2 November 2023
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (15:58): I also rise to put on record my appreciation of the work of our remarkable trailblazing and fearless colleague the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos, who has really made a big contribution to politics in this state and a big contribution to this chamber.
Reflecting a little bit before speaking on this, I was reminded that I have known Irene for many years. I was a friend of her daughter, Demi, at university and so I first met Irene when I was in my 20s. Demi was always really rightly proud of her mother's achievements. I remember meeting her as a young person. She was someone who made a huge impression then.
I saw her many times over the years. Demi and I actually lived together in share housing and one of my funniest memories of Irene was that Demi and I used to run a competition over who had the best decorated bedroom in the share house. We decided that we would need to bring in an objective judge. Who best to choose than the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos, who came in, took one look at the two rooms and said, 'Well, clearly Robert's is better.'
I did think it was an unfair contest for Demi to be facing off against a gay man like myself with amazing interior design skills, but it was Irene who called it and did it in 30 seconds. She is always straight to the point, and I have always appreciated that directness about Irene. She is someone who, in her political career, has demonstrated the capacity to cut through to an issue and to say what needs to be said, and to say it without the BS. I think that is something that we are really going to miss.
I might briefly reflect a little bit on Irene's career and her story. She is the daughter of working-class migrants who came to Australia seeking democracy and economic fairness. She was educated at Mitchell Park Primary, Para Hills West Primary, Salisbury East High School and the University of Adelaide. She has qualifications in a Bachelor of Arts with Honours, a Bachelor of Laws and a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice.
She has spent her working life dedicated to advocating for people who are often denied political power. She was a caseworker for the Adelaide Women's Community Health Centre. She worked as a migrant workers' rights officer in the FMWU. She was a trade union training authority review officer for WorkCover. She was a conciliation and arbitration officer for the Workers Compensation Tribunal and a solicitor for Equity Partners. She was a community representative on the Australian federal government delegation to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.
Irene is someone who has always believed that the luck of circumstances someone is born into should not be a barrier to access to education, health care and employment. Other members have remarked on Irene's significant contribution here in the parliament. She co-sponsored the free menstrual hygiene products pilot program. She has been an advocate for abortion law reform and the decriminalisation of sex work, and I know she worked very closely with my colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks, and has been chair of committees inquiring into wage theft and the gig economy. I think it is fair to say that Irene has been a powerhouse advocate for working people.
I will conclude with a story about Irene in the context of the recent anti-protest laws. I really admired the fact that she came out and stood with protestors on the steps of this parliament in the days before that vote, and also joined union leaders at the protest in Festival Plaza. When she was asked by journalists why she was there, she said, 'I've come to hear the views of the community,' and I think: good on her. Irene has always been someone who has been willing to stand up to power, to stand up to vested interests and fight for what is right, even if that has meant ruffling feathers in the Labor Party, and I respect her for that.
Might I say, as other members have done, my thoughts are with Irene in her health battle. I understand this will be a challenging time for her and her family but, as my colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks said, she is going to really take on this health battle, and if cancer thinks it is going to get the better of Irene Pnevmatikos, it has another think coming. I wish her all the best. We will miss her from this parliament, but we know that this will not be the end of Irene's activism. She will continue to be there, standing along with all of us, fighting for progressive values.