In reflecting on the loss of Brian Harradine these past two days, I think not of his achievements politically, but who he was personally. It is the acts of kindness he did for so many people, every day of his life, which come back to me most strongly.
I advised Brian on media, human rights, refugee and life issues. His kindness to myself and my family shone. He was progressive when it came to women and work. There was no child care at Parliament House then. But Brian ensured that I could combine work and family life.
Three of my four children were born while in his employ. They were all fully breastfed (bottles of expressed milk were located beside his beers in the fridge). I also had a flexible working arrangement. The baby could be found under my desk or in a pram in Brian’s office. He welcomed children and would drop everything to engage them – even when my eldest daughter told him he had “a very big nose!” Or when my children pressed the security alarm under his desk, which unfailingly brought Parliament’s security guards scurrying into the office.
The children, who referred to Parliament House as ‘mummy’s office’, loved rolling down the grassy slopes of the building. It was pre-terrorism days and children were allowed to do such things back then. Brian also provided great homework material. The eldest, then in Year 5 and dressed as well-known political journalist Michelle Grattan complete with wig and glasses (apologies Michelle), conducted a video interview with him across his big desk – an opportunity not always afforded members of the Press Gallery.
Brian gave me so many opportunities I never would have had, in pursuing the issues we both cared about. I learnt so much from him. I am also thinking of the asylum seekers, who, without his assistance, would have been forcibly returned to their countries to persecution.
One young woman, Carrie Bailee, posted on her Facebook last night how Brian Harradine saved her life 15 years ago. From the age of nine, she was sold by her father to other men in Canada. Eventually escaping to Australia, she sought asylum but failed. It was through Brian’s intervention that she and her then unborn child were given protection here.
Brian is acknowledged in her life story, Flying on a Broken Wing (Affirm Press), which will be published in October this year.
A number of pregnant Chinese women sought his help, fleeing their homeland where under the nation’s one child policy they would be forced to have an abortion. Brian was able to help a number of them, though tragically not all. He continued to grieve over the forced deportation of one woman, Zhu Qing Ping, who at nine months pregnant, pleaded for her child’s life. Deported back to China her unborn son was terminated on arrival.
Brian secured footage of an interview with her, which was smuggled out of China, and secured an inquiry into this grotesque violation of both the mother and baby’s human rights.
Refugee advocate Marion Le recalls how late one night after a Senate sitting, Brian arrived on her doorstep with ice-cream for two young girls who had been released in secret, out of immigration detention, into her care. Brian had just learned of the girls release and left the Senate Chamber to visit them and welcome them.
Brian cared deeply about the suffering and disenfranchisement of our Indigenous people and was moved and humbled when asked to dance with a group of them on the front lawns of Parliament House. He considered injustices against our First People to be a stain on our nation.
During his 30 years in Federal Parliament he would greet the cleaner and enquire after her family in the same way he would ask after the families of his Parliamentary colleagues. He frequently made calls or visits to people who were ill, sending cards and flowers. He always took time to talk to people, regardless of the enormity of the demands placed upon him.
There were few like him. He will be greatly missed.
As published on SydneyCatholic.org 15 April 2014