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Tuesday, 8 May 2018
Page: 2554


Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (15:48): I rise on behalf of the opposition to acknowledge the passing of former senator and minister, the Hon. Jocelyn Margaret Newman AO, who passed away on 1 April 2018 at the age of 80. At the outset, I wish to convey the opposition's condolences to relatives and friends of Mrs Newman, including those on the opposite side of the chamber.

Jocelyn Newman was a leading woman in the Liberal Party in federal parliament from the late 1980s to the early 2000s. A long-serving shadow minister, with the election of the Howard government in 1996 she entered cabinet with Amanda Vanstone, and they became the second and the third Liberal women to hold ministerial portfolios in cabinet.

As Minister for Social Security, as well as for the status of women, she had a platform to implement a number of programs that significantly altered the direction of policy in Australia. A natural conservative, she was the face of the Howard government's policies that substantially affected Australians who were reliant on government support. She brought her experiences as a lawyer and community worker to bear in her determination and her largely successful and enduring approach to policy implementation. Her legacy is that of a strong and competent minister.

Born in Melbourne, Jocelyn Mullett practised as a barrister and solicitor prior to entering parliament, after graduating from the University of Melbourne with her degree in law. She was also variously a farmer, a hotelier and a community volunteer. It was whilst working in family law in Tasmania and witnessing firsthand the impact of poverty and domestic violence on women and children that she formed some of the policy positions that she would carry into her political career. She was also on the foundation committees of women's shelters in both Launceston and Hobart. She married Kevin Newman in 1961, and they would go on to have two children, Kate and Campbell. As is generally well known, the latter served as Premier of Queensland from 2012 to 2015. The former is an assistant commissioner for taxation. After living in different states and overseas, the Newmans settled in Tasmania. Kevin, an Army officer, was a member of the House of Representatives from 1975 to 1984 and a minister in the Fraser government and passed away in 1999.

Jocelyn Newman entered the Senate when she filled a casual vacancy caused by the retirement of Tasmanian senator Peter Rae. She joined Doris Blackburn and Dame Enid Lyons as the only women who had followed their husbands into parliament, with the latter also being a Tasmanian. The Sunday Tasmanian cautioned against assumptions that she would merely be a mouthpiece for the former member for Bass, but for 'the thoughts, opinions and always of an independent, self-confident woman'. Mrs Newman would be re-elected in 1987, 1990 and 1996, retiring in February 2002 after serving nearly 16 years.

She noted in her first speech that she had already taken her place on an estimates committee and on the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills. Mrs Newman, as is customary, also set down her views on various matters of public policy. She denounced the welfare state, decrying the way in which individuals, community groups and industry alike looked to government for support before making any effort on their own part. She sought a reduction in the burden of taxation and saw the key role of the federal government as protecting Australians from internal violence and external aggression. Consistent with this, she also identified the importance of wise and efficient spending in the Defence portfolio. She believed that it was not a question of a particular threat but of being prepared, an area where she had personal experience through her husband's service and which would go on as a significant focus during her time as shadow minister. Mrs Newman took considerable time to articulate some of her concerns about the management of this portfolio. These included loss of skills and experience, the standards of accommodation for military personnel and their families and investment in reserve forces. She also placed herself firmly behind her home state—and all states—against what she saw as encroaching Commonwealth power on the rights of their citizens and the responsibility of their governments.

As a senator, Mrs Newman took a place on a variety of committees until the election of the Howard government in 1996. However, it was her rapid entry into the shadow ministry that would consume most of her energy. First appointed in 1988, in the Defence Science and Personnel portfolio, Mrs Newman would go on to accumulate and relinquish roles in areas which included the status of women, veterans affairs, the aged, family and health, family matters and, finally, defence. Mrs Newman was a champion for better conditions for service men and women and their families. She might have been considered unlucky not to have continued in the Defence portfolio after the election. When asked about whether she would encourage more women to get involved in politics, Mrs Newman replied in the affirmative, encouraging women to take on more prominent roles in community organisations and local government as a stepping stone to higher office.

Being a member of parliament involves many trials. Mrs Newman showed determination of a different sort when these challenges were accentuated by confronting and overcoming cancer, which forced her to stand down for a brief period in 1994. When she first entered the Senate in 1986, some commentators thought then opposition leader John Howard was on the cusp of leading the Liberal Party back into government. But it would be 10 long years before Jocelyn Newman would have the opportunity to emulate her spouse and serve as a minister.

Following the election of the Howard government in 1996, Mrs Newman entered the cabinet and took on the role of Minister for Social Security and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women. Prior to this, Dame Margaret Guilfoyle was the only other woman who had served as a cabinet minister with a portfolio under a Liberal Prime Minister. With Amanda Vanstone, who was also appointed to cabinet at this time, Mrs Newman broke new ground. One expects that having a minister in the family and her long experience as a shadow minister were of great benefit personally and in the cabinet room.

As Minister for Social Security and then Minister for Family and Community Services from 1998, Mrs Newman was responsible for some of the Howard government's most far-reaching changes of its first and second terms. These were described by the current Prime Minister as:

… some of the most complex changes to the social security system in a generation …

Former Prime Minister Howard gave her great credit, both for being Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women at the beginning of his government and especially for the work she did in reforming social security policy. Her achievements included: the creation of Centrelink; reforms to family tax, child support and youth allowance programs; and measures to combat domestic violence. Mr Howard praised Mrs Newman for successfully navigating important savings measures through the Senate and for her overall contribution to cabinet discussions.

There's no doubt that Mrs Newman came to the Social Security portfolio with well-developed views about the role of government in supporting individuals and families. These policy positions have been described as 'hardline'. At the time, the opposition criticised the Howard government for a lack of commitment to combating poverty and child neglect and sought greater investment for early intervention. Whether such opinions are fair or not will be for others to judge, but she was consistent and forthright in implementing these policies.

Measures implemented by Mrs Newman extended to efforts to curb fraudulent welfare claims and to limit claims for support to those determined to be in significant need. She was an advocate for the implementation of the recommendations of the McClure report to extend certain measures applicable to the workforce sector to a larger number of welfare recipients, such as those on disability and supporting pensions, taking on ministerial colleagues Messrs Peter Reith and Tony Abbott. Her previous experience at the coalface of family law doubtlessly provided motivation for her determination to relentlessly pursue men who did not obey court orders to support their children.

Those of us who have been ministers understand the considerable personal sacrifices that are made as a consequence of the demands of office. Having already confronted her own health challenges while in opposition, Mrs Newman was devastated by the sudden death of her husband while she was on ministerial business overseas in 1999. In characteristic style, Mrs Newman continued administering and restructuring one of the largest portfolios until resigning in late 2000, formally concluding her term as a minister in January 2001. She stood down from the Senate on 1 February 2002 and was replaced by Senator Richard Colbeck, who is in the chamber today.

Leaving parliamentary politics gave Jocelyn Newman an opportunity to indulge in her hobby of gardening, but she was never going to walk away from public service entirely. There was much speculation that she would be appointed Australia's first female Governor-General. Whilst this did not eventuate, amongst other roles, Mrs Newman brought her long experience in defence and veterans' affairs matters to the Council of the Australian War Memorial, on which she served from 2002 until 2009. She also served on the board of Breast Cancer Network Australia.

In 2005 Mrs Newman was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia 'for service to the community through contributions to the development of government policies in relation to social security reform, as an advocate for women's issues, particularly in the health and welfare areas, and as a supporter of local organisations in Tasmania'. She also gave her energy to supporting her daughter, Kate, and her son, Campbell, the latter in his roles as Lord Mayor of Brisbane and later as Premier, as well as their families. On one occasion Mr Newman drove his mother around the city he controlled for seven years, not for a scenic tour of Brisbane's top attractions but to keep an eye out for potholes. 'I was the spotter,' Mrs Newman told The Australian in 2011. In more recent years Mrs Newman lived on the South Coast of New South Wales, where she passed away at the nursing home as a result of Alzheimer's disease.

John Howard described Jocelyn Newman as a tenacious, forthright and devoted colleague and particularly noted her legacy in the social security policy area. Mrs Newman fought welfare fraud and championed self-reliance in her portfolio of social security, family and community services and the status of women. She leaves a considerable and enduring legacy as a senator, minister and leading woman in the Liberal Party. Her place as a notable contributor to Australian political life will be continued by her children, who are already active in politics and public service, and doubtless by her grandchildren, all of whom will mourn her passing. We extend our sympathies to the family and friends at this time.