Dame Enid Lyons
As we mark International Womens Day today, I want to pay tribute to Dame Enid Lyons - a proud Tasmanian, the first woman to serve in the House of Representatives and the first woman to serve in the Ministry, having served in the Menzies’ Cabinet.
This year marks 75 years since she was elected to the Federal Parliament to represent north-western Tasmania.
Dame Enid earned a reputation of being pragmatic and undogmatic in her pursuit of equity, security and justice even before entering Parliament and as the secret weapon behind the success of former Premier and Prime Minister Joseph Lyons.
In her first speech to the Parliament, she said:
"On my shoulders rests a great weight of responsibility; because this is the first occasion upon which a woman has addressed this House. For that reason, it is an occasion which, for every woman in the Commonwealth, marks in some degree a turning point in history. I am well aware that, as I acquit myself in the work that I have undertaken for the next three years, so shall I either prejudice or enhance the prospects of those women who may wish to follow me in public service in the years to come."
In the Parliament, she was an articulate and passionate advocate that cut through in a remarkable way to achieve an extension of the child endowment, free medical treatment for pensioners and greater support for war widows. Sir Robert Menzies described her as “remarkable and talented and beautiful” and her legacy stands as a testament to her being one of the most significant political figures of her time, not because of her sex, but because of her remarkable work ethic and effectiveness.
75 years on, the evidence is clear - that the test that she set for herself, to enhance the prospects of women who seek to follow her, was and continues to be achieved.
I am honoured to pay tribute to one of the greatest Tasmanians of the 20th century.