O’Dwyer made the surprise announcement last month that she would not contest the next election due to “deeply personal reasons”, including a desire to have a third child and spend more time with her young family.
She had two kids during her time in politics, becoming the first woman to give birth while serving as a Cabinet Minister.
Speaking this afternoon, O’Dwyer outlined her achievements managing a number of different portfolios, including her current role as Minister for Women and Minister for Jobs and Industrial Relations, as well as the core policies that have defined her time in politics.
She said she hopes her own lived experience demonstrates that women contemplating public service can have a family, serve at the highest levels and make a lasting contribution.
She expressed thanks to a number of specific people including the friendship and support she received from Julie Bishop, her mentor Peter Costello, from former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and from current PM Scott Morrison.
But she also took the opportunity to concede that politics can be a brutal business.
“There is a ferocity and urgency that is a permanent overlay to everything that is said and done here. Because politics affects everyone,” she said.
“Because the decisions made in this place affect the choices and opportunities of millions of Australians, and the sort of Australia that we are, and that that we might become.
“In the battle of ideas, robust debate is critical, and accountability for decision making essential. Those who serve here have a responsibility to think deeply about the challenges we face as a nation.
O’Dwyer added that her time in politics has coincided with a deterioration in trust in the Australian parliament and the democracy itself.
“Social media, and a proliferation of tribal echo chambers, have led to warped perceptions of Australians’ views, a failure to listen to alternative ideas and a decline in genuine policy debate and civil discourse. Time spent in the community is the best antidote.”
And she noted that one of her “most nerve racking days I had as a new MP was the day I walked into the Federation Chamber to announce my support for same-sex marriage.”
She said people had warned her it would be a career-limiting move. “Maybe it was at the time. But I believe it was the right thing to do.”
O’Dwyer reminisced about the focus areas that had underscored her work, including the role of women in society and the economy, along with “the perennial work-life struggle”.
“We sell ourselves short as a nation if we don’t maximise the talents and expertise of both halves of our population,” she said.
“There should be no limit on what girls and women can aspire to, and no limit on what they can achieve.
“As a feminist I have always believed that girls and women deserve an equal stake in our society and economy.
She declared we need to ensure women have choices that work for them and their family, but then also access to pathways that enable them to return to work after children, along with more affordable childcare and flexible work arrangement.
She spoke about the “flexibility gap” between men and women working part time. “We need to normalise flexibility for men and ask what are the barriers? Should we have a target? We began work on this area during my time as Minister for Women and I encourage my successor to continue it.”
O’Dwyer also shared her pride at delivering the inaugural Women’s Economic Security Statement late last year, and said she hopes future governments will commit to it. She also noted her achievement in funding the first ever National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, and introducing legislation to enshrine minimum standards in the workplace for family and domestic violence leave.
O’Dwyer was also responsible for instigating the Enid Lyons Fighting Fund, giving additional financial assistance to Liberal women fighting elections. “We need more of them to succeed,” she said.
O’Dwyer’s husband and two young kids watched on, along with her parents, siblings, friends and supporters.
“Anyone who knows me knows that family means everything to me and without them I wouldn’t be here.”
Paying tribute to her husband Jon, O’Dwyer mentioned his willingness to work part time and be the primary care giver while she pursued a career in politics; including taking extended paternity leave twice. She told her children, “you make my heart sing and I love you more than words can express. There is nothing that gives me greater joy than being your Mum.”
She thanked the Liberal Party — which she joined at age 17 — and more specifically a number of key individuals, including former treasurer Peter Costello for being a mentor.
She started with the words that concluded her first speech in Parliament:
“I will never forget that politics is about people. And that people can make a difference. That is why I am here. I look forward to playing my part in building an even better Australia.”
O’Dwyer’s valedictory speech followed on from Kate Ellis, who delivered her own final speech in the house earlier this week.