The Age September 30th, 1891 pages 4-5

News of the day

The Legislative Assembly Chamber presented an unusual spectacle yesterday. Some time before even the House met both met both the Speaker's and the strangers' galleries were procession a strong contingent of ladies who were attracted to the sitting by the announcement that Mr Munro intended to move the second reading of the bill providing for the enfranchisement of women and the abolition of the plural voting. Most of the fair visitors remained in the House during the greater part of the evening, and evinced a lively interest in the debate. Mr Munro, as the special champion for the evening of "lovely woman", was the particular object of attention, and his pleading for the extension of political rights to the sex touched a sympathetic chord in the tender hearts of his audience, who even went so far as to depart from the ordinary decorum observed by "strangers" admitted to assist at the solemn deliberations of Parliament and applauded the more telling points made by the Premier. Mr Gillies, who spoke on the other side of the question, aroused the antagonism of his critics in petticoats, who once gave decided expression of their disapproval by hissing the leader of the Opposition. These irregularities were allowed to pass unchallenged, and even the Speaker, if he did not exactly goes as far as to "wink his other eye" at the gallery, at all events turned a deaf ear to it. The members who addressed themselves to the bill spoke in a pleasant tone, and the lady visitors were able to go away with quite an agreeable impression of the stately way in which members sometimes conducted their debates.

Mr Munro, in moving the second reading of the Constitution Act Amendment Bill, spoke for an hour, which is quite a long speech for the Premier, who is not noted for his word spinning powers; on the contrary, his Parliamentary reputation has been won by the brevity with which he handles, and handles ably, important questions. After explaining that the three main provisions of the bill dealt with the abolition of plural voting, the payment of members immediately from the return of the writ, and the enfranchisement of women, Mr Munro promised to give reasons in support of each of these proposed amendments. He experienced no difficulty whatever in making out a good case against the pluralists, and described as rotten the prevailing system of how to obtain votes and how to use them. The bill proposes that no person is to vote more than once at any Assembly election, though Mr Munro declared that this was not the reform that he personally wished for. His idea is that every man who wanted to vote should be compelled to register his name, and that no other qualification ought to be recognised. Upon the second amendment, altering the practice of paying members, he did not waste much time. Now members are paid only after they have been sworn in; the bill proposes payment to begin as soon as the returning officer sends in his writ. The difference is only a question of a few weeks, and merely affects the pocket of members to a small extent in the first session of every new Parliament.

The most interesting part of Mr Munro's speech upon the Constitution Amendment Bill was that dealing the enfranchisement of women. It was noted that the strongest opposition to this proposal emanated from the Ministerial side of the House, especially from Mr Hancock and Mr W.T. Carter, who kept up a continuous fire of hostile interjections. As a Liberal, the Premier confessed that he was puzzled to find a reason why "one half of the people" should be excluded from the franchise. Not an argument used against women's suffrage but would be used with equal force against manhood suffrage. In discoursing upon this topic even Mr Munro found himself to some extent inspired, and despite his recent indisposition, of which traces still remained, he succeeded in putting some of his characteristic fiery ardor into this part of his speech, and became quite eloquent in discoursing upon the wide sphere of woman’s influence and usefulness, her equality with men and the crying wrong done the sex for centenaries in denying them political rights, and the right of a voice in framing the laws of their own country. In Victoria there were, he said, 120,000 who earned their own living who had to submit to taxation, and who suffered injustice of not being allowed to a vote in making laws under which they had to live. After fortifying himself with a few quotations from noted advocates of women’s rights, Mr Munro had worked himself up to such a pitch that his feelings could no longer find utterance in ordinary prose, but had to give voice to some woefully bad "poetry" quoted from an anonymous poet.

Mr Gilles, who followed the Premier, adopted a more aggressive tone, and while favoring the abolition of plural voting, also demanded the purification of rolls, and that some legislative means be provided to check what is termed "roll stacking," though not in a Pickwickian sense. On the subject of women’s suffrage the leader of the Opposition was bluntly outspoken. He quoted no poetry, but laid down the bare dictum that woman’s proper place was in her home, tending and educating her children, and it was the duty of man to provide for woman. To enfranchise women would mean a political revolution, and the introduction of women into Parliament and to seats on the Treasury benches, a process viewed with ……


[check for continuation of Gillies arguments in this article]