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Jocelyn Newman (1937–2018)

by Rachel Baxendale

Jocelyn Newman, by Bob Givens, 2005

Jocelyn Newman, by Bob Givens, 2005

National Library of Australia, 28611185

John Howard says his former cabinet minister Jocelyn Newman was a “tenacious, forthright and devoted colleague” who will be remembered for the work she did in reforming social security policy.

Mrs Newman died this morning aged 80, following a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

Born in Melbourne, she worked as a barrister and solicitor before serving as a senator for Tasmania for 15 years, including as minister for social security, the status of women, and family and community services in the Howard government.

She survived separate battles with uterine and breast cancer during her time in office.

Her husband, Vietnam War colonel Kevin Newman, who was a minister in the Fraser government, died in 1999.

Mrs Newman’s son, former Queensland premier and Brisbane lord mayor Campbell Newman, and daughter, Assistant Tax Commissioner Kate Roff, remembered her as an “army wife, mother, grandmother, lawyer, farmer, hotelier, community volunteer, women’s advocate, senator and cabinet minister and true feminist”, in a statement released following her death at Berry on the NSW south coast.

Mr Howard said Mrs Newman had been the first minister responsible for women’s affairs in his government.

“But she will be even better remembered for the work she did in reforming social security policy,” he told The Australian this afternoon.

“She devised the Youth Allowance and she navigated through the senate some very important savings measures, but she was a person who believed very strongly in giving families effective choice in the care of their children, either in childcare or with one parent remaining home either full time or part time.

“She was a great believer in the Liberal principle of choice. As a person she was very tenacious, she was a great general contributor to cabinet discussions who always gave as much as she took, and she was part of a remarkable political family.

“She was a marvellous role model for women in politics. She always stuck up for Tasmania.

“She immersed herself in all sorts of issues and it’s well known one of her greatest passions was defence policy. She was shadow minister for defence prior to the election of my government always took a great interest in defence.”

Mr Howard said Mrs Newman was “extremely loyal”.

“She was upfront and very forthright, despite her battles with ill-health and cancer, and then Alzheimer’s later in her life, which was very sad.

“She was a lovely person and a very devoted colleague for whom I have the highest regard.”

Mrs Newman is survived by her children Campbell and Kate, and grandchildren Rebecca, Sarah, Emma and Samantha, described by her family in a statement as: “four impressive young women who she loved dearly and of whom she would be ever so proud”.

A memorial service is to be held in Canberra in the next fortnight.

Mrs Newman’s children said her practice as a lawyer during the years before Gough Whitlam introduced the Family Law Act in 1975 had informed her later career.

“This exposed her to the plight of women and children suffering from poverty and domestic violence — a harsh reality she would never forget — and it informed her commitment to the establishment of the Launceston Women’s Shelter, her unsuccessful application to become Gough’s first women’s adviser, and her later work as shadow minister and then minister assisting the prime minister for the status of women and minister for social security,” they said in a statement.

Mrs Newman’s family said she had overseen substantial reforms to the welfare system as minister for social security, drawing upon the legacy of the first woman elected to the House of Representatives, Dame Enid Lyons, a fellow Tasmanian.

“During her time in cabinet she was passionate about ensuring that the system was directed wholeheartedly to helping people that properly needed support for she shared Enid Lyons’s view that ill directed welfare could be corrosive for both the individual and society,” they said.

“She hated the idea of people that gamed the system and was relentless in her pursuit of men that didn’t obey court orders to support their children.”

After retirement in early 2001 Mrs Newman continued to support organisations including The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the Australian War Memorial and the Breast Cancer Network.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Mrs Newman’s contribution to the Senate, Tasmania, the Liberal Party and Australia was, “by all measures, considerable and enduring”.

He said Mrs Newman and her husband Kevin had been a “formidable political couple”.

“Before Jocelyn was a Senator, the experience of standing in for her husband when he was away on parliamentary duties gave her first hand experience in marginal seat political campaigning,” Mr Turnbull said.

“Initially not expecting to win preselection, she beat a field of 12 men to join the Senate in 1986.

“She was an indefatigable advocate for lower taxation and greater individual freedom throughout her time in parliament.

“As minister for social security and then minister for family and community services, she navigated some of the most complex changes to the social security system in a generation — preserving the social safety net and making sure government assistance was appropriately there for those who needed it most.

“As she said as minister back in 2000, ‘Welfare reform is about removing barriers, it’s about having a community believe in the social security system and it’s giving people opportunities’.”

Mr Turnbull said Mrs Newman had championed measures to get women into small business, along with historic reforms to the treatment of superannuation after marriage breakdowns and measures to combat domestic violence as minister assisting Mr Howard for the status of women.

“Her own experience as a solicitor, a farmer, a hotelier, and community worker — helped form her views that guided her as a senator,” Mr Turnbull said.

“She founded the first women’s refuges in Hobart and Launceston and was a founding member of the Women’s Electoral Lobby in Sydney.

“I spoke with her son Campbell this morning to offer condolences and sympathy on behalf of the government.

“Our thoughts are with her family.”

Tasmanian senator Eric Abetz said he was saddened by Mrs Newman’s death.

“The Newman team of Jocelyn and Kevin was legendary in their contribution for Tasmania and between both of them serving in the federal parliament for a quarter of the century,” Senator Abetz said.

“Jocelyn was an army wife, a mother, a women’s shelter pioneer, a farmer, a tourism operator, a senator and a cabinet minister. She was renowned for her strength, resilience, vision and energy — along with a sense of humour.

“As a cabinet minister she championed the Bass Strait Passenger Vehicle Equalisation Scheme as well as a number of world-leading welfare reforms that are still with us today.

“Indeed, she is still regarded as one of the most competent and capable Social Services Ministers in Australian history, having continuously served in the role for 5 years.”

Senator Abetz said Mrs Newman would go down in history alongside Dame Enid Lyons as one of the great female trailblazers in Australian democracy.

“It was a true honour and a privilege to serve in the parliament alongside her and to still benefit from her wisdom later in life,” Senator Abetz said.

“My thoughts are with her children Campbell and Kate along with her family and the many Tasmanians who she touched throughout her life.”

Original publication

Citation details

Rachel Baxendale, 'Newman, Jocelyn (1937–2018)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 14 June 2024.

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