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Monday, 29 November 2004
Page: 47

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (3:40 PM) —On behalf of the opposition, I indicate that I wish to support the condolence motion moved by Senator Hill on behalf of the government on the death of former senator Janine Haines. I should say at the outset that I did not know Ms Haines personally, but I do remember her well as a public figure and admire her contribution to Australian political life.

Janine Haines was born in South Australia in 1945. She studied at the University of Adelaide and at Adelaide Teachers College before becoming a teacher of maths and English. In 1977, in a quirk of Australian political history, she was appointed to the Senate by the South Australian parliament to fill a casual vacancy created on the resignation of senator and former South Australian Premier Steele Hall. She and Steele Hall had stood on the same Liberal Movement Senate ticket in 1975. In 1977 Hall made a deal to rejoin the Liberal Party and stand for the House of Representatives, thus resigning his Senate seat. Janine Haines was chosen to complete his term. Of course, by 1977 the Liberal Movement had mostly faded away and many of its members, including Ms Haines, had joined the Australian Democrats.

Even though there were only a few months remaining in her term, Senator Haines showed great commitment to her new role. Her first speech to the Senate, delivered on 22 February 1978, focused on education, the status of women and Indigenous issues. These early words on the public record displayed a concern for the wellbeing of the individual and a clear commitment to social justice. To use her own words, she had `a compassionate concern for each individual Australian'.

It was also clear that Senator Haines would not shy away from dealing with contentious issues, nor would she avoid controversy. In addressing the issues of pornography and the portrayal of women during that first speech, she was more than willing to ruffle some senatorial feathers. Throughout her parliamentary career she did not lose that outspokenness in support of her beliefs. The frankness she showed in her first speech and throughout her time in the Senate was a characteristic she also admired in others. In reflecting on the death of former senator Jim Keeffe in 1988, Senator Haines said:

Perhaps he—

that is, Senator Keeffe—

was unaware of the fact that this place has a tradition whereby speakers in their maiden speeches keep things fairly non-controversial. Maybe he simply did not care or was just unimpressed by the fact that that tradition existed, because his maiden speech was certainly not one of the pious sort that from time to time we hear in this chamber. I think he set the scene in that maiden speech for the future outspokenness that was to be a characteristic and a significant element of his political career.

I think those words aptly describe Janine Haines's own style in the Senate.

She was elected to the upper house for the Australian Democrats in 1980, beginning her term in July 1981, and was subsequently re-elected in 1983 and 1987. She served on a large range of committees. During her time in parliament she was her party's spokesperson on a number of portfolios, including social security, health, legal and foreign affairs, and treasury. Of course, in her public life she is best remembered for her leadership of the Australian Democrats. She was deputy leader under Don Chipp from August 1985 and then parliamentary leader from 1986 and occupies a unique place in our history as the first female leader of an Australian federal political party. She was one of those many talented and determined women who have worked hard to break through into areas which have been traditionally dominated by men. Her passing reminds us that there still remains much work to be done in that area.

She continued to serve as her party's parliamentary leader until 1990. In that year she made the courageous and determined political decision to resign her Senate seat and stand against Gordon Bilney in the marginal Labor seat of Kingston. Her showing in Kingston was impressive—and very worrying for the Labor Party at the time—but it was ultimately unsuccessful.

Janine Haines's legacy is not just defined by her place as Australia's first female party leader. She was also effective in using the Senate to pursue the wishes of her constituency. She clearly understood the potential of the Senate. At the same time, she was sufficiently pragmatic to appreciate the Senate's position in our political system. In 1988, when she was considering running for Hindmarsh, she said:

... getting someone in the Reps is important because that's where the media focus is. Our major problem is not getting a media focus. The work we do, the amendments we move, the bills that pass or fail without us drift past because no media covers the Senate.

Former Labor senator Rosemary Crowley informed me of Janine Haines's prominent role in establishing the Select Committee on Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes. She recalls that Senator Haines was instrumental in lobbying for the formation of that committee after public outrage over a number of deaths following tonsillectomies performed in privately owned hospitals. Ten years after entering the Senate, Ms Haines listed her involvement in establishing that committee as one of her proudest achievements. As Rosemary Crowley reminded us last week:

Janine was extremely good at picking up an issue important to the community and bringing it to policy prominence.

As well as her work on the Select Committee on Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes, Janine Haines was also proud of her role in the `no tax on necessities' controversy and in securing changes to the first Medicare legislation and the Sex Discrimination Act. She was undoubtedly skilled at using the procedures and mechanisms of the Senate to deliver outcomes for those who elected her to this place.

As I mentioned earlier, her commitment to the work of the Senate is undeniable, despite her tilt at a seat in the House. In 1985, following the death of James Odgers, Clerk of the Senate and author of Australian Senate Practice, she spoke of her personal connection to the man whose name is so closely linked with this chamber and of her affection for the place itself. To quote her words:

Jim Odgers transmitted to me the love and respect he had for this place. Some colleagues here may not appreciate that he was largely responsible for my wanting to continue with a political career in the Senate as distinct from anywhere else.

I am sure that will be music to the current Clerk's ears.

Given that love of the chamber and of her party's role, I believe that Janine Haines would have been disappointed at the Democrats' recent loss of four senators. In her valedictory speech on 22 December 1989, she said:

... the Senate does operate to put a brake on any sort of dictatorship that could occur if both Houses were held by the same political party ...

I think she would also be concerned about the loss of the non-government majority in the Senate from 1 July next year.

In addition to working to build up the role of the Senate, Ms Haines was also effective in building up the profile of her party—through her time as Democrats leader, but most particularly in her campaign for Kingston. She was able to draw a strong vote for the Democrats from both Liberal and Labor supporters and was noted for her ability to clearly stake out the middle ground between the Labor Party and the coalition. Nationally, she was a formidable political vote winner.

Janine Haines could be frank and outspoken and was acknowledged for her unique sense of humour. With that characteristic grin, she ended her valedictory speech with the words:

I wish everybody here a joyous Christmas and a very happy New Year. Should an election befall us before we meet again, could I say that I hope everybody gets what they deserve.

Her electoral loss in Kingston in 1990 does not detract from Janine Haines's legacy. Her strategy to raise the profile of her party was very effective and yet she ended up without a seat in parliament. The national political scene lost one of its major figures, a woman who was widely described in the media last week as a trailblazer. No doubt Ms Haines could have engineered a return to the Senate after losing Kingston, but by not doing so she showed great integrity.

In her later years I am sure that Senator Haines rose to life's challenges with the same integrity and wit with which she approached her parliamentary duties. In public life, her role as this country's first female party leader, her distinctive style and the example she set to other women, as well as her contribution to the development of the role of the Senate and to her party, will shape our memory of her and her place in Australia's history. To those who knew her best, to her husband, daughters, grandchildren, family and friends, and to her Democrat colleagues, I offer, on behalf of Labor senators past and present, our most sincere condolences.