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Monday, 29 November 2004
Page: 64


Senator STOTT DESPOJA (4:59 PM) —The incorporated speech read as follows—

Mr President, I wanted to record my respect and admiration for Janine Haines in this condolence debate. I was able to pay my respects in person to her family including her husband Ian, daughters Melanie and Bronwyn and their husbands Brad and Phillip, at the State Funeral in Adelaide on Friday.

Janine Haines has a unique place in Australian political history—or herstory—as the first woman to lead an Australian political parliamentary party but she also has a cherished and wonderful place in the Democrat family.

She was a trail blazer: a strong and articulate woman, she was a dynamic, clever and witty politician and she lead the way for many female politicians.

I was fortunate to meet Janine when I was a student at the University of Adelaide in the late 1980's. She was still Leader of the Australian Democrats at that time before her ill-fated campaign for the seat of Kingston in 1990—a campaign which drew many (including my family) into that election.

At the funeral Janine's daughter Melanie, and her husband, Brad, recalled a story to me about how their mutual friend remembers me being at a hair dresser where she was working and one at which Janine Haines was also having her hair cut. Apparently I said: “I would love to meet THAT woman”. I didn't recall this incident but I am not surprised.

When Janine addressed my University of Adelaide Australian politics class, her feminist and progressive stance on many issues were music to my ears. They are still many of the reasons I supported, worked for and joined the Australian Democrats.

It was not long after her speech that I did get to meet Janine through women's events and, indeed, was honoured to have her as a guest at a number of events over the coming years in my capacity as Women's Officer for the Students' Association of the University of Adelaide, as Women's Officer for the National Union of Students (SA).

Despite her heavy schedule—perhaps something I only really understand now—she made time to speak at these events and even attend an informal luncheon to discuss politics with a group of young women interested in `making a difference'. She made clear her view: if we believed in changing the world for the better we had to get involved and thus, began the lure of the Democrats for me.

Despite her Lower House loss in 1990 (and let's not forget that both major parties preferenced against her as I note Minister Downer made reference to in his condolence remarks in the House today), she has remained a respected and admired figure—both within the Democrats and more broadly (this is evident from the many political figures who attended her funeral last week). Nonetheless, she chose quite graciously to stay out of many of the Democrat and other political debates after her loss.

As she said at the launch of my Senate campaign in October 1995 “I've tried to keep my nose pretty much out of the Party's affairs since I lost the 1990 election on the grounds that of course you can't give the media, with due respect to those who are here today, the opportunity to play two leaders off against the other. So I retired more or less gracefully, I hope.”

I watched with sadness the video of that launch over the weekend and, at the same time, marvelling at her speech to that event primarily about women in Parliament and I will table some of her comments from that speech as it a rare example of her addressing a public Democrat function after the mid 1990s. Needless to say, she was as impressive and articulate as ever.

I enclose her remarks from that event:

Well, thank you very much first of all for having me here today. I've tried to keep my nose pretty much out of the Party's affairs since I lost the 1990 election on the grounds that of course you can't give the media, with due respect to those who are here today, the opportunity to play two leaders off against the other.

So I retired more or less gracefully, I hope.

I'm not sure that I conducted my parliamentary career, however, as gracefully as perhaps I should have. Certainly I was either graceful or gracious when a couple of my male colleagues decided that they wouldn't cope with having a woman as the Party Leader and quite ungracefully left the Party and set up a new Party in opposition. And I was certainly not at all gracious with the glee that I greeted their defeat at the next election.

So there's no way that I'm trying to paint myself as princess pure in all of this—I don't think you can in politics. But by the same token one oughtn't to go into politics I think just having ambitions for oneself either.

A political career, it seems to me at the end of the 20th century, ought perhaps to more closely approximate the aspirations that the very earliest would-be politicians had when Parliaments first became democratised in the British system in the middle of last century. And certainly, I think we ought to take on board the aspirations to make the world a better place, that a lot of the women candidates who stood.

And I think it's worthwhile pointing out that women have not really been backward in coming forward in Australia as far as being political candidates are concerned.

They started their attempt to get into Parliament in the 1903 election and women, I might point out, stood in the Australian Federal elections, in every election since 1906, and I think it says something not about the women and their aspirations for politics but about the political parties and their attitude to women that it took until 1943 before the major parties first elected their first women to Federal Parliament.

On the other hand, it took the Australian Democrats just six months after their formation to fling their first female candidate into the Senate. And that was me. And there were not very many women there at the time. There are still not very many women there.

And the women who are there have a tendency to be received sometimes dismissively by their male colleagues. I recall for example being on a Senate select committee one year and getting to the meeting a little bit early. I was there only with the secretary of the committee, who also happened to be female. And the door to the committee room opened—actually it was in 1988, because it was in the new and (inaudible) Parliament House—and the door opened and the male committee member put his head through the door and he said, to himself, “Oh”—he said “There's nobody here” and walked out again.

A few years earlier, we had another fairly... interesting response to the role of women in the community generally and in Parliament in particular, during the Sex Discrimination legislation debate when first of all people like Brian Harradine argued that you shouldn't have equality for opportunity for women because what would happen if they got into the police force and they had to ride motorcycles and they dropped one of them in the middle of the night and they wouldn't be able to pick it up again!

Now I'm not sure if he was worried about all those criminals going free or the damage that was done to the motorbike, it was difficult to say.

We had another Liberal MP who was worried about equal opportunity and used Parliament House as an example—he'd been carrying on about all the terrible things that could happen—marriages breaking down, all sorts of things. He got particularly worried about what would happen for example if there were male and female Telecom workers working underground around a pole, or if there were male and female truck drivers trucking across the Nullarbor—trucking across the Nullarbor—to Perth.

And at that point I got a tad testy and pointed out that, in fact, there were males and females in Parliament and I hadn't noticed anything particularly untoward going on—mind you, when you look at the blokes, that's not surprising. He then went on to point out, and I quote from memory because it is indelibly imprinted on my mind—that from time to time things did go on and he was very worried about what was likely to happen to Members of Parliament's marriages as a consequence of what he described as all the glamorous women using their guile to woo them in some way.

I had a look around the Senate Chamber and didn't think his chances were very high, but in any event there's been some resistance to women not, I'm pleased to say, within the Australian Democrats—well the (something) don't like it, but that's tough.

We have, in fact, in the time that we've been formed, managed to elect a group of Members of Parliament of whom 37% are female. Now that is higher than any other political Party. It's not the 51% that we make up of the population, but by god, we're getting close.

They include myself (I have to say that), Heather Southcott, Karin Sowada, Senator Meg Lees, Senator Cheryl Kernot, Jean Jenkins, Janet Powell, Elizabeth Kirby, Sandra Kanck, and Vicki Bourne, and those women have made significant contributions to the parliamentary debates and I think to the standing of women in parliament and in the community.

And Natasha, I am sure, bringing with her not just a double X chromosome into the system, as distinct from the slightly dented XY chromosome, which tend to proliferate, but she's also bring youth and enthusiasm and articulateness into a system that needs all of those, and I wish her well.

Janine was a role model and inspiration for many of us.

In 1997, I was asked by a newspaper to write about someone who was a role model. The article which is attached is the result. It was written with Janine Haines' permission.

When I was Leader of the Australian Democrats, the Party held the first annual Janine Haines lecture, in recognition of Janine's contribution to Australian politics and the Australian Democrats. I have no doubt this tradition will continue in her honour.

In closing, I thank the Premier of South Australia, Mr Mike Rann, for ensuring that as “one of our state's finest daughters, someone we're proud to call our own”, Janine had a State Funeral (she deserved no less) and, once again, put on record my condolences to her family.

—————

`Her influence made me give a damn'

Senator Natasha Stott Despoja

Published in The Age, 17 January 1997

THE YEAR Janine Haines entered Federal Parliament, I was in year 3 at a school that encouraged boys to do maths and girls to consider “softer” subjects. The boys were going to be firefighters, rocket scientists and other authority figures. I was going to be a nurse or a ballet dancer; after all, those were the female role models given to me.

In 1977, Haines, a maths and English teacher, filled a South Australian Senate vacancy. This created enough of a stir, as it represented the first federal representation for the newly formed Australian Democrat Party and also because the SA Government's appointment came amid constitutional controversy. That Haines was a woman and an outspoken one would continue to cause a stir in the political world for many years to come.

It was almost a decade later that Senator Haines became the first female leader of an Australian political party (a tradition that continues in the party today). She is largely responsible for creating a political environment that attracted all types of women interested in having their say and making a difference in a difficult world.

I recall watching her debate her colleagues as she battled two leadership contests, rebutting sexist jibes and derogatory comments, emerging victorious and, after two months as leader, beating Howard and Sinclair in a credibility poll.

In the late `80s, when Haines spoke to my university politics class about the role of women in the economy, she was a woman to whom I could relate. She dared discuss issues such as the worth of unpaid work in the home; maintenance defaulters; the inadequacy of economic indicators such as gross domestic product; and the need for free education and more women in power.

“Give A Damn” was one of Haines' campaign slogans, encapsulating her flair for language and her straight-talking style. It was a style often misunderstood by the media, which tended to portray her in a tough and “unfeminine” manner and overlook the fact that she is a very funny woman.

Desperate to prove the ability of the Democrats to deliver, Haines once threatened to stand in Sydney's Martin Place and “progressively take off pieces of clothing as I announced legislative issues and what we had done in the Senate that day”. This is one political gem that has not influenced me.

The most familiar caricature of Haines was with frizzy, curly hair and “bug-eyed” glasses—the product of cartoonists, who, as Joan Kirner would point out years later, were not used to drawing women in power. (A press secretary who suggested Haines change her hair and glasses didn't last.) I also remember the questions journalists asked Haines: did she make frozen casseroles for her children before she went to Canberra? How did her husband and children cope? When a newspaper magazine did a colour feature, with makeover and glamorous gown, the caption read: “Sexy? Ruthless? Funny? Will the real Janine Haines please stand up?”

She inspired young and old alike to get involved in her campaign for the federal seat of Kingston in 1990, believing, as she did, that “rightly, or wrongly, the House is the focus of Australian politics”. But more importantly, she taught women that it was good to stand up for your principles and to challenge the dominant paradigm.

While Haines' loss devastated many supporters, it has given her time to do the activities she enjoys such as cryptic crosswords and tapestry. These days she belongs to seven boards, various committees, and does about 50 speaking engagements a year.

In 1995 I was honoured to have her launch my bid for the Australian Senate. Her influence made me give a damn and inspired me to do something about it. One difficulty for young women considering politics is a lack of celebrated and high-profile role models.

Often seeing what happens to those few political role models can turn many women off pursuing a political career: the way they are lampooned or portrayed by the media, and the double standards they can receive from their opponents. But women such as Haines made clear to me at an early age the impact women can have, especially in those professions traditionally not open to them.

There is also a risk in having few role models; a tendency and a willingness to endow them with superhuman qualities, to expect them to be infallible or always well-meaning. We must be careful of putting too much pressure on those women we consider outstanding or “super models”.