When Gender Institute committee member and inaugural convenor Professor Kim Rubenstein was approached by the Victorian Women's Trust to participate in a Monster Petition to Parliament, she was immediately reminded of the work she had done on Gender and the Australian Constitution – in considering the role of the suffragettes of the 1890s who campaigned for the right to vote.
In 1891, Victorian suffragettes collected almost 30,000 signatures in five weeks requesting that ‘Women should Vote on Equal terms with Men'. Almost one in ten of Victoria’s adult women signed this unprecedented petition. The sheets of signatures were glued onto a 260 metre roll of cloth and rolled on a spindle. It took two men to carry the petition into parliament and it became known as the Monster Petition. Similar petitions followed in other states.
The current 'Monster Petition to Parliament' on climate change takes direct inspiration from these pioneering women. It is the initiative of 12 independent women with the support of the Victorian Women's trust, an independent women’s organisation with a long track record in policy, research and community advocacy.
For Professor Rubenstein, this petition speaks as a reminder of what active citizenship can be and is a natural extension of her research and policy work on citizenship in general and Australian citizenship and women's active participation in politics in particular. In her statement of participation as a spearhead of the current petition, Professor Rubenstein says:
My work on citizenship has been concerned with the link between the formal status and what it means to be an active citizen in our community. Over a century ago, the women of Australia saw voting rights as fundamental to being active citizens. Their ultimate success has enabled women of this century to be in a position to call upon their fellow citizens to action. Climate change is an issue requiring Australian citizens to tell their Parliament that there is no time for waiting – Parliament must act now!
Further information about the Victorian Monster Petition of 1891 is available on the Parliament of VIctoria website and a panel from a similar petition tabled in South Australia's parliament in 1894 can be viewed at the Museum for Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House in Canberra (see story by Stephanie Pfennigwerth).
Information about the current 'Monster Petition to Parliament' is available here.