Memorial for Senator Linda White

It is a sad honour to join with you today to farewell our dear friend, Linda White.

We come together to pay respects and grieve for someone taken from us far too soon.

Yet what will long outlast our sadness is our pride in all that she was, and all that she did.

Her achievements. Her warmth. Her capacity. Her wisdom.

Linda was a beloved friend and a valued colleague.

Linda understood both the fragility of democracy, and the duty of every elected representative to strengthen democracy by working to restore the public’s faith in it.

As a Labor Senator, but even more so through all her efforts over decades across the wider labour movement.

We pay tribute today to a formidable supporter of working Australians, in particular women.

Even in her early professional life, Linda was always ready for a challenge, championing for something better. Linda was never the answer if you were ever looking for someone ready to settle for good enough.

At a time the Melbourne Law School was largely male, she became the second ever female President of the Law Students Society.

As a young lawyer, she played her part in tackling injustices that were only just beginning to be dragged out into the light and fully confronted, including corruption in the police force, and child sex abuse in the clergy.

In her time at the Australian Services Union, she rose from rank-and-file activist to Assistant National Secretary.

When you look back at the ASU’s proud record, Linda’s legacy is everywhere – from protecting workers’ entitlements in the Ansett collapse and the decade-long battle that ensued, to leading the campaign for equal pay for social and community services workers, to fighting for the right to income for members affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yet, as Linda put it, what mattered just as much were the smaller things that didn’t attract the spotlight, what she termed the “hard day-to-day work of unionism which binds us together in solidarity”.

In retiring from the ASU, Linda reflected on her pride at her role in the ASU putting the issue of women’s unequal superannuation outcomes on the map.

Our Government’s International Women’s Day announcement last week that superannuation will be paid on government Paid Parental Leave – a measure that will enhance economic security and gender equality – is just one important testament to her efforts.

Linda was a servant of the administration of the Labor Party federally and in Victoria, through the good times and the hard.

As the longest serving woman on the National Executive of the ALP, she was central to the affirmative action reforms, which led to my Government being the first in Australian history with a majority of female members.

Throughout this period Linda was forthright, outspoken and true to her values. She was loyal, and called it as she saw it. Trusted and respected by all in what can be a tough arena.

The day Linda entered the Parliament was a good day for the Australian Labor Party, for the Senate and for the nation.

If you can tell a person by the company they keep, a perfect picture of Linda was provided by the sheer breadth of her supporters packing out the public gallery for her first speech to the Senate.

There were rank-and-file ASU members, comrades from across the labour movement who may not see eye to eye on a lot but they did on Linda, her treasured book club, fellow Melbourne Law School graduates, and friends from the arts community, including today’s MC, Rachel Griffiths.

What they all heard that day was a ripper of a speech from someone with a full appreciation of both the privilege and the responsibility of elected office.

In Linda’s words:

“For some people, their pathway in life is determined by the circumstances of their birth. Governments, however, have the power to open up new choices and opportunities that would otherwise remain out of reach. The power we have in this place to change lives is significant.”

Sadly, Linda was not destined to be in the Senate for long, but she made powerful use of the brief time she had, making a profound impact on matters of significance, including the National Anti-Corruption Commission, better access to superannuation for women, and the important check on executive power, the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation Committee.

She may well have been the most senior new backbencher to have ever existed.

As a Senator for Victoria, Linda’s love for this state blossomed. She became an active voice in caucus and the parliament for agriculture and the regions. She loved the relationship she was developing with her constituents.

Linda believed in a better, fairer and more compassionate Australia, a belief that was always backed by her energy and action.

Even her love of the arts, good food and beautiful gardens was energised by her sense of fairness, a belief that good things in life should be available to everyone.

Bread, and roses too.

On behalf of the Australian Government and the Labor family, I offer my deepest condolences to Linda’s family, her loved ones, and to everyone grieving for her.

Our hearts go out to her beloved brother Michael and sister-in-law Julie; and to the countless activists she mentored – especially women – across the labour movement.

To everyone who benefited from Linda’s generosity and her endless, driving instinct for fairness and the possibility of a better life.

I consider myself fortunate that I got to witness so much of Linda’s contribution over our three decades of friendship.

When I visited her in hospital weeks before her passing, Linda was in good spirits. She was focussed on the Dunkley by-election, and even apologised for not being on the ground campaigning. She declared she had so much more to do.

Like everyone here today, I will miss her enormously. As a colleague and a source of advice, but most importantly as a dear friend.

In reflecting on her experience representing victim-survivors of child sex abuse and their families, Linda said:

“Countless people came forward and shared their stories with me… I was honoured to have had this trust.”

This reflection could be made of her entire, generous contribution.

At the end of a life, one of the finest things that can be said of a person is that they made a difference. That they changed the lives of others, and changed them for the better.

Linda White did all of that. Linda White made a positive difference. Each and every day.

As she put it in that wonderful first speech to the Senate:

“Getting justice for people has dominated my working life.”

She lived her life well, and she lived it true to her values.

May Linda rest in peace.