Special Interest Matter - Gill James AM
Tuesday 8 March 2022, Special Interest Matter Speech
Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, on International Women's Day, I speak about a dear friend of mine, and one of our female political pioneers in Tasmania, a woman who spent much of her life serving others, and doing what is right, particularly for our veterans.
I speak about Gill James AM, who was a Labor member for Bass from 1976 to 1989 in the House of Assembly. After a sabbatical from politics, Gill went on to be re-elected as a Labor Member for Bass and served from 1992 to 2002, dedicating an impressive 23 years of her life to the people of Bass and their interests.
This makes Gill the longest serving woman member of the House of Assembly since women won the right to stand for parliament in 1921. Gill remains a stalwart of our community and continues to work in our community, but I want to give a brief overview of her time before, during and after serving in parliament.
Gill was born in Launceston in 1934, and was educated at St Helens Primary School and then Launceston State High School. In 1961 she married and had one son, named Ken. In 1986, reports to The Examiner newspaper, stated that:
Gill has been regarded as one of the state's best grass‑roots politicians and despite coming from a family of Liberals, formed her own Labor‑aligned views during her secondary education, going off to work for Labor senator, Justin O'Byrne, shortly after leaving school.
Not too long after having her son, Gill was asked to work for the deputy prime minister, Lance Barnard, for what was only meant to be a short time, in 1962. What started out as a three‑week period turned into 13 years. Gill was with the deputy prime minster until his departure from politics in 1975, a precipitous event that had huge political implication of its own with prime minister, Gough Whitlam.
During Gill's time working for Lance she became highly experienced in dealing with war veterans, war widows, or widowers, and other returned servicemen, to help them get war pensions. Having a husband and brother, who had done their national service, and a step‑father who was an ex-army man, Gill had a good idea of the issues our servicemen faced.
Lance remarried, and with his second wife, Jill Cant, the daughter of Senator Harry Cant, of Western Australia, adopted two Vietnamese orphans. Amanda, who died as an infant, and Jacqueline. Gill recalls that it was like working with one big family in the office. This became Gill's inroad into the world of our Vietnamese veterans.
Gill's work in this area snowballed and she since handled thousands of those cases, and continued to work with these communities long after her political career came to a close. A deeply committed grassroots advocate for local communities in the Bass electorate.
Gill dedicated her time and effort to working with anyone and everyone. Naturally, Gill is a life member of the Vietnam Veterans' Association, has been patron of the Tasmanian Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans' Motor Cycle Club, Launceston Arts Society, and the Northern Tasmanian Netball Association, amongst many, many other organisations. Importantly, Gill also helped establish Launceston's first shelter for homeless men during the 1980s. Gill even spent time as patron of the Pigeon Fanciers Group, but now sees more of the pigeons than the fanciers themselves, she says.
Gill became known as 'Mrs Fix‑it', and got referrals for veterans from lawyers, and doctors around town to help with their welfare matters. This direct contact with people in the community helped inform Gill's views on what should be being done by those in power, and in parliament.
Her hard work at the coalface, getting positive outcomes for the people who needed them, made her a force to be reckoned with. Quiet, unassuming, not necessarily high‑profile, but very well loved.
Gill holds some records from her time in parliament. As I mentioned earlier, this means that she is the longest serving woman member of the House of Assembly since women won the right to stand for parliament in 1921. She was also the first woman to be appointed as a cabinet minister for Tasmania, holding the portfolios of public and mental health, consumer affairs and administrative services. She held a range of party and committee positions within parliament, including that of whip, chair of the PLP and deputy chair of committees. In 1990, Gill was named as a Member of the Order of Australia and was granted the right to use the title 'Honourable' for life in April 1997. In 2005, Gill was inducted into the Honour Roll of Women. On this International Womens Day, I pay tribute to Gill, thank her for all the work she has done to pave the way for women in public life, myself included, and, most importantly, acknowledge the hard work that she has done for those in the community and the difference she has made in the lives of so many, especially our veterans.
Members - Hear, hear.