Mabel Howard, MP

Mabel Howard perhaps expected cabinet rank after the 1946 election, in which she scored the highest majority in the country. She had to wait until a vacancy was created by the death of Dan Sullivan, and her election by caucus to cabinet in May 1947. Appointed minister of health and minister in charge of child welfare, Howard was the country’s first woman cabinet minister. Opinions differ as to her effectiveness, with some contemporaries believing she needlessly antagonised departmental officials and doctors, and others believing that Peter Fraser and Arnold Nordmeyer (her predecessors in the health portfolio) continued to control policy. However, she introduced important legislation which provided for better treatment of tuberculosis, the professional regulation of physiotherapists and occupational therapists, and the teaching of obstetrics and gynaecology. She also introduced legislation to improve facilities for the mentally ill, and sought to remove the associated stigma.