Vale Dame Margaret Guilfoyle AC DBE, a strong advocate for ECEC

by Freya Lucas

November 26, 2020

Australia’s treasurer Josh Frydenberg recently paid tribute to “a political giant and one of our finest Australians” noting with sadness the passing of Dame Margaret Guilfoyle AC DBE.

 

Dame Margaret was a true pioneer in Australian politics, as the first woman in Cabinet with a Ministerial portfolio, and was known to the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector for her support of the sector as a Minister for Education under the Fraser Government, where she oversaw the considerable expansion of government support for preschool, childcare and after-school care.

 

Known for her hardworking and meticulous style, Dame Margaret built a strong record of achievement, with her performance as a Minister was praised on all sides. 

 

Dame Margaret was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. In 1926 she came to Australia with her family, settling in Melbourne. At just 10 years old her father tragically passed away leaving her mother to raise a young family.

 

This had a major impact on Dame Margaret who became aware at a very early age how important education was in giving women opportunity and financial independence.

 

Successfully navigating a career and raising a family, Dame Margaret stood for preselection for the Liberal Party among a field of 20 candidates, where she secured second position on the Liberal Party’s Victorian Senate ticket for the 1970 Federal Election. Dame Margaret began her term on 1 July 1971 as the seventh woman elected as a Senator in Australia.

 

When Dame Margaret retired from the Senate in 1987 she told Parliament:

 

“It was said that I was the first to hold a Cabinet post and administer a department – that might be true – but it had to be very important that I was not the last…I will be even more interested in watching the women who follow in the future to see that their contribution is recognised and is not in any way segregated from the overall contribution that must be made by people handling extensive portfolio work.”

 

“Dame Margaret opened doors for Australian women that will never be shut again. This is her great legacy,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, extending his condolences on behalf of all Australians to Dame Margaret’s husband Stan and her family.

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