Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Page: 2048

Mr JENKINS (Scullin) (12:10): It was with great sadness that I heard on Sunday three weeks ago of the death of Joan Child. Mr Deputy Speaker Mitchell, as you will recall, at a function that was held the night before—the night of her death—I made remarks about Joan. The way that events transpired is quite eerie. I will take this opportunity to share the very heartfelt remarks that I shared at a gathering in my electorate on that night.

I am very proud that when I entered parliament Joan Child was the Speaker. That came about for the same reason that I became the member for Scullin: my father had resigned both as Speaker and as member for Scullin. I arrived in Canberra as a pretty raw recruit; I probably had some tickets on myself. I have realised over the last 27 years that the product that I sold back then was pretty raw. I think it is a better product now, but that is for another debate. Joan of course was elected Speaker. As I said, I was proud to enter the parliament with her as the first female Speaker, and I am proud that when I leave the House will be in the charge of the second female Speaker, Speaker Burke.

The other thing that I shared with that gathering on that Saturday night, the Saturday night of Joan's death, is that when I arrived in Canberra I had a Victorian perspective of Labor Party politics. Being a member of the Socialist Left, I actually thought—with all due respect to you, Mr Deputy Speaker—that members of Centre Unity were pretty bad people; they were as gruesome as it got. But I soon realised that they were actually lovely people. Of course, Mr Deputy Speaker, you are an example of the cuddly nature of Labor Unity. But it was Joan who helped me understand it. I thought: 'This is really radically different. When all the tribes come from the states and gather nationally you get a different perspective.' I remember that Joan said one day: 'But, Harry, you've got to understand that when the Left and the Right in Victoria say something to each other they actually really mean it and they deliver, warts and all. But there's a great trust.' That is one of the things that I have thought is really, really important about this place.

Much as been made—quite correctly—of the very important fact that Joan was the first female representative of the Labor Party in the House. It has made me realise that, while I have only been here for 27 years of Federation, I have actually served with every female member from the Labor Party in the place. I served with Joan and with the others who were there when I was first elected. It brought home to me how much of a trailblazer she was. She had that down-to-earth ability to work with everybody and to communicate on whatever level was required. Down in the old house there was a card school that used to play a couple of nights a week in the party room; it is something we have really lost in coming up the hill. There was only one female player in that card school and that was Joan. I never entered into it, but I understand that she was fairly good at it and she was able to make sure that she was on top of things.

The other story that I will share, and this is a difficult story because you never know how public to make these anecdotes, but Deputy Speaker Mitchell, you will know of my great admiration of a former member for McEwen, the late Peter Cleeland. Peter was as anti-uranium as you can get within the Labor Party. I have not quite researched the circumstances of what was actually going on at the time, but we were debating a matter to do with uranium within the caucus and numbers were fairly tight. Members of the Right caucus were being asked to do the right thing by executive government. This led Peter into a real dilemma because he was a very loyal member to those that he hunted and ran with—the right—but had really strong views about matters uranium. One day he went off to have a meeting with some people from his faction and I bumped into him soon after he returned from this meeting. Peter was a pretty strong person, he was not a shrinking violet, but I struck a colleague that was ashen faced and it did not take much to realise that whatever his recent experience had been, that it had been pretty tough for him. I said, 'What happened?', and he rattled off who he had gone to have the meeting with, and there were a number of luminaries of the faction who were there, and he said, 'It was amazing. I expected what I got from most of the people in the room, but the person that shocked me was Joan, and she was as tough as all the rest of them, and that surprised me'. I only share this because the point is that Joan did not want any favours because of her gender. She was here as a member, and she was one hell of a tough cookie, and I think that if you look through her life she had to be that. I believe that that is the way that we look upon the contribution and the ongoing contribution of female members of this place. They can be as determined and they can be as driven as anybody else, and Joan certainly was. She conducted herself in the chair with great dignity and she of course goes into the history books as the last Speaker in the old House, and the Speaker who brought us up the hill.

I was looking at the portrait of the 1988 House, when we were first here. I think that there are only three of us who are still members: myself, Warren Snowdon—as an aside, I will say that in the portrait Warren does not look any different, although I have aged—and Philip Ruddock. Phil looks really young in that. It is only Phil, myself and Wazza that were here, so for me it is important that, as somebody that was here we make sure that we put remarks about how Joan was such a good Speaker and tried, like we all try, to make people welcome in this place.

I read her comments in an article from 6 December 1987, in which she said:

If members, by their attitude, appear to lack respect for the institution of parliament and the standing orders, their attitude will be reflected in the community. If the House manages its affairs with appropriate dignity, the public perception of the parliament will be enhanced.

All I say is: Hear, Hear! How the wheel continues to turn. I think that those are things we should always remember.

In preparing for this speech I looked at her final speech in the House back in November 1989. The circumstances were that she stepped down before the election that she was retiring at and gave the opportunity for the election of her Deputy Speaker McLeay. In her speech she really shows her great love for the Australian Labor Party because predominantly this last speech is about the Labor Party's role not only as a political party but also as a parliamentary party. She said:

First there can be no true understanding of the nature, meaning or history of Labor except by understanding its central role as a parliamentary party. Secondly, there can be no true understanding of the Parliament of Australia except by understanding the critical role of Labor in shaping the Australian Parliament. Just as the work of Labor for the past century has uniquely shaped the Australian nation, so its work in the Parliament has uniquely shaped our Parliament into a uniquely Australian one. I make a third assertion that it is the House of Representatives through which this great national work has been done, and it is through that House alone that Labor can continue its central task of shaping the destinies of our people and our nation.

I know that could provoke debate, but I think that people in the Federation Chamber would understand that, where I have tried to consistently come from, I could not think of a better way of summing up. I stress that the thing that struck me was this evidence in one of her last speeches in this place of the importance she placed on the actions that we can achieve through the Australian Labor Party. For all the troubles that we have at the moment, I think that can continue to be a driving force. What it emphasises to me through Joan's own words is that we can be a political party and operate in the wider community as a political party and when we come here operate as a parliamentary party which is a subset of everything that we do. I think from time to time it is important that we remind ourselves of that.

As Speaker, I was lucky enough to have a special afternoon tea for Joan, who had not really visited the place much. She had missed the 21st anniversary function that we had. I was able to be her host. She appeared on that occasion to enjoy the day. She had a great love of the institution.

She perhaps had similar views to some of us who made the journey from down the hill to up the hill—that there were aspects of the old place that we missed. I do not think that you can wind the clock back. Many of the things that this new house has achieved could not be achieved in the old house. Joan shared the responsibilities with President Sibraa in bringing us up the hill. It was done really well. She could be very proud of her endeavours: (a) as the Speaker, (b) as a member of the House of Representatives, (c) as a political person that was able to get herself first elected, leave the place and get herself re-elected and, finally, just simply as a great Australian who through her family who should be intensely proud of her continued to make a mark.

I pay my respects and send my condolences to her family. My regret is that, because I was overseas, I was unable to attend the state funeral. I am not a person who looks for many funerals to go to but this is one that I would have wanted to attend if I could have. I send my condolences to her family and her friends. She is somebody that we all, as members of this place, whether we are Labor or not, should be intensely proud of.