When Héritier Lumumba’s Collingwood teammates called him ‘Chimp’, it showed a lack of respect. When the Prime Minister referred to Brittany Higgins by her first name in parliament, it showed a lack of respect. When senator Bill Heffernan referred to then prime minister Julia Gillard as ‘deliberately barren’, it showed a lack of respect. When the federal government refused permission to fly the Indigenous flag in the Senate, it showed a lack of respect. When Bettina Arndt defended a 56-year-old man who had repeatedly raped fifteen-year-old Grace Tame, now the 2021 Australian of the Year, it showed a lack of respect. So when did respect disappear? When did we agree to abandon our respect for expertise, for other people’s experience and history, for the boundaries between the personal and the public, for facts as well as feelings? In a civil society, respect is a fundamental principle. Should the government of the day legislate respect? Should it lead the community or follow it? Victorian MP Jill Hennessey, in a passionate argument, exhorts us to reclaim the empathy that respect depends on.
Jill Hennessy has been a Labor Party Member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly since February 2010, representing the seat of Altona. She was minister for health in the Daniel Andrews ministry from December 2014 to November 2018, and was attorney-general from November 2018 to December 2020—the second female attorney-general in Victoria’s history. On 16 December 2020, she announced she would step down from the role of attorney-general, effective immediately, to spend more time with her family, but would stay in parliament and recontest her seat at the next federal election. Hennessy graduated from Monash University with a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws. She also holds a Master of Laws degree from the University of Melbourne. In 2016, she was awarded the Thornett Award for Promotion of Reason by the Australian Skeptics, for ‘courageously facing down those who misrepresent and mislead the public in their promotion of dodgy medical claims and practices’.