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Thursday, 27 May 1993
Page: 1595


Senator WATSON —I wish to pay tribute to my Tasmanian colleague and friend Senator Shirley Walters on her retirement, a senator who has been a member of this chamber for 18 years. Shirley Walters first became a senator on 1 July 1975, during the heady days of the Fraser Government and the double dissolution. Senator Walters, after leaving us, will have become the fourth longest serving female member of this chamber. She will join the annals of great women from both sides of the chamber such as Dame Dorothy Tangney who served for 25 years, Dame Annabelle Rankin who served for 24 years and Dame Ivy Wedgwood who served for 21 years. Shirley, you are in great company and we all salute you.

  Senator Walters can certainly be said to have followed in her father's footsteps. Her father, Sir Eric Harrison, a founding member of the party and deputy to our great leader, Sir Robert Menzies, served for 25 years in the other place as a member for the seat of Wentworth. Her father's example and training have been evident during her 18 years in these hallowed halls. Senator Walters has shown herself to be a tenacious, hard working senator who leaves no stone unturned in her desire to obtain the best not only for the people of Tasmania whom she represented but the families of Australia in general. I think we were all very touched, Shirley, by your comments tonight about the poetry of your father. I think there were many of us who actually had a tear in our eyes because, indeed, he would have been very proud of his great daughter.

  But, Shirley, your abiding passion to do what is right in health, welfare and social issues, in family areas, has seen you join such committees as the Senate Standing Committee on Social Welfare and estimates committees soon after coming to this chamber. Your commitment to committee work, attending where at all possible every meeting called, earned you the role of the chairmanship of the Senate Standing Committee on Social Welfare in November 1990 when Senator Peter Baume became Minister. Shirley held this position until 1983 when the present Government came to power. I recall a moment given to me by another colleague of Shirley's on the social welfare committee: you could always count on Shirley to be at any committee meeting called because she took her job so seriously.

  It is interesting to note that, whilst in opposition, Shirley's interest in community affairs and social welfare earned her the vice-chairmanship of, at first, the social welfare committee from 1983 and, when it changed its name, of the community affairs committee in 1987 until the present time.

  Such reports as The other side of the drug debate and Homeless youth were produced while Shirley was chairperson of the social welfare committee. The report on homeless youth gave a clear and incisive look into why we have so many of our youth on the street. The myth that homeless youth were merely undisciplined children not wishing to come under the umbrella of their parents was clearly broken, as the report clearly showed, and it also showed that the main cause of homeless youth was sexual, physical or verbal abuse inflicted in the home. To escape this, the teenager would leave and thus end up on the street.

  The other side of the drug debate was another myth breaking report examining the abuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs that occur within our country. This report was but the start of Shirley's endeavour to do as much as possible to encourage this Government to implement measures that will rid this country of the prevalence of drug abuse.

  Her input to the social welfare committee did not stop when she became part of the Opposition. From what I have been informed, at all times Senator Walters was in attendance using her quick and agile mind to draw out the best from the witnesses called. The reports when presented were concise and resourceful. The report dealing with employment for the disabled is a good example.

  In commenting on Senator Shirley Walters's committee work, we must not forget that she was also a member or a chairman of various Senate select committees covering the social welfare issues. For example, on coming here Senator Walters was able to make use of her nursing and medical interests on the Senate Select Committee on Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes. During the years of the Fraser Government she was chairman of this committee, and then she was vice-chairman whilst in opposition.

  The other Senate select committees of note that she served on were the industrial relations legislation in 1992, volatile substance fumes from 1984 to 1985, video material during the same years, and the Human Embryo Experimentation Bill from 1985 to 1986. So it is a tremendous record. It has been said that it was her active involvement and attendance at committee hearings which gave her the background information she needed to ask such incisive questions whenever the estimates were in progress. Many a bureaucrat has felt the keen edge of Senator Walters's mind and questioning.

  Before I leave her committee involvement, it must be mentioned that she was also active on several joint select committees. Her active participation in the inquiry into the Family Law Act from 1979 to 1980 and the inquiry into video material from 1985 to 1988 has been well recognised. It was as a result of Shirley's work on this last mentioned committee that she introduced her private member's Bill to reduce the amount of violence permitted in video classifications for mature and restricted audiences as well as prohibiting the sale and hire of X-rated videos.

  This Bill covered one of the recommendations of the report from the inquiry into video material which the Government did not adopt. Thus Senator Walters was able to overcome the lack of action from this present government and, at the same time, respond to the considerable concerns within the community about the increasing incidence of violence as well as sexual violence in videos.

  The Australian Institute of Criminology has noted that on the figures of rape alone there has been an increase of 159 per cent in 10 years. Disappointingly, the Government and the Democrats failed to support her private member's Bill. Instead of allowing a vote to be taken, the Government filibustered until the time for debate had ceased. In today's climate when violence is seen as second only to unemployment as the main issue of concern to voters, it is disappointing to see a government which is not prepared to support this important Bill.

  Senator Walters is indeed an all-rounder. Not only is she an active member of this chamber but her energies extend to the party room and to her party. Of particular note was the fact that she was Parliamentary Secretary to the then Leader of the Opposition, Mr John Howard, from April 1987 to May 1989. It was a tribute to Shirley that John Howard was in the chamber when the main valedictories were given tonight. During that time, her advice on the status of women, family issues and community and social welfare issues was often sought. I would have to say that all party members would hold Senator Walters in high regard for her knowledge and championship of women's issues. Throughout her parliamentary career, Shirley has always been a champion of the women in Australia. When she leaves this place the women of Australia, and especially the family women, have lost an important voice.

  As a fellow Tasmanian and Liberal, I can comment on her involvement in the party at the State level. She will be a loss to the party in Tasmania. From the early days of her entry into the Senate, Senator Walters proved herself a popular and tireless representative. She entered the chamber in the No. 5 position 18 years ago and it soon became apparent that the No. 1 position was for her. She has constantly led the Tasmanian Senate team to victory from that position thereafter.

  Shirley has set the standard for what is expected from a Liberal politician in Tasmania. She is conscientious in all facets of her work, and when it comes to meeting the people within her electorate I find no fault. If there was a branch meeting or Liberal Party function called, Shirley was always in attendance if possible, and this was in addition to attending every community activity wherever possible. Shirley Walters has an exceptional ability to be able to explain party policy and action in a simple, down-to-earth manner. During the lead-up to the last election and while it was in progress, Shirley Walters was a tireless speaker and worker.

  Shirley: as a fellow Liberal and friend, and as one who has sat beside you in this chamber for many years, I am sure that I speak on behalf of all on this side of the chamber—and hopefully many on the other side—when I say we will miss you. You have done a great deal in your life and you have achieved a lot in the Senate. I simply say: all the best in your retirement and may it bring you as much happiness and joy as your 18 years in this place have brought you. Thank you for your contribution.