Hon. Fiona Richardson, MP

Ms HUTCHINS (Minister for Local Government) (By leave) — It is with great sadness that I speak to the condolence motion that was on yesterday. It is quite obvious that Fiona died too soon. I thank those opposite for the opportunity to speak today. I was unable to be here yesterday due to having to be in hospital with my husband who is himself battling cancer. I guess that is one of the reasons why this passing has really touched me so much. Not only was Fiona a wonderful member of Parliament but she was also a friend.

I had the opportunity to get to know her a lot better over the last three years due to sitting right next to her. Having known her for almost 25 years I got to see a very different side of her when sitting beside her in Parliament. That was a side of her as a mother. Whenever she told me the everyday stories, in our down time sitting next to each other, about Marcus and Catherine, her eyes would light up and her smile would be from ear to ear. She was so proud of both of them, and clearly they brought much joy to her life.

I know that Fiona had much unfinished business and, perhaps more tragically, a family who will miss her dearly. But I know that her spirit will live on in both of her children. They are very spunky kids and you know what is on their minds; they are very forthright when you get to know them. I know that their mother’s love will live on in them for many years to come. Although Fiona has gone, we will ensure that she lives through our memories and through her legacy.

One particular passion that I shared with Fiona was equal opportunity and gender equity in the Labor Party, in the Parliament and for all Victorians. As ministers we worked together to improve gender equality across many portfolios. One of the first actions was introducing paid family violence leave into the state’s enterprise bargaining agreements (EBAs). Since making that change we have seen that clause included in over 70 EBAs covering over 216 000 employees in this state, which we know will set a new benchmark for the rights of working families, particularly those who are affected by family violence. We know that family violence affects every aspect of victims’ lives. This change means that victims who may need to attend court or medical appointments or need to find a new place to live can do this knowing they will have job security.

The day this policy was signed off was an emotion-filled day, and alongside Fiona as the Minister for Women and Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence I knew this was an important and necessary step for us to take, and of course it was a recommendation of the Royal Commission into Family Violence. We knew that this would be quite a complex issue to tackle in the workplace. In fact taking the step to put a clause into EBAs and offering this protection in the workplace was a major step forward. It made me question why on earth such a thing would be necessary. Why should anyone need to apply for leave in order to deal with violence at the hands of a loved one? But the reality is quite different, and as Fiona explained on a personal level, as the royal commission so clearly spelt out and she so clearly articulated in the days following the recommendations of the royal commission, family violence is an issue that we need to deal with even in our workplaces.

Family violence leave is now a feature of public sector employment conditions. It is one of the things on which I was very grateful to have Fiona’s ongoing support. She was a champion for Safe and Strong, Victoria’s gender equality strategy. She drove its development in her time as the Minister for Women, and through her efforts we had a vehicle to put in place more strategies, more policies and more ideas for gender equity in my portfolios. With the support of Fiona’s office we were able to establish in the industrial relations space a ministerial council called the Equal Workplaces Advisory Council. The government has asked that council, through the terms of reference, to advise on how the government can best address the systemic, cultural and historical factors that have resulted in the gender pay gap and inequity for women at work.

It was only on Monday that we celebrated international Equal Pay Day. As I do every year, I put up a post through social media about what the differences are in the rates of pay for men and women and some of the challenges that women face in the workforce. Yet again it is unfortunate that I have to report back to the house that there were a lot of comments from particular men who like to troll female members of Parliament and make very demeaning comments around the issue of workplace equity, denying that the issue even exists. I discussed the perpetrators of those comments over many years with Fiona because it is the same old people that seem to want to attack equity in the workplace — to attack women basically.

Back to Fiona. She was ambitious and proactive and she supported targets for women in leadership roles as she knew this was the only way to create gender balance in influential and powerful positions. This government committed to gender equity on boards and it was her job to drive and monitor it. Having a target, which was not accepted by all, has completely changed the position of women in the public sector. Creating a baseline requirement of 50-50 men and women has meant that in all matters 50-50 is not negotiable. There were many of us around the cabinet table, when we had appointments on the agenda, that would feel the wrath of Fiona breathing down our necks and saying, ‘Is there an equal number of men and women in your nominations, and if there isn’t, why isn’t there, and what are you going to do to change it?’. Fiona was certainly very committed to ensuring that we met this target.

Great strides were made towards that goal with the 12 per cent increase in the proportion of women councillors that we saw in last year’s council elections. Again, Fiona was very supportive of that and was very keen to include in our gender equity strategy a target of 50-50 female councillors at the next set of council elections. I promise Fiona that I will continue to work on this important goal.

Fiona knew that not recognising the value of women in the workforce or in positions of decision-making denies us the intellect, the capability and skills that will drive Victoria to greater things. It is immensely sad that we have lost Fiona; she was taken away too soon. But I can guarantee that we will continue the fight for equity she so deeply pursued.