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Tuesday, 8 May 2018
Page: 3259


Mr TURNBULL (WentworthPrime Minister) (14:00): I move:

That the House record its deep regret at the death, on 1 April 2018, of the Honourable Jocelyn Margaret Newman AO, a Senator for the State of Tasmania from 1986 to 2002, place on record its appreciation of her long and meritorious public service, and tender its profound sympathy to her family in their bereavement.

Today we remember a trailblazer, a mentor and a woman of both uncompromising toughness and enormous compassion. Jocelyn Newman was once described as the most powerful woman in Australia, but she was not interested in labels—she wanted results. She transformed our welfare system, she was a lifelong champion of our defence forces and their families, and she opened our eyes to the scourge of domestic violence. As Helen Coonan noted when Jocelyn retired after nearly 16 years in the Senate, she didn't kick the ladder out behind her; she always encouraged those who came after her.

Jocelyn Newman was a late starter to politics. Before entering the Senate in 1986 she worked as a lawyer, a farmer, a retailer and a hotelier, all the while raising two children and opening a women's shelter in Launceston. When her husband, Kevin, was elected to represent the seat of Bass in 1975 she took a very active role, so active in fact that some may have mistaken her as the local member. Jocelyn and Kevin were a compelling and effective double act for Bass and for Tasmania.

Once in parliament Jocelyn rose quickly through the ranks. In 1993 she was the shadow minister for families and health—at the time the most senior rank ever held by a woman in the coalition. She successfully fought cancer twice. In 1996 she entered cabinet to represent John Howard's battlers. She served as the social security minister and later in the renamed Families and Community Services portfolio. In this time she created Centrelink and reformed the family tax, child support and youth allowance programs. Her reforms built on the potential of people—a landmark shift that helped us see welfare as a hand up rather than a handout.

She was a formidable political opponent, but her own side also felt the force of her convictions. According to former senator Richard Alston, any member of the Expenditure Review Committee who stood in opposition to Jocelyn Newman found themselves in the scrap of their lives. In cabinet, surrounded by opinionated men with booming voices, Jocelyn admitted that sometimes she had to do a Khrushchev and thump the table to be heard.

In 1991 she famously did not yield to a picket line blocking the vehicle entrance to Parliament House. When the driver of her Commonwealth car refused to cross the line, she sat for more than an hour, as colleagues chose to stagger up the hill clutching their folders. Finally she accepted a ride from a Senate officer, who drove down to collect her. 'The principle for which I sat firm,' she later told the Senate, 'was that the work of the parliament and the representatives of the people must not be impeded.' As her granddaughter Emma Roff told Jocelyn's state funeral in Canberra, 'Once grandma had set a course, it was very difficult to get her to change direction.'

To her beloved family—her daughter, Kate, her son, Campbell, and her four grandchildren—I offer the heartfelt sympathy of this parliament and our nation.