Tuesday, 11 May 2021
His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, Mercy Community
With the passing of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, we say farewell to a great man. For more than 80 years, Prince Philip served his country, our Commonwealth and the Crown. He was an outsider when he entered the royal family, but his love for his wife inspired nearly eight decades of devoted service to his Queen, to the people of the Commonwealth, including Australians, and to the world. The duke's life was one of duty and service, of loyalty and of honour, always standing beside our Queen. As Her Majesty has said, he was her strength and stay.
Prince Philip cared deeply for Australia, visiting on more than 20 occasions. Some of these visits were celebratory. In 1956, he opened the Olympic Games in Melbourne. Other visits were in times of mourning and loss, such as in 1967 when Prince Philip came to Tasmania to comfort the victims of the terrible Black Tuesday bushfires. Humbly, he met with people and heard their stories. He was no stranger to suffering, having lived through his family's exile from Greece, his mother's mental breakdown and the death of his beloved sister Cecile in a plane crash when he was just 16 years old. But when an interviewer once asked the duke how this made him feel, he was apparently bemused, stating, 'It wasn't good,' but he 'just got on with it'.
There are many positives to our growing awareness of mental health issues and our willingness to talk about things we're struggling with, but it's worth observing that there was strength in Prince Philip's attitude too. It was his willingness to 'get on with it' that allowed his generation to, like him, face seismic shifts in the course of their lifetime. This was a generation that fought the Second World War to secure our liberty, lived through the fear and tension of the Cold War and helped shape the international rule based order that we have benefited from for generations.
The duke was patron of more than 50 organisations here in Australia. His efforts in them reflected his personal passions, including conservation, science, industry and design, engineering, sports and the military. Truly, his was a life dedicated to making the lives of others better. His efforts were focused on fostering the talents of individuals and enabling communities to grow and to thrive. In that work, he leaves behind a legacy that will extend long beyond his years and, I have no doubt, long beyond ours.
In this place, we often talk about the ways that government can make people's lives better. It's a sentiment I appreciate, well meaning as it is, but it is a principle I take with a grain of salt. Governments have resources from Australians, sure, but the decisions made by politicians and bureaucrats will never be made with the same local knowledge and care as decisions that are made by local community organisations and civil society on the ground.
One organisation that I'd like to pay tribute to today is Brisbane's Mercy Community. They provide enormous love, care and support for people facing some terrible, difficult times in their lives. Mercy have a history as St Vincent's orphanage and convent, which has developed into a child-fostering program, and there are many vulnerable Queensland children who are now safer, loved and educated because of Mercy's work. The training and employment help they offer for people with disabilities, including in their hospitality program, which is first class, give real freedom, hope and independence. That is so important to people in our community who are so deserving of the dignity and accomplishment that come with them having the ability to earn their own living.
Mercy provide support for older people needing residential aged care—again, enormous dignity in the face of the end of one's life's hardships. But they have one program about which I'm particularly passionate. It is the New Families Program. It solves this problem: what do you do when a woman is expecting a baby but has either had past adverse contact with child safety authorities, is living in a circumstance of domestic violence or, worse still, both? Mercy provide a safe residential program that begins in the last trimester of pregnancy, when mums can be protected from violence, learn about healthy eating and living and about how to provide what their child will need, helping them grow into capable parents with the skills and framework to be able to keep their family financially stable, to maintain safety and to grow the awareness of what good healthy relationships mean and look like into the future.
I have to acknowledge it's frightfully expensive, but, by the time you take into account the support workers, the clinical care that's provided, the housing and food and the in-community visits once the residential phase comes to an end, it really adds up. Demand for this program well outstrips supply, but it has an enormously impressive success rate. These successes are measured by injuries not sustained, by children reaching their development milestones, by mothers' improved mental health, by staying away from unhealthy substances and by the kind of loving family life that we know massively improves the chances of permanently breaking cycles of violence, poverty, crime and neglect. When you take into account all of those practical effects as well as the brutal reality of the cost of all of those flow-on impacts, well, it's an investment well made.
On Mother's Day, I visited the ladies in the Mercy New Families Program. I can't mention the names of the brave people I met, but I have a message for them: Ladies, I want you to know that I am so proud of your courage to seek a better life for yourselves and for your babies, better lives than you had and better lives than you, until recently, have been having. And I want you to know that with the determination you're already showing I believe you can do anything, including raise your children to be outstanding members of the Australian community and to achieve your most ambitious goals.
It's also timely to salute the team who work with Mercy, who are building stronger communities, lives of dignity and a devotion to leaving our world and this nation a better and more loving place than they found it. To them, I say thank you.
Senate adjourned at 22:32