An online celebration of trailblazing women who have broken through barriers in federal parliament and beyond

The
Exhibition

In 1902 Australia became the first country in the world to give full political rights to white women. Despite this promising start, it was another 41 years before a woman was finally elected to the federal parliament.

It would take 108 years for a woman to become prime minister, and the country is still waiting for full gender equality in the parliament. The women who broke through the barriers facing them took on roles traditionally filled by men, and they did them well. They became senators, ministers, cabinet members, ministers of departments, took on executive positions within the chambers and even, finally, became prime minister. They proved their talent and ability and showed that women in parliament are not a novelty, but a necessity.

Breaking Through: 75 years of women in parliament is an onsite exhibition at the Museum of Australian Democracy, featuring portraits of federal politicians created by illustration students from TAFE NSW.

Breaking Through online is an ongoing celebration of trailblazing women who have broken through barriers in their fields, in federal parliament and beyond.

Dorothy Tangney and Enid Lyons walk through the doors of Parliament House in 1943 as its first female politicians
Photo: Australian War Memorial
...there is a positive side to [being a female in Parliament]. ...the delight of doing something for the first time... of making ripples which go on enlivening your society for decades.
Susan Ryan

Timeline

First female political candidate in Australia

Catherine Helen Spence

Women granted full political rights in Australia

Four women candidates run for federal parliament

None are successful.

First international women’s day

Edith Cowan elected to the WA Legislative Assembly

Dorothy Tangney and Enid Lyons elected to Federal Parliament

Annabelle Rankin appointed Opposition whip in the Senate

Enid Lyons first woman to hold Cabinet rank

Annabelle Rankin becomes Government Whip

Aboriginal women given the vote

Senator Annabelle Rankin appointed Minister for Housing

Becoming the first woman to administer a government department.

Ban on employment of married women by Commonwealth Public Service abolished

First childcare survey to determine arrangements made by mothers in paid employment

Senator Margaret Guilfoyle becomes first female Senator

to hold cabinet office and portfolio responsibilities (Minister for Education and Minister for Social Security).

First all-woman Senate committee

Sen. Susan Ryan becomes the first Labor woman federal minister

Sex Discrimination Act introduced

Senator Janine Haines becomes first woman to lead an Australian political party

(Australian Democrats)

Joan Child elected the first woman to be Speaker of the House of Representatives

Senator Janet Powell becomes the second woman to lead the Australian Democrats

Sen. Margaret Reid becomes the first woman president of the Senate

39 women elected to House of Representatives, 16 women elected to Senate

Total of 55 women elected to Parliament.

Ms Jenny Macklin MP elected as Deputy Leader of the Australian Labor Party

Julia Gillard becomes Deputy Prime Minister

Dame Quentin Bryce becomes first female Governor-General of Australia

Julia Gillard becomes Prime Minister

37 woman elected to the House of Representatives, 30 elected to the Senate

Total of 67 women.

Nova Peris first Aboriginal woman elected to Parliament

Linda Burney first Aboriginal woman elected to House of Representatives

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