I’m Australia’s first female Prime Minister.
And I didn’t get here alone.
Today I think of all the women who made my journey possible, all the women who made our journey possible:
A lifetime of support from colleagues and family, mentors and friends like Joan Kirner. A century of activism by women of matchless courage and resolve. Some have an honoured place in history like Edith Cowan and Catherine Helen Spence, but there are also the unknown, unnamed women who through countless acts of defiance affirmed the right of every woman to a life of opportunity, freedom and choice.
They did these things inspired by faith in women they would never know and a future they would never see. We are those women. We are that future. Today we speak for the women of a thousand generations.
We owe them a debt of gratitude, and we owe to them a responsibility: a responsibility to build on their foundations; to do more, to be more, and to make life better for the women who will come after us; to say and do in our own time the things that were once held to be unthinkable and unachievable.
Friends, April 25th has a sacred place in the Australian imagination. But 19 years before Gallipoli, it was already a significant day in our nation’s story. It was the day Australian women first cast their vote. The place was South Australia, a laboratory of progressive social change in the late Victorian era.
The Adelaide Advertiser expressed its faith that women would not “leave their electoral privileges unexercised for fear of losing the bloom of their delicate and retiring femininity.” While the Adelaide Observer pointed out the “air of responsibility” on the faces of the newly enfranchised voters. That was how our journey in Australian political life began.
Those women are long gone now, and it easy to think of them as quaint figures in their bonnets and elaborate petticoats. But remember this was the age of Mary MacKillop and Louisa Lawson – strong women in a harsh land. And whether they knew it or not, they were doing more than just casting a ballot.
They were taking the remarkable and rendering it unremarkable, opening the way to a transformative century that would forever change the way human beings live, govern and think. The 20th Century was a century of big political movements and ideologies such as fascism, socialism and modernism. And yet the movement that outlasted them all, and surpassed them all in what it has achieved for humanity, is feminism – the struggle for women’s emancipation and equality.
Pioneer Australian feminist Rose Scott observed that the vote itself was only a “piece of machinery” in “battling for the liberty, for the freedom of women”. It was the key that unlocked the door to everything else: The right to learn, to work and demand a fair day’s pay; to choose our partners and our family structures, and manage our own health; to strive to live free of coercion and violence; and to shape the destiny of the nations in which we live.