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THE POLITICAL WOMAN IN AUSTRALIA
UNDER the laws of most countries women possess no legal rights, no political freedom; they do enjoy certain privileges, but of these they may be deprived at any moment by the same power that granted them—the ballot is the only weapon with which to secure and retain legal and political rights.
Advance Australia' is our national motto, and we Australian women have good reason to glory in the advance of our country, which, in granting women absolute political equality with men, has reached a position unique in the world's history. Philosophers, poets, and statesmen have rhapsodised about the beauty and the blessing of representative government, but few have pictured women as co-partners in such a form of government. America was the birthplace of modern democracy, but America has never dreamt in its philosophy of applying the fundamental principles of the Declaration of Independence to American women. No, it has been left to the newest of nations to admit that as ' men are created equal endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights ... to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,' so shall women be endowed with the rights that are considered the just due of sane, law-abiding, naturalised men.
The Australian constitution has no sex limitations whatever ; women vote on equal terms with men, they are eligible for membership in our National Parliament, they may even ascend to the dignity of office. That the constitution establishes the principle of no sex in politics is an unparalleled triumph for the woman suffrage party, which does not forget to give honour where honour is due, to the men of Australia, who have grown so far in democratic sentiment that they can tolerate the idea of living with political equals, an idea up to which John Stuart Mill said the men of his time were not educated.
It says a great deal for the educative value of the vote that the prejudice against women entering Parliament is more pronounced amongst women than it is amongst men. It took about twenty years to educate the women of Australia up to the point of asking for the franchise, and they are going to stick there for some time before they go any further. Nothing dies so hard as prejudice, and it is prejudice alone that blinds them to the fact that it is necessary and desirable to have women in Parliament. The vote in itself is a powerful weapon for good, but men, as the result of years of experience, have discovered that direct parliamentary representation is essential if full effect is to be given to the vote : they know that the entrance of women into Parliament is the natural and logical outcome of the minor reform; therefore, they do not view with such horror, as do many women, the prospect of seeing women within the sacred precincts of Parliament. Indeed, it is because the sacredness of Parliament is such a myth that so many public-spirited men desire to see women there. They well know the limitations of their own sex. It always has been the privilege' of woman to tidy up after man. Man seems to be constitutionally unable to keep things tidy. Take the daily round, the common task-he leaves the bathroom in a state of flood, his dressing-room a howling wilderness of masculine paraphernalia, his office a chaos of ink and papers ; the wonder is he gets there' so well as he does. Untidy at home, untidy in business, so is he untidy in the nation; he does his best, but as he does not understand the first principles of household management, he gets the national household into a terrible state of muddle. He is so busy looking after the big things, that he forgets all about the little things that make the big things a success, instead of a failure. And so the women have to come along and help to evolve order out of chaos; but they suffer no illusions as to the magnitude of their task. The work of tidying up public affairs is not the work of a day, nor of a generation, it is primarily a matter of slow education, which must begin in the home and be founded on an ethical basis. Some think that, if women do their duty in their homes, nothing further is required, no public duty should be expected of them; but women cannot train their sons and daughters in the varied, complex, and sacred duties of citizenship unless they possess a first-hand knowledge of what citizenship means. Women are not made safe advisers of their children by being kept ignorant of all that citizenship involves. Public spirit is a great need of the age. We'wonder why public affairs are so badly managed ; it is partly because those who conduct them have been trained by women who had no conception of public duty, who knew not the meaning of public spirit, who, consequently, could not be expected to equip their sons properly for the public arena.' Give women the vote and you prepare the way for a new order of things; by giving women political power you give them an incentive to study, or at least to interest themselves in public questions, and the effect of their enlarged interests will be beneficial both to home and State.
The political incentive is now the possession of the women of Australia, and its influence was a potent factor in the recent Federal elections. The women of South Australia and West Australia have had the suffrage for some years, so that they are accustomed to voting,
but to the women of the other States the whole business was new; nevertheless, they voted in as large numbers proportionally as the men in a majority of the constituencies, while in some they cast a heavier vote than the men. The total vote was only 52 per cent. of the voting strength, the low percentage being due to the fact that the people as a body have not yet grasped the Federal idea. Federation has not completely scotched provincialism in politics, though it is fast doing so, if for no other reason than the enormous cost of government in this country. The people are beginning to realise that we are paying the political piper heavily-fourteen Houses of Parliament and seven viceroyalties for four millions of people! It is too big an order, and common sense, as well as the state of our finances, demands that we should simplify our legislative machinery. It is right here, as the Americans say, that the women's influence will tell. During the election campaign, it was most evident that a very large section of the women favoured those candidates who urged economy in public expenditure. Individual women, with no idea of the value of money, may be extravagant, but most women are compelled by circumstances to be economical and have a horror of wasteful expenditure. Therefore the growing demand for less expensive legislative machinery will find devoted adherents amongst the women voters. As a candidate at the recent elections, I attribute to a great degree the large measure of support I received to my strong advocacy of economy in administration (by the abolition of the State Parliaments, dividing the work now done by them between the Federal Parliament and the Municipal councils), and the cessation of borrowing except for reproductive works.
Women will vote as their menfolk tell them,' was an argument of the anti-suffrage party. The elections proved that, on the whole, the women cast an independent vote. Of course they frequently voted as their menfolk did, not because they allowed themselves to be blindly led in that direction, but because their political judgment decided it was the right way. We know that men often vote as they are told to vote by their party, or by the particular daily paper they make their guide, philosopher, and friend. Many did so in the Federal elections, swallowing wholesale the selected ' ticket,' even bringing it to the booth with them, so that they could not by any chance make a mistake. Several returning officers, although opposed to woman suffrage, have stated that the women were not guided by the ticket' to anything like the same extent as the men were—at any rate, if they were, they more effectively concealed the fact that they could not be. trusted to vote in the best interests of their country unless they were told how to by an outside agent. The political parties and the daily papers have of late years made an effort to introduce the ticket system of voting into Australian politics, in spite of the knowledge that the system has had the most vicious results in the United States;
but this time the tickets' got fairly well broken up, an encouraging sign to those genuinely patriotic Australians who desire to see the people really self-governing, neither press-ridden nor party-ridden. The ticket' system is utterly repugnant to all true democratic principles. Parliament should be elected by the people, not by one man or any small coterie of men. The people's 'ticket' should be the candidates who head the poll.
If the people of Australia once clearly grasp the inevitable and baneful results of the ' ticket’system, if it be allowed to get the upper hand, as it has done in the United States, then we shall have no fear of the ultimate result. Bad as are its effects, when it is merely an attempt at dictation, it is, if allowed to grow and become absolute, a thousand times worse in its consequences on the national character and the purity of public life. Australia will not be able to plead ignorance, for there is the terrible example of what the ticket system leads to in the present condition of public life in America. No one who has not visited America and studied the conditions on the spot can have any idea of how corruption has eaten into every phase of public life—a corruption which is to be clearly traced to the machine politics and tickets' of the two great parties there. The promoters of great companies, the founders of trusts,' all who were anxious to build up gigantic fortunes by the unscrupulous exploitation of their fellow-countrymen, soon recognised the power that lay in the ticket system. They saw that, if they could capture the caucuses of the parties, they would have the whole country in their toils, whenever their own party was successful. They had no desire to enter the State Legislature or Congress themselves, but they planned that the men who were put on the tickets' should be their delegates, their creatures, who would do what they were told, and they planned successfully. Millions of dollars are subscribed to the party funds, newspapers are bought, bribes are scattered with lavish hands, for these men know that they will get it all back, with compound interest, when they can manipulate the Legislature at their will.
Thoughtful men in Australia are beginning to see the danger and resent the tyranny of the ' ticket'system, and an organised movement against it will certainly be supported by the women. In fact, the women of New South Wales and Victoria have, through the media of their most influential political organisations, already officially declared their hostility to the system, and at the next Federal elections we may hope to see those who would foist' machine' politics upon Australia even more decisively discomfited than they were in December.
Women will lose the chivalrous attentions of men if they are enfranchised' was another argument of the distrustful anti-suffragist. To the women who are influenced by such a prophecy of man falling from his high estate when he finds woman his political equal, I would say, 'My dear friends, your fears are groundless. You place a high
value on the chivalrous attentions that men now show you. Why, you have not the remotest idea of the vast stores of chivalry hidden away in the inner recesses of man's nature. When you get a vote, you will find that the chivalry of the middle ages was a poor thing in comparison with that of the twentieth century. The chivalrous attentions paid by candidates to women voters are most embarrassing -Sir Walter Raleighs and De Lorges are thick as leaves in Vallombrosa at election time.' But, joking apart, there is positively nothing in the argument, and those who use it have a poor opinion of men if they really believe that as soon as women get the vote, men are going to help themselves first at dinner, or refuse to pick up a lady's fan or escort her to her carriage. Voting means responsibility, responsibility means power, and power always commands respect. The Federal election showed that those very candidates who had previously maintained that women would lose the respect of men and be degraded by going to the poll were the most assiduous in courting the women's vote. They may have still the utmost contempt for the women who would degrade themselves by mixing with men at the polling booths, but they wrapped it up in flattery that was calculated to deceive the very elect-and it did, in some cases.
The elections had an added interest in the appearance of four women candidates in the field-Mrs. Martell, Mrs. Moore (New South Wales), myself (Victoria), standing for the Senate; and Miss Selina Anderson (New South Wales) for the House of Representatives. All were defeated, but the defeat was not unexpected, as we were well aware that it would be altogether phenomenal if women were to succeed in their first attempt to enter a National Parliament. I do not know the salient features of the women candidates' campaign in New South Wales, so I shall confine my observations to my own candidature. I was nominated by the Women's Federal Political Association of Victoria, of which I am the President, and I accepted the nomination because I saw at once what a splendid educational value the campaign would have. Although we possess the suffrage, there are still many women who do not want it, do not see why they should be bothered with it, but they only need to have the case for woman suffrage stated to them to accept it. At present they take the views of the hostile press and the comic papers as the truth about the political woman, but when they hear the logic and the sweet reasonableness of woman suffrage, when they see that those who voice it have nothing abnormal about them, especially when they learn what their legal status is, they soon become members of the true political faith. I knew that I should attract very much larger audiences as a candidate than if I were advertised to give a lecture on woman's part in the Federal elections or some such subject. I believed that the people would come out of curiosity, and not as single spies but in battalions, to see the wild woman that sought to enter Parliament. They came, they