Thursday, 22 September 2011
Parliamentary Budget Office
I rise today to pay tribute to Christine Harcourt, a constituent of mine who recently passed away, and to acknowledge her long-term contribution to the Sydney community. Christine was a member of the Surry Hills branch of the Labor Party for over 36 years and served as its president, its vice-president and its secretary at different times. But the contribution of those 36 years of party activism is not measured by the positions Christine held, although she held them with distinction. Her influence was never exerted by control or coercion but by the example she set of thoughtful debate, good humour and respect for others.
Christine took these qualities with her to local government, where she served as a South Sydney councillor for 13 years, including six as deputy mayor. Always the champion of the less powerful, Chris defended staff, ensured pensioner rebates were enhanced, expanded access to affordable services and pushed for subsidised accommodation for community groups. Chris was the representative of those who depended most on these services, and she took on that responsibility with passion and with dedication. One example, which will be remembered well beyond inner-Sydney, is her work on sex industry policy. As a widely published researcher for the Sydney Sexual Health Centre, Chris brought her intellect and professional expertise to an area of public health policy often relegated to the margins by local government. The groundbreaking sex industry policy which Chris spearheaded through council received the Royal Australian Planning Institute's annual award for urban planning achievement and became a model nationally and internationally. Former South Sydney mayor Tony Pooley shared this memory of Chris's advocacy with me:
I remember a particularly boisterous local government conference. Chris was explaining the value of regulating sex-on-premises venues rather than pretending they did not exist or demanding that they only be approved on the fringes of the Sturt stony desert. You can imagine the heckling and catcalls from some of the more conservative councillors as Chris delivered a considered, researched, eminently sensible defence of the scheme. It frustrated one particularly obnoxious councillor so much that he demanded to know why such a proposal, which might work well in the depraved areas of South Sydney, was even being contemplated for the moral and God-fearing residents of the Upper North Shore. Chris paused and explained, quite simply, that surely the Christian generosity of his local residents would also extend to ensuring the health and wellbeing of all such sinners even if, as he suggested, none existed in his own ward. It brought the house down.
Memories of Chris like this reinforce the remarkable mix of qualities which earned her the respect of her staff and colleagues on council and her local community of Surry Hills. She was a powerful advocate but never belligerent, a fierce intellect but never condescending and a loyal friend and party member but never afraid to challenge orthodoxies. Chris will be sorely missed by the many people whose lives she touched and improved, and local Sydney history is richer for her place in it. Our thoughts are with Max, Isobel, Ellie and Jenny and her Labor Party friends and family.