House debates

Monday, 18 February 2019

Parliamentary Representation


3:10 pm

Photo of Kate EllisKate Ellis (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Speaker, on indulgence, I wish to make a valedictory speech to the parliament. It is impossible in one short speech to summarise the amazing ride that I have been on, from a 26-year-old girl preselected to try and win the seat of Adelaide off the government, to standing here saying goodbye to the parliament.

I first stood in this chamber almost 15 years ago and admitted to being young and idealistic. I said that I hoped that when I left this place I would be old and idealistic. Well, what I wasn't to know was that during my period in the parliament I would witness more leadership change, more instability, more division and more chaos than at any other time in this parliament's history. I continue to witness too many focus on the sport of politics rather than the purpose of it. So I guess you could say that my idealism has been challenged at times! But, despite this, I absolutely remain passionate about this role, this place and the power that we have here to improve people's lives—the idealist survived, just!

Facing the prospect of leaving has made we reflect more than ever on just what a privilege it is to stand here, what an honour it is to be selected and what a responsibility it is to serve Australia well. The time allowed to me today could easily be filled with a love letter to the people of Adelaide. I can never adequately repay the faith that they have put in me nor adequately express my gratitude. Having the honour of representing the people of Adelaide is without doubt one of the greatest privileges of my life, and my first and most heartfelt thanks must go to them.

Being a local member is massively underrated by some of us who sit here and, I would argue, by most of those who cover politics. Whilst it isn't as visible as grandstanding in the parliament or running party attack lines on Sky News, to me, I have always viewed representing the people of Adelaide as both the most significant and most rewarding part of my job. Being a local MP is important work, and I think it is especially so for Labor MPs, as we are the ones who so often represent those who have fallen between the cracks. We get the chance daily to quite literally change people's lives—by fixing their Centrelink issue and helping to lift them out of poverty; by working to connect them with DV services and helping them to escape violence; and by resolving their problems with the NDIS and helping to ease their suffering. So thank you, Adelaide, for trusting me with your issues and concerns and for paying me the greatest compliment imaginable in continuing to re-elect me to serve you in this parliament. I know that the member for Hindmarsh will work diligently to represent you and I absolutely wish him every success in that.

There is a general view that people get more conservative as they age. That has certainly not been the case for me when it comes to my feminist beliefs. One thing that has truly mortified me is the suggestion that my decision to leave this place shows that it is somehow incompatible to be a woman, and particularly a mother, and have a successful career in politics. That is simply not true. There is no job that's more rewarding, more interesting and more stimulating than serving our community as a member of parliament. So I would urge any woman with an interest to do it, because you will never regret it, just as I do not regret a single day that I've spent here.

The truth behind my decision is that I felt that I could leave because we on our side have been so successful in electing talented women. When I was first elected as the youngest woman to ever sit in this House, I was often compared to a previous young member for Adelaide, Andrew Jones. He went out in controversy, suffering a 14 per cent swing against him after just one term. Now, rightly or wrongly, I felt an overwhelming pressure—that it was up to me to prove that you could be young, you could be a young woman, and you could succeed here, and I hoped that by doing so I might make it easier for those who followed. Following the next election, I became a minister, and I had it regularly pointed out to me that I had broken Paul Keating's record for being the youngest ever Australian minister. Again, personally I felt this enormously heavy burden to show that you could be both young and a woman, and effective in your role.

What changed for me was not that I thought I couldn't be a woman, a mother and do my job but actually that the pressure lifted. One day, I looked around me and I saw this great and inspiring army of passionate, talented, hardworking women that we have in our caucus and I knew that I could go. There is no shortage of remarkable Labor women who will fly the flag, achieve amazing things and prove to all that a woman's place is in the parliament—and there are more on their way.

I see in the gallery my smart, talented friend Marielle Smith. Five years ago, Julia Gillard said of Marielle, 'For journalists in the room, please write that name down; you're going to need it. I'm absolutely confident she will be one of the stars in the future.' Well, Marielle is a candidate for the Senate at this year's election, like Anika Wells in Lilley and so many other smart, talented, ambitious women putting their hands up as Labor candidates right around the country.

To those opposite I would say: this doesn't just happen organically. No boys club has ever voluntarily dismantled itself. Over 15 years, I've witnessed the cultural transformation within my side of politics when it comes to women. Two factors have driven that change—most importantly, of course, adopting real structural change to attract and support more women. It's meant that our culture, our caucus and our support has dramatically increased as our female representation has. The other factor is having male leaders who believe in and are committed to gender equality. It means that, after the struggle for so many years, real change has now taken place and is taking place really quickly, and it is amazing to watch.

After the strong leadership that we enjoy from our leader and deputy leader, and after learning the lesson the hard way at the ballot box, I actually credit the increase in women's representation in Labor with helping to create the stability that our side had enjoyed over the last five years. I argue that a party that better resembles Australia itself is always going to be steadier than one dominated by macho men with scores to settle and egos driven by self-promotion. Increasing gender equality in the parliament isn't just the right thing to do; it's the smart thing to do.

Some say that the only thing harder than getting into this parliament is leaving it. There's always more to do. There are more issues. There's more reform. There's more progress. The job of improving Australia is never going to be complete. I've accepted this, though, because I have such faith in the Labor team around me to keep fighting the good fight, although I do remain burdened by one unfinished act. I feel deeply that the job of early childhood education reform was meant to be my purpose here, and it is unfinished business. I'm really proud of my work in establishing and entrenching the national quality framework, despite the challenges of getting all states and territories, from all different political persuasions, to agree and commit. I'm proud that universal access to kindergarten for four-year-olds is now established and recognised as critically important. I was proud to lead the debate on the need to extend this to every Australian three-year-old, and I was so delighted by the Leader of the Opposition and the member for Kingston's announcement that Labor will do just that.

But there remains much to do. I have publicly argued that our early childhood system is fundamentally broken. It should be universal, quality and as simple to navigate as our school system. It's shameful that the government has taken the backward step of linking children's support and early education to their parents' activities rather than as a fundamental universal right. It was deeply disappointing that many of those charged with being the key advocates for children sought to compromise with the government rather than staunchly oppose the decreasing of many children's access. It is unjustifiable that we have seen an increase in services focused on boosting profits ahead of best meeting children's needs.

I absolutely know that the member for Kingston will do a fabulous job of progressing these causes. I would say to the whole parliament, though: children are not currently at the centre of our decision-making and policy debates. If we are to pursue the best outcomes for this nation's future, this must change. We must recognise the power of the first 1,000 days to determine a child's future. We should recognise that we have no greater responsibility here than to protect and promote our youth. The lack of attention to the recent spate of Indigenous youth suicides is a clear demonstration that we are not achieving this end.

In fact, at the risk of having the member for Lilley roll his eyes behind me, I might take this opportunity to have one last go at a losing battle I have now been arguing for 10 years now. If this parliament is to truly get best results in social policy, you must find a new budget rule that counts second-round effects when they are clearly immediate and measurable. Without this our efforts in employment, Indigenous advancement and education will all be held back.

I spoke in my first speech of my passion for the Murray River and the fight to save it. It's fair to ask just how much progress we've made since then, given the latest damning report of the South Australian royal commission. I will make one final plea: as is the case with climate change, this parliament must be guided by science. We must put politics and special interest aside. We must overcome the corruption and mismanagement and let science dictate the path to a permanent and healthy river system. Our job here is represent our communities, but on some issues our job absolutely has to be to lead our communities too.

I'm not going to detail a list of accomplishments here; it feels ridiculous to do so. I do want to say that some of the things I'm most proud of are those that have not received any fanfare. Some of those things are important: making the hard decisions to redirect funding towards infrastructure and support for some of the most vulnerable Indigenous children in budget based funded services; pushing through to ensure after over 20 years only the best providers were serving jobseekers with a disability; having a chance to build on the amazing work of the member for Sydney in finalising and launching the first ever National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children; and insisting on increased resources and promotion for women's sport. These are all things I'm proud of.

That is enough about me; now I'm going to move to the thank yous and talk about some of you. The saying goes that the worst day in government is better than best day in opposition. Sadly, I suspect, for many people on both sides of the chamber this hasn't always been true in the last 10 years. It wasn't for me. Disunity and division are no fun to work in at all. Of course the best days of government cannot be topped, but my favourite term in this parliament was immediately following the 2013 election defeat, funnily enough. This is in no small part due to the Leader of the Opposition restoring unity and allowing shadow ministers the space and the trust to delve deep into policy development, to be big and bold when it came to the best options for Australia's future and to make the case and win our arguments. I thank Bill for this. I thank him even more for the understanding, flexibility and support he has personally given me. I can't wait to watch him become a great Labor Prime Minister. I also want to thank Prime Minister Julia Gillard for both her support and the inspiration she continues to provide.

I want to note that getting the chance to work with and to learn the art of policy development from the member for Jagajaga has been one of the greatest privileges I've enjoyed here. I wish her every success with her future. I want to particularly thank the member for Watson and the deputy leader, the member for Sydney, for their friendship over so many years. More than anyone, it is you who have showed me that true friendships can exist and survive in this building. I note the member for Corio and Port Adelaide and thank you them for the good times sitting through question time.

To the Chief Opposition Whip, Chris Hayes: I don't know how to say this other than to say that you're pretty much a god in my eyes! It's not just rule changes that help parents juggle work and family in this place, it's attitudes and it's understanding. Chris, you have been an amazing support, and I thank you and your staff wholeheartedly.

I've previously spoken at great length, saying nice things about Senator Don Farrell when I spoke in response to what turned out to be his premature valedictory speech so I won't repeat all of those on the Hansard today, except to say that I have never forgotten that I would not be here without him and I'm so grateful for his support. Thank you, Don. Thank you also, of course, to my South Australian colleagues, particularly the members for Kingston and Wakefield. I should note that my neighbour here, the member for Macarthur, thought he'd finished being a paediatrician when he got elected to this parliament, and then he meet me and my children! I thank him for that.

I'm also indebted to those colleagues, past and present, who fought so long and hard to get a childcare centre here. I wouldn't have been able to do this job for so long without it. I want to thank Melita, Caitlin and the remarkable team of educators, who work for Communities@Work at that centre, for the fantastic job that they do providing quality care to our children.

I wouldn't have been able to serve my community without the most remarkable team of staff imaginable. I wanted staff members, but, actually, I got some lifelong friends. We're organising a catch-up of Team Ellis past and present, where I intend to spend a great amount of time outlining to each and every one of them how much I love them and why. But, in the meantime, I thank and acknowledge my current staff—Tara, Michael, Mikaela and Joe—who I know are watching from Adelaide today. You are amazing and I thank you.

I also need to specifically mention a few whom I can never adequately repay. To Amy Ware: you were the first person I hired upon my election and you have been on this whole crazy ride with me. Not only are you exceptional at your job but you are just a joy to be around. Thank you for everything, and I'm so glad you'll be with me right till the end. To my government chief of staff, Shannon Rees: I asked for a chief of staff and, in you, I got a first-class one, but I also gained a sister for life. I saw firsthand some of the unfair and sexist treatment that female staff can receive in this building in some of the ridiculous things that you had to endure, but I still marvel at your strength, your grace and your professionalism in dealing with it all. As two youngish women in this building, we overcame some absurd obstacles together. Your amazing work meant that we also got to do some great things, not least of which was delivering the greatest increase in funding to Australian sport in the nation's history—as we told each other regularly.

To Tim Watts, my chief of staff in opposition: you are one of the smartest, kindest and hardest-working people not just that I imagine I will ever meet but that I suspect exists on the planet. You're an asset both to our party and to all of those who are lucky enough to call you a friend, and I'm so grateful that I can. And to Suzanne Kellett: I cannot even begin to thank you for all that you do to go above and beyond. I remember clearly the day I'd been called into a division just after collecting my boys from child care when I received a text from you asking if Charlie had some spare pants because he'd had a nappy explosion' and that you'd cleaned him up but he was never going to be able to wear those pants again. I remember, I just thought to myself, 'My God, that is not what anybody meant when the job description says 'and other duties as described by the member!. You have gone above and beyond anything I would ever dream of asking or expecting from you, and I don't know how I'll ever repay you for the support that you've offered me. Thank you for doing your job and keeping our office running, and thank you for not just tolerating but for loving my children. We would be lost without their beloved 'Zoozann'.

There is also a team of superstars that I've been blessed to work with who are off changing the world in their own name: Jamila Rizvi, Joanne Cleary, Chris Steel, Vicky Darling, Marielle, Vicky, Claire, Wilko, Skye and so many others. Thank you to you all.

Now we're getting to the bit that I thought would actually make my cry. I don't know what's going to happen here! I want to say thank you to my family. To my dear mum, Ros, and my protective big brother, Matt: I know that you have felt every criticism and every attack that's been directed at me over the last 15 years more than I ever have. You've lived this journey with me, and I thank you for your love and support. I should particularly note that Mum and my step father, Barry, who's currently in hospital and can't be with us today, basically moved to Canberra for a year when Sam was born so that they could help me juggle parliament and motherhood, and I am so very grateful for that.

To my mother and father-in-law, Lloyd and Carolyn Penberthy: without your help and support our family simply wouldn't work. With me in Canberra and Dave working breakfast radio, Soph and Jim would have been on their own from 5 am each morning and without a lift to school if Lloyd and Carolyn hadn't have taken them in overnight, done the school runs and stepped in to save us each and every sitting week. I can't thank them enough for that and for all that they do to support us and our family. Lloyd, it's also really nice to have at least one Penberthy man whose political persuasions I can be confident of and support!

To my amazing stepchildren, Sophie and James: I know that my work has caused you disruption, and you have never once complained about it. I thank you for your flexibility and tolerance. I tell you often about what a great big brother and big sister you are to the boys. I probably don't tell you enough that you're the best stepchildren anyone could ever hope for, and I love you both to bits.

To my husband, David Penberthy—I used your full name, Dave, because, although it's been mentioned in Hansard several times before, this will be the first time it's in a positive sense and I want to make sure it comes up in searches! Dave, some may suspect that you haven't done too many favours for the Labor Party, but I'm about to outline one that you have done and that I've never told you. There has been no time that I have been more confident in my work, more focussed or grounded than once I'd found you. Your love and support made me a better MP as well as a better person, so you've helped us. Thank you. We've never known life together without me doing this job, but one of the things that I am most excited about is our next chapter together. If you can put up with me being around a bit more often then I cannot wait for the extra adventures we'll have together and the flexibility to explore the world more often together. I love you.

Now, to my beautiful Sam and my adorable Charlie: I am a fretful mother. I worry about absolutely everything when it comes to the health and happiness of my children. Recently, I've been worried that you two might grow up and read about my decision to leave parliament and feel bad that I decided to leave a job that I love for you, so I need to make one thing very clear: I'm leaving a job that I love for me. I'm leaving because what you've given me is something that I love more than this excellent job, because there is nothing in the world that I want more than to be present and active in guiding you and supporting you and being with you as you grow into the amazing men that I know you'll be. There's nothing more rewarding, more entertaining, more important to me than being there for you two crazy, clever, kind and funny little people. So, as our song goes, Sam, you and Charlie are the sunshine of my life. I've set myself a really big challenge—to have a bigger positive impact on the lives of my children by being with them more than I could being here fighting for a better, fairer and more forward-looking nation. I don't know if that's a challenge that I can meet, but it's one that I look forward to working hard to achieve each and every day.

So, with all of that, that's it from me. I'll finish by simply saying thank you and goodbye.