Death of the Honourable Virginia Anne Chadwick, AO, a Former Member of the Legislative Council, a Former Minister of the Crown and a Former President of the Legislative Council

About this Item
SpeakersFirth Ms Verity; O'Farrell Mr Barry; Speaker
BusinessCondolence, Ministerial Statement

Page: 18037

Ministerial Statement

Ms VERITY FIRTH (Balmain—Minister for Education and Training) [2.21 p.m.], by leave: I know that I speak for members on both sides of the House when I say that we were indeed very sad to hear of the passing of the Hon. Virginia Chadwick, AO. New South Wales has lost a remarkable and inspirational woman, and Newcastle mourns the loss of a proud citizen—and a citizen of whom it was most proud. I was pleased to have met Virginia on a number of occasions and always admired the wonderful example she set for the women like me who have come after her in this place. I feel a particular privilege to have followed in Virginia's footsteps as she, of course, was the first female Minister for Education in New South Wales. We have also both had the honour of representing the interests of women in this State, as Virginia also held the position of Minister for Women.

My female colleagues and I have a debt of gratitude for women such as Virginia Chadwick who have blazed trails ahead of us in this Parliament. We should pause and consider their achievements. The Hon. Virginia Chadwick was very proud to have been a product of Newcastle Girls High School and was a champion of education for many years before becoming the State's first female education Minister. Indeed, she began her working life as a teacher in both school and TAFE. Virginia was elected to the Legislative Council in 1978 at the age of 33. She served the Greiner and Fahey governments in a number of portfolios, including as Minister for Community Services, Minister for the Hunter, Minister for Women, Minister for Tourism, as well as Minister for Education. As education Minister, Virginia implemented extensive reforms in particular the Carrick and Scott reports. She established the Board of Studies and championed choice for parents.

My colleagues in the Department of Education and Training advise me that Virginia Chadwick was held in very high regard within the public service. She was intelligent, fun, a highly successful negotiator, and she had a great capacity to bring together people with differing views but a shared vision of quality education. Virginia was also the first female Presiding Officer in New South Wales, as President of the Legislative Council, and she went on to have a successful and distinguished career post politics as the Chairperson of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority where her renowned negotiating skills resulted in a significant increase in the highly protected areas of the reef and culminated in her leading an Australian delegation to the United Nations on the international law of the sea.

Virginia was awarded a prestigious Banksia Award by the Banksia Environmental Foundation in 2004. She was awarded an Order of Australia in 2005 for services to conservation and the environment and for her work in the New South Wales Parliament in the areas of education and child protection. Virginia Chadwick was well regarded by honourable members on both sides of this Chamber. I know that my aunt Meredith Burgmann speaks of her very fondly when recounting the time they shared in the other place. Upon Virginia Chadwick's retirement one of my Australian Labor Party colleagues noted:

      I congratulate you on your distinguished contribution to the New South Wales Parliament you distinguished yourself in committee work, with a thorough knowledge of the House and its procedures that marks your most competent role as President. You have been, and remain, a distinguished academic and a public intellectual an outspoken and intelligent advocate I congratulate you on being a person who has managed to uphold the dignity of a very important traditional institution as President of the Legislative Council but who has not once compromised her beliefs or her principles throughout what I believe has been a very successful parliamentary career.
I extend my condolences and the condolences of the Parliament to Virginia's husband Bruce, daughter Amanda and son David and their families. Virginia stated in her maiden speech:

      It is my hope that I may give account of myself in this Parliament so that at the end I can say, in the words of St Paul, I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.
I am sure we all agree that Virginia achieved these goals.

Mr BARRY O'FARRELL (Ku-ring-gai—Leader of the Opposition) [2.25 p.m.]: My colleagues and I were saddened to learn of Virginia Chadwick's death last Friday. While a number of us were aware that she was gravely ill, the news of her death came as quite a shock for a number of my colleagues and many members of both our parties. Virginia Chadwick was in every sense a remarkable person. She arrived in this place in 1978, elected in the first direct election ever held for our second Chamber. One of the remarkable aspects of her career was that in a career that spanned almost 21 years, Virginia only faced two elections.

Virginia Chadwick set many firsts during her career here: the first female Opposition Whip, the first female Liberal Minister, the first female education Minister, and the first female President of the Legislative Council. She took on the big issues and survived with reputation intact and enhanced, whether in community services or education. Having inherited an education reform agenda, Virginia made it her own. Her legacy is that wherever you go, principals, parents and teachers still speak of her in glowing terms.

When Virginia left this place it was not for retirement, a life on boards, or as a lobbyist to government. She became Chief Executive Officer and Chair of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority where, during the next eight years, Virginia used her skills and energy to initiate one of the most innovative marine conservation and biodiversity programs ever to occur anywhere in the world, a legacy lauded last Saturday by WWF-Australia—an organisation that is not always kind about Liberals—who described Virginia Chadwick as "a Reef Heroine". Virginia Chadwick was a thoughtful Liberal and an assiduous reformer. She always called herself a "Carrick" Liberal. She was very connected to the values the Liberal Party was founded on. Virginia reflected on this in her final speech when she said:

      In 1964, when I was already a party member, Robert Menzies—later Sir Robert said:
For me the perfect society would be one in which, by equality of opportunity and the full development of individual character and talent, each citizen was independent in his own heart and mind, but all citizens were inter-dependent in all social rights and duties.

      That quotation expresses a view I still find valid today. I thank the party for the opportunity to serve and to seek to fulfil those principles.

Virginia was extraordinarily loyal to her party, her family, her friends and her community. She was empathetic, compassionate and warm. She was a gifted, witty and talented communicator. And she was great company. Virginia Chadwick was also an encourager of others in a profession where that trait is not always obvious. There are many people sitting on my side of politics today who were encouraged by Virginia Chadwick. She generously invested in young people—whether in the schools she enjoyed oversighting or those who over the years served on her staff—people like Mark Scott, now the General Manager of the ABC; Michael Tidball, the Chief Executive Officer of the Law Society; Joan Warner, the Chief Executive Officer of Commercial Radio Australia; and Irena White, the Company Secretary of Integral Energy.

But whether a member of this Parliament or working in far north Queensland, Virginia Chadwick was always a proud Novocastrian and a staunch advocate for the Hunter. She handed out for the Yes case in the New South Wales State referendum in 1967. She was always about the Hunter getting a fair deal from Government—something that former Maitland member of Parliament Peter Blackmore can well attest to. After all of Virginia's grand adventures—in this place, in far north Queensland and elsewhere—she returned home to Newcastle, where she passed away last Friday. Virginia Chadwick's passing will be mourned by many, especially the thousands of people, young and old, whose lives she improved through her work both in Parliament and in the community. In both her maiden speech and her final speech to this Parliament Virginia set herself the highest goals, saying:

      It is my hope that I may give account of myself in this Parliament so that at the end I can say, in the words of St Paul, I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.

On behalf of a grateful parliamentary Liberal Party, I acknowledge that Virginia achieved all this and much more, and I extend our condolences to Bruce and her children, Amanda and David.

The SPEAKER: On behalf of the House, I join with the Minister for Education and Training and the Leader of the Opposition in expressing condolences on the sad passing of the Hon. Virginia Chadwick.

Members and officers of the House stood in their places as a mark of respect.