Standing up for Canberra

The Hon. Joan Child 2013

I too rise to pay my own tribute to Joan Child, the first female Speaker of the Commonwealth Parliament of Australia. I just want to thank the member for Scullin for that beautiful tribute to Joan Child. It was wonderful to get that personal connection with her from someone who obviously had a very long relationship with her. I also want to thank him for reminding us of our wonderful Labor Party and the values that drove us on this side to get into parliament and for reminding us of the very strong connection that Joan Child had to them. Thank you to the member for Scullin for that beautiful tribute and also for that tribute to our wonderful Labor Party.

Joan Child was an inspiration for so many women. Unfortunately, I did not know her, but it was wonderful to get the member for Scullin's reflections and personal responses to knowing her personally. Last week on International Women's Day I made a number of speeches to the community here in Canberra, to Soroptimist International and also to one of the unions. I used that opportunity to pay tribute to Joan Child and to dedicate those speeches to her because, as I said, she was an inspiration to so many women at a time in the seventies particularly when women were finding their voice through the feminist movement and were being empowered through the changes that the Whitlam government was introducing at that stage.

As a young woman I was interested in politics, and it was politicians like Joan Child who showed me that there was a pathway and a place for us to succeed in politics. Like my great-grandmother, my grandmother and my mother, Joan Child was a single mother. Like my great-grandmother, my grandmother and my mother, Joan Child was also a cleaner. Her experiences made Joan Child a strong and outspoken fighter for the rights of working women. She understood how difficult it is for single mothers trying to help their children get through life and get an education. I have firsthand experience of that as a result of my mum being a single mother, which is why I am a very strong advocate on a range of issues to do with single mothers.

Joan Child was a pioneer, a forerunner who led the way for women and showed that we can reach the highest levels. I was thinking of Joan Child's achievements this week when I attended Canberra's 100th birthday ceremony in the Federation Mall. To see the national capital's centenary being marked by a female GovernorGeneral, a female Prime Minister and a female Chief Minister was a significant milestone, and it made me very, very proud. When I was a young political activist at university, I never imagined that in a few decades we would be able to achieve so much and achieve this, and for me, sitting here as a member of parliament, as the member for Canberra, it was quite an extraordinary and moving moment. It took the strength and courage of women like Joan Child to make this possible.

In 1974, Joan Child was first elected to the Melbourne seat of Henty. At the time, Joan was the very first female member of the House of Representatives for the Labor Party, and, incredibly, she was only the fourth woman —this is only 30 years ago—elected to the House of Representatives. Today there are 37. But Joan was not content to be just Labor's first female member of the House. In 1986 she was elected Speaker of the House, and she served in that position until 1989. Joan Child was, until our current Speaker, Anna Burke, was elected, the only female Speaker in our history. By all accounts, Joan Child ruled this House pretty effectively and with her renowned humour and patience. We heard about some of that from the member for Scullin. We all know that she had some very robust characters to control. We heard yesterday about her management, so to speak, of the young Paul Keating, which would have been an interesting task in itself.

Perhaps the greatest tribute to Joan Child is that, despite what many would consider incredible and inspiring achievements, she was always considered a normal woman. She loved her garden, her books, her sport and her family. It is a great honour to be a representative in the federal parliament of Australia. For women this was not the norm 30 years ago. For us, Joan Child was an inspiration and a pioneer in so many ways. In closing, I recount her mantra: everybody counts or nobody counts. It is one that should guide all of us who serve the Australian parliament, each and every day. I pay my respects to Joan Child. I send my condolences to her family and friends —lest we forget such a wonderful woman.

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