It’s a privilege to rise today to express gratitude for the life and to lament the loss of our much loved and admired colleague and friend Peta Murphy, the member for Dunkley. I acknowledge the beautiful words of the member for Newcastle, who came just before me. It’s with immense sadness that I pay tribute to her, and, in doing so, I acknowledge the words of so many speakers before me. Her close friends and colleagues have spoken with love, respect and admiration. At the conclusion of my own remarks, I will read messages from the member for Warringah, the member for Curtin and the member for Mackellar, who regret that they’re unable to be here today.
I met Peta on day 1 after the federal election in 2019 at what is known as ‘pollies kindergarten’, when we gathered here in Parliament House to learn the ropes as new MPs. My husband, Phil, as one of the accompanying partners to this new clutch of MPs, met Peta’s beloved husband, Rod, on the same day. My first impression of Peta was, ‘Crickey, this women will take no prisoners!’ She asked me what sports I played, and I could see her utter disappointment when I revealed my batting average over decades of backyard cricket and my absolutely lousy record in C-grade bush tennis. I later learnt from others, certainly not from her, that she was an international squash champion, and I thought, ‘You know, that makes sense.’ Peta struck me as someone who could pack a whack, who could corner her opponent and who could easily have a beer and a laugh with them later.
Of course, I learnt so much more about her over time. She came from rural Australia. She’d battled breast cancer before her 40th birthday. She was a barrister. She was a champion for justice. And for her it was an absolute dream come true to be the member for Dunkley. I learnt that she had eyebrows that danced to the rhythm of the parliament and eyeballs that could seemingly jump out of their sockets on springs. I often chanced a glance at her when an interjection came from across the chamber or a speech was made that she took objection to. Peta’s was not a poker face. Peta’s was a fabulous face, as quick to break into a smile as it was quick to set sights on an idea she would challenge or champion. She was a great mate to have in the halls of this place.
Despite the pain that she suffered day in and day out, she was funny, she was empathetic, she was generous and she was real. She was an incredible person to learn from, and from Peta Murphy I’ve learnt many lessons in politics and in life. The French Renaissance writer Michel de Montaigne points to the understanding of death as a prerequisite for the understanding of life, for the very art of living:
Wherever your life ends, it is all there. The utility of living consists not in the length of days, but in the use of time; a man may have lived long, and yet lived but a little. Make use of time while it is present with you. It depends upon your will, and not upon the number of days, to have a sufficient length of life.
Michel de Montaigne could have written that for Peta Murphy, who, as has been reflected upon frequently today, made it clear in her first speech in this parliament that she would not waste a moment.
Make use of time while it is present with you. It depends upon your will, and not upon the number of days—
And what a will did Peta Murphy have. But, gee, we wish she had more days.
I was privileged to be present for Peta’s maiden speech to parliament in 2019 when she told the country that she been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer and in her speech, as we’ve heard today, ‘I am neither unique nor alone in this disease but someone who has a platform that I can use to benefit others, and I intend to use it.’ Honestly, that day and to this day, I don’t know how she managed to make that speech, and I honestly don’t know how she kept going to make so many incredible contributions from there.
I recently relistened to the extraordinary podcast Peta made only a short time ago for Breast Cancer Network Australia where she spoke of vulnerability. Politicians so rarely concede to this most human of conditions. She spoke of the strength she’d gained from her earlier encounter with cancer and the acceptance of vulnerability that her previous diagnosis gave her. And she spoke of using the privilege of public life to help other people living with cancer feel less alone, to push for better cancer treatment and services and to show us all that it is possible to demonstrate strength and vulnerability, acceptance and determination, illness and wellbeing. And she put that on full display as she worked her heart out in this parliament and in her community. Peta Murphy showed us all the spectrum of what it means to be human in what, at times, can feel like a place where hubris drowns out humanity. Peta Murphy made us all feel less alone.
Breast cancer was but one of the issues she used her platform for. It was important, critical, but not defining of her. The work of her preparliamentary life has been referenced today, when she sought justice for those least able to find it, when she applied her agile brain to industrial relations policy, to gambling reform, to carers. She literally contributed to the public good until her final breath. Such tenacity, generosity, courage and conviction, and the likes of we who were witness to it can only conclude that we have seen a truly great parliamentarian in Peta Murphy.
Joan Didion, in her book The Year of Magical Thinking, said:
Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.
And grief is on full display as we mourn the loss of this remarkable woman, Peta Murphy.
To Peta’s beloved husband of 24 years, Rod Glover, steadfast and generous: in your immeasurable grief and loss throughout Peta’s illness, Phil and I send our heartfelt love to you. My sorrow to Peta’s parents, Bob and Jan; to her sisters, nieces, nephew and wider family; to her countless friends; to her electorate office team; and to her friends and colleagues in the Australian Labor Party family. I note particularly the member for Gorton, the Hon. Brendan O’Connor, for whom Peta was chief of staff from 2017 to 2019, and her very close friends, particularly those in the class of 2019, who I know loved her dearly—and you were loved by her in return. To her constituents to whom she was so committed and loyal: thank you for sending her to the rest of us.
Peta was loved. Peta is unforgettable. Her legacy is powerful and true. Vale Peta Murphy, member for Dunkley. It was an honour to serve with you.