Florence Cardell-Oliver (1876 – 1965) politician
Florence Cardell-Oliver became the first woman to hold a cabinet post when on April 1st, 1947, she was appointed minister without portfolio in the Liberal-Country League government. She represented her Subiaco parish on the Anglican diocesan synod.
Florence had been president of the Western Australian Nationalist Women’s Movement and of the Albany branch of the Women’s Service Guilds, and had travelled throughout Australia addressing recruitment meetings for the armed services during World War I. After her husband’s death she returned to Western Australia and became vice-president of the State branch of the Nationalist Party. In 1934 she published Empire Unity or Red Asiatic Domination? which outlined the economic measures she felt necessary to stave off the spread of communism. At the invitation of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, in 1935 she attended a congress in Istanbul of the International Suffrage Alliance of Women as a delegate from the Australian Federation of Women Voters. She was, as well, a delegate to the British Commonwealth League, London. Between 1933 and 1936 she also visited the Soviet Union, the Baltic States, Germany, Spain and Italy.
Having been defeated in 1934 by John Curtin for the seat of Fremantle in the House of Representatives, Cardell-Oliver (as she now styled herself) was returned in February 1936 to the Western Australian Legislative Assembly as the Nationalist member for Subiaco: she defeated two other endorsed Nationalists and the Labor sitting member on preferences. A vigorous debater with independent views, in 1939 she organized a campaign to oppose the establishment of free birth-control clinics, and, in opposition to her party, on 3 September 1941 unsuccessfully moved for the abolition of the death penalty. On 26 October, during a debate on starting-price betting, she was the first woman to be suspended from any Australian parliament. She succeeded, however, with bills that required parents to be notified before a ward of the state was released and that raised the age at which children could offer goods to pawnbrokers.
On 1 April 1947 Cardell-Oliver was appointed an honorary minister without portfolio in the McLarty-Watts Liberal-Country Party government and on 5 January 1948 honorary minister for supply and shipping. When she was given the additional portfolio of minister for health on 7 October 1949, she became the first woman in Australia and the oldest person in Western Australia to attain full cabinet rank. She retained these portfolios until the government was defeated in February 1953. Influenced by her experiences with undernourished children in London, she sponsored the Free Milk and Nutritional Council, and, as minister, introduced a free-milk scheme for Western Australian schoolchildren. She brought the State to the forefront of anti-tuberculosis campaigns by legislating for compulsory chest X-ray examinations.
A tall woman of imposing appearance, Cardell-Oliver wore long, flowing gowns and flower or feather-trimmed picture hats. She was a member of the Victoria League, the Royal Institute of Great Britain, and the Karrakatta and Perth clubs, was president of the Women Painters’ Society of Western Australia and of the Western Australian Women’s Hockey Association, and represented her Subiaco parish on the Anglican diocesan synod. Her formal education was limited, but she remembered with gratitude the care taken by her father to introduce her to learning, and developed into an accomplished linguist and an opera enthusiast. Having fulfilled her responsibilities as wife and mother, she succeeded in politics late in life through sheer hard work and force of personality. In 1951 she was appointed D.B.E.
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