House debates

Thursday, 16 August 2012


Senator Mary Jo Fisher

12:32 pm

Photo of Jamie BriggsJamie Briggs (Mayo, Liberal Party, Chairman of the Scrutiny of Government Waste Committee) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to note the resignation from the Australia Senate of my very good friend, Senator Mary Jo Fisher, who left the other place on Tuesday following a decision by her some two months ago now that, given the health difficulties that she has been suffering, it would be impossible for her to continue in her position in the Australia Senate.

I have known Mary Jo for well over a decade. She was my first employer, along with Nick Wilson, and was the reason—and I am sure many on the other side will agree—thankfully, that I got involved in industrial relations in the first place. She is godmother to our eldest daughter, Elka, who is six, and she and John remain very good friends. I think in her albeit short time, five years, in the Senate she made a strong contribution, although it could have been stronger and could have continued longer had it not been for a debilitating mental illness which has led to incidents which in the end meant that she could no longer continue in that high office in the Australian Senate. It was, as the Leader of the Opposition said in our party room a couple of days ago, a very brave decision to resign from the Australian Senate given the circumstances. But for her I think it was the right decision. It was the right decision for her health, and for she and John to go away to ensure that the next part of her life is able to be lived without this debilitating illness impacting so much on her.

She will be 50 on Christmas Day this year. I think the uniqueness of her birthday sums up the uniqueness of her personality, and it does give plenty of time for Mary Jo to contribute to society in a strong way in the future. She has plenty of time left to do that, but will need to do that after getting herself better.

She has been involved in politics for some time now. She worked previously with the Leader of the Opposition when he was Minister for Workplace Relations and Employment. She worked with the previous Minister for Workplace Relations, the Hon. Peter Reith. In that office she also made a very strong contribution to the development of very sound workplace relations policy during the Howard government. Before that she was heavily involved in farming or agri politics, which is probably the most vicious and worst type of politics you can find. I am sure you would agree with me, Mr Deputy Speaker, on that. She cut her teeth through the New South Wales Farmers Federation, after growing up in Beverley in Western Australia, where her parents remain. She is someone of an extremely high intellect and with that there is often an eccentric personality, and Mary Jo is no exception. She has quite an eccentric personality and probably is most famously remembered by those who do not know her well for that ridiculous dance she did in the Senate. She was obviously and rightfully publicly derided for that. She cannot sing and she cannot dance, and she should never had tried to do so in the Australian Senate. She should have let her intellect do the talking for her, because it is as substantial an intellect as you will find amongst anyone in these places.

I cannot and have not been able to understand fully the impact of the mental illness on Mary Jo and her family. Given the reaction of certain agencies in my home state, while we talk about mental illness more in society and politics and in this place and other places, I do not think that we fully genuinely understand its effect. We like to think that we do. We might be talking about putting more funding into it, but I am not convinced, certainly through these episodes, that in our society we are yet accepting of it. We are trying to understand it and we are trying to have the understanding needed for people to be able to deal with it, as fortunately the member for Goldstein has been able to deal with it. It is a sad loss for the Senate, it is a sad loss for the Liberal Party. She will be remembered as a good person who wanted to make a great contribution to the country.