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Tuesday, 8 May 2012
Page: 2707

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (12:46): I rise on behalf of the government to support the motion moved by Senator Abetz expressing our deep regret at the death of Senator Judith Adams. I think this is quite a different occasion for us in the sense that normally, when we deal with condolence motions, we deal with people who have long since left the chamber and often are unknown to us. This is a much more personal experience, I know, for all senators. In my time here, I think we have only done it twice before. Once was for the late Senator John Panizza and once was for Senator Jeannie Ferris. I might point out that all were whips of the Liberal Party at the time of their death. All three were well-regarded personalities and strong contributors to the Senate.

The first thing to say about Judith is that, for the outside world, she was probably not one of the better known senators. That was because she dedicated herself to the more important work of the Senate—her role on committees, her role in representing the community and her activism in the community. She was not one for the one-liners at the doors, which is how a senator normally gets noticed—either favourably or unfavourably depending on whether they nail the line. Judith was one of those people who saw the opportunity of working in the Senate as a great privilege. Every day she showed her respect for that privilege and seized the opportunities that came with the job. She was tremendously proud and grateful for the opportunities and resolved to make every day one where she contributed.

She was a great advocate for rural and regional Western Australia and, as Senator Abetz said, had great passions—probably driven by her nursing background and her service in the New Zealand territorial army as a nurse. She had a tremendous passion for health issues and for the health of rural and regional Australians and Indigenous Australians. She had done a lot of work in the community in the years leading up to her election as senator.

She also had a huge interest in defence matters and in the welfare of Australian serving personnel. I used to tease her that she fancied men in uniform and that that was the reason for her strong interest in defence activities—which she never really denied, but she said there were other motivators as well!

Senator Abetz rightly pointed to her work as a campaigner for the Liberal Party in elections. She did put many senators to shame with her commitment to marginal seat campaigning. I used to support my very good friend Sharryn Jackson in the seat of Hasluck, both as a candidate and as member. Judith campaigned for Stuart Henry. I remember it was a really difficult time for us—Sharryn's family had lived in Kojonup and her parents spoke very warmly of Judith. Sharryn had to deal with Judith putting out material against her every week and then her family talking lovingly about Judith at dinner, saying what a great community worker she was. Things were further complicated by the fact that Stuart Henry and I were old rugby mates—I had a real soft spot for Stuart. So it was a very difficult campaign in many ways. Sharryn won that one and then, thanks in no small part to Judith's efforts, the Liberal Party won the seat at the next election.

I think we all know that Judith came to the parliament as a breast cancer survivor. She had a really long battle with her health. You would not have known it, unless you knew her personally, because of her stoicism and her absolute drive to continue to do the job to her full capacity. She also dealt with personal tragedy during that time—the loss of her husband—so she had a really tough period. But, as I say, she got up every day and worked and worked and worked. Nothing was too much trouble. I remember speaking to her a number of times, encouraging her, as many others did, to slow down, not to feel she had to go to the committee hearing in Katherine or wherever with her partners in crime from our side and the Greens. She would just not accept at all that she ought to slow down. Even when she was having tremendous difficulty getting on and off planes, and senators from all sides were helping with her bags et cetera, she insisted on continuing to do her job. That commitment was an inspiration. When I visited her in hospital earlier in the year, her only focus, her only conversation, was about when she could get back, how she could get back and how frustrated she was at not being able to contribute. I did advise her to stop watching Senate question time. I could not possibly understand why she tortured herself with that while in a hospital bed, but she insisted. She followed it very closely and even chipped me about one of my answers while I was visiting her.

But I think that reflected, as I say, her commitment to and her friendships across the parliament. I think the funeral really indicated that. We not only had Liberal and National senators and members there, we had Labor senators and former senators, we had Greens senators and, though people may not remember, we had a couple of Democrats senators as well, which I think reflected the strength of her relationships across the parliament. I, like Senator Abetz, was struck by Wilson Tuckey displaying another side of his personality and character; it was a re­markable event. But he made a tremendous speech. There were also very fine contribu­tions by her sons Stuart and Robert, who are very impressive young men and told amus­ing and instructive anecdotes about their mother. The turnout from the local com­munity was a sign of her enormous support and of the community work she had done over many years.

So I, on behalf of all government senators, express our condolences to her family and friends. She is a loss to the parliament and a great loss to the Liberal Party in Western Australia. We do acknowledge her absolute dedication and commitment, and I think it can be said of her that she absolutely seized on and respected the opportunities of being a senator and gave the electors much more than they could have expected. So, on behalf of the government, I extend our condolences to Judith's family.