Vale Peta Murphy MP

06 December 2023


Ms BYRNES (Cunningham) (19:39): Peta Murphy encapsulated what it meant to be a Labor parliamentarian. She was a selfless advocate, a defender, a mentor and a true public servant. Just last week, despite the battle that she had been fighting so hard for so long, Peta was still with us in this place. When many would focus solely on their health, Peta was here doing the job she loved and that she had been elected to do by her beloved community. I loved sitting near her, here in our little corner, hearing her witty interjections when frustrated at the hypocrisy of those opposite and seeing her smile at other witty interjections, usually by the member for McEwen. She knew what it meant to be in this place. She knew what it meant to her community around Frankston to have strong representation in this place. Peta was unapologetically determined to be a strong voice for people in the Dunkley electorate.

I did not know Peta as closely as some in this place were lucky enough to. The member for Jagajaga, in her beautiful speech about her friend, said:

It was clear to me from that very first speech that she was fierce and supersmart. She was actually a bit intimidating, but she was absolutely someone who I knew would be a valuable colleague.

She was fierce and supersmart, and her intellect and quick wit were a little bit intimidating. She was formidable.

Peta also worked as a staffer for the former member for Denison, Duncan Kerr, and was the chief of staff to my good friend the member for Gorton when I was working for previous members for Cunningham. Despite Peta's broad life experience, particularly in the field of justice—whether that was as an educator at the National Electoral Education Centre, as a team leader at the Victorian Law Reform Commission or as a public defender at Victoria Legal Aid—Peta chose to come and work in this place. I know that Peta saw the benefits that came with seeking to do what can only be described as an apprenticeship in this place. She knew that there was no manual, no training package, and that the only way to learn how to make change in this place would be to roll up her sleeves and give it a crack. Her apprenticeship started with Duncan Kerr in 1999 and then with the member for Gorton in 2017.

The approach of an apprenticeship is something that I know she sought to apply when she was elected to office. She wasn't afraid to take the risk in giving someone new and inexperienced a go as long as they had the right attitude, passion, principles and enthusiasm. Nor did she seek to monopolise their talents as they grew. I know that many of Peta's current and former staff and colleagues are listening today, many of whom have gone on to great things in part because of the support, counsel and teaching from Peta over the years.

Peta was an advocate for all of those who work in this place and wanted to make it a safe and respectful workplace. But, given her experience, she knew of the challenges and the barriers that we have to break through. In 2021 Peta and the member for Jagajaga jointly published an op-ed in the Canberra Times, outlining how we as parliamentarians have a role in setting the standard of this unique Australian workplace. It says:

Members of parliament also need to be prepared to unpick and overcome their own biases when it comes to hiring and supporting staff. Jobs in politics are necessarily personal - offices are small, hours are gruelling, and absolute trust between staff and boss is essential.
But all of this means that ministers and MPs tend to employ the people they feel most comfortable around - people who look like them, sound like them, and think like them.

In a parliament where we still have more men than women elected, and where men hold the absolute majority of senior positions within the Morrison government, that often translates into similar gender imbalances in ministerial and parliamentary offices.

Thanks to the work of people like Peta and the member for Jagajaga—and, in fact, Deputy Speaker Claydon as well—I'm so pleased to say that much of this has changed under the Albanese Labor government. But there is always more work to do.

Almost all of Peta's time in this place as a staff member and as a parliamentarian was in opposition. As I'm sure those opposite would agree, opposition isn't easy. It's a long, hard slog. One thing that makes that hard road a little more bearable is the team of people around you. This may embarrass the member for Gorton, but his extended team, including current and former staff, and all their partners and children, have always been an efficient, fun, tightknit and loyal team, and Peta was very much a part of that. They all loved her dearly. As a staff member and as a parliamentarian, you could always rely on Peta to listen and deliver—and to always do it with a good level of humour and flair.

Almost all of Peta's work and service was done in partnership with her husband and best friend, Rod. I am lucky enough to be able to call both Peta and Rod colleagues, having worked with Rod when he, too, was a staffer in this place. My heart and thoughts are with Rod and all of Peta's family at this time.

We can only hope that there will be more Australians like Peta who come through this place, with the drive and commitment to see Australia become a fairer, healthier and more prosperous society. Rest in peace, Peta.