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Tuesday, 17 August 1993
Page: 50


Senator PATTERSON —I rise to say a few words in tribute to the late Dame Marie Freda Breen, former Liberal and Country Party senator for Victoria from 1962 to 1968, who died on 17 June 1993. As a senator for Victoria, I am fortunate to follow a distinguished line of women senators, one of whom was the late Dame Marie Breen. Today that line has been augmented with the swearing in of my colleague Senator Judith Troeth. I am sure she will continue that tradition that has been left to us by women such as Dame Ivy Wedgwood, Dame Marie Breen and Dame Margaret Guilfoyle. I am sure that, had Judith made her maiden speech, she would be joining me on this occasion but since she has not, I am sure she will agree with all I say.

  In her lifetime, Dame Marie worked assiduously to improve the lives of Australian women and children and she took a keen interest in the welfare of others, especially those overseas. She helped advance many causes, such as marriage guidance and family planning, at a time when they were not fashionable. We have heard a number of times tonight that she was a woman ahead of her time. Her strength of spirit and level of commitment were admired and commented on by many. As President of the National Council of Women from 1954 to 1958, she was active in gaining government subsidies for creches and nurseries for children at a time when no such facilities existed.

  Dame Marie was also involved in establishing—and maintained a long association with n 1968.—the Marriage Guidance Council of Victoria, the Family Planning Association, the Victorian Family Council and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for mothers and babies, to name just a few. She was president of the last three organisations at one time or another.

  As we have heard, Dame Marie was also a prime instigator in the formation of the Citizens Advice Bureau. She served as a vice-president of the Asian Association of Victoria, as a chairperson of the Overseas Students Coordinating Committee and on the UNICEF committee.

  So often our Prime Minister has tried to change history. Some of the women on the left side of politics forget our history and forget the contribution of women such as Dame Marie Breen—women who are ahead of their time and who not only talked about issues of social justice but also acted on those things. They actually committed their lives and dedicated much of their time to areas such as women's affairs, health of women and children, overseas students and overseas issues—the sorts of things that many women on the left now claim they were the first to talk about. That is not so. We should never forget history and the calibre of women such as Dame Marie Breen who set the standard and provided role models for many of us who followed in their footsteps long before it was fashionable to do so.

  It was chiefly for her community work that Dame Marie Breen received an OBE in 1958 and was later made a Dame of the British Empire in 1979. As we heard, she was mayoress of Brighton in 1941, state President of the Victorian Liberal and Country Party in 1953 and was elected to the Senate in 1961. She served in the Senate as a member of the printing, library, parliamentary and government publications committees and the Senate select committee on the metric system of weights and measures.

  As Senator Kemp has said, had Dame Marie not left the Senate to care for her husband, who was very ill after a tragic accident, we may well have seen her bring her skills and attributes to bear more fully in the chamber. I am sure the chamber and Australia would have been richer for it had she been able to stay here longer. She was remembered fondly when she retired from the Senate in 1968. Former opposition Senator Cohen said at the time—I think it is always telling when we find someone from the other side saying these things—`She is a lady for whom I have a great deal of affection and respect'.

  Of her work, Dame Marie said in an interview as late as 1991 that she hoped that there would always be a volunteer spirit because it typifies the caring for each other that people need to express—a lesson we could all well remember. Dame Marie also said—this is another lesson we should remember—that she should soon be forgotten after her death but that hopefully the organisations she worked for and helped to establish would survive. Not only have those organisations survived; they have flourished. As I said in my maiden speech, we ought to all remember the temporary nature of our tenure here and on this earth. Dame Marie Breen was only too well aware of that. Her contribution has remained and will continue in those organisations.

  We remember Dame Marie as a woman of great character and achievement. From all we have heard about her tonight, she was a renaissance woman whose life was one of service to others. I am sure that all senators join me in extending our deepest condolences to Dame Marie's daughters—Jeannette; Pru, who was here earlier with her daughter; and Marie—and to other family members.