Janet Powell

Senator for Victoria

AD; IND, 1986–1993

Janet Powell in her office in Parliament House, Canberra, in 1991.

Image courtesy of Newspix/News Limited.

In 1986, Australian Democrat and former teacher Janet Powell was selected by the Parliament of Victoria to represent Victoria in the Senate. Four years later she was elected as the leader of the Australian Democrats, only the second woman to lead a federal political party.

Senator Powell is noted as being the first woman to introduce a private senator’s bill which became law. The Smoking and Tobacco Products Advertisements [Prohibition] Act 1989 implemented a ban on print advertising of tobacco products. Her successful amendment of the Disabilities Services Bill 1986 meant the inclusion for the first time of the psychiatrically disabled in such legislation. She was also instrumental in the establishment in 1988 of the Senate Select Committee on Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals that inquired into the use of pesticides.

Powell’s vocal opposition to the 1991 Gulf War was considered the catalyst for the historic recall of both houses of parliament in order to debate Australia’s involvement in the war. However, a Democrats leadership challenge later that year resulted in her being replaced as leader. In 1992 she resigned from the Democrats and served as an independent senator until her term expired in 1993.