Ruth Coleman

Senator for Western Australia

ALP, 1974–1987

Ruth Coleman was the second Australian Labor Party woman to be elected to the Senate and served for 14 years as a senator for Western Australia (1974–87). Senator Coleman took on the dominant male culture at Parliament House soon after her arrival by campaigning for female toilets outside the Senate chamber and the inclusion of women in the parliamentary cricket team.

In the Senate she supported legislation that would allow the Australian Capital Territory to legislate on termination of pregnancies and urged senators to consider further funding and support for women’s refuges. She pointed out the effects of superannuation legislation that differentiated between male and female contributors, particularly the minimal contribution received by widows.

Coleman acted on her convictions. In 1980 she participated in a protest against section 54B of the Western Australian Police Act that restricted public meetings to fewer than three people and was arrested, remanded and fined by the magistrate. Coleman refused to pay the fine although, much to her annoyance, the fine was paid anonymously.

A tenacious and outspoken activist, in her valedictory speech Coleman said that she was disappointed by the lack of action on Aboriginal affairs and the change in the ALP’s stance on uranium mining.

Ruth Coleman.

Image courtesy of Auspic.