House debates

Thursday, 8 September 2022


Rollinson, Harper

4:29 pm

Alison Byrnes (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This afternoon I'm going to talk about a wonderful little girl and her family who I had the great pleasure of meeting last week and again today in the parliament. Last Wednesday had been a relatively quiet day in my office—I had been working on my first speech and I had met with a few constituents—and then in came Harper Rollinson in her pink tulle skirt, black-and-gold shiny top and pink sandshoes, and my afternoon changed completely. What a whirlwind personality. I didn't even get the chance to introduce myself to her mum, Katie; her dad, Luke; her brother, Eli; and Sara from the Shepherd Centre.

Harper, at seven years old, came in to see me to get some tips for her speech to the Power of Speech Breakfast, which she gave here today at Parliament House. It was a week of first speeches in Parliament House for both of us. I gave her some tips on continuing your speech even if your brother is being a little bit annoying, and Harper told me that speeches in the parliament need more love hearts and butterflies. My followers on Facebook agree with Harper—this place does need more love hearts and butterflies.

I'm going to outline some of Harper's speech to you here today. When Harper's mum, Katie, was pregnant doctors discovered that she had the same eye cancer as her dad, Luke, and her brother, Eli. Harper was born early and when she was just 12 days old she had chemotherapy to save her eyesight. As a consequence she lost her hair and she lost her hearing. Her hair grew back but her hearing didn't.

She got hearing aids when she was nearly two and cochlear implants—or her super ears, as she calls them—when she was three. Kate from the Shepherd Centre started speech therapy with Harper and also visited her school, St Joseph's at Bulli, to show Harper's teachers how to use her devices so that she can still hear the teacher when the classroom gets noisy.

The Shepherd Centre do some amazing work, helping children with hearing loss and their families. They provide early intervention services for children and toddlers, speech pathology services, social skills and resilience training for young children to develop confidence, as well as preschools that help educate children with and without hearing loss—one of which is in my electorate. They provide many other services too. I am really grateful for the work that they do.

Harper dances. She swims. She does gymnastics. I'm a little bit jealous that she is able to listen to music while she is swimming, because that's pretty cool. Harper showed me some of her gymnastics—the splits and a backward walkover—but her mum and I had to be the fun police and talk her down from handstands and cartwheels in my very small meeting room.

Today Harper delivered her speech in front of the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for the NDIS. She spoke with confidence and bravery. Having recently delivered my own first speech, I understand all too well the pressure that comes with big speeches, particularly in this house. But Harper rose to the occasion and she did herself and our community proud. The event was First Voice and Cochlear's Power of Speech Breakfast. It was aimed at challenging common ideas around what deaf children can and cannot achieve. It was an honour to attend and to be able to listen to the lovely speakers tell their stories. As the Minister for the NDIS, the Hon. Bill Shorten, shared at today's event, seeing a baby have their cochlear implant switched on for the very first time is nothing short of a scientific miracle. These devices change lives.

Harper was one of seven children from Australia and New Zealand with cochlear implants who were invited to speak. Harper was a ball of energy and an absolute inspiration. I know how proud Katie, Luke and Eli must be after seeing Harper speak today.

Harper also has a friend, Alana, who lives in England near the Queen. They chat on Zoom about their super ears. Harper loves being able to talk to someone on the other side of the world who also has super ears. Apparently Alana is a little bit scared of coming to Australia though because of our spiders.

I'm very pleased to be able to stand here today and share Harper's story. She is a young girl who has faced so many challenges but who has risen to face them again and again. She runs headfirst into her experiences with an optimism and enthusiasm that is absolutely contagious. Harper has a bright future ahead of her and I thank her so much for bringing more love hearts and butterflies to my office—all the way from Wollongong to Parliament House. I also thank the Shepherd Centre for the work that they do to help children like Harper. I'm so pleased that Harper and I were able to do our very first speeches in Parliament House in the same week.