Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

CONDOLENCES Senator Jeannie Margaret Ferris

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (3.37 p.m.)-For the first few months that I was in this place I was deeply in awe of Jeannie Ferris. I would sit over here and watch her perform, and we have heard other senators talk about the way she moved around the Senate, the way she had control and the way she used every part of her body when she was talking with people and engaged in this place. She was the mistress of the dramatic sigh and the mistress of the very loud interjection as required. I have never been sure how Hansard dealt with her 'Tut, tut, tut-you're better than that', as it came across the chamber. I am not sure whether that came out every time, but we were very much aware of it. It was mostly for people on our side of the chamber, but not always, that she would give that feedback when she was engaged in what was going on in this place.

I was strengthened by the way she approached her work not just in the chamber but also across the committees and in her role as a senator for her state, because she had a deep dedication to her job. She felt that by being elected as a senator she took on a great responsibility. She felt that there was a dedication and a responsibility in that that she owed to all those people whom she represented. She was a dedicated hard worker, and that is a quality that I think we should always admire. Jeannie did her job and expected the others in this place to do their jobs as well, and by that courage and that excitement she made us all better. That is something that we must acknowledge.

I was absolutely overwhelmed, when I became ill shortly after I arrived here, to get a personal message from Jeannie. From that moment on, when she contacted me, she would pop by occasionally just to make sure that I was doing the right thing and looking after myself. It is rather ironic that towards the end of her struggle I am not quite sure that she was looking after herself as much as she should have been, but her colleagues were watching out for her. I must acknowledge, as many other people have done, the love, the respect and the deep ties she shared with her staff. To her staff: I know that you walked all those miles with Jeannie and that she loved you and cared for you as you did for her.

We had great experiences in this place when working together on a range of important issues. One of Jeannie's goals was to come back so that she could be engaged in the RU486 debate. That was at a time when she was not feeling great, but she was determined to be here. She gave many of us the strength to keep on going. One of the things I valued in having Jeannie's support was that when she gave you her commitment it was her bond. When she said, 'It's done, mate; it's done,' and walked away, you knew you did not have to count that number again because it had been done.

That degree of commitment continued into a number of other occasions where we had cross-party support but also when we were working on general issues in this place, doing the job for which we were elected. I think that Jeannie is watching today, because every single senator who has talked has talked about the gynaecological cancer inquiry-that great monument to her hard work, which was called 'the silent voice'-somewhere in their contribution. That is not a silent voice; that is a real voice, and I think we are sharing still in the contribution that Jeannie made.

Sitting as a member of the community affairs committee through those hearings was one of the most moving experiences that I will ever have. Jeannie was sometimes not well, but she was there and she never left. Senator Adams would sit beside her, using the particular medical knowledge that she has, and look at me sometimes and go, 'Tut, tut, tut'-again, not recorded in Hansard. That said it all about what we were going through in that process. Occasionally, when witnesses came forward with their own experiences, Jeannie would sit through the evidence and engage but then we would look around at the end of the evidence and find the women gathered together and hugging each other. Jeannie would be there, interacting with the witness, sharing the experiences and continuing her commitment that that particular Senate inquiry was not going to be just another one that had a range of recommendations; it was going to have action.

If she said that once, I cannot count the number of times she said it throughout the process. Sometimes it was in working through finding the exact words so that a recommendation would not be just a nice-sounding thing that said, 'Isn't this a terrible thing and something should be done about it.' She would try to find how the recommendation could be framed so that there would be commitment, accountability and action; she would sheet it home every time so that it would have success and get a result. She would sit there, fold her arms, tap her foot under the table-often with a new pair of shoes-and say, 'Well, we'll just see about that,' and also, 'Leave it to me; I'll go and see them.' And, once again, we would know that the action would take place, and that confidence would move through all of us around the table.

No-one can talk about Jeannie Ferris without talking about her laugh. When she heard something that she thought was amusing or she thought other people would think was amusing, she would burst into a spontaneous laugh which grew and was contagious. We would be sitting around, sometimes in the cancer inquiry and in other inquiries, considering the most gut wrenching evidence and she would start to laugh. It would catch on, and people would have no idea why the committee members were sitting in a room together with the secretariat laughing their heads off. I think that is therapeutic; I am sure it must be. In working with Jeannie, you were never allowed to slack off. You had to give your best; there was no changing of dates or cutting or messing around. You gave your commitment and you did your job.

I think the turning point for me to have the confidence to interact with her as a person, rather than as someone who I respected sitting on the other side of the chamber, was one late night during an adjournment debate when there was hardly anybody here. Senator Webber and I happened to be in here together, and Jeannie came in with no fanfare and just took her turn in the adjournment debate and gave the most amazing speech about a friend of hers who, when she was a young woman, went through a horrific time in seeking a termination in a rural part of the world. Jeannie did not identify the area when she gave the speech.

It was so beautiful the way she talked about her relationship with this woman and the impact that her experience had on her. When she finished that speech she just sat down and looked across and nodded at Senator Webber and me. We were able after that to meet outside, and I think that particular evening led to a lot of the discussions that came later in an amazing number of interactions, not just on issues that pertained to women's health but on other issues that we as a Senate struggle with. We were then able to talk quite openly about what we agreed on and about what we did not agree on but were able to work together on to come up with solutions. I think that is extremely valuable.

I enjoyed working with Jeannie Ferris once I had worked through that fear that I had for those first few months. And you got an amazing sense of achievement when she told you that you had done a good job, because those were not light words for her; she only gave credit when she felt that credit was deserved. When you got the nod from Jeannie Ferris you knew that you had done something okay, and I think many people in this chamber could remember how it felt when she thought they had done a good job.

We believe that Jeannie Ferris did a good job. We value her. We thank her family for enabling us to work with her. Her legacy will live on because women across this country and across the world-some of the emails we have received as a result of the gynaecological work have been international-are celebrating the strength, the wisdom and the wonder that was Jeannie Ferris.