Condolence motion

19 March 2024

Like a lot of colleagues today, when we deal with these motions before us, in some ways I feel like it should be more of a celebration motion rather than a condolence motion. Linda, like many other colleagues who have gone before us, offered not just an insight but also a new way of thinking and a connection that we can all get together and celebrate. Every morning when I walk up to the hill from my place or residence, I always make an effort to walk past the plaque that now exists with the names of a number of our colleagues who are no longer with us. For those that don’t know, there is a little plaque over on the House of Representatives side. There is a rose bush there. For some time, there wasn’t a plaque there for former senators who had passed while in office but there is one now. Sadly, a growing list of names is now being added to that plaque.

I really want to spend a very brief moment today to pay my respects to someone who has obviously been a dear friend and colleague and to her staff who are here today—particularly to Ben and the team; I know there are others who’ll be watching today. We’ve heard many tributes, not just today but also last week at the memorial service, which, to be honest, I found quite informative but also very emotional as well. The movement as a whole is mourning. Members right across the country are mourning because Linda was really close to many peoples’ hearts. She was someone who was passionate. She didn’t really care about the title. She was just determined to make sure that working people in this country not just got a fair go but actually got better pay and conditions. She wanted to improve their lives and leave a legacy behind. That’s why she did spend her entire life championing the rights of workers. She rightly pushed those boundaries.

In a podcast that I think she did a couple of years ago, she spoke about her pathway—not just at university, in the movement and, ultimately, here in the Senate; she spoke about her pathway and how her parents instilled those values. Senator Sheldon mentioned those values that I think all of us would understand: the values about making sure that we create meaningful change in our community for the community so that future generations can also benefit from those changes. Her mother was a local kindergarten board member and involved with the kindergarten. Her father was actively involved in many volunteering organisations like Apex and Rotary. I think you could see that Linda’s involvement in the community was a result of what her parents had taught her about making a contribution back to society.

As we heard last week at the memorial service, her first experience of governance came during her university days, in her time at Melbourne uni, where she served as the president of a number of societies, particularly the commerce and law student society. As you’d expect from Linda, she engaged with members. She advocated for them, helped to run events, made sure that things were financially viable and, in turn, helped people so that they could come back again and also make a contribution back to those respective societies and build a bit of a sense of community at university.

In addition to her very successful legal career, Linda was very integral in terms of the Australian Services Union. It was her involvement in the ASU where I got to know her as a ministerial adviser during the Gillard government. It was her countless achievements in the ASU, particularly with the equal remuneration case for SACS workers, the social and community services workers, right across Australia, where not only did we get to know Linda; you also appreciated the many arguments and viewpoints that she put, the passion and the determination to make sure that people actually understood that there were a number of people—hundreds of thousands of people—predominantly women, who were being paid very little money to do things that, to be honest, we all took for granted.

I’ll be honest: I think a lot of us then in government didn’t really appreciate what we were dealing with until Linda and the ASU and others—I know there were other unions involved too. But it was people like Linda that actually brought to light why the government really needed to change the law and also put forward an equal remuneration case to the then Fair Work Australia about making sure that women deserved extra pay in recognition for the work that they were doing for many, many people right across the country. It was a hard fight and one that took many years of campaigning—in fact, six years—but we ended up getting a historic ruling by Fair Work Australia that would change the lives of many women workers right across the country. It was her fierce advocacy on behalf of these workers and others that was on show for everyone to see, because she was committed to closing that gender pay gap and improving superannuation access for women. Today, there is still a lot of work that we need to do as a government and also as a country to make sure that we close the gap for women here in Australia.

We fast-forward to the Senate. Although Linda’s time in this place was short, she had such a profound impact on many of us. It is these words from her first speech in the chamber that are really etched in my memory: “Workers are not just a line item on a balance sheet. They are partners in the success of a business and deserve to be treated as such.”

When you reflect on those words, it really brings home what it means to be a member of the Labor Party, what it means to be a member of the movement and what it means to be someone who advocates for social justice and stands on the side of Australian workers. She relentlessly pursued this action because she was enthused. Her enthusiasm had no bounds. She was determined. It was this enthusiasm that made sure that she was an asset.

She was a member of the committee that I chair, the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, but I also had the honour of spending time with her—not too much time but time nonetheless—on the Senate rural and regional affairs and transport committee with Senator Sterle. I know we had some interactions with respect to the banking inquiry, which is ongoing. She was very determined to make sure that the big banks were held accountable. She was determined to make sure that many people in rural and regional Australia have access to a bank. What we have seen is that a number of bank branches are now closing down, and people in regional Australia, particularly those who are not well off, whether they come from Aboriginal communities or receive very low pay, have to travel kilometres, if not hours, just to go to a bank in order to get some assistance. She was determined to change that and to make sure that, within government, we also make change to help those people.

It was really great to see someone who was also passionate about the regions. There was a picture at her memorial service, and I had a chuckle, of her being next to a tractor and having a good old time. It’s fair to say there aren’t many people on our side who are that passionate about agriculture, and it was great to have another comrade there who was.

She was collaborative and knew when to pick up her moments with her witty humour. You could say Linda was very unique in her choice of eyewear. I never got to ask her where she got her glasses from, but her glasses came in all shapes and sizes and colours. They were very vibrant colours, from a traditional black frame to an eye-catching yellow, vibrant red and even electric blue. Her distinctive eyewear was a signature of her personality, and we’ve heard today about that.

Away from politics, she served on many boards, including that of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image and the MCG Trust—yes, she had that infamous car park. I’ll be honest: I’d be debating whether it was worth it for the Senate. Also, on the topic of the AFL football, it is still debatable to some whether she did actually barrack for Collingwood Football Club or not, but we’ll let others judge.

On a more serious note, it was Linda’s endearing quality that she never dismissed people who came from a different ideological point of view or a different background. She always found common ground. That was really her training, from university all the way through the union movement and into the Senate. She always wanted to make sure that there was common ground because, quite frankly, we can all find common ground for the betterment of our country.

She firmly believed in principles of good governance and wanting the best for the organisation that she was dealing with. I know we ended up later interacting on the Labor Party National Executive as well. You could just see the value she placed in hard work, standing up for others and taking pride in the causes that she believed in. She was the longest-serving woman on the national executive of the ALP, and we can all be very proud of her notable achievements. Some would say that after 20 years you’d just hang up your boots and move on, but, no, she was a sucker for punishment. We ended up appointing her to the Interim Governance Committee following the Steve Bracks and Jenny Macklin reform. I know Ben’s rolling his eyes and shaking his head, but there couldn’t have been a better person for it, to be frank. We needed mentors and we needed people who were acknowledged as leaders within the movement to help the Victorian Labor Party, which was going through a pretty ugly period, to make the branch more democratic and provide greater protection from branch stacking into the future. There were five individuals that we ended up selecting, and Linda was one of them. I think that was a testament to who she was.

So I’m very proud to have had an opportunity not just to have worked with Linda but also to place on the record briefly how we remember her today. I really wanted to reach out and say, again, my condolences do go out to her family, to her friends and particularly her staff as well, too. Having been a staffer as well, I know how tough it would be right now. Each and everyone of you here today it is really great to see. I know there are others who’d be watching. Do know that—please do not ever hesitate to walk into any of our offices if you ever need to talk. We are here for you. You are part of our family, the Labor Party family. I really want to say vale to our good comrade Linda, you’ll be sorely missed, and look after yourselves.