Tuesday, 7 February 2023
Address to Parliament
Address to Parliament
Debate resumed on motion of Martha Haylett:
That the following address, in reply to the speech of the Governor to both houses of Parliament, be agreed to by this house.
We, the Legislative Assembly of Victoria assembled in Parliament, wish to express our loyalty to our Sovereign and to thank you for the speech which you have made to the Parliament.
Nina TAYLOR (Albert Park) (17:26): I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay respects to elders past and present and to the enduring wisdom of the oldest continuous culture on earth.
My pathway to politics was not deliberate; rather, it evolved through a myriad of life experiences. Even in my early days of law school representing a community at local or even state level was not anticipated. Experience at AstraZeneca and Novo Nordisk greatly enhanced my understanding of the health system, research and development and the challenge of inspiring people to take care of their health. I also enjoyed my time as a teacher, albeit relatively brief, leaning on my knowledge of French and German languages and legal skills. I can vouch for the fact that teachers work extremely hard to bring out the best in their students. Volunteering for the women’s legal service following the completion of articles and later working in the Community and Public Sector Union on federal matters represented a personal transition from the private sector to community-focused activity and work.
This brings me to the central tenet of my speech: what makes a great community and what is my role in driving the best outcome for others? My family instilled a strong sense of justice premised on the rationale that there is no community in any functional capacity without a shared vision and a willingness to effect the common good. Of course the pursuit of just outcomes has a requisite equaliser insofar as this pursuit necessitates a well-reasoned process, a delicate albeit imperfect balance of human experience and our natural world. From composting to nurturing plants without pesticides and beyond, my mother has inspired a respectful relationship with nature from childhood.
Historically industrialisation, though arguably a driver of jobs and commerce, purported to unfold ahead of proper recognition of the critical nexus between a healthy planet and the survival of humankind. This has created immense challenges, not the least being climate change effected by human behaviour. I am not suggesting an either/or scenario when it comes to meeting energy demands in a modern economy but rather a holistic approach aptly encapsulated by our Victorian government’s 100 per cent renewable and government-owned SEC commitment. I literally shed a tear when the SEC announcement was made. Granted, I have a reputation for being easily animated by the mere mention of the words ‘solar panel’ or ‘wind turbine’ or ‘energy efficiency’. You get the drift. However, one has to acknowledge that this massive energy reform will drive down emissions, creating clean jobs and curtailing energy costs. But most importantly I believe that our community genuinely wants to be part of the solution, and I am determined that collectively we can be.
Our sports clubs play an integral role in fostering a healthy community, and I am sure everyone in the chamber can relate. There are very high levels of sporting involvement in the seat of Albert Park – sailing, soccer, swimming, Australian Rules, rugby and so on – and there is such incredible devotion by so many volunteers, each reinforcing through the good deeds that everyone who takes part in the club has a purpose and they deserve love and support. I was fortunate to be exposed to the many benefits of community connection from a young age, and simultaneously a deep affection for the arts ensued. Initial shyness – hard to believe – was ultimately triumphed over by age 7. I have loved dance, indeed all art forms, ever since. While strictly speaking one would not classify dance as a sport, I contend it is sufficiently physical in nature to be comparable, and the dance teachers fostered great social networks too. Whilst I grew a little too tall for pas de deux, which is the traditional partner dance in classical ballet, the discipline, social benefits of being part of a community-based activity and an authentic sense of both the eternal sacrifice and love for the arts prevail.
The seat of Albert Park is renowned for its cultural and creative heart. A strong pillar of Labor values is an unrelenting commitment to and an inherent appreciation of the critical contribution of the arts to a civilised society. One in 11 Victorians is employed in the arts sector. The arts play an integral role in our community. It is embedded in our identity. The Melbourne arts precinct, for instance, holds treasured memories for me personally, as I am sure it does for so many Victorians – storytelling through dance, opera, symphony and theatre that enables a vital portal to express the deepest of human emotions and to experience the exhilaration of aesthetic and/or physical brilliance.
Live performance and cultural experiences also speak loudly through St Kilda’s iconic venues, many of which have important historical significance. From the National Theatre, where I myself took ballet classes in adolescence, to the Palais Theatre, the Alex Theatre, Theatre Works – I could go on – each contribute to the intricate fabric of our performing arts industry. And let us not forget the phenomenal Luna Park –
A member interjected.
Nina TAYLOR: Yes. It only in December 2022 celebrated its 110-year anniversary as Australia’s oldest theme park.
My sentimental nexus to St Kilda was founded not only through the arts but through regular frequenting of the former Scheherazade restaurant on Acland Street with my parents when I was growing up, established by the late Masha Zeleznikow, a Soviet refugee, and her husband. They provided delicious Eastern European cuisine. I blame Scheherazade for my enduring obsession with borsch, cabbage rolls and pierogi. Importantly, Masha and her husband did much more than broaden the palates of locals. They showed great kindness and compassion. The restaurant provided a safe place for many single Holocaust survivors to eat and connect. That is what a community is all about. Whilst the restaurant is sadly no longer there, formidable Eastern European cheesecakes and other culinary masterpieces can be indulged along Acland Street to this day.
Indeed the seat of Albert Park has been the welcoming location for significant waves of migration. Since 1854, millions of new arrivals have been processed at Station Pier in Port Melbourne. I can only imagine the intense emotions that new migrants would have experienced as they disembarked, ranging from excitement to anxiety. I am so grateful for all that they have done for Victoria. Validation of different life experiences and perspectives through multiculturalism has fostered a better place for all of us to live, with the caveat that the benchmark has to be far greater than the mere tolerance of difference.
Whilst the demographics of the seat of Albert Park have changed significantly in recent years, the spirit of worker resilience in the face of harsh and often unforgiving conditions lives on today. Back in the 1800s in Port Melbourne it was not uncommon for stevedores to fall into a hold during loading and unloading or for workers to line up on the waterfront in all weather, not knowing on any given day if they were going to be selected for a shift, precisely demonstrating the crippling nature of insecure work. Port Melbourne was also identified as the crimping capital of Australia – crimping being the collusion between the ships’ boatswains and boarding house keepers who kidnapped men, often drunk, and forced them aboard ships as crew against their will. A testament to the workers of that era, Port Melbourne is the location of the first successful seamen’s union in Australia – something to be very proud of. Sharing stories of struggles endured by such brave agents of change is vital. The common good is denied where reckless indifference to worker health and safety leads to the untimely death of a parent, friend or colleague.
Of course no community can consider itself whole without equality for all. Victoria is ranked the most welcoming for the LGBTIQ+ community in Australia and the fourth worldwide. This is not by accident but through a concerted and united will backed by bold legislative and policy reforms and the majestic beacon of safe sanctuary and celebration that is a Victorian pride centre. The amazing feeling of unity amongst all at the Pride March just past was palpable. The struggle has been worthwhile.
I would like to pay respect to the community of Albert Park for your creative, cultural, environmentally conscious and compassionate heart and for caring deeply about the provision of safe shelter for all Victorians. Albert Park boasts a significant proportion of social and affordable housing, just as a healthy community should.
Before I express my thankyous, and there are a few, I seek to address the underlying purpose of my discussion today. Have I answered the question of what makes a great community and my role therein? I proffer that there is no one answer to this penultimate challenge. But what an incredible honour to serve in pursuit of the greater good. I am a hard worker, and I promise to give it my all in my service to our community as the first woman to be elected to the seat of Albert Park.
Now for the thankyous – and I apologise in advance: if I overlook someone, I will seek to address that. Thanks to the Premier for leading our united Labor team to another successful term of progressive government.
Thanks to the Attorney-General, Jaclyn Symes – no matter the hour nor the day, unrelenting in her dedication to pass legislative reforms through the red chamber. Thanks to the entire Labor cabinet and caucus for working together brilliantly and supporting equal representation of women in government. Thanks to the former member for Albert Park Martin Foley for showing the community what strong progressive leadership delivers and always saying the right thing to fire me up during the election campaigns. Thanks to the former member for Albert Park Professor John Thwaites AM. You have still got it, unwavering and unequivocal in your devotion to community and specifically to all things climate.
Thanks to Dominic Gonzales, Vicki Mastihi, Peter Tanti, Tyson Patterson, Zoe Nomikoudis, Ryan Batchelor, Matilda Grey, Francesca Nardii, David Donaldson, Ross Alexander, Jenny Whelan, Marty Fields, Janet Bolitho, Gillian Wood and Lukas Jamieson for all your unrelenting support and hard work. Thanks to other members of Parliament and other volunteers who spent hours in unforgiving weather, energised by a devotion to the betterment of the lives of others.
Thanks to the Community and Public Sector Union, Australian Services Union, Electrical Trades Union and the broader union movement. Every day matters in the life of a Victorian Worker.
Thanks to my brother Nicholas Taylor for your deep insights, strong intellect and for being a great support always. Thanks to my mother for your adventurous spirit, always pushing beyond the known with compassion, devotion and love. Thanks to my extended family and friends for your persistence, noting the challenge of catching up with my crazy schedule. And thanks to my late father, Robert William Taylor. Though you were taken too soon, I am grateful for your integrity, intellectual rigour and fantastic humour and that you were a loving and devoted parent. Thank you.
The SPEAKER: Can I acknowledge in the gallery former Victorian MPs the Honourable Mark Birrell and Mr Ron Wilson and former federal MP the Honourable Josh Frydenberg.
Jess WILSON (Kew) (17:44): Speaker, it is an honour to address this Assembly as the eighth member for Kew and to contribute to the address-in-reply to the Governor’s speech on the opening of the 60th Parliament. I congratulate you on your re-election as Speaker.
Kew is a special place. In Robert Hoddle’s 1837 survey of the Port Phillip district, the Parish of Boroondara encompassed what would become Kew. Of course ‘Boroondara’ comes from the Woiwurrung language of the traditional owners, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, and means where the ground is thickly shaded. Then, as now, the description is apt.
Kew is known for its leafy streets, it is beautiful parks and its shady trails, with the Yarra River winding along its northern and western borders. Kew is known for its heritage homes, historic shopping precincts and vibrant local sporting and community organisations. From Kew to Balwyn, Deepdene to Canterbury and Surrey Hills to Mont Albert, the community spirit is inspiring. Kew is home to more than 30 schools known for educational excellence. It is no wonder that Kew’s residents are among the most highly educated in Victoria.
Victoria is the most successful multicultural state in the country, and Kew is no exception. Almost a quarter of Kew’s residents have Chinese heritage and over 60 per cent of residents have at least one parent born overseas. For so many of us then those that have chosen Victoria as their home make up part of our own family histories. My own paternal grandmother, a Scottish orphan who served in the British air force in World War II, came to Australia in 1946 as a war bride, having married an Australian airman. They came to Melbourne before settling in Mildura where, after two daughters, my father Ron was born.
Mum and Dad ensured that I was baptised into the three great faiths: the Catholic Church, the Liberal Party and the Collingwood Football Club. Dad was, as the Deputy Premier and the member for Rowville will recall, the member for Bennettswood in this place. Dad was my first political hero and while it might be said that I followed in dad’s footsteps as president of Monash Liberal Club, as Victorian Young Liberal state president and now as a member of this Assembly, I have also carved out my own path.
I grew up in Mont Albert, attending Mont Albert Primary and then Strathcona Girls Grammar, also the alma mater of the fourth member for Kew, Prue Sibree. I studied arts and law at Monash University and was a Hansard Society scholar, studying at the London School of Economics and interning at the House of Commons. I was proud to have been admitted as an Australian lawyer in the Supreme Court of Victoria.
I am fortunate to have two people present in the gallery this evening that I am proud to call my professional mentors and my good friends. The Honourable Josh Frydenberg is a man of integrity and immense ability. Josh is a loss to Australian public life, but I know he has more to offer. Josh has showed me that there is nothing that can replace hard work in this place. From the time we first met, Josh invested in my future, and I thank him and Amie for their support.
I have spent the majority of my career in the private sector. From consulting on tax policy at KPMG to leading the policy team at the Business Council of Australia, I have had the privilege to work every day with many of Australia’s most successful companies and our largest employers. I would not be here today without the mentorship of Jennifer Westacott, who put her complete faith in me at the business council. We have been through a lot together – energy wars, COVID restrictions and industrial relations debates. Jennifer is a force, and her intellect and leadership are things I can only aspire to. In the private sector I witnessed the combination of risk, talent, hard work and agility and the ‘alertness’ required to take advantage of entrepreneurial opportunity. It is business that creates jobs, not government. It is business that invests in the new technologies to deliver for consumers and that delivers returns to shareholders, including every Victorian with a super account. It is business that has the capacity to unleash human potential, so in this place you will find me a champion of free enterprise. Of course no business is perfect, but too often lawmakers make the fatal conceit of comparing imperfect markets with perfect governments. The ‘Liberal idea’, as the Honourable Dr David Kemp calls it, is the ideal of an individual’s:
inherent and equal worth and the belief that this entitles each person to the liberty to pursue their own course in life.
The role of this place and the measure of its success is to what extent we lawmakers ‘empower people to clarify and pursue their dreams’. I joined the Liberal Party because I strongly believe that individual freedom, free enterprise and limited responsible government under the rule of law is the best chance of securing prosperity for all Victorians.
Historically, the success of the liberal project in Australia can be attributed to the relatively high social trust in and integrity of our democratic institutions, but this cannot be taken for granted. It should concern honourable members that, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, a majority of Australians believe that governments are a dividing force in society and think that Australians lack the ability to have constructive debates. Recently much has been said about integrity in politics, but integrity is more than a buzzword. Although bodies like IBAC and the Ombudsman play a crucial role, members of Parliament cannot outsource integrity. What can we do about it? First, we can maintain the integrity of the proper role of Parliament – to carefully debate legislation and hold the executive to account. Each year, thousands of pages of legislation and regulations are added to the Victorian statute books. Members of Parliament must ensure that those pages have proper scrutiny. We need effective legislation, not just more of it.
Second, we can maintain the integrity of this Parliament’s sovereignty vis-a-vis the federal Parliament. In the 1891 convention debate leading up to federation, Samuel Griffith – later the first Chief Justice of the High Court – envisioned that ‘states are to continue as autonomous bodies, surrendering only so much of their powers as is necessary to the establishment of a general government to do for them collectively what they cannot do individually for themselves’. This vision has been considerably compromised. Today there is almost no area of policy that is left undisturbed by the federal government, and that is to say nothing of the revenue disparity. Of course the federal Parliament rightly has authority, which state governments must respect and not, for example, enter into arrangements with foreign governments that undermine Australia’s foreign security. A broken federation is a problem for integrity because it results in the constant blame game between Spring Street and Canberra. Integrity requires decision-makers to both take the credit and wear the cost of policy outcomes.
Third, we can maintain the integrity of political parties. Our democracy is stronger when voters have a choice between credible parties of government offering comprehensive and values-based policy platforms to deal with real issues facing Victoria. Our democracy is weaker when some attempt to reduce the contest of ideas to riding the demographic wave of discontent.
I was honoured to be the Liberal Party’s candidate for Kew at the 2022 Victorian election. My campaign for Kew was a community campaign. We ran a campaign based on a simple approach – listening to the community and earning their trust. This is my ongoing commitment: to listen, to act and to get things done for the people of Kew. Ultimately, though, 2022 turned out to be a confronting year for the Liberal Party. There is no point denying that we have a lot of work to do at both a state and federal level, but the values of liberalism and the Liberal idea remain relevant to each new generation. For those of us on this side of the house, the task is to translate those timeless principles into concrete policies that will have a meaningful impact on people’s abilities to realise their own dreams.
In being elected to this place, I had the privilege of being named Shadow Minister for Finance, Shadow Minister for Economic Reform and Regulation and Shadow Minister for Home Ownership and Housing Affordability. On finance and the economy, it is concerning that recent Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey data shows that financial literacy is in decline across all age groups and most notably amongst people under 35 and women. Many important economic decisions are made early in our adult lives, and so this must improve. Financial literacy is not limited to understanding household budgets. The Victorian budget is in record debt at a time when magic pudding economics has pierced the psyche of younger generations. Improving financial literacy will be a priority for me.
On housing affordability, it is concerning that the rate of home ownership has been in decline for decades, especially amongst younger Victorians. It is not because Victorians no longer want their own piece of the Australian dream. Home ownership gives individuals and families a stake in their future and in their community. I know how difficult it is for my peers in their late 20s and 30s, working hard, saving for a deposit, being outbid at auctions and being hit with stamp duty as almost a second deposit. Victoria is addicted to property taxes, with 42 per cent of Victoria’s total taxation coming from land tax and stamp duty alone. I also know the challenges that industry faces with rising costs, supply shortages and planning delays. A principles-based approach is sorely needed, prioritising home ownership, choice, tax reform and sensible planning reform to unlock supply.
Let me also say something on climate action, an issue which is important to me and the community in Kew. I spent the last five years working in energy and climate policy. I have helped to bring large businesses to the table to develop a policy agenda and work out solutions to achieving a net zero economy. We have seen an incredible acceleration in the transition over a short time, but we must be honest and acknowledge it gets harder from here. How we achieve the transition matters to Victorians’ livelihoods. The transition must be a market-based approach, not through top-down regulation. Governments must take the least cost, most efficient pathway, not the politically convenient.
Honourable members will appreciate that anyone who finds themselves in this place has had help from many people. You forge many friendships in the trenches. Chief amongst these are Senator James Paterson and Lydia Paterson, true friends and political allies – in that order. Aaron and I would not be where we are today without their friendship. To Caitlin Hardy, my campaign manager extraordinaire and loyal friend, wise beyond her years – in equal measure she is compassionate and unflappable. The Liberal Party is lucky to have her, and I will always have her back like she had mine. To Liana Fisher and Clare Gunning, two women who I can call at any time of the day and know that nothing will be too much to ask – I thank them for their energy and strength. Thanks to my new parliamentary colleagues, in particular my friend and neighbour the member for Hawthorn, the member for Sandringham and the member for Caulfield, along with those in the other place – Georgie Crozier, Dr Matt Bach and Evan Mulholland. I am also grateful for the wise counsel of my family friend and a former member in the other place, the Honourable Mark Birrell. I pay tribute to my campaign team of community volunteers, including Ben Jessop, Natalie Stirling, Anna Cairo, Dan Cronin, Emma Nicholson, Sarah Nicholson, Phillip Healey, Lynne Robertson, Sue Leidler, Sam Ponsford, Nick Muraledaran, Simon Frost, Josh Worth and Georges Anjoul.
Our families are part volunteers and part conscripts. To my younger sister Sarah, my biggest cheerleader, and to Rob, Henry and Michelle: I thank them for all their love and support. I am excited that at the next election Henry will have a little brother or sister. To my mum Jo: by election day a too-common refrain from Kew residents was, ‘I met your mum’. Others thought, to my great delight, that she was my younger sister. Mum is the Energizer bunny. Doorknocking, listening posts and pre-poll – nothing was too much, but more than that, she made sure life continued throughout the campaign. To my dad: our family and friends often remark that I have my mother’s looks but I am my father’s daughter. I only hope I can make him proud in this place. Finally, to my husband Aaron: politics is not easy at the best of times, but he has always been in my corner, my rock, the most decent person I know and my constant source of advice, even though I might not always listen or agree. I thank him for his unwavering love and support and for always putting me first. I hope I will be worthy of the trust my family, my friends, my party and most importantly the electors of Kew have placed in me.
Colin BROOKS (Bundoora – Minister for Housing, Minister for Multicultural Affairs) (18:03): Just to clarify, this is not my inaugural speech but I am very pleased to make a contribution to this debate and allow time for people’s families to enter the chamber ahead of the next member’s first contribution. Can I start by acknowledging your election, Speaker. I have not had the chance to properly thank all the people who were involved in the running of the Parliament during my time as Speaker. I have not had the opportunity to really properly do that, so I thought I would take this opportunity during this address-in-reply to do that. I did want to thank you at the outset, Speaker, for a wonderful job as Deputy Speaker and now to see you in such command of the Parliament as the Speaker. I wanted to thank you not just for being a great friend and a great member of Parliament but for also being such a wonderful Speaker. So congratulations on that high office that I can see you are doing such a stellar job at.
I want to thank in particular all of the wonderful staff at the Parliament. I had the privilege of working with predominantly the Legislative Assembly team: the Clerk Bridget Noonan, the then Deputy Clerk Robert McDonald, who it is good to see has now been promoted to Clerk of the Legislative Council – if you can call that a promotion – Vaughn Koops, Sarah Cox, Paul Groenewegen and Kate Murray. It is a long list of people from the Assembly team and the whole department who do such a wonderful job. As well there are those from the other side, the other chamber – the former Clerk Andrew Young and Anne Sargent – and the whole team at Department of Parliamentary Services. I had the great privilege of being Speaker when we appointed not only Bridget Noonan as the first female Clerk of this chamber but also the first female DPS Secretary, Trish. As well as that there are the people who work over at DPS who provide services to members: Matt Smith, Paul Pamio and a whole range of others. I want to also acknowledge Jason McDonald, who worked in my office when I was Speaker and just does a stellar job – I know for the current Speaker as well in providing advice to her. I found him a great servant of the Parliament and someone who members from all sides of politics could engage with and who could help resolve issues that they might have. Also Jeremy – everyone is well acquainted with Jeremy – is such a great help around the chamber, and the wonderful staff here.
I want to acknowledge former President Bruce Atkinson, who was the first President that I served with as a presiding officer. I found him to be a very strong mentor despite the fact we are from different sides of politics originally. Bruce is a great parliamentarian, and I appreciated his support through those early stages of my speakership.
I want to also acknowledge Shaun Leane. There is not someone I can think of who has a stronger commitment to vulnerable Victorians than Shaun Leane, who has found his way back to be President of that chamber. I cite the meals program that the Parliament ran during the COVID lockdowns. The well over 1 million meals that were served to vulnerable Victorians through a range of charity partners is a classic example of something that Shaun drove.
Also to Nazih Elasmar, we wish him well after his service as the President of the upper house. Again, I do not think many members got to see Nazih’s service to the Parliament in welcoming delegations from overseas. His command of a number of different languages was of great assistance in that respect, and he was a consummate professional. I thank him and wish him and his wife Heam all the very best for the future.
I think one of the things that the Parliament achieved over that period of time was working together. We did take steps to improve the internal governance of the Parliament, our audit processes, the level of professionalism and capacity here. Security and OH&S were a couple of areas that I would cite where there were significant improvements made. Deputy Speaker, I should take the opportunity before I move off the parliamentary officials to congratulate you as the new Deputy Speaker in that role, and I am sure that you will do that role really well as well.
I am very grateful to the Bundoora community for re-electing me again. I want to thank the whole community for their support. I feel very privileged to have been re-elected. I want to thank those people who worked on my campaign, in particular – and I cannot name everybody – certainly the co-chairs of my campaign committee Brian Smiddy, who many people in the labour movement will know, and also Michael Hildebrand, who was co-chairing in that role, and my campaign manager Matt Arturi. A whole team of people worked with those people to deliver a really well run campaign.
In my electorate there is more happening now than I can say has happened in decades. The North East Link is literally changing the face of transport in the north-east of Melbourne – a massive project. It gives me great pleasure to see in local shopping centres so many people, particularly young people, with boots and hard hats on, working on a project and going in to buy their lunch, supporting local businesses. There is the ability to direct so many young people who come to my office looking for work and training opportunities to the jobs hub at North East Link in Watsonia, where they can find out more about working on that wonderful project. Alongside that is a great public transport project, the Hurstbridge line upgrade, which the member for Eltham and I are keenly involved in in terms of communicating the benefits to our local community. That involves a brand new station at Greensborough, a brand new station at Montmorency and more trains running more often. The combination of a North East Link, when it is finished, that takes trucks off local roads and gets them onto that link and a better public transport system in the north-east cannot be underestimated.
Along with that there are a whole raft of schools that are in different stages of redevelopment or upgrades in my electorate. Greensborough College has been completed. That is a college that was mentioned in the Treasurer’s very first speech when the Andrews government came to office along with, I think, Essendon Keilor College if I am correct. They were the two schools that were mentioned as being quite run down and in need of being rebuilt. In the spirit of the Andrews Labor government in following through with its election commitments, we have delivered three stages of upgrades to the Greensborough College, and that has now been completed, along with new sports fields which were funded by the North East Link Program. There have been upgrades to Watsonia Heights Primary School, Watsonia Primary School, Watsonia North Primary School and Bundoora Primary School, and funding is being provided to Bundoora Secondary College for their upgrade as well. So this is a significant upgrade, and we know that there are more schools that need to be upgraded as well. Diamond Hills Preschool and Greensborough Preschool will receive upgrades as well, so these are significant investments in education and early education.
I was very pleased to see the investment of $101 million in La Trobe University’s sports precinct, which will become the home of the Matildas, the home of Football Victoria and the home of Rugby Victoria as well. Not only is this important for the benefits for sports and the students who study sports-related fields, but that funding was announced at a time that was so important for that university when during COVID the tertiary sector was in many ways abandoned by the then federal government. La Trobe University I know saw the investment of this funding and this sign of confidence from the state government in that university as so significant, so it is very pleasing to see that investment in that particular area and to see the development taking place at the moment.
There are a whole range of female-friendly change room upgrades throughout the electorate and election commitments to really important charitable groups in my area. Big Group Hug works right across the northern suburbs to supply vulnerable families with the goods that they need for children. Diamond Valley Community Support again provides support to vulnerable Victorians. A local scout group, Bundoora Scout Group, is receiving funding, and there are important upgrade works to our local war memorial reserve at Greensborough as well.
Bundoora is a wonderful place to live. It is no wonder that I saw today that A-listers John Cena and Zac Efron are coming out to Bundoora’s bowling lanes on Grimshaw Street to film. I am waiting for the phone call to head down and play a role in that. I am not sure what the movie is about, but I am –
A member interjected.
Colin BROOKS: Yes, I have to check my messages. In terms of the portfolios that I have been provided, I feel so privileged to have been appointed as Minister for Housing and Minister for Multicultural Affairs. In particular, given the challenges in housing right across the country and here in Victoria as well and the need to provide more social and affordable housing to people who find the market very difficult at the moment with rising interest rates and the cost of living, to have the ability to have an effect on that is really I think quite a great opportunity. To come into this role off the back of the work of previous ministers, the member for Essendon and the previous member for Richmond, and into the middle of a $5.3 billion Big Housing Build is so good – to be able to slip into that role as so many projects are coming out of the ground to deliver that very social and affordable housing that is required by the Victorian people. There are over 12,000 dwellings right across the state, and a quarter of the investment that I mentioned is in regional Victoria, so this is a massive investment. It is the biggest investment in social and affordable housing in the state’s history and it is the biggest investment in social and affordable housing of any state or territory across the country. So it is a great privilege to be able to be behind the driver’s wheel in relation to the Big Housing Build.
There was another one I wanted to mention in terms of housing. There was very little, if anything, good that came out of COVID. One thing that stands out as a potential positive was the From Homelessness to a Home program, where people who were rough sleeping were provided with what you might call a housing-first approach – put a roof over people’s heads and then wrap the services around them – which is a slightly different approach than what has been taken in the past. That is a program that, despite it not being perfect, has provided ongoing support to people who were otherwise sleeping rough during COVID – and they continue to have a roof over their head. It is the first time this has happened in this state, and it is a model that we need to keep working on and keep improving. I am very proud to be assuming responsibility for that particular program.
And then of course there is multicultural affairs – what a great portfolio, particularly as a member of a Labor government. The Cain government established the Ethnic Affairs Commission back in 1982, which became the Victorian Multicultural Commission – a great reform led by Labor governments. The Bracks government introduced the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001. These are great landmark reforms. And then there are the election commitments that this government has taken forward: $40 million for multicultural infrastructure, $12 million to support multicultural festivals and events, more funding to support African communities as they settle here in Victoria, $3.5 million for the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria – I have got to make sure I get that figure right; I will have Eddie Micallef on the phone to me straightaway. There is support for multicultural media outlets, which is so important to ensure that we have a vibrant multicultural media sector, and there are many, many more commitments in the multicultural space as well.
I just want to finish by thanking my family for supporting me through another election period and signing up for another four years of being a member of Parliament. I really do look forward to serving the people of Victoria both as a minister and as the member for Bundoora.
Kim O’KEEFFE (Shepparton) (18:16): I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of this land, this wonderful land where we meet today, the peoples of the Kulin nations. I would also like to pay my respects to the people from my land, the traditional owners, the Yorta Yorta peoples, and pay my respect to their elders present and emerging.
It is an honour and a privilege to stand here today, and following Jess, the member for Kew, just shows the opportunities for all. We come from very different backgrounds. My mum was born in Shepparton, and I am the fifth generation from the Doherty line. My parents moved away from Shepparton, firstly to Melbourne, then on to Sydney, where I was born. My dad was a talented musician who played piano. He was lured by the bright lights of Sydney and the dream of working with a big professional show band. After a period of time and with a growing family of five young children they decided this was not a life for a young family, so they decided to move up to Queensland, where they were told there was plenty of work in the mines and good money to be made.
My mum became homesick and wanted to return to her home town of Shepparton to be with family. I was four years of age when we travelled down from Queensland in a station wagon with five children, my dad’s keyboard on the roof and minimal belongings. After staying with family initially, we moved into a small farmhouse, followed by a few months at the Shepparton lake caravan park. Apparently my parents were told if you moved into a caravan with five children it would increase your chances of securing a house. It worked. We moved into public housing in a neighbourhood filled with hardworking people raising their young families. My family grew, and I have four wonderful brothers and two sisters. I have such fond memories of the fun times growing up in this neighbourhood, and I have remained friends with many of them today. It is interesting when you look back at the housing model back then that gave young families the opportunity to purchase a home at an affordable price – opportunities that do not seem to exist today. Unfortunately my parents did not purchase their home, but many did.
My dad was a hardworking man, usually working two jobs to make ends meet. He worked in a number of jobs over the years, including the local abattoirs, factory work, retail and cleaning, as well as his musical gigs on the weekends. From around five years of age I started singing with my dad at the local pubs. A highlight was when we secured a big gig at a Lions Club convention. I was an excited eight-year-old dressed in red sequins, and we performed in front of over 600 people. These are my most precious and favourite memories with my dad. My mum attended to home duties and raising seven children. We had some family challenges, with my dad suffering from mental health issues and alcohol dependency. This led to family breakdown and to most of my brothers and sisters leaving the family home at very young ages.
I left school at 15, not by choice but by circumstances. I had moved out of home and begun working full time in a local retail gift store. My bosses, Olive and Brian Grey, were so kind and supportive, as were many others during that time. I moved in and out of a range of accommodation arrangements. Some arrangements were much better than others. At 18 years of age I took on the care of my 15-year-old sister. We both were working full time. I recall our first accommodation was a one-bedroom flat with bunks. We paid our bills and rent, and we did what we needed to do. My sister Keely is here today. I am incredibly proud of all of my brothers and sisters, who have supported each other and who have had successful lives. We were estranged from our parents for a period of time but rebuilt our relationship. Sadly, we lost my dad 30 years ago. He succumbed to his mental illness, and my mum died just a few years ago. She was enormously proud of her children. She was known for carrying my mayoral business cards in her wallet, proudly showing them when the opportunity arose.
After six years working with Olive and Brian I changed jobs, moving into the beauty industry. This was a great career that would span almost 30 years. I worker in pharmacy, which also included a role at a local television station as a make-up artist on the morning breakfast show with Jen Dean. I was contemplating a career move to Melbourne after being approached by a national cosmetics company, but destiny had other ideas. I met my husband Brendan, and as the saying goes, the rest is history. We married in 1986, and not long after I secured a traineeship at a local salon. As a trainee the position was lower paid than my other job and also included having to travel to Melbourne and being away from home. We had a mortgage and I wanted to contribute. Brendan did not hesitate to encourage me to take that position; we would manage. We went on to have two wonderful daughters Emma and Olivia who are my greatest joy in life. One of my greatest wishes was to give my daughters the educational opportunities that I never had and a stable family. Brendan owned a small retail menswear business with his father Matt and a business friend for over 64 years, in which Brendan worked for 43 years and has recently retired – well earned, I say.
The region has a history of long-term generational, hardworking family businesses, both large and small, who have contributed so much to our region, people like Pat and Tina’s much-loved local BP station now run by their son Joe and his wife Angela. They will soon celebrate 50 years in business. The thing I love about living in a small community is that we are so connected and we cheer each other on. I opened my own business in 1988 and not long after opened a training school. You could not train locally in the beauty industry, and in fact I was the first to offer this training in Shepparton. I went on to broaden my business nationally, securing work with other companies and brands as well as expanding into online learning in line with the changing times. It was an incredibly rewarding career and a reminder that you can have great success and opportunities in regional areas. It was a busy time in our lives, running two businesses and raising a family.
Brendan and I have invested our lives in a region that we believe in and love. I had a wonderful career, and I wanted the same for others into the future. I wanted to contribute to the success and progress of our region and for future generations. So in 2016 my next life experience and journey began when I was elected to local government. My six years in local government included almost four years as mayor. It was a steep learning but also an exciting realisation of the impact and the difference that I could make. The community saw my passion and determination, how hard I worked and my determination to make a difference – that same passion I bring here with me today.
I live in a very unique and culturally diverse community made up from those from many nations around the world. We have a very strong, long history of successful migration and the success and contribution of the many families making Australia and the Goulburn Valley their home. We have a deep connection to the land and the Indigenous people, and in fact we have one of the largest Indigenous populations outside of Melbourne. My very special friend Aunty Faye is from the stolen generation, and she continues to cheer me on, support, encourage and inspire me. If I need a friend or someone to lean on, she is there. I also acknowledge my childhood friend who grew up in my same neighbourhood and was recently elected to council, Cr Greg James, the very first Indigenous councillor elected to the Greater Shepparton region.
Our Albanian community shared their story through a documentary attracting worldwide acclaim and winning awards. They shared the story of their long history and connection to the region as well as their struggles, success and the opportunity they were afforded in this great place. Australia’s first Albanian mosque was built in Shepparton back in 1960, and I acknowledge the recent retirement of Imam Eljam Bardi and acknowledge his amazing 41 years of service at the Albanian mosque and to our community, a very close friend of mine and supporter during my mayoral terms. Their story is similar to the many who came to the land of opportunity but who contributed so greatly to the future and the success of the region.
We are a bold, resilient and progressive region. One of my greatest aspirations has been to showcase the region as a great place of success and opportunity. We are a progressive and productive region that is growing, and with that comes the need for greater support and investment to reach our full potential. I love to share our story with others, and in 2019 we took over Federation Square in Melbourne for two weeks when Fed Square became Shep Square. We shared the many wonderful things about the region and living in regional Victoria. We took with us many local businesses and community members. It was a true celebration of who we are. We had cultural performances, and the many and varied industries came along. There was such a strong sense of pride that continued long after that event.
We also hosted an international beach volleyball tournament. We do not have a beach, so we trucked in tonnes of sand and made our own – of course we did. Both of these examples attracted investment and opportunity by putting ourselves out there. We must not put up roadblocks to success; we have to find a way to achieve the things we need, and that is what I intend to do right here in Parliament Cannatrek, a multimillion dollar investment in our region, came about through the international volleyball live stream where CEO Tommy Huppert saw me telling the reasons why business should invest and come to the region. It was a 42-degree day, I had no shoes on and was on the sand. I have a very loud voice, and I will continue to use that voice to help attract further opportunities.
The regional Commonwealth Games idea came from Shepparton, and it was Shepparton who progressed the business case, supported by a few other councils. Never say never, I say. We are proud to think that this idea will bring billions of dollars into regional Victoria, although we are disappointed we did not get a sports village. Perhaps the baton should leave the stadium and Shepparton be its next stop.
We are a successful region with many industries, including agriculture, horticulture, manufacturing, processing, transport and businesses both large and small. We are known as the food bowl for good reason – for example, 54 per cent of the state’s apples, 78 per cent of pears, 57 per cent of apricots and 25 per cent of all Australia’s milk, accounting for 2.3 billion litres of milk per annum. The recent floods have impacted on our farmers and their produce dramatically. It is critical that the farmers get ongoing support – as well as the many industries that have been affected – to get back on their feet. We also must protect our industries with water security and no buybacks. We have many wonderful, successful long-time companies and industries, such as SPC – recently celebrating over 100 years – Pental, Unilever, Campbell’s soup, Tatura Milk, Bega Cheese, Freedom Foods, J Furphy & Sons and many more, who contribute to the history and the success of our region. You will see many well-known products on the supermarket shelves not only nationally but also internationally. We are very proud of our companies and industries and the contributions that they make. Many do not realise the enormous amount of products and produce that come out of my region. We might be a small region, but we are doing very big things.
Whilst we are on figures, 25 per cent of the state’s trucks are registered in the Shepparton region, so as you can imagine, along with other large transport vehicles driving through the middle of Shepparton and Mooroopna, this equates to a great deal of traffic, with numbers constantly increasing. Can you imagine shopping or trying to park in the main street with a constant convoy of trucks and heavy vehicles belting past you? This is putting lives at risk and slowing down the efficient movement of transport. On pre-poll we witnessed a truck and car sideswipe each other right in front of the polling booth.
We saw the impact of having only one river crossing during the floods when the Peter Ross-Edwards Causeway was flooded and completely shut down, causing complete chaos at an already stressful time. We had the Australian Defence Force picking up hospital staff and healthcare workers to transport them through the floods and across the bridge to get them to work. We are the only major regional city without a bypass. The Nationals, under federal member Damian Drum, committed $208 million to the Shepparton bypass, and the state government has invested over $10 million into the business case. I am pleased that the Premier has announced he is committed to this project, and I look forward to seeing the next steps to make that happen.
I am proud of the community in which I live. We are a united community creating a sense of belonging and connection. During the pandemic, when we had 20,000 people in isolation, our community was incredible, the way we cared for and supported each other. The city of Shepparton basically shut down. I acknowledge my friend Azem and his wife Jeihan, who provided over 14,000 meals over three weeks with a convoy of wonderful volunteers. But it is not only in times of crisis that Azem supports our people. He supports the homeless and those in need every day, as well as the CFA during the bushfires and floods or wherever he is needed. I also would like to acknowledge our frontline workers, healthcare workers and the many amazing volunteers and organisations that have supported our community – and still are – during the pandemic and now during the floods.
We must address the cost of living, the housing crisis and homelessness. Affordable housing, rental affordability and housing availability – we are so far behind, and the problem will continue to grow without immediate action. Everyone deserves a place to call home and a roof over their head. Every day I see people struggling to make ends meet. I am shocked at the state of our crumbling and unsafe roads, and I urge for an increase in funding to address this. We are facing challenging times, with my region heavily impacted, as I said, by the recent floods and storms. As a matter of urgency, we need to do all we can to get people back into their homes and businesses supported and open. There is confusion and inconsistency, and almost every day I have people coming to my office asking for help. They know that my door is open.
We must address the health crisis, the elective surgery waiting list and the 000 responses. We have GP shortages and teacher shortages. We need more mental health support, and we have a burnt-out health workforce. We must ensure that regional Victoria is also considered, and please, we must consider looking at other ways and different ways to attract and increase the workforce. Let us look at some incentives. I urge investment into our region, including the final stage in the completion of the Goulburn Valley Health redevelopment, and it was pleasing to hear today that the Labor government are very supportive of doing that and, again, the Shepparton bypass.
We also have redundant school sites after merging four of our high schools. The future of these buildings and sites must be determined – and the return of choice in our secondary public school system. We need investment in the many ageing sporting and recreational facilities. I will continue to fight for the many needs of all of our towns and the future progress of our region. There is so much work to be done. The Premier has also said that he will govern and support all the people of Victoria – that must happen, and that regional Victoria receive our fair share of investment and support.
I want to thank the many people who supported me during my campaign. My committee headed by Lindsay Dan, Peter Ryan, Ian Powell, Don and Cheryl Kilgour and former National Party member Jeanette Powell, who encouraged me to stand. Jeanette was the first women elected to the National Party and is a very close friend and mentor. It is wonderful now to have six women and five men in the Nationals.
A member interjected.
Kim O’KEEFFE: It is something we are very proud of.
I would also like to thank head office, the members and particularly the Nationals team – everyone has been incredibly welcoming and supportive as I take on this new learning but also share the same passion; my passionate volunteers and supporters, Azem, Jeihan, Cammy, Preet and Peter Le Sueur, who all worked hard in their communities to help ensure that people were aware of my commitment and passion; my amazing friends and volunteers who are here today – Sev, Robi, Alison, Cheryl, Sarah, Jodi, Carman and Mel, Barry, Anna, Helen and Gracie; and the many hundreds of volunteers – you know who you are. I would not be here without your incredible support, and I am so very grateful.
For those that donated and displayed my corflutes on their fence or in their businesses, thank you. Also thank you to everyone who put their faith in me. It is such a privilege and an honour to represent you in this Parliament.
Thank you to my two beautiful daughters, who have encouraged me and cheered me on. To my husband, Brendan – your commitment, positivity, love and support has never changed during the past 36 years. You are my biggest fan, cheering me along with pride, love and devotion.
Finally, I look back at my 15-year-old self. I am proud of what I have achieved. As I stand here in Parliament, yes, I pinch myself, but I know this is where I need to be. I will work hard every single day. Thank you.
Katie HALL (Footscray) (18:39): I am honoured to have been re-elected as the member for Footscray, the community I love and live in. When I was thinking about what I wanted to say this evening, I looked back at my first speech in this place, and I am pleased to report that my heart is not beating as fast as it was on that day four years ago. But four years ago I had a 12-week-old baby when I was elected to this place. I think that that is a really useful marker of time for me because I can think about how much has changed in four years for little Ned. I had Ned at Sunshine Hospital, and now, four years later, we have the beautiful Joan Kirner Women’s and Children’s Hospital, where around 5000 babies are being born every year. Now little Ned is starting free kinder with many of the other thousands of little learners across Victoria. He is participating in the biggest economic and education reform this state has ever seen, and I am enormously proud of that. I am enormously proud to be part of a government that is delivering free kinder.
I would like to acknowledge that my electorate of Footscray, in Melbourne’s beautiful inner west, is on Wurundjeri country and pay my respects to elders past and present. I note that the Maribyrnong River has always been an important meeting place for the Wurundjeri tribes of the Kulin nation and the Wurundjeri people and that I am also very proud to be part of a government that is leading the nation on the delivery of a treaty for our First Peoples. I am also proud and looking forward to be campaigning alongside my colleagues on a Voice to Parliament.
My first speech was a love letter to Footscray, where my family have lived and worked for six generations. In that speech I acknowledged the importance of heritage and history but that Footscray is a place of almost constant transition. In that speech I spoke of my driving passion for high-quality public education, the great leveller. I inherited that passion for public education from my mother, who taught in the public school system for 30 years. In the last four years we have seen a transformative upgrade of schools across the Footscray electorate, from the opening of Footscray High’s three-campus model, with more than $100 million invested in that transformation, to a $16 million upgrade of Footscray North Primary, a school I was enormously proud to be a part of in terms of that upgrade. That was the school my father attended and many of my family attended, and I remember him telling me that when they played footy it was on a gravel oval. They did not have the kind of infrastructure that the children at Footscray North now have that has been delivered by the Andrews Labor government. There is a $20 million upgrade of Footscray Primary School, which I was very pleased to visit this week in their 153rd year. This is an exciting new chapter for Footscray Primary School, a beautiful heritage school in my electorate. And there is so much more to come. I am excited that Footscray City Primary School’s upgrade is underway and that an election commitment I was able to deliver for my community in Footscray West will be delivered, with a new gymnasium coming for that school next.
Four years ago we had a funding commitment for Footscray Hospital, and now coming out of the ground with the most cranes in the Southern Hemisphere is the spectacular $1.5 billion Footscray Hospital. It was a pretty fantastic thing, I have to say, to be able to work with the community, to lead the community reference group and to deliver outcomes for the new hospital that the community has asked for. It is going to have a beautiful village green through the centre of it. It will be a leading piece of health infrastructure in terms of sustainability. It is going to have a childcare centre and a gymnasium. It is going to have 200 extra beds. It is going to be an enormous and fantastic facility for my community in Melbourne’s west and take pressure off the entire health system in the region. I think it is a really wonderful thing that the community of Footscray is receiving the largest capital investment in health infrastructure in Victorian history.
Four years ago I spoke about my passion for public housing, and now it is wonderful to be part of a government that is delivering the Big Housing Build, the largest investment in public housing in the nation’s history. I would like to acknowledge the former member for Richmond and his lifelong advocacy to deliver affordable and public housing to Victorians.
Tweddle, which is a public hospital – not many people know about Tweddle unless they have needed it, but you know about it when you need it – is an early parenting hospital. It looks after our little people, our babies, up to the first crucial 1000 days. They do incredible work, and their upgrade, which I was able to announce early in my term, is now being delivered.
We have had our challenges over the last four years – most notably COVID of course – and it was great to be part of a government that saved institutions in our community like Pride of our Footscray. I was very proud to see Pride out marching on the weekend in St Kilda. It is a fantastic organisation and community space for our LGBTIQA+ community. We had a natural disaster in the floods that impacted Maribyrnong last year, and I will continue to work with my community in Maribyrnong and the residents there and be there for them every day to support them in the long road to recover from that disaster. We have saved so much together throughout COVID, from arts organisations to small businesses, and we stayed together apart very successfully in Footscray.
We are investing now in the most highly regarded community arts centre in Australia, the Footscray Community Arts Centre. I am very proud that I have been able to deliver as their local member of Parliament a massive upgrade, because the Footscray Community Arts Centre is at risk of being loved to death. It is always at capacity. It is an NDIS provider. It is a really special place for Footscray and for Victoria.
In my first speech I spoke about the need to get trucks off our local roads – streets that were designed for factories and freight. Our proximity to the port is wrapped up in our history, and I know that the West Gate Tunnel will be transformative. The West Gate Tunnel will arrive in 2025, and that is the same year in Footscray – a very big year for the inner west – when the Metro Tunnel will open. Footscray is one of the biggest beneficiaries of this huge public transport project. From Footscray you will be able to go through the new Metro Tunnel, or you will be able to go into the city to Flinders Street. It will add an extra 60 per cent capacity on the Sunbury line – something I know we need locally. More access to public transport is very important in my community. I have also worked over the last four years with a number of community activists – and I want to thank them – to improve the monitoring of trucks in Melbourne’s inner west, with the installation of cameras on key routes, and on an air quality initiative as well, which was an election commitment that Minister D’Ambrosio was involved in to make sure that the oldest trucks on our roads can be upgraded with a government contribution. That is something that organisations like MTAG in my electorate – the Maribyrnong Truck Action Group – have been calling for for many years.
Looking forward, I am very excited about the upgrade to Shorten Reserve. I worked with the footy club the Roosters and the women’s team the Bokkers to deliver an announcement to get that footy oval upgraded. It was a great thing to work with that community. It also services the Druids Cricket Club, and that is going to be a really exciting thing for my community in the years ahead.
I am also excited to work with my community on the future of the existing Footscray Hospital site. A community consultation process will start this year where everyone will be able to have a say about their hopes and their aspirations for a 6-hectare site in West Footscray. I look forward to keeping my community informed on that process when it starts. We also have upgrades happening at Yarraville Special Developmental School, a level crossing closure coming to Yarraville and of course the Footscray City Primary School upgrade, which has just started.
The Footscray electorate changed pretty dramatically in this election. Braybrook and Sunshine came out of the Footscray electorate, and Seddon, Yarraville and Kingsville came into the electorate. I hope that I served the people of Braybrook and Sunshine well. I will miss them, but I am also really looking forward to being the representative for Seddon, Yarraville and Kingsville.
I have many people to thank who believed in me and kept me going during a very challenging campaign: my electorate office team, who worked so hard, Sel, Linden, Fraser, Luke and Hannah; and of course my family and friends, my mum, Dan, Nick, Deb, Dylan, Leonie, Sam, Tilly, and Ned. I think there was one day on pre-poll where three Hall women managed to get into an argument with the Victorian Socialists, which is probably a record. It was a really challenging environment. I want to say that going to vote should be easier than that. It was not a nice environment in Footscray, and I hope that the Electoral Matters Committee can make changes to the way that pre-poll operates for next time around.
I want to thank my amazing campaign team – Amy, Aman, David Moody, Julia-Ann, David Pepper, Sarah – and all of the amazing activists from the Footscray branch. A special mention to two dear friends of mine, Fiona Ward and Carla De Campo – the best friends you could have in your corner for 20 years. They delivered food; they helped me when I was feeling down and they kept me going throughout that campaign. And also my friends from outside the political world – for the new members, I highly encourage you to hold onto those people; they are very precious – who delivered food, looked after my kids and turned up to pre-poll to give me a hug. I know that the next four years will have their challenges in Footscray, but I am so excited to be your advocate and your champion in this place, and I will work hard for you each and every day.
Just finally, a big thankyou to the ministers who came and helped out. I had the Minister for the State Electricity Commission out doorknocking with me in West Footscray; I had the Deputy Premier with me in Yarraville talking level crossing removals; I had Minister Dimopoulos communicating in Greek for me, which was very helpful; Marty Pakula, who kept me entertained, Bill Shorten, Daniel Mulino and Nicola Roxon. Thank you. I am very honoured to be back here.
Martin CAMERON (Morwell) (18:51): What a journey it has been over the last six months that has found me today standing here in front of you all for my inaugural speech. For a person whose political interest was hearing what the government of the day had proposed via TV or radio and talking about it with my family and friends; handing out how-to-vote cards for Russell Northe and Darren Chester many, many years ago; and talking with politicians in times of crisis after devastating floods and fire, my knowledge of the inner workings of the political arena is limited at best.
Now, do not get me wrong; I care about decisions made that affect myself, my family and the community where I live. Normally I am a 362-day-a-year shorts-wearing, hi-vis polo, workboot-walking plumber. Yep, I am a tradie. The change to a suit, fresh shirts, a tie and shoes with laces is certainly taking a bit of getting used to. Home is about 2 hours from here. I have lived all my life and raised my family in the best place possible. We are 40 minutes from the beach, 40 minutes from the snow and a couple of hours from Melbourne town. I live in the Latrobe Valley. For those in here who do not get past the Pakenham border, we are just a little further down the road, so please come for a visit.
How does a plumber end up here? How does someone who finished year 10 at school, who was an apprentice plumber for four years, who continued to work as a plumber up until two months ago, with no political training, get elected the first time he tries? Could it be that people can relate to my journey and have trust in someone who is outside the political arena, or is it because I am a small business owner and family man who has endured all the ups and downs of day-to-day life just like them? In my time working as a plumber I have been fortunate that when I knock on a door it does not matter who answers, they are happy to see me and say ‘Come on in’. It may be that I am unblocking their toilet or fixing their heater, but they are happy to let me in. This may be a different story from now on. After fixing their issue, it normally involves a cuppa, a biscuit or sometimes, depending on who it is, some hot scones. Then the conversation starts. I get to hear firsthand about the cost of living these days: rates, power bills, water bills, gas bills, insurances, school fees – the list goes on. How getting into a doctor can take up to a week, the state of our crumbling country roads, whether I will get an ambulance if I ring and how it takes three to six months to see a mental health specialist and even a dentist – all things that worry most mums and dads, old, middle-aged and young.
One of the other concerns I hear is the disconnect between the city and the country. We country people see all the money being spent on roads, tunnels and rail services for the city, and we are left with crumbling country roads that cost lives, a bridge that cannot be opened in Tyers, and our trains – well, they are called buses. Down in our part of the world we supply and maintain Melbourne’s power, timber supplies, water, gas and, like other country areas, your food source. If you now look at a map of political seats, you can see the wagons are starting to circle, as the country have had enough of the biased inner-city spend. The valley’s DNA is being tested at the moment. The work options for our mums and dads are in the process of being restructured or transitioned from secure employment to uncertainty and in many cases to no jobs at all. The power industry has served Victoria well to keep the lights on and power our manufacturing industry and allowed us all to live in the secure knowledge that when we turn on a light switch, plug in our phone, get our latte and nowadays plug in our electric car it is going to work. Everyone is committed to embracing the age of renewable power. Wind turbines and solar panels are going to be the way of the future. It is what people want.
We are told by experts who have crunched the numbers, processed all the data and done all the modelling that renewable power can stand alone to provide our power needs. The experts I have spoken to – and I want to make it clear, my experts do not sit behind a desk in Melbourne; they are the people that work around the clock in those power stations and have done so for the last 20, 30 and 40 years – are the same people who see the demands on baseload power needed to run the state of Victoria. Electricity to make our lives function as normal is going to fall a long way short of securing our state’s power appetite. We have a chance to get the power challenge for the future right. Do not rush it to make political parties feel warm and fuzzy. Do it once and do it right for the people of Victoria. Our future and way of life is in play. Our children’s and their children’s futures are on the line. Let us get it right the first time.
The timber industry is another that is being closed. Generations of logging companies are on their knees. They have no work because of decisions made here – lock up the bush. Let us get serious; we have the best timber work practices and procedures in the world, yet, to be seen to be turning green, for want of a better word, we have started on the path of shutting down other industries that rely on our timber supplies. Builders are going broke, having to shut their doors because they cannot get timber to build houses. Prices are going through the roof. The Maryvale mill are making people redundant, and the white paper – that is what I have here – Australian-made paper, that I am reading from today has stopped, maybe never to be made again. Our country shows, and now the iconic Melbourne show, are in danger of not having the renowned and fan-favourite woodchopping as they cannot get access to timber for this year and more than likely the years ahead.
The decisions made now are affecting our way of life. Why can’t we have the best of everything? We do have the assets to do it. Our manufacturing community in the valley is nervous. What is our future going to look like with our biggest employers closing at an alarming rate? Why can’t we be the ones to make wind turbines and solar panels and not send them overseas to be made? The decisions on bringing forward the closure dates on coal-fired power stations and locking up the bush have far-reaching repercussions not factored in for our communities and our way of life.
The small business community have had it tough also. An unforeseen pandemic with lockdowns and now the aftermath of trying to reopen and re-engage staff is a real challenge. From trades of all descriptions, retail and hospitality to supermarkets, they are having trouble getting quality staff to service the customers, who have returned en masse. The pressures on the owners, who are mums and dads, are off the charts. They have to work 12 to 15 hours a day in the shops; then they go home and do bookwork for 2 to 3 hours to comply with all the rules and regulations thrown at them. They go to bed exhausted, and they get up and do it all again. Small businesses are closing. They need us to put our arms around them and tell them they are doing an amazing job and ‘We’ve got you’.
How do I know this? I am a small business owner doing this day after day. I had to become a politician to work less hours. My job is to be the voice for the people of the Latrobe Valley, to bring their concerns to the forefront. I now work for them. I am not a person who points fingers and waves my arms and says, ‘Why is the government doing that? Why don’t they do this to make our lives better?’ If you want to know the answers, stand up. Be the person to find out. Be the person to make a difference.
When I was deciding to run I asked myself what I think is a pretty simple question: if I was going to be able to raise the concerns of the Latrobe Valley and make changes, where would that be? Would it be using TV, would it be using radio, would it be using the newspaper or would it be via social media? All handy, but the answer was no. In my mind the only place I could work the hardest for the people of the Latrobe Valley and push for change was where I stand right now, in this chamber in front of all of you – nowhere else. It is here. I had to work my hardest to get here. Now I have the opportunity to serve the people of the Latrobe Valley. The privilege of being in this chamber will never be lost on me. We have the opportunity to secure Victoria’s future. We have resources that are the envy of the world, so let us get it right.
Some thankyous: to my children Mitchell and his partner Brooke, Bailey and his new wife of a week Tayla, and my daughter Alana, thanks for backing me and helping me. To my mum and dad, Fay and John, thank you. Dad always told me from a young age, ‘When you meet someone, give them a firm handshake and look them in the eye and listen to them. Always respect their point of view, even if it is different to yours.’ I still carry this advice with me today.
Special thanks to Gloria Auchterlonie, Bill Hemphill and Andrew Livingstone. To Leah and Andrew and Liesel and Tim, thanks for keeping me focused and grounded. To the people of the Latrobe Valley, I thank you for electing me as your member for Morwell. For those who did not vote for me, I will be working on you over the next four years. I will be working for everyone in the Latrobe Valley to make our way of life better. Thank you all who stood on pre-poll and on polling day to help hand out my how-to-vote cards. Thank you to the Nationals team, not just my colleagues in here but the team behind the scenes. We have major issues we need to deal with, but we are lucky we live in a wonderful state and country.
Inside these four walls we get to shape Victoria’s future. The Latrobe Valley is back and up for the fight. I am unsure if a plumber from country Victoria has ever stood here and had the opportunity and privilege to represent their region. I hope that me standing here in this chamber can prove to people that no matter what your background or level of education or political understanding, anything is possible. As a plumber and small business owner I am used to working long and hard to achieve outcomes for the people I work for. Now as a politician I am working for the people of the electorate of Morwell to achieve and secure a better way of life. My work ethic will not change. The collective voice of the Latrobe Valley will be heard. Thank you.
That debate on the address-in-reply be now adjourned.
Motion agreed to and debate adjourned.
Ordered that debate be adjourned until later this day.