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Monday, 29 November 2004
Page: 63

Senator CHERRY (4:53 PM) —Janine Haines, to my mind, epitomised all that a Democrat, indeed a parliamentarian, should be. She was intelligent, conscientious, principled, irreverent, witty, a brilliant communicator and a brilliant parliamentarian. She was inspiring, entertaining and effective all at the same time. And, as others have said, she was a trailblazer. In 1977, she became only the 17th woman to sit in the federal parliament since 1901 and the first Democrat. In 1981, she became the first Democrat elected from South Australia. In 1986, she became the first woman to lead a federal parliamentary party when she was elected to lead the Democrats. In 1990, she became the most successful third-party leader in Australian history, winning 12.6 per cent support for the Democrats. And, at the age of 44, her brilliant political career was over, although her career as a communicator and advocate continued.

Janine Haines left a strong record on legislation. Along with Susan Ryan she helped push the landmark Sex Discrimination Act through a sceptical parliament. She won many amendments strengthening the original Medicare legislation, was a tireless defender of Australians' right to privacy and defended free education in the face of bids by the Fraser and Hawke governments to introduce university fees. These are all matters of record, but how do you capture on record the essence of such an extraordinary personality—the sense of humour and the fierce integrity? Her sense of humour was such that, as one long-time Democrat campaigner Stephen Swift reminded me, she could never resist a good one-liner, even to her cost. Her description of the conservative South Australian political party Grey Power as `geriatric fascists', witheringly accurate as it was, would have consequences in preference negotiations for years to come.

Janine Haines was the first of several strong women to lead the Australian Democrats. I remember one of her last major public appearances on behalf of the Democrats when she agreed to launch the 1996 federal election campaign at Port Melbourne for Lyn Allison, shortly to become the Democrats' sixth female leader. Janine's capacity to lift a crowd was still in evidence at that meeting. I last saw Janine some four years ago with her husband, Ian, at the happy occasion of Meg Lees's wedding in Adelaide. Already she was fighting the ill health that would prematurely finish her extraordinary life. I thanked her then and I thank her now for the enormous inspiration she provided to me and many others in showing what can be achieved by politicians of integrity, compassion and good humour. I can only agree with Don Chipp's assessment that she was the best leader that the Australian Democrats have ever had. To her husband Ian, daughters Bronwyn and Melanie and her grandchildren, I extend my deepest sympathies.

Her colleague Senator Michael Macklin, who was elected at the 1980 election and retired in the middle of 1990 after Janine Haines lost her seat, recalls those years as being exhilarating and rewarding. He has asked me to record the following observations:

The party shared or held the balance of power for the entire period. When the party came to seek a new leader after the charismatic and vastly experienced Senator Don Chipp, a group within the party sought to achieve something no political party had done to that time and elect a woman as leader.

However, this was not mere tokenism. Most acknowledged that Janine had a real talent for communication via the media which became clear during her time as deputy. It was believed that she would be able to make the transition work for the party. Party members responded enthusiastically to the opportunity and voted her into the position. She was able to grow the party vote until in the 1990 election it achieved its highest vote ever.

As a male deputy to the first woman parliamentary leader, I was astonished at the “maleness” of the structures that had gone unnoticed by most of us. These were slow to change.

As a small example, Janine was constantly having to remind people that it was her and not her husband, Ian, who was the senator. A visiting royal when introduced to Janine and Ian automatically shook Ian's hand and said “How are you, Senator?” Janine answered from the side “Well thanks—and your wife?”

Her quick-witted and often sharp responses will long be remembered by those on the receiving end. However, these comments almost always served a political point.

At the end of an education conference when asked if she was concerned about the number of ex-teachers in the then parliament, she responded that she had no problem with ex-teachers but rather it was the ex-learners that were her concern. The unplanned comment gave the conference a headline which it would otherwise not have gained—and made a point about continuing education which was one of her political passions.

Janine had a Monty Pythonist sense of humour. The painted swans collection on the top floor became one of her favourite targets so that the swans found themselves either undertaking a small colloquium with each sitting on one of lounge chairs facing into a circle or getting a change of scenery by riding the senate side lift—until Joint House in exasperation took them into storage. They are now firmly attached to a solid base that some still refer to as the Janine Haines Memorial Plinth.

Then dining orders became the focus with the favourites being ordering creme caramel without the creme or Waldorf salad without the Waldorf.

Her dedication to the tasks of party leader was legendary and she seemed to be able to exist with little sleep on a diet of soft drink and chocolate. She seemed to thrive more as the demands on her time and energy grew.

Unfortunately for her political career, her attempt to get elected to the lower house did not succeed. She made the ethical point in standing that she would not retreat to her Senate seat if she failed at the election. This stand on principle cost the party dear. However, it was a pity that following her loss the federal government failed to utilise her acknowledged talents. The country was the poorer for that failure to recognise talent wherever it exists.

In closing, I seek leave to incorporate Senator Stott Despoja's speech.

Leave granted.