Dame Nancy Buttfield

13 Sep 2005 archivespeech

This speech is in relation to the passing of Dame Nancy Buttfield who was the first South Australian woman elected to parliament, federal or state. The Hon. J.M.A LENSINK extends her condolences to Dame Nancy's family.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: It gives me great pleasure to speak to this motion, although with some sadness in noting the passing of Dame Nancy Buttfield. On 18 December 1894, South Australia became the first democracy in the world to grant women the right to vote and the right to stand for election, followed shortly thereafter in 1902 by the commonwealth parliament. South Australia in particular was a leader in that field, but it took some 61 years after South Australia granted those rights, and 53 years after the commonwealth, for Dame Nancy Buttfield to be the first South Australian woman elected to parliament, federal or state.

She represents a great Liberal tradition in that there were a number of firsts achieved. The first woman endorsed by a political party in South Australia was Agnes Goode. Her election in 1955 was the next milestone, when she was elected to the federal parliament. We also claim these firsts: in women elected to the South Australian parliament, Joyce Steele and Jessie Cooper, in 1959; the first woman opposition whip, Joyce Steele; the first woman elected to the House of Representatives, Kay Brownbill; and the first woman cabinet minister in 1968, Joyce Steele.

I imagine that it must have been quite a difficult task for Dame Nancy at the time. Those of us who represent the minority gender in this parliament can but imagine the task that she might have had in presenting issues without being dismissed as merely raising those issues because she was a woman and perhaps being labelled emotional or a bit soft. On being asked to assent to the bill providing Australian women with the right to vote, Queen Victoria allegedly described it as mad, wicked folly. When one must fight one's own gender to have representation, it is a difficult task indeed.

Dame Nancy is somebody I met fleetingly, which I think is probably a reflection of our different generations. Her trailblazing is something that I think all South Australian women, including women parliamentarians, have a great deal to be grateful for, in that she has paved the way. As I said, we can but imagine her difficulties in representing the state, with the isolation that she had to overcome and the dismissiveness of some of her colleagues. As has already been stated, I think by minister Carmel Zollo, the people of South Australia often chose to give Dame Nancy more votes than male colleagues who were on the ticket. So, I think in that sense it reflects that. Many people in our community recognise that women certainly do have a place in parliament, as they did in those days, and need to be elected so that the population is properly represented by all.

Dame Nancy served for 18 years, which is quite a milestone, particularly given the period in which she served. Indeed, she must have helped to make many changes. Equal pay for women and abolishing the marriage bar are very significant changes indeed, and in the year 2005 I think we all take those sorts of things for granted. I would like to extend my condolences to Dame Nancy's family; I commend her work to the house; and I support the motion.