She began her Senate term in July 1971 at age 45, one of only two women in Parliament. Ms. Guilfoyle made a point of joining committees that were focused on finances rather than family issues, though when senators were debating a law providing paid maternity leave to government employees, she argued that maternity leave should be extended to all women.
When Mr. Fraser, leader of the Liberal Party, was named caretaker prime minister in November 1975, Ms. Guilfoyle became education minister. The following month, after Mr. Fraser’s resounding victory in the general election, she was named minister of social security, making her the first female cabinet minister to hold a portfolio. (Australia’s first female cabinet member, Enid Lyons, was appointed a minister without portfolio in 1949.)
As social security minister, Ms. Guilfoyle resisted pressure to cut benefits — 83 percent of payments went to women, she said — and made the child allowance a cash payment instead of a tax rebate. She was also in charge of child care issues, and “presided over a major expansion of government support for preschool, child care and after-school care,” Mr. Morrison said.
With Mr. Fraser’s re-election in 1980, Ms. Guilfoyle was named finance minister, which she said was “perhaps the most interesting part of the whole of my parliamentary career.” She played an influential role in several federal budgets.
When the Fraser government was voted out in 1983, Ms. Guilfoyle remained in the Senate, where she supported a contentious law against sex discrimination that was passed the following year.
After she retired from her seat in 1987, Ms. Guilfoyle completed a law degree at the Australian National University. She also continued to take on public roles, including as a member of the National Inquiry Into the Human Rights of People with Mental Illness from 1990 to 1993 and chairwoman of the Judicial Remuneration Tribunal from 1995 to 2001. From 1993 to 1995, she was board president of the Royal Melbourne Hospital. She was also a board member at the Australian Children’s Television Foundation, the Victorian State Opera, the Mental Health Research Institute and the Infertility Treatment Authority.
Though Ms. Guilfoyle took pains not to be defined by her gender, she also worked to pave the way for others. In 1993, she was appointed chairwoman of the Liberal Women’s Forum, which had been formed to encourage more women from the party to run for Parliament. In 2001, she was co-chairwoman of an initiative to increase the number of women nominated for Australian honors and awards.