Release type: Speech


Senator Linda White condolence speech


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

I speak today with much sadness to remember and pay tribute to the remarkable life of Senator Linda White.

A true champion for workers and a tireless advocate for the rights of women within the Labor Party and beyond.

She was also a dear friend.

Linda was a recent parliamentary colleague of mine but before that we spent years working together at the Australian Services Union.

At the ASU before I came to this place, we shared a workplace…

During her time as Assistant National Secretary she led numerous campaigns that directly benefited workers across the country.

When Ansett collapsed in 2001, it was Linda White who was at the forefront of the long fight for the rights of the airline’s 16,000 workers.

I was a newly elected MP representing many retrenched Ansett workers.

Two decades later, when she was elected to the Senate, Linda called the collapse a “brutal reminder that markets don’t prioritise the well-being of workers.”

She went on to say in that first speech how she was inspired by the “resilience, bravery, leadership and collective action” of ASU’s Ansett members, who eventually recovered almost all of the $760 million owed to them.

Linda’s leadership was instrumental in the fight for equal pay for over 200,000 social and community services workers.

After nearly six years of continuous campaigning by union officials and members, pay rises of between 27 and 43 per cent were achieved following a change in equal pay laws and a favourable Fair Work Commission result in 2012.

That equal pay case changed the lives of women workers in the community sector.

Linda White was long concerned with the unequal retirement incomes of men and women.

In her first speech to the Senate, Linda White spoke of “the gap between the retirement savings of women and men” and how it was “greater than the gender pay gap.”

She went on to say, “Australians' retirement savings have too long been an ideological plaything of the (Coalition) government, unconcerned about real outcomes for women and more about who is on the board of an industry super fund.”

And that, “instead of focusing on making super work for women and others who need it in retirement, opponents of superannuation constantly tried to undermine our system,” and that super should be “above petty partisan politics.”

Linda White would have been delighted that a significant step forward for equity in women’s retirement will happen next year, when super is to be paid on Government Paid Parental Leave.

Linda served many years on the National Executive of the ALP.

In fact, she is the longest serving woman ever on the Executive.

As a fierce champion of women, she played no small part in the creation of Labor’s affirmative action policy, which has led to where we are now; the first Commonwealth Government in history with a majority of women parliamentarians.

Linda White was a born organiser.

In any group she would bring everyone together with a common purpose and goal – whether that was in the workplace or her book club.

Linda was passionate about everything in life, and her passing leaves a profound void in all our hearts.

I will miss her indomitable spirit, her sharp wit, and her unwavering dedication to the causes she believed in.

I extend my deepest condolences to Linda's family, her brother Michael, her staff, colleagues and her many friends.

May her legacy serve as a guiding light for future generations.

Linda told the Senate in her first speech that there was no doubt in her mind, “that governments change lives, and that strong progressive Labor governments change them for the better.”

Linda White’s time in this place was far too short.

But over a lifetime of fighting for others, she changed countless lives for the better.

May she rest in peace knowing that her contributions have made a lasting impact.

Thank you.