Reading Passage 16 – A Parliamentary Speech

Keywords: Level 5-6, 10 questions [4 MCQs, 6 short-answer], historical, 1920’s, Edith Cowan, Australian legal system, Australian Parliament (Western Australia), non-fiction.

Recommended time: 30 minutes.

Passage sourced from: The Western Australian Hansard, 28th July 1921.

Curricular links (full descriptions can be found at the bottom): ACELA1501, ACELY1698, ACELY1702, ACELA1517, ACELY1713.

Background information: These two passages come from Edith Cowan’s Address-in-Reply at the West Australian Parliament in 1921. Everything that was said was written down in real time. During an Address-in-Reply, nobody other than the main speaker is supposed to say anything.

Mrs. Cowan: I stand here today in the unique position of being the first woman in an Australian Parliament. I know many people think perhaps that it was not the wisest thing to do to send a woman into Parliament, and perhaps I should remind honourable members that one of the reasons why women and men also considered it advisable to do so, was because it was felt that men need a reminder sometimes from women beside them that will make them realise all that can be done for the race and for the home. I have been sent here more from that standpoint than from any other. You, Mr. Speaker, are aware that everybody said when the elections began that there were three old women putting up for Parliament. I am the only old woman who got in, but then I am the only genuine one of the lot.

Mrs. Cowan: Many a strike would be prevented if the women had the right to vote.

Mr. McCallum: And they would have to pay for it later on.

Mrs. Cowan: It is most unfair that a strike should be called simply at the word of mainly the single men, when they would be far better off without the strike.

Mr. McCallum: And quietly submit to the domination of the boss.

Mrs. Cowan: It would not be so bad for the mothers and children if it were not that the children, 16 and 18 years of age, and not the mothers, are allowed to vote on the question of a strike.

Mr. McCallum interjected.

Mrs. Cowan: The women should have a voice in all these matters. Numbers of women in every section of the community would welcome something along those lines if it were possible to make it legal. I think it should be quite as legal to give a woman a vote in the union as it is to give the men a vote. As a woman I desire class conscientiousness of every kind to be eliminated.

Mr. McCallum: Start on those around you.

Mrs. Cowan: I am willing to do that. I have always stood for having no class conscientiousness amongst us.


1. Which of these issues is not addressed by Cowan’s speech excerpt?

a) How one’s social class can affect how others treat them

b) Women’s right to vote within the union

c) Needing a female perspective to create a balanced opinion within Parliament

d) How ageism can affect who is voted into Parliament

2. “…everybody said when the elections began that there were three old women putting up for Parliament. I am the only old woman who got in, but then I am the only genuine one of the lot.” This is an example of ___________.

a) Objectivity

b) Humor

c) Alliteration

d) Factual evidence

3. What is the most likely reason that Cowan used the above answer?

a) To create a good first impression of her character.

b) To compliment the women who didn’t get into Parliament.

c) To lighten the atmosphere and encourage acceptance from other members.

d) All of the above.

4. How would you describe McCallum’s tone?

a) Encouraging and kind

b) Apprehensive and ecstatic

c) Argumentative and disapproving

d) Dismissive and objective

5. Why do you think other Parliament members kept interrupting Cowan?

6. Choose a quote from Edith Cowan that expresses her opinion on something.

7. Do you think this speech took place in a formal or informal setting? Use a sentence/word to support your answer.

8. What is an example of an objective statement? Choose a quote from the passage and explain its effect on the audience.

9. What is an example of a subjective statement? Choose a quote from the passage and explain its effect on the audience.

10. Summarise Cowan’s stance on women’s rights. Use a quote from the passage to support your answer.

Check your answers here!

Curricular links (Australian Curriculum)

Level 5:

  • Language = Understand that patterns of language interaction vary across social contexts and types of texts and that they help to signal social roles and relationships (ACELA1501)
  • Literacy = Show how ideas and points of view in texts are conveyed through the use of vocabulary, including idiomatic expressions, objective and subjective language, and that these can change according to context (ACELY1698)
  • Literacy = Navigate and read texts for specific purposes applying appropriate text processing strategies, for example predicting and confirming, monitoring meaning, skimming and scanning (ACELY1702)

Level 6:

  • Language = Understand the uses of objective and subjective language and bias (ACELA1517)
  • Literacy = Use comprehension strategies to interpret and analyse information and ideas, comparing content from a variety of textual sources including media and digital texts (ACELY1713)

Note: This passage is from The Western Australian Hansard. To my knowledge, utilising this passage as a free educational exercise falls under fair use. If not, please let me know. I want to make sure that everything on this website is fair and right. The questions are of my own creation.


A teaching student whose goal is to become a primary-school teacher! I'm currently working as an English tutor to almost 100 students (they're all wonderful!).

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