Thursday, 1 August 2019
Thank you, Deputy Speaker. I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. I add my wish to those who have spoken before me that the 46th Parliament can achieve overdue meaningful constitutional recognition for this nation's Indigenous peoples.
During my inaugural speech in the Victorian parliament, my then six-month-old daughter Carina left the chamber in tears. She is yet to indicate which policy position she found the most objectionable! Carina, who is here today, is now five—and may last longer this morning! In preparing this speech, I've tried to write for two people. The first is Carina in thirty years' time. When Carina downloads this speech in 2050, her AI assistant will inform her that it has been accessed seven times since it was delivered and that she is the first person to download it other than the author or his mother! Although I can even now see her roll her eyes at my attempted quips, hopefully the values I profess and the aspirations that I outline inspire her to press the 'like' button. The second person is the younger me, when I joined the Australian Labor Party thirty years ago. I enter this place less animated by idealism and ideology than 30 years ago and more focused on using experience, consensus and realism to achieve practical sustainable benefits for the people in the community I now represent. I hope that this speech reflects sufficient foresight to resonate with Carina in 30 years' time and that it is also ambitious enough to satisfy my earlier self who started the long journey to this place with such hope.
I have the great honour of being the first member for the new seat of Fraser—named after the 22nd Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Fraser. While naming a Labor-leaning seat after a Liberal Prime Minister might appear somewhat incongruous, it quickly became apparent to me that there is a meaningful connection. The Vietnamese community is a large, growing and vibrant part of the Fraser community, constituting over 30,000 people. Many in that community still remember with great respect Malcolm Fraser's generosity after the arrival of refugees following the war in their country. One woman told me she named her son Fraser and took him to be photographed with the then Prime Minister. She is now an ALP stalwart but still remembers with great fondness Malcolm Fraser signing that photo with her son.
The division of Fraser reflects Australia's multicultural tradition at its best. In addition to a thriving Vietnamese-Australian community, there are many other large communities drawn from the four corners of the globe now proudly calling Fraser—and Australia—home. On Harmony Day earlier this year, I visited a primary school in Sunshine West, with an enrolment of fewer than 200 students, displaying flags from 45 countries, all represented among the student body. Those students' journeys to that school reflect my own family's experience. I was born in Italy. To any High Court justices in the gallery, I renounced my citizenship long ago. My mother, who is in the gallery today, was travelling in Europe following success at teachers college. She met my father and the rest, as they say, is history. When my father and mother emigrated to Australia in 1970, they had nothing but a suitcase and an 18-month-old son who, before each mealtime, was already honing his vocal chords for future stints in question time.
Much as political families are team efforts, my father's success in completing high school equivalence at night while working multiple jobs and becoming a nurse, reflected both his hard work and my mother's tenacious support of him. She provided this support while raising my sister and me and working full-time as a teacher herself. My mother and father created a happy and fulfilling life for my sister and me and, in doing so, also contributed greatly to the broader community. This is a story repeated thousands of times across Fraser. Australia is not unique in having a large foreign-born population, but I don't believe that any other country is better at knitting together disparate communities.
Reflecting on the privilege of being the first person to represent the new seat of Fraser made me think about my own journey to this place. I was inspired to join the Labor Party by the transformational reforms of the Hawke-Keating governments. These reforms spanned the full gamut, including major social, economic and environmental policies. The economic reforms of that era made our economy more competitive and outward looking. These policies weren't slavish gestures to economic abstractions. They were motivated by outcomes: higher incomes, better quality of life, access to services, and security in retirement. In outlining my vision for the next wave of economic reform, I believe we must craft a new agenda for new times—one that is as unrestricted by comparisons with this earlier era as it is proud of that legacy. I believe that, at its core, future reform should balance reward and risk.
First, reward: with the right policy settings, our nation could reap huge rewards. Many economic reforms over recent decades created productivity growth by tearing down comfortable yet unsustainable decades-old arrangements and unleashing competition, creativity and responsiveness to price signals. We should continue to embrace this agenda. We also have an opportunity to add to it through effective, targeted regulation that achieves co-ordination and co-operation in ways that have only recently become possible. Our modern, interconnected society is fueled by technological advances across many fields, including computing and telecommunications. However, much of the innovation that we experience on a day-to-day level depends not just on increasing the number of diodes that we can squeeze onto a pinhead, but also on advances in fields such as economics and psychology—and usually without us realising it.
For example, ride-sharing applications rely on remarkable telecommunications and computing technology, and combine these almost instantaneously with optimisation and coordination algorithms to achieve vastly improved outcomes for consumers. Recent public sector policy successes offer a glimpse into the benefits that flow from governments embracing this convergence of innovation occurring across seemingly disparate fields. In Victoria last year, in coordination with some of the world's top market design experts, the state government created a market for bus routes for a special school. At this school, students with autism were travelling for up to four hours every day, and some also had to change buses. This was terribly stressful for students and their families and also disrupted students' learning time. However, after a route optimisation and a separate purpose-designed auction for each of seven bus routes, travel times were reduced by over 50 per cent with no students required to change buses. And the cost to government fell. One mother said she was a 'big fan', and stated that her son's travel times:
… have been cut from 90 minutes each way to 30 minutes and that he is much, much happier and his behaviours are much more manageable both at school and at home.
This is an example of using modern technology not for profit but for the public good.
Markets like this could be used to benefit the students of every regional and rural school in Australia. Markets like this could improve access to train stations, shopping centres and healthcare providers in the outer suburbs of every capital city and in regional cities, places just like Fraser. This is where public transport options are often limited and force people into their cars or into isolation. Markets like this, which harness the confluence of emerging technology and regulation, could drive positive change that reaches every part of society.
Even now, governments in Australia and overseas are developing modern markets that dramatically improve outcomes in relation to biosecurity, environmental regeneration, educational placements, matching organ transplants with donors and many other life-changing applications. The next wave of microeconomic reform should simultaneously harness cooperation and coordination through communication technology; competition through efficient markets with rules designed for consumers' benefit; service differentiation through big data with consumer controls; and optimisation through advances in computing.
Of course, not all areas of service delivery are the direct responsibility of the Commonwealth, but, by creating appropriate incentives and regulation that creates more opportunities for transparent and informed choice, the next wave of productivity enhancing reform could benefit the public, private and not-for-profit sectors alike. And that is the grand trifecta.
Why do incremental improvements in productivity matter so much for our quality of life and, more importantly, for our children's quality of life? Albert Einstein once described compound interest as the eighth wonder of the world. Long-run economic growth is like compound interest. It has a transformative power that almost defies comprehension. Even a slight change in economic growth, if sustained over time, makes a huge difference in living standards. Australia's per capita GDP growth has grown at around two per cent per annum on average since World War II. Even though this ranks highly for an advanced economy, our rate of per capita GDP growth has slipped in recent years. We are currently experiencing the steepest decline in living standards since the early 1980s. This is also reflected in our multifactor productivity, which has stagnated since 2000, having grown strongly in preceding decades.
To give a simple example: if our GDP grew at an average of 0.5 per cent per annum for the next 30 years, GDP per capita would be 16 per cent higher in 2050 than it is today. If it grew at two per cent per annum for those 30 years, it would be 81 per cent higher. This is the marvel that Einstein described. We must ensure that the Australia of 2050, when it looks back on 2019, knows that it didn't miss the opportunity for economic development and the better living standards, social outcomes and environmental protections that come with it.
I'm very optimistic about Australia's prospects for growth. The technological and regulatory advances, however, that could drive that growth worry many people who, rightly, fear that they might be disadvantaged by the disruption that change brings. The flipside of reward is risk, and risk is not borne equally among all Australians. Our understanding of risk has been deepened by the work of Robert Shiller, who won the Nobel prize for economics in 2013 for his research that included many practical policy applications. Among Shiller's lesser accolades was teaching me macroeconomics when I studied for a PhD at Yale. His approach has shaped my thinking on policy ever since.
Risk pooling, the idea that we are better off working together and sharing risks, has been central to social interactions ever since humans started living together. In comparatively recent times, the modern welfare state represents a bold expansion of risk management practices. While the welfare state is partly motivated by the need to provide some services on a universal basis, such as education and health, it is also designed to protect those suffering unexpected loss.
It is no accident that three of the key pieces of legislation underpinning Bismarck's revolutionary safety net included the word 'insurance' in the title: the Health Insurance Bill of 1883, the Accident Insurance Bill of 1884 and the Old Age and Disability Insurance Bill of 1889. Similarly, Labor Prime Minister Andrew Fisher's age pension and FDR's New Deal framed the provision of unemployment and retirement benefits as insurance schemes.
Australia's most significant policy reform of the last 30 years, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, extended risk management to an area where government already provided some support but where that support was 'underfunded, unfair, fragmented and inefficient'. The NDIS is universalist in spirit, but it is also designed to deliver the advantages of better risk management. I believe that we need to extend risk management further.
Much of the frustration and disillusionment with political, economic and social systems that has been expressed so vocally through social media and at the ballot box in recent years is driven by a feeling that the risks and benefits of technological change and globalisation are not being shared equitably. Most of us benefit almost imperceptibly from globalisation and technological change: we casually buy a fancier phone each year or a well-priced bottle of red from an exotic location. But for some people—for many people—the changes wrought by automation, by trade and by organisational restructuring bring uncertainty and loss. These people may experience lower incomes, greater job and financial insecurity, and possibly redundancy and long-term unemployment. These people may have mortgages. These people may have dependants. These people may have insufficient savings for retirement.
This is the lived experience confirmed by research that shows a hollowing of Australia's middle class in recent decades. Globalisation, deindustrialisation and an expansion of the so-called knowledge economy have driven rapid growth in the employment share of high-skill jobs. At the same time, medium-skill jobs susceptible to automation have fallen significantly as a share of employment. The share of low-skill jobs has not changed greatly, but the quality of many of those jobs has worsened, thanks to the 'exponential growth in the relatively unregulated gig economy' and the weakened bargaining power of many workers.
We as democratic representatives, and especially as social democrats, must listen to recent expressions of discontent aimed at our political and social institutions. We must avoid the trap of dismissing these concerns as 'populism', unworthy of serious consideration. I believe that one of the great lessons of recent elections here and abroad is that we ignore the human cost of change at our peril, no matter our party allegiance.
Like many advanced economies, we have some programs to assist with people's vulnerability to this change. But, much like pre-NDIS supports, I believe that these are 'underfunded, unfair, fragmented and inefficient'. We need a better way.
I propose an approach that could be described as productivity insurance. As a nation, we should commit to sharing a proportion of the benefits of productivity growth with those most adversely affected by change. A new, risk-management-oriented approach could be built around several core principles.
First, existing programs should be coordinated to create a holistic and lifelong approach for each individual. I again think about Carina and her generation in 2050. Her generation will change careers far more frequently than mine did. Our society will have to invest far more in skills, training and education, particularly for mid-career transitions. As a nation, we cannot afford to be glib about lifelong training and learning.
Second, I believe that assistance should be targeted. Some people cope well with economic disruption and may thrive on the opportunities it creates. Many won't, and government should target assistance to those who are most at risk of long-term unemployment and underemployment.
Finally, each person's individual path needs to be practical and sustainable. We can't comfort people losing well-paid jobs in manufacturing, the resources sector or the energy sector with the vague notion that they might get a job in a totally unrelated field, thousands of kilometres away, and expect them to be satisfied. People don't generally expect government to protect them from all uncertainty. But, when government rightly assumes some responsibility for helping individuals and communities cope with change, people will only have faith in that assistance if they believe that their personal transition is both realistic and fair.
Fraser is home to the historic Harvester decision. It was a world-leading judgement that set a benchmark for how we think about fair rates of pay. More than a century later, we need to build on this fundamentally humane approach so that our social safety net includes protection not just for how much people are paid but also for how they are provided assistance in transitioning from one career to another.
A key challenge for our nation is to find the right balance between reward and risk. With better risk management, people will be in a position to take on more risk, and that can drive productivity growth. In turn, with better risk management, we will share the benefits of that productivity growth more fairly.
I conclude by thanking the many people who made it possible for me to be here today—first, the hundreds of ALP members in the Fraser electorate. These people are the lifeblood of the party. Many thanks also to my incredibly dedicated campaign team, who put in a 24/7 effort, come rain, hail or shine. Special mention is due to my campaign manager, Jake Cripps.
The Fraser community constantly reinforces to me the legacy of the four members that precede me. I acknowledge Bill Shorten, Tim Watts, Maria Vamvakinou and Brendan O'Connor. I also thank the state MPs who so ably represent the Fraser community: Natalie Suleyman, Marlene Kairouz, Katie Hall and Natalie Hutchins.
In addition to acknowledging the member for Maribyrnong's outstanding representation of almost half of Fraser, I thank Bill Shorten for the privilege of working in his office on some of the great Labor reforms of recent times. In a crowded field of achievements, one stands out. Success has many parents, but the NDIS is the brainchild of one MP. I also acknowledge Jacinta Collins, who gave me my first opportunity in this building and was a great role model on many fronts: her integrity, her policy rigour and her courage.
My association with the labour movement started over 30 years ago when I worked at Big W when at high school, joining the SDA and then becoming a shop steward. The SDA taught me the importance and impact of collective action and has supported me in innumerable ways since those days on the shop floor. I thank Michael Donovan for his support over many years, and my good friends Senator Raff Ciccone and Lizzie Blandthorn. I also acknowledge the union movement as a whole, which is so critical to underpinning social justice and delivering equitable economic outcomes in this country.
An occasionally disruptive and unruly young man I worked alongside at Big W and attended school with was called Dave Smith—or should I say, Mr Speaker, to preserve order, the member for Bean. Dave and another high school class mate, Stuart, joined the ALP slightly before me, and Dave entered the other place around a year ago. Given that I am giving my first speech 20 minutes before Dave, perhaps after three decades, I am finally catching up. You have both been role models to me throughout my life, and I thank you for a lifetime of friendship. I also thank my good friends Jules and Paul, who have always supported my political career, even when they were highly sceptical of my policy positions.
Thanks to my parents for a lifetime of support, even when the inner workings of politics often appear inexplicable; to my incredible sister, a remarkable mother and decorated police officer, and an inspiration to all who know and love you; and to John, who enthusiastically shares my wonkish interest in policy.
Lastly and mostly I thank Sarah and Carina. Sarah and I met while volunteering together tying ALP balloons to the arms of unsuspecting small children in the Kmart car park in Boronia, in Melbourne's outer suburbs. We have not yet made a pilgrimage back to this place that is so easy to underestimate for its romantic potential. Since working to a common cause that day, Sarah and I have maintained a unity of purpose: sharing our lives and, now, building a family. Sarah and Carina, you are both my motivation for being here and also the reason I desperately want to leave at the end of each sitting week. I hope that the tension between me wanting to be in this chamber and wanting to return home helps to make me a better father to Carina in 2019 and able to contribute positively to the world that she will live in over the coming decades.
I congratulate the member on his contribution. Before I call the honourable member for Bean, I remind the House that this is the honourable member's first speech and I ask the House to extend to him the normal courtesies.
Let me begin by acknowledging that we meet on the most beautiful land of the Ngunawal and Ngambri people; a land I grew up on and know intimately. I pay my respects to the wise and caring elders past, present and emerging. In my time here, I will work tirelessly to ensure that this House does not simply acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians but that it actively empowers their communities, including my own here in the nation's capital.
I have a confession to make, which is that during these first parliamentary sitting weeks I have spent much of my time in escalating panic. I have been sitting here listening to the first speeches of my cohort, which have been at varying times moving, incisive, deeply personal, witty and inspirational, all the time conscious that my own contribution was not doing so well.
As you would be aware, I am in the unusual but not unique position of making a second first speech. It is, however, unusual to be making a second first speech within 12 months, particularly when that original first speech was itself unexpected. In my joy at first entering parliament in the Senate chamber, I gave my all to that first presentation of my thoughts and desires about what I wanted to contribute to public life, not pausing to think that I'd have to do it again so soon. As a result, this second time around was looking decidedly less inspired.
In my desperation for some inspiration, I contacted Bob McMullan, a former member for the former seat of Fraser, and asked him how he tackled the herculean task of a second first speech. His response? He didn't do one. After further research I found that neither did Cheryl Kernot. I didn't realise that this was an option! While I briefly contemplated going down the same path, I couldn't for a number of reasons.
Firstly, I could not refuse the opportunity to state again publicly what a privilege it is to be elected. I am honoured to stand here in this chamber as the first member for Bean, representing the most beautiful part of the Australian Capital Territory and Norfolk Island, ready to serve the people of Bean from the Lanyon Valley to Burnt Pine. It's a privilege that a young David Smith would certainly never have thought was possible and yet a privilege which I take with the seriousness that it deserves.
Secondly, I did not want the first ever member for Bean to have been recorded for posterity as not proffering a first speech. It would be a disservice to the wonderful people of my electorate and the extraordinary man for whom it was named.
Thirdly, I wanted to stand with this new Labor cohort and particularly follow the member for Fraser, my long-time friend since high school. The member for Fraser and I met in 1983, in year 8 at Marist College Canberra, with a thirst for knowledge and an appetite for the common good. In the Hawke and Keating governments we could see an exciting agenda that married policy innovation with a reinvigoration of the social contract, a government prepared to lead at home and abroad. Our journey in the world of work began together at Big W in Woden. A key part of our pay packets—yes, they were literally still those then, for the millennials in the audience!—were the penalty rates we received for working weekends and evenings.
We honed our debating skills in the ACT schools competitions, competitions that like so many other community activities relied upon the tireless efforts of volunteers. After all those debates, this is the first occasion on which I have spoken after the member for Fraser! It is true that we had the capacity to be rather annoying at school, always ready with a smart answer involving some terrible pun and sat in the back row tormenting those at the desks in front of us. It is a joy for me to see some of those tormented people here in the galleries today. But that is why, in the infinite wisdom of the member for Fowler, we are seated nowhere near each other in this chamber!
So, deciding that I would proceed with a second first speech, I shamefacedly unburdened myself to my wife about the trouble I was having pulling together what I wanted to say. My reasons were that much of what I said the first time still held. I am still proud to carry on the tradition of Labor members for the south of Canberra, including Gai Brodtmann, Annette Ellis, Ros Kelly, Kep Enderby and Jim Fraser. Our region has been represented by teachers, public servants, a journalist, a barrister and, now, a Smith with an 'i'. They have set a standard I stand ready to uphold. This region has a long history of electing Labor members, and I am honoured to be one of them and the first of what will hopefully be many for Bean.
I am still passionate about the causes that motivated me 12 months ago. It won't be surprising that the positions I outlined in my first first speech in relation to the labour movement, the value and importance of public service, an Australian republic, homelessness and inequality, the importance of STEM education and STEM jobs, and regional responsibilities are ones that I continue to hold.
My wife's response to all that was to say that, while that may be true, having had the privilege of 12 months in parliament, surely there were things that had happened that had taught me invaluable lessons that I would carry forward into this term, that my experiences at various times had surprised or chastened me or maybe even confirmed what I'd thought being an elected representative would entail. This made me reflect on my time in the Senate and so today, in this unusual second first speech, I wanted to take the time to share with you some of my lessons from my first 12 months in this place as well as to talk about Bean.
I learnt that putting dad jokes in speeches recorded by Hansard does not make them any more endearing to my children!
I have asked, 'How much of this government can a koala bear?' and it's not unusual for me to make a Tom Jones pun. I will keep trying in this place. I learnt that, when you quote from The Betoota Advocate, you should ensure that mainstream media outlets know that you are aware that it is a satirical website! That said, there were times when it was difficult to differentiate between satire and the reality of parliamentary life last year.
I realised that, despite changing houses, I continued to get phone calls for Senator Dean Smith. The temptation to grant pairs is overwhelming! I found out that the standard of question time responses doesn't improve despite the change in chamber, but the Senate, with Senators Cormann and Cameron, had much better accents. I've discovered that, every time you put food in your mouth, there will be a division. This is called tactics!
I learnt that a moment of well-intentioned lightheartedness can be inappropriate in hindsight. After my first first speech, late in the evening, when we thought no-one was around, I indulged my daughter, Stella, to skip hand-in-hand down the length of the corridor that ran past the Senate chamber. But, alas, we were caught by a very sombre-faced senior journalist who commented, 'At least someone is having fun.' I thought that was a bit harsh until the next morning, when we had a new Prime Minister.
On a more serious note, I learnt very quickly that Parliament House is really run by the amazing staff, from the chamber attendants, the cleaners and the security staff all the way to the Usher of the Black Rod and the Clerk of this chamber. As a mid-term entrant to the Senate, without the benefit of the formal processes at the beginning of parliamentary terms, I learnt I could rely on the invaluable expertise and kindness of the staff here, whether it was asking questions of the Parliamentary Library, working with the Parliamentary Education Office or asking Events for a tour of this great building.
Often in this noisy chamber, we hear about 'the quiet Australians'. Well, the quiet Australians that make this place work are public servants. One of those quiet Australians, Gina Hall, is retiring after 25 years serving this great parliament and guiding a few hundred thousand visitors through Parliament House. Gina joined as a guide in September 1994 after two decades of service in the Air Force. Her friends joked at the time, 'Imagine Gina getting paid to talk!' She retired yesterday after 25 years serving the visitors, members and senators of Parliament House. Thank you, Gina, for your amazing service.
I have had it confirmed that striking a work-life balance can be hard, even if you're from Canberra. The first sitting weeks caused complete upheaval in my household as my children did not at all anticipate how all-encompassing my new role would be: that I would be gone by the time they woke, and they'd be asleep by the time I came home; that attempts at conversation would often be shut down by phone calls that I had to take; that they would have to see their dad's face everywhere, and so would their friends; and that, outside of parliamentary sitting periods, there was a calendar full of competing events at home and events that took me away from Canberra on committee work or to Norfolk Island. Things have gotten much better as we developed the rituals that became touchstones to remind us of our connection, even though we saw little of each other physically: a promised kiss goodnight even if asleep, and ensuring that time in non-parliamentary sitting periods is carved out for family time and that my children also see this as being like any other workplace in this country.
The advice from fellow members has been invaluable in this regard. I can only imagine how much more difficult it would be for members, senators and their families who have to travel significant distances or are constantly on the road. The sacrifices that are made by your families for the public service are enormous. In particular, I pay tribute to the member for Maribyrnong and the extraordinary sacrifices that he and his family have made for the common good over the last six years.
Last year, I also learnt that we deal with complex issues where there are not always easy right or wrong answers. One of the best examples of this was the Restoring Territory Rights (Assisted Suicide Legislation) Bill 2015 considered by the Senate last year. At its essence, the bill was about whether citizens living in the territories should have the same right, through their local legislatures, as citizens in the states to make their own laws. In my view, recorded in Hansard, there can be no doubt the answer to that question is yes.
While my own personal view is not in support of the legalisation of euthanasia—for me, the risk of exploitation of the vulnerable is too great—this is not something that should be restricted from consideration by the ACT and Northern Territory legislative assemblies in a way it is not restricted from consideration by state parliaments. I agree with the former senator and chief minister Gary Humphries when he said:
… we may not agree with the ACT's legislative choices, but we have an obligation to respect them where they are democratically made.
If this matter returns to this parliament it is a position I will maintain.
I also learnt that territory rights issues are not just about the ACT and NT. An unusual part of the electorate of Bean, in addition to southern ACT, is the external territory of Norfolk Island. You can imagine that being part of an electorate that is largely urban and landlocked and is 1,900 kilometres away is not the most obvious fit for effective representation. This is exacerbated by the lack of representation at a territory level of a kind similar to that which exists in the ACT or NT. Indeed there is an absence of any democratically elected territory-level representation.
Just like the rest of Bean, Norfolk Island has a rich history. The Kingston and Arthur's Vale Historic Area is one of the best surviving examples of large-scale convict transportation and colonial expansion of European powers. The descendants of the HMAV Bounty mutineers and Tahitians from the Pitcairn Islands gives the island a unique culture and language. It has unique flora and fauna, and is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Its history presents challenges that have vexed this place since its incorporation into the Commonwealth early in the 20th century. Many of those challenges are a result of its remoteness and topography. It has no natural harbour, no place for ships to shelter. To this day, sea freight is still unloaded at sea and lightered into the port.
However, many of the issues the people of Norfolk Island face are of our making, and we certainly have the power to solve them together. We need to promote Norfolk Island as a place for Australian and international visitors and investors, whilst preserving its unspoilt beauty and world heritage areas. We need to ensure it has modern and fast communications facilities so its beauty can be shared, and to overcome the tyranny of distance so residents and visitors can work, play and integrate with the broader Australian economy.
Most importantly, however, I want to reflect on what I said a year ago when I stood in the other place and spoke in favour of the repeal of the Andrews act. I quoted from the Hon. Clyde Holding whilst introducing the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Bill:
However, unlike every other person in this country, where a fair go is the creed by which we live, they cannot elect a member of their own community to their own government. They have no say in the decisions which affect their everyday lives. What an extraordinary admission in a country so committed to democratic ideals, and why? Are these people somehow different from other Australians? Are they second-class citizens in some way? Do they not understand, or have opinions on, the issues that confront them daily? Can they not be trusted with their own destiny? The answer to all these questions is very simple. The only difference between these people and the rest of Australia is that they live in the Australian Capital Territory.
These words hold true today for Norfolk Island. We should not abridge the basic right of all Australians for self-determination in the delivery of services that affect them in their daily lives. At the moment there is significant doubt over the delivery of education services to Norfolk Island once the New South Wales government withdraws its services in 2021. My commitment to my constituents on the island is to work with them and the government over the next three years to tackle these challenges and issues and work on a path towards ensuring the people of Norfolk have a genuine voice and influence over matters that we take for granted. A good start would be providing external territories a voice at COAG.
I realised that the many faiths that make up this parliament are a strength. Like many in this parliament, faith is something that is important to me. I look across our great parliament and am proud to be in a nation where our citizens are entitled to their beliefs, where all beliefs are respected, where we can have a Jewish member for Macnamara, a Muslim member for Cowan, and a Christian member for Bean—and all from the same party. It is essential for me that members of all faiths and those with no faith at all can respectfully gather in our capital and focus on our common cause: to make life better and more equal for all Australians.
There are many of Christian faith who I look to for examples of leadership, but two schools in my electorate hold the names of no finer examples of them. The first, Caroline Chisholm School, is a wonderful public school in Chisholm. Caroline Chisholm offers us all a great example of activist leadership, calling on the British to support the social needs of people in the colonies and helping female immigrants as they arrived in Australia. The second is St Mary Mackillop College in Wanniassa and Isabella Plains. St Mary Mackillop reminds me that this parliament should not just be a place of words but of action; for young people look up to us and, as she said, 'We must teach more by example than by word'.
My faith journey began at home but was augmented by the influence of Father Parker Moloney, the parish priest at St Augustine's Farrer for most of my childhood and young adult life. The son of the Hon. Parker Moloney, a minister in the Scullin government, the great talent that Parker had was to make the mysteries of the faith meaningful in the daily lives of parishioners but with an emphasis on social justice. He never forgot that Christmas Day was the greatest of the year because:
It's the day before the races out at Tangmalangaloo.
The key questions for Parker were: who is my neighbour, and what am I prepared to do for my neighbour? These are, I believe, the critical questions to ask in relation to our work here. It shouldn't be about picking sides or making statements about unfunded empathy.
In my 12 months here I've been reminded that the difference you can make in individuals' lives is enormous, but I've also been continually surprised by the realisation that what happens in your electorate can really impact the world. Two weekends ago, on Sunday, 21 July, more than a thousand people gathered down at the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex under the watchful eye of the old Honeysuckle Creek dish to watch those fateful moments when Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon. You could barely hear a pin drop as the images that had been relayed from Honeysuckle Creek in the ACT radiated around the world.
The Bean area has a rich heritage. A rock shelter just north of the Namadgi National Park contains evidence that our First Peoples were living in the region thousands of years ago. The first pastoralists settled in the valleys at the southern end of the Namadgi National Park in the 1830s. They initially struggled to establish themselves in a remote area subject to severe weather.
Geographically, Bean covers most of southern ACT, as well as Norfolk Island, from the National Arboretum, through the Woden Town Centre and right down to Mount Clear in Namadgi National Park, and everywhere in between. It consists the whole of Tuggeranong, the Lanyon Valley, the suburbs of south Woden, including Phillip and Weston Creek, and the Molonglo Valley.
One of my regrets is similar to that voiced by the former member for Canberra, the Hon Ros Kelly MP. Most federal politicians and their staff spend so much of their lives in Canberra travelling like cruise ships in the night, arriving at port and disembarking but never going beyond the parliamentary triangle. They come so often yet they see so little. I get the reasons why; it's because of the pressures of political life. But it wouldn't hurt to get outside the political bubble. If they did they would realise that the people of Bean share the same dreams and hopes as the people back in their electorates. Bean is made up of young people who have the same hopes that I had when I was young: hopes to meet a nice partner, to start a family, to own our own home and to make sure our kids are looked after.
Bean is made up of many, many families who, just like me, are following through with that dream, through the trials, tribulations and struggles but also in those special moments, like seeing your children play their first game of soccer or netball or attending their graduation. Bean is also made up of many older residents, just like my parents; people who have worked hard and want to make sure they are looked after with dignity. One of the differences in my electorate, though, is that most of my constituents are working for the Australian people every day.
So, to Bean. Over the course of the campaign I discovered that not many of my constituents knew why the seat of Bean was so named. Bean is named after one of Australia's greatest war historians, Charles Bean. A couple of weeks after the federal election I received correspondence from his granddaughter Anne Carroll, congratulating me on the election and providing me further insights into this extraordinary Australian's life.
Many in this chamber will know the basic story of Bean: born in the 19th century; a scholarship at Oxford; a judges' associate, then later a journalist and Australia's first official war correspondent. Bean travelled with the first contingent of the AIF, landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. A determined man, he stayed close to the battlefield in Gallipoli and the Western Front, devoting himself to telling our story of national sacrifice, mateship and bravery—helping, in some way, to define what we now know as the ANZAC spirit.
It was in 1919 that Bean returned to Australia, moving to the Tuggeranong Homestead, in what is now Bean, to complete the official history of World War I, a task so detailed it took him 23 years to finish. It was indeed our next wartime Prime Minister, the great John Curtin, who congratulated Bean on his work when the final volume was completed in 1942.
During his time covering the war, Bean conceived of the idea of the Australian War Memorial as a place to commemorate those who'd died in battle and a museum to house objects from war. His time as a civilian covering World War I made him uniquely aware of the sacrifice of our troops, and he wanted to ensure that that sacrifice was commemorated properly. He actively worked in the decades that followed to ensure that that memorial materialised. Bean's vision for the Australian War Memorial was realised when it opened on Armistice Day, 11 November 1941.
However, Bean was a much more complex character than just the military Bean, thinking deeply on social policy as well. He knocked back a knighthood as it did not sit with his values. He was an early environmentalist, founding the Parks and Playground Movement; a supporter of universal education; and, in addition to the War Memorial, a driving influence behind the establishment of the National Archives of Australia. He was also a man who once supported the White Australia policy and then, later in life, took a much more internationalist view. While his early views of the great John Monash were almost certainly anti-Semitic, later in life he recognised his error. Bean, like our nation, grew and changed with life.
Charles Bean's contribution, as an exceptional correspondent and a social philosopher, to enlivening our national story is extraordinary. It's only right that he is honoured in such as way as to have a federal electorate named after him.
Finally, a lesson that all new members here will have learned is that it takes a village to get here. I wish to particularly acknowledge my staff from the other place and here who have worked so hard for the people of the ACT: Chris, Kim, Karl, Nick, Mikey, Terry, Jess, Ben, Tony and Bryce; my amazing core campaign team: Brendan, Johnno, Kerry, Karl, Terry, Steph, Francis and Natalie; and the army of letterboxers, doorknockers, pre-poll volunteers, booth captains and scrutineers who all worked so hard right up until polling day. I'm delighted to see so many of these people in the gallery today.
To a particular band of friends who have provided my whole family with support across this last mad 12 months: Charmaine, Simon, Jules, Jacqui, Paul, Toni, Mike, Gab, Ang, Seb, Roger, Jacqui, Chris and Lily, your childcaring responsibilities might be called upon by other members of the 2019 cohort. And thanks to my great friends in the Australian labour movement and the mighty Australian Labor Party, which has been a major part of my life since I went on a school excursion to the Old Parliament House to meet my local member, Ros Kelly MP, and then joined the union on my first day of work at Big W, Woden.
Finally, I could not be here without the support of the Smith/Centenera/Garcia/Grealy clan—the support and inspiration of my parents; my brothers, Paul and Bernie; my nieces, nephews and cousins. My road to Bean began when my parents made the decision to come here before Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon. In particular, I could not be here without the support of my immediate family: Liesl, Marcus, Eamonn and Stella. Liesl Centenera, as anyone who knows her, is a deadset legend, and I am lucky every day I can walk beside her.
Every day I have walked into this building, I have done so in the knowledge that I am honoured to serve. But while I am one representative of many, each of us has a responsibility to work together to make Australia a nation where everyone has a chance to succeed. We owe this not just to our future generations but those who have gone before us, and, in particular, those who have paid the ultimate price.
I want to end with a piece of writing by Charles Bean, written in the aftermath of World War I. Reflecting on the sacrifices of thousands of Australians during the Great War, he wrote:
Only by one means can we work out our thanks to them—by continuing the task which they were forced to drop when the bullet took them, and devoting our lives to make this country the happy, great, and generous land whose future with their death they gave into our hands.
Mr Speaker, congratulations to you on your appointment as Speaker and thank you for your warm welcome to me in this place.
Today as I rise in this House to give my first speech, I acknowledge the Ngunawal and Ngambri peoples, who are the traditional custodians of the Canberra area, and pay respect to the elders, past and present, of all Australia's Indigenous peoples. I especially acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands across my large electorate of Indi—lands of the Wavereoo, Dhudhuroa, Bpangerang and Taungurung peoples. I honour the resilience, wisdom, dignity, scientific knowledge, the stories and art of the world's longest surviving culture.
The honour of being a representative in this place is one that is bestowed upon few. I am humbled by the privilege and so very conscious of the responsibility. I thank the people of Indi for placing their trust in me. Of the 1,202 people who have been elected to the House of Representatives, 132 have been women. I am proud to be one of them, but we remain too few. We will not create the best public policy for this nation until we have a diverse parliament in all senses and until, at the very least, we have equal representation of women.
I pay tribute to my fellow MPs in this the 46th Parliament of Australia. I thank the honourable members for their welcome to this place and I wish each and every one of you the very, very best. I thank the many staff who work here for their expertise and guidance as I adjust to this new and very challenging life.
As the member for Indi, I pay tribute to those who came before me in this magnificent Federation seat. And let me say that its first member, Sir Isaac Isaacs, raised in the town of Yackandandah, set the bar pretty high! He rose to become Attorney-General of Australia, Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia and the first Australian-born Governor-General. Another member for Indi, John 'Black Jack' McEwen, born in the town of Chiltern, was a long-serving minister and briefly Prime Minister of Australia after the death of Harold Holt in 1967, but he was of course the member for Murray by then. In total, 17 members precede me, including Ewan Cameron, Lou Lieberman, Sophie Mirabella and Cathy McGowan.
And it is to my most recent predecessor, the first ever Independent member for Indi, Cathy McGowan AO, that I pay particular tribute. Cathy has left an enduring legacy on the federal Parliament of Australia. Importantly, she is widely recognised by all sides of politics to be someone with strong values and integrity who put her electorate first on matters of policy and debate. Cathy is a mentor, a teacher and a friend and, like all great teachers, she has given me a clear and magnificent path to follow.
My electorate of Indi covers 29,187 square kilometres of magnificent north-east Victoria, adjoining the border of New South Wales in the north and stretching to Kinglake on the edges of Melbourne in the south. The geography is characterised by mountains, rivers and fertile land. Indeed, Indi's river basins contribute 38 per cent of the total water to the Murray-Darling Basin. It includes nine local government areas in addition to the unincorporated areas of Falls Creek, Lake Mountain, Mount Buller and Mount Hotham Alpine Resort.
The economy is driven by tourism, food and fibre, forestry, viticulture, agriculture, timber processing and manufacturing, and by the countless small businesses providing a vast array of goods and services. The people of Indi are leaders in the renewable energy revolution. Indi is home to 11 community energy groups—the most of any region in the nation—many generating and sharing power using microgrid technology. In Barnawartha, we have the largest producer of biodiesel.
My electorate is as diverse and beautiful as the 142,000 people who live there. It is a place of outdoor adventure, with visitors from all over the world drawn to Indi for skiing, cycling, canoeing. kayaking, fly fishing, bushwalking and camping and for our internationally renowned wine and gourmet food. Indi is what is termed the legends, wine and high country.
While many people can feel like a legend after enjoying some of our famous north-east Victorian wine, Indi is 'Kelly country'. Ned Kelly is a polarising figure, seen by some as a hero, by others as a villain. He lived in Greta, was jailed in Beechworth, robbed banks in Euroa and his last stand was in Glenrowan. The Kelly story looms large in the Australian psyche with no less than 11 feature films and more biographies than any other Australian. Journalist Martin Flanagan wrote:
But what makes Ned a legend is not that everyone sees him the same—it's that everyone sees him. Like a bushfire on the horizon casting its red glow into the night.
To careful observers of Australian politics, it should come, then, as no surprise that the rural communities of Indi have also been seen with a powerful orange glow in the last three federal elections. Some have spoken of the 'quiet Australians' post this most recent election, but I speak from an electorate who chose not to be quiet. They chose to use their voice not to drown out the voices of others but to hear the voices of others.
The vision and leadership of a small group of people who began Voices for Indi in 2012 started a great big community conversation about doing politics differently. What they created is what has been described as 'new power'—open, participatory and peer-driven. It operates on shared values and radical trust. The Voices for Indi movement has given inspiration to other electorates around the nation modelling new democratic norms. In a growing number of democracies across the world we are seeing the impact of an erosion of trust in democratic institutions. Disengagement from politics is being exploited into fear and polarisation. In Indi there is a different story. Division and polarisation are not the inevitable outcome of disengagement; it can be channelled productively. This election has shown that this model, though time consuming and labour intensive, has staying power.
At this election, every one of the 1,700 people who signed up to the values and contributed to the campaign were volunteers. Not one person was paid. Over 900 supporters staffed the 68 booths on election day. They covered more than 1,040 rostered shifts for the pre-polls over three weeks and across five sites. They made more than 2,000 metres of orange bunting, 700 orange cockatoos and countless cakes. They designed and distributed corflutes and how-to-vote cards. They did websites, they did media, they did policy and they did flash mobs. They staffed no less than 14 campaign offices in high streets across every corner of the electorate. They stepped out of comfort zones and into conversation zones. To each and every one of you, I say: thank you. In the galleries you see some of these people. They have travelled here from Corryong, Kancoona, Taggerty, Tallangatta, Marysville, Merrijig, Mansfield, Wangaratta, Benalla, Upotipotpon, Euroa, Wodonga and Wandiligong, to name but some. They are here because, like all Australians, this is their House. I am honoured to be their representative.
Each of our stories begin well before us and include people both known and unknown to us. If we are lucky, our story extends beyond us. I am, like each of you, the sum of my family, my community and the ecology of the places I have lived in. I grew up on a dairy farm with my mother, Marion Ryan, my father, Jack Carew, and my four brothers in a small place called Eurack—Gulidjan country—in south-west Victoria. We lived next door to our grandmother's farm. My grandfather Will Carew died young, leaving my grandmother to run the farm and raise her four young boys: my father and his three brothers Bill, Richard and Peter Carew.
The untimely death of my grandfather, with the consequences of economic hardship, meant my father left school at 13. He told many stories of tough times but they were the preamble to the real stories—the tales of rural adventures recounted with such humour and intrigue that, as a child, I honestly thought my home of Eurack, population approximately 95 people, the most exciting, exotic and daring of places to belong.
My grandmother Mary Carew, formerly Mary Farrell but always known as Dolly, milked dairy cows, raised geese, planted crops and cooked rabbits trapped by her boys. She was a quiet but powerful presence as I grew up. Less quiet were her sisters, my great aunts: Johanna, known as Sis; Lizzie, known as Tom; and Tess, known, oddly, as Tess! Tom and Sis had trained as nurses at St Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne. They were always referred to as 'the aunts', and it was they who pretty much predetermined that I should also be a St Vincent's nurse—and so it was. In the gallery today are some of my wonderful lifelong nursing friends from St V's.
Today, 1 August, is the thoroughbred horses' birthday. That is fitting, as my maternal grandfather, John Joseph Ryan, was keen on racing. He too was a dairy farmer, but also a horse trainer. Together with my uncle Tim Ryan, they produced some fine horses and could be seen riding bareback through the bush around places like Irrewillipe, Pirron Yallock and Tomahawk Creek. I never knew my maternal grandmother, Marion Ryan, formerly Rankin. She died at age 40, leaving her five young children, John, Valda, Marion, Peter and Tim, behind.
Subsequently, my mother, her namesake, grew up largely in the dormitories of St Brendan's and Sacred Heart boarding schools. As a little girl, on a still day she could see, from the balcony of her boarding house, smoke from the chimney of her home on the banks of Lake Corangamite. Mum was a determined farmer. She had an unstoppable work ethic. She was clever, a good tennis player, a committed local community contributor, a wonderful wife and a devoted mother. She developed a terminal illness in her early 50s and died a few years later. Her death reinforced for me on a personal level what I knew from my work as a nurse: life is short, family is everything and there is honour in the service of others. I think of Marion every day, as I do my beloved storytelling father, Jack, who carried on farming until his death, aged 82. I'm betting that if they were alive today their advice to me in this place would be: sit up straight, clean your shoes and don't put up with too much tommyrot.
Early life for me outside the farm centred around our little rural school, our local church and the tennis courts alongside the Eurack memorial hall. Last Christmas, our extended family returned to that hall. Inside, the walls are liberally covered in the glorious sporting victories of the now long gone Eurack State School 3448: framed photographs bathing me, my brothers, my cousins and our mates in the triumph of being western plains' athletics champions (small schools section).
Ours was a one-teacher school, and total student numbers rarely exceeded 12. We trained for these sports by running barefoot, Zola Budd style, around the perimeter of a paddock of lucerne. The whole district turned out on sports day to cheer us on. Noting the flat landscape of my birth country, the salt pan lakes and the faded photos on the walls, the young ones at the party noted, with a bit of cheek: 'You were not even big fish in a small pond. You were small fish in a very small swamp.' Don Watson, in his book The Bush, described the families of places like ours as:
… having inserted themselves into a crack in the nation's development … schools, churches, halls, hospitals, agricultural shows, libraries, mechanics institutes.
A persistent effort in the small things, says Watson, that laid down a lasting pattern in Australian rural life. The hamlets and towns of Indi tell similar stories to mine, of good people, persistent effort and small things.
And so it was that small things continued for me in proximity to small swamps. In 1986, after completing my nursing and midwifery education in Melbourne, I moved from north Carlton to central Chiltern, having been lured to the north-east by my sweetheart, the handsome Phil Haines, agricultural scientist from the Rutherglen Research Institute. I became matron at the Chiltern Bush Nursing Hospital. I was 26; a very young matron in a very small hospital in a very small place with a very small lake, a lake overlooked by one of the former homes of Henry Handel Richardson; a lake familiar to Black Jack McEwen and to another favourite son of Chiltern—and well known in this House—Mr Barrie Cassidy.
The next three years I spent in that job gave me plenty of great stories and a keen understanding of place based solutions to the challenges of rural health. The hospital kitchen crammed with locals making jam, peppered with a surprise visit from the health inspector. Jacky Byron, who could recount watching the lads march off to the Boer War, would arrive daily by bicycle to deliver freshly caught fish from the lake for his cobber, Martin Balsarini, a light horseman who rode in the charge of Beersheba. There were midnight call-outs for a variety of reasons with the local GP and the local policeman, including an encounter with a villain on the run hiding in the hospital casualty room. The matron, the sergeant and the doctor—we were quite the trio.
In time, we moved from Chiltern to our small farm on a billabong of the King River in Wangaratta. This, too, was a special place where, if you look carefully, the signs of the Bangerang people abound—ring trees, canoe trees, birthing trees; signals that this area is abundant in food, water and spirit. Here I was drawn to further study. The internet arrived, which literally opened a world of opportunity for me as a young working mother in a rural region. I pursued an interest in epidemiology and public health through a master's degree, which took me and my family, rather surprisingly, to a much bigger swamp on the shores of beautiful Lake Malaren, to Uppsala University in Sweden, where I eventually completed a doctoral degree in medical science and, later, a post-doctoral research fellowship at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. This period reinforced for me that just and equitable health and education outcomes are not accidents in the Nordic countries but the result of sound public policy. It gave me opportunities on an international level I could never have foreseen. It gave our kids a lifelong 'appreciation' for sour herring!
Mine has been a very lucky life. Mr Speaker, as you have heard, I have a large and loving family, many of whom are here today. To my brothers John, Damian, Paul and Gerry; their wives Shirley, Mary Anne, Vanessa and Grace; my Haines family of brothers Ian, Andrew and the late and loved Pete; Chris, Wendy, Maureen and Annie; my late parents-in-law Eric and Dorothy Haines; my 27 nieces and nephews and their children; and my countless cousins—thank you.
No love is as fierce as that of a parent for their child. So I say to my three children Will, Nick and Georgia Haines: you are bold, you are brave, you are loved. Use your talents wisely. To Maddy and Chris, thank you. You have joined a family that loves nothing more than a hot dinner served with a delicious side salad of political debate!
And to that ag scientist from Rutherglen, Phil Haines, my husband of 33 years who has always believed I could do things I never thought I could: no-one could ask for a more loving soulmate.
In total I have spent three decades working in rural health care as an academic researcher, administrator, not-for-profit company director, midwife and nurse. I salute my colleagues in health care all over Australia for their expertise and devotion.
Throughout my career I have been privileged to care for people as they take their first breath of life and as they take their last. A great joy to me was in being a foundation member in what is now the longest-running rural midwifery caseload practice in Australia at Northeast Health Wangaratta. Midwives are the hand that guides the hand that rocks the cradle that rules the world. Comprehensive national and international evidence has proven that continuity of midwifery care improves outcomes for mothers and babies in a safe, satisfying and cost-effective manner. Yet it is a model of care that remains unavailable to the majority of Australians.
Australia is a nation that is envied by many. We have much to be grateful for but we have some serious responsibilities to face up to. We have a responsibility to the generations that will follow us—young people like Alice, Ailish, Pascal, Dympna, Fergal and Anna.
I am a regional Australian and I am a defiant optimist, but one who recognises the scale of the challenge ahead. We have some essential issues to tackle both in Indi and across rural Australia. Firstly, there is the health of rural Australians. Suicide is twice as high in rural areas compared with urban areas, with males three times more likely than females to die by suicide. Timely access to mental health care should not be reliant on your postcode nor your ability to pay once your 10 Medicare funded services run out.
Older Australians want to stay in their own homes and maintain a good quality of life for as long as possible. But too many people are waiting too long for home care packages and this disproportionately impacts negatively on rural Australians.
On disability: to every person, family and carer across this nation who is waiting in frustration for full access to the NDIS, I hear you. This parliament must work conscientiously to ensure that the incredible system the NDIS was set up to be lives up to the promise and hope felt by so many when it was created.
On education: we understand that people succeed when they have a chance to get a decent education and learn new skills—and, by the way, so do those businesses that hire them or the companies that they start. But this is still out of reach for many in Indi, where the average completion rate for a bachelor's degree or higher is half the Victorian average. There are many systemic reasons for this. However, what extensive international research tells us is that two years of preschool education has the most potent impact on positive long-term educational outcomes. This is an intervention that could change life courses in my electorate if it were universally available.
I've come to this place to talk positively about what we hope to start in regional Australia and not simply what we want to stop. We can grow our regions to a greater, sustainable prosperity. There is a big role for the federal government to play in that, and it starts with better connectivity, better rail, better internet, better mobile phone coverage and better access to health and education. Raising the rate of Newstart is part of this conversation. There is near-universal community and business consensus on this. It's the right thing to do for the people receiving it, and it's the right thing to do for regional communities which, again, are disadvantaged significantly in access to the job market.
I bring the voices of rural Australians from my electorate of Indi—a region which is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. It's impacting us right now. We are experiencing extreme summer heat, less reliable autumn breaks, reduced winter and spring rainfall and decreased snow cover. We may well see the complete loss of the Victorian alpine zone this century.
Our physical and mental health is being impacted. The Black Saturday fires of 10 years ago, which ravaged the southern areas of Indi, are still fresh in the memory of the community of Murrindindi. We urgently need greater investment in research and development, together with innovative policies to assist agriculture and health to adapt to our rapidly changing climate and to identify new, profitable and sustainable opportunities. The evidence is clear: we are facing a climate change crisis. We are also presented with a once-in-a-generation opportunity for regional Australia to lead the way in the development of renewable energy and to prosper from new economic opportunities. We need a just transition to renewable energy, and we need to get on with it. Let's grasp these opportunities.
It was Florence Nightingale who told us, 'How very little can be done under the spirit of fear.' When it comes to our immigration policies I and many other Australians are left asking the simple question of who we are as a country. I bring the voices of so many people in my electorate who call for an end to the human suffering that is caused through indefinite detention of asylum seekers and refugees both onshore and offshore.
On these big issues, so many Australians want change desperately but are equally scared of change when it comes to trusting the political system to bring it about. Research in 2019 shows that Australians' trust in federal parliament is very low and, in fact, has declined since 2017. I will advocate strongly in this place for a robust federal integrity commission. Such a commission can help restore the trust that so many Australians have lost in their elected representatives.
In conclusion, this 46th Parliament opens a new chapter in our history. And those of us elected here have the humble responsibility to help write it. History shows us that some parliaments take small steps, and others take large leaps. One such opportunity to leap stands before us now. With the Uluru Statement from the Heart, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have invited all of Australia to walk with them to achieve 'Voice, Treaty and Truth'. I embrace that offer, and I commit myself and the privileges I have by virtue of being in this place to walking with them. The Constitution of this great nation is ours to use to bring about justice and freedom. I can think of no task more worthy of this parliament than that.
Don Watson described the generations of Australians who quietly inserted themselves into the crack in our nation's development. The people of Indi have done just that. They started something far bigger than they could have imagined. Their goal in 2013 wasn't to storm the doors of parliament in one campaign, but they did. Some wrote this off as a flash-in-the pan moment—a battle of personalities that could not be replicated when those personalities were no longer in the frame. They pointed out rightly that an independent had never succeeded an independent in Australian federal parliamentary history—until now. It is my honour to hold that crack in our nation's history open, to fortify it for those who will come after and to serve the people of Indi with integrity, with kindness and with diligence as their 18th member of the House of Representatives.
Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the Ngunawal and Ngambri people on whose land we meet on today and the 11 traditional owner groups across Mallee. I pay my respects to their elders, past, present and emerging.
Sometimes a place chooses you rather than you choosing it. Going back more than 40 years, a complex array of circumstances relating to my honeymoon, a computer glitch, the tardy invention of mobile phones and a visit by the CIB conspired to bring me to Mallee. Two weeks after our wedding, my husband and I found ourselves driving from Melbourne for many hours up the Calder Highway, flanked by red dirt, Mallee scrub and saltbush. I remember asking him, 'Are you sure you know where you're going?' Just out of Red Cliffs, we caught sight of undulating hectares of vineyards, heavily laden with beautiful ripe grapes. It was an oasis in the desert. I can tell you that the sight of the Mildura township brought relief to this young bride. That was the beginning of a one-year internship for my husband at the local hospital. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Sunraysia district remains an oasis in the desert, due to the irrigation system developed by two entrepreneurial Canadian brothers, the Chaffeys. The challenge was the desert; the solution was the river; the innovation was irrigation pumps and systems to manage water. These brothers dreamt of dry, dusty plains becoming lush, productive industry and livable settlements. The settlers who moved to the Sunraysia region, including our soldier settlers, shared that dream. They developed sustainable farming practices, which have modernised over the years.
Throughout Mallee today, innovation is alive and well. Water drip systems have replaced flood irrigation and overhead sprays, and pipes have replaced open channels. Agricultural practices use less water and produce more, due to developments such as no-till farming and large-scale sowing and fertilising systems—creative solutions born out of necessity. I saw evidence of this on the farms of Allen Harmer and Ron Hards. I thank them for showing me around their properties, and I'm deeply grateful that Allen and his wife, Rhonda, have made the long journey here today from the Millewa. Allen has lived through the worst drought years of 1943 to 1946, and he tells me that the current drought is worse. Australia has faced many challenges as the driest inhabited continent on the planet, but these challenges have been met by people such as Allen, who are innovative and resilient.
I have the great privilege of representing the people and communities of Mallee, from Maryborough in the south, Cohuna to the east, Edenhope to the west and Mildura to the north. The electorate is just shy of 82,000 square kilometres, over a third of the state of Victoria, and boasts prime agricultural and horticultural land that grows stone fruit, grapes, vegetables, wheat, legumes, olives, almonds, dairy, sheep and beef, to name a few. The people of the Mallee contribute an estimated $4.2 billion in agricultural GDP alone, with the total value of crops being 47.6 per cent of Victoria's gross value and 14.2 per cent of Victoria's livestock gross value, not to mention the other key industries that play a vital role in our economy, such as minerals and energy.
The people and communities of Mallee are particularly resilient and thrive on challenge. Hundreds of farms across this sweeping electorate have responded overwhelmingly to the advent of the Wimmera Mallee pipeline. Towns at risk of demise have risen like a phoenix through determination and enterprise. Just consider Luv-a-Duck in Nhill, True Foods in Maryborough, Kooka's in Donald, Southern Mallee Diesel and Mechanical Services in Hopetoun, the Woomelang cooperative general store, and the small towns hosting the Silo Art Trail—if you haven't been through that, I encourage you to do so. Community based enterprises are a key component in connecting people to keep towns alive and services operating.
Another example of resilience in Mallee is the extraordinary development and uptake of digital agriculture to access global markets. The Victorian Farmers Federation tell me that young people are coming back to the farm precisely because farming has become high tech. They can reach global markets on their digital devices while driving their auto steered harvesters.
But opportunity does not exist for all. I have had phone conversations, many times, with people who must stand on a chair, climb a hill, or hang off a silo in order to have any signal. Community is built on communication. If you don't have it, the result is entrenched isolation. Nobody thrives in isolation. While mobile coverage has improved significantly under the coalition government in Mallee, with 41 base stations funded under the Mobile Black Spot Program, there is more to be done. I will be advocating for ongoing funding to improve connectivity for all in Mallee.
We face many challenges, socially and economically, but the people of Mallee work together to address problems and create solutions. They bring enterprise and endeavour to create and sustain wealth. I am pleased to say this Morrison-McCormack government takes our responsibility seriously to foster productivity and opportunity and to remove the barriers that impede social and economic growth. I will strive to assist the hardworking and deserving people of Mallee in every way possible.
One of the most significant challenges we face every day in Australia, and magnified in Mallee, is that our relatively small population is spread over large distances. Roads, rail and bridges are essential for productivity and community life. Locals and tourists alike need safe passage to travel throughout this vast electorate. Our farmers and industry need efficient transport mechanisms and systems to access domestic and export markets. Millions of tonnes of product are transported on road and rail each year, but both are in dire need of significant infrastructure expenditure.
Due to the hard work of the National Party, there will be more upgrades to the Calder and Western highways in the next 12 months, and while the Mildura rail line has been upgraded to standard gauge through to the Port of Melbourne, the Murray Basin Rail Project lies in disarray. My farming friends in Murrayville cannot justify moving their product to market on rail at the current speeds of 15 kilometres per hour. The Victorian state Labor government has failed the people of Mallee. They must complete this project in a timely manner.
As someone who travelled 30,000 kilometres on Mallee roads during the campaign, I can tell you that an efficient regional rail system would bring many social, safety and productivity benefits for everyone. More trains mean fewer B-doubles and B-quads on the road.
One of the key issues in my electorate during my campaign was water—surprisingly! Our most precious national resource, it must be measured and managed responsibly and in the interest of all if our regions are to thrive. Water cannot be a political football. Ongoing bipartisan support that commits to balance social, economic and environmental sustainability must remain our focus.
The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is critical to the Mallee electorate. The people of this electorate rely on us getting this right. I look forward to continuing to work with the minister for water resources, the member for Maranoa, to improve the management of the plan, protect farmers and ensure greater regulation, accountability and transparency. These complexities must be managed in a way that considers the continent, not parochial corners of it, as Edmund Barton would say.
Our continent also requires dedication to a cleaner future. I am committed to emissions reductions, lowering energy prices while ensuring sustainability and reliability. Mallee is perfectly positioned for renewables, but the capacity of our existing grid infrastructure is making some promising options unviable. I look forward to working further to improve connectivity to the grid in Mallee.
I will also strive to assist all businesses in Mallee, including the 19,997 small and medium businesses—many family-owned—who are struggling to attract workforce. The media has recently highlighted this as it relates to horticulture, but it's not just an issue found in the agricultural industry. It is evidenced among both our unskilled and skilled workforces, from mechanics to veterinary practices and health care. I commend this government on its current focus on population issues, and look forward to working towards implementation of policy to better support our businesses to grow and flourish in regional settings.
As for all Australians, access to quality health care impacts every person in Mallee. Our regional cities are growing, and with many retirees, while smaller towns are declining. We need responsive and sustainable health care, aged care and palliative care. We need to focus on the unique rural and regional settings in which services are delivered. Funding models currently do not reflect this. One size does not fit all.
Isolation is a key contributor to poor health outcomes and risks. While isolation might be mitigated by telecommunications and a network of first responders, distance and the lack of workforce are key concerns for Mallee communities. We need more doctors, nurses, and allied health and mental health workers. We have reached crisis point.
Our government is implementing some great initiatives to overcome some of the barriers to adequate health care that are specific to regional and rural areas. But more work is needed, and I will be a strong voice in this space. An integrated healthcare network model would ameliorate the current negative health outcomes many experience in Mallee. The model incorporates a multidisciplinary health team, including nurse practitioners and allied health professionals, with oversight by a doctor. Pharmacies need to be part of the conversation to improve health outcomes across the electorate. The role of nurse practitioner could be expanded to service aged care and palliative care, and to increase reach into remote communities. I am advocating for additional funding in our tertiary education system to support more local nurses to upskill to practitioner level for this reason. However, structural change is also needed, including broadening Medicare activity funding to increase nurse and allied health services to manage chronic disease. Our regional towns are in desperate need of these changes, and the changes must be holistic.
Perhaps my passion and focus on health care is in part motivated by my own experiences. In the decades I have lived in Mildura, I have needed to rely on emergency services and specialist health care on many occasions. A five-year period of infertility meant many road trips to Melbourne to seek IVF assistance. The birth of my son at 27 weeks required a lifesaving flight with Air Ambulance to the Royal Women's Hospital, and then four months of neonatal intensive care in Melbourne for my son while my husband continued working in Mildura. He would drive six hours after work to see our son in the early hours of the morning in intensive care. We would have a precious day and a half together, and then he would drive back for work on Sunday night. Our third child was born following a four-month period of bed rest for me in Melbourne under specialist care, with a toddler and preschooler in tow. Supportive family in Melbourne helped us through these events. But what about those who have no family in Melbourne?
More recently, our first granddaughter Emmeline was the recipient of a liver transplant at the tender age of 14 months. I am proud to say she is here today. The Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne was her home for months, and the care she received was exceptional. We are so grateful to her donor and their family for their gift of life. It is for this reason that I am establishing the Parliamentary Friends of Organ Donation, co-chaired by my colleague Dr Michael Freelander. I am thrilled to announce this during the national DonateLife Week campaign. I want to thank those members from both sides of the chamber that I have spoken to for supporting this initiative.
I also wish to talk about my family's current experience with cancer and what it means in a regional setting such as Mallee. My father has courageously battled cancer over the last two years. All of his surgery has been in Melbourne. Again, we are grateful for the expert care he has received. But there are additional challenges when you have to travel to Melbourne for surgery, check-ups, tests and treatment. My sister Deb, who is here today, and my brother Guy supported my parents while in Melbourne. But, again, what about those who have no family or support in Melbourne? This is the greatest tyranny of distance. My father has been told this week there is no more that can be done. He is about to embark on palliative care. As always, we will walk this journey together. Love you, Dad.
Our geographical and social isolation requires us to develop solutions such as fly-in fly-out specialist care, retrieval services, such as the air ambulance, and telehealth, which connects specialist services with local health providers. I am pleased that the Morrison-McCormack government is focused on improving access to health through innovative measures and I will be active to advance the wellbeing of all in Mallee. A person's postcode should not determine health status, but, for many in Mallee, it currently does.
I have always been passionate about injustice and understand the need for holistic approaches to the barriers faced by regional and rural communities. Becoming a sociologist and social worker has helped me understand the cultural, political, social and economic factors that impact individuals and their ability to thrive. It led me to one of my proudest career achievements to date, working with a small team in the creation of a not-for-profit organisation called Zoe Support. Zoe Support offers holistic, wraparound and place based support to meet the needs of teen mothers and assist them to re-engage in education. Zoe Support has had extraordinary outcomes, impacting two generations and sometimes even three. Homelessness, mental health issues, drug and alcohol use and family violence have been significantly reduced through this essential service.
In seven years, Zoe Support has helped more than 200 young women in Mildura. Our current statistics show that 32 per cent of these long-term clients are now employed, and 62 per cent of our current clients are engaged in education. The mission of Zoe Support is 'connecting, inspiring and learning'. As I have stated, nobody thrives in isolation. At Zoe Support, young mothers connect and inspire one another. The staff and volunteers live by the value of unconditional positive regard. When people are accepted and not judged, it is surprising how they can thrive. The learnings of this model, I believe, can be replicated across many diverse and specific disadvantaged groups.
Over the years I became particularly interested in vulnerability. I saw it in the mums at Zoe and it provided great insight into our service approaches. I recently completed a PhD that looks at the vulnerability of women who make the choice to adopt-out in Australia today. I understand that the vulnerable are all around us and are us: young mothers, Indigenous Australians, refugees, farmers in drought, the unemployed, the aged, the chronically ill, those who live with a disability and returned soldiers, among others. The factors of vulnerability are irreversibility, dependency and unpredictability. While these factors are present every day in all of our lives to some extent or other, for the vulnerable they can be overwhelming and paralysing.
But we can act to mitigate vulnerability through responsibility, interdependency and hope. The unexpected result of this election has been to revive hope, evidenced by the stock market and the collective sigh of relief I'm sure I heard across Australia on 18 May. Responsibility, interdependency and hope can strengthen our ability to move forward, and enable the vulnerable to reach their potential. It can also guide policy and develop resilience and hope, not just for Mallee but across Australia. The experiences I have had and the knowledge I've gained through my involvement with Zoe Support and my studies have inspired my keen interest in social policy.
My upbringing has provided the foundation for my worldview as a Christian. My parents, Paul and Diana Smithers, are here today and I want to honour them for their faith and constant love. They have modelled, and continue to model, servanthood and commitment. They have spent their lives working hard, paying their taxes and volunteering in their local church and community.
Today I also wish to also honour my parents-in-law, David and Doreen Webster, my husband Philip's parents, who both lived their lives faithful to their local church and family. Though both have passed on now, I want to pay tribute to them for raising my husband to be the man of integrity he is.
Philip, you are simply the love of my life. You inspire me every day with your selflessness, your compassion for all, your acceptance of life's most confronting issues, your rational open-mindedness and your dedication to your family and the health and wellbeing of not only your patients but all those you know.
I am so pleased that our three adult children are present today. You are each a miracle and a joy to us. I am so grateful for you, Hannah, and your husband, Raef; Isaac and your fiancee, Narissa; and Bethany and your husband, Nicholas. Thank you for our six beautiful grandchildren—Emmeline, Indigo, Charlotte, Ruby, Tommy and Henry—who are beyond delight. You know that!
I thank my church family for their love and support and I acknowledge Pastor Bruce and Margaret, who are here today. I also pay tribute to the staff, volunteers and young mothers at Zoe Support, who continue this work without me though I remain their patron. Thank you to those friends and family who have travelled from far and wide to come today. I appreciate and value your support. I particularly want to note my Judys—my aunt and my sister-in-law. You have long been my supporters. Thank you.
People have asked me what has brought me to this point of wanting to be a politician. I'm not sure I wanted to be a politician. What I want is to make the world a better place. Politics right now needs strong representative leadership, with the skills and life experience to advocate for a diverse range of people and complex challenges. I commit to consulting with my electorate and will strive to deliver for my electorate. My aim is to provide reason for the people of Mallee to respect and trust politics and politicians again.
People have also asked me: why the National Party? And I tell them the choice is simple: my values align with the National Party. I value private enterprise, coupled with compassion for those who are less fortunate. I value regional wellbeing and prosperity. I want to fight for the rights of those in my electorate to access the same quality of resources, health care, education, transport, infrastructure and job opportunities as their counterparts in the city.
I wish to close today by thanking those who have supported me in my campaign. I thank Victorian state director Matt Harris and his team of Jake, Brooke, Xavier, Sarah, Lachy and Bec. I thank my colleagues, particularly Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, Senator Bridget McKenzie, Minister David Littleproud and Minister Darren Chester, who have gone above and beyond to assist me. I want to acknowledge the support of the former members for Mallee: Peter Fisher, John Forrest and Andrew Broad. I acknowledge Victorian Nationals Leader Peter Walsh, state members Emma Kealya and Melina Bath and former member for Mildura Peter Crisp. I want to thank the many mentors in my life, including former Member for Macquarie, my uncle Alasdair Webster, and Jim Wallace.
I thank the Nationals in Victoria, particularly those in my own electorate who generously supported me financially and also gave their time, knowledge and energy. There are far too many to name, but I'll take the risk: Allan and Gwen Malcolm, former member for Lowan Hugh Delahunty, Bill Ower, John Keating, Robyn Ferrier, John Watson, Toby Hiel, Daniel Linklater, Jon Armstrong, Mel Webb, Daniel Cadmore, Anita Rank—and there are many, many more. I also want to thank my family for their amazing effort during the campaign and for generally being incredible. I am so thankful for all of you. I also want to pay tribute to my staff, who have been long-term servers for the people of Mallee—I have 'workers' in my notes, but they are servers—Tracey Mooney and Di Whitelaw. Thank you, ladies.
I am deeply humbled to be given this opportunity to represent the people of Mallee in this House, and to contribute to the prosperity and wellbeing of all Australians. Thank you.