Fiona Richardson: Fearless, passionate 1st Minister for DV Prevention Nov 22 1966 – August 23 2017 Print E-mail

Thursday August 31 2017

Fiona Richardson remembered as principled, passionate politician at state memorial

By state political reporter Richard Willingham

Video: Brunswick MP Jane Garrett gives an emotional tribute to her friend and colleague. (Fairfax Media: Joe Armao) (ABC News)

A treasured friend, a determined advocate, a formidable political operator and proud mother and partner is how Australia's first minister for the prevention of family violence has been remembered.

The state memorial for Fiona Richardson, who died last week aged 50, heard about her tenacious work ethic and care for her community and family.

Held at Northcote's Regal Ballroom, the venue that launched her 2014 defence of her seat, the room was packed beyond capacity by her family, friends, Labor colleagues and political rivals.

Realising a past of abuse
 When she was a minister, Fiona Richardson bravely revealed her own family's trauma at the hands of an abusive father.

Former prime minister Julia Gillard headed an impressive list of Labor luminaries and people from the wider Labor movement, including union bosses and former premiers.

Ms Richardson's close friend, Brunswick MP Jane Garrett, gave an emotional tribute detailing how Ms Richardson had helped her during own fight against breast cancer.

Ms Garrett recalled Ms Richardson bringing her a blanket when she was first diagnosed, and telling her to use it to be with her family to absorb all their smells and memories.

She later used it when she was in hospital, and Ms Richardson was buried in a similar blanket.

The Brunswick MP said in a political world where MPs spewed out thousands of words and scripted sound bites, Ms Richardson stood out for always speaking with brevity and wit.
: Former Victorian premier John Brumby and former prime minister Julia Gillard paid tribute to the MP. (Fairfax Media: Joe Armao)

And it was her words in her maiden speech that rang most true: that her greatest achievement was her partnership with husband Stephen Newnham ­ the pair forming "a mighty couple" ­ and her two children, Marcus and Catherine.

Her fierce intellect, compassion and blonde hair were all apparent in her children, Ms Garrett said.

"[She was] principled, brilliant, driven, passionate,'' she said.
: Fiona Richardson was remembered for giving a voice to those suffering family violence. (AAP: Mal Fairclough)

Former police chief commissioner Ken Lay said Ms Richardson was so many government departments' and agencies' favourite minister, and a woman who showed compassion and wit.

He said she would be remembered for giving a voice to those suffering injustice and a "trailblazer driven by a fierce determination for change".

"Mediocrity was not part of Fiona's vocabulary,'' he said.

Tears were shed as Imagine was sung to images of Ms Richardson with her family and friends.

Northcote High School principal Kate Morris remembered the inspiration, advice and advocacy efforts Ms Richardson provided to the community.

"She didn't always tell you what you wanted to hear, but she told what you needed to know,'' Ms Morris said.

: Politicians from all sides, including Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, gathered for the service. (Fairfax Media: Joe Armao)

Her work ensuring that netball courts were built across Melbourne was highlighted for empowering women to active.

MC Steve Bracks told mourners that Ms Richardson wanted the memorial to be a celebration.

"And I'm not brave enough to cross Fiona,'' Mr Bracks said to laughter.

Ms Richardson was always political. She first entered politics when, at age nine, she protested against the dismissal of Gough Whitlam.

At 12, she became a vegetarian.

She met her husband, Mr Newnham, when the pair shared a coffee about how to resolve a Labor problem.

They quickly became a formidable duo. Mr Newnham is a former state secretary of the ALP.
: Fiona Richardson was remembered for her love of her family. (Fairfax Media: Joe Armao)

Throughout the tributes, Ms Richardson was remembered for her fearless work to eradicate family violence, but Mr Bracks also highlighted her tremendous work driving Labor's policy to remove 50 level crossings.

Mr Bracks proudly highlighted Ms Richardson's pivotal role in getting Ms Gillard preselected and helping her become Australia's first female prime minister.

Her work to get Bill Shorten, who attended with his wife Chloe, preselected for his seat was also acknowledged.

Other mourners included anti-violence campaigners Rosie Batty and Phil Cleary, the Labor state Cabinet and caucus, Liberal MPs and the crossbench.

Mr Lay ended his tribute with a simple message to Ms Richardson's grieving family: "Your partner and mum didn't observe history, she made history."

 Melbourne ~ Wednesday August 23 2017

Anti-domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty pays tribute to Labor minister Fiona Richardson

By Melissa Cunningham
Rosie Batty, former Australian of the year and family violence survivor, has paid tribute to the nation's first minister for the prevention of family violence, Fiona Richardson.

Ms Batty said Ms Richardson, who died on Wednesday afternoon after battling cancer, was a tireless campaigner who made it her mission to stand up for the safety of women and children.

 Premier Daniel Andrews with Rosie Batty and Fiona Richardson in March 2016. (Eddie Jim )
She said, however, that the greatest gift Ms Richardson she gave to victims of family violence was hope.

"She not only gave victims a voice, but she gave them a voice in parliament and that was really such a unique thing," a grief-stricken Ms Batty said.

"She gave them hope things could change. She reached the hearts of politicians from both sides of politics. But what she really set out to achieve, was to make them understand that victims need to be part of the solution, that their stories are essential, that they can help inform the government, lead reforms and change society and the world."

But to Ms Batty, Ms Richardson more than just a politician, she was a friend, mentor and confidant who Ms Batty said was always there in difficult moments to offer comforting words or a hug.

"It was really hard in the earlier days, I just found myself sort of thrust into the public realm and you can feel quite alone, but she swept in, she understood, and she was such a huge support to me on my journey," Ms Batty said.

"She would always be so encouraging and filled with praise of me, almost like a proud mum. She really helped me to find the confidence to continue what I am doing."

Behind closed doors, Ms Richardson was a mighty-hearted woman, adored by her staff, and known for her many endearing quirks including walking around her office barefooted, Ms Batty said.

"She had all these wonderful elements, she was a very alternative type of person, she loved being barefooted," Ms Batty said.

"She was lovely, dynamic, fun and so very, very caring. There was no limit to her kindness."

Ms Batty said she would remember Ms Richardson as a formidable force who challenged the system and then helped rebuild it.

"Because of her own lived experiences she was passionate and she knew exactly what surivors needed," she said.

"We shared a mission and there was a deep trust between us and a deep appreciation."

Ms Batty said Ms Richardson's legacy would be her unwavering desire to change the lives of victims of family violence.

"She was somebody who had the confidence and the drive to dance to the beat of her own drum," Ms Batty said.

"She had the passion and confidence to challenge wherever she wanted to challenge and that's not always an easy thing to do, to confront people, to challenge our leaders to push to change the system.

"There are going to be so many people, including myself, who will make sure her vision continues and who will see through all she wanted to achieve but didn't live long enough to."

Domestic Violence Victoria chief executive Fiona McCormack said Ms Richardson had been a fearless advocate for women and children.

Ms McCormack said Ms Richardson had drawn on her painful experience to advocate for and empower survivors of family violence.

"This is such a huge loss," she said. "She wanted to work to create change, she dedicated her life to protecting women and children.

"Central to her effort was ensuring that the voice of survivors of family violence was at the heart of any reform, of any new systems or models of development.

"I can speak on behalf of the entire family sector in paying our condolences to her family when I say we are so terribly shocked and sad at the news, but that we're very grateful for the incredible work she undertook."