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Monday, 29 November 2004
Page: 49

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (3:49 PM) —The passing of Janine Haines is a very sad occasion for all Democrats. To quote the Democrats' founder, Don Chipp, Janine Haines was the best leader in our party's history. She is widely acknowledged as the first woman to lead a political party in federal parliament. However, perhaps the most positive aspect of her legacy is not that she was the first woman to get there but that she blazed a trail that allowed and, indeed, encouraged so many to follow her.

One quote from Janine Haines that I think is quite appropriate comes from not long before she finished up here, when she was speaking in a debate on a piece of legislation. She said:

Talk is cheap practically anywhere, but it is particularly cheap in this place, where it is the actions that count.

There is no doubt that the actions of Janine Haines in this parliament—in this Senate—did count and continue to count. Nearly 15 years after she moved out of parliament, the actions and decisions she took continue to have their impact on the lives of many people in a positive way. I think for all of us that is the most we could look for at the end of our time, however long or short it might be, in this chamber—that our actions have counted in a way that has led to an improvement in people's lives. Janine Haines's actions have led to a quite enormous improvement in so many people's lives.

Janine Haines was a key reason that I decided to join the Democrats back in 1989. I do not quote myself very often, but in my own first speech in this place, back in 1997, I said:

If I had to pick a single Democrat out of the pack, I would probably go to one of my original inspirations, Janine Haines, whose insightfulness and originality I found very inspiring and nearly as appealing as her sense of irreverence which she managed to maintain.

The extent of her impact on so many Democrats is revealed by how many times she continued to be referred to by Democrat senators in this place many years after she had departed. She was noted as having a similarly major impact by former Democrat senator Dr Karin Sowada in her first speech, and she is frequently cited by another of my colleagues, Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, as a key reason that she was inspired to join the Democrats.

Janine Haines seemed to embody the reality that moving away from a two-party system would make our democracy more vibrant and dynamic. Many people appreciated her irreverence and her willingness to make comments that were what is frequently called `courageous' and outside the safe cliches which dominate political discussion. The first time I met Janine Haines was at the Democrats' launch of our Queensland candidates for the 1990 federal election when she was party leader. Despite making her ultimately unsuccessful and very difficult run for a lower house seat in the electorate of Kingston, she also had to campaign around the country to help our candidates, particularly our Senate candidates, at that election. I was standing on the edge of the function and Janine specifically came over to say hello and speak to me. Rather than the usual sorts of questions—how long I had been a member, why I had joined and those sorts of things—Janine started talking to me about how boring these sorts of events often were and how often she could think of a lot of better things to do with her time but that they were really important because they were a good morale boost for people. Then she walked over and gave one of those rousing speeches that was a big morale boost for a whole lot of people—and, of course, the campaign was successful for us in Queensland, with the election of Cheryl Kernot for the first time.

The only other time I met her was in 1992 when she was visiting Brisbane. I was keen to talk with her at length and ask her all her ideas about what we should be doing now as a party and where we should be going. But as she repeatedly did upon moving out of the parliamentary arena, she was quite reluctant to be making pronouncements or providing extensive advice about what we should be doing as a party. Unlike a few other former Democrat senators after they had moved out of this place, she actually refrained from providing regular gratuitous advice to us about what we should be doing and how we always did things better back in her day. She very much played the role of saying that she had served her time and was leaving it up to those who followed to do it as they saw fit. In some ways it is a great shame that clearly in many respects we have not been able to do that as a party as successfully as she did in her time in this Senate.

In 2002 the Democrats marked the 25th anniversary of Janine Haines's entry into the Senate by establishing an annual Janine Haines lecture. The first lecture that was given at the time by Professor Marion Simms examined the changing role of women in politics, and of course Janine Haines played a key role in the improvements and the continuing positive development of the role of women in politics. Just this year, with the third lecture in that series, Lowitja O'Donoghue, giving a very important speech in Adelaide, continued to build on some of those important issues. It certainly is a positive sign and, again, recognition by our party of the important role that we believe Janine Haines played and the important legacy that she leaves not just for our party but for politics in Australia more broadly. As Janine herself said in her first speech in this place, she was not going to stick just to so-called women's issues or women's opinions. While she remained strongly committed to encouraging women across all walks of life to not just get involved in politics but to seek opportunity in all areas they chose to pursue, she did speak and act on a whole range of other issues.

The achievements and actions of Janine Haines in the Senate and, indeed, in her time beyond the Senate are too many to list in a short speech. In looking through her vast contributions, one is struck by how many issues she fought for then that still continue to be relevant decades later. As has been mentioned, in her first speech in this place in 1978 she spoke on the rights of Aboriginal people and the continuing disadvantage that they faced. As we heard in this chamber just a short time ago, that sadly continues to remain a blight on our nation. She spoke about the rights of women. Interestingly, this included a strong criticism of the availability of pornography and its impact on attitudes towards women. And she spoke about the importance of education.

In 1982 Janine Haines introduced a bill to implement the UN International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. Over 20 years later, in some areas those civil and political rights at law have actually been reduced further. Included in that bill was a right against discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, and all Democrats continue to remain frustrated that more than 20 years on we still have entrenched discrimination in federal law on the grounds of sexuality. I noted in the clippings that were put together by the library a relevant article about the fight to have child-care facilities in the parliamentary triangle back in the 1980s. Some things continue. I also noticed her frustration with members of the media—and no doubt her endearing affection as well. She spoke on one occasion about the frustration of getting the actions and the substance of the Democrats' policies, amendments and legislative record acknowledged by the media. Indeed, one of the reasons she gave for running for the House of Representatives was the obsessive focus on what happens in the House of Representatives, despite the significance of the real debates and the real amendments to legislation that happen in the Senate.

In the November 1988 Bulletin she talked about the problem of not getting a media focus on the work we do, the amendments we move and the bills that pass or fail with or without us, which drift past because no media covers the Senate. That is a frustration that I think many of us would repeat today. Indeed, musing aloud, she spoke once about the need to perhaps stand in the middle of Sydney's Martin Place and progressively take off pieces of clothing as she announced legislative issues and what we had done in the Senate that day as a way of trying to get media coverage. It beats bungee jumping, I suppose. Either way, I think the frustration continued.

I did note what she said in an interview after she had failed in her tilt at the seat of Kingston. The journalist commented that perhaps she would be feeling good now that she did not have to deal with so many politicians and asked, `Are politicians the most annoying people in the world?' Janine answered, `No, journalists are.' I would not say that myself of course but it was perhaps an indication of the frustration that she felt. Indeed, in her final valedictory comments that have been referred to she did give thanks to the journalists, saying:

The journalists who periodically and in very small numbers cover the Senate from the press gallery also deserve our thanks, inasmuch as they are ever able to follow anything that ever happens in this place. A journalist described the Senate to me a week or so ago as the `B-grade chamber'. I suspect sometimes it turns into a horror movie but more often than not it does a far better job than most journalists and most members of the public are aware.

Perhaps it is in some way fittingly ironic that, as usual, there were vast hordes of journalists—40 or so—who poured into the House of Representatives today to watch the sideshow that passes for question time over there, and we have a single noble and very hardworking journalist in the press gallery in the Senate now to witness the debate on the motion of condolence regarding the impact and work of an extremely great Australian.

I attended Janine's funeral, as did a number of my colleagues, in Adelaide last Friday. The wide spectrum of people there was an indication of the enormous impact she had, particularly as a South Australian, and it was a continued recognition of her crucial role. It was interesting to see some of the people who were there, including Steele Hall. As has been mentioned, it was his resignation from the Senate that led to Janine Haines initially taking up her seat in the Senate and filling a casual vacancy. But it was when she got re-elected in the 1980 election and came back in here to the Senate that she really made her mark. It is virtually impossible to list all the areas that she covered, all the areas she made an impact upon. They certainly were not just women's issues. She also ensured that women's perspectives were continually raised and that the impact on women was continually acknowledged, assessed and addressed in the different pieces of legislation that came up.

Despite the focus on her charisma and her wit, she was not just somebody who was entertaining to talk with or listen to; she was someone who was very active and effective in the hard-nosed policy area. She was a regular contributor in areas to do with taxation. She was continually talking about issues to do with poverty and the impact of different pieces of government economic legislation on poorer families and poorer people in the community. In a matter of public importance debate on taxation late in 1989, she talked about the growing inequality in Australia between rich and poor and between different families. It is a sad reality that the inequality she detailed then is, 15 years later, even greater.

Not long after she was re-elected to the Senate and took up her seat in 1981, she was a key player in the very contentious and drawn-out debate on sales tax and she argued the Democrats' strong stand against imposing a tax on the necessities of life, in particular clothing and footwear, books, newspapers and building materials. This was an approach that she continually took throughout the 1980s in her time in the Senate. In the final month of Senate sittings in 1989, she was still debating sales taxation legislation and attempting to ensure that the tax treatment of equipment for disabled people, in particular disabled children, was modified to provide more assistance to them. She also had a strong impact on nursing home policy. She was a key contributor to strengthening the sex discrimination legislation that went through the parliament in the 1980s. She was a key opponent of the Australia Card. She was vocal in opposing the reintroduction of tertiary fees.

In another sign of how sometimes some things do not change, she spoke in frustration about the lack of recognition for the work the Democrats had done in the area of the environment. I note an article from 1989 in which she expressed concern at the increasing support for independent environmental candidates in the Tasmanian elections. It expressed the frustration of the years of often fruitless effort in getting environmental issues on the political agenda when, once they were in the public eye, that was credited to the rapidly rising Green Independents. Some things do not change even after 15 years. It is a fact that the 1990 election—the one that is often referred to as the one where the Labor Party got back into government on the preferences of the so-called green vote—was one where the vast majority of that vote was a Democrat vote. That was, and remains, the largest ever primary vote that the Democrats achieved in a federal election. In that sense, as well, Janine Haines remains the most successful minor political party leader in an electoral sense across the spectrum.

I want to return to her final comments in this chamber, valedictory comments made at the end of December in 1989—the usual comments that people make in this chamber at the end of every sitting year—with the possibility, and the reality as it turned out, of an election being called in the new year. She spoke these words in the very place I am standing now, reaffirming the importance of the Senate operating as a brake on any sort of dictatorship that could occur if both houses were held by the same political party. She said:

... it would simply be a two-House version of Queensland and I do not think anybody ever wants to see that happen.

Sadly, we are about to see that happen. That is a particularly unfortunate situation and it is particularly crucial we try to ensure that it does not become some sort of elected dictatorship, and certainly the Democrats will continue to work to ensure that that does not happen.

Janine Haines was first elected to this place in 1981, which was when the Democrats first held the balance of power, and it is quite clear from looking at the debates of that time that this was something that the then government was not that keen on. The government was not pleased to see the Senate operating in a way that prevented legislation being railroaded through. I hope that, after 24 years of having a Senate not controlled by the government, perhaps governments can now accept that it is not such a bad thing to have legislation examined and improved, and occasionally defeated. Certainly we need to remember how important and how effective the Senate was during Janine Haines's time and after in preventing a sort of elected dictatorship and in being a brake on the extremes of government. As Senator Evans said, in her final words in this chamber Janine Haines said:

Should an election befall us before we meet again, could I say that I hope everybody gets what they deserve.

I do not think Janine Haines got what she deserved, but as she said elsewhere, `If life wasn't meant to be easy, politics certainly wasn't meant to be fair.' If you expected that it was, you would be bound to be disappointed. I know that she was disappointed that she did not succeed in her tilt at Kingston. Nonetheless, she got on with life and continued to make a strong contribution in many areas. It is indeed a great tragedy that the very significant contribution she was continuing to make was cut short not just by her premature death but by significant illness in the final years of her life. On behalf of all Democrats I pass on our condolences to her family—to her husband, Ian, to her daughters and their husbands and to her grandchildren—on their great loss. I think they can be proud of their family member and loved one Janine Haines. Few would be the people who have made such a contribution, and to have done so whilst having such a successful and loving family is an amazing achievement that should be widely recognised.