Release type: Speech


Condolence speech - Peta Murphy


The Hon Brendan O'Connor MP
Minister for Skills and Training

May I acknowledge the eloquent and touching sentiments of the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader. 

Peta Murphy was a passionate fighter who was always on the side of the underdog. The outsider, the less fortunate.  

Whether that was providing legal representation in court for the powerless or disadvantaged on the margins of our society, or whether it was advocating on behalf of a local constituent or a community group she put every ounce of effort into those individual fights, those local battles. They mattered to her. 

But she also had grander plans. Peta understood that federal politics was the battlefield where the big issues were contested and determined. 

Whether it was the challenges of climate change or attending to insecure work or striving for gender equality it was this place where the big things are won and lost … where the most gains can be made.

Where the contest of ideas for shaping the nation’s future are played out and she wanted to be part of it.  

It’s why she threw herself headlong into policy work in so many areas. 

Only this year she tabled the parliamentary committee report on the insidious adverse social effects of online gambling highlighting, in particular, the industry’s targeting of children. 

And why last Wednesday she was in Canberra to launch a Breast Cancer Network Australia report, entitled “Time to Count People with Metastatic breast cancer - a way forward “. 

Sadly, she was too unwell to do so, but her involvement and advocacy had already elevated this matter nationally. 

And of course, she was right. 

As a nation we can and must do better to increase testing and ensure earlier diagnoses of all cancers. 

That’s what she would have advised me to say today. 

And I know what else she would advise me to do today. 

Not to carry on about her …. not talk her up too much. I can almost hear her interjecting on anyone today extolling her virtues - to calm down. 

In her first speech, she paid tribute to her parents, describing them as “the most humble, principled and selfless people I ever met”. 

Well, they definitely managed to hand down those very traits as they describe the Peta Murphy I knew to a tee

For someone who achieved so much in work and in sport she was ridiculously humble. 

She was not comfortable with praise or being the centre of attention - which is rather funny for a politician - unless it was for a cause bigger than her. 

She was principled. She was in a hurry to change things, but her work was always accompanied by compassion and integrity. 

And her selflessness was on constant display - both privately and publicly - not just recently but for as long as I’ve known her and to the very end. 

But it would be wrong to think that her life can be summed up solely through the prism of her recent battles.

Or that Peta would want to be remembered for her fight against an illness, however tenacious and courageous. 

She was much more than that. 

Peta was great to be around. 

She was irreverently hilarious, self- mocking and cheeky. 

She had a fast wit and a merciless put down when the need arose. 

Peta was very direct with her advice and her views - well let’s just say, I didn’t have to read her mind. 

Her self-deprecation was not some a glib affectation of false modesty!

But her natural default position.  

She was her own harshest critic in her effort for excellence in everything she did. 

I had the good fortune of asking her to join my office not long after the 2016 election. She had run as the Labor candidate in Dunkley - a seat held by the Liberals for 20 years- and she gave it a crack but fell just short. 

I needed someone to fill the role of Chief of Staff

I held the workplace relations portfolio, a significant and contestable area of public policy where seemingly everyone has a personal view especially in the Labor party. 

She accepted the offer. 

It wasn’t Peta’s policy area of expertise and so I was astonished by the speed with which she acquired an intimate understanding of this complex area of law. A combination of an unparalleled work ethic, a forensic mind matched only by her deep empathy for those in workplaces not getting their fair share. Her great contribution to Labor at that time was invaluable and reveals itself in the IR legislation this government has advanced and is advancing this term. 

As the 2019 election edged closer, she was having to resolve a dilemma: whether to secure a state seat with a likely fast promotion to ministry or have another shot at the more difficult federal seat of Dunkley. Against the advice of some - and so typical of Peta- she took the harder path for a grander goal: a federal Labor government. 

She prevailed but Labor fell short but not for very long. Last year Peta achieved her goal to be a member of a Federal Labor government, the Albanese Labor government.

Peta was a feminist and trade unionist and Labor to her bootstraps. And the pride she felt in being the first woman to represent the constituents of Dunkley was palpable. The fact that that seat was named after Louisa Dunkley, who, more than a century ago, fought for equal pay and to put an end to discrimination against women was the cherry on top. 

As it happens life isn’t always fair. 

The random injustice of Peta’s illness cut short what she set out to do but for each and every day she was working to make her constituents, the Labor Party, this place, and our country better. 

Peta reminds us that it is not the length of time each of us sit in this place. It is what we do with the time when we’re here. 

She has left an indelible mark as a lawyer, as a political staffer, as a parliamentarian, and, no doubt, as an inspiration, and will continue to do so to all who sit in this place and beyond. 

On behalf of her staff and to those of mine who worked with Peta, can I pay tribute to our beautiful friend and colleague, Peta Murphy and extend our deepest sympathies to her husband and best friend, Rod, to her mum and dad, Bob and Jan, her sisters, Jodi and Penni, their partners and to her nieces and nephew, to all of her many friends and to her constituents of Dunkley. 

We are so much richer for having known her and will miss her each and every day. May she rest in peace.