Born in Tasmania, and having lived there for most of her life, Catryna Bilyk was first elected as a Labor Senator for Tasmania in November 2007 taking her seat in the Senate on 1 July 2008. She was re-elected in September 2013, again in the double dissolution election of 2016 for a further three-year term, and again for a further six-year term in 2019.
Catryna’s previous experience included a variety of roles including medical administration, research and early childhood education. While working with the Australian Services Union she set up the first Union Jobskills Program and represented the Union on many Industry Training Advisory Boards. She was the ASU delegate to Unions Tasmania and held the position of Senior Vice President of Unions Tasmania. She has also served as National Vice-President of the Australian Labor Party.
In the years immediately prior to her election to the Senate Catryna was employed by the Tasmanian Government as an Advisor/Electorate Officer with Tasmanian Government Ministers David Crean, David Llewellyn and Ken Bacon.
Catryna has also worked for over a decade as an early childhood educator, and early in her career as a research assistant for mental health pioneer Dr Eric Cunningham Dax.
Shortly before commencing her first term, Catryna was diagnosed with two brain tumours which were successfully removed. Her subsequent involvement in the brain cancer community—meeting patients and their families—prompts her to continually campaign, for many years often as a lone voice in Parliament, for a greater Government effort to improve the low survival rates for brain cancer. Catryna was diagnosed with a third tumour in late 2020 which she is currently living with.
Catryna serves as Chair of the Senate Standing Committees on Senators’ Interests, Deputy Chair of the Joint Statutory Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, and as a member of the Joint Standing Committee on the Parliamentary Library, and the Senate House, Procedure and Community Affairs (References) Committees. She is also the Senate-appointed member of the National Library of Australia.
Her previous Parliamentary positions have included: Deputy Opposition Whip in the Senate, Chair of the Joint and Senate Select Committees on Cyber Safety, Chair of the Senate Select Committees on Funding for Research into Cancers with Low Survival Rates, the Future of Public Interest Journalism and Charity Fundraising in the 21st Century, and the Senate Standing Committee on Publications. She has also served as a member of the Senate Committees on Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (Legislation and References), Education and Employment (References), Environment and Communications (Legislation and References), Legal and Constitutional Affairs (Legislation and References), Selection of Bills, the Joint Statutory Committee on Law Enforcement, Joint Standing Committees on Migration and the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform.
Some achievements to date
- Established a presence for Cure Brain Cancer Foundation in Tasmania and raised over $200,000 for brain cancer research including through seven annual Walk4BrainCancer events with attendance reaching 300 per event.
- Pursued the establishment of a Senate Committee to inquire into cancers with low survival rates, leading to $170 million of Government investment in research into brain cancer, rare cancers and diseases, and cancers and diseases with low survival rates. The report has also been cited by the World Health Organisation.
- Assisted the Kingston Uniting Church in securing a $2.8 million Commonwealth grant for the Rowallan Park supported accommodation facility.
- Took the lead for Labor on a Senate inquiry into the Liberal Government’s cuts to the arts. The inquiry helped unite the arts community against the Government’s attacks on the sector. The Government since closed their ‘Catalyst’ ministerial arts slush fund and restored $80 million funding to the Australia Council.
- Worked with firefighters and the Workplace Relations Minister to improve access to workers’ compensation for firefighters across Australia who are diagnosed with cancer.
- Chaired Joint and Senate select committees on cybersafety, with inquiries promoting national discussion of important issues such as the vulnerability of many seniors to online fraud. The Senate committee’s inquiry into sexting by minors highlighted the issue of image-based abuse. Legislation has passed the Parliament to make this a Federal civil offence and Labor is continuing to campaign for it to become a criminal offence.
- Participated in the Senate inquiry which recommended the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal purposes.
- Ran two successful campaigns to save Palliative Care Tasmania from closure.
- Successfully lobbied the Government and NBN to develop a fixed wireless solution for the suburb of Howden to access the NBN network sooner. Howden was previously in category E for broadband availability—the lowest of five categories.
- Assisted Haemochromatosis Australia in securing a grant to run their first national conference, which started the collaboration on a submission to the Medical Benefits Advisory Committee for a genetic screening program which—if accepted—will ensure thousands more Australians are diagnosed and treated for haemochromatosis.
- As Patron of the Australia Day event, A Day on the Beach has provided ongoing support. The event has been attended by around 10,000 people annually, over many years.
- Worked with other Federal colleagues to lobby for:
- The $325 million Tasmanian Health Rescue Package,
- The reinstatement of Australian Federal Police at Hobart Airport, and
- Saving the Kingston Medicare/Centrelink service centre from closure.
- Pushed for the establishment of and chaired the Senate Select Committee on Charity Fundraising in the 21st Century to shine a spotlight on the need for a unified national charity fundraising law. While Labor has led the way on this issue with the establishment of the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC), promoting the issue has led the government to finally accept the need for change and commit to fundraising law reform.