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Member of Parliament

Before World War II was over, Doris found herself a widow, and with the strong support of a local Independent Labor group, she contested and won the federal seat of Bourke (roughly coterminous with Brunswick and Coburg), formerly occupied by her husband, Maurice Blackburn, from 1934-1943. A seasoned campaigner, she arrived in Canberra in 1946 as the second women to sit in the House of Representatives where she was noted for her energy, intelligence, fine speaking voice and clear exposition. Doris had a broad agenda, basically in-line with that of the Chifley government, but when she first rose to speak on 14 November 1946 it was to ask a series of questions about rocket testing in Australia. What followed is considered one of Australia’s definitive ‘stirring speeches’. Doris rejected the argument that the guided weapons program was essential for defence. Rather, ‘the danger to Australia’ was ‘in expending more money on defence measures than is reasonable in peace-time’. Furthermore, these were not weapons of defence. To the suggestion that the weapons testing was for scientific purposes that might have civilian benefits as well, she retorted: ‘We are not discussing the future of atomic energy; we are discussing guided weapons. These weapons are intended for mass destruction, and I am opposed to their development in Australia in time of peace’. She did not believe that ‘preparation for war was the best means of preserving peace’, especially given the harm it would do to Aboriginal people. The motion was defeated. Doris was, as the Sydney Morning Herald, put it ‘A Lone Woman Against Rocket Range Plan’.

Doris was not re-elected for a second term, but she took her much enhanced public profile back into work for international peace as the Cold War freeze set in. Even before she left parliament in 1949 she attended the inaugural meeting of the Australian Peace Council, and subsequently took an active part in its program. At the same time she returned to the WILPF as president from 1950, where she set about re-aligning its policies more closely with the international network and its continued emphasis on collective security. Following a ten month trip to Geneva, the UK and Scandinavia on behalf of the WILPF, Doris threw herself enthusiastically into the campaign against atomic testing from April 1953, mainly as president of the WILPF, until well into the 1960s, and could take some credit for Australia ceasing to host British atomic testing on Australian territory and acceding to the Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1963.

Doris was appalled by the slaughter and destruction of war, but for her, peace was also a matter of human rights. Only in a peaceful world could all people realise their full potential, while the elimination of war, or the threat of it, would free up resources to redress some of the inequalities in society. It was in this spirit that, as the imminent war threat receded in the 1950s, she turned the greater part of her attention to advancing the cause of Australia’s indigenous people. Yet to her last days, the promotion of peace, by any means, remained a central well spring of her commitment to a life of advocacy and activism.

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