On that day, in that seat, Labor were no chance. But Jenny Macklin didn’t mind. She knew the policy program, back to front. She knew what she believed and she held true to it.
That’s been the story of Jenny’s life of service to our movement and to this country: deep policy knowledge, unshakeable conviction and a ceaseless determination to see the right thing done.
I have the honour today to thank Labor legend Jenny Macklin for everything she has done for the Labor party in 22 years as a Minister, Deputy Leader, policy thinker and parliamentary warrior – and also to pay tribute to her for all she has given in the service of the people and causes she cares so deeply about.
Like most modest people, I suspect Jenny does not truly know just how much she is loved. But as news of her decision to retire spreads, I’m sure many more friends and colleagues and community organisations will rush forward with thanks and fond memories of their own.
Every political party in Australia wishes they had a Jenny Macklin, but only Labor has been blessed with her extraordinary mind, her caring heart and her fearless love of the good fight. How lucky we have been.
Jenny is Labor’s longest serving woman in the House of Representatives and the first woman to serve as Labor’s Deputy Leader. But her contribution isn’t just measured in time served or firsts achieved.
The truth is, there isn’t a single major social policy reform in recent times that hasn’t been shaped by Jenny Macklin.
Jenny’s extraordinary record of achievement is testimony to her values:
- Delivering the biggest single increase in the aged pension in Australian history, lifting one million pensioners out of poverty.
- Introducing Australia’s first national paid parental leave scheme.
- Helping Kevin Rudd deliver the National Apology along with practical plans for an equal, reconciled Australia.
- Her crucial role in designing, funding and delivering the National Disability Insurance Scheme, empowering Australians with disability, their carers and the people who love them.
- Leading the push for a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and carrying on the long battle for National Redress.
- And championing, always, a caring arm and a helping hand for those who need it most: people living in poverty, women and children fleeing family violence and low-income families.
In the 11 years I’ve had the privilege of serving alongside Jenny, I’ve seen her put her arms around people who’d lost everything in the Black Saturday bushfires and, just for a moment, take their worries away.
I’ve seen her shed tears of joy alongside children with disabilities and their families as she helped drive the NDIS from a noble sentiment to a concrete reality.
I’ve seen her demolish a hapless procession of Liberal social policy ministers, every one of whom forgot that beneath the gentle exterior lies a forensic mind for detail and an unbreakable belief in social justice.
Through all this, I’ve never seen her ill-at-ease. She’s as comfortable talking to Aboriginal mothers in a remote community as she is meeting pensioners at the local Italian Club.
She belongs everywhere, because she makes everyone feel like they belong.
For a generation of Labor MPs, Jenny Macklin has set the standard. She is a mentor and an inspiration to so many colleagues, and something of a cult hero to Labor staffers.
I know well the benefit of her mentoring, having learnt a lot from Jenny as her Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers when I first entered Parliament.
I know Jenny will give wonderful guidance to her successor and will continue to be an invaluable source of advice for me and all my colleagues.
Her legacy is a powerful reminder of what Labor can do for the country at our compassionate and determined best, and her example is one we must all strive to live up to in the future.
Jenny Macklin changed the country, in her own quiet way.
I wish Jenny, Ross and their family every happiness in the next phase of their lives together.