Thursday, 9 February 2023
Address to Parliament
Address to Parliament
Debate resumed on motion of Michael Galea:
That this house agrees to the following address to the Governor in reply to the Governor’s opening speech:
We, the Legislative Council of Victoria assembled in Parliament, express our loyalty to Australia and the people of Victoria, and thank you for the speech which you have made to the Parliament.
We declare that we will faithfully carry out the important duties entrusted to us by the people of Victoria, to advance the best interests of all sections of the community.
Aiv PUGLIELLI (North-Eastern Metropolitan) (10:12): I would like to begin by acknowledging that I am speaking on the land of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. I pay my respect to their elders past and present and extend that respect to their future leaders and the generations yet to come on this continent. There is no social or environmental justice without First Nations justice.
I walk into this building with a constant urge to pinch myself – that this is a place that the people of North-Eastern Metro have put me to represent them. I never set out to be a member of Parliament. This time two years ago I was an artist and composer, pretty much straight out of university. But then my cohort walked into an industry that closed overnight. The impacts of COVID on the arts and cultural sector cannot be overstated. We all lost work, and almost none of us were eligible for JobKeeper. Our federal government sent us the message that our jobs did not matter. I will not tell you how many hours I spent combing through the meagre state and local funding, competing with other artists for any government support, but what I will say is many of us were pushed directly into rental and housing stress. Many of my colleagues were forced to leave the industry and have not since returned. As a result, we are losing a generation of our storytellers sharing what it means to live in communities like those of Victoria.
I know what it means to have a government tell you you do not matter. That is why I ran – to make sure this does not happen again. There are so many communities marginalised by the decisions our governments make. As a queer person, I have seen my LGBTIQA+ community be used as a perennial political football. We are championed for cynical political gain when it is electorally advantageous, but we are cast aside when it is politically expedient. Only six years ago our human rights were the subject of public, often vitriolic debate in the marriage equality plebiscite. I know what it is like to have my rights and my way of life on public trial. To this community I promise that I will work hard every day to make this Parliament more inclusive and compassionate. This institution needs more queer voices. It needs more trans and gender-diverse voices. It needs more voices from people still sunburnt from Sunday’s Pride March.
But maybe what compels me most to be a voice in this Parliament is seeing how young people are getting left behind. It is getting harder and harder for young people to get a rental or access affordable housing. We are dealing with more frequent natural disasters and damaging weather events, and most frustratingly, we are being shut out from decision-making on these issues that will impact us most of all. We are living through a climate crisis, a housing affordability crisis and an inequality crisis, but how many people from my generation are in this room? As the youngest MP in the new Parliament, it is important to me that we see these issues addressed and that young people have a seat at the table, speaking up for ourselves and generations yet to come, and represent our broader community. Our Parliament should reflect the Victorian population.
I never set out to be a member of Parliament, but these experiences drove me to get out in my community, push for change and give my generation a seat at the table. I would like to see in coming years more diverse voices enter this place and for more young people to have their voices heard. We are going to be living with the decisions made in this chamber in the long term. It is important that our interests and experiences are taken into account to ensure the world of the future is one we want to live in. That is what I and my Greens colleagues are here fighting for.
Only the Greens are speaking to me and my values, representing me without compromise on the issues that affect me and my community. We are a grassroots political operation. We do not take donations from vested corporate interests, and consequently we really rely on the hard work of our team of volunteers. Throughout the campaign they were getting out there, speaking to community members and sharing what a progressive vision for North-Eastern Metro and Victoria could look like with more Greens in Parliament. I would like to thank Deepak, Alex, Emily, Reuben, Joanne, Kellie, Steph, Julie, Chris, Brendan, Nadia, Sophia, Liz, Asher and Sarah for backing me as candidates in running this race. A shout-out to the big crew of supporters who stood for hours in the elements, including names like Liezl, Cass, Rosemary, Maurice, Dana, Mallika, Kate and many, many more in support of me running. When we went into this campaign we knew that we were up against a system that was hell-bent on locking us out. Between the money from corporate interests and dodgy group voting tickets, we knew that we would have to work like stink to get into this place – but we did it. I am so grateful to my community for trusting me, and I look forward to serving them and getting tangible outcomes for them.
The people of North-Eastern Metro have put me in this place. I am proud to call myself one of them, having grown up in Eltham and lived in the region my whole life. We are hardworking, community-minded people who want to be a part of the solution to the struggles facing our state. We are politically engaged. We listen to local radio. We watch the news. We take personal action to reduce our own emissions. Growing up, reducing our waste and recycling was always a part of daily life. We all collectively lost our minds when we could not find a home for our soft plastics. My mum still has a giant bag of old wrappers waiting for its time to shine in the middle of the lounge room. Let it go, Michelle!
The suburbs of North-Eastern Metro are vibrant and green, with large pockets of protected green space and nature which support and sustain us. Many will have distinct memories of this during the lockdown era, when we spent time walking our streets and parklands, finding peace and taking care of ourselves and each other. It is because of this abundance that we can appreciate why we must take care of the land that we are on, and we know it in turn is taking care of us. We must show it respect and live in harmony with it for our own sake and that of future generations. For North-Eastern Metro that means protecting local biodiversity, looking after our creeks and waterways and creating nature corridors for our wildlife to coexist with us for years to come.
That also means having an honest, open conversation about housing, ensuring that demand for social, public and affordable housing is met. We cannot allow the current state of affairs to continue, with unaffordable and inadequate housing as purely an investment asset rather than treating our homes as a human right which is integral to our own health, safety and wellbeing. And we also cannot forsake our local green spaces and protected environments in the name of property developer profits. We need a commonsense approach. I am not the first person to call for this, and I would like to pay my respect to the community leaders and activists in my electorate who have been tirelessly pursuing these issues for years, be it in landcare groups, community actions, campaigns to VCAT, waterway clean-ups and revegetation. I hear you. I will fight for you. I even know I have no say in the matter, because either way I know you will be pulling me up at the local supermarket, holding me to account in the middle of aisle six next to the toilet paper – Quilton three-ply, recycled.
I find it well put by Greta Thunberg:
We live in a strange world where children must sacrifice their education in order to protest against the destruction of their future, where the people who have contributed the least to this crisis are the ones who are going to be affected the most.
I believe that too often in the state of Victoria, under successive governments and political cycles, it is the voices of the community, particularly the young and the diverse members of our community, that are not the priority of the political class. I think if the interests of our truly broad community and the planet itself were central to our decision-making and discussion in this state, then we would see a ban on new fossil fuel projects.
I want us to stop pouring fuel on the fire while we are trying to put it out. I want to see affordable housing made available to all, as housing is a human right. I believe in our capacity to live in harmony with our surroundings and live with the land that was here long before us. I will fight to see better investment in public education, of which I myself have benefitted directly, which gives all our young people a strong start in life irrespective of household income. I further note that in the historic composition of this new chamber I want us to acknowledge the reality that members of our community do take drugs, and I will push for a health-first harm minimisation approach to this reality rather than a punitive mindset which criminalises people.
And when community members express their views on the imbalances and injustices occurring in our state through organised protest and political activism, I want to see a future where residents are able to do so without fear of intimidation and being criminalised in the name of corporate interests. Corporate Australia should not get off scot-free when by the same test we send citizens to prison. Branding compassionate campaigning from community with criminality goes against the interests of our young people, who strike for climate and a planet worth living on. They are fighting for their lives. They are fighting for our lives. We are in the midst of a climate and extinction crisis and this government is passing anti-protest laws. How are you not the villains of that story?
I have been sent here with a mandate to deliver for my community and keep up the fight on their behalf. It has certainly been a shock to the system. This place can often feel alien to me, with marble busts peering down hallways and the towering presence of former parliamentarians and premiers on each wall. The very building seems to impose stern questions on you as an outsider, a newcomer, particularly as a young person: ‘Who are you? What are you doing here? Do you think we can’t tell you had to google how to tie a necktie?’. While on one hand it can come off as the opposite of a welcoming vibe, I think it pushes me to work harder, to go against the grain and claim the place that young people, planet protectors and champions for social justice should have in this chamber. People are desperate to be heard.
Young people are at breaking point. We want to be listened to and for our perspective to be heard – for our perspective to have impact. Listening and showing compassion are traits that are not party specific. We all have potential to demonstrate that in this term. I would like to think that everyone in this place has come with a mindset to make a difference for their community and make Victoria the best version of itself that it can be. It is something I would like us to keep in mind for the rest of this term, even when debates become heated. It is certainly something that our community, especially our young people, expect of us.
While I can say that this time last year I certainly did not think being in this place was going to be part of my journey, I will work hard to honour the responsibility and faith my community is putting in me. It is a huge honour. While there is plenty of pain and plenty of anger out there in the community, my path to now has taught me: do not get mad. Get involved. Get elected. Do not be a bystander.
I will say this to the people in this chamber: do not forget it is an honour to be here. That honour comes with grave responsibility. The decisions we make here impact people’s lives. In some cases they cost people’s lives. If you cannot live up to that responsibility, then get out of the way. I can tell you there is a generation of young people watching, waiting, ready to take your place. We cannot let them down.
Nicholas McGOWAN (North-Eastern Metropolitan) (10:33): Thank you, President, and congratulations to you.
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to pay my respects to all of our Indigenous people.
I did have a speech, I might say, to begin with, but I have dispensed with that. I will go on dot points and notes, and you will forgive me when I read because I am not a fan of reading too much. We will see by the end of this speech whether that is true.
It strikes me that I would like to pay particular respect to Sheena Watt. When we have in this chamber a descendant it is obvious to me that I should pay our respects to you, your parents, your grandmother. I watched your maiden speech. To me that is an obvious thing to do, and it is something that I think is both appropriate and necessary in some regards.
I am also respectful of Jacinta Price and Fred Chaney. I want to mention Fred Chaney. I think I first heard him speak in 1991 in Canberra. I was fortunate to be part of the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Trust for Young Australians national capital seminar, which is one hell of a title for young people.
Fred spoke eloquently and passionately and I think shocked most people who were there, who, it is probably fair to say, at that young age of 17 or 18 were probably not Liberal. But he understood personally and intimately the problems faced by Indigenous people in this country and the impact of racism more broadly.
My interest in these matters is not new, it is fair to say. I suppose, like many of my generation, I was impacted. I remember going to La Trobe University, where I was studying, to see the Donald Woods Bantu Stephen Biko story. That struck a chord with me, and that was at a period of our history when apartheid was still part of the norm in at least one country, at least formally.
Madiba Mandela is also a person that I draw from, who I had the privilege to see in person and who I had the privilege to see in action in Africa. He did not hesitate even when he was confronted with black-on-black racism, and he did not hesitate to advance the interests of all people, particularly in Burundi, a country I am very well acquainted with and a country I have come to love and lived in for some time.
Malcolm X is someone I also draw inspiration from. These are probably not names you were expecting me to give today. The truth is black lives do matter. It is trite to say it, but we say it in this chamber and we say it outside but in the rest of the world it is still really not the reality. I lived in Africa for too long not to understand that when 200 or 300 Africans are massacred the rest of the world does not really pay attention. To the rest of the world black lives still do not matter as much as the emphasis we seem to give to when white people die. It is just a sad and stark reality of where we are at. But there is progress, and so I cling to that and I cling to those who wish to advance understanding and tolerance of such.
I am reminded, though, at the same time, that deaths in custody in this state, something raised by my colleagues just recently, are still unacceptably – well, there is no ‘acceptable’, but they are completely unacceptable. And that also goes for bail and in particular its impact on our Indigenous population. Despite efforts even in these recent days to tackle that issue, it is met, it is probably fair to say, with administrative disinterest and pedestrian urgency. It is really quite a condemnation of all of us as we sit here and simply put up with it. On any side of politics, we all have a voice. You do not need a licence to use it. You are all in your own parties, forged from within. That is why you are here. You are a long time dead, so get on with it.
I remember a story I was told when I lived in Congo, one of the first countries I worked in in Africa, and this goes to the heart of why racism does matter. If you think you are not part of it or you think that you do not contribute to it and you are standing still and doing nothing, then you do. It requires activism in the same way democracy requires activism. The story was that a young boy, probably in the order of 12 to 13, was on a plane flying from the capital of Congo, Brazzaville, to Pointe-Noire – it is a former colony, like most African countries are – and they hit some significant turbulence. The two pilots were white. The boy was black. The mother was black. The boy turned to the mother and said, ‘Mum, it’s okay. The pilots are white.’ It is a very sad story, because what it says is that racism changes a child’s perception of who they are and what they are capable of, both positively and negatively. So anything we can do in this place to address that imbalance and go one better – recognising that from time to time, as they have done in South Africa, it takes more severe measures to achieve that balance in the short term until an equilibrium can be achieved in the long term.
Dr Heath, I think you are to blame for the fact that I now speak about Dr Martin Luther King – J-R, as they say in the States. He talked of these things. Many people, when they think of him, think about race, they think about colour – a white boy, a black boy – but he also talked about Jew and gentile, Protestant and Catholic. What he spoke about was freedom. What he spoke about was equality. What he spoke about was peace, tolerance and respect.
In recent days in this chamber, from my observation, I know that we do not all agree necessarily with the way this place runs or on what we say, but I offer this observation: when we stand outside because we do not like the Lord’s Prayer, we are not showing respect. And as people who would like to see that respect in other aspects of our lives, this is not the place for protest; this is a place of privilege. Come in here, show your respect and be part of the change you want to see, because unless we practise what we preach and unless we are respectful to all religions, then how can we possibly ask the rest of the community to follow us? We are not leaders. I am not a religious person, so I cannot be labelled as such. I simply have some basic respect. Whether I agree with it or disagree with it is beside the point. It is what it is, and if I do not like it, I will work to change it. If I do not have the numbers, then I lose. That is the way it should be. That is the way a democracy works. At heart I am a libertarian. I am a democrat – with a small d, I emphasise – and I am a proud member of the Liberal Party of Australia.
I am also very proud that as a youngster, like so many youngsters these days, I did understand the importance of the environment, passionately. I was, as a youngster – grades 5 and 6 – passionate about animal cruelty and the testing on animals for make-up, so it will not surprise many of you that that is the reason I never wear make-up. I cared about the ozone layer. I cared about recycling. I still care about recycling. I still cannot get over the fact we are quite happy, all of us, to send our garbage to Bangladesh, Thailand, China – the dumping grounds. I still cannot quite understand why an intelligent people cannot for themselves recycle their own garbage. I was passionate about the oceans, upset by the fact that we continue to use them as dumping grounds. I was aghast at big game hunting, aghast at the loss of the Amazon. These are things and issues I hope that we all can advance in our time here, for all our sakes.
I suppose there is one thing in particular I wish to use my time here for, and I do not expect nor hope that my time here is long. I am not a fan of it; I think you get in, you get what you want done and you get out. That is just me. But I do feel like there has been an assault on our democracy in this state for some time, and it is ironic that I stand in this chamber where the assault is probably at its peak. Many of you who are new to this chamber may not understand what I am referring to, but for too long this place has made so-called reforms in the name of democracy, ironically, and yet they have been anything but democratic.
We have turned this chamber into a lesser chamber. Once upon a time we had the right to block supply in here. That right was taken away from us. We are not equal houses. Do not think you are for a second. That other chamber, that other place, has got the right to block supply. You had it once. You do not have it anymore. They took it away from you, and you took it away from yourselves. And then, as if not content with that, we took away the need to actually democratically elect replacements. These were the so-called reforms that occurred in the 1990s and into the 2000s. So when there is a vacancy here we will dispense with the public and the voting; we will just return you right where you were with your party. There is almost no greater insult. I have sat in this chamber in the last couple of days – and I was here as a youngster in 1991, 1992 listening to lots of debates – and seen the fact that government backbenchers cannot ask questions.
That is the training ground. But we have replaced them with ministers statements, which seem broadly innocuous and non-offensive but somewhat of a waste of time. Maybe they are not. Maybe I am too quick to judge; time will tell. But I think we have lost something in that exchange. I think the backbenchers of the government have lost something significant in that exchange, and one day I hope we are there. I hope everyone gets to have a chance at that.
An attack on democracy is not a good thing for anyone at any time, and we are supposed to be the beacon; we are supposed to be the light that others follow. It would be remiss of me to be here today and not talk about what the previous Parliament did, the 59th Parliament – the pernicious rulings of the 59th Parliament, and I speak of the whole. I wrote about this at the time, but never again should we as elected representatives allow Parliament to impose upon its citizens such conditions, such limitations, such breaches of their own individual rights, their own political rights, their own religious rights. The kinds of unjustified, disgraceful actions that were at play in this state – incarcerating thousands of people in their housing commission towers, when just months before that we were all criticising China when they did the same thing. Remember when they were welding the doors of people’s homes? Imposing a night curfew – for which there was and is still no medical evidence it was required – was convenient, sure, but if convenience is the high jump bar, then our democracy is in serious trouble.
I will not accept that we did not know that it was coming. I will not accept that we could not have done better. I will not accept that this state should not have had a pandemic plan in place. I have lived in Asia. They have had bird flu, they have had avian flu, they have had zika. I mean, it was obvious. We had daily flights from Wuhan to Melbourne – almost daily – in March 2020, well after the outbreak. In fact I can tell you that because at the time I looked at flights myself. I travelled at that time. I can tell you the return flight fare from Wuhan to Melbourne was $178. They did not stop; they kept coming. So it was no surprise that Victoria was the first state to have the first case of COVID – astonishing. Who would have thought? To limit the number of people who could go to funerals – think about it. I am not talking about Afghanistan. I have lived in Afghanistan; they have never limited the number of people that can go to funerals. To disallow someone to worship in their place of worship – this might in context have an explanation, but when you couple that with the fact that strangers by the hundreds could flock to Dan Murphy’s and Coles, it somehow gets difficult to justify.
I am all for saving lives, but there is a balance. The only Premier in this country that I saw trying to achieve that balance to the best of her ability was the New South Wales Premier. It is a shame we did not do that here. If that was not bad enough, then to lock Victorians out of their own state – what a disgrace. History should judge us badly. History should judge the 59th Parliament appallingly. It is my hope that those people who were adversely affected, and the businesses, do seek and do receive compensation. Why shouldn’t they? When you change the rules on people midstream, regardless of the reason, I would have thought it is inherent to have to pay up.
That is not the only attack. Donation laws – what an affront to democracy. The attempt by this Parliament to create a two-party, or probably a one-party, state. What a disgrace! If I want to receive a donation from a friend, colleague, whoever it is – because they love me, because they hate me – I should have that right. What I should be required to do is be transparent about it, and then we should have in place measures – as we do – so that if my behaviour is corrupt, I am put in prison and so is the person that gave me the money. This approach in government in this country where we take the stick to people rather than a carrot, where we penalise the few who break the rules rather than the majority who do not – it is the modern plague in this country. It is the way we govern. It is the default. I simply cannot abide by it. It is intentionally designed to strangle small parties and independent people, much less that person who just thinks they are going to put a name on the ballot and try and take it up to the major parties. They should be scrapped, absolutely scrapped. They should be replaced with the strongest, toughest transparency laws in the country, if not the world, and then let us get on with it. Let us have some competition. Let the people decide. Let the people judge.
Because the irony is at the same time as we have introduced these donation laws, we have introduced public funding. It did not happen before, boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen – public funding. And the irony is we have had all this red shirt stuff and the rest of it, but every single dollar we all spend we get back because it is publicly funded. We are all using public money for political activity every single day, on or off the payroll. Doesn’t it strike anyone as just lunacy? When are we going to wake up to ourselves and see it for what it is? It is an attempt to control people. It is an attempt to create a one-party state. Stop accepting it. Public funding of elections, my oh my – if only the Victorian people really knew.
Then we come to the gaming of the electoral system. I knocked on doors for a year in Jagajaga. I think I received in the order of 4000 votes more than Jenny Macklin, and still I lost – primary votes, not the votes that are recounted and are counted and counted. Despite our democratic system of one man or one woman, one vote – 4000 votes, it is a lot of doors to knock on. Four thousand votes more, and yet this system has been now for years systematically gamed. Look at the figures. I took a look at them last night. I was impressed. I mean with what we have been able to achieve. In 2018, 0.6 per cent, Rod Barton with 2508 votes and a quota of 70,000 can still win. That is better than the lotto, you have got to say. Forget getting a ticket, run for Parliament. A Liberal Democrat, 0.84 per cent, still got elected; Animal Justice Party, 2.7 per cent, still got elected. Reason Party, 1.37 per cent – guess what, still got elected. We are not doing too well this time. You knew I would come to this – Shooters and Fishers, 2.9 per cent; Liberal Democrat, 3.5 per cent; One Nation, 3.6 per cent; Animal Justice Party, 1.5 per cent. I listened to the debate the other day, and all I heard was the justification for keeping the status quo because it was their jobs. Create your own job. Do what the rest of the punters have to do: apply for one, flip a burger at McDonald’s. I don’t joke – I have done it. I would do it again. If this Parliament has any conscience at all, it will cease the group voting tickets. It will end it once and for all, and it will not replace it with bribes, it will not replace it with payoffs, it will simply do what is right.
That brings me to truth. As I have said before, transparency is the greatest driver of public behaviour; truth in advertising is where it is at. That should be one of the most urgent matters before this Parliament so at the next election it is not just truth in advertising for everyone except politicians and political parties, it includes politicians and political parties. What are we afraid of? Is it so hard to have to tell the truth? Or is it that we actually tell so many lies that it would be a little bit awkward? That last election, where we talked about privatisation and the evils of the Liberal Party, so-called – wow, where is history? It has affirmed my view that we have to teach better history at schools, because somehow the other side of politics forgot about their federal colleagues. They forgot about themselves. Do you remember Paul Keating, Bob Hawke, Qantas? That was the national airline – sold that off, privatised, gone. Commonwealth Bank – privatised, gone.
A member interjected.
Nicholas McGOWAN: I am coming to the State Bank of Victoria. That was the state government. It was Joan Kirner who started privatisation of electricity. Let Hansard show, and let it be in bold and the biggest font you can have, Joan Kirner’s Labor government started the privatisation of electricity assets when she sold 51 per cent of Loy Yang B in 1992. Wow. But she was not done. She had sold the state bank. We were on our knees. Those old enough might remember it. We were two weeks off defaulting our public pay cheques. Do we remember that as well? We were two weeks off defaulting on our public pay cheques.
A member interjected.
Nicholas McGOWAN: Oh, superannuation – who said that? Was that you, David? Superannuation, that is right – unfunded liabilities in superannuation, which means they actually did not have the money to pay for their superannuation. That is to say nothing of the Melbourne Port – a 50-year lease – the land titles office, VicRoads, Snowy Hydro: this government. I do not mind being held to account, I just mind hypocrisy. If you going to throw a stone, know the others that have been thrown before, because that is a joke.
In any democracy what is also critical is an independent umpire. I have been in politics a while, I think it is fair to say – not the longest, a while. I do not ever recall in the better part of 30 years hearing from the most senior echelons of the Victorian Electoral Commission during an election campaign, but we did this time. It was a disgrace. It caused me to question, for the first time in this country, my confidence in their independence, and I was not alone. And then I heard their representatives go on radio in the middle of a campaign, having briefed the media the day before and given comments in the media as well, so if I had any unease or misgivings about the independence or just the job the VEC does, then that was alarming. And let me be clear, I am not talking about the rank-and-file workers of the VEC. That is not who I am talking about for a second; they did a sensational job. I am talking about a VEC which spoke with what I think sounded like a partisan voice. I am talking about a VEC which I think failed to provide balance. Not Afghanistan, not Burundi, not Liberia – I have been in those countries and they did it, they provided balance – but Victoria last year. They opened the polling booths late, delayed, all over the place. And what is worse – and we are included in the act; it talks about and actually stipulates what we all must do around polling booths – they actually had no regard, that is the senior echelons, for the duty of care they had to the volunteers of all parties. How many of us stood in a road? How many of us stood in a car park trying to hand things out while they applied draconian rules without any common sense?
It was unfair to all of our volunteers. It put them in dangerous positions, and no-one in the VEC cared for their duty of care because it came from the top. It was unacceptable. It was 2022, not 1822. Responsibility starts at the top. This Parliament should receive a resignation. There is no doubt about it, absolutely no doubt about it.
We can also extend our transparency to senior statutory appointments – judges. This place has no say in that. If I hear one more time that judges are independent – they are not independent, they are appointed by ministers. There is no transparency around that process. The Chief Commissioner of Police – there is no transparency around that and no involvement of Parliament. We do not get to choose, we do not get to have a say. The FOI commissioner, the head of the EPA – why are those positions not filled by bipartisan, equal members of the Parliament, in committee if you want? Whatever you want. Not behind closed doors. It speaks to transparency. It speaks to our confidence in the system we have.
When we are speaking of truth, we must also speak of other public policies. The injecting room is one that I have spoken about many times. Again, let me be clear, what we ought to do here is to have an outcome for drug users which meets their every need. We are seeking to assist them and support them and save them – save their lives and save them from harm. In fact I brought the act with me today. I have had it for some time, and I know it reasonably well. Section 55A, ‘Object’, is unusual in some regards in politics, particularly in this Parliament, in that it stipulates in paragraphs (a) through to (f) what it is supposed to do, the clear objectives. On every single count it has failed. If you care to read the interim report, it has failed. They are not my words. Do not take my word for it, read the report.
The first objective is to reduce the number of avoidable deaths and the harm caused by overdoses of drugs of dependence. The experts reported that 16 deaths occurred within 1 kilometre of the Richmond injecting room during the first five quarters of its operation. That figure is one more death than the preceding five quarters. During the first 12 months of the trial there were 1232 overdoses inside the injecting room and in the following eight months there were 1968. That is a 59 per cent increase. During the first 18 months 271 of the 2657 overdoses were characterised as extremely serious, requiring the opioid-reversing agent, while some 30 overdoses resulted in the attendance of ambulance paramedics. Sadly, the number of deaths outside increased by one more in the 15 months after the facility opened compared to the 15 months before.
The report concludes that, sadly, overall there were no obvious trends observed, with the numbers of deaths recorded since the medically supervised injecting room opened largely similar to those recorded before the medically supervised injecting room opened, and yet we are consistently told in public that it is saving lives. It is my sincere hope that it does save lives, but the evidence we have at hand is that it is not. When the new report – the delayed report, the report that was not produced before the election – is finally produced, I will be reading it with a fine-tooth comb because on every one of these counts we are doing drug users no favour. In fact, on the evidence of that report, we are harming them immeasurably.
That brings me to cannabis. The CDC are well known to all of us, I am sure – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In their words:
• One study estimated that approximately 3 in 10 people who use marijuana have marijuana use disorder.
• Another study estimated that people who use cannabis have about a 10% likelihood of becoming addicted.
What are the long-term effects of marijuana on the brain? The CDC said:
Marijuana affects brain development. Developing brains, such as those in babies, children, and teenagers, are especially susceptible to the harmful effects of marijuana and … (THC). Although scientists are still learning about the effects of marijuana on developing brains, studies suggest that marijuana use by mothers during pregnancy could be linked to problems with attention, memory, problem-solving skills, and behavior in their children.
Using marijuana before age 18 may affect how the brain builds connections for functions like attention, memory, and learning.
There is mental ill health: people who use marijuana are more likely to develop temporary psychosis and long-lasting mental disorders, including schizophrenia. The association between marijuana and schizophrenia is stronger in people who start using marijuana at an early age and use marijuana more frequently. The list goes on. It is my sincere hope that as we come to debate these issues, we debate them with the facts and the science – that is all I ask – and that our approach is that we do no harm. That will be my approach.
So what of Victoria? What next? Victoria is a great state, but it has been some time since we have had a great vision. Even our Big Build is building us now billions of dollars of duplicated train lines all across the state – not triplicated, they are duplicated – which means at some point in the not-too-distant future we will have to go back and triplicate them, because without triplication you cannot have express services. And so again we make all the same mistakes we made in the 1980s and before that in the 60s and the 50s and the 40s.
Instead of planning a second international airport, we are still playing around with trying to get a train connection to the first one. Dump the first one; just go for the second one. Be done with it. It is a waste of money, a waste of time. We have all played around with it for way too long in politics.
Our federation is broken. COVID showed that. It is not surprising. The states created the federation. They create, by act, local government. While many of my colleagues will not share this view, I am a republican and I hope there is the day, in time, when we can finally have an Australian head of state. It is long overdue. 1986 was the last legal tie that we cut with Britain and the Privy Council. It has been an evolution. That evolution should continue in the interests of all of our people and the interests of our nation’s own independence, because we would also be foolish to assume that we are forever of this geographic footprint. The history of the world shows and tells us these borders will not be forever, ladies and gentlemen – not in my lifetime, but if Hansard still exists at that time. The history of the world says at some point your boundaries change. Things change. I have lived in countries where things change overnight pretty quickly. When change comes, change is quick.
It also strikes me there is ample opportunity to embrace others. We used to be big thinkers. In the past we have even entertained in this country the possibility of housing another nation’s people in the Kimberley, another nation’s people in Tasmania, to give them another nation. It is an irony, isn’t it, because while we still struggled to reconcile with the people who were first here we were contemplating giving part of that land to an entirely different nation. It was an insult, but it also demonstrated that we have the capacity to think, to act, to do good. Let us start at home. Let us then see what we have to offer.
Two further points. This has been vexing because, like many fair, reasonable people who in the last 24 months have made financial decisions about their incomes, their households, based on the advice of the Governor of the Reserve Bank, I think he should do the right thing and resign, today. Enough people have called for it. You cannot give that advice. You cannot tell people that there will not be interest rate rises until 2024 and then nine consecutive times hike up the price of money. What a disgrace. He should do the right thing and resign. Every member of this chamber should likewise call for him to do that, because of the toll and cost to everyday Victorians who now have to manage the consequences of taking that advice – advice not just given once but given repeatedly, broadly, and not the kind of advice that people usually ignore.
Lastly, I speak of the media. It has become somewhat of a sport in this country to criticise the media when it suits and to criticise particular media outlets, either labelling them conservative or left wing or whatever it is. Kevin Rudd likes to do it. Steve Bracks more recently did it on election night. In my experience it does not matter who is on the front page; it does not necessarily dictate the outcome. We have all seen it – stick around long enough. But if you keep going for journalists – because journalists are the heart of any flagship or of any outlet – then you will start to erode yet another pillar of our democracy. That is unacceptable. They have a job to do. They are not here to be sycophants. They are not here to publicise what it is you do. They are here to scrutinise and keep us accountable, and so every time you criticise them simply because you do not like what they say or what they publish, you take another part of that pillar away. It is the bedrock of a civil society. Hunting season on the media is over. I will stick up for them even when they criticise me; that is their job. Thank you very much.
Katherine COPSEY (Southern Metropolitan) (11:23): President, congratulations on your appointment. I begin today by paying my respects to the traditional owners in the electorate I represent, being the Boon Wurrung people and the Wurundjeri people, who are also the traditional owners of the land that we are meeting on today, and all other First Peoples. I acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded, that important work goes on in this state to progress towards a treaty and that this always was and always will be Aboriginal land.
I grew up in Southern Metro. My first job was at the Macca’s in Elsternwick on Nepean Highway. My schooling was also in the inner south, and I have very happy memories of being a drama nerd that found a place of friendship and acceptance there. It was a lovely place to grow up. I have fond memories of long afternoons at the local park with my little brother and sister and going on adventures and bike rides along the foreshore or down neighbourhood laneways.
Later, during my uni years, I was fortunate to spend time living in other forward-thinking cities like Vancouver and Tokyo that boast a day-to-day connection with the incredible local environment and a public transport system that is the envy of the world respectively. When I got home from these journeys the way that I grounded myself again was by taking a long bike ride through that sweet-smelling scrub on the foreshore, which I later learned was rehabilitated and nurtured by the local council and our community, past the icons of Luna Park and the Espy and looking towards our beautiful city by the bay, or Nerm. Now that gorgeous ride, which is as safe and pleasant as it is because it is mostly on separated cycle infrastructure, is my commute to the electorate office. This is my home, and I am very proud to represent our ambitious, intelligent and connected community in this Parliament.
Going back a little further to what shaped my childhood experiences, my mum grew up on a farm that produced wheat and wool, and when I was growing up we visited often with my grandparents, who still lived off rainwater that they collected in their tanks. This gave me an appreciation for how precious the life-giving properties of our planet are and how we can live happily with plenty if we are judicious and thoughtful in using what is given us by nature. As well as making sure we kids had access to nature, Mum always supported me in pursuing my varied interests and hobbies, from choir through to the X-Files – whatever weird thing I was into – as well as encouraging me in my schooling. Dad through his work as a lawyer inspired in me the ambition to practise law, instilling in me the importance of a good education and a sense of duty to try and do something useful with your work. He also helped me develop an early appreciation of what has turned out to be a prescient love for Yes Minister, and I feel that by maintaining some humour regarding the workings of this Parliament that will serve us all very well in this chamber throughout the term. I feel so blessed to have been afforded that appreciation of the city and the country and to have grown up in a house where creativity and learning were always encouraged.
When I was growing up I had a feeling that we were a nation that was proudly open. We were embracing and celebrating the diversity of our community. Multiculturalism was officially celebrated throughout the late 1980s and early 90s. We were fixing the hole in the ozone layer and we were globally cooperating, and Australia seemed like a good global citizen. We sang Heal the World in our school assemblies, and Captain Planet was on after school. I had faith that even though there were baddies out there – and in the cartoon they were the embodiment of evils like extractivism and pollution – there were good guys fighting back against these problems. I felt like the grown-ups had things under control. As I have lived through a series of unfortunate events – to name a few, September 11, the global financial crisis, one catastrophic bushfire season after another from Black Saturday through to the Black Summer – that faith in the grown-ups has been eroded. Specifically, I no longer felt like our governments were acting – or acting strongly enough – in the interests of local people and our environment. I am not alone in this loss of confidence. In 2021 Caroline Hickman’s groundbreaking climate anxiety study found that three-quarters of young people feel that, given the climate crisis, the future is frightening. They think that governments’ responses are not good enough and they feel more betrayed by them than reassured. Given the scale and the urgency of the climate crisis and the dire threat it presents for the good life for us now and for generations to come, I applaud and I am strengthened by the courage of youth climate activists, in particular the school strikers for climate. The clear-eyed focus of young people on the solutions – getting off fossil fuels and a just and rapid transition to clean energy – and their passion for action get me out of bed in the morning. While I am in this place I will strive to stand up for people and the environment now and for generations to come.
I so far have personally pulled through those unfortunate events okay, in no small part thanks to the excellent education opportunities and the stable housing situation I was fortunate to grow up with. But I know others have not had the same luck and privilege as me. Throughout my career I have witnessed how misfortune can befall any of us and how social and structural determinants of health can influence these outcomes. When providing pro bono legal assistance to people without housing I saw firsthand that anyone can become homeless, and it is a situation that has only become more perilous as we have seen reduced investment in public housing by successive governments and inadequate rights for those who rent their homes. Working as a law reform advocate, I have seen how anyone can fall prey to insidious marketing or addictive products of harmful industries, such as gambling. And as a local councillor I saw our community’s passion for climate action and I also saw their frustration at how slow our governments – still under the thrall of the fossil fuel industry – are to act. I also saw, as we all did during the pandemic, that governments do have the power to act decisively and swiftly to address these issues, as during the pandemic when people were housed in hotel accommodation. The solutions really are right there in front of us.
So I come here sceptical of the value of hope. Hope is what sustains us when things seem grim – and there are some grim prospects ahead of us if we fail to act on the climate and inequality crises – but hope can really wear thin. Through my own experience of climate grief and anxiety, my dull dismay at visiting Franz Josef Glacier and seeing from the historical markers its clear retreat, diving with my sister on the Great Barrier Reef, moving with rainbow fish amongst the coral but seeing on the sea floor below brittle bleached coral, and that deep realisation that I am likely part of the last generation to witness these places in anything like their former glory, I share the fury and the disdain of young climate activists when we are told to keep hoping for a better future and I understand why we have moved to demanding action.
Though we might notice some of the most obvious impacts of the climate crisis when we visit these exceptional natural wonders, we no longer have to look very far to see the dangerous impacts of climate change. Our homes are under threat from flooding. Extreme heat and bushfires are bringing a watchful and a wearying note to our summers, which used to be really carefree. And it is making our cities swelter.
When I cannot summon hope and despair threatens to engulf me, like many in these last few years especially, I have turned to the arts to remind me of the good in people and our creative potential. Music, theatre, writing, comedy – all creative forms help us to experience and articulate painful emotions, they help us make sense of this world and they help us, crucially, to imagine different futures. It was reading up on sci-fi that I came across the term ‘hopepunk’, which helped me face another year of turning up to fight the good fight after another summer of extreme weather destruction and disastrous government inaction. Hopepunk was one of the Collins English Dictionary’s new and notable terms for 2019, and for me it conjures this image of a famous panel from the comic Tank Girl. Tank Girl sits on a rock, pulling on her boots against an orange sky with a cuppa at her side. ‘I can’t let things be this way,’ she says. ‘We can be wonderful. We can be magnificent. We can turn this shit around.’ I have to believe it, and I think we all should, because the truth is we are past hope. Blind hope at this point is downright dangerous. Hopepunk, though, offers us a way of describing collective effort and resilience in the face of bleak times and dark forces, and at this point we need effort and we need action.
So I have come through that cynicism, and instead of getting jaded, I have stayed green. And I know that I am in very good company in pulling on my boots, because all across our region people and community are already turning their hope into action. In local government I was lucky to see up close the energetic efforts of community members to care for their local environment. Greening their streets by promoting exciting ideas like an active transport and rewilding initiative, the Greenline corridor. They are picking up rubbish from the shores of our bay Nerm, the beautiful Birrarung, or Yarra River, and on their neighbourhood streets. Our communities are moving to action. They need government to step up too.
I deeply believe that we need to restore care for people and environment to the heart of our decision-making. Governments have immense power to respond to these modern crises and, crucially, to action systemic responses to what are systemic issues. That is what I have come here to do. It is what I will strive to do in this chamber, and I am immensely grateful for the privilege. My gratitude is owed in general to the people of Southern Metro, who have elected me, but also of course more specifically to a number of special people, because as anyone seated in this chamber knows, no-one gets here alone. So thank you specifically to the following people. To Sue Pennicuik: your work on so many issues but in particular for animals and justice sparked my attention as a young lawyer and it drew me to the Greens. I hope I can be a glimmer of the star you were as our former MP for Southern Metro. To Greg Barber, the man with a plan: thank you for your belief in me, which allowed me to picture myself standing up in this chamber in the first place. Thank you to my fellow Greens MPs, who have already been so welcoming and supportive as we learn to navigate this place, and to our brilliant and hardworking staff. Thank you to our amazing Greens volunteers across the Southern Metro Region, who put in hours out speaking with the community about how we can take more effective action on climate, housing and integrity in this term of Parliament. You stood on polling locations in every kind of weather for hours on end, and you were just generally inspiring and amazing. And thank you in particular to the wonderful candidates who stood in lower house districts across our region. You did our movement very proud. Of course to my family – Mum, Dad, Suzanne and Richard: thank you for putting up with me, for turning up for me and for your love and support that I can always count on. And to Alistair: I can depend on you like time and the tides, and I love you. Thank you for coming on this latest adventure with me.
The issues our communities in Southern Metro face are local manifestations of the same great tides and trends we are all rising to meet across the planet at this juncture in history: inequality, arising in particular from increasingly unaffordable housing, and ineffective and punitive justice responses that disproportionately impact vulnerable or already stressed members of our communities. I had abundant opportunity growing up in the inner south, and I want every person in this state to have access to the same support and resources that I did or better.
Our biodiversity is under threat, and we need to urgently protect what is left of our wild places by expanding protections; by ending gas drilling, especially in sensitive locations like the Twelve Apostles region; and by stopping logging of our precious native forests. We can also do more to green and rewild our urban spaces, harnessing the creativity and drive of our local communities as we do so. And as I mentioned, our communities are leading the charge on this. They are turning nature strips and verges back into wildlife corridors and biolinks filled with a diversity of indigenous plants. They are minimising waste to landfill and recapturing food waste as local compost, and they are beautifying, reclaiming and restoring public spaces, like replanted sections of our foreshore, the Elster Creek nature reserve and the Caulfield Racecourse Reserve, to name a few personal favourites. So please in this chamber let us live up to our communities’ expectations but also their ambitions.
We are so lucky to be in a place where enormous opportunity exists to make this necessary transition one that benefits us socially, economically and environmentally. The steps being taken in this state to support renewables are very welcome and encouraging first steps, and finally we are seeing action at the federal level too. But let us make sure we take commensurate action to end the primary driver of the climate crisis, the coal and gas industries, so that we can look our kids in the eye – or for a growing number of us, let us face it, have the confidence restored to bring children into this world – and we can say we met our responsibility to future generations. Our community members are planting thousands of trees and plants to absorb carbon and to shore up the foreshore against inundation and the riverbanks against erosion. A good government would stop the fossil fuel industry from cancelling out our mitigation efforts by ending coal and gas and ensuring a swift and just transition to clean energy.
Volunteers are out picking up plastic every weekend, and when I am out paddling on the Birrarung, every trip still ends with the kayak full of filthy plastic bottles – come on, container deposit scheme. A good government would keep up the momentum and find that next wave of plastic pollution bans to implement to tackle that next set of items dirtying our streets, rivers and bay. And locals could keep hitting the meal relief kitchen every meal – breakfast, lunch and dinner – to prep food for people experiencing homelessness. A good government would ensure that there is enough government-owned and adequately maintained public housing stock to address homelessness and housing insecurity in our state and make sure that everyone has a stable and secure place to call home.
I am actually very excited because we can do all of these things. We have huge scope in this chamber and in this building to act decisively to support the public interest, to improve people’s day-to-day lives and to secure a better future for our community. From ending polluting fossil fuels to creating more comfortable and healthier public homes in this state that are all electric and efficient, the opportunities for getting it done are abundant. Let us take them together. Thank you.
Sitting suspended 11:42 am until 12:03 pm.