Michelle Lensink


This speech is to indicate support for the motion to celebrate sesquicentenary, which is a celebration of 150 years of responsible government in this state.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I rise to support this motion to celebrate our sesquicentenary, which is a celebration of 150 years of responsible government in this state. In 1857 a bicameral parliament was established, consisting of an 18-member Legislative Council and a 36-member House of Assembly. The Legislative Council was elected by the entire colony and the House of Assembly was voted from 17 districts, which varied in representation from one to six members. The South Australian colony was established by free settlers rather than through transportation (as occurred in a number of other states in Australia). As the history books tell us, that led to a strong desire for individual freedoms, a strong pioneering spirit and a desire for a liberal democracy which was truly representative. The settlers came from the British Isles, and a large number also came from Germany and Prussia to establish the Barossa Valley and parts of the Adelaide Hills. From these times we have had a very diverse population in this state; and I believe that representation is reflective of that.

Political parties did not enter the fray until the 1890s, and the early forebear of the Liberal Party was the National Defence League, which became the Liberal Union in 1909 and later the Liberal and Country League in 1932, which was one of the first liberal parties to establish itself in Australia. The history books tell us that prior to the establishment of parties we had a number of different governments which the Lieutenant-Governor outlined in his speech—some 47 governments in 36 years. Today we stand here in this place and we have a range of members who have been elected on a party basis. In other developments, I note that until relatively recently— in fact, 1986—the British government retained the right to veto South Australian legislation. Already we have had references to the right of women to stand for parliament and to vote in parliament. I am told that when the regent Queen Victoria was asked to sign the statute she described the idea of enabling women to have the vote as ‘mad, wicked folly’. One of the arguments that was launched against women’s suffrage was that because suffrage logically involved the holding of public office it was inconsistent with the duties of most women. It may have been true at that time, but I am pleased that most people no longer hold that view.

It took some 50 years from women being given the right to vote in 1894 for the first woman to be elected to parliament. A number of Liberal women from this state were the first to be involved in parliamentary activity and to be successful. In 1924 Agnes Goode, who was a South Australian candidate, was the first female to be endorsed by a political party in Australia; so that is a national first by a South Australian Liberal woman. In 1955 Dame Nancy Buttfield became the first South Australian woman to represent the party in the Senate. In 1959 Jessie Cooper and Joyce Steele were the first females elected to the South Australian parliament. In 1966 Joyce Steele became the first female South Australian parliamentary cabinet minister. The Hon. Dr Diana Laidlaw (who was present here today) is South Australia’s longest serving female cabinet minister, having served for some eight years.

Our parliament has evolved over time to reflect thechanges in community needs.We have spoken about women and we have spoken about property franchise. We have a number of different multicultural groups and people of different religions who have moved into South Australia. The parliament will always need to evolve to represent the different needs. Our parliament has served this state well, and I would hope that we all could show the same courage and vision of our forebears from the first parliament through to all other parliaments that have represented the people of South Australia. Most new ideas seem radical at first, but we must not be afraid of debate, and I echo the words in the prayer that is read at the start of the parliamentary sitting day: ‘may we bear in mind the true welfare of the people of this state’ in all our deliberations.

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