Wednesday, 8 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.
Lauren KATHAGE (Yan Yean) (10:34): I rise to contribute to the address-in-reply to the Governor, and in so doing I wish to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people as the traditional owners of much of the land of the district of Yan Yean. I also acknowledge the Taungurung people as traditional owners of the northern edge of the district. Where the lands of these two peoples meet you will find Mount Disappointment. That is exactly what Hume and Hovell did in 1824. They climbed the mountain hoping for a view of Port Phillip Bay, but their view was obstructed by dense tree growth. I am assuming they were already having a bad day; they named it Mount Disappointment. We still do not have bay views in Yan Yean, but if you were to climb Mount Disappointment today and look over Yan Yean, you could take a picture-perfect snapshot of modern Victoria: from the rural pastures and hamlets in the foothills of Mount Disappointment, punctuated by Whittlesea township, through the green wedge and the growing suburbs of Mernda, Donnybrook and Doreen, and down into the more established areas of Plenty and Yarrambat.
There is no label that can neatly define or describe my electorate – a patchwork of evergreen acreage, and yet simultaneously suburban, some suburbs the fastest growing in the state. Pockets of affluence sit alongside those struggling to scrape by. We are both young and old, established and emerging, Australian by birth and Australian by choice. It is home to people like Josh, a plasterer who has turned his hand to running a local coffee shop to support his family; Gary, who spends many hours each week volunteering at the Whittlesea SES and drove ambulances during the pandemic; Harpreet, an accountant who commutes more than an hour to work each day; Heather, the first-ever female apprentice in this house; and Maggie, who has sweeping plans to build an arboretum in the green wedge on her property.
Many of us have watched the paddocks in our area progressively turn into housing estates – the yellow canola giving way to Colorbond. Where once crops grew, now community grows – community because for all our differences we are connected by a common thread. People are determined to build a life for themselves and their families. If you ask people why they are working so hard, the answer is always the same: ‘For my children’. Yan Yean is defined by people that work hard and give so much of themselves to their jobs, their families, their sporting clubs, the local fire brigade. The developers can build an estate, but only we can build community. I would like to thank the people of Yan Yean for putting their faith in me to join them in that effort.
The families here are much like the family I grew up in. Mum and Dad ran a newsagency for 20-odd years. Dad would go to bed early each night before rising in the dark to steal around the streets in an old Suzuki soft-top, throwing papers into the yards of the sleeping. Sun-up, sundown, seven days a week they sold papers and scratchies, magazines and envelopes. Sometimes they were the only ones that an elderly person spoke to that day – and they took that honour seriously.
In a small filing cabinet behind the counter, Dad had photocopies of a hand-drawn map he would give to lost motorists. You see, the newsagency was the first place where it was easy to stop if you had taken the wrong exit off an earlier highway. People who had lost their way would pull over and ask for directions. It happened often enough that Dad was ready with a map and some encouragement to get them back on their right path. I thank my parents for the times they have helped me back onto my own narrow path, for showing me the dignity of labour and that it is a privilege to perform an act of service, no matter how simple or humble.
Growing up in a family running a small business, where Mum and Dad would sit up in bed at night talking about how they would manage the bills, being humble was unavoidable some days – like Fridays, sports days, the days I tried in various cross-legged poses or by lagging behind to hide my shoes. From Kmart for $20 they might be considered ironically cool now, but at the time they were just canvas and rubber and clown like. I would glance at the other kids’ brandname shoes and rearrange my legs on the bus heading to netball, pushing my feet further underneath the seat in front. In grade 6 there could be nothing worse – so I threw them away. I slipped them off and flung them into the bushes of a house on the short walk home from school. It took me a couple of days to tell Mum about my missing shoes. I probably did not pick the best time: Monday afternoon when Mum had returned home tired from her six-day-work, seven-day-worry job at the newsagency. I told Mum, and she went to Kmart and bought me the exact same pair of shoes. I know a lot of kids had it hard growing up, some with no shoes at all, but I share this story as a tribute to my mum, who worked hard to give me the best – not the best shoes but the best values. Mum and Dad in their retirement still serve the community, volunteering with Meals on Wheels, at the local hospice and in their church congregation. I thank my parents for teaching me the meaning of the good life and that it cannot be bought.
Their example had a lot to do with the choice I made when I was 18 or so to live a life of service. Over the last 20 and a bit years that choice has taken me to homelessness and family violence shelters, supporting women to get back on their feet; to Kakadu, running a homelessness prevention program; to Myanmar, where I negotiated with a man in an army uniform to allow us access to build a village school in rebel militia territory; to its Rohingya displaced persons camps, where my chief goal was to check that people with disability could get the same outcomes from our programs as other community members; to Papua New Guinea, where I journeyed with people over mountains and through food shortages and their tired resignation at the services they received and where I saw their joyous celebration when, with their own hands, they built a better life for their families and communities through better schools, more adults who can now read and write, bigger and better crops and a stronger voice to government; to Indonesia, where we formed an organisation to support families, build up their small businesses and push government to support the priorities identified by communities themselves; and most exotic of all, to the Victorian public service, where I crunched the numbers for the team working on treaty, truth and justice. Although all of these experiences are each so different, there is a common theme: building community but also ensuring them a voice, a genuine say on what their future could and should look like. I carry that same determination with me as the representative for the people of the Yan Yean district. There are many issues on which their voices deserve to be heard.
On planning, our Labor government has made important reforms: ensuring air and light in apartments and accessibility standards in new builds and giving renters the right to make their house a home. But we need to do more, ensuring not just livable homes but livable communities. Kinder returned last week. I met a mum whose child has started kinder in a neighbouring estate, but to get there there is no footpath and no bus. Instead, every morning and every afternoon she bundles her little one in and out of Ubers. Kinder is free, but getting there is not always easy. It is why we need stronger community-centred development, making sure that developers, councils and state government are doing their best for communities, listening to communities and ensuring their voices reach the nexus of decision-making. Make no mistake: increasing supply is critical to making sure more Victorians have the security of a home, but it cannot be at the expense of access to services.
As a labour movement, we fought hard for the 8-hour day, but for too many families in Yan Yean the promise of the 8-hour day is being compromised by long commutes. Mums and dads who work long days only to spend even longer in the car or the train do it because they want the best for their kids, but it means they miss out on seeing them. This impels us to continue this government’s proud record of infrastructure investment, building the roads and rail our growing communities need. But it also means building local economies too, ensuring opportunity extends beyond the boundary of the CBD and that communities like mine are centres of thriving activity, not just outposts for commuting workers to occasionally get a rest. We must find new ways to invigorate local businesses and local jobs, and because we are a Labor government, they need to be decent, secure and well-paid jobs, jobs that enable people to do more than merely pay the bills – to build a better life for their families.
There are many reasons I am Labor, but without doubt one of the biggest is my big brother, Mark. Mum and Dad raised six of us – five girls, one boy. My sisters and I flew the coop at the usual time, with my sisters going on to do incredible things. They are all at this exact moment in classrooms nurturing young minds, and I am so proud to come from a family of educators. But until recently Mark was living at home, and like all of us, Mum and Dad are getting older, and they just were not able to keep caring for Mark in the way that he needed. It was time, at 50 years of age, for him to fly the coop too. For every family that loves someone with a significant disability, the difficulty of this situation and the slow march to the inevitable decision can be filled with dread. But it was made so much harder for my family by the agency that was meant to help. Like many, Mum and Dad were forced to fight the former Liberal government’s NDIS and wait in increasingly desperate circumstances for the agency that broke their own guidelines for responsiveness, fighting to make sure my brother had access to supported accommodation. Eventually my brother and parents won, but they should never have been made to fight.
Last July, a few months after the federal election which saw Labor returned to office, Mum was chatting with me and my sisters about Mark and about how well he was doing in his new home. I will be honest with you: Mum is not traditionally a Labor voter. She will tell you that herself. But in that conversation and in an offhand comment, she defined for me Labor’s difference. ‘With the new government,’ she said, ‘it feels like we don’t have to beg anymore.’ I am proud of this government’s efforts in this space, proud of the record investment in special schools, doubly proud that students with disabilities and their families shaped our policy priorities. But I will be working hard for young adults with disability and their families in Yan Yean because I know we can do more. We can do more for the young person I know who wants to work, who has so much to give but just needs the opportunity. We can do more for the mum I spoke to at the Whittlesea market who told me that she wants her son to have the chance to make friends, and we can do more for families like my own, who can feel that each day is a battle. The real measure of this government should not be whether or not we ask people to beg. It should be whether we give them what they need. People with disability and their families deserve so much better. They deserve our collective commitment and our political courage, and every day in this place I will be fighting for it.
There are many people to thank: Garreth, my husband, my friend and my greatest champion, and my daughters Greta and April, whose very existence is a light that forces out all darkness. Mike and Monica Jones, who keep everything running smoothly and whose cheerful encouragement is a balm. I thank Rob Mitchell for his support and guidance and the example he has set of keeping your feet on the ground while having aspirations for your community that reach the clouds. Kobe Hay, who is steadfast and true; James McDonald, who always has a plan; Dan Welsh, whose resilience made each day fresh; Danielle Green, who understands the importance of community and worked hard to deliver for Yan Yean. I would also like to thank the mighty team behind me of Avtar Singh, Spiro and Kerryn Patras, Jaswinder Singh, Tony Comley, Peter, Jordan, Jarrod, Deb, Lynne, Mitchel, Elizabeth, John, Geoff, Andrew, Gopal, Leo, Ravneet, George, Raymond, Maryam, Brooke, Debra, Ged, Mike, Hemraj, Leanne, Arshdeep, Hailey, Mary, Samuel, Diogo, Kasey, Cath, Sacha, Pauline, Raghu, Tom Joseph, Mandeep, Gurdarshan, Simarjeet, Mandeep Kaur, Jordan, Dave, Pauline, Jeni and John.
My thanks to my caucus colleagues for so warmly welcoming me in this place. My thanks to the Premier, who for the past eight years has led a government defined by delivery, a government that gets things done. As the member for Yan Yean, it is an example I intend to emulate. I choose every day to ensure my community has the infrastructure and investments it deserves: great schools, quality health care, reliable road and rail. Perhaps most important is the business of community building – not achieved with bricks or cement alone but reliant on seeing our area’s diversity as an asset, our connections a strength and our voices important. There can be no disappointment in that. The people of Yan Yean are working hard for their future. They have a representative working hard for it too.
Annabelle CLEELAND (Euroa) (10:54): It is a great honour that I stand before you in the 60th Parliament of Victoria as the second member for Euroa, and it is with great pride that I also stand before you as the mother of Arthur and Quinn, the wife of David and the representative of the incredible community in which I work and live. I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands we meet on, as well as those I represent in the electorate of Euroa: the Wurundjeri, Taungurung and Yorta Yorta people. I pay my respects to elders past and present and acknowledge that the wisdom they have known and shared for thousands of years still has value for our modern world. May we all find ways to walk gently and compassionately on these ancient lands.
The land of the Euroa electorate spans more than 11,500 square kilometres of rivers and ranges that a community of 55,000 regional Victorians call home. Our electorate is a place of ancient and modern significance, from Aboriginal rock art, scar trees and cutting stones to colonial and goldmining histories of the towns of Kilmore, Murchison and Rushworth and from the military training camp of Puckapunyal to the creative art haven of Benalla. It is also home to agriculture, family-run enterprises and global industry innovators, from croppers in Colbinabbin to fruit and dairy farmers in the Goulburn Valley to livestock and thoroughbred breeders throughout our entire electorate.
I am standing here today because I love our region, our community and the people who call it home. These people are my people. My children are fourth-generation Seymourians. Their great-grandparents, Muriel and Robert Beale, migrated to Australia as self-described ten-pound Poms, with little more than a suitcase in their hands and the hope for a better life in their hearts. They settled in Seymour with their only child, my dad, in 1952. They found jobs at Woolcord knitting mill and on the railways, where they would spend most of their working lives, and thanks to the rent-to-buy Housing Commission scheme in place at the time, they were eventually able to buy their home on the hill. The Seymour community gave my grandparents safety, support and an opportunity to provide their son with a good life and education. I stand here with the hope that I can repay that debt and give back to a community that has given my family so much.
On my mother’s side you will find more proud country folk. Mum’s dad, John Jack McConachie, was a grazier on the iconic merino station Ben Avon in outback New South Wales. Grandad’s presence and character, his value for hard work and his deep roots in farming and agriculture loomed large in our family, and his legacy has left an enduring mark on my life. My parents, Ian and Michele Beale, raised my three sisters and me, working their hearts out every day to provide every possible opportunity they could to us.
Dad has always been a somewhat unconventional mentor in my life. He said not to be a journalist, so it was only natural that I should go on to study media and communications at Deakin University, majoring in journalism. I began my career at Fairfax Media as a regional reporter for Stock & Land, the masthead known as the Bible of the bush because of its reputation as a balanced and trusted voice for regional Victoria. I was eventually promoted to national agricultural reporter at Fairfax Media and then editor of Stock & Land. My career has always been and will continue to be as a storyteller for regional Victorians. As a journalist I shared the unique experiences of country Australians with the rest of the nation. I reported on the front line of major issues like the Indonesian live export ban, animal activist trespass laws, biosecurity threats and more recently the attacks on our CFA. I witnessed some of the most devastating stories in regional communities come about as a result of decisions made by a government that was out of touch with the people and families living in those communities – decisions that prioritised politics and what looked good on paper over people and that prioritised votes over lives and livelihoods that were on the line. My career has been driven by integrity, compassion and a strong set of ethics, and I worked without fear or favour. I intend to hold tightly onto these same values as I step into public life.
My dad also said not to be a farmer, so it was only natural that while pursuing a career in journalism my husband David and I independently bought a farm in the southern Strathbogie region of Tarcombe. We are proud farmers who are focused on ethical and sustainable production, but we ultimately chose this life in the hope that we could give our children the same country upbringing we both enjoyed in Mansfield. We are so grateful to have the opportunity to raise our kids in this community, but we have also experienced firsthand that living regionally comes with a cost.
Right across country Victoria our communities are living with inferior health care, lower than average educational outcomes and deteriorating infrastructure, and the unprecedented pressure on our resources is being exacerbated by a population shift out of Melbourne and into the regions. There is an unspoken toll that you pay to live outside of Melbourne, and that toll is a clear disparity in the resources and support provided by the government to regional Victorians compared to our city counterparts. Living close to Seymour, it is heartbreaking to see the same social issues playing out today that my dad experienced there when he was a child. According to the Dropping off the Edge report, which looks at social data from the last 15 years, the Euroa electorate is home to some of the most locationally disadvantaged communities in Victoria, with Seymour and Benalla consistently reported as having some of the highest rates of domestic violence, child abuse and poverty in the state.
Despite the social issues, our community is full of incredible, supportive and resourceful people. In Benalla a dedicated group of locals have founded the Tomorrow Today Foundation, where they work tirelessly to develop new and innovative programs to break generational disadvantage. After the recent floods it was the Seymour Football Netball Club who rallied and inspired hundreds of volunteers to clean local homes and businesses. They wielded mops, hoses and scrubbing brushes for weeks, and they lifted sandbags, mouldy carpets and soggy couches from living rooms to nature strips until the job was done. It is not for nothing that country Victorians have a reputation for being resilient – a word that gets thrown around more than I would like. Everywhere you look you can find examples of regional communities banding together and supporting each other – not just in times of crisis, but every day. For too long these communities have relied on their famous resilience to navigate locational disadvantage and multilayered social issues because they have no other option. But we must not leave them to face these complex challenges alone, no matter how hard they are to solve.
As a state, we have work to do. We must expand the investment in our regional road network beyond simply repairing flood damage. We need ongoing funding to ensure roads right across regional Victoria are maintained at a safe standard. We know the current state of roads is causing serious and fatal road accidents, so we must see priority given to road projects like the Kilmore bypass, which is desperately needed simply to keep the town functioning and prevent the crumbling of one of Victoria’s most historically significant towns.
We must address the lack of educational opportunities in regions. In Euroa our schools are bursting at the seams, in Broadford our students are packed into old and outdated facilities and the rebuild of Seymour secondary college remains unfinished and unfunded. Like many communities, we are also experiencing year-long waitlists for childcare that leave regional families who rely on two incomes to survive – which is most of them – with no options.
As an urgent priority we must improve regional health care. Our hospitals are underfunded, ambulance response times are appalling and the barriers to accessing mental health services are extreme. These barriers, the high costs and long waitlists are disproportionately impacting the most vulnerable in our communities. Our community-owned hospital, Euroa Health, has begged the government for support and been ignored by minister after minister. Their closure would leave a gaping hole in local health care.
And regional maternity care – this one is personal for me. Three years ago my local hospital lacked the resources to provide a safe birth for me and my first child Arthur. I was forced to endure the indignity of labouring in an examination room with no door, fully open for passers-by to see, because no bed was available to me, and after hours of labouring with no privacy I was left with no choice but to have a caesarean to deliver my son. I had no option but to undergo major surgery – not because my baby or I needed it but because a lack of critical resources at the hospital meant there was no guarantee of a safe birth by any other means. After this experience I resolved to fight for better. I became a community adviser working to improve health and safety outcomes for patients at a local hospital under pressure from extreme population growth and negligent government support because, unfortunately, my birth story is not unusual. I have had countless conversations with women just like me, women like Ellen from Nagambie and Meg from Heathcote. Meg had the first baby born at her local hospital in 30 years. She initially presented at a larger regional hospital in labour but was turned away because they were too busy. Meg and her baby almost died at her local hospital because they simply did not have the equipment needed to appropriately care for them. The critical lack of resources in our regional communities is very genuinely putting lives at risk. It took me six months to look at the physical scar I was left with thanks to an underfunded regional health system that was pushed to failure. I stand here today still bearing that scar, and I stand here today more resolved than ever to fight for more and better.
Every aspect of regional Victoria’s health system is deteriorating. Every week I hear worrying stories about the demand on our health workers, with staff shortages and endemic burnout – clear signs of a health sector under immense stress. And while COVID has certainly exacerbated the health crisis, the pandemic merely exposed the vulnerabilities that already existed. While I am here I will be relentless in my pursuit of a government that prioritises people over politics and lives over votes, because I believe that if the cost of living regionally is the lives of Victorians, then the cost is too high. I want the record to show that every day I am in this place I will fight to address the entrenched disadvantage that deprives regional communities of the basic resources and opportunities that underpin social and economic wellbeing. I will fight to leave a better legacy for the young people and future generations of our electorate so that my children and yours can choose to live in our regional communities without disadvantage.
Regional Victorians make up a quarter of the state’s population. They produce the food and fibre that fuels our agricultural economy and feeds our families, and they do it all while bearing the worst impacts of our country’s inevitable natural disasters. Our great state cannot function without thriving regional communities, and yet we know that we are receiving an inadequate cut of government funding. I proudly stand today with my Nationals colleagues, representing everyday country Victorians, people who need radical common sense and radically pragmatic solutions for the challenges they face. I am here not for the left or for the right but for what is best for our people.
No first speech is complete without a few acknowledgements and thankyous, and so here are mine. To my peers across the aisle, I look forward to our robust debate – respectfully, intelligently and with dignity. I genuinely believe that we are all here with the hope of improving the lives of Victorians, and I look forward to working together with you to do just that. To the campaign workers, selfless friends, volunteers and party members who supported me on this journey and made this a possibility, thank you for being by my side and for shouldering so much of the work that has led me here. To my predecessor, mentor and friend Steph Ryan, your gardening, cooking, parenting and political advice is unparalleled. Many young women are in this chamber because of you. Thank you for showing us that a powerful, empathetic voice that puts people ahead of politics is what Victorians want, need and deserve.
To my team, Mitch Itter, Hannah Price, Guy Barbour and Adam Scott, thank you for your professional and personal support and for the platform you have given me. Thank you also to my yellow and gold family, Bill Sykes, Frank Deane, John Gribben, Max Perry, Sandra and Gerard O’Sullivan, James Brook and the late Bruce Nicholls, for proving that grassroots advocacy with community running through your veins is what politics is truly about. And to my in-laws, Jenny and Ross, thank you for your care for our family and your support for our ventures, no matter how outlandish and ill advised. To my Uncle Mark and Aunty Clare, your patience, love and generosity in sharing your farm in Nyngan with us every school holidays has had a defining impact on my career. You taught me how food was grown and what it takes to get it to our plates. You instilled in me a great reverence and respect for the act of producing something for the benefit of others. My love of farming and everything that has come about because of that love started with you.
To my three sisters – Alex, our role model in work, life and love; Prudence, our strong one, the most courageous person I know; and Clementine, our fearless one, determined in everything you take on – thank you for your friendship and wisdom and for instilling in me a sense of healthy competition. I am thrilled that from this day forward the official record of Hansard will reflect that I am indeed the favourite daughter.
Mum, you are the glue to our family glitter. Your eternal optimism and zest for life are contagious. You are the original, the corporate powerhouse, the earthmother and the captain of all of life’s adventures. Thank you for teaching us how to love deeply and live richly.
Dad, your final piece of advice was that politics is a dirty game and not to do it. Thank you for your support even as I did all the things you said not to. Your rebellious streak is in my blood. Your stubbornness, positivity and tireless work ethic are also in my blood. I know they will serve me well.
To my children Arthur and Quinn, you are and will always be my greatest achievements. Thank you for giving me daily motivation, inspiration and the very best reason to fight for a better future.
And to my husband David, my calm in the storm, my steady hand, thank you for stepping up for our family and thank you for the sacrifices you have made so that I can stand here today for our community. We are a team in every sense of the word, and I am here because of you.
Finally, to the people of the Euroa electorate and to my community, thank you for your trust in me and your support. It is an honour to work to protect, defend and celebrate you and the place we all call home. To you I pledge my hands to help those in need and to strengthen what is already strong, I pledge my ears to listen with compassion, I pledge my eyes to look forward with hope, I pledge my heart to share in your joys and challenges and I pledge my voice so that you may always be heard with power and determination in this place of influence.
Paul MERCURIO (Hastings) (11:17): I might just say that I believe my granddaughter Grace is going to heckle me throughout my speech, and I welcome it – and of course for the next 50 years. I wish to acknowledge and pay my respects to the traditional owners of the land on which we stand today, the Wurundjeri people, and I pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging. I also acknowledge the traditional owners of the land of my electorate, the Boon Wurrung people. I would like to thank the previous member for the electorate of Hastings, Mr Neale Burgess, for his 16 years of service to our community. I would also like to thank the previous member for Nepean, Mr Chris Brayne. I was looking forward to working with Chris, and I am saddened that he was not re-elected. Chris showed what you can achieve when you have a seat at the table. I am deeply grateful to the people of the electorate of Hastings who voted for me. I believe they voted for me because they wanted a seat at the table in a sitting government. They want to be part of the conversation, and now they are, because I am standing here now thanks to them and on behalf of them.
If I may, I would like to continue with my thankyous as there are quite a few. Firstly, I would like to thank my mother Jean, who is 86 and here today, for the unconditional love that she has given me and the rest of her extended family, for her generosity of spirit, for the support she has always shown me and for the inspiration she gives me through living her life by her example. Life was certainly not easy for my mum nor for us as a family. She and my father split up back in 1969, when I was five. Dad stayed in Melbourne. Mum, with four kids, caught a train to Perth. We were going on a holiday. My holiday lasted for 13 years before I came back to Melbourne. My mum’s lasted 27. If there was only one thing I could say about those 13 years it would be this: my mum always gave us a chance. Those times were pretty tough, but Mum always made sure we had the chance at an opportunity, at trying things. Whether it was singing in the choir, playing soccer, footy, surfing or, God forbid, ballet, Mum made sure we all had a shot. I remember at the age of nine, after watching an Elvis Presley movie and being rather inspired, I turned to my mum and said, ‘Mum, can I do ballet?’ She was so surprised the cigarette fell out of her mouth and burnt a hole in the carpet, but she gave me a shot. That drives me to be here.
I would like to thank my wife Andrea. We have only been married 35 years and have three kids and one granddaughter, and I think we are doing okay. There are many beautiful, incredible qualities that Andrea has. She is a ballerina, an artist and an amazing mum and woman. We are journeymen – we have travelled the world together, we have worked together, we have been rich together and poor together. In short we are an almost-perfect team. And the reason I say we are an almost-perfect team is because we have another 35 years together to grow, to nurture, to nourish, to learn and to love. Perfection can wait. I am enjoying the journey. That drives me to be here.
I would like to thank my three amazing daughters Elise, Emily and Erin – yes, three Es. They keep me young, they keep me on my toes, they keep me growing and they keep my mind open and active. Occasionally they laugh at my jokes, and they often tell me where I am going wrong. They always eat my food. We cook together, laugh together, sing together and cry together. I am such a better person thanks to them. It goes without saying that I feel the same way about my two sons-in-law, Jack and Ben, and now of course my granddaughter Grace. The circle of love keeps on giving. Once, when I was younger, I thought possibly love was finite and at some point I would run out of it, but I have learned you never will. Love is infinite: the more you give, the more you have to give. That drives me to be here.
My deep thanks goes to the members of the Western Port Labor branch and all of the volunteers and members of the CFMEU for the help and support given over what was a fairly gruelling campaign. My team and I could not have done it without you. I would also like to thank various members that have helped and guided me through the process of being elected: Will Fowles – for your friendship, for the support and help you have given me, for mentoring me through this process – Paul Edbrooke, Mathew Hilakari, John Mullahy, Jordan Crugnale, Tom McIntosh, federal member for Bruce Julian Hill and federal member for Dunkley Peta Murphy. To all those that reached out with a phone call or a word of support over the last year, my thanks. Lastly and most importantly I wish to thank my core team: our fly-in fly-out specialist adviser Rachel Smith; the best volunteer ever, Rebecca Stringer; media and communications expert Lukas Hogenbirk; and the most awesome campaign director, Kathryn Smith. Your passion for the labour cause, your commitment to doing the best for the community and your utter selflessness inspires me to be better, do better and work harder. That drives me to be here.
I was born in Swan Hill in 1963. My father Gus Mercurio was not a well-known actor and TV commentator then but a simple chiropractor. He was born in Milwaukee in the United States to a Sicilian father and a German mother. He did not enjoy the sort of childhood a child deserves. His father was a very hard man, an influential man in the Milwaukee fruit and vegetable markets. He was also heavily involved in the Nixon campaign, meeting with him and hosting him in Milwaukee. I was later to find out through a retired FBI agent that he was a member of the Milwaukee division of the Cosa Nostra. I remember when I was told this my head spun as I tried to truly understand what this meant. In Australia we like to romanticise some of our criminal characters, which I find difficult to comprehend, and even more so I was confronted with the fact that my own grandfather was a criminal and was involved in murder. I believe my father came to Australia to escape the life that was being shaped for him, and I have to say Australia is a better place for him being here. I learned a lot from him. One of the best things he taught me was how to peel a clove of garlic. Some might say it is a little thing in the scheme of things, yet every time I peel garlic, which in my house is every day, I think of him and am grateful. I taught my three daughters how to peel garlic, they have taught others and I will teach Grace. It is the small things, the simple things, that are important, and we should never lose sight of that. Here in this chamber I am sure we can get lost in the big things, but they are no more important than the small things, because those small things are what keep our feet on the ground, keep us real and keep us connected to our community, family and friends. That drives me to be here.
With that in mind I ran on a platform of keeping our communities connected. It is an unfortunate fact that if you do not have a car in the electorate of Hastings, then staying connected is a very challenging experience. We are a metro region, but we have a train line that runs every two hours. We have two bus lines that run every two hours – not on the weekend and not to all parts of the community. We do not have a cross bus service on the peninsula. If we did, it would be a 25-minutes service. Instead you have to catch a bus to Frankston and then back down the other side, a journey that can take two or three hours or more. My community want this changed. That drives me to be here.
I come from the wrong side of the peninsula. I come from the forgotten side. That is what most people feel on the Western Port side. And yet Western Port has so much to offer and has so much potential. The electorate of Hastings takes in the pristine French Island in Western Port Bay, the second largest bay in the state of Victoria and home to the almost 60,000-hectare Ramsar wetlands. It also takes in the suburb of Langwarrin, which is an ideal area for young families to bring up their children. It has great schools, parks, cafes, shopping and a not-so-bad public transport system. It also takes in half of the Western Port side of the peninsula, from the small township of Baxter through to the ever-evolving, eclectic township of Somerville, with its cafes, breweries, distilleries, restaurants and great shopping, to Tyabb with all of the amazing antique stores and the legendary Tyabb Airport, the birthplace of the air ambulance. Then to the township of Hastings, the third-largest town on the peninsula and one of incredible potential for small business, tourism, industrial opportunities, a green port and community engagement. It has the opportunity to be a real performing arts hub, with the decision by Mornington shire, championed by me as a councillor, to build a performing arts theatre there, something close to my heart. Further on you have the townships of Bittern, Crib Point, HMAS Cerberus, Balnarring, Somers and Merricks Beach, all thriving townships with communities that love where they live, supporting local business, sporting groups and markets. These are communities that care deeply about the environment and the effects of climate change, and they are passionate about supporting the wetlands, the green wedge and the native flora and fauna.
We all know how special this unique and forgotten side of the peninsula – or the ‘Ninch’ – is, the amazing potential it has. I am excited to say that finally – finally – after 16 years in opposition hands, being the forgotten side is over. This community has a seat in the Labor government, and I plan to capitalise on that to the fullest. That drives me to be here.
As much as there is to praise and celebrate about the electorate of Hastings, from my work as a councillor in the Mornington shire I know also that there are many problems and hurdles that we need to address. There is the rental shortage, there is a lack of affordable housing, there is growing homelessness and there are staff shortages. Now, I believe that some of these issues can be addressed by improving our public transport system. For instance, by putting sidings on the Stony Point line we could have a train service every half hour. By extending the hours of operation people could come into the area to work and get home again. People could travel to the city or to work or go to university or attend free TAFE. A cross bus service will allow people to cross the peninsula to get to jobs or access educational opportunities that they cannot access now.
With the rising cost of living, household budgets are stretched to breaking point. This leads to stress, anger, rising drug and alcohol abuse, increasing domestic violence, mental health issues, anxiety, depression and, tragically, the rise in suicides. I have lost too many friends to suicide. I lost my brother to suicide 23 years ago, and you would think the pain would get easier. That is why I am especially proud to be part of a government that held the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System. They listened deeply to those people with lived experience and heard them and implemented every recommendation handed down. Yes, we can always do more, and yes, we will do more, but the Andrews government more than any other government in the nation has raised the bar to a higher level, and that is why I stand here today as part of the Labor government. I pledge that I will do all I can to help those in need, to support family groups and community groups, organisations and mental health providers in any and all ways I can.
There are many things I do not understand about society. As many people know, I started my career as a dancer. It was not easy, and like our Prime Minister I grew up in housing commission. There was Mum, four kids and virtually no support from Dad, and apart from financial hardship, there was the housing commission hardship. On way too many nights I would lie awake and listen to my alcoholic neighbour beat his wife and sometimes children, often watching TV and listening to it all unfold next door. Knowing what was coming, the mother would pass her kids over the fence to my mum, and we would all hide inside listening to the sounds of screams, pleading and a fist hitting flesh until finally silence would come. Several hours later, bloody and bruised, the mum would collect her kids – just another Saturday night, or maybe Wednesday, if the mood was right. Additionally, I had to contend with gangs in our housing commission area who were always on the lookout for that weird kid who did ballet. I did not go to the shops, which were a 10-minute walk away, for a whole year after they caught me there once.
Now, some would say it was the performing arts that saved me, but it was Labor. Only successive Labor governments have truly supported the performing arts. I would not have had the opportunities or the career I have had without the support of Labor. That drives me to be here.
As a dancer in the 1970s and 80s I worked within the queer community, although it was not quite called that or recognised as that until much later. My colleagues were men and women who were straight, gay, lesbian, non-binary, trans, queer – in short, people, friends, artists. I did not and do not understand the fear people have about others who are different. Diversity makes the world go around, and so I am proud to be part of a Labor government which embraces all people as equal and that is unconditionally inclusive of all people in our community.
In a ballet company men and women are equal. On stage there are only people working incredibly hard. Men lifted women; women lifted men. We work together as a team of equals, everyone giving everything to the performance, to the audience, to each other. It was only when I left this world and entered the business world that I saw this concept of women not being the equal of men, and it stunned me. That is why I am proud to be part of a Labor government that supports the unconditional equality of women. That drives me to be here.
I trust I have painted a picture of who I am, what I stand for and why I am here. There is much more that could be said, and I am happy to continue to tell my story. Stories are what nourish us. They feed the soul, the body and the mind. They do this whether you tell them through dance, acting or a dish you cook and serve to loved ones, friends or strangers. Stories give us inspiration and give us hope. Hope lives rent-free in my heart. I believe hope lives rent-free in all our hearts. This is why I stand here today.
Gabrielle DE VIETRI (Richmond) (11:38): I would like to start by acknowledging the custodians and true sovereigns of this land, the Wurundjeri people. The electorate of Richmond was also built on Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung land, and walking to my Fitzroy office on Gertrude Street each morning I am keenly aware of the deep significance of that location to Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Today it is one of the most upmarket, glitzy and trendy streets in the electorate, but before colonisation it was a living space for Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people, and more recently, after returning from the missions in the 1920s and returning from foster care and from institutions, it became an important spot for Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to reconnect, to organise. They established the first community-controlled organisations – the Aboriginal health centres and legal centres, the youth clubs and gymnasiums. It was and it still is an important social and political hub for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
This land’s story of frontier clashes, of massacres and of dispossession is also a story of the strength and resilience of the Wurundjeri people, who have never ceded sovereignty, despite the devastating impacts of British invasion. They have fought to protect their culture and to protect their people in the face of genocide. But the harms of colonisation remain. We see them in the laws, the policies and the racism that cause intergenerational poverty, that cause overincarceration and that cause deaths in custody. We see them in the destruction of Aboriginal cultural heritage for mines or freeways. That is why I am proud to be in a party that continues to seek a shared understanding of this land’s truth so that we can work together towards treaty and justice. While I am on Wurundjeri land, I pay respect to Wurundjeri elders and other First Nations elders past and present.
Before I move on, I would like to thank my predecessor. The Honourable Richard Wynne served the Richmond community for a very long time – he was elected last century – so I would like to thank him for 24 years of hard work and commitment to the people of Richmond and wish him a very happy retirement.
Daniel Andrews: He is not retired.
Gabrielle DE VIETRI: From Parliament. I am sure he will continue to do his very hard work outside of Parliament.
The Richmond electorate is smart. It is young and it is twice as queer as everywhere else, statistically speaking. We live close together: we are 66,000 people spread over just 13 square kilometres. We are bound by the waters of the Birrarung, from Clifton Hill and Abbotsford through Richmond, Cremorne and Burnley. We are progressive. We were among the first to declare a climate emergency and to recognise 26 January as a day of mourning and sadness. We are proud of our rich cultural, linguistic and religious diversity. People from Vietnam, from China, from Malaysia, from India, from Greece and Italy, from Somalia, from Eritrea and from Ethiopia all call Richmond home. We are home to a vibrant arts sector, the beating heart of Melbourne. Sport of course unites and divides us. Everyone knows it, but it is objectively true: we are home to the most livable neighbourhoods, the coolest street and the second-coolest street in the world. But we also have great disparity: 10 per cent of our population live in public housing and over half of our electorate rent their home. That is almost twice the state average.
I have lived in the electorate of Richmond for 20 years, and during that time I have worked mostly as an artist, making large-scale public artworks for museums and galleries across the world, drawing people into a conversation about how to create the world that we want to live in. In 2014 I was invited to exhibit in the Sydney biennale. If you are unfamiliar with the biennale, think of it as the grand final of the art world; it was a big deal. I worked on a new commission for almost two years. About one month before the show was due to open, I was shipping the artwork on an 8-tonne truck on a ferry over to Cockatoo Island when I found out that the major sponsor of the biennale, Transfield, was negotiating a multibillion-dollar contract with the Australian government to operate the detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru. I stood at a fork in the road: do I fulfil a lifelong career ambition or do I follow my moral compass? What does that even look like? How was I supposed to respond to this? Would anything I do actually make a difference? I came together with my fellow artists. We met with representatives from the biennale and from Transfield. We spoke with refugees and advocates. After deliberations and discussions, trying to get other people to make a better decision, to make the right decision, I realised that nothing could justify my participation in a chain of associations that led directly to the incarceration and torture of innocent people seeking safety in this country, so I withdrew my work.
George Brandis, the Attorney-General, threatened to pull public funding from any other artist who refused private sponsorship on ethical grounds. Malcolm Turnbull denounced my ‘vicious ingratitude’, and that is when we knew it was working. Over the next week nine artists withdrew their work until the chair of the biennale and director of Transfield resigned. But he did not just resign, he took his 11 per cent share in the company with him. Under public pressure superannuation funds divested, share prices plummeted. The Transfield name was trashed, so they changed their name and they sold the company to a Spanish conglomerate, which shortly afterwards announced that they would no longer be servicing Australia’s immigration detention industry. This was a turning point for me. It made me realise that change is possible and that together we are powerful.
After that I linked arms with my neighbours to stop the east–west toll road that would rip through our community. We barricaded border force in solidarity with the men imprisoned on Manus Island. We organised petitions and boycotts, protests and rallies. We shrouded Picasso’s Weeping Woman, ending the relationship between the National Gallery of Victoria and Wilson Security. We dyed water fountains red, we stopped trucks, we crashed parties, we wrote in the sky, we occupied intersections. We disrupted and disobeyed. We negotiated change and we held governments and companies to account. In my final exhibition in 2019 we mapped the thousands of connections between the fossil fuels industry and the arts, sparking a nationwide divestment movement. So it would come as no surprise to this chamber that I made a deliberate decision to leave the arts. I took up a juris doctor and started working as a paralegal to support refugees and asylum seekers to navigate this cruel, bipartisan immigration system. But what good is it, I wondered, helping people navigate a system that is designed to dehumanise, demoralise and eventually destroy a person?
Becoming a politician was never part of the plan for me, but I saw a problem. I was always calling from the sidelines, trying to get someone else in a position of power to make the right decision, when I could clearly see that the politicians we were trying to influence had already been bought. They had been bought by their corporate interests, they had been bought by their wealthy donors, and this democracy is rigged in their favour. But I realised something. I realised that these seats are not reserved for them; these seats are for all of us. And so in 2020 I put my hand up for local government and was elected mayor of the first ever Greens-majority government in the world – a majority young, majority women, culturally diverse council of which I am so proud, because it leads change in so many ways.
We showed Victoria what real climate action looks like, transitioning our community centres off gas and installing the first-ever inner-urban community battery. We got serious about LGBTIQA+ equality with our first strategy, and we reformed our discriminatory public drinking laws. We supported the arts, our local businesses and public housing residents during the pandemic like never before. But the problems our community faces cannot be solved at a local government level alone. The systemic changes we need are being held back by state and federal parties more concerned about holding on to electoral power than about creating a truly equal climate-safe future.
Every day that future is slipping through our hands, because every day for the people of Richmond life is getting harder. More and more people are experiencing housing stress and homelessness for the very first time. They are slipping onto the public housing waiting list, which is 120,000 people strong, and growing. I have seen how this state government is abandoning our public housing residents, with the lowest funding of public housing anywhere in the country.
We hear from people who bear the brunt of that every day, and they are desperate for help. I am talking about Rosalie – a single mother forced to lift her disabled 10-year-old son up steps every day to get in and out of the house, trapped in a holding cell of transitional housing for 10 years. I am talking about Aunty Tracey, who is living in an apartment block where tenants were forced to live for years with raw sewage spilling out onto their doorstep, spilling up through their shower drains – for years. You literally had to step over it to get to the children’s swings. I am talking about Aisha – a child struggling to breathe night after night as the black mould on her bedroom ceiling spreads. These stories are so common that they have been normalised and internalised. Make no mistake, none of this is their fault. This is a deliberate failure of successive governments who see housing as an investment opportunity for property developers rather than a human right, and because of this we are walking, eyes wide open, into a deepening housing crisis.
As the calls for maintenance and the desperate need for public housing grow, this government is giving away public housing land to private developers. They are giving away public housing land to private developers. Playgrounds, community gardens, basketball courts: they are giving that land to private property developers – the one place that public housing residents forced to live without air conditioning and without balconies can go during heatwaves that are getting longer and hotter. Meanwhile, 800 metres down the road at the Fitzroy gasworks site, they are selling off 3 hectares of public remediated land – remediated with taxpayers funding – to private developers, when they could be building public housing as they promised in 2018. They are neglecting the people of Richmond, and that is why I am here.
Decades of government delay, of underfunding and of the hollowing out of our public institutions has affected not just the people of Richmond but the whole of Victoria. They are building housing, but it is affordable only by name, because no-one can afford it. They are building schools, but our teachers are run into the ground. They are building hospitals, but our nurses and ambos have hit a wall. They are building a blockbuster gallery, with some lovely spaces for their corporate donors, but our artists cannot keep their heads above water. They are striving for gender equality, but on the ground they harass, intimidate and bully young women politicians. They are promising renewables, but at the same time they are drilling for gas. They are drilling for gas in a climate crisis. They say we cannot afford more public housing and they cannot afford to lift the public sector wage cap; meanwhile, they funnel money into logging, into prisons, into horseracing and into the fossil fuels industry.
The people of my electorate have told me they are struggling. They are struggling, and they are terrified because we are so unprepared for what is coming. We know that there is no social justice without ecological justice. Floods, fires, heatwaves, droughts, food insecurity, displacement of people and infrastructure under strain – we all know that we are not doing enough. It is coming sooner than we thought and it is worse than expected, and yet this government is drilling for gas in our oceans. They are extending the life of our coal-fired stations. They are still logging our native forests – pouring fuel on the fire.
We are terrified, but I am hopeful, because I have seen that the urgent change that we need is possible, and we know that together we are powerful. I am hopeful because half a million Victorians voted for positive change in the last election. The Greens team in this Parliament has doubled from four to eight. Inside and outside of Parliament we are part of a powerful movement of change that is growing to meet the scale of the problems we face. As your representative in this Parliament, I will fight for First Nations justice, for climate justice, for housing equality, to cap rents and give renters real rights and to build and maintain public housing. I will fight against bigotry and discrimination in all its forms. I will fight for the rights of people with disabilities and for a living wage for artists. I will fight for the organisations that connect us, care for us and educate us.
Thank you to those who voted for change and to those of you who have already been part of transformative change in Richmond. To my incredible campaign team, volunteers and supporters; my fellow artists and co-conspirators; my Greens colleagues; my dear family and friends; and everyone with whom I have stood on the picket line: your strength sparks change, and every day I will amplify your calls inside this Parliament.
I would like to finish by inviting the people of Richmond to join me in demanding a better future for all of us. I am very humbly your vehicle for change, your voice inside these chambers. I am at your service.
Natalie HUTCHINS (Sydenham – Minister for Education, Minister for Women) (11:58): Thank you, Speaker, and can I congratulate you on being appointed Speaker. It is fantastic to have you back in the chair.
I am really pleased to be able to rise to reply to the Governor’s address of the 60th Parliament, and I am so pleased to be returned as the member for Sydenham for my fourth term, although I have got to say it was a very, very tough election, with some extreme leftists and extreme rightists on both sides of us, particularly during pre-poll and on election day.
I want to thank the team that wrapped around me and supported me during that tough campaign – the toughest of four campaigns, I would say – and our volunteers, our Labor Party members, who had to put up with abuse, threats and insults, and sunburn, wind, rain and sleet during the two weeks but also beautiful compliments and stories of resilience and community support that came out and that we heard in the two weeks that we spent on pre-poll, face-to-face with so many voters, and on election day. Can I thank my beautiful son Xavier Hutchins for being by my side every single day of pre-poll and all day election day; my mum and stepdad Di and Mark; my partner Sudarsan; my Labor team in Sydenham – Deepti Alurkar, Ian Herbert, Slave Acevski, Sime Acevski, Sylvia De Bree, Cesar Melhem, Khalil El Samad, Camden, Yogi, Sisay Dinku, James Singh, Tina Heywood, Phil Clinkaberry, Richard Carthew, Neil Hunichen, Ali Kazima, Ujjala Camilleri, Hassan Gul, Praveen Kumar, Raj Saini, Lucky Karu, Dawn Clark, Thomas Nash, Kat Theodosis, Lachlan Newman, Laura Adams and Ranka; and of course my immediate team, which wrapped around me – Robert, Ismene, Maddie, Katharine, Gabby, Rita, Rachael, Lawrence, Jen, Dylan, Bree, Natalie Durkin, Nicole, Anne-Maree and Andrea. A very special shout-out to Rebekah Hogan, who worked endlessly in the lead-up to the campaign, and also to my campaign manager and team leader Uros Rasic – always there to support me, and thanks are not enough for what he did throughout the campaign. So thank you to them all.
Since coming to government we have worked hard to build and upgrade our schools in every corner of the state, and we have invested $12.8 billion – $12.8 billion – to improve classrooms, upgrade facilities and build new schools. We will continue to make sure every student can access a great local school through the opening just this week of 12 new schools, another one coming next term and 14 new schools in the planning next year to open, and then we have started work on purchasing land and planning yet another 25 schools beyond that to make up our commitment of 100 new schools. We will keep delivering upgrades by investing $850 million, a commitment we took to the election, to fund works at 89 primary and secondary schools across the state and opening six new cutting-edge tech schools, bringing tech school coverage to two-thirds of Victorian secondary schools. More than 25 per cent of this total spend has been committed in regional Victoria, making sure families have access to great local schools no matter where they live.
In Melbourne’s western suburbs alone there are four classrooms worth of children being born every week, and that is why we opened four new schools in the Wyndham area just this week. We are placing students’ wellbeing at the centre of education, including through continuing the rollout of disability inclusion reform, mental health in primary schools and the Schools Mental Health Fund and continuing our fantastic tutor learning initiative. I cannot speak highly enough of this program. We are engaging almost 6000 additional staff across our schools to deliver this fantastic initiative and to keep kids engaged in school and able to catch up where they need to get that support. We are also expanding and delivering the Navigator program to tackle those kids who are finding it hard to engage in school. This government has invested more than $600 million into mental health in schools alone, with a mental health practitioner already in every single government school and specialist school across the state. This was a really key element and recommendation of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System. This is being done a year ahead of schedule, with the mental health and wellbeing leaders being rolled out in all primary schools to support kids as well.
This is all about prevention, and we want to make sure that we are equipping our kids to be the most resilient they can be. If they cannot be happy and engaged in school, they cannot succeed, so that is a real focus for us. Schools are able to access support from the Schools Mental Health Fund to select the programs that best meet the needs of local communities, and I have seen some of these in place. They go from everything from the provision of therapy dogs in schools to therapy art and to the Smiling Mind program, and they are just fantastic programs that teach kids how to deal with their emotions and also how to build resilience. If we are doing that with our youngest kids, we know that that is going to produce better mental health outcomes as they become teenagers facing challenges and also into their adult lives. So these are absolute game changers, these programs.
Another proud reform is the transformation of the way in which our kids with disabilities are supported in our schools. The 2020–21 budget provided $1.6 billion to change the experience of schooling for students with disabilities. We continue to roll out the progress we are making in implementing these reforms across our schools in the state, with new schools undertaking that program this year. This funding provides a more effective, strength-based and personalised support plan for every student in receipt of funding through the implementation of individual student support inclusion profiles that are now rolling out in schools, and the ambition for this reform is to transform both the way in which students with a disability are included in our schools and the way in which they are supported.
But a school’s buildings and programs are only as good as the teachers and support staff that we have got in our schools delivering them. For our students to be the best that they can, our hardworking teachers need to be given the resources and the time to do their jobs. Supporting our teachers and school staff is one of the biggest priorities I have as Minister for Education. We have listened to teachers and we have heard about the need for more lesson planning time, and through a commitment made through the last enterprise bargaining agreement over $779 million has been provided over the next four years to reduce face-to-face teaching hours for our teachers and to recruit an additional 1900 teachers. We are delivering this initiative as an hour out of the classroom this year and then an additional half an hour, taking it to an hour and a half, next year, giving teachers more time to plan, to mark and to do all things that they do in preparation for classes.
We are delivering the innovative initial teacher education program, which is providing 1200 fast-tracked student teachers straight into our classrooms, and an extra 250 graduates will be supported with a one-year program of induction and mentoring support. It is called the Career Start pilot. It is a fantastic program, and I have heard really good things from principals about this. That is a nation-leading program that this government has invested $73 million in. This builds on the support that is currently being provided to the 700 graduates that are currently participating in the program.
We are also delivering $24 million to support Victoria’s vocational and applied learning workforce, enabling skilled vocational specialists to be VET trainers in our schools and to pass their skills and enthusiasm on to kids who choose a vocational pathway, attracting and retaining a high-quality teacher workforce. We announced an extra $19 million in the lead-up to the last election to attract and retain teachers, on top of the $1.3 billion worth of existing initiatives. We know there are challenges in recruiting and retaining teachers, as there have been across a number of workforces in Australia and here in Victoria. That is why we are investing in these initiatives to make sure that we complement the federal government’s work in a new teacher workforce action plan, and we will continue to roll these out.
We are also committed to working with our teachers to make sure kids get the best education and start to life, and an example of this is rolling out our senior secondary pathways reform across this year and the introduction of the new vocational major. This is a generational change to VCE, and I am sure it will provide so much better choice and more pathways to students. It is an absolute game changer, led by the previous Minister for Education, James Merlino, the former member for Monbulk, and I want to pay tribute to James for having such a leading hand in all of the initiatives that I have just outlined and in particular the fantastic work that he did in rolling out the inclusion program across our schools. I also want to pay tribute and give my thanks to the personal touch the Premier has had in working with families with kids with disabilities. He announced as a key part of our election platform a $207 million package to transform our specialist schools and with it the lives of their students, carers and families.
In my first week back in the electorate I heard from a number of families who heard loud and clear these commitments and were knocking on my door, day one, asking me when some of these initiatives started. Of course that is the extension to the outside school hours care, making sure that we have that specialist service available after hours for kids with special needs at our specialist schools so that parents have the opportunity to continue to work and further their careers. There will also be NDIS coordination roles in all specialist schools, a thousand scholarships to attract speech pathologists, occupational therapists and disability workers into regional areas where they are really needed and of course an $8.2 million commitment as part of this for TAFEs to employ 16 transition officers to work with secondary school students with disabilities to make sure those students have a pathway post secondary school.
Every student has a home in the state system, and we will build our schools so they provide the supports that these kids need so that inclusion in our schools is a central part of what we deliver. In contrast, those opposite came to the last election with policies that looked to cut $1 billion from our education system, including the previous commitments they made to slashing the education maintenance allowance and cutting funding for speech pathologists. Of course this is all on top of the closure of so many schools – 350 in fact – in the Kennett era. We are continuing to rebuild. This is partly why we made the commitment on the 100 new schools. We have worked to turn around those closures and continue to make Victoria’s schools system absolutely thrive. That is why Victoria is the Education State.
Today we can be proud that women make up 48 per cent of parliamentarians across both houses of the government, and it makes me smile to say that; 54 per cent of Labor’s caucus are women; and 64 per cent of ministers are women in our government. It has been a long road to get here aided by our affirmative action policies and quotas that have been hard won and hard fought for for many years within the Labor Party. We can all be quite proud of the fact that the Andrews Labor government leads the nation in gender equality in terms of both its policies but also our composition. In contrast, those opposite only have 27 per cent women in their shadow cabinet, and they do not believe in affirmative action. I would take a leaf out of our book if I were them and make that significant change to put women at the forefront.
The Andrews government is committed to the inclusion of more diverse women in Parliament, on government boards and in local council, and we can and will do more to support this. We know that gender equality and diversity strengthen our democracy and betters the lives of all Victorians, and I am so proud to continue in the role as Minister for Women to develop a new gender equality strategy and action plan, which will place Victorian women and girls at the forefront of the reform and change that is needed to achieve equality in this state.
I am also excited to continue our work to address the fundamental causes of economic inequality, including through implementing the recommendations of the inquiry into economic equity for Victorian women and increasing women’s representation in traditionally male-dominated industries by implementing industry strategies in manufacturing and in the energy sector later this year. The Andrews Labor government is committed to improving the health and wellbeing of all Victorian women, and as Minister for Women I look forward to supporting the fantastic work that has been done by the Minister for Health in improving the health issues faced by women, particularly those who have restrictions on them due to their financial situations. I look forward to being able to roll out a public commitment around free sanitary products in 700 public locations.
Peter WALSH (Murray Plains) (12:13): I rise to make my contribution on the address-in-reply. I listened to the Governor’s speech very intently to hear what was in there for regional Victoria. As some people may not be aware, the government works with the Governor. The government puts its agenda forward to the Governor so she can include that in her speech. I listened intently to hear what was in there for regional Victoria and whether there were some serious commitments to the things that regional Victoria needs the Andrews government to do over the next years. I must admit I was extremely disappointed on behalf of regional Victoria that there was very little in the Governor’s speech about regional Victoria. ‘Regional Victoria’ – the words were only mentioned twice through the speech, once in relation to V/Line fares –
Peter WALSH: I will come back to the minister in a minute – and once in relation to the Commonwealth Games. When you come to V/Line fares, the government’s proposal that the Governor read out did not go anywhere near what the Nationals and Liberals committed to do if they had actually been elected. So the minister might give cheek across the table, but we committed not only to having $2 fares in Melbourne but to halving V/Line fares in regional Victoria. So it was not just a guarantee – and we know how much value a lot of people place on guarantees from the Andrews government – we actually committed to halving the fares. More importantly, for the minister at the table’s benefit, the Minister for Public Transport, who is sitting back smiling, regional Victorians get sick of replacement buses every time a train does not run. People actually like their trains. They would prefer a train over a bus, and the minister is nodding about that. We all know that people like their trains, so we also committed that if there was a replacement bus for a train that was not running, that bus fare would be free as well because people were not getting the service they signed up to. What the government had in the Governor’s speech around V/Line was nowhere near as much as the Nationals and Liberal Party committed to coming up to the election.
The thing that I really wanted to see in the Governor’s speech was some commitment from the government to equity in infrastructure spend for metropolitan Melbourne versus the regions. As those who have spoken before have said, we had the independent Parliamentary Budget Office go through the two previous budgets for what capital spend there was in regional Victoria versus the city, bearing in mind that 25 per cent of the population of Victoria live in regional Victoria. If you go through the independent Parliamentary Budget Office report, in those two budgets respectively, 11 per cent and 13 per cent of the capital spend was in regional Victoria on capital projects, compared to what was spent in Melbourne. There is a major inequity there compared to the population that is in regional Victoria. Bear in mind that capital spend in Melbourne also included the $28 billion in cost overruns on those major projects in Melbourne – $28 billion. If you took the cost overruns on capital projects in Melbourne, they would effectively fix nearly every country road that needs fixing. $28 billion into the country roads would make a huge difference to those particular roads. I wanted to see some equity in capital spend, metropolitan versus region, in the Governor’s speech and a commitment from the government, and I did not see that.
We all know the pressure our households, our families in regional Victoria and metropolitan Melbourne, are facing with cost-of-living pressures: the cost of energy bills, the cost of water bills and the cost of school bills with families with kids going back to school. We know Victoria is the most expensive place in Australia to educate your children through the government school system – most likely for the worst outcome from an educational point of view as well. But, most importantly, I also notice that since the election the government has actually raided the metropolitan water authorities for a major contribution. They have not called it a ‘dividend’, they have called it a ‘capital repatriation’. When I went to school, that was effectively the government putting their hand in the coffers of the water authorities and taking money out. That money would have been better used in reducing household bills rather than going to the government. It is only because of the poor financial management of this state – that $28 billion cost overrun that I am talking about – that they have to go and raid the government instrumentalities, as they have with the TAC and as they have with the Victorian WorkCover Authority as well. When you talk about the cost of living, the government is making cost-of-living pressures worse for Victorian households by raiding the government instrumentalities instead of lowering their bills.
The government has made some commitments about the health system, but I think, disappointingly, it is about money in, not outcomes out. One of the commitments the Nationals and Liberal Party took to the election was to halve the elective surgery waiting list. That is a very clear KPI that can be measured over time. The government says they will put extra dollars in. They never talk about what outcomes those dollars are going to drive, and we have seen how elective surgery waiting lists have blown out over the last few years. We all have examples coming into our offices of people that cannot get elective surgery, cannot get an ambulance and cannot get a 000 call answered. They are the sorts of outcomes or KPIs you should have – that those things are improving – rather than just saying ‘We’re having record spending’. By definition, as the population of Victoria grows and as the size of Victorian budget grows corresponding to that, every year there will be record spending, but that does not necessarily deliver better outcomes for Victorians. We would like to have seen some clear commitment and an actual number around how the government is going to drive down the elective surgery waiting list and how they are going to solve the issue in regional Victoria of getting a mental health appointment.
Yesterday in question time the shadow minister raised an issue about the tragic increase in the suicide rate in Victoria. One of the issues is, for those people who are struggling, you have got to wait three or six months to get an appointment. If you have got a family member or if you are the person that is actually suffering a mental health issue, you cannot park that for three months or six months, waiting for an appointment; you need support now. There is nothing in the Governor’s speech other than that they are going to tip more money in. There is nothing in there that actually says there is going to be a better outcome for Victorians that have a mental health crisis in their life, in their family. They need the support when it happens, not to go on a waiting list for an appointment into the future.
So there is a lot of work that needs to be done to fix the healthcare crisis in Victoria at every front. Whenever we raise this the government talks about how, somehow, we are criticising the health professionals in Victoria. I think everyone in this house has absolute respect for people that work in the health system. They work above and beyond, and they are going further – above and beyond again – because there is not enough staff. There are not enough health professionals. I find that in my own communities they are coming to me saying, ‘We are just worn out. We are working extra shifts.’ Some of the doctors are working literally two or three weeks without a day off, because that is what is needed to fill the rosters. So we need a commitment to actual numbers of health professionals that will be employed so the government can be held to account. It is part of the role of this Parliament to hold the executive government to account. We have lost the way the system works here in Victoria. The executive government think they are separate to the Parliament. They are actually answerable to the Parliament, and there should be proper reporting to the Parliament, to the public of Victoria, about what the government investment is achieving with the things that they invest in here in Victoria.
I mentioned before the issue of roads and what that $28 billion in cost overruns on major projects in Melbourne would achieve with roads. We have a serious issue with the condition of our roads. The floods have made some areas worse – yes, that is true – but there is a systemic issue of underfunding and underperformance by our road authorities that actually build the roads. The classic example is the Western Highway west of Ballarat. I think it has been pulled up about three or four times now. Every time it gets repaired, within 12 to 18 months it has to be repaired again. We need value for taxpayers dollars in how we build roads here in Victoria, and we need increased funding to make sure that can actually continue into the future. Whether it be the road authorities, whether it be local government, they need an increase in funding. They need a sustained increase in funding year after year after year so they can gear up – they can have the contractors, they can have the machinery. One-off blitzes do not solve the issue; it is sustained, long-term funding.
One of the tragedies of the Andrews government is with one of the programs they scrapped on being elected after 2014. It was what was called the country roads and bridges program. At that time there was $1 million a year for every regional council, year after year, so they could build it into their road maintenance program and their road-building program. They could engage the contractors, they could make sure they had the rock and all the material they needed. They knew year after year that money was there. It was probably the most popular program in local government that I can remember in my time in Parliament here. There were people that said, ‘We voted for you guys in 2010 because you had a program that would actually help us solve the infrastructure gap when it came to our road maintenance.’ I think as country MPs we have all had campaigns on the roads in our electorates. I have got a number of roads that I go down every month or two to see if they have been repaired. Sometimes they have been repaired, but by the time I come back there are crosses and white paint put on them again because they need repairing again because they are not being repaired properly. They are not being dug up with new foundations put down; they are just having a bit more tar put over the top – and it goes out again very, very quickly.
The road I really want to mention is the Prairie-Rochester Road east of Prairie. That road now is more potholes than it is road. It is a C-class road, it is A-double rated, it is a school bus route – and it has potholes bigger than this table that sits in front of us. They are almost continuous now because it is so bad. The people that live along that road – Bendigo is their main shopping centre, about 50 kilometres away – are constantly having to go to Bendigo to get new windscreens because of the rocks that are thrown up from the trucks that drive along that particular road.
There was nothing in the Governor’s speech on behalf of the government that actually set out clearly how we are going to have a long-term, sustained increase in funding for roads in Victoria. There is a very good saying that if you fix country roads, you save country lives. Tragically, we had a motorcyclist lose her life on a road north of Shepparton just before Christmas. As I understand it, her husband was in a car following her. She hit a pothole, flipped the bike and tragically died because of that major pothole there. They are the sorts of tragedies we will have across regional Victoria if the roads are not fixed into the future.
The last thing I would have liked to have seen in the Governor’s speech was something to resolve the crisis around child care in regional Victoria. It has a number of effects. The biggest effect it has is actually on the workforce. In a lot of country towns particularly the schools, the hospitals and the health services need child care so that they can get staff. Cohuna is one of the towns in my electorate, and there they are desperate for child care. At the moment they do round trips of 100 kilometres and 50 kilometres to get to child care so they can go to work. Both the director of nursing at the hospital and the principal at the school would love to have child care in that town so they could get staff. There are couples who are having to make the really, really difficult financial choice as to which partner can work full-time so that someone can look after their children. There needs to be a different model for child care in regional Victoria, in our smaller country towns, so that there is the viability there for someone to run a childcare service. A combination of both state and federal governments is needed to fix the childcare crisis in regional Victoria – particularly capital from the state and some changes to the rule about how the funding model works – so we can actually make sure that there is child care in those facilities. Without child care we are not going to have the workforce we need to deliver the health outcomes that everyone aspires to or deliver the educational outcomes everyone aspires to, because there are just not enough staff to do those particular things.
I am disappointed the government has not got any focus on regional Victoria at all. When the Premier was first elected in 2014 there were probably two commitments that I can remember that stood out. The first was that he was not going to increase taxes or introduce new taxes, and we know that was an absolute fail over there – a great big red cross. The other thing the Premier gave a commitment to was government for all Victorians. I think, if you look at the Governor’s speech and if you look at the next four years’ commitments from this government, the Andrews government, there is not a clear commitment to governing for all Victorians. It is very much about metropolitan Melbourne, about big projects, about deals between big building companies and the unions on those projects and not about actually delivering for people across regional Victoria on all those indicators that I have spoken about.
Will FOWLES (Ringwood) (12:28): Deputy Speaker, I think it is the first time I have been on my feet in the 60th Parliament with you in the chair, and I want to congratulate you on your elevation to that position. I am sure that we will see glimpses of your irrepressible sense of humour in this role – perhaps not to the same extent as I might have enjoyed it in the 59th Parliament, but it shall be there, I am quite sure, nonetheless.
Can I begin by acknowledging the inaugural speeches, particularly from the member for Yan Yean earlier this morning, and to my great friend the member for Hastings I say welcome to this place. What a stunning speech. It was an absolute joy to have the member for Hastings’s son-in-law, daughter and granddaughter in the gallery, who are respectively my brother, my sister-in-law and my niece. I will let all of you join the dots in relation to that, but it was a great joy to have them here today. I thank you for your magnificent speech, and I am sure you will make a stunning contribution over the life of this Parliament.
It is an honour to be back representing the wonderful people of Victoria’s eastern suburbs, the Labor heartland of the east. Last year my campaign was unequivocally very, very successful in returning a Labor member to Ringwood, and it was part of an overall fantastic result for the Andrews Labor government. Ringwood secured the second-largest two-party preferred swing to Labor of any seat in the state, and we saw an extraordinary 10-plus percentage point collapse in the Liberal primary vote in our part of the world too. I think it was a stunning endorsement of all of the magnificent work of this government.
I am very proud of my campaign’s achievements, and I am prouder still of all the people who helped turn this dream result, our mission, into a reality. I would like to thank some of those supporters, who turned out to get the job done, rain, hail or shine, and in a La Niña year there was more of the former than there was of the latter, that is for sure. Let me start first by extending my gratitude to Tom Yakubowski, my campaign manager. Tom would rise before dawn and inhale litres of coffee so he could devote every waking moment to coordinating supporters, advertisements, printing and me, and Tom’s strategic nous and maturity belie his age. He brought a novel energy and political instinct to the Ringwood campaign, and I know he will continue to do that wherever his political career takes him. I am very grateful to have had him lead my election team.
My campaign was also powered by Victorian Labor’s highest achieving field organiser Drew Lazzari Lindsay. I have known Drew for quite a time. He has always been a campaigning machine. I think I have said on many occasions that he gives better phone than just about anyone I have met. He was a force of nature back in 2018, and he leapt at the chance to lead this grassroots campaign last year. He worked around the clock to build a small army of progressive volunteers, and his ground team of real locals knocked on the doors and called the phones of over two-thirds of the electorate, securing some of the best DVC, direct voter contact, rates right across the party and indeed right across the state. So I thank him. He is an absolute asset and, too, has a very bright career ahead of him.
To Lucy Gunner, my former electorate officer when I was the member for Burwood, one of the greatest political professionals I know, I want her to know that she has my absolute thanks. Thank you, Lucy, for taking the weeks of leave to work in the engine room of the campaign, filling booth rosters and running early polling like an absolute legend. I wish her all the very best for her journey. Her best days are yet to come, and I think there are plenty of exciting times ahead for her as we continue the fine work of this Andrews Labor government.
To Lynne and John Penrose, they did just an amazing job coordinating literally tens of thousands of pieces of literature in the letterboxes, spreading our message, our positive plans for the Ringwood electorate, right across the electorate. Lynne, happily, is also a pretty sharp chef and managed to keep our campaign volunteers very well fed over the course of the campaign. I am grateful also to Steven Marks and his crew down at MVC Boxing. Steve unilaterally determined for all of his boxing protégés that their cardio routine would consist exclusively of letterboxing throughout the course of the campaign, so they quite literally ran out hundreds and thousands of pieces of literature over the course of the campaign.
This campaign demonstrated, I think, perhaps more than previous campaigns I have been involved in, that elections are won by real people having real conversations and finding out what matters on the ground – taking, of course, the opportunity to share the Andrews Labor government’s agenda and achievements but also taking the opportunity to connect with voters and understand what is most important to them. I want to thank Mathew O’Connor, Alison Fithall, Cynthia Hancke, David Barker, Denise Longley, Janine Ryan, Leroy Szabo, Liam Dwyer, Max Yakubowski and Sumudu Dharmapala. They were extraordinary leaders in this task, they were instrumental to our collective success, and they have my deep and enduring gratitude.
A good ground game means having conversations with all members of the community. In Ringwood that absolutely included the more than 20 per cent of the community that has Chinese heritage, and I would like to give a massive shout-out to Charlotte Wang, who showed up week after week to lead our Chinese language phone banks. We called thousands of Chinese Victorians right across the electorate over the course of the campaign, and that simply could not have happened without also the support and dedication of Eric Li and Floris Xue, who worked very closely with Charlotte in making our Chinese language campaign the very best in the state. So to all of them I say ‘xièxiè’ and ‘xīnnián kuàilè’. It has been an enormous effort, and I am very, very grateful for everything that you did, not just for the benefit of the campaign but for the benefit of the Chinese language speakers in our electorate, who I think in many cases for the first time began to feel connected to what is happening inside the Andrews Labor government.
I must give a special thanks to some of the next generation of political greats emerging from the Monash University Labor club, my spiritual home, coordinated by Noah Andrews and his comrade Felix Hughes. When the campaign heated up in Ringwood, and heat up it did, Noah and Felix did not need to be asked twice to bring down an absolute typhoon of progressive activists. In addition to those two, there were Aaron Sharkey, Liz De La Motte, Joseph Cercone, Izzy Carmody, Alanah Alsop, Samantha Hudson, Kitty McLoughlin, Olla al Saabary, Kristy Dodson-Geary, Phillip Danh, Chloe Ward, Sofia Felton, Harry Ketsakidis, Josh Spork, Matilda Day, Krish Rajavel, Bethany Shields and Maya McGrath. I say to all of my Monash Labor friends and comrades, thank you for being there for Ringwood. Thank you for the efforts you put in on behalf of this government and our movement.
I also want to thank the budding union activists who toiled alongside Trades Hall to keep Ringwood red, and I especially want to give shout-outs to Phoebe Cotton, Declan and Connor Dubout, Ethan Grindlay, Patrick Bunney, Thomas Nash and Allegra Pilati for doing their part to keep the needs and the aspirations of workers in Ringwood right at the very heart of our campaign. Of course that does not happen without the support of our mighty trade union movement, and in particular the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, the United Workers Union and the Electrical Trades Union. Activists and unions from right across the broader labour movement were instrumental in our campaign. I want to thank also EMILY’s List, who came out on some particularly difficult days, when some of the behaviour was particularly odious, and did a magnificent job in keeping us focused on promoting our positive plan for Ringwood and not getting dragged into some of the shenanigans that were being put about by some of my opponents.
I want to thank Dustin Halse, who did a magnificent job in his time as the member for Ringwood. They are enormous boots to fill, but Dustin has a fine legacy and has set up a whole bunch of things that I will have the great pleasure of perhaps opening over the course of this term that simply would not have happened without him. So to him and Rachel and Teddy, I say thank you for everything you have done for our community, and I wish you all the very best in whatever adventures lie ahead.
I would like to acknowledge the support of some of my colleagues over the course of the past year. In particular a big thanks to the Premier and the Deputy Premier, Minister Williams, Minister D’Ambrosio, Minister Stitt, Minister Shing and the minister at the table, Minister Carroll, as well as President Leane, for the visits to the electorate, for the guidance, for their passion and for their firm, firm support for the campaign we were running and everything we were trying to achieve in our part of the world. I also want to acknowledge the chair of the campaign, James Merlino, the former member for Monbulk, who did a stunning job in that role, and the ALP leadership team of Chris Ford, Nicola Castleman, Cam Petrie and our campaign headquarters advisers Micky Rootes and later in the campaign Ash Bright. You are all second to none, the finest political professionals in the nation, and you have my gratitude.
To my eastern comrades, including you, Deputy Speaker – jeez, there are a lot; just hang on, I have got to count them all – the members for Monbulk, Box Hill, Glen Waverley, Ashwood and Bayswater. There are so many members in the eastern suburbs now it is hard to keep track of all of them, but to all of my great friends and comrades in the east, thank you for your support. We worked collectively on a range of matters over the course of the campaign, and I think the voters in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne have made very clear now what they believe to be the best government for them: one that is meeting their needs and working hard for those communities.
Finally, to my family I say a deep thankyou – to my wife Jess and my children Olly, Hugo, Angus and Frankie. Thank you for having my back, for supporting me through what was a roller-coaster 2022 with some enormous challenges, and for being there for me always. To my extended family, and particularly to David, Court, Jake and the kids, your support has meant everything. I also want to thank Mum and Dad, who happen to be here in the gallery today, for always backing me through the highs and the lows and for encouraging me to be a better son, a better husband and ultimately a better representative for my community – to you, my thanks.
While the victory was sweet, the real work is what matters. That is the privilege we seek when we seek government in Victoria. I am stoked to be part of this government for another four years, because we are a government that gets on and delivers, and deliver we will for the electorate of Ringwood. In every corner of the electorate, from Blackburn to Heathmont, from Ringwood East to Vermont North, the work of this government is clear for all to see. We have already removed two dangerous level crossings at Blackburn Road and Heatherdale Road and rebuilt Heatherdale station as part of that level crossing removal program. That removal program is genuinely one of the most successful infrastructure projects undertaken by any government in our nation’s history. It creates great local jobs, it busts congestion and it paves the way for more reliable and frequent train services. It makes our roads and our footpaths safer. The good people of Ringwood want more level crossings gone, and that is exactly why my community backed the Andrews Labor government, because only the Andrews Labor government will make the Ringwood electorate level crossing free by 2025. This week indeed work is well underway at the last two of the crossings to go at Dublin Road, Ringwood East, and Bedford Road in Ringwood, because the Andrews government is delivering what it promised and continues to do what matters. Even my opponent in the end, having opposed the level crossing removals for the duration of the campaign, turned around in the last weeks and said that only the Liberals would deliver that project. Well, happily they will not get the opportunity, and in any event it was fundamentally wrong.
We want better road connections as well, and the North East Link is a big chunk of that. It is going to deliver Melbourne’s first busway, huge upgrades to the Eastern Freeway and 34 kilometres of brand new walking and cycling paths. It is a terrific project, and the people of Ringwood want it done.
On education, we are investing in multimillion-dollar upgrades for every government high school. Shovels are in the ground everywhere, and over the next four years we will also be backing Heathmont East Primary with a $5.4 million upgrade to deliver world-class facilities for them, in addition to a $17.6 million major upgrade of Mullauna College. Education in Mitcham has never looked better. We believe in education, and that is why my electorate backed our plan for free three- and four-year-old kinder. It is no longer just a promise, it is a plan, it is policy.
All of these projects, including importantly – and time is against me now – the huge commitment to rebuild Maroondah Hospital from the ground up for $1.05 billion, have been resoundingly endorsed by my electorate. They have at the same time rejected the Trumpist populism and reactionary right, so many of whom behaved so appallingly throughout the course of the campaign, and I will have more to say about all of those matters in my submission to the Electoral Matters Committee in the fullness of time. I want to briefly acknowledge Cynthia Watson, my opponent, who was both calm and dignified in circumstances where many around her were not. I want to say to the people of Ringwood that I will work hard for you every single day, and I thank you for this honour and privilege.
Roma BRITNELL (South-West Coast) (12:43): I rise to give my address-in-reply to the Governor’s speech. Having just completed my third election campaign I would like to take a minute to thank some people, particularly starting with the people of South-West Coast who elected me and gave me the honour to be able to continue to represent them and be their strong voice in the Parliament here in Victoria. It was a challenging election, as they always are, with long, busy days. With 10 strong candidates it was a great show of democracy and something that I always feel very proud to be a part of. We are really, really lucky to live in a country with such a strong democracy, and it is something we should make sure we do everything we can to preserve. My thanks go to the candidates for how they conducted themselves to make sure that that democracy stays well and truly alive.
There are always so many people that take you and support you through such a journey that I am on as a representative of South-West Coast, and like they say it takes a village to raise a child, well, it takes a team to support someone to become the voice of the community and to be hearing and listening and really relevant to that community. I want to thank so many people who supported me, beginning with my childhood friends who I started prep with, some of whom stood on the pre-poll and on election day for me; my nurse friends, some of whom drove from Melbourne to stand on election day handing out how-to-vote cards; my agricultural colleagues and friends from my days dairying for over 20 years, who also did the same thing; and my Indigenous community friends, who I worked with for 15 years as their nurse at the Framlingham Aboriginal community, who supported me through the campaign putting out my corflutes in their homes. I feel very, very privileged to be so well supported.
Of course to my Liberal family and friends who worked so hard, it is a thankless task, so there are some people I do want to specifically talk about and thank. Firstly, Joy and Geoff Howley, your unwavering support, guidance and friendship is astounding. Former Premier Denis Napthine is always ready with great and astute advice. The South-West Coast electorate committee chair and secretary Tony Baxter and Neil Allen tirelessly and often worked on thankless tasks getting things done. Cheryl Bellman, Jan Read and Michele Joliffe, your roster work was a feat of greatness; we always had someone on pre-poll and at all the booths handing things out. Tom Napthine, Russell and Jarrod Hurst and Deb Loraine, your hours on pre-poll were nothing short of a herculean effort. Dom Bushell, Tim Reesink, James Plozza, Vanessa Millard, Ellie Read, Matt Baker, Peter and Mimi Fisher, Ros Saunders, Geoff and Liz Youll, Maria Cameron, Leigh Allen, thank you all for the many and varied things you have done and continue to do for me. To the branches of Port Fairy, Portland, Terang, Warrnambool and Woolsthorpe-Hawkesdale, I am so fortunate to have your support and assistance.
To my office – Belinda, Jarrod 1 and Jarrod 2, Simon and Matthew – some of you have moved on, but you have all been part of the last four years and have helped me, supported me, guided me and given me the ongoing research and support that I needed. The work you do out of hours to support me I am also very grateful for. Of course to my family, I thank you for your patience with me. I am not always as available as you would like. Your understanding and your support and love for me I really do appreciate.
South-West Coast is an amazing part of Victoria, and I am so pleased to call it home. That is why I am really so grateful to be given the honour to continue to be the representative, because we are in a special part of the world. We have got natural beauty, productive agricultural land, a thriving tourism sector, aquaculture, forestry and a sound manufacturing base, but most of all amazing people – people who work hard, people who give so much to their local community through volunteering and the contribution they make through their businesses and raising their families there.
But not all is well in South-West Coast, and for 18 of the last 23 years we have had a government that has ignored very much the situation we have in South-West Coast, and one of those situations that I want to raise to the house’s attention today is, firstly, the state of our roads. As I say, for 18 of the last 23 years this government has absolutely ignored south-west Victoria’s roads, and consequently they are the worst in the state. We do have a massive problem. It is now getting to the point where it is so dangerous to drive on our roads that our visitors are making comment. I had family say to me over the summer, ‘How do I get home to Melbourne a better way than I came, because I am too frightened to go back the same way.’ It is seriously worrying when our visitors are concerned, but we are seeing our families worry about taking their children to and from school and bus drivers making comment that it is too high risk a role for them to play taking the lives of other people’s children in their hands when the roads are so bad.
Now, people say, ‘Oh, it’s because there are too many trucks on the road.’ Let me state categorically that is not the case. That is not the case. We need the trucks on the road. It would be great to get a lot of them off the road and onto trains, but that is not this government’s priority, it seems. Although they will tell us that, the evidence is clear that it is not happening. So the trucks would like to have some of their cargo put onto trains, there is no doubt, but at this point in time that is not the case. The trucks do everything they can to get our product to market, to bring our supplies to and from. It is not their fault, and I want to make that clear. If we do not have trucks, our nation stops.
It is also not the excuse we hear from the government about the weather. Surprisingly in South-West Coast we have had lots of rain every winter for the whole of my entire life. I can tell you about 1992, I can tell you about 1974 or 72 – I cannot remember. We have had massive rain events. When everyone else is complaining about drought, we have got our gumboots covered in mud, and we just shut up because we are not really going to talk about it when everyone else is suffering. But we have wet all the time. Our winters are pretty brutal, and that is why dairying does so well in my part of the world; we like mud.
But these excuses of trucks and of product not being good anymore – you know, the rubble they are using is not good enough – are not true. The research is clear. We know how to build roads. South Australia is doing it really well. Northern Territory have iron ore trucks running over their roads all the time. There are less people in South Australia per kilometre than there are in Victoria. The actual problem is highlighted clearly in the independent report written by the Auditor-General: the government has not got the process right. It is simple: they do not monitor, they do not supervise and they are not holding anyone to account. So our taxpayer dollar is being wasted over and over again filling up potholes or building roads that are not holding up to the processes of today’s modern transport system.
Let me say this clearly: if you have to put 300 millimetres of rubble down so that you get a good base and the road holds up, if no-one is watching I reckon you might put in 100 millimetres. I am not saying that is the contractors’ fault. I am hearing that the contractors are actually telling the government that the resources they are being given are not enough to build a good road. Let us say the camber is supposed to be 2 per cent; that is so the road does not get undermined by water sitting on top of it. But if they are not getting these processes right, then these roads are literally falling apart within two weeks, three weeks. Before contractors have finished the role and handed it back, it is falling apart. People of South-West Coast have had enough. It is not hard – just get into the department and get it right. Give them the resources, put the processes in place, use the research, make sure the specifications are met and do the job once properly.
There are so many other things in South-West Coast that this government ignores. They talk about all these big promises – the big build promise of building public housing and getting public housing better across Victoria. They have actually said, I think, it is $30 million for South-West Coast. My calculation is that that would build around maybe 75 homes, and at last count – and this was before the election, because the government withheld the report until after the election of how many people were actually on the waiting list for public housing – it was 900 families. So let us say within the next four years we build another 75 homes even – and I do not think we have completed the first 75; how is that really going to help those 900 families? That list is growing, so it will still be 900 when 150 of them are housed. It is not going to help, so it is all this massive spin rather than addressing the issue. There is so much more that can be done, because once you have people in public housing not being able to get housed, the supply chain is affected right through. We cannot get enough houses for people to move into to take roles in the community. Unemployment has been 1 to 2 per cent for 10 years – we have got jobs everywhere – but we have not got anywhere to house people.
We also have a major problem with child care. The government made some wonderful announcement about childcare centres they are going to build. Well, in our part of the world there are none in the first rollout of it. It is not until 2028 that Portland will get one. I was speaking to a mum the other day desperate to get child care. Her profession is as a doctor. We really need her in Portland; we need her to stay. She is not going to be able to stay unless she can get child care. This is the catch 22 we are in. We can do so much more. Big announcements like three-year-old kinder being free are fantastic. As she said, and I agree, we do not resent that. That is a great idea. But with that announcement, where was the infrastructure and where were the staff? How can we have an announcement like that without building up to it with training and putting things in place that can actually deliver it? All it did was increase demand, because if I am a stay-at-home mum and now free three-year-old is available, I want to access it, and rightfully so. But it is just putting the demand for child care under more and more pressure.
It is similar with the health situation. The government in the Governor’s speech talked very little about regional Victoria. I think they mentioned the word ‘regional’ twice, like they mentioned the word ‘road’ once. ‘Road’ led on to talk about the level crossing removals and the tunnels, and it was absolutely not relevant to south-west Victoria or anywhere in regional Victoria. But this government does not understand what it is like in regional Victoria when you are punching well above your weight, contributing to the state’s economy and producing quality food, and the cost of living is just getting out of control.
The people of Terang talk to me at the moment about energy. In the Governor’s speech there was a lot said about energy, boasting about how they are going to bring down the price of energy. Well, tell that to the people of Terang who are currently getting letters from their supplier. It is the government’s policy that is resulting in this, so it is not the supplier that we are going to shift the blame to here. We are going to put it squarely at the feet of the policies that are not working. Their gas prices are going up by 80 per cent. Gas is what they have supplying their homes. They do not have anything else, and they also do not have any other supplier that they can access. So what are these people supposed to do with an 80 per cent increase in gas bills and no competition? They cannot actually get any gas from anywhere else. What are they going to do to heat their houses over the winter period? I have already talked about how brutal our winters can be. That is a problem the government needs to solve today, not with some fantastic idea that will probably take eight years to deliver, if ever at all, because yesterday in question time we could not even get a time frame as to when this idea is going to bear any fruit with regard to bringing down the price of energy.
There are so many challenges, and all I heard from the Governor’s speech was lots of palaver and not much on deliverables or outcomes. If we just had some of that $30 billion of waste, of cost overruns, that this government has been responsible for when they have tried to build something and obviously have not done the proper planning and do not understand the costs involved. They then find when they have delivered – or have not even got anywhere close to delivering – that they have run over budget extraordinarily, in the billions. Collectively that stands at around $30 billion at the moment, the waste and cost overruns that this government is responsible for – $30 billion. That could have done a lot for the people of South-West Coast – to address the childcare issues, to help the Portland hospital deliver services so we do not have women delivering babies on the side of the road, so we can have the basic services, as spoken about so eloquently by the new member for Euroa today, in the regions that we face, that we should have as a basic right.
I am very disappointed that in the Governor’s speech regional Victoria was ignored. I am not surprised by that, because even though this Premier talks about governing for all Victorians, that is not the case, and I think I have evidenced that. I could go on forever, but I have got 46 seconds left, so I am not going to waste that. I could continue on, but I would really like to just finish up by saying thank you – thank you to south-west Victoria for electing me to this place again. I will be your strong voice. I will raise the issues that matter. I will make sure our voice is heard and that things like the Lookout drug and rehabilitation centre get funded by this government, our hospitals see people who need to be seen, operations happen to get people out of pain and we have roads that are safe to drive on. I would, lastly, like to issue the invitation to the Premier to come and drive on our roads. I will drive. I know them; I will not hurt you. You probably could not do it yourself, though.
Nick STAIKOS (Bentleigh) (12:58): This is not going to be my finest contribution, given we are nearly at 1 o’clock. It is my job to see us through to the lunch break, which is a job I have had a number of times over the years in this place; it is just coincidence. I have just enough time to thank the people of Bentleigh, who are my people, for re-electing me – not once, not twice, but three times. It is a huge and singular honour to be the member for Bentleigh and represent the good people of Bentleigh and to deliver for them – to deliver in health, in education, in jobs and in transport for the Bentleigh electorate. There is going to be more to this speech after the break. After some fantastic inaugural speeches by my colleagues, I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge all of the new members of this house and the other house, particularly the 15 new Labor members of the Legislative Assembly and the four new Labor members in the upper house in this third-term Labor government. I know that the next four years will be rewarding for both them and their constituents. We will have a lot of work over the next four years, but each and every one of the 71 members of the Labor caucus is up to the challenge of delivering for their communities and rebuilding after the pandemic experience in this state.
Sitting suspended 1:00 pm until 2:02 pm.
Business interrupted under sessional orders.