Lower Secondary – Men and Women in Political Life – Focus question 2: What can we learn from people who have worked in parliament?

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Lower Secondary – Men and Women in Political Life – Focus question 2: What can we learn from people who have worked in parliament?

Assessment task

Work in groups of five to prepare questions and answers for a television interview program. One person is the interviewer and the other four take the roles of Chifley, Menzies, Goldstein and Cowan.

Some of your questions should be about what happened in the past, for example:

  • To Chifley: 'How did you feel when you were re-employed as a cleaner by the New South Wales Railways? Did it make you want to take any action? If so, what?'
  • To Menzies: 'Why did you want to ban the Communist Party?'
  • To Goldstein: 'How did you feel when you stood for parliament five times but were not elected? What did it make you want to do or make you hope for the future?'
  • To Cowan: 'Why did you think it was important to have women elected to parliament?'

Some other questions should be about what is happening today, for example:
  • To Chifley and/or Menzies: 'Do you have any solution to the unemployment problem?'
  • To Goldstein: 'What would you be writing about today if The Australian Woman's Sphere was still being published?'

(You could choose to write some questions about the political activities on the poster you made at the beginning of this unit.)

Perform your television interview for the rest of the class, using a video if one is available.

Assessment criteria

Your work will be assessed on:
  • showing an understanding of types of political activity
  • showing an understanding of the reasons for different political activity
  • showing an understanding of the political beliefs of the people studied
  • applying an understanding of historical situations to situations in society today.
Biographies of four Australians who stood for parliament

Definitions for words in italics are given at the end of the relevant section.
Ben Chifley 1885-1951
Some major achievements
  • Prime Minister and Treasurer, 1945-49
  • Federal Treasurer, 1941-45
  • Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Power Act 1949
Memorials and monuments
  • Chifley Square, Sydney
  • Chifley Library, Australian National University
  • Chifley Cottage, Bathurst, New South Wales
Ben Chifley, the train driver who became prime minister

Background and experience
Ben Chifley was born in Bathurst, New South Wales. When he was five years old, he went to stay with his grandfather on a farm about 20 kilometres away. Grandfather Chifley thought that his favourite grandson would not get much attention if he stayed at home while his parents were caring for a new baby.
In the end, Ben stayed for nine years, and was his widowed grandfather's companion. They lived in a simple bush hut and Ben learned to milk the cows and bag potatoes. He attended a 'part-time' school, which had a teacher for only two days a week.
When Ben was 13, his grandfather died and Ben went back to his family. He started going to a Catholic high school but left after about two years because his limited schooling made it hard for him to keep up with the other students. By the time he was 17 he was working for the New South Wales Railways and by the time he was 24 he was driving huge train engines.
Although Chifley went to night school for 15 years, he always regretted that he had not had a chance to study more. He once told his nephew that 'I'd rather have had Mr Menzies' education than a million pounds'. (See biography of Robert Menzies which follows.)
In 1917, railway workers in Sydney went on strike to protest about their working conditions. Ben Chifley and other workers at Bathurst joined the strike out of loyalty to their mates, even though their own working conditions were different. The strikers were sacked. When Chifley finally got his job back it was as a cleaner and not as an engine driver. This experience helped Chifley decide to stand for parliament for the Australian Labor Party.
Political life and times
Chifley lived through the economic depression of the 1930s, when many people suffered great hardship. Afterwards, he always wanted to improve people's standards of living.
He was federal Member of Parliament for Macquarie, New South Wales, from 1928 to 1929 and again from 1940 to 1951. He was federal treasurer from 1941 to 1949.
When he became prime minister at the end of World War II in 1945, Chifley worked to get Australia back on its feet by introducing mass immigration, the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme and other large projects. His government increased Australia's wealth by expanding industry - for example, he promoted the development of the Holden, the first car designed and made in Australia.
At the same time, many people in the labour movement were suspicious of big business and believed that the government should own important businesses. Chifley brought Qantas under government control but his attempt to nationalise private banks was unpopular and the High Court said that the Constitution did not allow him to do it.
During the War, the Commonwealth Government had the power to control things like prices and rents. Chifley believed it should continue to have these powers after the War. For instance, he believed that the use of petrol in private cars should continue to be rationed. But after the shortages of meat, houses and petrol during the War, many people were tired of doing without these items.
Prime Minister Chifley lived simply. He had a cottage in Bathurst, and in Canberra he chose to live in a small hotel room rather than at the Prime Minister's Lodge. But most other Australians saw that businesses were making good profits, and they wanted better homes, cars and other consumer goods.
A private business is nationalised when a government takes it over and runs it. It is then owned by the government.
The Australian Constitution is a set of rules for our system of government. It was applied from 1901.
Something is rationed when the government allows people to have only a limited amount of it.
Beliefs and aims
Challenges and responses
One of the greatest challenges for Chifley was in 1949 when a coal miners' strike began in New South Wales, and spread quickly to all States. The miners demanded increased wages, long service leave and a 35-hour working week, but the mine owners thought these claims were unrealistic.
The situation was complicated by the increasing influence of the Communist Party of Australia, which wanted workers to own and control industry. Coal shortages (which reduced power supplies) and a cold winter meant that industry was not working properly and many people were suffering.
Chifley was in a difficult position. He supported the union movement and the workers' claims for better wages and conditions. But, at the same time, he could not afford to allow people to suffer because of coal shortages. In the end, he decided to break the strike by ordering that trade union money could not be used to support striking workers, and by sending soldiers to do the miners' work.
Many workers felt betrayed. They thought that the Labor Party should support workers and their trade unions, not act to break a strike.
Sir Robert Menzies 1894-1978
Some major achievements
  • Prime Minister, 1939-41 and 1949-66
  • Founder of the Liberal Party of Australia, 1944
  • Knighted, 1963
  • Expanded access to secondary education and built new universities
Memorials or monuments
  • The Menzies School of Health Research, Northern Territory
  • Menzies Building, Monash University
  • Menzies Monument, Jeparit
The Right Honourable Robert Menzies PM broadcasting to the nation the news of the outbreak of war, 1939
Background and experience
Robert (Bob) Menzies' family lived in the small country town of Jeparit, Victoria, where Bob went to the local state primary school. He was a good student.
At that time, most people did not have a secondary school education and there were no state secondary schools in Victoria. There were private secondary schools but the Menzies family could not afford to pay their fees. The only way Bob could continue with his education was to win a scholarship to a private secondary school.
He sat for a scholarship examination in 1907 and was the top student in the whole of Victoria. His scholarship allowed him to go to private schools in Ballarat and then Melbourne. Later he won another scholarship to the University of Melbourne, where he studied law.
Menzies grew up hearing plenty of talk about politics. His father and uncle were Members of Parliament in Victoria and his grandfather had been a leader of a miners' union. When he was at school in Ballarat, Menzies used to read The Worker with his grandfather and argue about trade union issues.
In 1916 Menzies graduated from university with first-class honours and soon became a successful lawyer and public speaker.
The Worker was a newspaper which supported trade unions and workers in the bush.
Political life and times
Menzies was elected to the Victorian Parliament in 1928 and by 1934 was acting premier. He was then elected to the House of Representatives in the Commonwealth Parliament, representing the Melbourne electorate of Kooyong.
In 1939, he became prime minister, only a few months before the start of World War II. When Great Britain declared war on Germany, he made a famous announcement, saying that, 'as a result, Australia is also at war'. In 1941, he was forced to resign as prime minister because his party would no longer support him.
Menzies became prime minister again in 1949, and remained prime minister until he retired in 1966. This is the longest period any person has been prime minister of Australia and is known as 'the Menzies era'. It was a time of growth in Australia. There was economic development, low unemployment and increasing levels of home ownership. There was also a large immigration program.
Until the Menzies era, few students completed year 12 or went to university but Menzies helped change this. His governments built more universities and provided Commonwealth scholarships so that successful students could continue their studies. Libraries and science laboratories were provided for secondary schools.
Menzies also made the national capital, Canberra, more important. Until his time, the Commonwealth public service had been based in Melbourne but Menzies transferred it to Canberra. He was also responsible for the building of the National Library and the landscaping of the city.
The Menzies era coincided with the Cold War, when many people in Australia feared a war between the United States of America and communist countries. Australia saw the United States as a powerful friend and Menzies sent Australian soldiers to fight with Americans against communist forces in Korea and Vietnam. Menzies was also a loyal supporter of Great Britain and the monarchy.
Beliefs and aims
An artisan is a craftsperson, such as a plumber or carpenter.
Challenges and responses
Menzies' greatest challenge was to make a political comeback after being forced to resign as prime minister in 1941.
Some people criticised him because he had not served in the armed forces during World War I or because he had not been loyal to the people who made him prime minister in 1939. To overcome these attacks and make his political comeback, he needed great determination and skill. He created a new political party, the Liberal Party, which appealed to middle-class voters and recognised the importance of women's interests and skills.
Menzies believed that people could get ahead in society through individual initiative and hard work. He thought that communists were the greatest danger to Australia because they believed that the government should own property, industry and wealth.
By 1949 communism was spreading in some Asian countries (such as China and Korea) and communist workers were gaining control of some Australian trade unions. In 1950 Menzies' government banned the Communist Party of Australia, but the High Court overruled the ban. Menzies then held a referendum to try to ban the Communist Party but the Australian people voted against such a ban.
But Menzies knew that people were frightened of communism and he was able to use this fear to persuade people to vote for his government. He said that the Australian Labor Party was too closely connected to the Communist Party. Then, just before the 1954 election, it was announced that a group of Russian (communist) spies had been found in Australia and Menzies claimed that they were a danger to Australia. This became known as the 'Petrov Affair' and Menzies was able to use it to harm the Australian Labor Party. Even today, people argue about whether the Petrov Affair really was a threat to Australia.
Russian guards drag the wife of Russian diplomat Vladimir Petrov to a plane at Sydney airport to take her back to Russia. The publication of this photo by the Australian media helped Menzies win the 1954 federal election.

Vida Goldstein 1869-1949
Some major achievements
  • Leader of the women's suffrage movement in Victoria for more than 20 years
  • First woman to nominate for election to the Commonwealth Parliament
  • Founder and editor of two successful women's newspapers, The Australian Woman's Sphere (1900-05) and The Woman Voter (1909-19)
  • Campaigner for children's courts and better treatment of young offenders
  • Peace activist
Memorials or monuments
  • Goldstein, federal electorate
Vida Goldstein, Australian delegate to the International Women Suffrage Conference in the United States in 1902

Background and experience
Vida Goldstein was born into a well-off family in Portland, Victoria. She went to a private secondary school in Melbourne and her university entrance examination results in 1886 were excellent. She was also good at tennis, billiards and horse riding.
Goldstein decided not to go to university or join in the busy social life of her wealthy friends. She became a teacher. In her spare time, she also wanted to help her mother, who was working to help people who lived in Melbourne's slum areas. Goldstein visited rat-infested, unsewered homes and met people who wanted to change these conditions. She studied theories about the causes of poverty and unemployment, and solutions to these problems.
Goldstein thought that it could make a difference if women were allowed to vote and be elected to parliament. Her first political action was to go door-knocking to collect signatures on a petition for woman's suffrage. The suffragists obtained 33,000 signatures on the largest petition that had ever been presented to the Victorian Parliament.
She also tried to persuade Members of Parliament to consider women's points of view on issues affecting women and children. In 1899 Goldstein became the leader and full-time paid organiser of the woman's suffrage movement in Victoria.
Suffrage is the right to vote.
A suffragist is a person who demands the right to vote. Here it means a supporter of women's suffrage.
The Woman Voter supported Vida Goldstein's Senate campaign in 1910.

Political life and times
Goldstein spent her life trying to gain equal rights for women. She set up and supported a number of women's organisations and campaigned for women to be able to vote and to sit in parliament in other countries as well as in Australia. She believed that governments need women's ideas, especially in dealing with poverty, unemployment and women's and children's issues.
In her time, Goldstein was a powerful public speaker and her best known political slogan was that 'all the men in Parliament cannot represent one woman as adequately as one woman can represent all women' (1909). She stood as an independent candidate for the Commonwealth Parliament five times between 1903 and 1917 but was not elected, although she did have a lot of support from voters.
Beliefs and aims
August means admired and respected.
Challenges and responses
A hundred years ago, some people already believed that women should be represented in parliament. Most people, however, believed that a woman's place was in the home.
As women began to campaign for equal rights, some newspapers, cartoonists and male politicians made fun of them (see the cartoon that follows). This did not stop Goldstein - she continued the campaign for nearly 30 years.
There was opposition to Goldstein for other reasons as well, such as her support for the suffragettes in England. Some suffragettes went on hunger strikes, set fire to buildings and even committed suicide to draw attention to the suffrage movement. Many people thought this kind of action was too strong. Also, Goldstein was a pacifist during World War I when many people thought it was a person's duty to support the War.
As a result, opposition to her political campaigns grew stronger but Goldstein refused to join any political party. This also harmed her chances of getting enough votes to be elected. She believed that politicians should work more cooperatively and that issues such as equal pay for equal work should concern all Members of Parliament, no matter what their party.
A suffragette was a woman who used drastic tactics to draw attention to the suffrage movement.
A pacifist is a person who does not agree with war.
Edith Cowan 1861-1932
Some major achievements
One of Western Australia's first women magistrates in the Children's Court, 1915-32
Australia's first woman parliamentarian, 1921-24
Introduced the Women's Legal Status Bill which removed the ban on women practising law and other professions (Western Australia), 1923
Memorials or monuments
Edith Cowan University, Western Australia
Cowan, federal electorate
Edith Cowan, social worker and Member of Parliament

Background and experience
When Edith Brown was seven years old her mother died. Edith was then sent from her home near Geraldton, Western Australia, to a girls' boarding school in Perth. She had to cope with another tragedy when her father was found guilty of the murder of his second wife and executed.
At 18 years of age, Edith married James Cowan, who became a magistrate in Perth. Through her husband's work, she saw how families suffered when their men were sent to gaol. Later she became an active member of organisations that tried to improve conditions for women and children. Edith had five children of her own.
When she became a magistrate of the Perth Children's Court herself, Edith was able to work hard to protect the rights of children. She held the position of magistrate for 18 years.

Political life and times
Western Australian women won the right to vote in 1899 but were not able to stand for parliament until 1920. Edith Cowan campaigned for both these reforms.
In 1921 she stood as a Nationalist candidate for the Legislative Assembly of Western Australia because she thought not enough was being done about the rights of children and women. In the election, Cowan defeated an experienced male politician by 46 votes. She was the first woman elected to an Australian parliament.
In her first speech in parliament, Cowan talked about what could be done to help children, women, wage earners and pensioners. She had some immediate success. When she complained that mothers taking prams on suburban trains had to pay a 'pram fare', the Minister for Railways replied that he would withdraw the charge at once.
Cowan wanted the government to make changes in education, health and immigration policy. But, as a backbencher and the only woman in parliament, she did not have the power to make many of the changes she wanted.
Her greatest achievement was to open up the legal profession to women. In 1923, she introduced a Bill to parliament to allow women lawyers to represent people in court, which they had not been allowed to do. Her Bill was passed by the parliament. It also allowed women for the first time to work in other professions. In a way, this legislation paved the way for modern equal opportunity legislation.
Cowan's campaigns for re-election in 1924 and 1927 were unsuccessful.
A backbencher is an ordinary Member of Parliament who does not have responsibility for an area such as Health, Foreign Affairs or Education.
Challenges and responses
Australia fought on the side of Great Britain in the World War I (1914-18) and over 330,000 Australian men and women went overseas. Most of them were soldiers or nurses and almost two-thirds were wounded or killed.
Cowan did not support the War and did not see it as a solution to international problems. But as the War went on she saw that there were practical things to be done for the ordinary people involved.
Western Australia was the first port of call in Australia for hospital ships coming back from the War and Cowan helped organise a welcoming committee for the people on the ships. She also established a Soldiers' Institute to provide soldiers with meals, rest and recreation. Cowan worked with the Red Cross and supported the idea that people who had returned from the War should be offered jobs before other people.
After the War, Cowan supported the League of Nations, which was set up in 1919 to promote world peace and cooperation. She was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in recognition of her work during the War.

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