Katrina Dawson

Katrina Dawson

February 10 2015

One of the things that strikes me about the job of a parliamentarian is how often we touch tragedy—how often we find ourselves speaking in our communities or in this place about those who have passed. Sometimes there is, amidst the sadness, a sense of satisfaction—of a full life lived well—as there will be shortly, when this House pays tribute to Tom Uren. But at other times the pain is overwhelming, as it is in the case of young lives cut short in the midst of their success.

The member for Robertson has spoken movingly of Tori Johnson, one of the two victims of this tragedy. I want to speak about Katrina Dawson. Katrina Dawson was at Sydney university law school a couple of years after me; I was closer in cohort to Sandy Dawson, her brother. But Katrina's brilliance shone strongly. She scored a perfect hundred in her HSC. She was a star of the Sydney bar. She had three extraordinary young children and she touched so many lives.

The former Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, has spoken about Katrina Dawson's example. Those at the Sydney bar have spoken about her role in mentoring women there. She worked in the Redfern Legal Centre, for Medecins Sans Frontiers and for Make a Wish at the Starlight Foundation. She has been honoured by Ascham School and the principal there, Andrew Powell, has noted how she was affectionately known as 'Tree' in her student years. Friends of mine at the Sydney bar have spoken about how the loss of Katrina Dawson has left a hole in their lives—about how they looked forward so much to her presence at the Sydney bar, to her intellectual brilliance and her sense of warmth. And, as somebody who is the father of three children, I can only imagine what it is like for those three little children to be growing up now without their mother. 

The Leader of the Opposition put it beautifully, I thought, when he said: 

'We understand that no words in this place or elsewhere can restore that vanished touch or bring back a voice too soon silenced. All we can offer is Australia's embrace—a promise to honour forever the memory of those lost to you and to all of us.' 

We honour, too, the police officers whose first instinct when shots rang out was to run towards the danger, not away from it. Without their swift response more lives would surely have been lost. We offer our condolences to all of the family and friends of the innocents and to the survivors whose lives, too, have been scarred by this awful tragedy. 

But as others have noted in this debate, as we grieve there is also a shared hope that, through this tragedy, there may arise a source of strength. One such source of strength arose when, watching a Muslim Australian on a train silently remove her hijab on 15 December—the day of the tragedy—Brisbane woman Rachel Jacobs stopped her and said, 'Put it back on. I'll walk with you.' Reading this account on Twitter, Sydneysider Tessa Kum started the hashtag #illridewithyou; and soon hundreds of thousands of Australians were offering to take public transport alongside Muslim Australians.

My favourite tweet came from Sean Murphy who wrote: 

'I am an Australian atheist and #illridewithyou (I am also 6'2 and very muscular, so no-one will mess with us)' 

If violent ideology has a counterpart, it is the 'I'll ride with you' movement. It is grounded in the Australian values of egalitarianism, multiculturalism and mateship. It is a reminder that love is not simply more beautiful than hate, it is also stronger, funnier and more imaginative. I commend the motion to the House.

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  • Andrew Leigh
    published this page in What's New 2015-02-11 16:52:12 +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.