Ms PATTEN — I am honoured to rise to speak on this condolence motion put by the Leader of the Government. I feel somewhat nervous following such a wonderful contribution from Mr Dalidakis. That was incredibly beautiful, as have all the contributions been today. I too would like to offer my great sympathies to Fiona’s mother, Veronica; her children, Marcus and Catherine; her husband, Stephen; and of course all the staff that she worked so closely with and her many friends and colleagues here today.
Vision, strength and courage are the words that we have heard today and that we have heard over the past weeks. In fact they were the words that we heard when she was alive. This was someone who we celebrated and who we recognised, not just after her untimely death but while she was alive, for the significant work that she did. I think it is somewhat unusual in this place that we celebrate one of our colleagues and congratulate them on the work that they did for us all.
As the first Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence, she was the driver and she was the instigator of that significant investment that we have seen put into ending this scourge of violence within our homes — to ending family violence. That work alone is going to save countless lives. I have kept reflecting over this past couple of weeks on the lives that she has saved and the lives that she will save. In the generations to come people will have a better life because of the work that Fiona has done for us. I had the honour of attending her memorial celebration, as it were, and of hearing from her Labor colleagues just how fierce she was within her own party and how fierce around equality — so much so that, reflecting on what Stephen Bracks told us there, we probably would not have had the first female Prime Minister in Australia had it not been for Fiona Richardson and the work she did in bringing Julia Gillard to being elected.
When she spoke in her inaugural speech it was obvious that the Labor Party was part of her lifeblood, and it sounds like it was part of Veronica’s as well. Fiona’s passion for education, equality and justice seems to have started while she was at university and when she first joined the Labor Party, and then that work just continued.
On a personal level, I found her incredibly welcoming. When you are first elected here and you are a single-member party, there are not a lot of people that you feel that warmth from, and Fiona really did reach out. Certainly while we were doing the Public Health and Wellbeing (Safe Access Zones) Bill 2015 she reached out especially to me and was very warm and encouraging. I remember reflecting on how nervous I was at certain times, and she would talk about how nervous she used to be and she would just take her shoes off. Now, given I do not have the height that Fiona had, I did not ever dare to take my high heels off, but Fiona would take her high heels off. I always watched her, and I noticed that when she was speaking with the Governor-General in the place or with whatever dignitaries her shoes would be off beside her feet and her feet were just finding the ground and grounding her.
We have talked about that steely eye and that stoicism. I kept thinking of her as a swan that would be floating on the top so calm, so poised and so elegant, and yet you knew to be achieving what she was achieving she must have been doing night work and paddling under the water. She was also battling so many health issues during that time, so her feet must have been paddling extraordinarily hard and we just did not see it. The last time I saw her was during the Public Estimates and Accounts Committee hearings, and there I saw her stoicism. She was not well, like many of us at that time. We all thought it was the flu. She was not well, but she insisted on giving evidence and she insisted on being interviewed on that day, and that showed incredible strength. But now, with greater reflection on where she was at that time, I see that it showed her extraordinary sense of getting things done and achieving what she was setting out to achieve even if she may have known she did not have long to do that.
I reflect on the kindness that she gave to me, and I reflect on the wonderful speeches that Jane Garrett and Ken Lay gave at the memorial service, where they spoke about her strength and support when they were also battling cancer. She was keeping very private about herself, but she gave others strength and support. We all strive to do the same, but I do not think any of us can achieve it quite like she did.
In reflecting on where she was going and the tasks that she has left us — and she has left us many — I know that we will continue with those tasks. I think she would have loved to have heard that Northcote High School has started a program with #Respect Starts With Me; it is run by the young women at Northcote High and it was inspired by Fiona Richardson.
She has inspired us all. I think she was a spiritual person. She believed in the interconnectedness of us all, and she believed that her soul would be here. I believe that she has given us a task to continue, and I for one will try to do that. Vale, Fiona Richardson.