House debates

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Governor-General's Speech


4:25 pm

Photo of Bernie RipollBernie Ripoll (Oxley, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister Assisting the Leader for Small Business) Share this | Hansard source

Today's address-in-reply is my last opportunity to speak to the parliament and say a few words of thanks. When I was first elected in October 1998, Oxley was a very different place and I was a very different person. Just as the electorate of Oxley in the western corridor off Ipswich and Brisbane has grown and developed, so have I. For a start I had a full head of hair—well, almost—and there seemed to be more time to do things and interact with people; and the parliament seemed to be a much more generous place. Perhaps it wasn't, but there certainly was more camaraderie and a different kind of exchange than I experience today. But maybe it is just me. Whether it is social media or a quickening pace of life or just the characters and institutions changing over time, this place certainly does feel different.

It is incredible honour and privilege to be elected to serve our national parliament and represent my own community. Personally, I have always felt very lucky to represent the community which I grew up in and was shaped by. Having that honour to serve my country and my community for even one term would have been enough, but to have that distinction for six parliaments and almost 18 years means that I also feel very humbled. I feel humbled by the experience and thankful for it. When you are young migrant boy growing up in Inala, learning to speak English, you can only ever dream of bigger things and of making your parents proud that the decision they made to come to Australia was in fact the right one.

Hard work is never easy for anyone wanting to do something different. None of us get to this place, or anywhere else for that matter, without some hard work, some long hours, lots of support and a real dedication and passion for a cause and a belief. For me, that core belief was the Labor Party and what it represented, although that is not where I started. For me, working life began in the Royal Australian Air Force and then as an apprentice electrician and night school to finish year 12 before getting my electrical ticket, followed by a whirlwind ride to university to study business and find my real passion in politics and community.

It is interesting when you look back at the opportunities, the forks and the road and all the places you took a wrong turn, but, regardless of all of that, the road I took still led me right here, albeit a little sooner than I expected—helped along by the unlikely loss of Oxley for Labor in 1996. All of you, I am sure, remember the previous member for Oxley as she certainly was a riot and created the opportunity for a fresh candidate in Oxley. I do feel very proud that I had that chance to win back Oxley for Labor and for my community.

I want to say thank you to the Labor Party and all of its members—that very large and broad church made up of so many wonderful people and fascinating characters. At its core it has a belief in helping people, lifting people, giving people more opportunity and helping people help themselves. That is what I believe. It is simple but it is a great set of core values and one that can carry the Labor Party forward for another hundred years. I want to sincerely say thank you to my supporters and branch members in the seat of Oxley, who have been tireless campaigners, workers, sausage sizzlers, letterbox stuffers and, in the old days, folders and envelope lickers. How times have changed—all replaced by fast and very efficient machines, but it is certainly not as much fun. There have been many of you, and too many to possibly mention by name, who I thank for your hard work and your commitment to our community—well before I came along, during my term and I know well and truly after I leave.

I have many great memories filled with very large characters. They have made my life very exciting and challenging and at other times just plain torturous as hell. But all of it—the special people, the challenging processes, the endless meetings, the sometimes pointless debates and the ongoing campaigns—have made me who I am today. Again, I say thank you. Special mention and thanks must go to my fabulous staff. A very dedicated and wonderful group of individuals, they deserve recognition for their skills and talents. I am very lucky to count many of them as friends. I have been very lucky from my first days in the job to have great people who have supported me, understood the community and their needs and managed to keep me on track. They have come and gone and come back; many have gone on to greater things. I wish all of them very well for the future. Thanks to the current crew: Winston, Chris, Maxine, Naomi and Paula and, of course, Pam and Amy who have recently moved on to greater things. I want to thank the federal parliamentary caucus and all my friends. My dad was fond of saying that, if you can count your real friends on one hand, you are very lucky. In my case, I feel exceptionally lucky. We all have friends, especially in politics, but it is only through the passage of time and life's difficulties that you get to count them properly.

The caucus has been an experience. If we are meant to be a reflection of the broader community, then we are that on steroids, and it is a good thing. The caucus has changed incredibly in the past 18 years. We have changed in the way we do business and in the way we interact, but we have not changed in the way that we bring our passion to and always fight for a better deal in the parliament. I am proud to have been part of a group of people that believe so strongly in a set of core values. I want to especially thank Labor leader Bill Shorten for his respect for our caucus, and for his leadership over the past 2½ years. Back then, no-one would have given us a chance, yet here we are today, on election eve, and we are in the game. Bill, you have achieved something that many thought impossible: you herded the cats and got us to sing in tune.

My caucus colleagues can also breathe a sigh of relief, as I will not be writing any tell-all books or complaining about events of the past. I have nothing to complain about. Not everything went to plan and not everyone held up their end of the bargain, but that is life. We will make decisions based on our views of and our belief in what is right at the time, and I respect that. I can say that it has been interesting to be in a caucus that like to write books about policy, about ourselves and about different versions of history. I have collected all of them, and I even promise to read them—one day! I appreciate the time I have had here and all my incredible colleagues, even if there are one or two whose names, when mentioned, still cause a small reaction. I will leave the caucus with some great memories and some great friends. Thank you very much.

I have also had the great fortune of political and local support from communities in my region. They have become more like friends, and I feel very much part of their world in so many different ways. I am very lucky that the western corridor of Ipswich and Brisbane is not only my home but also home to many migrants wanting a better life for their families. It has never been easy for migrants to make a new life in a foreign country, but the electorate of Oxley continues to be a great place to forge a new beginning, just as it was for my family back in 1971, when we moved to the Wacol migrant camp—when we had those sorts of things—and then to our housing commission home in Inala. I say to my many communities and friends from New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, Samoa, Fiji, Vietnam, India, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Laos, Thailand, China, Africa, Sri Lanka and many parts of Europe, just to name a few that have made Ipswich and Brisbane their new home: welcome.

There is a lot we can learn from each other as we adopt each other's culture and history. There is no greater evidence of that exchange than the many restaurants, events and celebrations we see in the western corridor. How poor Oxley would be without the Vietnamese Children's Festival or Moon Festival; Chinese New Year; Pacific Islander events; the Indian festival of lights, Diwali; or our own Christmas celebrations. I have always had the view that, when you come to Australia, you need to learn the language, learn the customs, obey the laws and become a little bit Aussie. My view is that, through that process of 'Australianisation', we must also keep our identity through links to the home country, retain our first language and maintain our culture. That is the Australia of today and the Australia I am proud to call home. I sincerely thank all my communities, who have taught me so much about their countries, their people and their culture.

I want to thank the many and varied RSL branches and subbranches for their work and support for our veterans and for the great work they do in commemorating Anzac Day and Vietnam Veterans Day, and in supporting commemorations for our allies. You have been a great source of community grounding and pride, and helped to bind our history with our present.

As I said earlier, Oxley has changed a lot. When I grew up in Inala, there was an enormous piece of land just behind our house. My dad used to say, 'One day that'll be a big suburb.' That endless piece of bush is now a suburb called Forest Lake and is home to more than 25,000 people. The even bigger bit of bushland now called Greater Springfield was state forestry land and a tip at the end of Logan Road. Today it is a thriving satellite city of more than 30,000 people. It is also my home. It has more than a dozen schools, dozens of restaurants, shops, a hospital, two state-of-the-art train stations, a water park to rival that of South Bank in Brisbane, a Greg Norman signature golf course—if that is what you like!—and a community that is thriving and, in time, will grow to more than 100,000 people.

In 1998, when I started campaigning for Oxley, the Ipswich Motorway was not much more than a bumpy goat track. At the time, I managed to secure an enormous commitment from Labor, $40 million, to get it started. Through successive leaders and governments, with support and opposition and alternative plans, we finally got our upgrade some 10 years later—and for a mere $1.8 billion!—delivered well under budget and on time. It was worth every dollar, and the money could not have been spent in a better place.

In my first speech, I talked about my electorate, the people and who we were. Back then, I said:

Government must lay the foundations for a caring society. It must support us in our endeavours to support each other.

Further, I said:

We are not battlers in Oxley. We are pensioners, we are returned service men and women, we are families with sick children, and we are sole parents struggling on low incomes. We are casual and part-time workers desperate to find full-time work … We are all this and … more.

Some things may have changed, but in Oxley, like other parts of the country, much has not.

In 2011 my electorate, along with 80 per cent of Queensland, saw one of its greatest natural disasters in the form of a flood even more catastrophic than the great flood of 1974, with all of its devastation of our lives and our economy. That flood in 2011 resulted in the complete loss of my electorate office, and I understand I am the only member ever to have lost their electorate office to a natural disaster. What a great privilege! That was a very small price to pay, though, compared to the losses experienced by so many families, who lost their homes, their businesses and their jobs. In all this tragedy, we also witnessed some of the most profound and generous displays of community and of support from individuals, businesses and government. Neighbours helped neighbours, friends helped each other, and strangers helped those in need. Ordinary people rose up to become extraordinary heroes. This defining event in my electorate, through the western corridor, brought out the best in people and demonstrated what we can do as a community when called upon to help each other in times of need.

Finally, of course, I want to thank my family. I thank my mum and dad, Suzanne and Andre, who are no longer with us, for their incredible support. Belonging to three countries in a lifetime is a big challenge, but they did it, and they ended up where they felt most at home and at peace. I want to give special thanks to Margy and our three wonderful children, Tim, Emily and Madeline. I could not have achieved the things I have done without your support and commitment, and I am truly thankful. Being a part-time dad is a feature of this job for which there are no excuses; suffice to say that we choose the path we walk and gladly volunteer ourselves for this life. Our three children have grown into beautiful and good young people with a great outlook on life and all it has to offer. It would also appear that none of them harbour any political aspirations, for which I am truly grateful Thank you and I am so proud of you.

In my life I have been called many things, not all nice. You might expect that with a name like Bernard Fernand Ripoll. But I call myself an Australian, French born of Algerian parents and with Spanish heritage—only in Australia! While a piece of paper may be the hard-copy evidence that stipulates a person's citizenship, and mine in 1974, of itself it can never confer the commitment felt inside one's head and heart. This is the commitment my family made to our new country, Australia, when we took up citizenship. But nor should that piece of paper ever take away your history, culture or sense of belonging to more than one place.

Finally, to our candidate in Oxley, Milton Dick: I wish you very well in the election on 2 July. I leave the electorate of Oxley in as good, if not, I believe, better condition than when I became its custodian for the Labor Party. I now you will do a fine job and that Oxley will continue to grow and help make all of its constituents better off for choosing it as the place they call home. Thank you.


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