I didn’t get to work with Linda White in this place for very long and I do feel a real sense of loss because of that, because Linda was so formidable and so strategic. It was very clear from when she first arrived here that she was in the place that she was meant to be and that she was in the place where she knew she was going to make an outsized contribution. And she had just begun to make that contribution when, unfortunately, she was taken from us.

I do know that there was so much more she had to achieve on top of what were her already very significant achievements. A lot has been said about those over the past week in this place as well, so I won’t run through all of them, but I do want to highlight some of those that I think were the most significant, and also that I think resonated particularly for me from Linda’s life.

Linda White really dedicated her entire life to working on behalf of Australians—Australian workers and particularly Australian women workers. While I didn’t get to work with Linda for very long in this place, I know that it’s partly thanks to her support that I am here—the work that she and so many others did to reform our Labor Party so that it was a place where women got elected. They put in place a system which means we had quotas for getting women elected to this place, bringing us to the situation now where we have a government and a caucus that is majority female. That is a massive achievement.

I can’t even begin to comprehend, really, some of the discussions and the obstacles that would have been put in the way of Linda and the people she was working with when she was trying to negotiate some of those rules. We have all heard echoes of those arguments. Again, I can only picture in my mind the strength—and probably, I think, the very short shrift—that Linda would have given to those arguments, knowing that she was arguing for our party to be a better party, for this parliament to be a better parliament and for the lives of women across this country to be better because their voices were being heard in this place. That in itself is a huge achievement.

Of course, it was not just in the Labor Party and in the parliament that Linda White advanced women. It was in so many areas, and I want to highlight one particular area where I think Linda’s work was just outstanding: the SACS Award, raising the pay of people in highly feminised industries that for most of our history have been largely ignored and largely underpaid. It’s just work that was there and not valued in the way it should have been. That award decision was landmark. It obviously had an immediate impact on all the people, particularly women, working in social and community service areas.

But I think its impact wasn’t just that very important, immediate impact of raising the pay rates there. I think it was also a really important moment in that broader drive, and we still continue now to reset how we do see women who work in and contribute to the social and community sector and the care sector to actually genuinely recognise that contribution as an economic contribution and one that our society and community is largely built on. We did see some of that conversation come to the forefront during the pandemic, but it is absolutely built on that sort of work that Linda spent her lifetime in the union movement working on. It also, I think, really came to the forefront with that landmark case.

I’ve really appreciated, while we have been marking the great contribution that Linda White made to our country and our community, hearing more about her earlier life. I appreciated hearing that she, like me, began her working life at McDonald’s and that it drove her to unionism. Yep—I can absolutely see the McDonald’s structures that drive you to unionism!

Again, what a mark of Linda that she, from that very early stage, saw how workers coming together could further their interests and could make sure that workplaces were fairer places for all. From there, she went into the law, where she had a significant impact again through her intelligence and the very thorough work that she did there. And then she went into her long and important career in the union movement. As the Prime Minister has described it, she then went on to become ‘the most qualified backbencher to join this place’.

My condolences go to Linda’s family, to her brother and to all the friends and comrades who miss her so much. It really was wonderful to be able to attend her funeral and to hear the loving, witty speeches paying tribute to this smart, fun woman who did love her work and the achievements she made but who also knew how to have fun. My condolences to her staff, who saw her through to the very end. Again, it was clear and has been clear just how important a role they played in Linda’s life.

I was absolutely part of the group who also saw Linda as an Insta influencer! She was a prolific poster, I think more so before she joined the Senate. But I always appreciated seeing which Melbourne restaurants Linda had been visiting, and I knew that they were ones that I needed to put onto my list to make sure I got there, because they were always worthwhile.

This was the other side of Linda. She absolutely loved the best things that our city Melbourne has to offer. The arts, culture, food and football were all things that she greatly valued and enjoyed, and she also worked so that others could enjoy them as well. It was really evident that her belief was that these were good things that everyone should be able to enjoy, not just a select few. Our city, again, is better for the work that Linda did to grow and drive these cultural institutions that we enjoy.

Linda was a very private person. I think for me, as for many in this place, it did come as a shock that she was so sick and that she was taken from us when she was. I hope that, amongst that desire she had for privacy, she did die knowing how much she was appreciated and valued and how much she was respected for her many, many achievements in this place and in a lifetime working for Australians and Australian women. Those achievements cannot be overstated. Vale, Linda White.

Click here to watch this speech.

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