SENATOR BIRMINGHAM (South Australia) (02:41): I rise to speak in this adjournment debate about a very dear colleague of ours, Senator Mary Jo Fisher. This is the last sitting day that Mary Jo will be a member of this place. That is very sad for all of us and, of course, very sad for Mary Jo herself. Although this has been a somewhat unusual day, I think Mary Jo would appreciate the slightly extraordinary nature of the fact that we are here, at nearly a quarter to three in the morning, considering her contribution to this place. I for one did not want to let her career finish without it being marked here. Although she is not here to give a valedictory herself, I know that all of her colleagues have her in their thoughts.
Mary Jo entered this place on 6 June 2007, just about one month after I came into this place. We have been senators for the same state of South Australia since that time and have had offices next to each other. I have spent probably more time on committees with Mary Jo than I have with just about any other senator. I am proud to call Mary Jo a friend; but more importantly, Mary Jo in this place has been, I think, an exemplary legislator, a wonderful senator and someone who has taken all her duties with great seriousness. Amongst that seriousness she has also shown a wonderful zest for life, a wonderful passion and commitment and a great sense of humour.
This is the type of night that Mary Jo would have revelled in. She would have revelled in the legislative debate taking place in the chamber, the fact that there was this intricate toing and froing about the detail of legislation. She would have also revelled in the fact that there was great camaraderie happening outside of the chamber among colleagues catching up ahead of a parliamentary recess. These were the moments that she was certainly at her best and these will be the types of nights that the Senate will miss her the most.
We know now that Mary Jo in her contribution during her five years-an all too short period of time as a senator in this place-is all the more remarkable for the challenges that she had to battle while she was here. There have been the health challenges that we are all now aware of and latterly other challenges, some of which have been more unfairly placed upon her in that time. But that never stopped Mary Jo as a senator passionately pursuing on the floor of this chamber amendments that she cared about, arguing the most intricate details of legislation and having the capacity to get into that nitty-gritty that so many of us perhaps cannot quite get into. But she would get there and dig down and ferret through. Her committee work pursued her passions and-as she would acknowledge-broadened her knowledge into other areas as well. She came here with a very deep background in workplace relations policy and workplace relations law. MJ, as we all know and love her, pursued those workplace relations issues throughout her career. All senators will remember and, outside of this place, the President of Fair Work Australia will remember her dogged pursuit of that office to ensure that it appeared at Senate estimates when she had the opportunity to make them do so.
Outside of the workplace relations portfolio, Mary Jo served with me on the National Broadband Network inquiry and she served with other valued colleagues, like Senator Heffernan and Senator Colbeck, on the food processing sector inquiries. She pursued her passions in legal and constitutional affairs with colleagues like Senator Brandis. On the environment and communications committee she served with colleagues opposite, like Senator McEwen. Mary Jo worked as a member, as a chair and as a deputy chair. I know some of the key issues that we have pursued from a coalition perspective in that committee on big policy matters like the National Broadband Network or the home insulation debacle have come to dog this government. Many of the things that were uncovered would perhaps not have been uncovered without the dogged pursuit, the diligence and the hard work that Mary Jo applied to those issues.
Mary Jo never forgot where she came from. She was a farm girl from Western Australia. She was always proud of that fact. I saw Mary Jo at the funeral of Senator Judith Adams. I was picked up with Mary Jo from the local airport by MJ’s mum, who was, as she rightly should be, remarkably proud of her daughter’s career and who saw the celebration of the life of Senator Adams as recognition not just of where Senator Adams had come from but also of where MJ had come from, the same part of the wheat belt of WA. MJ never forgot the issues she cared about and especially the people she cared about-the people from the country and the people she represented in South Australia. She was always ready to stand up for them and their issues.
As I said, she also has this wonderful zest for life. You could hear her coming down the corridor a mile away. I could sometimes hear her through the wall when she was having a good time in the office next door. I could hear the laughter, jokes, noise and the willingness to have a good go. She got herself into a little bit of trouble around the place occasionally. Senator Kroger would well remember the incident of the mobile phone one question time. The wrong phone was collected and the wrong password was entered enough times that the phone was wiped. Senator Kroger came to forgive MJ’s little accident there. When MJ had her issues with her bunions, everyone around this place came to appreciate MJ wearing differently coloured crocs into the chamber. They did not always match the rest of the outfit, but they were a wonderful addition to MJ’s fashion style, which was always noted wherever she went and certainly added far more colour to this chamber, Mr President, than perhaps you or I could ever hope or wish-or that anyone would wish us-to do.
Senator McKenzie and I recall that while in more recent estimates hearings we would tick off the number of Tim Tams that we would eat during those late night hearings, MJ would be just as inclined to tick off the number of little nut parcels that she would manage to consume during a hearing. Her diet is unusual. She managed to knock off yoghurt tubs full of salad wherever she went. She made sure that she came well equipped with her own produce to sustain her through any type of event. She was very much the BYO guest when it came to having her around for a meal in this place.
Mary Jo has been well supported through her journey here. She has been supported of course by her staff, Julie, Sonia and Bronte and others who have worked for MJ in that time; by her family-her mum and dad whom she was and remains very close to and whom she has been back to Perth to care for and who I know have been doing a lot to care for her; and by her wonderful husband John, whom all of us on this side, and I hope around the chamber, value as someone who is a wonderful parliamentary partner and who I know is doing so much to help MJ at this time and through the difficulties she has recently faced.
She came to this chamber and, in her first speech, said that she would do what she could to preserve the good and progressive aspects of current community initiatives-the types of rural communities I spoke of before. She hoped that she would be a politician whose words did not necessarily have to sound that good but whose policies would sound good and do good. I think MJ’s policies always sought to do good and we can say she made an outstanding contribution to this place in an all too short period of time. I for one am proud to have called her a colleague and I am proud still to call her a friend. I know that all members in this place would wish her and John all the very best for their future.
Honourable senators: Hear, hear!