House debates

Monday, 22 July 2019

Governor-General's Speech

Address-in-Reply

4:03 pm

Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I'm extremely grateful to be standing here in this place to represent the people of Macnamara. It is my privilege to stand here on the lands of the Ngunawal and Ngambri people, the traditional owners of this place, and I pay my respects to their elders, past, present and emerging.

The electorate of Macnamara is set by the Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne on lands walked on for thousands of years by the Boonwurrung people of the Kulin nation. Today I come with a message for our parliament from the Boonwurrung. With your indulgence, I'd like to share their words:

We, the Boonwurrung, acknowledge that we as Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians share similar values and aspirations.

We are all unique with different stories, history and perspectives—

And that important fact should be recognised and understood.

For thousands of years, our community has maintained our strong links to our own unique culture, language and stories.

But we, the Boonwurrung, believe that we should focus on what binds us together as a wider community.

And what we can achieve together is more than what we can achieve as individuals.

In our language, we value the concept of 'tjanabi', the coming together for a common purpose despite our differences.

It is through tjanabi that we can unify by celebrating the things we have in common, while also valuing the knowledge of what our diverse cultures add to the Australian way of life.

We can achieve a better tomorrow, a shared future that we can all be proud of.

I thank the Boonwurrung for allowing me to carry their generous and warm message in this place.

It is a message that reaffirms my belief that we have something completely rare and unique about our country. We are home to 65,000 years of history and more than 65,000 years of wisdom, continuous culture and language. We are home to a people who have more than 65,000 years of deep connection to our land and to our water. It is up to each of us to look after our precious environment and to heed the lessons of sustainability from our planet's first conservationists: Australia's Indigenous people. I stand ready, like so many people here today, to take my place on the right side of history. I stand ready to help ensure that our First Nations people are duly recognised in Australia's Constitution.

From the wharfies who worked and built our beautiful Port Melbourne to the modern multiculturalism that is South Melbourne, to the beauty and evolution of Albert Park, to the coffee and culture of St Kilda, to the picture-perfect streets of Elwood, to the cool new addition of Windsor and to the place where I was born and raised in Caulfield, the electorate of Macnamara is as diverse as it is iconic. But for all our differences in background, birthplace and beliefs, there is something much greater that binds us. Having spoken with thousands of locals over the course of the campaign—on street corners, front verandas or the other end of the phone—it is clear that the people of Macnamara know that our local community, our little corner of world, is a truly special place.

For some, the change from our federation name of Melbourne Ports to Macnamara meant moving away from history; but I think that this change was an inspired choice and, from my family's own perspective, a fortuitous one too. Dame Annie Jean Macnamara, for whom my electorate was named, was a great Australian. She was one of the first pioneering female doctors at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne. She specialised in treating polio, a crippling disease that was particularly devastating for young children. As if that were not enough, Dame Jean was also a leading scientist, devoting her days to ending Australia's early rabbit plagues and, with it, the disastrous impact upon our environment. She was also responsible for leading and shaping some of our nation's great medical minds. It is that point that proves that life is sometimes full of unexpected surprises.

At a campaign function just before the election, my grandfather found himself in conversation with Dame Jean's daughter, Merran Samuel. What we learnt that night was that, as a young medical student, my grandfather, Dr Hershal Cohen, was taught by the great Dame Jean Macnamara. My grandfather is watching from Melbourne right now. In preparing for today, I asked for his thoughts on his university teacher. He told me:

[Back then], not many women got into the position of medical leadership, very few. But she had a determination. And she valued the importance of looking after these people that had polio—and that was the driver. She was respected because she was the leader in her field and she was a leader in the treatment of those who were suffering.

As my grandfather's words illustrate, Dame Jean Macnamara was brilliant; but that's not what made her special. She made kids who were going through the most unimaginable pain feel just a little bit brighter. She gave families the precious knowledge that their loved ones were being looked after. When her young patients were facing that very terrifying diagnosis, she made sure that they had every care and comfort. Dame Jean had a mind to tackle the most difficult problems of her generation, but she had a heart for those who needed help the most. If that is not a good example for us in this place, I'm not sure what is. It is why it is truly my pleasure to acknowledge Dame Jean Macnamara's daughter, Merran Samuel; her granddaughter, Dr Josephine Samuel-King; and Jo's partner, Marcus Gwynne, who are all with us in the gallery today.

I also take this opportunity to acknowledge Michael Danby, who served as the member for Melbourne Ports for 21 years. Michael Danby loved this place. He loved being here, and he loved talking about big ideas. Many didn't agree with Michael, which is probably a sign of his willingness to challenge the status quo. Michael's time in this place was full of courage. I would like to wish him and Amanda the very best for the next chapter.

Like so many others in this place, I am only able to stand here because of the sacrifices of those who came before me. My story starts with a young boy who grew up in the poorest suburbs of London. In order to help support his family, he left school at age 14 to take up an apprenticeship as a pastry chef, until the Second World War broke out. During that war, this boy witnessed one of the darkest episodes of human history and, with it, the attempted destruction of his people. Following the end of that bloody conflict, and after a brief period living and serving in the newly formed state of Israel, it was eventually Melbourne, Australia where he found the peace he was searching for with his wife and young children.

In Melbourne, as a pastry chef, he would wake up at 4 am to do a hard day's work, putting in backbreaking hours but never making that much money. Instead he relied on public schools for his kids and public health care for his family. And in his retirement he relied on a modest pension that somehow always had enough in it for gifts for his grandchildren. His entire life he worked hard and he told everyone that he was a rich man, but his fortune was not in wealth but in family. He was a humble giant of our nation, and he was my grandfather, Jerry Burns. On 7 September 2013, I too woke up at 4 am, just like my grandfather used to do. It was the day of the federal election and it was the culmination of months of hard work to get Michael Danby re-elected for the sixth time. It was also the day that my grandfather, Jerry Burns, passed away.

My grandfather told me to do two things with my life. The first was to marry my wife, Zoe, and the second was to run as a Labor candidate. Thankfully, Zoe agreed to the first and we have been blessed with our beautiful daughter, Tia. Unfortunately my grandfather never got to meet Tia or see me run as a Labor candidate, but it is his example that has led me here today. My grandfather taught me to work hard and to look after hardworking people. He came to this country with very little, and it was this great nation that gifted him not only a good life but the possibility of building a better life for his children too.

His wife, my amazing grandmother Dinah, was barely five feet tall, but she too, in almost every sense of the word, was a giant. She was born in Edinburgh, in Scotland, to a generation without security or opportunity for poor, working-class women. But Dinah overcame a world full of hurdles and hypocrisy to find safety and happiness with her beloved Jerry in Elwood, in the heart of my electorate, all the while instilling in us—her granddaughters and her grandsons—that our abilities and our ambitions were not bound by pink or blue.

On my mother's side, my grandmother, Gerda Cohen, was also forced to leave her homeland, considered a threat because of nothing more than her family's faith. Throughout my time at university, I had the privilege of working as a teacher's aid, assisting children at the start of their education, full of energy and innocence. And yet at the same age, just four years old, my grandmother was somehow deemed an enemy of the Third Reich. My grandmother was born to a world that deemed her unequal before she even learnt to read. Thankfully, she was able to escape with her parents to make that long journey across the world as an asylum seeker to Australia, but even in her home, in the decades that followed, Gerda would always remind us that she was one of the lucky ones. While she was able to escape and build a life here in Australia, much of my family did not escape and perished in the darkest hour of mankind.

It is the lessons from each of my grandparents, Jerry, Dinah, Hershal and Gerda, that guide my policy ambitions in this place. Their stories today are as important as ever. My grandfather Jerry, who built a life for his family with nothing more than his two hands, reminds me that we must find new ways to help more Australians find financial security. The eight-hour day is disappearing. Australians are working longer hours than ever before, while at the same time the number of those who are able to afford their own home is plummeting. Thirty years ago, six out of 10 people my age owned their own home. Today that number is closer to four and rapidly diminishing. It's clear the old road to financial security is closed for too many Australians. People are working harder than ever, but they are finding it more and more difficult to find financial security. It's why we as a nation need to be willing to have an honest conversation about the way our economy is working and exactly who it is working for. Because, just as my grandfather and his generation understood, being Australian shouldn't mean you are granted a life of privilege; it should mean that you can work hard to achieve financial security for yourself and for your family.

My grandmother Dinah's story reminds me that we must continue our work to ensure that women in Australia are getting the fair share that they deserve in their life choices, in their workplaces and in their fight for equal pay. We've taken some great strides but, in the decades on from my grandmother's experience, it's clear we have a long way to go. As a father, a friend, a husband but, fundamentally, as a human being, I acknowledge my responsibility in securing that better, fairer future for Australian women.

My grandfather Hershal's life as a doctor instilled in me that having access to world-class health care is part of what it is to be Australian. It means access to health care regardless of your background or bank balance but it should also mean universal access to mental health care—something that we are still a long way from achieving. My family, like so many others, has been impacted by mental illness. As a society, on so many accounts, we are making good progress, but while people continue to slip through the cracks there is still so much more to do—just one example: the current arrangement of only being able to access 10 mental health sessions a year via Medicare should be increased. For anyone who has watched a loved one suffer, you know that on every measure 10 sessions is woefully inadequate. Simply put: we can, and we must, do better. As a nation and as a parliament we owe it to those Australians and their families.

Finally, my grandmother Gerda's story—a story of persecution and prejudice—has etched in me a fierce opposition to bigotry in all its forms. I was born in Bob Hawke's Australia in an era when the Australian identity was perhaps at its proudest but never at the exclusion of others. In more recent times, we've seen the rise of something new—a sinister element that argues that this nation belongs only to a core few and that by virtue of nothing more than background, birthplace, race or religion, others must reside on the outer.

Only months before the election in the heart of my electorate, we saw that racist underbelly march on St Kilda Beach. Of course, it's not the only instance with a rise in bigotry seen the world over. The question for us here in this place is: how can we fight what feels like a rising tide? I believe, as is so often the case, the answer lies with Bob Hawke and his unique brand of patriotism: taking pride in our nation while continuing to be persistent in our defence against discrimination and ignorance. It is up to all of us in this place to ensure Australia is a country that celebrates our differences and our diversity. It is up to all of us in this place to say strongly and without fear that no matter your gender, sexuality, race or religion, here in Australia you are one of us.

Just before I finish, if you will indulge me briefly, I wish to acknowledge some of the other people who have helped me get here today. At the top of my list is my beautiful wife Zoe—thank you for your love and for doing more than you should to support me. I love coming home to you and sharing our lives, and I couldn't do this without you. To my beautiful daughter, Tia: being away from you is the hardest part of my day, and I hope you'll forgive me for my time in this place but know that I love you more than I thought I could love anyone. To my incredible parents, Leanne and Phil: you are both fierce campaigners and have helped me achieve far more than my high school teachers thought possible. You have both given me nothing but love and support, and I consider myself very lucky to be your son. To my humble and brilliant little sister Bec and my wise and gentle little brother David, I am truly blessed to be part of our trio. To my former boss Daniel Andrews, my former colleagues and in particular Jessie McCrone and Lissie Ratcliff, I wouldn't be here if it weren't for your friendship and help.

To Ari Suss and Mark Dreyfus for your guidance and advice; to Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek and the entire Labor team who helped us win in Macnamara; to the Labor true believers who are part of a hopeful and ambitious campaign; and to my entire campaign team who worked so hard, especially Dean, Millie, Micky, Simon, Dakota, Thomas, Adam, Sam, Julia, Louise, you're all worthy of being etched into Hansard as outstanding political professionals and I couldn't be prouder to have campaigned alongside you.

To my friends and family who have made the journey up to Canberra today; to Anthony Albanese, my good friend Richard Marles and every member of the Labor caucus for their warm welcome; and, most importantly, to the people of Macnamara who put their trust in me: thank you all so much.

So, Mr Speaker, I stand here with humility, ready to honour those who have come before me; I stand here with gratitude to a nation that has given my family safety and opportunity; I stand here proudly as a member of the mighty Australian Labor Party; and I stand here, in this place, as the first member for Macnamara, ready to work hard and ready to look after hardworking people. Thank you very much.

Comments

Meredith Doig
Posted on 23 Jul 2019 4:35 pm (Report this comment)

Congratulations, Josh. At a worrying time, I hope you will stand firm against the forces of populism and authoritarianism.

Log in or join to post a public comment.