Peta Murphy remembered as empathetic and intellectual as parliament pays tribute to the Labor MP

Peta Murphy remembered as empathetic and intellectual as parliament pays tribute to the Labor MP
  • PublishedDecember 6, 2023

The 50-year-old federal Labor MP from Victoria died this week, four years after her breast cancer returned.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese offered an emotional tribute for Ms Murphy, who he described as empathetic and intellectual.

Mr Albanese said she was a fiercely loyal and courageous person who was adored by her staff.  

“It is so hard, so cruel, so unfair to think we’ll never see that bright and shining smile again, never hear that raucous laugh, never see Peta frantically moving seats and pulling faces to entertain a baby brought into the chamber, never again listen as Peta, the happy warrior, wades into a debate with her trademark combination of intellect, integrity and empathy,” he told the parliament. 

“Peta Murphy gave this parliament, our party and our country so much.

“But part of what we grieve for today is the fact she had so much more to give. This is truly a loss for our nation.”

Peta Murphy playing with Alicia Paynes baby.
Peta Murphy entertains Alicia Payne’s baby inside the House of Representatives in 2021.(ABC News)

The House of Representatives returned a day earlier than planned to offer condolences for Ms Murphy, with politicians offering rare moments of bi-partisanship as they sung her praise. 

The Member for Dunkley won her seat from the Coalition at the 2019 election.

She was first diagnosed in 2011, and after recovering, the cancer returned two weeks before she was sworn into office.

An enthusiastic squash player, Ms Murphy was a senior public defender at Victorian Legal Aid, a barrister and later the chief of staff to Labor frontbencher Brendan O’Connor prior to entering parliament. 

She was married to her husband Rod Glover for 24 years.

Anne Aly hugging Peta Murphy.
Anne Aly hugging Peta Murphy in the House of Representatives in 2021.(ABC News)

A bouquet of flowers was placed at Ms Murphy’s seat in the House of Representatives. 

Politicians wiped tears from their eyes as they listened to their colleagues memories of her.

An emotional Mr O’Connor joked Ms Murphy would have told him to settle down and not carry on too much. 

“Peta Murphy was a passionate fighter who was always on the side of the underdog, the outsider, the less fortunate,” he said.

A representative of the Mornington Peninsula, Ms Murphy became an avid dragon boater in recent years and would use Fight Song, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 US presidential campaign track, as her pump-up song.

Mr O’Connor described her as “irreverently hilarious, self-mocking and cheeky”, a feminist and trade unionist with “a fast wit and a merciless put down when the need arose”, someone who was direct with her advice, her own harshest critic and self-deprecating.

“As it happens life isn’t always fair,” he said.

“The random injustice of Peta’s illness cut short what she set out to do but for each and every day she was working to make her constituents, the Labor Party, this place, and our country better.

“Peta reminds us that it is not the length of time each of us sit in this place. It is what we do with the time when we’re here.

“She has left an indelible mark as a lawyer, as a political staffer, as a parliamentarian, and, no doubt, as an inspiration, and will continue to do so to all who sit in this place and beyond.”

Ms Murphy had a metastatic breast cancer that was treatable but not curable. In recent years, her medication changed from oral chemotherapy to intravenous chemotherapy, which she received three out of every four Fridays, prompting her hair to fall out.

Mr Albanese told a story of Ms Murphy attending the Australian Open with him, which would mean she’d be photographed sitting alongside him.

“It was a very conscious decision that she made,” he said.

“She wanted for all those women, in particular but others as well, going through the experience of cancer treatment to show that it was a fact of life [to lose your hair] — I found that incredibly courageous.”

Ms Murphy was a rare figure in that she was universally liked across the parliament, especially by the parliamentary staff who worked with her on committees.

She was an active member of the parliament’s inquires into the Voice to Parliament referendum, and was a leading figure in a parliamentary inquiry into online gambling.

Labor frontbencher and friend Anika Wells joked Ms Murphy was the “Hermione Granger of Frankston”, who became the spiritual leader of the class of MPs elected in 2019.

Murphy is leaning forwards onto her desk next to a water bottle. She has short blonde hair.
Peta Murphy hated missing the parliament. (ABC News: Matt Roberts)

Kate Thwaites, who was also elected in the same year, said just looking at Ms Murphy’s Instagram was exhausting.

Just last week, Ms Murphy travelled to Canberra for one last time, to raise awareness about cancer. 

“Peta didn’t like talking about her cancer and it’s not what she wanted to be known for,” Ms Thwaites said.

“But she was also conscious of the platform she had to argue for better outcomes for people with cancer and particularly for women with metastatic breast cancer.

Peta Murphy looks at brochure about breast cancer awareness
Peta Murphy in her electorate office earlier this year. (ABC News)

“One of her absolute highlights in this place was when we met Olivia Newton-John, a woman who had used her public platform to do just that. And what Olivia was to Peta, Peta was to so many other woman — a blazing example of how to get up every day and lead the life you want, even with cancer.”

After the condolences, the House of Representatives will adjourn as a tribute to Ms Murphy.


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