It is with great sadness that I rise to take part in this debate. Today I grieve for Jill Meagher. On behalf of the Brunswick community, I extend our heartfelt and deepest sympathies to her husband, family and friends. I also acknowledge the extraordinary outpouring of public grief, solidarity and resilience in the wake of Jill’s disappearance and what is now known of the ill fate that befell her. Of all the speeches I have made as the member for Brunswick, this is without doubt the most difficult and distressing.
Jill Meagher was a vibrant, beautiful, talented and loved young woman. The stunning photos of her that we have all became so familiar with — so lovely in her white wedding dress, so happy laughing with her husband and friends and so funny goofing around in front of her apartment — reveal a glimpse of a rich and full life, brimming with hope and opportunity and replete with warmth and joy. When you think of the recent story of Jill’s life — young, having been married only a few years and having travelled to a foreign country on the other side of the world to set up a new life — it is an absolute tragedy that she was taken in such violent circumstances in the midst of the community that she had chosen to call home. In many ways Jill was a reflection of many who live in modern Brunswick — a young woman who was loving her career, embracing new journeys and experiences and enjoying her life in the inner suburbs of Melbourne among friends and colleagues.
This terrible incident has sent a shudder through the heart and soul of the broader community but particularly through the Brunswick community. It has shattered confidence and unleashed grief and bewilderment. As the events unfolded, we all clung to the hope that Jill would be found safe and well, but as we now know, this was not to be the case. Jill was doing what thousands of people do every week — getting together with colleagues and mates after work on a Friday evening and then, at the end of the night, walking to her home a few hundred metres away. Being able to walk home in circumstances such as these after going to a bar or a restaurant in our area is one of the reasons generations of people have chosen places like Brunswick and other inner suburbs to call home. This is partly why our community has been so touched and indeed scarred by what has happened.
While first and foremost in our minds is the sorrow of the tragic outcome for Jill and the deep concern and feelings for her family, we can also see ourselves and our own actions and that of our friends, our families, our partners and our children in Jill and what she did that evening.
The public outpouring of sympathy and grief for Jill and her family has been profound. There have been the tributes, the flowers, the candlelight vigil and the tens of thousands of people flooding Sydney Road. In all these things the Brunswick community has shown the tremendous heart that it has, both in mourning this young woman who had chosen to be one of us and in showing strength and unity in responding as one against this terrible trauma. At the vigil that was held on the Friday night after Jill was found, people of all ages and walks of life, people of different cultural backgrounds and women and men all came together to pay tribute to Jill and to share their grief.
In the same frame a young, early-20s hipster placed a handwritten note under a candle that he had just lit outside the front of the Brunswick Baptist Church, and a woman wearing a hijab and pushing a pram crossed Sydney Road with flowers to add to the many flowers that had already been laid there. Messages of condolences were scrawled in chalk on the Sydney Road footpath from outside the front of the bridal shop where Jill is thought to have last been seen to the corner of Hope Street and Sydney Road. Many people were standing, respectfully silent and consoling each other. There was a spontaneous, genuine and unrestrained outpouring of sympathy and grief at the horror of what had occurred in the midst of our community.
Then on the following Sunday, in what can only be described as an extraordinary show of community solidarity, 30 000 people marched the full length of Sydney Road, Brunswick, bringing trams and traffic to a halt. This was not your usual protest crowd; this was a community gathering of the most profound kind.
It has been commented on, and it should be commended, that there was no attempt to politicise this event. There were none of the normal placards, flags and speeches; there were just members of the community walking together. Some had personal notes containing simple messages such as ‘I won’t close with fear. I’ll open up with love’, ‘Choosing peace, hope, non-violence and solidarity with all women’ and ‘No violence. Remember Jill Meagher’. Many people held hands with friends and family, and many were alone. These enduring images reveal the face of a community stricken with grief and loss but showing extraordinary resilience and determination. This march was not only a powerful acknowledgement of and response to the terrible and tragic circumstance of Jill Meagher’s death but also demonstrated a resolve to reject the abhorrent violence against women, highlighted important issues of public safety and meant the community stood as one against what has been seen as an attack not just on an individual but on the very way of life for many in Brunswick and our community more broadly.
It was so well put by her ABC colleague Jon Faine on the Friday when Jill was found, when he said, holding back tears, that that is not life in the Melbourne that all of us know and that we do not want it to become in any way a definition of life in Melbourne today. I will take those comments further — we will not let this horror define Brunswick and the inner northern suburbs either, and our community has demonstrated the first steps in that resolve. I am exceptionally proud of how the Brunswick community has responded; it is an example of humanity at its best in the face of the worst kind of brutality. We must now take the next steps to restore community confidence. We must listen to and act on the concerns that remain after this terrible incident. This needs to be done in a coordinated and careful way when the community is ready while respecting the grieving and shock that is being and has been experienced. Honest discussions are needed, and changes may well be required. We must be ready to act.
I would like to put on the record my thanks and the thanks of the Brunswick community to Victoria Police, particularly for its work over the past weeks regarding this case. This work will continue while judicial proceedings are under way and, as such, comments need to be circumspect. But I will say, as many would know, that I have had a long history of working closely with the Victoria Police Association and its members, both as an adviser to the former government and as an industrial advocate. These admirable Victorians deal with extraordinary circumstances every day — and unfortunately some are as terrible and as traumatic as this case.
Ultimately they have signed up to serve and protect our community. It is a pledge they make with the utmost seriousness, and I respect and always commend them all for their hard and tireless work, from those at junior constable level to those in the most senior ranks.
For the representatives and staff of Moreland City Council, this has been a very stressful time. I acknowledge the care and leadership that they have shown, from the logistical arrangements they so quickly put in place to facilitate and support the acts of public grieving and sympathy to the way they responded so well to being the focus of significant public attention. The council is well aware that much more work still needs to be done in supporting its community’s attempts to deal with the aftermath of this event.
Just as the people of Brunswick responded in their thousands to mourn and honour Jill, so did the people of her home town of Drogheda in Ireland, where spontaneous services, marches and expressions of the deepest condolences have been occurring. We acknowledge the immense pain that this township is also suffering and we stand with its people as they grapple with the magnitude of their loss.
My deepest sympathies and respect, and those of the community, are with Jill’s family, friends and colleagues, both here and abroad. We can only pretend to imagine the anguish that they have endured over the recent weeks. The grace and strength of Jill’s husband, Tom, her parents and other family members during this period of great trauma have been exceptional. They were thrust into the world’s spotlight at a time when their own personal worlds were being ravaged, from every desperately anxious moment during Jill’s disappearance to the horror and grief of the reality that confronted them when Jill was found.
These fine people are now faced with the horrendous task of mourning their beautiful girl and attempting to rebuild their lives. Our hearts are with them every step of the way. Rest in peace, Jill Meagher.