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Tuesday, 13 May 2008
Page: 1523

Senator MINCHIN (4:33 PM) —On behalf of all coalition senators, I want to join with Senator Chris Evans in extending our sympathies to the family for former Senator Ruth Coleman, who passed away on 27 March 2008, aged 76. Senator Evans has more than adequately described the very colourful life that former Senator Coleman lived and the enormous contribution she made. I think it is more than appropriate that we should all join in celebrating most particularly what was obviously a tremendous contribution with the very worthy aim of ensuring the proper representation of women in the Commonwealth parliament. That is something we, particularly we males, should all acknowledge is vital. She obviously made a huge difference to that cause. Certainly as a former party official I have always thought that it is really important that we all work to encourage more women to put their hand up to serve in the Commonwealth parliament in particular and that women do bring a different perspective, and often it is a very civilising and important perspective.

I think Ruth Coleman showed the great virtues of passion and energy and a determination to make a difference, something which I always try to encourage in younger aspiring and actual parliamentarians: ‘Don’t come here and just be a timeserver and enjoy it. If you are going to be here try and make a difference.’ Obviously Ruth Coleman had the tremendous energy and determination to do that and had an extraordinarily colourful life in so doing. Without being unduly sensitive, I am sure Don Chipp’s then membership of the Liberal Party had nothing to do with him thinking that cricket should be played only by men, because I love seeing women play sport and I encourage it—and good on Ruth for making sure that Don got the message. I am pleased to hear that indeed they ended up good mates after that.

I also note, and I am sure Senator Evans sympathises with this, that those of us in the nearer states always have great admiration for those who serve in this place representing electorates in or the state of Western Australia. To represent Western Australia in this place, Western Australia being the biggest and the furthermost state, is extraordinarily demanding, particularly for those with families. So we acknowledge that and acknowledge what was obviously the enormous support that Ruth got from her family in undertaking that very difficult role. In fact, that is why I have always thought that the capital of Australia should have been Adelaide, to make it easier for Western Australians to come to parliament. As John Stone said, perhaps placing Canberra here was the nation’s biggest mistake. No doubt Western Australians would agree.

The other interesting thing about Ruth Coleman was this passionate opposition to uranium mining, something we on this side have never quite understood. It is very interesting to reflect on the hysteria that uranium used to cause in the Labor Party. I used to be the Liberal Party spy at national conferences of the Labor Party and witnessed the extraordinary, passionate debates about whether or not uranium should be dug out of the ground and, of course, Ruth was at the forefront of that. It is remarkable that to this day her state of Western Australia continues to ban uranium mining, much to the great benefit of my state of South Australia, which all the uranium miners are pouring into because they are not allowed to go into Western Australia. So Ruth’s passionate opposition to uranium mining continues to live on in her home state. That is a surprise to us all but that is a reflection of the passion she brought to her public life and to that issue in particular.

So we are pleased to join with Senator Evans and the government in extending to her family our deepest sympathies. Clearly, she had to recover from a very serious illness 20-odd years ago. While we are grateful that her family had another 20-odd years of sharing life with Ruth, nevertheless 76 is too young to leave this life. We are saddened by that and we extend our best wishes to her family.