• Jim Bolger
Prime Minister

Your Excellency The Governor-General and Lady Hardie Boys, Janet Hesketh, Leader of the Opposition Helen Clark, Christine Low, Lois Robertson, David Close, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you for extending to me the courtesy of an invitation to attend this very special 100th Conference of the National Council of Women.

As we know the first National Council of Women meeting was 13 April 1896 in the Provincial Chambers here in Christchurch - today you have about 200,000 members.

The small group of women who attended that first meeting continued the momentum generated by women achieving the right to vote in New Zealand.

An historic first that ranks as one of New Zealand's finest achievements.

That move in New Zealand in 1893 not only empowered the women of New Zealand, but also gave encouragement to the women of the world to also seek the right to vote in their own countries.

Some of the remarkable stories and successes of your 100 years are contained in the history you are launching tomorrow.

These stories speak eloquently and movingly of New Zealand's development over the past 100 years.

They speak of the many issues that have been dealt with or lobbied for over the life of the National Council of Women.

It was inevitable that the NCW would be a force to be reckoned with when they elected Kate Sheppard as their first President.

Kate was a politician - in the finest sense of that word.

She was not only 'a woman ahead of her time', but also 'the New Zealander of her time'.

Today I want to acknowledge the leadership shown by the women who have walked in Kate Sheppard's footsteps.

Especially those who have held the role of President of your organisation.

Those who served by playing a leadership role in your organisation and many, many others.

Those who served in public life in local or central government.

There are too many to name individually.

I want also to acknowledge today the tireless efforts of the NCW in ensuring that a woman's voice is heard in the Parliamentary environment.

Government values highly this contribution.

Can I add at this point my thanks to NCW women who have been very involved in looking at post-Beijing issues.

Jenny Shipley will be talking to you about this later in the Conference.

The Government is committed to looking at what you have suggested and I am told the Ministry of Women's Affairs will soon be giving advice on this matter.

In seeking to advance the status of New Zealand women the NCW has pursued Kate Sheppard's dream in a manner which she would have viewed with approval and pride.

Hopefully what has happened thus far is but the beginning.

I think Kate Sheppard would not have believed 100 years on that over half our students attending university are now women.

She would not have believed so many women would now occupy top positions in such a diverse range of occupations, professions and trades.

Nor would she have believed that New Zealand would undertake such a big shift in our democratic framework with the move to MMP.

During the current election campaign you will hear about many ideas, policies and especially promises.

There will be much written and spoken about our new MMP structure.

Words of wisdom and words of nonsense will be spoken.

But one outcome is certain - a record number of women will be in Parliament after this election.

All of which will ensure that the campaign to achieve the vote 100 years ago will see women playing a much bigger role.

With that change in the composition of Parliament we can expect to see the margin of inequality between men and women consigned to the dust bin of history.

With that high level of optimism I wish you well in this, your 100th Conference.

May this Conference be the springboard you seek to enable you to carry your work forward into your second century.

I wish you well.