By Ingrid Jacobson
JUDITH Moylan’s name is familiar to most, for this inspiring political stateswoman who held the seat of Pearce for 20 years, has helped improve the lives of many.
Held in high esteem by the public and all sides of politics, she has had a successful yet often controversial career championing the rights of those ranging from refugees and single mothers, through to the homeless and sick.
So controversial that she was once called a “political terrorist” by a member of her party after she joined a backbench revolt in 2005 to end mandatory detention for asylum seekers, especially children, who she worries about the most.
Last month, the dynamic 72-year-old was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, for her “distinguished service to the parliament of Australia and the community of Western Australia, including the promotion of the status of women and advocacy for those with diabetes”.
Ms Moylan, best known as Judi admits to being “humbled” by the accolade, and says her drive for doing comes from a personal enjoyment of helping and a feeling of privilege at having been given a voice to influence those in power.
Speaking three days after this month’s Federal election, she pulls no punches when analysing what went wrong for the party she once served.
“I’ve been reluctant to become a commentator since I retired, but this is a time of uncertainty and upheaval and during disruption, you need to do things a little differently,” she said.
“The public are incredibly well-informed and have access to so much information – governments have to talk straight, otherwise it leads to a situation like now where trust is breached and hard to regain.”
On recent criticisms of Malcolm Turnbull, one gets the feeling that this wise and empathetic woman, who was a leading member of her party’s “small-l liberal wing”, has sympathy and understanding for the strife he is in.
“Malcolm was probably unable to express his own views on things because of the dominance of the right wing (in the Liberal party),” she said.
“I think he was mindful that he would split the party if he didn’t compromise.
“I also note that the Labor party lost a considerable percentage of the overall vote and to get across the line in seats they had to rely on preferences.
“Both of the major parties made the same mistake by promising things that could not be delivered.
“One thing I never did from the beginning was make promises about things I had no control over _ instead I promised my constituents to work as hard as I possibly could for the community to achieve their aspirations.”
And that she has done as the first conservative woman to be elected in a House of Representatives seat in WA in 1993 and four years later, being appointed as the first Minister for the Status of Women in a Commonwealth country, while also serving as Social Services Minister.
In Pearce, the dedicated dynamo had the loyalty of its people, and fondly recalls one lady from Bindoon who used to walk up and down the highway with a sandwich board and “Vote Judi Moylan” slogan on her back.
“That lady must be over 90 now and she did it for years _ people were always so kind and generous, even those who least could afford it.
“I remember pensioners coming into my electorate office and giving $5 in cash.”
That loyalty was well-earned, an early example being Ms Moylan’s introduction to the difficulties of diabetes through the eyes of a young boy with type 1 diabetes and his family, which led to her to become the founding chair of the Parliamentary Diabetes Support Group.
“Type 1 is not easily managed and some people have brittle diabetes which means it’s hard to keep insulin levels consistent,” she said.
“This can then lead to the patient becoming ‘hypo’ and in danger of falling into a coma.
“The boy’s endocrinologist had recommended a pump to balance his insulin levels as he was about to start school and waking several times a night, which was a very disruptive situation for him and his family.
“However, while the old fashioned insulin injections were subsidised by the government, his pump which cost $2500 per year wasn’t.
“The family asked me if next time I went to Canberra, I could speak on their behalf which I did, to John Howard, Peter Costello, and John Fahey who all listened in sympathy but said they were trying to balance the budget.
“I went back to Perth a little dejected but didn’t want to take no for answer, so I gathered a list of colleagues across all parties who were very sympathetic, especially a couple who had diabetes themselves.”
“We established the Parliamentary Diabetes Support Group in 2000 with the main target being to get money in the budget to subsidise pumps and consumables for diabetics.
“By 2004 the funding was rolled out and from then on, it went from strength to strength, like we had opened a Pandora’s Box.”
Another career high for Ms Moylan, who is today chair and president of Diabetes Australia and a board member for Oxfam Australia, was her successful lobby to get children out of detention, along with forging an agreement with then Prime Minister, John Howard to review people who were being held in long-term detention.
As a result, several detainees were released who she believes would have been held indefinitely.
“I have been to many detention centres – they are like maximum security prisons and not nice places.”
Which brings her to the success of right wing party, One Nation, its founder Pauline Hanson, and how saddened she is at the level of hate speech that has been unleashed across the country.
“It shouldn’t matter what religion or race you are – there are plenty of examples of multi-cultural societies where people live and work harmoniously,” she said.
“I have also always been very concerned over the plight of single mothers as they are facing a hard job, so why pick on the people who are least able to defend themselves when so much money is being thrown at other things that are not as important.
“Every time an election is called, the headlines are filled with ‘let’s cut welfare, turn away the refugees’.
“We don’t have to be so mean-spirited _ we should be looking out for people who have fallen on hard times.”
Despite having retired from politics in 2013, Ms Moylan is still a fierce advocate for those she believes are often made scapegoats by a system that favours the wealthy and big business.
Her concern for single mothers is driven by worry over the children involved, along with her own experience as a single mother of three in the 1970s when there was no equal pay for equal value and no child minding subsidies.
So she forged a career as a real estate agent, which allowed her the time to look after her children, and later, a company director, before entering politics.
“I had a very disastrous marriage break up,” she admits.
“The maintenance payments didn’t arrive and I only had a pittance from what was known as the Child Endowment Scheme to help financially.
“But I was lucky – I had a good family and was well-resourced and even though I left school early, had a good education.
“I wanted to go to uni but when I was 14, my parents suggested that I could become a florist or a hair dresser which was just how it was – they were doing their best in their particular circumstances.
“So I did shorthand and typing and also a bit of modelling, which always stood me in good stead.”
So too, she laughs, did a course in deportment which included how to act at a dinner party, the right use of cutlery and how to set a table.
“We had to pretend that we were inviting the queen to our country house, including how to write the invitation,” she recalls.
“Little did I know that I would one day be dining with kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers.”
Not a bad destiny for the girl from Guildford whose father worked at the Midland Workshops, although there’s also a hint in her heritage of the DNA that has drawn her to public service.
“My great uncle Harry was the Member for Greenough, and my great uncle Alfred Carson was the co-founder of Silver Chain Nursing and the Flying Doctor,” she said.
“My great, great grandfather was an engineer and one of the early inventors in our colony – he designed the water wheel at Gingin and the first facility at Rottnest to light the way for ships.”
Judith Moylan has herself been a pioneer, having shown the way for many women who have followed her and even now, is still ensuring they are supported.
This week she is heading for Melbourne for an Oxfam meeting and also speaking for the program Pathway to Politics at Melbourne University, aimed at helping many more women enter the field that she has served so well.