Christabel Chamarette: Advocate for the Voiceless in Western Australia

Christabel Chamarette: Champion of Social Justice and Environmental Advocacy

Christabel Chamarette was born on 1 May 1948, in Hyderabad, India, to Arthur William Thompson Chamarette and Aileen Marion Chamarette. Her father, of French and British descent, served as a lieutenant colonel in the Indian army, while her mother hailed from a family with deep roots in India. In 1951, her family moved to Australia, where Christabel’s remarkable journey began.

Early Life and Education of Christabel Chamarette

Educated at Perth College, an independent Anglican school for girls, Chamarette went on to study at the University of Western Australia, graduating with a Bachelor of Psychology in 1970. During her undergraduate years, she worked as a psychologist with Irrabeena Services for the Intellectually Handicapped in Perth, showcasing her early commitment to social welfare.

In 1972, Christabel Chamarette married Douglas Thornley Bridge, and although they divorced in 1984, this period was crucial for her professional and personal development. She pursued a Master of Psychology (Clinical) degree, which she completed in 1975. Her work as a clinical psychologist at Fremantle Prison during this time honed her skills and deepened her understanding of social justice issues.

A Radical Awakening

Christabel Chamarette’s experiences in Bangladesh between 1976 and 1979, where she worked as a community development worker, had a profound impact on her.

The interdenominational Christian health, education, and economic development program she participated in radicalized her perspective on social justice, equity, and environmental issues. This period also reinforced her commitment to her Christian faith, which would continue to guide her throughout her career.

Political Beginnings and the Greens

Chamarette’s political journey began in earnest in 1987 when she joined the Alternative Coalition, a group formed by various green and social justice activists in Western Australia. This coalition eventually evolved into the Greens (WA), marking the start of Chamarette’s significant political career. The group’s commitment to consensus and non-hierarchical organization resonated deeply with her values.

Balance of Power in the Senate

The 1993 federal election was a turning point. Christabel Chamarette, along with Dee Margetts, held the balance of power in the Senate, a position that allowed them to influence significant legislative decisions.

Chamarette’s approach to politics was characterized by a strong commitment to consultation and true representative democracy. She believed that involving a wide variety of perspectives in political decision-making was essential for a just society.

Key Achievements and Challenges

During her time in the Senate, Christabel Chamarette was instrumental in initiating a wide-ranging inquiry into the management and operations of the ABC in 1994.

She was also a vocal opponent of the mandatory detention of asylum seekers, often finding herself the sole dissenting voice on the Joint Committee on Migration. Despite frequent ridicule and resistance, Chamarette remained steadfast in her advocacy for social justice and environmental issues.

Post-Senate Career

After leaving the Senate, Christabel Chamarette returned to her career in psychology, focusing on adolescent sexual abuse, family violence, and the rehabilitation of sex offenders.

She served as the clinical director of SafeCare in Perth from 1997 to 2009, demonstrating her continued commitment to helping vulnerable populations. Her work with the YMCA and the WA Department of Justice further underscored her dedication to social welfare.

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