Minister Shorten on passing of Peta Murphy

Dept of Social Services

My overwhelming feeling about the passing of Peta Murphy is how desperately unfair it is, it is simply unfair. The Parliament’s giving speeches that none of us ever wanted to give, we’re speaking words that we wish need not be spoken, and I hope that Peta wherever she is in heaven can hear some of the sentiment being expressed. She was everything that a politician should be, everything a politician should aspire to. She came to the job with a wealth of experience, both personal and professional. She believed in public service in its purest form, she was equal parts consummate professional and humanitarian.

Her distinguished previous career as a solicitor, barrister and senior public defender meant that Peta came face to face with what she termed to be the corrosive effect that intergenerational disadvantage can have on people, families and communities. She identified a deep need within her own community, where people struggled with mental illness, addiction, homelessness, family violence and breakdown.

Peta understood that her skills could be put to good use in public life. She was motivated to make the move from law to politics for understanding that Australians wanted to see people in Parliament who could understand and would champion the needs of the people that they served. She believed in power for purpose.

I first got to meet her in her forced foray into the world of Australian politics as the candidate for Dunkley in the 2016 Federal election, when I was leader. I remember during that campaign, the then Attorney General George Brandis, at his performative Brandis best, demanded the immediate dis-endorsement of the Labor candidate for Dunkley over views that she’d expressed some seven years earlier in the course of her being a lawyer, and had since rejected as the national security climate changed. After discussion with Peta, we were able to politely point out to Senator Brandis that he may wish to look in his own backyard at the former member for Goldstein, Tim Wilson, who criticised the anti-terrorism laws not seven years before, but actually Senator Brandis’ own laws a year earlier.

I was privileged to have her as a candidate in 2016, and I backed her 100 per cent, and we weren’t going to fall for Senator Brandis’ or any other Coalition minister’s disingenuous distraction tactics. She wasn’t successful on that occasion but in 2019, being elected, her first speech to the House challenged us all here to do better, reminding us that we’re not just participants in, but custodians of the Parliament, and if we get so caught up with winning the daily argument at all costs, and we stop listening and striving to understand what others are saying in this cauldron of national conversation, we’re not only diminished in the eyes of the Australian people, but diminished in our capacity to tackle the difficult challenges. They weren’t empty words. Peta’s time in Parliament was characterised by respect for the Parliamentary process, an unmatched work ethic, an unswerving dedication to her constituents. I got to see the connection she had with the people of Dunkley on the campaign trail, at NDIS forum’s that I attended with their local member. There was care and mutual trust between Peta and those that she represented, she genuinely wanted to make a difference in their lives, and they knew it.

She said she drew inspiration from the Hawke and Keating governments which she grew up under, who’s core business was, as Peta put it, not only enlarging opportunities for those without power or resources, but enlarging the national imagination. She was the walking embodiment of Labor values, she felt a natural affinity of Louisa Dunkley, the feminist and trade unionist after whom the seat is named. She was proud to be part of the Labor family that had taken real action to reduce gender inequity, and was prepared to take on challenges such as preserving our egalitarian society and protecting our environment.

Peta was one of those people who probably didn’t realise how much she was loved by those around her, because she was so self-deprecating, humble, funny and smart. She loved sport, particularly squash, represented New South Wales, the ACT and Victoria at junior and senior levels, won gold medals at the Australian Masters, US Masters and World Masters games, but jeez she loved her family and friends, especially her most constructive critic, most loyal supporter and greatest friend, her husband Rod.

To those of us who worked with Peta, she was a light. She was warm, caring, she was a colleague and a friend. She said in a recent interview that she had the opportunity as an MP to be a part of some big stuff, and would do everything she could for as long as she could. True to her word, just last week, and I know every member of the house can remember, her being here less than a week ago.

She was clearly unwell, she gave some of her much needed energy to others by travelling to Canberra to advocate for a national registry of metastatic cancer patients. She refused to be defined by her illness, rather she decided to put it to good use, saying her breast cancer establishes an authority on the subject, and when she spoke about it, there was no space for people not to listen to her.

The fact was, it didn’t matter what the subject was, when Peta Murphy spoke, we all listened. We listened because her words came from her heart, a heart brimming with authenticity, passion, courage, strength, wisdom, truth, integrity. It is a rare combination of attributes, and we are all conscious and keenly aware of what we’ve lost.

Peta in her trademark humble style, said the people of Dunkley had bestowed upon her the awesome privilege of sitting alongside her colleagues and serving the Australian people. The fact is Peta, the privilege was ours. The loss is clearly, most keenly felt by Rod and her parents, and her sisters and her family. I’m grateful to all of my colleagues who are speaking in this motion about Peta Murphy, because one group of people who have lost with Peta passing, is those who haven’t had the chance to meet her, and I hope that these words of the members of parliament who have served with her, can at least provide some slither or fraction of insight into what a remarkable human being and Parliamentarian Peta Murphy was.

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