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Tuesday, 7 February 2017
Page: 36


Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongLeader of the Opposition) (14:18): A few years ago, Anne Deveson was driving down a familiar street and suddenly realised that she could not remember where she was going. She found herself popping around to the neighbours to check the date and then coming back an hour later because she had forgotten the answer. The tests confirmed what she knew: like her mother, her grandmother and her great-aunt, Anne had Alzheimer's.

In December last year, only two days after the passing of her daughter, Georgia, Anne's long goodbye came to an end. Today the parliament recognises her extraordinary contribution to Australia: her work on the Royal Commission on Human Relationships, which drove the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the legalisation of abortion and the establishment of the first refuges—safe accommodation for women fleeing violent homes. And, when it came to breaking down stigma, Anne was just getting started. For her time, she was an unusual radio journalist. She did so much work with people on the ground and invited those people into her studio. She was driven by an insatiable curiosity about how Australia worked.

In 1991 Anne published her most famous work, Tell Me I'm Here, the story of her son Jonathan and his schizophrenia—an unvarnished, unflinching book full of heartbreaks and hard truths. There is fear in Anne's story, fear for her safety in her son's violent episodes of psychosis and fear of losing her son, the warm, intelligent, funny eldest of her three children—losing him to an illness that shattered his self or losing him to addiction and overdose. There is anger—anger against the unfairness of it all, anger at a system sceptical of schizophrenia's very existence, preferring tough love or a firm hand. And, above all, there is extraordinary honesty and authenticity—as one reviewer put it, a determination to scratch old wounds and feel the pain anew. This clarity of purpose was behind everything that Anne did. Her daughter, Georgia Blain, herself a brilliant writer, inherited this honesty. It is in every line of Births Deaths Marriages, which addresses her postnatal depression—another subject so often considered taboo.

The great writers of fiction use their creative powers to take us to an imaginary world. Historians and biographers take us back in time with their gift of storytelling. I think that Anne Deveson and Georgia Blain put themselves on the page. They submit the reader to their frailties and their failures, their pain, their loneliness, the scars on their soul. I think this is not just their gift as writers; it was their gift as people—honesty, integrity, the courage to be who they were without apology. Anne Deveson fought discrimination, she fought stigma and she fought for the people she loved. Her qualities, her inspiration and the power of her example will live long in the story of this nation.

The SPEAKER: I thank the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. As a mark of respect, I ask all present to rise in their places.

Honourable members having stood in their places—

The SPEAKER: I thank the House.