Senate debates

Thursday, 10 August 2017


Giles, Senator Patricia Jessie AM

3:32 pm

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senators, it is with deep regret that I inform you of the death on 9 August this year of Patricia Jessie Giles AM, a senator for the state of Western Australia from 1981 until 1993. I call upon the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move:

That the Senate records its deep sorrow at the death on 9 August 2017 of Patricia Jessie Giles AM, former senator for Western Australia, and places on record its gratitude for her service to the parliament and the nation, and tenders its profound sympathy to her family in their bereavement.

Patricia Jessie Giles, or Pat Giles, as she was known, was born in Minlaton, South Australia on 16 November 1928. She was the first child of Eustace and Marjorie Giles. The young family moved to Melbourne shortly after Pat's birth, but it was a brief and unhappy union. Eustace disappeared when Pat was only three years old and, with no means of support and expecting a second child, Marjorie returned to South Australia to be close to her parents.

Much of the burden of raising Pat and her sister fell to Marjorie's mother, who was a strict Presbyterian. These were trying circumstances, made all the more acute and distressful by the sensibilities of the age in which significant stigmas still lingered around single motherhood. It is little surprise that half a century later, when she entered this place, social justice and the rights of woman ranked high among the causes for which Pat Giles fought so passionately.

Pat was educated at Woodville Primary School and Croydon Girls Technical School in Adelaide's north-western suburbs. At the age of 17, she left Adelaide to enrol in a nursing course at the Renmark district hospital. But, by 1950, she had returned to complete her training at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. In 1951, she qualified as a midwife. In the following year, on 23 August 1952, she married Keith Emanuel 'Mick' Giles, a young doctor from Western Australia. Returning to the west, the young couple settled in Bassendean, north-east of Perth. On their two-acre block, Mick and Pat Giles raised five children: Anne, Timothy, Penelope, Fiona and Josephine. I understand that Dr Fiona Giles is present in the gallery today.

Pat Giles was a relative latecomer to party politics, but her commitment to volunteerism and community service extended far beyond her time in this place. A passionate advocate for better schools funding, Pat first gained public recognition in 1969 when she contested the federal seat of Perth as the candidate for the Council for the Defence of Government Schools. In 1971 she was appointed to the Health and Education Council of Western Australia and became Vice-President of the Western Australian Parents and Citizens Associations in the same year. In 1972, the darkest of all tragedies struck, with the suicide of her son Timothy, then aged only 18. However, what for many would have meant a premature and definitive end to public life failed to deter Pat from fighting for the causes which she held dear. For this, all Australians—and, particularly, I must say, Australian women—owe Pat a deep debt of gratitude.

In 1971, while a mature-aged university student, she joined the Australian Labor Party. It was the beginning of a lifelong association which would eventually propel her into elected office in this chamber. Her rise through the Labor Party in Western Australia was swift. Within two years, by 1973, she was a delegate to ALP state executive. In that year she also helped to establish the Western Australian branch of the Women's Electoral Lobby and was appointed its inaugural convenor. In 1974, she was appointed by the Whitlam government to be chair of the Western Australian Committee on Discrimination in Employment and Occupation. Having assumed the role of organiser for the Hospital Employees Industrial Union, she chaired the first women's committee of the ACTU, served as the first female member of the executive of the Western Australian Trades and Labour Council and was the first woman on Labor's State Administrative Committee, on which she served from 1976 until 1981. As that recitation of offices discloses, her career in the labour movement was, indeed, a series of firsts.

At the 1977 federal election, Pat Giles cut her teeth contesting the safe Liberal seat of Curtin for the Labor Party against the incumbent Fraser government minister, Sir Victor Garland. In 1980, she campaigned once again to secure preselection, this time for the doubtful third spot on the Labor Party's Senate ticket. However, when the former Labor minister, John Wheeldon, withdrew from the ticket, Pat won the backing of the Western Australian state secretary of the Labor Party, former Senator Bob McMullan, to secure the vacant winnable second position. Thus, she was elected at the October poll that followed and, at the age of 52, embarked upon what she would describe in her maiden speech as her fifth career, as a senator for Western Australia.

It was clear from the outset that Pat intended to bring to her role as senator the same drive for social justice and the same passion for the rights of women that had animated half a lifetime spent fighting for those causes. As she lamented in her first speech in this place:

The young seeking employment, households on low incomes, the chronically unwell, those on pensions, single parents, the handicapped and the homeless are progressively being more effectively shelved, their real choices minimised and their existence made precarious, too many of them are just one week's wage or one welfare cheque off destitution.

Pat Giles saw that she had a job to do when she entered this place and lost no time in prosecuting the case for social reform both within and on behalf of the labour movement. She convened the ALP's National Status of Women Policy Committee in 1983 and 1985, as well as chairing the caucus Committee on the Status of Women throughout her time in the Senate.

Pat Giles would subsequently be re-elected to the Senate in the 1983, 1984 and 1987 elections. In 1990 she was appointed Special Parliamentary Adviser to the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Violence Against Women. However, like so many men and women who have passed through this chamber, it was the work of the Senate committees which she found to be among the most rewarding. She served as chairman of the Senate Privileges Committee from 1988 to 1993 and chairman of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee from 1990 to 1992. Unsurprisingly, she was an active member of both the legislative and general purpose Standing Committee on Social Welfare from 1981 to 1987 and the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee from 1987 to 1993. Drawing upon her considerable experience as a nurse and midwife, she served as a member of the Select Committee on Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes from 1981 to February 1983, and again as committee chair from May 1983 to 1997. During this time, she played a pivotal role in the production of two significant reports into the health and aged care sector.

Speaking in her valedictory speech in this place, Senator Giles echoed sentiments which would, I think, be familiar to all honourable senators, when she reflected:

Some of the increasingly heavy load of committee work in which I have been involved has been enlightening, and some of it exhausting and frustrating to the point of making one grind one's teeth. Much of it rewarding and undeniably worth while.

To the public and to those who served with her in this place, Pat Giles will perhaps be remembered as helping to lead a generation of activists and for advocating for many of the reforms which we now take for granted. In that frontier of social reform she was indeed a pioneer. She was among the Hawke government's most vocal advocates for legislative reform on issues such as abortion, contraception and access to child care, and helped to shine a light on impediments to gender equality, much to the chagrin of some of her more conservative parliamentary colleagues on both sides of the chamber. In the debate surrounding the Hawke government's decision to ratify the 1979 United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which led to the eventual enactment of both the Sex Discrimination Act and the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Act. Senator Giles remarked that the 'hysterical emphasis on the sanctity of the family and wellbeing of children' by opponents of reform was a 'shabby and unworthy ploy copied from the American opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment, the so-called moral majority, who are neither moral nor a majority'.

Pat was also a tireless advocate for greater civic participation by women in Australia's democratic institutions, as her own career exemplified. This sense of duty is perhaps best encapsulated in her valedictory speech, in which she said:

The few women who have the honour of being elected to this place have a duty and a challenge to ensure that other Australian women of all ages and backgrounds are made aware of the fact that a career in politics can be civilised and rewarding; that it provides a unique opportunity to influence people and events, and to serve one's country and its people; and that it can be constructive, rewarding and even fun.

For her lifetime in public service and her advocacy for the rights of the underprivileged and the rights of women, Pat Giles was awarded an honorary doctorate by Murdoch University in 1996. In 2010, she was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia. Pat Giles's life was dedicated to the proposition that, when women are permitted to reach their full potential, society itself is the richer for it. She was a tireless advocate for reform, a formidable parliamentarian and a devotee to the highest ideals of community service. She will be sorely missed, and her contribution to Australian public life greatly valued. On behalf of the government, I offer our sincere condolences to her family.

3:44 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise on behalf of the opposition to acknowledge the passing of Pat Giles. At the outset, I convey our sympathy and condolences to her family and friends and acknowledge her daughter, who is here with us today, Dr Fiona Giles. I thank Senator Brandis for his very generous remarks in his contribution, and I acknowledge a number of my colleagues who will follow me.

Pat Giles served as a senator for Western Australia from 1981 until 1993. Along with others, like Ruth Coleman, Susan Ryan, Rosemary Crowley and Margaret Reynolds, she was one of a generation of Labor women who brought progressive policies affecting women and families to the very heart of this Senate and the government—women in whose footsteps we follow and we are proud to follow. Described as a 'good and passionate leftie', she was consistent and dedicated in pursuit of the principles in which she believed, and her achievements stand testament to her commitment, her endurance and her values.

I'm a senator for South Australia and I'm proud that she was born in Minlaton on the Yorke Peninsula and raised, as Senator Brandis said, in Woodville, now a suburb in Adelaide but probably at that time much less suburban. The Great Depression followed by World War II would have been a time of great hardship in which to grow up. After school, Pat Giles worked in a bank before qualifying as a nurse and then a midwife as well as in infant welfare. These qualifications and experience would serve her well in her later careers.

Moving to Western Australia with her husband, a Western Australian doctor, she would go on to have four daughters and a son in short time. Ms Giles's commitment towards the service of others was evident in the way in which she approached public life and in the activities she undertook in the community, often as a volunteer. It was through support of education and school funding that she first cut her political teeth, as a candidate for the Council for the Defence of Government Schools in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This was followed by leadership positions in health, education and parents bodies. The shift from community work to political candidacy and engagement spurred Pat Giles to undertake further study, first matriculating and then completing a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in politics and industrial relations, in the early 1970s. Thereafter she continued to seize new opportunities for advocacy and activism.

Pat Giles was a feminist. She was a member of Women's Liberation and the Women's Electoral Lobby. She was also a trade unionist. With the election of the Whitlam government came a significant opportunity for her, when she was appointed as chair of the Western Australia Committee on Discrimination in Employment and Occupation. Prior to her appointment, this committee had been, perhaps unsurprisingly for the time, all male. Around the same time, she also brought together her tertiary studies and her nursing experience, as well as her involvement in feminist organisations, as an organiser with the Hospital Employees' Industrial Union of Western Australia. This appointment was pivotal in bringing the Whitlam government's policies for equal pay, maternity leave and antidiscrimination to the industrial coalface.

Pat Giles was an organiser. She knew how to forge alliances and build coalitions for change. The administrative and networking skills she had honed over previous years came to the fore as she negotiated industrial disputes and led public campaigns, particularly against the state government of Sir Charles Court. It was clear that her skills and ability were not isolated to any one area of policy. She was appointed, in recognition of that, as the first female executive member of the Trades and Labor Council of Western Australia, in 1975. She also chaired the first women's committee of the Australian Council of Trade Unions from 1978 to 1981.

Pat Giles joined the ALP while studying at university in 1971. Unsurprisingly, and thankfully for us, her advancement in the trade union movement was matched by increasing prominence within our party. This included being another 'first woman', this time the first woman to serve on the state Administrative Committee. In 1981 she was vice-president of the state branch of the party. Around the same time, after an earlier tilt in an unwinnable lower house seat, she was preselected in a winnable position on Labor's Senate ticket for the 1980 federal election, backed by two individuals she would come to serve alongside, Bob McMullan and Peter Cook.

Since 1943, when Dorothy Tangney, also a Labor senator from WA, entered, there has always been at least one woman in the Senate. We've done better in this chamber than the House of Representatives, which has only had women continuously represented since 1980. But, when Pat Giles arrived here in 1981, she was only the 17th woman elected to this chamber. She joined eight other women, and it is some measure of the progress made that this number had doubled by the time she departed some 12 years later, although, as she lamented in her valedictory, only 17 per cent of parliamentarians were women. She did also state:

I have remarked on occasions that women were conducting proceedings in the Senate—the Acting Deputy President was a woman, both clerks were women, both Hansard reporters were women, women were on the front benches on both sides of the chamber, the Black Rod was a woman and all the attendants one could see were women. We were actually running the place perfectly well. This excited no comment whatsoever. There is no doubt that we could run the country if given half a chance.

Policies for the advancement of women, the rights of children, and equality in families were a hugely significant part of Pat Giles's 12 years in the Senate. I will turn my attention to some of those specific accomplishments in a moment, but, unsurprisingly, they formed a significant part of the themes in her first speech. She drew heavily on her background in the labour movement, recognising the important role trade unions played and continue to play in advancing rights, such as minimum wages, maternity leave and equal pay for equal work. In many instances these were cases in which she had been directly involved as a union official. She saw in a very clear way the connection between rights for working families and support for those who suffered most in the circumstances of inequality, including women, young people, pensioners, people with disability, Indigenous Australians, single parents and the homeless. She used a variety of parliamentary mechanisms at her disposal to redress the balance.

She served extensively on Senate committees, beginning with the Select Committee on Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes—a subject matter to which she brought wideranging personal experience. In fact, I understand it was the first Senate committee to comprise only women senators. When the Hawke government took office in 1983 she became chair of this committee, taking over from another senator we recently acknowledged following her passing, Shirley Walters, and led it with practical compassion.

She served on the Standing Committee on Social Welfare and chaired from 1988 to 1993 the Senate Committee of Privileges. This was a time of real reform following the passage of the Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987 and the passage of Senate privilege resolutions, which increased the burden of work on the chair and the committee and inevitably required skill and dedication from the chair. She was also the chair of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee. Despite the challenges that came from chairing two busy, highly technical committees, she said she found the experience 'absolutely memorable'.

When speaking on the valedictory in 1993 Gareth Evans spoke of Pat Giles as someone who was 'at the less flashy end of the politicians' spectrum'. She brought a practical and reliable approach that achieved much and also made her widely liked and much admired. Perhaps the best word on her experience of the parliamentary environment is by Pat Giles herself, who said in her valedictory:

From the day I arrived I was conscious of being cared for in a way that I had never before experienced, and I have never taken this for granted. Perhaps it has not really struck the males who come to Federal Parliament, but I realised that over the years the institution of the parliamentary system had been designed to provide a comprehensive network of support for totally helpless males bereft of their normal support systems. I was shocked on the first occasion when somebody found something for me that I did not even know I had lost.

Pat Giles was a force for and on behalf of women in the way she advocated for causes and needs in policy that for so long lacked clear and powerful voices in the corridors of power. She was part of an essential group of women who advanced major legislative and policy initiatives in the area of women's rights after the election of the Hawke government in 1983. These included ratification of the 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1983, the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 and the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Act 1986. Without women like Pat Giles in our parliament many of these advances would not have been realised. She has been described to me as a critical part of the gang of women who persisted and succeeded in reshaping our legislative framework to promote a richer society on a more equal foundation.

I too was going to quote the same passage Senator Brandis did as to her discussion of some of the arguments against the ratification of the CEDAW or, as she said:

The hysterical emphasis on the sanctity of the family and well-being of children—

by those opposed to ratification—

is a shabby and unworthy ploy copied from the American opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment

Also, in relation to the Sex Discrimination Act, she discussed the predictions of 'doom and gloom for the family in Australian society if and when this legislation becomes law'. I read that and I thought, 'Some things never change!' Some arguments never change.

Within the federal parliamentary Labor Party, Pat Giles convened the Caucus Committee on the Status of Women and chaired it throughout her tenure as a senator, a position which enabled her to promote women's issues and priorities within the government and to recognise positive initiatives as well as draw attention to those areas needing improvement. She wasn't afraid to call out inappropriate attitudes at high levels. Complaints submitted together with Senator Ruth Coleman about derogatory references towards women made by a senior naval officer to 9,000 visiting sailors earned them a letter of apology from the Royal Australian Navy. In 1984, the Status of Women committee first published the Women's Budget Program, designed to highlight the effects of budget policy on women and girls. It was the 'child' of that initiative, the Women's Budget Statement, that the Labor government ensured was published. It was a world-leading initiative that was emulated in other jurisdictions.

Ms Giles was appointed Special Parliamentary Adviser to the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Violence Against Women in 1990. Her roles within the caucus came in addition to convening the Labor Party's National Status of Women Policy Committee in 1983 and 1985. Her standing was recognised internationally through election to leadership of bodies including World Women Parliamentarians for Peace and as a representative of the Commonwealth overseas on delegations and to events connected with women's issues on many occasions.

Before she was a senator, Pat Giles was an activist, and she continued to dedicate herself to change and activism in her post-parliamentary life. Her official involvement in various organisations at home and abroad extended to the Women's Electoral Lobby, the Women's Health Care House, the Centre for Research for Women, the WHO's Global Commission on Women's Health, and the International Alliance of Women. As she had done throughout her life, she often served as president or chair of these bodies.

Fittingly, she was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2010 for service to the community through organisations and advisory bodies promoting the interests of women and to the Parliament of Australia. It was well-deserved recognition that came on top of others, including an honorary doctorate from Murdoch University in 1996.

In 1989, a counselling and support shelter in Perth was named in her honour. The Patricia Giles Centre is a feminist based, non-profit organisation committed to providing services to women and children who have experienced or witnessed domestic violence and to men who seek to improve the quality of their family relationships. I can't think of a more fitting service to bear her name, and it continues as a practical legacy of the durable and resourceful approach she brought to the advancement of women and equality in family life.

Like many women of her generation, Pat Giles was politically ahead of her time. She opened doors and walked through halls, including in Parliament House and of the labour movement, where the presence of women was the exception, not the rule. It is a testament to the efforts she and others like her made that saw great advances made for women during her time in public life. That has helped to make the way for those who follow. In preparing for this today, I did reflect how honoured I am to be one who has had the opportunity to follow her.

The policies she espoused and the causes she supported became practical realities that directly and indirectly improved the lives of so many, especially women and girls in this country. Our nation is poorer for the passing of Pat Giles but richer for the contribution she made throughout her life. We again extend our deepest sympathies to her family, friends and former colleagues at this time.

3:59 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As perhaps the only current senator who served in this chamber with then Senator Giles, I want to say a few words on the condolence motion and offer my sympathies and condolences to Pat's family and friends. I certainly want to be associated with the remarks of both Senator Brandis and Senator Wong, who have already spoken about Pat Giles.

I remember Pat in those days. Her last three years were my first three years in this chamber. I remember her as a gentle woman. By that I mean she was very courteous and polite, and not overtly aggressive. But, certainly, she was very focused, determined and very persuasive.

Curiously, like the late Senator Judith Adams, who was another female senator from Western Australia and also a nurse, Senator Giles was someone who I took notice of and listened to. I must say I don't often do that when any Labor senator speaks to me. In the case of Pat and Judith Adams, if it was a matter relating to health or nursing, particularly in regional areas and regional areas in Western Australia, they were, certainly, people you would listen to. As I say, Pat was someone that I took a lot of notice of in those particular areas.

I wasn't close to Pat Giles in those days but, as I say, I do remember her well. I wanted to be associated with this condolence motion. Again, I offer to her family and friends my condolences.

4:01 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

I, too, sincerely thank Senator Brandis for his words describing Pat Giles and I thank our leader, Penny Wong. Pat Giles represents all of the good things about Labor senators. She was fierce, she was determined and she made many achievements in this place. I want to start with her involvement in the trade union movement. The health services employees' union that people have talked about today is my union—the former Missos, now known as United Voice. Pat Giles' legacy in United Voice is massive and still echoes in that union today.

Senator Wong talked about—and, indeed, Senator Brandis talked about—Pat's honorary doctorate from Murdoch University and her Order of Australia. I want to talk about two other achievements which also demonstrate the amazing contribution that Pat made. She was awarded life membership of the Australian Labor Party. That's quite an achievement. It doesn't come just because you've spent 20 years paying your dues and attending a few meetings. It comes because you have made a real achievement in advancing the goals of Labor, either in this place or in the community. And Pat did both of those. She was awarded a well-deserved life membership. I remember that state executive where she came. Pat, for those of you who didn't know her, was quite a short woman, but she was very fierce—not in a way that made people afraid, but she had fierce determination that just radiated around her. It was a very proud moment when she was awarded that life membership. She was also awarded life membership of United Voice. Again, this was not because she spent 30 years as a member of the trade union; she left a fierce legacy at that union.

One of the things that's widely regarded and passed on to new organisers at United Voice—and, indeed, when I started as the United Voice organiser in 1987 I followed in Pat's footsteps. I organised in the aged-care industry. Everyone told me what a trailblazer Pat had been. When she first started at the health services employees' union, the aged-care sector was this unregulated, awful place where people were treated very badly. I am ashamed that we saw those things being echoed on the 7.30 report earlier this week. It was a terrible place. Workers were exploited. Senator Wong went to some of that in her contribution in her condolence to Pat. So Pat's job was to clean up that industry by herself—an industry of thousands of workers and hundreds of nursing homes. Don't we always set the bar high for women! But she did that. Along with the secretary at the time, Jim McGinty, they established a really strong reputation. If you underpaid a cleaner, a nursing assistant, an enrolled nurse, a gardener or anyone in the aged-care industry, you can bet your bottom dollar that Pat was coming after you. No doubt she was spurred on by her former role as a nurse, but she left a fierce legacy that still echoes at United Voice today—that single-handedly, with the support of a good union secretary, she cleaned up that aged-care industry. It's no coincidence that, when she came into the Senate, one of the first things she did was establish an inquiry into the aged-care industry. Some of the reforms that Pat recommended as part of that Senate inquiry were the forerunners, if you like, of the modern-day sector that we see today. Those two achievements, life membership of the Labor Party and life membership of United Voice, were two things that I know Pat treasured.

She encouraged women. Certainly, as Senator Wong said, she did pave the pathway for women to come along after her. It was really interesting that, when Senator Wong mentioned the formidable gang, I thought, 'Gosh, how does she know that about Western Australia?' Whilst Pat might have had a formidable gang of women here, she certainly had another formidable gang of women in Western Australia: people like Cheryl Davenport, people like Helen Creed and people like Carolyn Jakobsen, who also was elected to this place. I know that Pat's Senate office was a revolving door of ideas, activity and women, and she really did make sure that she was mentoring women. If any of us said that we were a bit scared to put our hand up or a bit afraid, then Pat was always a great sounding board and a source of absolute encouragement for all of us. I do remember her northern suburbs office. Everyone was always welcome, and it was truly a place where ideas were generated, put out and really developed.

One of the other things that certainly both Senator Brandis and Senator Wong have mentioned is that she had a number of firsts. She was the first woman on the Trades and Labour Council. Even when I started at the union in 1987, it was still a pretty blokey world, so I can't imagine what it must have been like for Pat in those days preceding my involvement. Her daughter Dr Fiona Giles and a good friend of Pat's, Gaye Walker, are here. Fiona told me that not only was it a den of men; it was a smoky den. I joked to her and I said, 'Yes, those smoky, blokey environments, we've all been there.' That's the environment that Pat really was operating in. She was an absolute trailblazer for women.

She was absolutely fearless. She was a groundbreaking defender of the disadvantaged throughout her life. She was a feminist, a unionist and an activist, and she was certainly an amazing role model for me and countless other women who came into contact with her. Fiona said to me today, 'Pat always believed that you treated everyone the same.' That's been echoed in the tributes that we've seen and heard about her today. It didn't matter who you were, you could always approach Pat. You knew that she was strident, but she was always so generous with her time, and you didn't ever feel silly because you asked a dumb question. She made that space, particularly for women, but for everyone who wanted to speak to her. And she remained active. I too joined the Labor Party at uni. I don't know if it's this particular thing that attracts women to Labor, but, like Pat, I went back to uni as a mature-age student and I joined the party when I was at uni. During my early days of involvement in the Labor Party, I can't think of a meeting that I went to where Pat wasn't there championing the rights of a whole range of groups. She was a champion for child care, she was a champion for reproductive rights, she was a champion for women experiencing domestic violence and she was a champion mother.

Her four daughters are amazing individuals. I know Anne Giles. Anne Giles went on to work at United Voice as well. All of Pat's daughters are amazing achievers. Indeed, I know one of her grandchildren, Jessie, who is particularly near and dear to my heart. Jessie went to the UN and other places with Pat. And Jessie, too, is an amazing young woman. She spent a little bit of time at United Voice but is now based in the US in the union movement. So not only has Pat touched the lives of women outside of her family but her daughters carry on that Giles legacy, as Jessie does and I am sure the other grandchildren do as well.

It is a great honour for me today to pay my respects to Pat Giles, a formidable woman from Western Australia. She will be sadly missed. We have celebrated many of her achievements and no doubt we will continue to do that.

4:10 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I, like others in this chamber, rise today to pay tribute to the formidable former Senator Patricia Giles—a feminist, a unionist, an advocate for equity and justice and an inspiration to so many women in our nation, including myself.

As others in this chamber have highlighted, Pat was a real trailblazer for women. In the year I was born, Pat and four other women made history in Perth by running in local government campaigns on a women's liberation ticket. Never before had women run on a platform of things like reproductive rights and childcare access. During that time, she was known to have doorknocked tirelessly, talking to migrant women about their hopes of liberation and talking to young women about access to and costs of contraception. While neither Pat nor any of the other women were elected at that election it did indeed herald a new era of women engaging with women in WA about women's issues and the kinds of things that mattered to them. I am certainly a great beneficiary of that legacy.

It would be no surprise to people to know that Pat worked to help found the Women's Electoral Lobby in Western Australia. My mother tells me that she went to a few WEL meetings with me in tow as a toddler at the time. As others have highlighted, Pat was the first woman elected to the WA Trades and Labour Council executive, which is an enormous achievement and moment in time when you look at the male domination of the trade union movement at the time. She was also an executive member of the Health Education Council of Western Australia and the first woman to chair a committee on discrimination in employment and occupation. As others have highlighted, she was on the first ACTU women's committee and she argued before the WA Industrial Commission for maternity leave, which was granted to women in private employment back in 1980. That was such an enormous achievement which generations of women and their children and their families have now benefitted from.

Pat chaired the World Health Organization's Global Commission on Women's Health and was the ACTU's representative on the tripartite committee on women's employment in Australia, which was a subcommittee of the National Labour Consultative Committee on Women's Employment. These were such new and emerging areas at the time, and it was fantastic to have had an opportunity years ago to speak to Pat about how amazing those times were and how motivated they were in really looking at their feminist values and implementing that. That is something that I have taken great inspiration from over many decades.

She led the Australian delegation to the United Nations Decade for Women meetings in the 1980s. After Pat retired from the Senate, I recall early in my years in the party her engagement with the UN, and it was part of my early thinking in joining the Labor Party and thinking about my own feminist values to look to her for those international perspectives on feminism and reproductive rights. They are traditions that I hold strong and I'm very grateful to have had handed down to me.

It's clear that for Pat—and this is something I certainly identify with—a senator was not a professional milestone in itself but another step in her long history of fighting for the rights of women. No matter what or where she was, or what she was doing, Pat fought for women. I don't think our country would be what it is today without Pat and that generation of women who she had with her in this place, if it weren't for the fight that they put in for all of the things that they achieved.

The blurb on her book that's dedicated to her life reads:

This is the story of a woman whose determination never faltered, whose work ethic never flagged. It is the story of an activist working from within the established order to effect social change.

In that sense, her life has been so much more than just a list of her achievements. In every sense, it's a life well lived, although I can imagine that at times life with Pat was probably not always easy, given the demands on her. So I really want to thank and pay tribute to Pat's family for all the care and support they've given her over the years—particularly in more recent years.

Pat was indeed an inspiration and mentor to many women coming up through the Labor Party, and I am one of them. I would not be the activist and senator I am today without the influence of Pat and the other strong women who came before me.

Pat fought discrimination wherever she went, wherever she saw it, and she encouraged others, even though they thought they were friendless. She never had ambition for herself except to inspire others to recognise that, no matter what is said, women are equal to men in every respect of life and, as such, they deserve the same pay, rights and opportunities in every aspect of our society. It's incredible that those ideas were really only just starting to push through back in the 1980s. I feel privileged to have been brought into the fold by that group of feminist women in WA to continue that fight.

Pat made a great many contributions to this place. In 1983, she asked a question to the Attorney-General Gareth Evans that illustrates her humour—and others have commented on it this afternoon as well. It displays her wit and drive. With the indulgence of senators, I'll quote briefly from the Hansard:

In view of a biased and ill-informed campaign by the League of Rights and the organisation known as Women Who Want to be Women against the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, can the Attorney-General please explain the reasons for and the implications of ratification of this important Convention, action which, I might say, is supported by all reputable established Australian women's organisations? Is there any truth at all in the assertions of drastic impositions upon Australian society such as the elimination of gender by law or at least the conscription of all 18-year-old girls into the defence forces?

That is a wonderful display of not only Pat's humour but her formidable critical analysis of the issues before this parliament. In reading that piece of Hansard, I reflected on how Senator Giles would perhaps approach a contemporary debate like the one we've been having this week on marriage equality. Pat always fought against inequality and discrimination in all its forms. This week, especially, it is sad to have lost a giant in the fight for equality.

The legacy of Patricia Giles will live on. It will live on in the many fights we are still to have about equal pay for women, affordable child care, fair wages and working conditions, and the value of women's work. It will certainly live on in the work of The Patricia Giles Centre in WA, providing support for women who are survivors of domestic violence. Most of all, Pat will continue to inspire a new generation of women to stand up and fight for what is right. I want to extend my deepest condolences to her family and loved ones. But I celebrate her life and, indeed, her wonderful contribution to our nation. Thank you.

Question agreed to, honourable senators standing in their places.