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
Tuesday, 28 November 2017
Page: 9013

Senator WONG (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (15:48): I rise on behalf of the opposition to speak on and acknowledge the passing of one of our own, former Labor senator Jean Margaret Hearn, who passed away on Monday, 20 November, at the age of 96. On behalf of the opposition, I express our deepest condolences to her family, her friends and all who knew her. On Tuesday last week, Mrs Hearn's eldest son, Michael Howe, reflected on his mother's life. He said:

Jean Hearn always tried to make a positive difference and devoted considerable energy to working for the wellbeing of her community, peace and opportunity for young people.

Mr Howe went on to reflect that her parliamentary career was a means through which she was particularly able to channel those passions. Her life, not just her time in this parliament, but including it, is a testament to convictions, beliefs, values and hard work.

Born in Launceston in 1921, Mrs Hearn was the eldest of four children and grew up on the north-west coast of Tasmania. She married in 1940, but, as was sadly the case for so many women at that time, she lost her husband during World War II. Frederik Howe died in 1944 as a prisoner of war. Out of this tragic event came a lifelong commitment to pacifism. It also manifested itself through membership of the Religious Society of Friends, better known as Quakers, and of the Australian Anthroposophical Society. The latter, which emphasises the potential for spiritual development in all human beings, played a major part in the development of her political thinking. She remarried in 1948, taking the last name of Alfred Hearn, who was a teacher. It was around that time she joined our party, the Australian Labor Party.

For the next three decades, before being elected to the Senate, she worked in a number of professions. She worked as a librarian, as a school supervisor and as a civil celebrant. She worked in a range of voluntary activities and for a range of associations: the Family Planning Association of Tasmania, where she served on the state council; the Regional Council for Social Development, of which she was a foundation member; the Organic Gardening and Farming Society; the Launceston Family Day Care Association, of which she served as president; the Child Care Accident Prevention Steering Committee; and the Mayfield Youth Support Scheme, of which she served as vice-president—a wide and varied range of community contributions. In 1970 she joined what was then called the Miscellaneous Workers' Union. She also worked for former Labor senator Justin O'Byrne in the 1970s. Former Senator O'Byrne's great-niece, Tasmanian deputy Labor leader, Michelle O'Byrne, recalled that, 'Walking away from something was unacceptable to Jean.'

In 1980 Jean Hearn was chosen to fill the casual vacancy to represent Tasmania in the Senate, following the resignation of Ken Wriedt. She was successfully re-elected that year, having already been chosen as the first woman to head the Labor Senate ticket in Tasmania before the casual vacancy arose. This is yet another occasion, sadly, where I stand here to pay tribute to a Labor woman whose courage and determination enabled many of us on this side of the chamber to pursue a career in politics. Jean Hearn, again, headed the Tasmanian Senate ticket for the simultaneous dissolution in 1983 and was allocated to the class of senators for the shorter term, following that election, so her term concluded on 30 June 1985. She retired upon its expiration, as the Tasmanian branch of the ALP in those days had retiring-age rules in place.

Mrs Hearn can be described as a genuine idealist. She came to the Senate with a vision of social justice and supported the charitable work of churches and welfare groups. She saw there was a need to more equitably distribute resources, and, in a testament to her pacifism, believed the budget for weapons purchases would be far better invested in the feeding of the poor. She also wasn't afraid of challenging the prevailing attitudes in a male-dominated parliament. In particular she took on the Fraser government, noting that family breakdown was a major social problem of the day and that it was the policies of the Liberals that put increasing pressure on people who could least cope with it.

Mrs Hearn also saw the opportunity for much greater engagement of Australians with their political system, believing an effective democracy demands informed participation. Another consistent theme of her contributions was the importance of a clean environment, extending from raising concerns about asbestos and opposition to chemical spraying in her home state, to membership of the Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare. In our party she also served as a delegate to our national conference and as a member of the National Status of Women Committee.

After politics Jean Hearn looked forward to continuing to support and advocate for the causes she believed in her whole life, and, after she left the Senate, she did so. She sought to further what she described as 'those ideals which can create for people the realisation of peace and true humanity'. She continued to engage with organisations and community groups that shared these goals. Amongst the activities she undertook in her life after the Senate was support as patroness of Life Works at Home, an organisation that was dedicated to providing support to ageing people who wished to remain in their homes. In 2015 Mrs Hearn established the Tamar Community Peace Trust, seeking to promote a non-violent approach to conflict resolution, and this trust is one of the most significant ways in which her legacy will live on. My friend Michelle O'Byrne said, 'I think her legacy was that you don't have to compromise your true values as you progress the things you want to do.'

We remember Jean Hearn as a passionate advocate for social justice, as a passionate advocate for world peace and as someone unafraid to hold her own party to account. She was never someone to walk away from her true values, and she continued to work tirelessly to achieve them into her 90s. I repeat: we on this side mourn the loss of yet another generation of Labor women who forged the path so that many of us could stand in this Senate today. On behalf of Labor senators, we extend our deepest sympathies to her family and friends at this time.