Condolence Motion on the passing of Peta Murphy - Speech

Condolence Motion, House of Representatives,
Wednesday, 6 December 2023

I first met Peta Jan Murphy in 1999. She was working as Duncan Kerr's justice and arts adviser. I was working as Peter Cook's trade adviser. We were pretty excited at that point. Labor was running strong, and we thought in 1999 that it was near the end of Labor's time in opposition. Little did we know that Labor's 11 long years in opposition were just beginning.

There weren't a lot of us policy advisors—as I recall, there were about 25 of us—and we used to get together to talk about ideas. We were idealistic, wanting to make a difference, and we were bonded, as you often are in the crucible of opposition. We felt very mature at the time, although Peta and I were in our mid-twenties, half the age that I am and that she was. It is funny to think that you've known somebody for half a lifetime. Neither of us stayed as Labor advisers for very long in that period, but both of us stayed in touch, and it was such a pleasure in 2016 to have the chance to work with Peta again. She had returned from a stellar career at the Victorian Bar and was serving as Brendan O'Connor's chief of staff.

I want to say something about the role of advisers and, in particular, the criticism that sometimes comes from the public about people who enter politics after working as an adviser. It's easy to forget that one of the side-effects of that pathway is that we get some remarkable people in this place working as advisers. Peta's time as a barrister meant that she deeply understood the legal system. She brought all of those talents to bear in Duncan's office before her time as a barrister, and in Brendan's office after her time as a barrister. That time included a stint working as Victorian public defender, and in some sense 'public defender' is a great description of the way in which Peta lived her life. In everything she did, she was always a public defender.

We worked together on the House economics committee, where I was deputy chair from 2016 to 2019. Peta Murphy, the member for Fraser Daniel Mulino and I were, for most of that period, the Labor members on that committee. Peta grilled bank CEOs on questions of gender diversity and pay secrecy. She was forensic in her questions in an area where she didn't naturally have the policy expertise. She threw herself into getting good policy outcomes and highlighting the problems that pay secrecy caused for women.

She also loved teasing the Liberals on the committee. Last night I was going back through the hundreds of text messages we exchanged on that committee, and I was struck, when re-reading them, by her incisive wit and her slightly apologetic manner. I loved the point where she confessed, 'I know she is very conservative, but I quite like Celia Hammond.' I'm sure the Liberals who served with us on the House economics committee—Tim Wilson, Jason Falinski and Celia Hammond—would have enjoyed sharing with us in parliament their memories of Peta, were it not for the fact that in 2022, in what is known as ‘The Curse of the House Economics Committee’, almost all of the Liberals on that committee lost their seats.

Peta loved Dunkley, and she was proud of her little slice of it—a home in Frankston between the river and the sea. When I travelled down to campaign with her in 2018, I said that I was keen to stay somewhere where I could go for a run in the morning. Peta's immediate response was, 'Why don't you just stay with Rod and me?' I arrived late in the evening and was met with the doggy hospitality of Bert and Ernie, and an immediate discussion with Peta and Rod about some issue or other of public policy. I can't recall the specifics, but what I do I remember was feeling immediately at home in the warmth of their place. Rod and Peta wanted kids, and they loved the kids of their friends. The members for Jagajaga, Lilley and Canberra have shared with the House their memories of how Peta warmly welcomed their children.

She was proud to be the first woman to represent Dunkley, a seat named after another trailblazing feminist, Louisa Dunkley. She won a seat that had been held for 23 years by the Liberals. That made her a marginal seat MP through and through, but that was a role that came naturally to Peta. She knew everyone's name and knew their stories. When we held a charity roundtable together, she introduced every charity and told the room exactly how they were making a difference to her beloved community.

During her first tilt at Dunkley, in 2016, I joined Peta to make a sporting announcement. She could not have been more in her element. The woman who once won a World Masters gold medal in squash loved chatting sport with anyone and everyone. She had that knockabout, egalitarian language that was so suited to her community and that so fitted her as a person. The member for Canberra has talked about how Peta's love for squash benefited Canberra through her time at Dickson Squash Club.

Peta loved squash, but she didn't live to squash her opponents. She preferred to tease the other side, rather than insult or humiliate. The generous tributes from the other side of the House today, including from Zoe McKenzie, her neighbour in Flinders, show us that in politics you can disagree without being disagreeable.

Peta was a talented policy generalist, with views on everything from human rights to superannuation. When she was struck by ‘the emperor of all maladies’, she turned her attention to improving cancer policies, and she brought a whole lot of her colleagues with her. I confess that I don't attend every breast cancer event in this building, but, when Peta invited parliamentarians to an event on metastatic breast cancer last week, I was there alongside many colleagues. Peta at that stage was in hospital, but every speech referred to her, and her presence in the room was palpable.

Most of my conversations with Peta touched on her ideas for building a better world, and that included our final discussion. As she slipped out the door of question time last week, I caught Peta in the anteroom. I wanted to talk with her about the unanimous report on online gambling that she chaired, You win some, you lose more. Peta was frail in body but passionate in soul about those recommendations, which included a full ban on online gambling ads. It would be a fitting tribute to Peta if parliament were to enact that ban and name it after her. And, as a side benefit, we could forever redefine the term ‘Murphy's law’. As Peta pointed out to me last week, it's the most vulnerable who lose the most from gambling.

Peta's contribution made a mark on the nation. I was at a hardware store yesterday when a woman came up to me unprompted and told me how much she liked Peta. I'd like to thank those who've called and emailed my office to share with me their admiration for Peta Murphy. But, among Peta's admirers, none loved her more than Rod Glover. I remember when Peta and Rod got together, and from the outset theirs was a partnership built on gentle teasing and underpinned by mutual admiration and a deep love. Rod, I know that Peta was able to do so much more as a parliamentarian thanks to you. All Australians are in your debt.

To Peta's parents, Bob and Jan; her sisters, her friends, her staff and her constituents—all 100,472 of them—my condolences on the loss of a remarkable woman, an extraordinary parliamentarian and somebody who I'm proud to have been able to call a mate for 24 years.

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  • Toby Halligan
    published this page in What's New 2023-12-07 06:32:53 +1100

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.