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Tuesday, 8 May 2007
Page: 40

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (4:53 PM) —I am delighted to be able to associate myself with some remarks on the condolence motion moved by Senator Minchin. Jeannie and I served together for all of her time in this place, and for much of that time she was either deputy whip or whip and I was Manager of Government Business in the Senate. For hour upon day upon month upon year, Jeannie would sit either where Senator Parry is now when she was deputy or where that marvellous bunch of flowers is located when she became whip, and I sat in that well-worn chair closest to you, Mr Acting Deputy President. For a long time we worked together. The manager and the whip on both sides of the chamber need to work together to make this place work. On the government side and in an era where up until recently the government was in a minority in this place, the work that had to be done between the manager and the whip and deputy whip, the roles that Jeannie performed so wonderfully, were at the heart of much of what the government had to do here, so I got to know Jeannie very well.

We would while away many hours with me turned around—totally against standing orders, no doubt—kneeling on these leather seats looking backwards and yarning about absolutely anything; usually nothing to do with our work, usually to do with gossip around the building. She would always keep me informed of any gossip about me, which was useful, and I would always try to neutralise it wherever possible, but sometimes it was pushing back the tide. She was a wonderful person to share that time with.

Jeannie would love to see all the schoolchildren in the gallery tonight hearing these stories about one of their senators. Through the media you only see the combative nature of politics and you mostly only see it here. You do not often see what occurs between senators from opposing political parties in the media. You do not see what happens at restaurants and behind the scenes. It is wonderful for the schoolchildren today and anyone listening to hear that a character like Jeannie can make so many friends and create such a wonderful difference to this nation by choosing to serve her nation, choosing her state of South Australia, coming to the federal parliament and having such an impact on so many lives and on policy. That is quite exceptional. It is something that is very exciting, and I encourage all those listening today who have an interest in politics to pursue it. It is a wonderful career. I am sure Jeannie would say that herself. You can make a big difference. It is important that people choose politics as a career. Jeannie did that and she made Australia a much better place. She changed the lives of many.

I want to record the special difference Jeannie made to me. Senator Rod Kemp, another former minister, and I were chatting privately about how Jeannie was so good to us as ministers. As a minister from Western Australia and as environment minister, I had to travel a lot internationally—an extraordinary amount; Jeannie could not believe it, nor could I. The demands that I made on the whip to get leave from this place were absolutely extraordinary. That always put pressure on the whips. I think you get roughly five pairs generally. Pairs, for the uninitiated—when I use the word ‘pairs’ to people who do not know politics, they have no idea what I am talking about—are when a senator from one side or the other is not able to be here and we have an arrangement that we will pair off. We make sure that a senator from one side is equalled with the absence of a senator from the other side. It is, Senator Parry, fair to say one of the major stresses in the life of the whip from either side is that you generally have more than five people wanting to be out of the place on any given day. It is very important to make sure that the votes of the chamber reflect the way that the people of Australia voted in the Senate elections. Making sure that absences from either side are balanced is an incredibly vital part of making sure our democracy works, but it also puts a heavy load on the whips. Jeannie was always very fair to me.

A personal story is that I missed one of my son’s speech nights once, and there was nothing Jeannie could do about it. She tried as hard as she could, but I had to apologise to my son and my family, and I missed it. On that day I put in an application for a pair for the school speech night 12 months hence. Jeannie told me that she had never received an application for a pair 12 months out, and I was given one of her famous whip’s awards for doing that. She was extraordinarily helpful. She knew the stress that we were under and she looked after us.

The other thing I want to record—and Jeannie knew this, because we spent a lot of time talking during those last few weeks—is that my family have gone through some battles over recent years and very much so lately. Jeannie gave me some personal assurance and advice. I record for the benefit of her children and her sister—I have not had the pleasure of meeting them but if they are related to Jeannie I know they will be absolutely wonderful people—that the assistance that Jeannie gave me over those last few weeks when she was obviously going through absolute turmoil was quite phenomenal. She gave me some pieces of advice and I can only now imagine in retrospect what she was going through. I remember the time that Senator Nash talked about when Jeannie had to dash off to hospital that last week that she was in this building. Then she came back and she had to go in again. I think all of us wished it was just a minor complication and we all thought that it was. It was not until she was in there for a bit longer that we knew it might be a bit more serious. But at that time, when she was going through that trauma in her life, she took the time out to give me some help and to give me some advice that really helped me deeply.

I say to her children: you have had a mother who has made a huge difference to this country and to this place. She made the Senate a much nicer place to be because of her very presence here. She was a character who transformed all of our working days. It can be a very tough place; it can be an inhuman place. It can exact enormous loads from people because we all have to travel so far to get here and because we work under so much pressure when we do get here. But all of our lives and our performances here were enhanced because this wonderful woman called Jeannie Ferris chose to come here and chose to share her life with us. Your mother was a wonderful lady. I am thinking of you in this period of your grief. Please, Jeannie, rest in peace and please, Jeannie’s children, be assured of what a wonderful mother you had. We were so lucky that she was part of our lives.