House debates

Tuesday, 27 March 2018


Staunton, Ms Donna

4:56 pm

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Minister for Health) Share this | | Hansard source

On indulgence, I wish to join with the opposition in extending our condolences to the friends and, in particular, the family of Donna Staunton. I particularly want to thank the opposition for extending the courtesy of joining us in this motion. In turning to Donna, I reflect on the lives of one of Australia's great health policy professionals and advocates, and we're joined by her daughter, Madeleine, here in the chamber today, representing the whole family, along with friends and family, including Dr Michael Wooldridge. Donna was one of Australia's great health policy professionals and advocates.

I briefly want to reflect on three things: Donna through the eyes of her family; Donna in terms of her professional achievements; and Donna through somebody who knew her as a friend. I can start in no stronger place than through the words of her daughter, Madeleine, and the opening words of the oration on her loss. She said the words that I think every parent would hope to have said about them. She began with the phrase:

I am proud to be my mother's daughter.

That is as high an accolade as any parent could ever ask for and any parent could ever be given. I think, Madeleine, you may be proud to be your mother's daughter, but she would be proud of the daughter that you have become, and the same for your brother, her son. Maddie went on to say, and I think all who know Donna would agree with this:

… I think we could unanimously agree that mum was an inspiration to us all. She was strong willed, yet empathetic and personable. She connected with everyone, and she was both respectful and fiercely loyal.

I would add to that that she was a fierce advocate, as well. I think both Catherine and I and all who've dealt with her knew that she represented the things that she believed in with great force and great vigour but with a great sense of fairness. As a person, that is the mark of her.

As a professional, of course, her achievements were legion. Amongst many other things, she had appointments to the Hearing Care Industry Association; the National Breast Cancer Centre; New South Wales WorkCover, one of her great passions; the Cooperative Research Centre, or CRC, for Mental Health; the National Pharmaceutical Services Association; the Medicines Partnership of Australia; and the LifeHealthcare Group. What a range of organisations she represented and she worked on. I worked with her and Mike Wooldridge, a former health minister, on many issues about improving health cover, but she worked across parties over many years and with many different ministers at federal and state level, and she worked with an almost unique level of skill and decency and professionalism. Above all else, her goals were always: what will give better access to patients, what will give better treatment for patients and what will give better medical outcomes? That's a really rare combination of skills and decency and integrity.

I also note, on a personal level—it wasn't that long ago; it was less than 12 months ago—I was at an event with her and with Mike Wooldridge, and during the course of the evening Mike served one of his vintage ports. He is very proud of his vintage ports. The waiter brought them along—I will, just for the record, note that I was maintaining my professional abstinence—and tripped. Most of these wines fell over Donna, and the vintage port was all over her beautiful evening gown. Mike, as he so often did, leapt to the cause and made sure that the last two glasses were preserved! It was only afterwards that he turned to Donna to ensure that she was okay. But she brushed it off. She followed through with the rest of the evening. She was worried that she'd be arrested for D and D when she went for a taxi. But what was interesting was the sanguineness, the generosity of spirit and the sense of humour with which she approached this little vignette.

Her life was one of warmth, one of family and one which made a difference. When you boil it all down, there can be no greater tribute than the one that Maddie gave, which was: 'I am proud to be my mother's daughter.' That is as much as any of us can ever hope for. She aspired to that, she lived that and she embodied that. We will miss her.

5:01 pm

Photo of Ms Catherine KingMs Catherine King (Ballarat, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Health and Medicare) Share this | | Hansard source

I join the Minister for Health in rising in this condolence debate for the loss of Donna Staunton, a woman who was known well to many of us here. Despite the solemnness of the occasion and the reason we are here, I can't help but think that Donna would have a bit of a wry smile over this—that Greg and I have united, which we don't often do. I'm sure she would have been most amused by that. I do want to add my voice, both in this place and beyond, to those who've conveyed their sadness over the loss of Donna. I too would particularly like to acknowledge the presence of Madeleine, Donna's daughter, and I pass on my condolences to you and to your brother, Jack, for your loss.

Starting her career as a registered nurse, before moving into law, Donna was a strong and successful health advocate working across both the corporate and political spheres, and the not-for-profit sector as well. At various times, Donna held senior roles in a Fortune 500 company, an ASX top 20 company and at the CSIRO. Donna's success was rewarded when she became the first woman to sit on the Business Council of Australia, a major accomplishment. However, it was, of course, through her work in the health sector that I came to know her. As the managing director and one of the founders of The Strategic Counsel, Donna advised companies operating in virtually every segment of the health and medical technologies sectors in Australia by helping them deal with the government and the Australian regulatory system. Without the advice of Donna and her colleagues, these companies would have found it far more difficult to get their technologies and innovations to Australian patients and to improve their lives. She served on the boards of the National Breast Cancer Centre, New South Wales WorkCover, the Global Foundation and the Institute of Public Affairs, and she was the director of both LifeHealthcare group and the Cooperative Research Centre for Mental Health. Donna had been the CEO of both the Hearing Care Industry Association and the National Pharmaceutical Services Association, as well as being the chair of the Medicines Partnership of Australia. I know that, in particular, advocating for those dealing with hearing loss was a priority for Donna. I know that has been taken up by her colleagues at The Strategic Counsel. I know that the pro bono work that she did for this sector in particular was something she was intensely passionate about.

Donna and I may not have always agreed about politics, although sometimes we agreed quite a lot, but her professionalism, her drive for leadership and her unique skill set are talents I certainly will long remember. Listening to and hearing what others have said about Donna, the thing that comes up again and again is trust. People from all sides of politics, and from across both the public and private sectors, all agreed that she had a remarkable talent to engender trust in those she was dealing with. Her rare ability to work with others, to bring those of different opinions and purposes together to seek a common solution, will be sorely missed. She was extremely focused, professional in everything that she did and, as the minister has noted, fearless.

It was with these attributes that Donna became one of the few individuals appointed to senior government boards by both Labor and Liberal governments, such was the high esteem in which she was held. These same attributes are what endeared her to so many and what have led to the flood of tributes that have followed her untimely passing. We know that no-one will miss her more than her family and her friends—I particularly acknowledge the long-term friendship of Dr Michael Wooldridge, who is here in the chamber as well—but she will also be missed by her colleagues, who loved her dearly, and all of us who had the privilege and pleasure of crossing paths with her.

I know she was an intensely private person and that her diagnosis of ovarian cancer was something she was deeply private about. But for those of us in the health space—and I acknowledge the health minister's commitment in this area—who understand the trauma that ovarian cancer reaps on women across our community, Donna's passing hasn't gone unnoticed, and neither has the important work we need to do to increase the survival rates of those with ovarian cancer.

5:06 pm

Photo of Peter DuttonPeter Dutton (Dickson, Liberal Party, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd very much like to associate myself with the comments of the Minister for Health and the shadow minister for health. I've enjoyed both of those roles—not so much the shadow health minister role as much as I did the Minister for Health role. Nonetheless, one of the highlights during my course as a member in this place, as shadow minister and as the Minister for Health, was my dealings with Donna. A lot has been said, and quite ably, by the health minister and shadow health minister about Donna's professional background and the contribution she made. I wanted to join this debate not to add to that or to repeat the many accomplishments and attributes of her professional career; on a personal note, I wanted to associate myself as somebody who had a lot of time for Donna. I admired her very much and I enjoyed her friendship.

Sometimes it's a sad reality that you don't learn as much as you should about somebody until their passing or until a life event, and there's a lot that I've learnt about Donna's professional background, but there's nothing that I've learnt in terms of the person that she was. I already knew that she was a great mum who loved her children. She spoke very fondly of Jack and Maddie. She spoke very fondly of her responsibilities as a mother, and she was a very thoroughly decent person. There are lots of people who you meet in this place, and I can say on behalf of my two colleagues here that, in the health space, there are many people who come through the door who, sometimes, you wish might not stay as long as they would like to stay. There are lots of fine people within the health sector, but there are lots of people who have self-interest as their main motivator. Donna wasn't one of those people. She was able to build relationships with both sides of parliament because of her decency and the other attributes that she brought to the role. She was able to prosecute a case effectively, she was able to do it compassionately and she was able to do it for the right reasons.

I enjoyed many dinners with her. I indulge perhaps more than the health minister in terms of the wine on offer. Nonetheless, dinners were an occasion where people let their guard down, and you did see and appreciated an insight into the person Donna was. Whilst Michael Wooldridge was frantic at the dinners, directing and trying to provide the prompting for discussion—perhaps getting back to the order of business—Donna was a soothing influence within that business relationship. She was somebody who had a great relationship with Mike, and I enjoyed very much catching up with them both. You could see the dynamic between them. I know that not only Jack and Maddie and the people who are here today, Donna's family and friends, feel that loss but Mike feels that loss as well. Donna meant a lot to all of us.

As I said, none of us need to prosecute her professional achievements. But today, to Jack and Maddie, I want to say: I want your children, at some point way in the future, to read the words said in this parliament about a very fine person. I want your stories to be relayed to them, but I'd like our stories to be relayed as well. I am pleased for you to know today that we feel very deeply for you, we're very sorry for your loss and we were very honoured to have known a person of such character, somebody for whom we had a great deal of respect. She was someone who obviously was taken too early by a terrible disease, and that scar will live with the family forever, but I hope that we can provide some support today by celebrating a life that was well lived and someone who was respected by those of us who worked with her professionally here.

I can add no more than that, but it really is an occasion for us to mark the passing of a wonderful person who was respected by both sides of parliament. I'm very grateful for the opportunity to add to the remarks today.

5:10 pm

Photo of Sussan LeySussan Ley (Farrer, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to join in today's statements on the death of Donna Staunton. Much of what I would like to say involves associating myself with remarks that have been already been made by the Minister for Health; by the member for Dickson, a previous Minister for Health; and by Catherine King, the member for Ballarat, the shadow minister for health. All of us feel the same way about Donna and Donna's contribution. I was shocked and upset when I learnt that we had lost Donna earlier this year. I knew she wasn't well, but nevertheless this seemed unexpected and particularly cruel.

My own experience with Donna revolves around two things: her bright, shining, charming personality and her care for other people, something that the previous speaker indicated is not always present in those who knock on the doors in these corridors. Donna had the sort of personality where, if you had a meeting with her, you actually felt energised and better for speaking with her. She was a person who gave you energy but never drained it from you. She was a person who came very carefully with requests, with advocacy and with information but never with demands. I can remember meeting her when I hadn't been in the position for very long, and the first thing she said to me was, 'How are you?' She said it in a way that made me know that she was actually interested in the answer and keen to contribute, if she could, to making the circumstances of my life, in that very small moment, more positive.

Again, for those who do the sorts of work that Donna and Strategic Counsel did around here, as my predecessors have said, sometimes there's a little bit of eye-rolling when they knock on the door or we see their name on a meeting paper, but I can genuinely say I never felt that with Donna. She absolutely knew her stuff, and she didn't just sit there and let the people she may have brought—I remember Aspen Medical, the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia and CSL—do the talking as if her role was complete once the meeting commenced. She knew her stuff. She talked about what was possible, what was necessary and what she and they would like to see, but again it was never about making demands. It was never about pushing you into a corner or suggesting that you had no other course of action but to do this particular thing.

Thank you to the Federation Chamber and to the parliament for the statements today. To Maddie and to Jack: your pain will be intense, but I know that in the future this discussion will bring you some comfort. I'm sure it will, even though that intense pain will seem to take a long time to subside. To my very good friend, Michael Wooldridge, who was also Donna's very good friend: I also feel your pain on this particular occasion, and I join with my colleagues in commending these statements to the parliament.

5:14 pm

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Like many of my colleagues in this place, I too knew and had occasion to have discussions with Donna over a long period of time, and I join with all my colleagues here in extending our condolences to her family and friends, and I thank everybody who has contributed to this discussion.