John Robertson pays tribute to Her Excellency Governor Marie Bashir


Today our Parliament gathers in extraordinary circumstances.

It is a historic and exceptional day when both chambers pause their own proceedings to honour a great Australian.

The departure of Her Excellency The Honourable Professor Dame Marie Bashir – after 13 and a half years of outstanding service as Governor of NSW – is the end of an era.

It is truly a watershed in the life of our State.

And having had her term extended so many times – first by Premier Carr, then by Premier Iemma and then by Premier O’Farrell – it is almost as if we cannot bear to let Governor Marie Bashir go.

Her Excellency will forever be remembered as a trailblazer.

In fact hers is an improbable story that could only have happened in Australia.

The unassuming girl named Marie from Narrandera in the Riverina District whose parents came to this nation from Lebanon. And who would go on to have a brilliant, accomplished career – capped by her inspired appointment by Premier Carr as the first female Governor of NSW.

Yes – Madam Speaker – the story of Marie Bashir is a quintessentially Australian story.

And long may it serve as an inspiration to women and immigrant communities that here, in this nation, all things are possible.

Her Excellency came to the role with deep expertise in the fields of psychiatry and public health.

As a product of public schools, she brought with her a genuine concern for the education needs of young Australians.

She also carried a special compassion for indigenous communities – reflected in her establishment of the Aboriginal Mental Health Service in Redfern that continues to perform vital work today.

As Governor, Her Excellency has seen six Premiers of NSW and five Opposition Leaders.

And she has stood steadfast as our state has become busier, more diverse – and some would say, more complex and fractured.

How carefree and innocent those early days of 2001 seem now – when Her Excellency began her tenure as Governor. Having rung down the curtain on the best ever Olympics in 2000, nobody could have predicted that 12 months later, life in NSW would change forever with the terrorist atrocities of September 11 and the Bali bombings.

We could never know that our State would send off troops and frigates to the war in Iraq. That Redfern would erupt in 2004 or Cronulla in 2005.

During Her Excellency’s tenure as Governor of NSW, the population of NSW has swelled in size.

And as a State, we have largely succeeded in absorbing new waves of migrants.

As wounds in our community have emerged – Her Excellency’s example has helped them heal. She has been an unstinting voice for tolerance and for respect.

And whether it was the recent Blue Mountains or Coonabarabran bushfires, the Northern Rivers floods – or the searing Millennium drought that left our State parched – she has shepherded our state through heartbreak and natural disasters.

Her Excellency’s leadership of charitable causes – and her visits to Rural Fire Service volunteers and people displaced from their homes – have rallied spirits and touched lives.

Today, the fight to remove barriers and spread opportunity to all corners of NSW goes on.

And in this cause, I believe the example of Her Excellency will live on as our State’s guiding star.

I recall the quiet and wise words of the Her Excellency’s inaugural speech: “For a state and a people to prosper into the longer term. There needs to be a climate of reciprocity, involving the ordinary citizens as well as the powerful. Such a society rejects, as its highest aim, materialism, but strives for the participation and contribution of all citizens in our commonwealth.”

Whether as Chancellor of the University of Sydney, Patron of the Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service, a passionate supporter of our operas, choirs and orchestras or a world-renowned advocate for mental health – few people have worked more diligently to promote the dignity and potential of every person in NSW. And in her frequent visits to rural, regional and indigenous communities, there is nobody that has more successfully brought the mosaic of our State together.

Every Governor brings their own touch to the role – and the 36 men who served as Governor of NSW before Marie Bashir stand out as some of our most accomplished citizens.

It was Arthur Philip – the very first Governor – who foresaw that our State’s future was so much more than a convict settlement and who had a vision for a society of laws and justice.

And it was Governor Lachlan Macquarie, who explored our State’s interior, appointed emancipists to government positions, planned some of Sydney’s iconic buildings and plotted its narrow streets.

Two centuries later, Her Excellency departs the Governorship leaving a very different but no less profound legacy.

While the early Governors advanced our State’s interests and material needs – and those who have come since have served nobly through prosperity, war and peace – it is Her Excellency who I believe has truly redefined the role for the 21st century.

She has carried herself with uncommon compassion and grace.

And she has served as the State’s conscience, its healer and its heart.

As Governor of NSW and occasional Administrator of the Commonwealth, Her Excellency has worked tirelessly to fulfil her duties.

She leaves with the highest regard of all who have come into contact with her.

She has brought credit to NSW and I have no doubt her sterling contribution to the life of our nation will continue.

I speak for everyone in NSW when I wish her Excellency and her husband Nicholas Shehadie the very best for the future.

To Her Excellency I say –

Thank you for watching over this great State.

Thank you for gently guiding us to be a better community and a better people.

Thank you for giving the Governorship your life and your heart.