It is with great regret that we have learned that Senator Jeannie Ferris passed away on 2 April 2007. Senator Ferris was highly regarded across the political spectrum, and not only in the state that she represented so superbly, South Australia, but also around the Commonwealth. She was never afraid to raise issues which went against the fashions of the day. One was to retain the constitution and to support the Australian Crown. Another was the impact on modest South Australian farming families of native title claims made by lawyers on behalf of hitherto unheard of and unseen groups. Above all, she had a rare capacity to rise above the tedium of party politics if she saw that this was clearly in the public interest. Perhaps her greatest contribution was in fighting, with enormous effect, that terrible scourge, ovarian cancer. In many ways, that may well be the greatest memorial – and one which will continue through many generations – to the work of this most indomitable woman.
Senator Ferris died following her own battle with cancer. In 2006 she initiated a cross party move to establish a parliamentary inquiry into gynaecological cancers. On 25 October 2006, she revealed to the inquiry that she had undergone surgery for ovarian cancer: "On this day last year, I had just begun to learn about gynae cancers, in particular ovarian cancer… I had just undergone surgery for ovarian cancer and had joined thousands of women in Australia who are on this, until now, largely silent journey. It was a steep learning curve for me and one which was at times quite frightening… Some women say that when speaking of gynaecological cancers they have feelings of guilt, shame and embarrassment, and as a result their gynaecological cancer journey is often made alone and in silence as silent as the early symptoms of some of these cancers, because symptoms of ovarian cancer are often vague…
As with many women who gave evidence to our committee, I paid several visits to doctors before an accurate diagnosis was made".
The inquiry’s unanimous report, “Breaking the Silence: A National Voice for Gynaecological Cancers”, resulted in increased Commonwealth government support for research and awareness of these cancers.
enator Ferris was born in Auckland, New Zealand, and was educated at Monash University, where she graduated in agricultural economics. She came to live Australia in 1963, and worked as a journalist in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Canberra and Yass where she was an editor. She also worked with the CSIRO, and the National Farmers Federation. She was a campaign manager for Ian McLachlan, and later Chief of staff for State primary industries minister Dale Baker and Federal Minister Rob Kerin. She was elected a Senator for South Australia in 1996 and was appointed government whip in August 2002.
In a statement, the Government Leader in the Senate, Senator Minchin, said that Senator Ferris had died peacefully in hospital where she had been for several weeks, supported by her family and close friends. "Jeannie will be sadly missed by her family, her many friends and parliamentary colleagues. Jeannie was an extraordinary human being who served her nation, her state and her party with great distinction," he said.
Senator Minchin said Senator Ferris had displayed great courage in returning to parliament after her operation. He suggested that messages of condolence for Senator Ferris’ sons, Robbie and Jeremy, and other family and friends could be sent to her Parliament House office.
Senator Ferris was a dedicated, effective and principled representative. Piers Akerman wrote in the Daily Telegraph on 2 April, 2007: “Sometimes one person can make a big difference, as Senator Jeannie Ferris who died in Canberra on Monday, proved. Though hers was not a household name, the South Australian senator and Government Upper House Whip deserves to be remembered for her courageous and successful fight to secure funding for research into gynaecological cancers, one of which ultimately killed her.
ACM joins in mourning her, and expresses its deep sympathies to her sons, to other members of her family and to her close friends.