression.
Lillian Fowler became the third women to be elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1944, 19 years following Millicent’s election (the second female, Mary Quirk, was elected in 1939). Not only was Lillian a trailblazing female state politician, Lillian was the first women elected to be an alderman in NSW in 1929, and the first female to be elected mayor in Australia in 1938. Lillian advocated strongly for changes to public health laws, child welfare and the land settlement schemes.
It wasn’t until the 1980’s that a woman was appointed as a Minister in the NSW Government. The Hon Janice Crosio AM, MBE served as the Minister for Natural Resources (1984-1986), Minister for Local Government (1986-1988), Minister for Water Resources (1986-1988) and Assistant Minister for Transport (1987-1988). Janice was also the first woman in Australia to hold positions in all three levels of Government.
The Hon Virginia Chadwick AO was the first woman to serve as a Presiding Officer of the NSW Parliament, as the President of the Legislative Council from 1998 to 1999. Since Virginia Chadwick, there have been two further female Presidents elected to the role: The Hon Dr Meredith Anne Burgmann and The Hon Amanda Fazio. The Hon Shelley Hancock MP was the first female elected to the role of the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly in 2011.
When The Hon Kristina Keneally (pictured) became the 42nd Premier of New South Wales in 2009, she was the first woman to hold the office. Kristina, and her Deputy Premier Carmel Tebbutt, were the first government in Australia to be headed by two women.
Since 1925, there have been over 130 women who have entered NSW Parliament. Today women comprise of 29 percent of the members of the Legislative Assembly and 24 percent of the Legislative Council. The current Premier Gladys Berejiklian (pictured) and Opposition leader Jodi McKay are both female. Women have come a long way in NSW politics since Millicent’s election, however there is still a way to go for women to achieve equal representation in NSW Parliament.