Condolences - Hon Fiona Richardson

Tuesday, 5th September 2017

Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) — I also join the condolence motion for Fiona Richardson. Fiona Richardson was a passionate Victorian, committed to her family, who are in the gallery here today, and committed to her community and to making Victoria a better place.

Fiona was born in Tanzania of Irish heritage. As Fiona said in her inaugural speech, an Irish ancestor ran foul of the law and found himself on the way to a penal colony in Australia. However, on nearing a South African port, he and a convict brother jumped ship and risked death rather than the grim prospects that they believed lay ahead in Australia. In 1969 when the political circumstances in Tanzania became untenable, Fiona’s family literally shut the front door of their home and walked onto a boat bound for Australia, carrying nothing other than the suitcases that they could carry. As Fiona said in that inaugural speech, the family was always destined to reach Australia; it just took a few generations longer than everyone thought.

Fiona attended St Thomas Primary School, Methodist Ladies College and the University of Melbourne, where she majored in politics and psychology. I think everyone understands that Fiona was destined to be involved in politics from an early age, joining the Australian Labor Party 100 years to the day after it was formed by striking shearers under a tree in outback Queensland. I am told that Fiona was a formidable force within the Labor Party before she entered Parliament in 2006, and as the member for Northcote she was most definitely a formidable force after that time.

The speakers at the memorial service last week gave us all a great insight into the real Fiona and into the contribution she made to her family, the loyalty she had to her friends and the support she provided to her community and Victoria as a whole. As politicians words are our tools of trade. I compliment the member for Brunswick on making on that day what I think was one of the best speeches I have ever heard, no doubt under difficult circumstances because of her close relationship with Fiona. It captured the essence of a remarkable woman.

Fiona served as Parliamentary Secretary for Education and then Parliamentary Secretary for Treasury and Finance in her first term between 2006 and 2010. Although Fiona spent most of her political life fighting the Liberal Party at elections, in 2010 her main opponent was the Greens. Fiona ran her campaign, as reports go, on local issues and basic services — the things she knew mattered to the community rather than what the pollsters told her she should be saying. The Chandler Highway bridge is one of those examples of something she fought for, and like the Leader of the Opposition said, it has been suggested to me that that bridge should be named after her to honour the contribution she made to her community.

During that election campaign there was a report in the Sunday Age on 14 November 2010, when an adviser was asked about Fiona’s campaign versus the campaigns in other electorates where the Labor Party was fighting the Greens. They were quoted as saying:

She believes the Greens are irresponsible and says so loudly and often, to the dismay of the invertebrates and leftists in Victorian Labor.

Fiona had the strength of her convictions and was never afraid to say so. She did not tolerate hypocrites at all. Fiona was appointed shadow Minister for Public Transport after the 2010 election, and as I understand history it was Fiona’s policy work that led to the development of what is now the level crossing removal program as a replacement policy for not building the east–west link freeway. She believed that there needed to be an alternative, rather than just tearing up that particular contract.

Following Labor’s election commitment in 2014, Fiona was appointed the Minister for Women and Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence, having ministerial responsibility for the Royal Commission into Family Violence and the government’s response to that commission’s report.

Fiona was a passionate advocate for equality, and I think Ken Lay summed up her quick wit very well in his contribution. I cannot remember the exact quote, but when asked about women aspiring to be more like men, apparently Fiona’s quick‑witted comment back was, ‘Why should they aim so low?’. I think that sums up her intelligence and wit very well.

To Fiona’s husband, Stephen, you were a couple that shared a passion to make the world a better place, and you did that in many ways and for many people. We thank you both for your contribution. To Marcus and Catherine, my deepest sympathy on the passing of a great mum. Fiona Richardson made a real difference for all Victorians, and her life was tragically cut short far too early. Rest in peace, Fiona Richardson.


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