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Tuesday, 8 May 2018
Page: 2552


Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaMinister for Communications, Minister for the Arts and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (15:38): by leave—I move:

That the Senate records its deep sorrow at the death, on 1 April 2018, of the Honourable Jocelyn Newman, AO, former senator for Tasmania and Minister for Social Security, Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women in the Howard Government, places on record its gratitude for her long service to the Parliament and the nation, and tenders its profound sympathy to her family in their bereavement.

A tough-talking lawyer and a formidable reformist minister, Jocelyn Newman's unique legacy will be defined not only by her policy achievements but by her roles as a trailblazing female parliamentarian, as the matriarch of a remarkable political family and as a diligent servant of Tasmania, Australia and a wide range of causes.

Born in Melbourne on 8 July 1937, the eldest surviving child of Lyndhurst and Margaret Mullett, Jocelyn attended Mont Albert Central School and Presbyterian Ladies College before undertaking her tertiary education at the University of Melbourne. I note that in the 1950s it was no mean feat for a young woman to study law at one of Australia's top universities, but her university years revealed more than her trademark tenacity. The political passion that defined much of her life quickly rose to the fore and Jocelyn was an active presence on the University of Melbourne's campus political scene, in addition to co-editing its student newspaper, Farrago.

Upon meeting a young Army officer named Kevin Newman while on a blind date at an Army ball in Puckapunyal, her life took a new turn. The first 14 years after their marriage in 1961 saw Jocelyn and her family move in line with the demands of Kevin's service no fewer than 12 times, intersected with his deployment in Vietnam. Following the birth of her son, Campbell, and daughter, Kate, she made the compromise of so many women at that time, pausing her career so as to raise her family. Years later, Army service gave way to the political scrum, when Kevin was elected as the federal member for Bass in the landslide 1975 election result that brought an end to the Whitlam government. When Kevin's duties took him outside of the electorate, Jocelyn could often be found attending local functions and engaging with constituents in his place.

The conclusion of Kevin's political career in 1984, after several ministerial appointments, marked only the beginning of his wife's political ascent. Having declined two previous approaches to run for office, in 1986 Jocelyn was nominated to succeed Peter Rae as a senator for Tasmania, beating no fewer than 12 rivals to fill the casual vacancy left by his retirement. As only the third female senator elected from Tasmania, she took to her new role, brimming with self-belief and zeal, remarking, 'I think I was born to do this job.' In her first speech in this place, Jocelyn wasted no time in committing that she would stand 'for the free citizen—his initiative, understanding and acceptance of responsibility', decrying what she called the 'doctrine of the all-powerful state'. In so doing, she articulated the fierce small-government principles that would later inform her service in the Howard ministry. During her time in opposition, she took on a range of shadow portfolios, spending time as the spokesperson for defence, veterans' affairs, the status of women, family and health, and a range of other areas. It didn't take long for her to develop a reputation for competence, grit and sheer hard work.

As a parliamentarian, Jocelyn drew upon her own experience and made it a priority to improve the living conditions of service families. She would regularly visit military bases and speak with personnel and their relatives, before raising their concerns with such frequency and ferocity that some called her a latter-day Boadicea in the cause of Defence families. She was similarly pugnacious in her defence of Tasmanian interests against what she perceived to be the centralism of the mainland government, arguing for greater autotomy in the management of its environment and for more affordable airfares across the Bass Strait.

Her years in politics did not lack in personal hardship. It's a testament to her courage and resilience that she fought and bested successive diagnoses of uterine and breast cancer, returning to the shadow ministry just four months after her second cancer diagnosis. Ever practical, she turned her energy towards the search for a solution and advocated for the introduction of a Medicare rebate for breast cancer services. At a more personal level, she often discussed her battles with cancer publicly, in the hope that it would encourage Australian women to have more regular health checks.

Following the election of the Howard government in 1996, Jocelyn served as the Minister for Social Security between 1996 and 1998 and as the Minister for Family and Community Services from 1998 through to 2001. During this time, she prosecuted an ambitious reform agenda in an area that she openly admitted was complex political dynamite. Her busy years at the helm secured the creation of Centrelink in 1997 as the nation's one-stop shop for welfare services, in addition to the introduction of the family tax package and a suite of measures to tackle domestic violence and support its victims.

Regarded by many as one of the most capable social services ministers in our nation's history, she reflected at the conclusion of her time in parliament that she had restored public confidence in Australia's social security system. Be it in the Senate chamber or at the cabinet table, Jocelyn made sure that her voice and views were heard. This determination played a key role in the success of her legislative agenda and the life of the early Howard government.

The latter years of Jocelyn's service were touched by an intense personal trial following the passing of her husband, Kevin, in July 1999, after 38 years of devoted marriage. In December of the following year, Jocelyn tendered her resignation from the ministry before leaving her seat in the Senate on 1 February 2002. This brought to a close a political career that at its height had seen her dubbed 'the minister for courage' and 'Australia's most powerful woman'. Despite her retirement, her public service was far from over. Jocelyn continued to support a range of worthy organisations, including the Australian War Memorial, the Defence Families of Australia and the Breast Cancer Network Australia.

Indeed, so many of her achievements cannot be found in the halls of Parliament House or the records of Hansard. As a champion of her local Tasmanian community, Jocelyn supported volunteers and community workers throughout her life, most notably working to establish the Launceston Women's Shelter as a safe place for women fleeing domestic violence. That effort speaks to the other key element of Jocelyn's legacy: her fierce advocacy for the rights and interests of women. This passion largely sprang from the early days of her legal career during which she saw firsthand some of the hardships that women and children can face. It was also tied to her own sense of justice and a fair go—the wish of a talented and driven woman who had no time for the restrictions of the status quo.

It is sometimes noted that her pursuit of a political career commenced in earnest when a department store refused to provide her with a personal credit account without the signature of her husband. That momentary act of discrimination did nothing to stop her and during her time as Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women she worked tirelessly to combat domestic violence, secure historic reforms to postmarital superannuation arrangements and promote female involvement in the small business sector.

Yet, whenever asked, Jocelyn was always quick to anchor those efforts in her abiding belief in personal opportunity and responsibility, articulating this in her stated conviction that:

… every citizen in this country deserves an equal opportunity in life. That does not mean having their paths smoothed for them every inch of the way. Citizens need an equal opportunity to start and then they have to proceed on their own merit.

The breadth of her achievements was summarised well upon her appointment as an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2005, with the citation noting her 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 and as a supporter of local organisations in Tasmania.

In closing, I note that the remarkable life of Jocelyn Newman presents many similarities to that of another trailblazing Australian and servant of Tasmania, Dame Enid Lyons, whom she knew personally and admired greatly—drive, courage, tenacity and a willingness to break with the status quo in pursuit of her own convictions and the good of others.

To Jocelyn's children, Campbell and Kate, and to her granddaughters, Rebecca, Sarah, Emma and Samantha, on behalf of the government, I offer my sincerest condolences. Jocelyn was one of the substantial figures of Australian politics.