Condolences - Hon. Fiona Richardson, MP

05 September 2017


Ms RYAN (Euroa) — It is with great sorrow that I join this condolence motion for the Honourable Fiona Richardson. Today is unquestionably one of the saddest moments this house has witnessed. I want to extend my heartfelt sympathy to those on the opposite side of the house who counted Fiona as a friend and a mentor. For the last two and a half years I have sat two seats away from Fiona, but I did not know her very well. To stand here and pretend otherwise would be disingenuous to her and to those who loved her. My reflections today are the sum of my observations of her during those two and a half years in this place and of my discussions with colleagues and friends.

Over the past few years I have learned that the people in this place can impact you in a positive or a negative way through their actions both publicly and when the cameras are off. Fiona, in my observation, was someone who never needed to shout to make her point. She was always so calm, so composed. She was admired, perhaps even feared by some, but above all she was a role model for women regardless of where they stood politically. She demonstrated to everyone that gender is not a determinant of influence or authority.

What I observed was a fearless woman who was not afraid to stand up for what she believed in. Yet, as many of us saw for the first time on Australian Story, she too had her own struggles. As the first Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence and Minister for Women, she had an insight into victims' experiences that many of us cannot even imagine. Putting aside her intellect, her political might and her very evident skill as a competent minister, it was her personal understanding of family violence which enabled her to put victims at the centre of the state's response to family violence.

Reading through Fiona's many speeches on family violence with the knowledge we now have of her own experiences growing up is both confronting and remarkable. In February 2015, speaking on the Royal Commission into Family Violence, her passion and conviction to take action were clear. While she spoke of the statistics and the numbers of the problem at hand, she kept coming back to personal experience and the personal experience of victims and survivors — what it meant to the individual. She said:

… it is the knowledge of what the statistics truly mean for women and children who bear the overwhelming burden of family violence and the knowledge that these women and children are unsafe in their own homes that has set our determination to do something with respect to family violence.

For those of us who have seen the impact of family violence firsthand and the terrible consequences that it brings, this is indeed a watershed moment for Victoria.

Fiona recognised the enormity of her role and of the work that was needed, and still needs to be done, on family violence and that it was not just her responsibility but the responsibility of everybody to act. That was her mandate and the mandate she put to everybody else. She described it as:

… a whole-of-government, whole-of-society crisis that demands that each and every one of us respond accordingly.

I think Fiona did more in her three years as a minister than many politicians do in an entire career, and her legacy will shape the future of many.

Fiona did not attempt to make her work as a politician about her. Instead she let her actions speak. I think there is always a risk with reform that statements, speeches and grand gestures take precedence over action, but with Fiona it was apparent that she wanted to effect real and genuine change.

In taking on the role of Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence she became a voice for those who did not have a voice. I think we all want to live in a state where women and children are safe in their own homes and where they are not subjected to harm or to violence. Members on both sides of the chamber, in both houses of Parliament and across successive governments have worked towards that same goal, but few in this place have dedicated as much time or effort to that end as Fiona. I believe it is now important that the government continues her work by ensuring that whoever does take on that portfolio can dedicate as much time and as much effort to it as she did.

To her staff, who must be feeling an enormous sense of loss — her chief of staff, who wrote a beautiful piece recently, her ministerial staff and her electorate staff — my thoughts are with you. I think it is difficult sometimes for people outside of politics to comprehend the camaraderie that exists between a minister and their staff — with the people who are there next to you in the trenches and who always have your back.

Most of all I want to offer my deepest condolences to Fiona's family and loved ones, especially to her husband, Stephen, and her two children, Catherine and Marcus; her mother, Veronica; and her brothers, Hamish and Alastair. Fiona's passing is a great loss to this Parliament and to our state, but that pales in comparison to the loss of a wife, a mother, a daughter and a sister. Rest in peace, Fiona.

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