Thursday, 21 February 2019
Speaker, it was day one as the newly minted member for Canberra. I'd just picked up the keys for my electorate office and I was opening it up for the very first time. I was on my own because none of my team had started yet. And as I opened the door, I heard the phone ringing. At the end of the line was a very distressed woman, a single mother, living with her three daughters in her mom's two-bedroom home, sleeping on the couch, doing it tough, desperate for a home. I got Lee a home and she is just one of the many Canberrans my team and I have helped to secure that most fundamental of needs—safe shelter. And it's those days that are the very best days of this job. Because as another single mother said to me, 'My whole life turned around once I got a house.' It's a reminder that there is no greater office in this chamber than that of local member. When I spoke for the first time in this chamber, I said:
I admire anyone who takes up the challenge of politics and who honestly tries to improve the lives of his or her people, no matter what political lights they follow.
In the end, it's about improving people's lives and, at its best, politics is about building a better community and a better nation. But politics is a contest of ideas and there is a reason why I am Labor. I come from a working-class matriarchy of single mothers, just like Lee. My great grandmother was a domestic. She brought up 13 children on her own in a house with dirt floors and paper walls. She spent her life bent over a copper, cleaning the clothes of the wealthy and she left school when she was just 11. My grandmother worked three cleaning jobs. She brought up seven children on her own in a housing commission home. She spent her life with an abiding fear that the state would take her children away because she was poor. She left school at just 13.
My mother was dragged kicking and screaming from school at 15. I'm not looking at you, Mum! She brought up my sisters and me on her own when my father left us, when I was 11, with $30 in the bank. Those early years after he left were really tough. We ate out every second night at relatives' and friends' homes. There were no school camps, and my desk was borrowed from my school—my public school. Each and every day, Mum lived with the fear that the cycle of poverty and disadvantage would continue for yet another generation. But her world and mine changed forever because of Labor.
I got a quirky but quality public education and became the first woman in my family to go to university. I got to go to university thanks to the Labor government, the Whitlam Labor government, who ensured my tertiary education was free. Thanks to Gough and with the support of friends and family and my mother's determination and tenacity, my sisters and I broke free of that cycle of disadvantage. We are living proof of the transformative powers of education. My middle sister, Meg, is Australia's first female Master of Wine and an internationally renowned winemaker. My baby sister, Amy, is an internationally acclaimed neurologist, specialising in stroke and dementia. And I am the enormously proud member for Canberra and a shadow assistant minister.
Unlike our female forebears, Meg, Amy and I have had choice and opportunity. Unlike the long line of sisters stretching back through history, we are empowered. Labor gave us education. Labor gave us universal health care. Labor gave us fertility control. That has given us financial independence that has allowed us to lead bold and fearless lives. I want that for every Australian. I want that for every Canberran. I want every Australian, I want every Canberran, to have the opportunities that we have enjoyed, even though we didn't come from wealth or privilege. Our opportunities came from the social policies of the 1970s and the 1980s. Our opportunities came from Labor.
I sought a career in politics after careers in public service and small business for many reasons—to serve and represent my community; to fight for my beloved Canberra, particularly after being one of the thousands of public servants who lost their job in the Howard government cuts of 1996; and to influence and shape public policy. Now, as I leave this place, I like to think I've achieved some of that, despite two of my three terms being in opposition. It's not a boast; it is the recognition of a great gift. I know that few get the opportunity I have had to serve, and I will be forever grateful that ACT Labor, many of whom are here today, chose me to do that on their behalf. Leadership is not about the power of one; it's about how one person can harness the power of many, how one person can amplify the hopes of many in solidarity with others.
I serve because I truly and deeply love my community. It's one of the continuing follies of this place that MPs think they can score cheap political points by claiming that Canberra isn't part of the nation. Without Canberra, there would be no Australia. To borrow the words of Sir Henry Parkes, 'The crimson thread of kinship runs through us all,' and those threads are drawn together here in this city. If I've succeeded here, it's because I've helped Canberrans stand up and fight for everything that makes this city great and helped the people who live and work in this city, particularly our proud servants of democracy, who make this nation great.
The Prime Minister likes to talk about the Canberra bubble, and I want to tell you, Speaker, what that bubble actually looks like. There, in that bubble, are public servants who protect our national interests, who make sure our cities and towns are safe, who make sure our food is clean, who help the sick, who help the aged, who help the disadvantaged and who help the disabled. There, in that bubble, are public servants who keep our history alive, who keep our story alive.
The husband and daughter of one of the finest public servants that I've ever worked with, my dear friend Liz O'Neill, are here today. Thank you so much for coming, Wayne and Lucinda. Liz died in the line of duty in the Garuda crash in Yogyakarta in 2007, when Lucinda was just six months old. It's wonderful that you're here today, Lucinda, that you've taken the day off school—your first year at Kincoppal—to be with me and to hear this valedictory speech. We all miss your mum very, very much. We think about her each and every day. Thank you, Wayne, and thank you, Lucinda, for coming.
Public service is a noble calling and should be lauded and not derided, and I've been proud to take up the fight for public servants and everyone else in my community. It's one of the favourite parts of my job: having the platform to bang on about Canberra, having the platform to advocate for Canberra, having the platform to celebrate and share the achievements of my community, to sing the praises of local and school legends, inspirational volunteers, inspirational leaders and quiet achievers. Speaker, as you know, I am not the queen of 90-second statements for nothing! I've been proud to take up the fight against cuts to the Public Service and our national institutions, against cuts to our public and Catholic schools, against next to zero federal investment in infrastructure in our national capital in the last six years, and against injustice—injustice like that experienced by Lachlan, whose NDIS plan slashed his core supports so vital services were taken from this child, whose uncontrollable seizures led to him having one-third of his brain removed when he was just 12 months old.
I've fought against the hate that saw the Canberra Islamic Centre vandalised, and I helped summon the better angels of this town for the clean-up. I've summoned those better angels so many times to support domestic violence services, to support rape crisis services, to support Foodbank, and sanitary product and back-to-school drives. I've fought against the sexism that debases women and girls and robs them of opportunity and I've fought against indifference and fought against ignorance—like the wall of silence experienced by up to one million Australian women suffering from endometriosis. I want to thank the Endo Warriors, the endo activists, the members for Forrest and Boothby, the Minister for Health and the shadow minister for the work that we've done together on ending the silence on endometriosis. We have made a difference on endo. It is palpable. Finally, these women are being heard, so thank you, sisters, for being part of that fight. I also want to thank the member for Higgins, Senator Hanson-Young, Ovarian Cancer Australia, Sabra Lane, Eliza Borrello and Jane Norman for the work that we've done together on this deadliest of women's cancers. Thank you so much.
When I was elected in 2010 I came to parliament with a very long list of things to do: to improve organ and tissue donation rates in Australia; to empower girls and women to be confident, to believe in themselves and to have the courage of their convictions. I've done this empowerment with women with gusto and it has been one of the highlights of my time here. I've mentored hundreds of girls and women, fought hard for housing for single mothers and older women and repeatedly underscored the fact—and I'll repeat it again, sisters: a man is not a financial plan!
Being the beneficiary of the charity of others in my seminal years, I was also keen to encourage giving and altruism, but with dignity and respect. The Salvos gave that to my grandmother during hard times. So much of the work I've done in Canberra has been done quietly. It's been done without fanfare and it's been done without media, unlike so many in this chamber.
After running my own microbusiness for 10 years before coming into politics, I wanted to improve the understanding among decision-makers and government agencies about the lived experience of a small-business owner. There's still a lot of work that needs to be done on this front, particularly on the basics—like government agencies actually paying the bills on time and government agencies giving small businesses and microbusinesses access to government work. Just buy one—that's all I ask!
Before small business, I served Australia as a diplomat. I worked with brilliant men and women—some of them are here today—and learned that, if we are to flourish as a nation, we have to be outward looking and generous. In an interconnected and uncertain world we cannot be indifferent to what happens beyond our borders. A peaceful, prosperous Australian future hangs on a peaceful and prosperous future for our region and our world, and that will not happen by accident. It will be built on diplomacy, it will be built on the rule of law, it will be built on norms and it will be built on defence. Diplomacy demands a strong and modern Defence Force, because sometimes we have to defend our freedom and that of our friends. We have to have an understanding of what it is that we are prepared to fight for, what it is that we cherish and the values on which we will never compromise. Yes, it is an uncertain age, but it provides us with an opportunity to have a conversation about how we will operate and engage in the national interest. It's an opportunity to articulate the principles that will operate inside our borders and how they will translate to our approach beyond them. It's an opportunity to acknowledge that we are indeed a middle power but a middle power that is confident in asserting how we will engage at home and abroad and how we think others should engage in Australia and abroad. It's an opportunity to say, 'This is who we are, this is what will guide us, this is what we will discuss and these are the no-go zones.'
In the time I've been here, I've also seen the rise of a new threat. Our interconnected world has brought great wonders but it's also brought adversaries into our offices and our homes. We need to be doing much, much more on every front on cybersecurity. To be quite frank, I am alarmed by the complacency on this issue in some circles—complacency around skills, standards, empowerment, government agency, critical infrastructure, cyber-resilience, innovation, research, industry cooperation and the fact that only 11 per cent of the cyber industry workforce are women. We have got to grip this up, Australia. We are falling behind the rest of the world, and the urgency on cybersecurity is now.
In an age that is more connected than ever, in an era where that connectedness is meant to enhance democracy, Australians seem more disengaged and disillusioned and, through that, disenfranchised. We in this place, in the media and in the community have been the first to call for behavioural and cultural change in our schools; in the corporate world; in our boardrooms; in our cultural, sporting, academic and religious institutions; in the Public Service; and in the ADF. Yet we are particularly quiet, particularly coy, when it comes to the need for behavioural and cultural change here in this place. We all know parliament is a contest of ideas. That contest, rightly, should be rigorous and robust, but that contest should not be personal and it does not need to be a blood sport. Please, in my final days, can we have more policy and less posturing in parliament.
Over the course of my three terms, I've lost too many friends and loved ones. Vale again to Brendan Morrison, Kurt Steel, Garth Pilkinton, Liz Dawson, Jayson Hinder, Yah Menzies, Amanda Cavill, Michael Byrne, Chris Grady, Mary Uhlmann, Ian Uhlmann and my father, Graeme Brodtmann.
I know the danger of thanking people means someone gets left out, so I seek forgiveness in advance for the fact that the list that follows will be too long for some and too short for others. Thank you to the member for Fowler and the member for Lalor for being model whips, supporters and shoulders. Thank you to Stephen Conroy and the member for Corio for giving me the licence and freedom to develop policies in the defence and cybersecurity portfolios. I have loved every single minute of it. Thanks to David Feeney and member for Eden-Monaro for your advice and assistance. As a junior frontbencher, I have been truly, truly blessed to work with people like you. Thank you so much.
Thank you to the many members of the ADF that I've met on ships and bases here and overseas. We are also blessed as a nation to have a highly trained and committed ADF and defence department, and it's been a privilege to meet and work with you.
Thank you to the members for Cunningham, Greenway, Parramatta, Newcastle, Richmond, Lingiari, Wakefield, Kingston, Melbourne Ports, Blair, Gippsland, Wannon, Tangney and to my colleague here. Thanks to Senators Pratt, Kitching, Reynolds, McKenzie, Dean Smith and Deb Biggs for your friendship. Thank you to Michael Forshaw, Simon Crean, Martin Ferguson and Gary Gray for your mentoring in my first term. Thank you to Gail Morgan, Narelle Luchetti, Simon Tatz, Alison Byrne and Paul Scully for getting me here.
Thanks to the many members of my team—hi to Madeleine Firth and Alicia Turner, who are watching from Scotland—for keeping me here and helping me serve the people of Canberra so well. Thank you to my current team: Vic, Drew, Steph, Neda and Martin. Canberra is the largest electorate by population in this country, and you have given your all to provide the highest level of service in a busy high street office and to work with me on policies. Particular thanks to Eva Cawthorne, my first chief of staff, who helped me set up my office from scratch, which was a very steep learning curve for both of us—a steep learning curve not helped by both of us being in the throes of the hot flushes, night sweats, endless periods, sleeplessness, anxiety, mood swings and depression that is the wonderful hormonal ride of perimenopause. This is something else we should be talking about, Australia!
Thank you to Norfolk Islanders Mike King, Mel Ward, Sue Menzies and the Banyan Park girls for your wisdom, guidance and friendship on the journey of reform. Thank you to Canberra's multicultural community, particularly Sandi Mitra, Diana Abdel-Rahman, Natalie Mobini and Chin Wong. Thank you to ASPI's Peter Jennings, Fergus Hanson, Danielle Cave, Lisa Sharland, Anthony Bergin and Stephen Loosley for your sage advice and for being my brains trust. Thank you to the Canberrans who've tirelessly served on many grants panels, particularly Steve Rowan Jones, Anthony Corder and Louise Bilston, who've been there with me from the start.
Thank you to Diana Atkinson, who has kept our house in order for more than 20 years. You always give above and beyond, most recently when it became the house of horrors and was filled with hundreds of blowflies after a rat died in our roof when we were away at the coast over summer! Thank you, Diana. I think a round of applause is due to Diana for that effort.
Thank you to my patient, patient girlfriends, who've always been there for me even though I haven't always been there for them. Special thanks to my best mate, Virginia Stanhope.
Thank you to our deputy leader, for your tireless commitment to advancing the cause of women. Thank you to the Leader of the Opposition for your friendship and support, particularly at the beginning of this term. There is daylight between my first term and the last two terms. You have led a truly united team and you've encouraged us all to be bold in our thinking and our ideas, and to advance our great Labor tradition. Thank you.
Thank you to my wonderful sisters, who, unfortunately, can't be here today. Meg's in the middle of vintage and Amy is in the middle of clinic. Neither of them wanted me to go into politics, but they've given me boundless loyalty and merciless honesty—which they've been giving me all their lives. Thank you to my beautiful nieces and nephews and godchildren.
Thank you to my mum, a champion campaigner, who, contrary to popular belief—which was not helped by my media release—is actually alive and well! She's up in the gallery. Sorry, Mum, for frightening all your friends and your current affairs, cryptic crossword, Move It or Lose It and Zumba classmates, with the unintentional suggestion that you were dying! Thank you for teaching Meg, Amy and me to be strong and confident feminists, to be proud of our womanhood. Thank you for teaching us the importance of education, fertility control, financial independence and for teaching us to treat everyone with respect and dignity.
Thank you to my beautiful husband, Chris Uhlmann. I'm not going to lose it here! I know our relationship has been an endless source of fascination for so many in the past years, which we have both found rather curious. You are the love of my life, and my love only grows stronger for you each and every day. Thank you so much for your support, which has allowed me to give to the people of Canberra my heart and my soul for three terms.
I have chosen to leave my political career at this point because I now want to give my heart and soul to my family and friends. Mum turning 80 this year and the loss of too many close friends too young has made me realise that life is short and life is precious. When you're saying goodbye over the phone to a friend in his 50s who has just two weeks to live, or you're saying goodbye to a friend in his 60s who has hours to live, which we did over the summer break, you do really focus on what's important in life. For me, that is my husband, my family, my friends and my godchildren. It's now time to change down a few gears, so I'm closing this chapter of my career, and I'm looking forward to the next one, knowing I will always serve my community—just not at the same pace!
Representing the people of Canberra has been an enormous honour and privilege and has brought me great pride and joy. I want to thank you, Canberra, for putting your faith in me for three terms. Above all, I want to thank my Labor family for your support and for allowing me to be part of—to play a small role, admittedly—in our great Labor story. I'm not a blind partisan, and I have many friends of all political dispositions, but I am Labor to my bootstraps. In 1983, I handed out my first how-to-vote cards in the election that saw the Hawke Labor government sweep to power. Thirty-six years on, I'm looking forward to handing out how-to-votes for a Shorten Labor government. To those who now take up Labor's fight for Bean and Canberra, to Senator Dave Smith and Alicia Payne: I am with you.
We are in the battle of ideas, and I believe it's vitally important that we win. When we win, our prosperity is shared and our children get the chance of a world-class education. Australia is a country that supports the weak, a nation that uses its wealth to help the poor. When we win, individuals are encouraged to excel, but never at the expense of the common good. Workers get a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. We fight for jobs. We fight for the environment. When we win, our nation is outward-looking and engaged with our allies and the forums of the world. We demand from each the best they can give and offer to each the chance to be the best they can be.
A Shorten Labor government will change Canberra and it will change the nation for the better, offering equality, choice and hope to all, no matter what their postcode, no matter what their background and no matter how much their parents earn. It will offer opportunity for people like Meg, Amy and me to realise their potential, to contribute to their community and to lead bold and fearless lives. I thank the House.
I acknowledge the member for Canberra. The hugs have been timed perfectly and have ended at the perfect time. The debate is interrupted in accordance to standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.