What we can all learn from Irene Longman

“When I was first elected the men thought I would not be able to stand the strain and when a long night sitting was ahead, advised me not to see it out. I had to remind them that women were used to long hours and that their mothers had probably sat up all night with them when they were children.” – Irene Longman

As part of the theme for 2018, ‘Inclusion and Diversity’, Professor Cordelia Fine drew some insightful connections to theme to the work of Irene Longman. There were a number of events throughout Irene Longman’s parliamentary career that spoke directly to IPAA Queensland’s theme; and a sample of them highlighted by Professor Fine are as below.

 At a Royal Commission on the Child Endowment scheme held in Melbourne in 1927, Irene Longman proposed that women’s work as wives and mothers, should be recognised as a profession and paid by the state.

As University of Melbourne Honorary Professor Marilyn Lake relays in her 1999 book, Getting Equal; The History of Australian Feminism, to quote astonished Commissioners questioning Longman about her advanced theory asked, ‘Your theory is that the State should pay the wife for services rendered to the State?’ She responds, ‘Yes, we say that her services to the state are as great as those of the men, and therefore, that those services should be paid for as an independent economic unit.’

If only the government had acted on Longman’s inspired idea, perhaps we wouldn’t now be wondering how to tackle the gender gap in Superannuation that leaves women with about half as much retirement funds as men.

Irene Longman advocated for the representation of women’s voices not just for matters pertaining to themselves and their family, but in all matters of national interest. Nonetheless, as the first woman member of the Queensland Parliament, there was presumably a bit of catching up to be done.

Longman rose to speak 39 times in parliament and of these 31 related to matters regarding women or children. Among other successes, she was responsible for the appointment of women police officers, something she felt important to offer reprimanded or criminal women some dignity. She achieved this despite the objections of the police union and resistance from the Police Commissioner.

Longman advocated for the then radical, and still illusionary principal of equal pay for equal work and for more equitable divorce laws. She also advocated for the appointment of female justices of the peace and for woman to sit on juries. For family allowance reform, and for women to be paid by their state for their work.

She campaigned for protective legislation and reforms to protect women and young girls from sexual exploitation. And pointing out the double standard involved, campaigned against Contagious Disease Act that saw women suspected of involvement in prostitution, but not men, arrested, examined and incarcerated if found to have a venereal disease.

Now allowing women to be police officers increases a talent pool. Demographic diversity enhances the quality of juror deliberations. Children who live in poverty are less likely to develop their full labour potential. Jailing women who need medical treatment is expensive and inefficient. But is this why we should admire Longmans efforts and successes? Well of course it isn’t.

Longmans words and deeds impress us because they aspired to make Australia a fairer, more just society in which people’s interests, concerns and needs are more equitably considered and represented. That work is not yet done, and this is why diversity and inclusion matters.

About IPAA Queensland:

IPAA Queensland is the professional association for people engaged in public purpose work.

Our mission is simple. We promote and enhance the professionalism, capability and integrity of public administration and pride in public service.

We do this through a program of thought leadership forums and events that enable our members to build their connections, challenge their thinking and keep informed about contemporary issues.

Becoming a member of IPAA Queensland demonstrates your personal commitment and contribution to public purpose work and offers you exclusive development and networking opportunities. To read more articles like this, check out our blog, and to watch the Irene Longman Oration in full, join today and access the full back catalogue of IPAA Queensland events.