Vale Peta Murphy

My constituents in Bean felt they had another champion for good government and for public service—dare I say, another Canberran—in Peta Murphy.

Address to the House of Representatives, Condolences - Peta Jan Murphy

Wednesday 6 December 2023

It was just a week ago that the member for Dunkley was here in this chamber, in these corridors, in this House—just a week. This is an unusual place. There are times when you can traverse these long corridors without meeting a soul—or, if you do, it seems like a surprise. It can be intensely quiet, and this week it seems just that little bit emptier and quieter.

Peta Murphy and I had a fair bit in common, which is more flattering to me than vice versa. We were both part of a generation energised by the way the Hawke and Keating governments re-imagined and re-invigorated the social contract while boldly enlarging our vision of who we are and who we could be on the world stage. Labor governments matter.

We were both at the Australian National University in the faraway, slightly blurred years of the early nineties. In later years, we realised we had crossed paths on the touch footie field and had a number of mutual friends. Back then, as I was later, I was pretty much left in her wake. She was fitter, faster and more skilled. We both worked briefly in the ACT government, with Peta then going on to work for Duncan Kerr before going to work as a solicitor and barrister—including senior significant roles with both Legal Aid and the Victorian Law Reform Commission. They were experiences that deeply shaped her. As Peta put it memorably in a first speech that thrummed with social justice:

"At every turn, I have seen the corrosive effect that intergenerational disadvantage can have on people, families and communities."

Peta also identified in that first speech the corrosive effect of a decline in standards in public life and trust in government, and our responsibility to do better. She noted that in the cauldron of Australia's national conversation we aren't just participants; we are its custodians. We owe it to those who put their trust in us to not reduce complex debates to cheap soundbites, to not put winning the news cycle before the public good. Public office requires purpose. Changes to practices, including the introduction of a code of conduct, are a consequence of both her example and her drive for a better way. We both had the experience of a loss as candidates in the 2016 election and then the bittersweet experience of individual success in 2019 but not the hopeful party success. Labor governments matter.

In the 46th Parliament, the member for Dunkley was ready to go from day one, like a proverbial duck to water. She was on top of everything inside and outside the House. While the rest of us were on training wheels, she freed herself from notes early on. She spoke with passion and conviction, and with no fear. She was a whip's delight, able to speak on anything and everything with little notice and without complaint, from 90 seconds to 30 minutes and everything in between. While a champion for the idealism of our cause, she was never an idle idealist. She fought robustly for a better way, for a government that could marry purpose, pragmatism and social justice. She made significant contributions to a plethora of parliamentary committees in both the 46th and 47th parliaments, including as chair of the Social Policy and Legal Affairs Committee, as well as making an active contribution to all caucus committees. In fact, I think she may have been the only member of caucus who seemed to be on all caucus committees. Somehow, she also made the time to chair a number of parliamentary friendship groups. She generously provided advice and support to the class of 2019 and beyond, and, as everyone in this chamber has heard from those who particularly knew her well, we all benefited from her wisdom. My constituents in Bean felt they had another champion for good government and for public service—dare I say, another Canberran—in Peta Murphy.

The member for Dunkley made it clear the greatest privilege of her life was the opportunity to serve—the opportunity to work for the community of Dunkley and for those across Australia who needed her advocacy. She did this extraordinarily, despite her ill health. But it isn't just the immense opportunity we all have to serve; it is also the opportunity to serve with people with the courage and integrity of the member for Dunkley. Remembering that privilege of serving with Peta Murphy will make traversing these long pale corridors just a little easier, if not today. My condolences to Rod, Bob and Jan, to all of Peta's family and friends, to her staff and to the community she loved and represented so well.