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Wednesday, 9 May 2012
Page: 4434


Mr WYATT (Hasluck) (12:09): I rise to offer my condolence on the passing of Senator Judith Adams. I find this condolence hard to deliver. Judith was both a friend and a mentor. What I have found in my short term in this parliament is that we have incredible people who give so much of their time and effort in the commitment they make to fellow Australians. Senator Judith Adams was certainly somebody who was very much like that.

When I heard that she had passed away, I rang Lynton, who is in charge of the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program. I said to him: 'Lynton, Judith has passed away. I won't be able to meet my obligation for the Middle East tour.' He said to me: 'Judith knew you would do this. Her message is that I was not to accept your exclusion from the program.' What I did not know was that Judith had rung Lynton and said: 'Ken has applied for a placement in the Middle East and I'd like him to go.' Her passion was about our Defence Force people and about the program, and she wanted me to experience the dedication, contribution and work that so many of our service men and women do. It was hard. I spoke to her son Robbie. I said, 'Robbie, your mum told me when I last saw her in hospital that she had got me onto the HMAS Melbourne, thatI would enjoy the experience and that she wanted me to go, regardless.' Robbie said to me, 'I know.' I said to him that if I did not go then I would probably feel her wrath when I walk through the Pearly Gates at a later stage.

Her passion in so many areas, particularly for Western Australia, saw her argue for wrongs to be righted and for services and programs to be delivered to those who needed them. She supported those who required support in a way that exemplified her commitment in the fields that she worked. I had the privilege of meeting her when she worked for the Department of Health in Western Australia on an area health board. I was impressed with her forthrightness and the way she argued. As an outsider you argue with any bureaucracy and it is tough, but she knew her stuff. She knew the detail. She would read, and in her own mind would form the view on how she would represent those she was charged to take responsibility and be an advocate for.

She was very effective. I know, having worked in the health department of Western Australia at a very senior level, that she was highly regarded for the community work she did but also for the way in which she challenged us in the delivery of programs to people in rural and regional Australia, particularly in the remote areas. I saw that evident later, when I came to this House. During the campaign, I was told that I had a patron senator. I did not think that I would have the privilege of having Judith and I thought I had been assigned somebody else. She and I met and had a meal together. She gave me some very sage advice. She said, 'How strongly do you want to win your seat?' We talked about that and she gave me some advice on my thoughts and value-added to what I had planned to do. One thing she said to me was: 'If you want to meet people, doorknock. Meet people, let them know who you are, what qualities you have and, more importantly, about what you will bring as a member to advocate on their behalf.' She said: 'To serve in the Australian parliament is a privilege. It is not a right. It is an opportunity accorded to you by those who elect you.'

I suppose one of the sad things is that the broader public of Australia do not take the time to understand the institutions that impact on them. Many people often make comment that parliamentarians do not work hard and that their time and effort is for themselves. Let me say that in my experience here that is not the case, and it certainly was not with Judith. Judith spent countless hours working. When I worked with her on particular things we could spend up to 89 hours in a week doing what we needed to do to make life better for Western Australians and, more importantly, for Australians. Her commitment to rural Australia was evident in the conversations that she and I had.

I said to her one day, after we had been talking, 'You have become my mother.' I said that on the basis that my own mother had died several years before. There are times when you want somebody who is truthful with you and who, in their own truth, brings forward the qualities that we have buried within us. She would challenge me, but she would not resile from being blunt and from being open and honest. I make the same comment that the member for Forrest made: when you spoke with Senator Judith Adams, what she said to you you knew she would say to others equally, with the same veracity but also with the same integrity and honesty. There are not very many people we meet in the course of our careers or the work we do who are consistently honest and whose guidance we value. There are people who affect you. There are people who touch you. But, sadly, in this House people did not really have the time to see the immense qualities of a woman who battled cancer. In the last weeks of her life, Anne and I would go to Royal Perth Hospital and spent time talking with Judith. As the member for Forrest said, she would say to us, 'I'm taking a break but I will be back for the session after that.' She said, 'My time and contribution to the parliament has not ended and I'm not going to let cancer beat me. I've fought it long enough.'

The thing that fascinates me about Judith is that not once did I hear her complain about her pain nor about the treatment she had—and she had multiple treatments of chemotherapy. It was only towards the end, when she could not swallow, that she said to me, 'This is the first time I've felt frustrated. It's the first time that I've felt beaten.' And the telling words that really hung in my mind that night were her saying to me, 'I won't be back.' That was an indication that she had accepted that her journey was coming to an end. I know she was waiting for her son Stuart to come from Canada. I would talk to Trish, her senior staffer, and Trish would give me an update each day. I wanted to go and see Judith, but she had said, 'I want to be remembered for how you last saw me. I don't want to be remembered for how I look now.' She said that the love for those who were close to her would never diminish and that she greatly appreciated the things that we had done both in our personal lives and within our roles in this parliament.

When I came over to Canberra for my first visit, Judith said, 'Nobody else is showing you around. I will take you myself.' She was in great pain when she walked, but we walked around the corridors of Parliament House and she pointed out the things that I needed to remember. She always said to me, 'If you get lost, go to the middle. It is like a ship, and once you know your port side and your starboard side you can never get lost. If you stray onto this coloured carpet, you are in the ministerial section. At the moment we're in opposition, so you're in the wrong place. Turn around and go back!' Then she introduced me to people in this environment of work. I was introduced to the support staff, people who make our lives easy. She would say to them, 'This is my friend. This is the member for Hasluck. I want you to look after him.' Then she told me about her role, her committees and her commitment to those. She said to me, 'There are people you will value over and above all, but show all respect. When you show them respect, they will return that respect.'

I loved watching Judith in estimates. Estimates were one of her passions and she would say to me, 'Is there anything that you want me to ask in terms of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs?' I would say yes, or she would say that she was going to ask certain questions. I used to enjoy reading Hansard after she had been in estimates to see the types of questions she had asked. It showed me an inquiring mind prepared to make sure that the duties of a senator were obligated and fulfilled to the best of her ability. She would send me over the Hansard copies of the Senate estimates and she would have some pages marked. She was a great friend whom I will miss terribly. But I will remember her for the contribution that she has made to Australian public life, her defence of our military people and her commitment to making sure that we look after those who protect us and give us the freedoms that we enjoy.

I want to say that her sons, Robbie and Stuart, and their partners have our love, and our thoughts are with them. We will always remember the contribution that Judith Adams has made to the Australian parliament, to rural Australia, and certainly to elements of education, but, more importantly, to every family that she argued for across this nation.