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Tuesday, 26 February 2013
Page: 910


Senator CONROY (VictoriaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (15:38): by leave—I move:

That the Senate records its deep regret at the death, on 23 February 2013, of the Honorable Joan Child, AO, former Speaker of the House of Representatives and member for Henty, and places on record its appreciation of her long and meritorious public service and tenders its profound sympathy to her family in their bereavement.

Joan Child was the first Labor woman to be elected to the House of Representatives in 1974. In a lifetime of achievements, she recorded another historic first when she was elected as the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1986. Joan held this position for three-and-a-half years until she resigned in 1989 after a period of illness.

A significant change to the parliament during Joan's period as Speaker included the transition from the provisional Parliament House to the new Parliament House. The presiding officers had oversight of both the construction of the new building and the successful move into it. The logistics of this exercise were considerable. Parliament House is, after all, the size of a country town. Obviously, the key to this building is a symbolic and legislative role of the chambers, but this is underpinned by a huge range of infrastructure and services supporting the community's elected representatives, media and staff. Twenty-five years later, the occupants of this building are still benefiting from the care, thought and attention to detail of those who planned and delivered the facilities we now take for granted. Joan's role as Speaker was considerable in drawing together and managing the many levels this task involved.

Joan was tremendously proud of the new Parliament House and the collective achievement of all involved who delivered this building. She was also tremendously fond of the old building. One of her last acts as Speaker in the old House of Representatives chamber was leading members of that place as they sat in session for the last time and sang Auld Lang Syne.

Joan was born in Melbourne on 3 August 1921. Joan was widowed early in life. With a strong resolve and courage, she raised five boys on her own. She worked on a process line and as a cleaner to supplement the meagre widow's pension available in the 1960s. Joan's personal experiences informed her politics. She said politics was about people and that she wanted to help people. A supporter and member activist in the ALP for many years, Joan entered politics later in life. She was elected to the south-east Melbourne seat of Henty in 1974 but was defeated the following year. Re-elected in 1980, she successfully held Henty for the next three elections. Between the years 1984 and 1986, Joan became Chairman of Committees and Deputy Speaker. With the abolition of her seat prior to the 1990 election, Joan chose not to seek re-election in another seat.

Joan served on several parliamentary committees, particularly on those relating to the parliament, including the Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Parliamentary Library and the Joint Standing Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House.

As Speaker, Joan spurned traditional robes. Always practical, she said that a wig would only flatten her hair. She also more than met the challenge of the robust debate that is characteristic of the other chamber. Thirty years later, recollections become coloured by nostalgia. At the time, however, it is always a different matter. This was a time when Paul Keating's incisive parliamentary contributions skewered the opposition, when Kim Beazley and Ian Sinclair were dogged combatants and when 'Iron Bar' Tuckey tested the boundaries of parliamentary procedure. Joan was a woman managing the chamber when the House and wider Australian society was not accustomed to seeing women controlling and directing institutions. She exercised her role as Speaker with the patience and directness that was also her approach to life.

Joan was a role model then and remains a role model now to many who knew her and worked with her. I am immensely proud to say that I also worked with Joan. Joan remained active in Labor Party affairs in her retirement. She was also a member of the Patrons Council of the Epilepsy Foundation of Victoria. Her hobbies included gardening, reading detective fiction and listening to Elvis Presley. Joan was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in June 1990.

Joan's influence on other ALP members was considerable. She was an energetic and positive woman of immense resilience, honesty and good humour. She was respected and well loved by those who knew her.

I have many fond memories of talking with Joan and admiring the electoral machine that was the electorate in which she lived. She had mastered the art of local campaigning. I have, to this day, never seen someone who could command such knowledge as she did of the electorate she lived in, the voters, the people that she worked closely with and the people that she fought on behalf of. She was an extraordinary politician. She was an extraordinarily fine woman. She was tough. I often remember having discussions with her about a variety of issues. She was tough, but the kindness and the gentleness always shone through that. Despite her groundbreaking achievements in the parliament, Joan remained involved with her community. She was well loved and will be missed. On behalf the government, I offer condolences to her family.