Condolences - Walters, Ms Mary Shirley

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (16:01): In paying my respects to Shirley Walters and my condolences to her family, I want to mention some personal reflections I have of Shirley Walters. I arrived in this chamber as a very fresh, new, somewhat shy senator from way up there in the bush, and I can remember Shirley Walters. She sat, as I recall, in the back row in that second stanza of seats there. As Senator Scullion mentioned—whether she was referred to as 'Foghorn Leghorn' I could not say—she certainly had a voice that would fit that description.

I have to say I was in awe of Shirley Walters, perhaps over-awed and, dare I say, even intimidated. If Shirley Walters said something to me or to the party in the party room, it would be done without question, because you did not argue with Shirley. Listening to Senator Wong's reflections about what Senator Evans, the then leader of the government, said, I can again see her. And she would say terrible things about him, which he took with good grace as he always did. She did not mean them but she was intimidatingly abrupt in the way she spoke.

I was in the Senate for three years with her. The description I always remember about Shirley Walters is that she was ramrod straight. She was ramrod straight in her posture, notwithstanding the fact that, as Senator Brandis mentioned, she did have a car accident, which must have been an inconvenience for her or more. It must have been very difficult for her, but she would never let that be known or accept any sympathy. She often had a walking stick and at times a neck brace. So it was difficult for her to move around. Her mobility was sometimes restricted. It never stopped her crossing the floor, though, when she needed to do that.

Shirley Walters, as has been mentioned, was yet another Liberal first. She was the first woman senator from the state of Tasmania. That was something she was proud of and something that we Liberals are proud of—we have a lot of firsts in those categories. I want to quote from some reflections by a well-known parliamentary observer and political historian, Don Morris. He has written some words about Shirley Walters. He reminded us that when Shirley was first elected to the Senate she said:

I think it would be wrong for candidates to be chosen just because they were women—or not women … … I am definitely not a women's libber.

Further, she said:

During my campaign I was frequently asked questions relating to women. I replied then, and I still maintain, that women's issues are Australia's issues and Australia's issues are women's issues and any problems must be dealt with by all Australians. We women are not an underprivileged minority group as the radical feminists would have us depicted. We women in Australia are equal with our menfolk, and only those who would wish to denigrate our sex would have us believe otherwise.

I think they are very telling words from someone who understood the importance of women in public life and led the way of women in this chamber and, indeed, the parliament.

Senator Walters was described, again sourcing Don Morris's work, as:

… a Menzian Liberal. She held a strong commitment to supporting the family unit and to supporting business as a source of jobs and carried these principles throughout her own parliamentary career. Always active in the Senate chamber—

And I can vouch for that personally. She was—

renowned for the frequency of her interjections, she was 'an indefatigable, noisy, wearying campaigner' to those who opposed her, but she was respected across the political divide for her 'dogged determination' …

That is another image I have of Shirley Walters—dogged determination in whatever she did.

She was never afraid of prosecuting an argument, however unfashionable, even within her own party. She has, Mr Deputy President, as you and Senator Bushby would know, received the highest accolade that the Liberal Party can bestow upon anyone by being awarded a life membership to the party. I note Senator Brandis's comment, I think it was, that she still would attend branch meetings and would generously ring the president beforehand to share views. I can just imagine that it would not have been so much sharing views as it would have been her saying, 'Mr Chairman, you must do this, that and the other.' I know I can say that with Shirley, and if she is looking down on me she will not be offended by my saying that she was a very, very forceful person. It was a real privilege for me to have three years serving with her and understanding a lot about different approaches to the Senate. She had commitment to the Senate, commitment to her own state of Tasmania and commitment to Australia. Shirley, may you rest in peace and, again, my condolences to your family.

Back to List