Wednesday, 24 July 2019
Mr President, I have a confession to make. I first discovered my love of Australia in Victoria. My upbringing in regional Victoria featured football, fishing and work in orchards, a cannery and a dairy. My interest in politics arose from growing up in a world where tax, trade, foreign investment and water policies all impacted people's lives. Later came tertiary study, work and—sometimes boring—research, which imbued the notion in me that Australia must be competitive to succeed.
Thanks to the Australian opportunity, my family is one of many that have enjoyed better lives than would have been possible on the other side of the world. My only Australian-born grandparent, James Paton, served his country in World War II. Thanks to him and the greatest generation, and a loving and stable environment at home, I always felt the opportunities were boundless.
My hometown of Shepparton remains one of Australia's great post-war experiments: a melting pot full of migrants from across the globe. Whilst Shepparton might be famous for the Furphy water cart, it ought to be famous for settling so many people harmoniously. In 2015, a debate to build a mosque in nearby Bendigo arose. There were already four mosques in Shepparton; the first built in 1960.
I am proud of the Australian opportunity, our freedoms and our institutions. I am proud of this house. I have come to this place to make a contribution to our country. I have come into the Australian Senate to represent the people of New South Wales, my adopted state and beloved home. It is a great honour to represent this state—the premier state, the largest state and home to the city where anyone from anywhere can make it.
The philosophy I will apply could be best described as 'Menzian liberalism'. The first federal platform of the Liberal Party of Australia in 1946 was simple, clear and enduring. It read:
… an intelligent, free and liberal Australian democracy shall be maintained by:
(a) Parliament controlling the Executive and the Law controlling all;
… … …
(c) Freedom of speech, religion and association;
(d) Freedom of citizens to choose their own way of living and of life, subject to the rights of others;
(e) Protecting the people against exploitation;
(f) Looking primarily to the encouragement of individual initiative and enterprise as the dynamic force of
The shorter version is: a strong economy underpinned by markets and the rule of law paves the way for a fair society.
If the 20th century taught us anything, it taught us that centrally planned economies do not work. Socialism must be dead for all time in this nation. This was Menzies' view at the Canberra conference of 1944, which led to the creation of the Liberal Party. Menzies said of the great Australian Liberal revival: 'Governments do not provide enterprise; they provide controls. No sensible person can doubt that the revival of private enterprise is essential to post-war recovery and progress.'
Nothing has changed. Yet in recent times, there has been some deliberate confusion about the constituency of the Liberal Party. We do not stand for any business or any vested interest. As Menzies himself said, we stand for the 'Forgotten People', the great Australian middle class. They were, in his words, the:
… salary-earners, shopkeepers, skilled artisans, professional men and women, …
We support enterprise. We believe in markets. And we believe in some regulation of industry. We believe markets must serve the public interest. Central planning and fixing in the age of the internet is laughable, and should remind this house of the folly of indulging trade union demands to re-regulate our economy.
Our sister party in the United States has had an ongoing internal debate about the nature of regulation. During the coal strike of 1902, Theodore Roosevelt sensationally intervened not on the side of labour or capital but in the interest of the public. 'The national government represents … the interests of the public as a whole,' Roosevelt said. Just as Abraham Lincoln had seen himself as the 'steward of the people', Roosevelt established the 'square deal'—a new era of governance in the capitalist system. Roosevelt explained to a friend after the strike:
Now I believe in rich people who act squarely, and in labor unions which are managed with wisdom and justice; but when either employee or employer, laboring man or capitalist, goes wrong, I have to clinch him, and that is all there is to it.
Forty years later, Menzies was clear that vested interests would not dominate the Liberal Party, as had occurred in the prior United Australia Party. Menzies rightly pursued policies which angered the business groups of the day, such as the Chamber of Manufacturers, which hated his groundbreaking commerce agreement with Japan.
Of his guiding philosophy, Menzies embraced fairness. He said:
We have greatly aided social justice. … We have encouraged free enterprise … But we have insisted upon the performance of social and industrial obligations; we have shown that industrial progress is not to be based upon the poverty or despair of those who cannot compete.
This means we Liberals simultaneously support enterprise and state underwritten medical, health and social services, all financed by taxpaying Australians. We are not owned by anyone, unlike the Labor Party, whom the trade union movement literally own.
Vested interests can damage a nation if their agendas become the national agenda. Today's Labor trade union agenda is wrong for Australia. It opposes trade deals, tax cuts, flexibility for small business, and institutions designed to uphold the rule of law. This is a recipe for Australian isolationism. It may suit the trade unions, but it would undermine our living standards.
In coming years I want to spend my energies on two principal economic issues: taxation and superannuation. I believe in lower taxes. I want people to keep the money they've earned. The government has no money of its own. There is no public money; there is only taxpayers' money. The duty of government is to maintain the nation's obligations on social services, defence and so on through efficient tax collection and expenditure. I don't believe in class warfare. This recent election was a generational win for the nation's direction, as Australians endorsed aspiration and lower taxes, and rejected the class war.
The Morrison government campaigned for lower taxes. It was the centrepiece of our national effort. In New South Wales, this agenda was supported in seats we won or held—Lindsay in Sydney's outer west, Reid in Sydney's inner west and Wentworth in Sydney's east. I am proud to be one of 28 new coalition members and senators that have come into this place under the outstanding leadership of Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The class of 2019 is dynamic, youthful and diverse. It is another revival of Australian liberalism.
The Prime Minister, Treasurer and Minister for Finance have maintained our great party's fidelity to the Menzies platform of 1946. Structurally addressing bracket creep is a wonderful step forward for the forgotten people's grandchildren—the quiet Australians.
A baby having begun crying in the gallery—
Not my son, obviously! Our reform means that people earning between $40,000 and $200,000 will keep the money they earn for working an extra shift. After all, it is their money, not Canberra's.
Taxation policy can make or break investment choices in an increasingly global race for people and capital. The tax system must encourage work, promote innovation and attract know how. Complacency has become a national problem. We Australians are experiencing something new and unique. No nation has ever experienced 28 years of economic growth on a consecutive basis. Australia's direct taxes on people and companies are still too high by international standards. We ought to look again at reducing the direct tax burden on workers and enterprise. Inevitably, we must talk to the states about achieving a meaningful tax-mix switch that boosts efficiency and competitiveness whilst maintaining fairness.
I am in no doubt that Australia needs the world more than the world needs Australia. We have relied upon foreign money and foreign people since the First Fleet. Foreign investment in private enterprise is often the only game in many Australian towns. Look at Whyalla in South Australia and look at Northern Tasmania. Foreign investment has kept those communities alive. Yet, foreign investment is often discussed in the negative. It has always been controversial. First the British, then the Americans, then the Japanese and now the Chinese. Our tax system and broader policy settings must encourage foreign investment on a non-discriminatory basis. This nation will never have enough domestic capital to meet our high ambitions. The argument that we should close down foreign investment is akin to raising the tariff walls. We cannot close ourselves off from the world, and we cannot have our own facts.
Almost one-quarter of our economy is exports, around double the United States. We simply cannot afford to take protectionist risks that may be available to our great friend across the Pacific Ocean. We must maintain a liberal approach to trade and foreign investment whilst ensuring we do all the appropriate due diligence, and reserve the right to legislate to protect Australia's security, economic and social interests. This parliament will always be sovereign. Former trade minister and National Farmers Federation head Andrew Robb has regularly reminded me: 'Andrew, I've never once seen a farm lift off and fly away from Australia.'
Let me now turn to superannuation. After working as an internal auditor at Ernst & Young, I spent almost eight years working in and around superannuation. This has made me a dinner party invitee of choice! Superannuation has made the unions, banks and insurers richer than ever. According to the Grattan Institute, Australians spend $23 billion on energy costs each year, but we spend $30 billion on super fees. Super is a classic case of vested interests triumphing over the national interest. The fees are too high, there is not enough competition and there is insufficient transparency.
Compulsory superannuation is almost 30 years old. Super is now almost twice the size of the economy and the capitalisation of the securities exchange. We have the fourth-largest private pension pool in the world with only 25 million people. It remains a strange but huge experiment. The Centre for Independent Studies says one of the preconditions necessary to justify forced saving is that 'undersaving for retirement will result in serious harm, including serious levels of old age poverty'. Super fails at the first gate as the age pension underwrites Australians against old age poverty. Grattan Institute modelling shows super tax breaks will not pay for reduced pension outlays until the 22nd century, if at all!
So what does this money do? Most of the funds invest in the same index-hugging way. The super industry contains layer upon layer of intermediation, with the same request from government: higher and higher mandatory contributions. As lawmakers, our duty is to focus on the public interest. I do not believe this system is working for Australians. Certainly the case has not been made for ever bigger super. I would change direction. Super should be made voluntary for Australians earning under $50,000. Taxpayers could simply tick a box to get a refund when filing an annual tax return. I commissioned modelling from Rice Warner actuaries, which estimates a saving to government of $1.8 billion in the first year alone.
Super is making home ownership so much harder for lower income Australians. The CIS found that the average deposit for a first home has doubled between 2000 and 2015. Since super started in 1992, every single age group has experienced lower levels of home ownership. Two answers must be provided, in my view, if we are to keep super as it is today: (1) will more super reduce future pension costs to government and, if so, by how much; and (2) how much better would retirement standards be if we had more super? The last Intergenerational Report showed around 80 per cent of people would take a public pension in 2055. That is not good enough after 70 years of compulsory superannuation. Unless the next edition favourably answers these questions, I would be inclined to make the whole scheme voluntary.
The down payment from a strong economy should be a fair society. In 2017, I took on a most polarising issue in my party—same-sex marriage—as national director of the Liberals and Nationals for Yes. I suspected this four-month assignment would be defining: either I'd be one of many people who delivered more fairness and more freedom, or I'd be a hopeless campaigner who picked a toxic issue inside my party. In the end, 71 of 76 coalition seats voted yes.
I am honoured to now stand in the Australian Senate, where my friend Senator Dean Smith introduced his Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. Working to give people more rights in the marriage campaign has made me more proud than anything else I have done. Being thanked by total strangers is an amazing feeling. Being thanked by my own sister is an amazing feeling. Same-sex marriage was about people's lives and their rights. It was also about the type of country we want to live in. Long may we remember the credo 'live and let live'.
I am worried that our country has not been able to reconcile with Indigenous Australians. As Noel Pearson has reminded me: 'Andrew, this is my country too'. It is time for us to complete this task. Pearson offers a way of thinking about Australia that I love. His declaration of recognition presents Australia as a unified nation drawing on three great heritages: the Indigenous as First Peoples, the British as creators of the institutions which underpin the nation and the multicultural gift that has enriched us all. The Constitution does a great job of securing these institutions. That's why I'm a constitutional conservative. I regard the Constitution as an incredibly successful document. But I am also a supporter of constitutional recognition.
The latest chapter in this long journey is the Uluru statement. It offers a challenge to our country. The Uluru statement says, 'We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country.' It imagines a Constitution where Indigenous Australians are guaranteed a say on laws made under the races and territories powers which affect them. Uluru asks legislators to consult Indigenous people on the laws which are relevant to them. This is a good idea. This is a fair idea.
But I would not support constitutional recognition at any price. I offer five principles if we are to succeed. Any proposal must (1) capture broad support of the Indigenous community; (2) focus on community level improvements; (3) maintain the supremacy of parliament; (4) maintain the value of equality; and (5) strengthen national unity. I know my colleagues share strong feelings about this. Constitutional recognition is both desirable and achievable if the design work reflects these principles.
A workable framework was outlined by John Howard's chief justice Murray Gleeson in a recent address for Uphold & Recognisethe brainchild of the brilliant Damien Freeman and my colleague Julian Leeser MP. In Gleeson's words:
What is proposed is a voice to Parliament, not a voice in Parliament.
… … …
It has the merit that it is substantive, and not merely ornamental.
Recognition should also be a bottom-up process. As the Governor-General said in the opening of this parliament, we should 'develop ground-up governance models for enhanced, inclusive and local decision-making on issues impacting the lives of Indigenous Australians'. This must be a unifying project, because the Constitution belongs to all Australians. It must also be a bipartisan project, and I acknowledge the critical role non-government Indigenous senators will play in the years ahead. The first Indigenous person to serve as Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, said just a few weeks ago: 'Indigenous Australians want to be recognised on the birth certificate of our nation because we weren't there when it was written but we were ensconced in it in two sections, 51(xxvi) and 127.' I will walk with Indigenous Australians on this journey.
A First Nations voice would not be a third chamber. It would not have the standing, scope or power of the Senate or the House of Representatives. Further, the campaign that 'race has no place' in the Constitution may sound good, but it is a campaign that should have been run in the 1890s as we crossed that Rubicon in 1901. Yes, our Constitution already contains race in several places. It has a history which has been both good and bad. Today, the race power provides the constitutional authority for the Native Title Act. Although some would extend native title rights and others would wind them back, everyone agrees that this parliament should retain this authority and power.
The issue of proper recognition in the Constitution will not go away—and it shouldn't. If recognition fails, more radical concepts could be proposed, such as reserved seats for First Peoples, as already exist in New Zealand and the US state of Maine, or we could face a bill of rights, which would be a terrible transfer of power from elected persons to unelected judges.
We want all Australians to be proud of our great nation. All Australians will always be equal, but we cannot have Indigenous people feel estranged in the land of their ancestors. Almost every comparable nation has landed some form of legal recognition of First Peoples. We should not wait any longer.
The Liberal Party is used to opening the batting on difficult issues. We made the first moves to abolish White Australia, we opened trade with Japan in 1957 and we delivered the Indigenous referendum in 1967. We are the party of Senator Neville Bonner.
We Liberals are good at big changes because we can take the forgotten people or the quiet Australians on the journey. As one of my political heroes, John Howard, said:
Australian Liberalism has always been evolving and developing. It always will be. We are constantly relating Liberalism's enduring values to the circumstances of our own time enduring values such as the commitment to enhance freedom, choice and competition, to encourage personal achievement, and to promote fairness and a genuine sense of community in Australian society.
I look forward to writing the next chapter in the rich history of Australian Liberalism.
I want to thank a group of people who have sustained me—and I'm sure this has been a difficult mission at times. I thank my parents, Colin and Ann Bragg, for making every opportunity possible. I thank my wonderful and brilliant wife, Melanie, and our children, Sophia and James. We all do this for our children. I thank my extended family, represented by Hamish and Anna Bragg, and good friends and colleagues, including my best man, David Bold.
I thank the Liberal Party for this opportunity. I owe the party a great debt. There are so many people in the New South Wales division who believed in me. I thank you all.
Most importantly, I thank the people of New South Wales for their trust and confidence. I am certain that this place can work harder and better for the people that put us here. I pledge to work with my fellow patriots for all Australians. Thank you.
As I stand in this chamber to make my first speech, I wish to pay my respects to First Nations people and to their elders past, present and emerging. I want to acknowledge Senators Dodson, McCarthy and Lambie, as well as colleagues in the other place, Linda Burney and Ken Wyatt, for their ongoing leadership on justice for First Nations people. I also pay tribute to the great elder, artist and social justice advocate from my home state of Victoria, William Barak. Barak was a highly respected man and leader, and one of the forerunners of reconciliation.
That journey to reconciliation continues, and today I join with the ever-growing gathering of voices calling for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Together we must seek a pathway to treaty so that we may move forward as a nation and to allow us to close the gap, to address all the injustices that First Nations people continue to face in their lives.
The traditions of storytelling, community and family history are central to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life and spirituality. While I can never claim to fully know those traditions, I feel they are amongst the many things that we all hold dear. I know that in my own life the stories of grandparents, cousins and close family friends, of shared history, are the things that I feel connected to and that, in turn, connect me to a community. In particular, my parents' story, their life together, has inspired me and shaped me; a story I reflect on often and which I wish to share today.
On a balmy Melbourne night in the late 1970s, a young woman attended a dinner dance at the San Remo Ballroom in Carlton. For years, the San Remo Ballroom was central to the social lives of many Italian migrants and their families. This young woman was in her late 20s. She had migrated to Melbourne from the southern Italian city of Bari with her parents, brother and sisters. They left Italy in 1968 seeking opportunity, the chance at a better life for themselves and for their children to come. That night, a man in his early 30s was also at the San Remo Ballroom. Like the young woman, he had come to Australia from the south of Italy, from a country town called Conza della Campania, in 1967. His sister had come over some years earlier and convinced him that Australia was a great place where he would get a fair go and a real chance to make a good life.
Paola and Amato met that night, and soon they fell in love. They were married in 1980, and for 2½ decades were utterly devoted to one another and to their two sons, my younger brother, Frank, and me. Together, we lived in Huntingdale, a working-class suburb of Melbourne's south east. We were a typical Italian-Australian family living out a very typical story. We had a modest but comfortable home, ready at a moment to welcome visitors. It was a house that was filled with food, family and love.
The story of my parents and that of my upbringing is one that is shared by millions of Australians. About one-third of us were born overseas, and around half of our population are the children and grandchildren of migrants. I proudly count myself in their number. More than 118 years since Federation, our nation has come a long way to become the vibrant, more inclusive multicultural country we are today. This would not have been possible without the social changes brought about by the work of previous governments, which has fostered greater recognition of the diverse contributions that all people make to Australia's culture.
My parents, neither of whom had the chance to complete their secondary years, eagerly encouraged and supported my brother and I throughout our studies. It was with their guidance and through our firsthand experience that we came to understand the impact that great schools and great teachers can have on young people. We both had the great fortune to attend our local Catholic schools—first, Christ Our Holy Redeemer in Oakleigh East, and later, Salesian College in Chadstone. It was at Salesian where two teachers noticed my interest in politics and encouraged me to get involved and join a political party. My legal studies teacher, Mr Donohue, encouraged me to join the Young Liberals, whilst my social education teacher, Mr Sestito, advocated for Labor. It's fair to say you know which side I'm on.
The opportunities we've had are the fruit of my parents' Australian dream and their hard work. We were taught that society is based on fairness, equality and the dignity of the individual, living in community, nurtured by family, for mutual benefit and attainment of the common good. As my parents wanted it for me, so I am now driven to make sure quality education is available to every child, no matter their socioeconomic status, from the earliest moments of their lives to their further education after school and beyond.
Not only did my parents share with me the need for a good education to get ahead; they also showed me the value of a hard day's work, and that with a hard day's work must come a fair day's pay, because it's with a fair day's pay that a family can build a home and a future. That's what my parents did, and it's what I want to work towards so that all Australians can find this security. I guess you could say it's not surprising, with those values, I ended up working for a union. As an official for the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association in Victoria, I represented some of the lowest-paid workers in Australia. Together, we worked hard to protect conditions such as leave, penalty rates and superannuation, and ensure that those who had suffered wage theft were able to get the justice they deserved.
For example: I represented workers at 7-Eleven who were subject to a systematic pattern of exploitation, driven primarily by a severe power imbalance in the relationship between a worker and an employer. These workers were paid between $8 and $10 an hour, and in one instance I met a young foreign student who was making as little as $5 an hour. They came to Australia to get an education and improve their future, but, instead, they were too scared to speak up or not aware of their workplace rights. I can't fathom the fear these workers would have felt, studying and struggling to make ends meet and feeling powerless in the face of employers determined to rip them off, because their bosses had all the power and they had none.
I firmly believe whistleblower protections need to cover temporary visa workers. We need to make franchisors responsible for the underpayment of employee wages if franchisees do not rectify underpayments. We need to increase the penalties for wage theft and make it easier to rectify the nonpayment and underpayment of superannuation.
But our laws don't just need to adapt to catch the rule breakers; they need to adapt to the changing nature of work itself. Gone are the days of my grandfather, who worked for General Motors Holden in Fisherman's Bend his whole life. Gone, even, are the days of my father, a life member of the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union for over 46 years. He worked most of his life in manufacturing. All across the economy, many traditional jobs are disappearing. Meanwhile, the largely unregulated gig economy is growing, leaving many workers vulnerable and unsupported.
Recent research shows that nearly half of workers on a digital platform do not know what they earn per hour. While these workers might earn a quick dollar, over the long term they are left without superannuation, insurance cover for workplace injuries and the adequate leave and entitlements that come with being covered by an award or enterprise agreement. These workers deserve the protection of the basic employment laws that we in the labour movement have fought so hard to establish, and it is our responsibility in this place to deliver them for those people.
We have the ability to take up this challenge. Just walking into this place as an elected representative, I am reminded of the impact that the work that we do here can have on our society. It was 75 years ago in this chamber, albeit meeting in the old place, where debate was had on John Curtin's proposed Unemployment and Sickness Benefits Bill. Before its introduction, there existed no national scheme that provided welfare to those who were without work, and its passage by this house represented one of the final pieces of a comprehensive welfare system that had been carefully woven together by successive Labor governments since federation.
Labor understood then, as it does now, not just the importance of decent and secure work but also of ensuring that those in search of it should be able to live lives of dignity. What was in 1944 known as the 'unemployment benefit' is today called Newstart, and roughly 700,000 Australians rely on these payments to help make ends meet while they search for a job. Those familiar with the scheme, however, will tell you that making ends meet on Newstart is near impossible. Today, the single largest group, one in four people on Newstart, are over the age of 55. The shocking truth is that with no increase in real terms to the rate paid since the Keating government, Newstart has actually declined relative to other payments, such as the age pension.
While this parliament has a proud record of establishing the safety net that exists to protect Australians doing it tough, in this space we can and we should do more. It cannot be accepted that in Australia, the best country in the world, we have the second highest rate of poverty among the unemployed in the OECD nor can we allow the social security system that we have worked so hard to build to be used to punish those who are in the most need of a helping hand. A meaningful and immediate increase to Newstart is an important step that we must all embrace in this place, but it cannot by any means be our last. To ensure the hardships that exist now aren't able to recur, we need to work together to create a framework where changes to these and other elements of our social security system are regularly assessed.
As difficult as it is to make ends meet on Newstart, there are some in our community who struggle just as hard and with even less support. When walking through the streets of Melbourne or any major city in Australia one cannot help but see the growing number of those who are forced to make shelter on our streets. Homelessness can often be confronting, and it is an issue that we need to address in this place. Homelessness is a powerful and inescapable example of the kind of economic and social disadvantage that some would rather forget exists in our community. Sadly, homelessness rates are growing significantly. The most recent census recorded 116,000 people as being homeless. In my home state of Victoria, the number was almost 25,000.
The causes of homelessness are many and varied. A shortage of affordable housing is certainly a large part of the problem but so too is the scourge of family violence, drug and alcohol addiction, our nation's growing mental health crisis, the increased prevalence of insecure work and stubbornly poor wages growth. The overwhelming majority of Australians who are seeking assistance for homelessness rely on a Centrelink payment, proof that, more often than not, it is impossible to make ends meet on benefits. No person should have to spend a cold winter's night sleeping rough on the street nor should they have to live from the back seat of their car or on the sofa of a friend.
Its manifest complexity requires a comprehensive response. We have the power in this place to address this issue. In our community, there are multitudes of organisations that already do more than their fair share to help out, be they local governments, not-for-profits or local churches and other faith based groups. During the last parliament, 93 per cent of government bills passed received bipartisan support, a clear sign that this parliament can come together and work as one to make a positive change. Too many people are counting on us, and we cannot let them down.
All of us come into contact with the healthcare system at some stage in our lives. In September 2017, my wife, Dimity Paul, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has the BRCA gene, and thanks to years of research and women like my mother-in-law, who has survived three primary breast cancers and who was prepared to be tested for this mutation, she is thriving and well today. Dimity was screened regularly, but it was estimated that her risk would rise later in her 30s, when we had hoped to start a family. However, it was at one of her yearly MRIs that they detected a less than one centimetre stage three cancer. It had already spread to her lymph nodes. It is not dramatic to say that without knowing her genetic status and having regular testing, my wife may not be here today.
These past two years have been an emotional whirlwind of surgeries, chemotherapy, drug trials, doctor visits, physiotherapy, tests and scans. She had her last surgery during the recent federal election. Thankfully, we've been surrounded by family and friends throughout this time. Our home has, at times, resembled a florist. The fridge and freezer have been stocked with meals, and we've been kept in good spirits by a steady stream of visitors, who we're so lucky to have in our lives.
We have been extraordinarily grateful to the team at Melbourne's Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre for the care and advice my wife has received. Her experience stands in stark contrast to my mother's. We could say my wife and I were lucky that her cancer was found and treated early. And we are lucky, of course. But it's not all down to luck. It's also down to the good policy and wise decisions that created a framework to identify risk and early incidence of cancer. Early diagnosis is a key to survival, and I'm committed to working with everyone in this place to extend preventative health measures and screening.
I am the 100th person to have taken the oath to represent the people of Victoria in the Senate. I was honoured to receive the support of my party to sit in this chamber earlier this year following the retirement of former senator Jacinta Collins, who I had the pleasure of working for, and who has dedicated herself to serving the community for over twenty years. Like her, I am committed to shining a light on the issues that affect working Australians, to putting social justice issues front and centre of the national conversation, and to working to create a fairer Australia. While senators may differ in policies and approach, all who have the privilege to serve here want the best for Australia and its people.
As a young person, I was inspired to join a movement that believes in working together to achieve shared goals for our community, that puts ideas into action and that places social and economic justice for all, and democracy, at the centre of policy. I joined the Clayton Branch of the ALP in July 2000, at a time when Steve Bracks' forward-thinking vision was putting Victoria back on track and when Kim Beazley was making the case for an Australia that is skilled and tolerant and confident and free to make its own way in the modern world. I came to understand that cooperation between public and private sectors in implementing solutions to complex economic, social and environmental challenges is imperative. That is why I am proud to have worked in the labour movement and to be an ALP member, both of which continue to stand for working Australians and their interests.
I want to thank my family and many friends here today and those watching from work or home who have helped me realise this great honour of becoming a senator. I am and always will be grateful to my father for being a wonderful, supportive presence in my life for almost 36 years. My brother Frank and sister-in-law Amelia—I could not have asked for the great support that you have provided me, and I want to acknowledge your presence here today. I also want to acknowledge my aunts, uncles and cousins, and I thank you all for playing such an important part in my life. My mother-in-law Veida and sister-in-law Fran, who are here today—I'd like to thank you both for sharing in the moment today, and the rest of the family, for the robust political conversations and discussions that we've had over many years.
Victorian secretary and National President of the SDA Union, Michael Donovan—thank you for all the support and guidance that you have provided me over the last 11½ years. I am forever grateful. To my other SDA colleagues—the national secretary, Gerard Dwyer; the Victorian assistant secretary, Trish Connelly; Antony Burke; Mauro Moretta; John McCracken; Michael Galea; Dean D'Angelo and the many current and former officials, organisers and admin staff, including Darrel Schumacher, who recently passed away and to whom I paid tribute in my adjournment speech last night—I thank you all for your friendship over the last six years at the SDA.
I want to thank the many branch members who I have known over the last 19 years, in particular Leone and Ray Hewes, and Antonio Rossi—the first people I met in the Labor Party—and my dedicated and loyal team of staff and volunteers who have joined me on this journey since 6 March. To Alys, Bastian, Laura, Liana, James, John, Nathan, Peter, Sue, Peachy and Tony: I thank you all for your support. I thank my federal and state Labor colleagues, particularly Senator Farrell and Daniel Mulino MHR, and their partners Nimfa and Sarah. I thank my many friends, including those who have made time in their very busy schedules to come to Parliament House and sit in the gallery today. Special mention must go to: Manny, Christabelle, Gary, Xavier, Natalie, Sacha, Lucien, Enver, Pelin, Hasan, Sarah, Tully, Josh, Mark, Cam, Emily, Jess, Stuart, Tim, Priya, Anton, Ella, Dev, Sedar—I am finishing up very soon, Mr President!—Sam, Michael, Hovig, and of course Young Labor Unity. I couldn't have asked for a more reliable and supportive group of individuals, and I look forward to enjoying our friendship for many years ahead.
People who know me very well know that I have quite a few loves in my life: the Collingwood Football Club—
An honourable senator interjecting—
hear hear!—the Australian Labor Party; my dog Bismarck, who turns four tomorrow and sends his apologies for not being able to make it today; and of course my wife, Dimity. And I should stress, Mr President, not in that order! I was sworn into this place on our wedding bible, in case you hadn't noticed, and I think Ecclesiastes 4:12 sums up our partnership. It says:
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Dimity is a woman of remarkable talent, and is immensely capable. She is my greatest champion, my dearest friend, my companion and my love. I first met her back in 2010. We formed a friendship very quickly, thanks to our friend James. It's not hard to imagine why, given we follow the same football club—for those who don't remember, it was a great year for Collingwood, having two grand finals. We also share a passion for politics, good food and Farrell wine—the vintage Farrell wine!
Let me mark this day by reflecting on some handwritten words given to me by Leone Hewes:
Always look at a challenge not in terms of success or failure but a test of character. Trust yourself—be open and straight; look everyone in the eye and say yes or no with conviction and honesty. Trust the 'gut instinct' which exists within each of us and dare to have a go. Seize the day. Never look back in anger but never forget where you came from. Look for the 'Light on the Hill' and never underestimate the power of one to make a difference.
I finish as I started, recognising the First Nations people and acknowledging them for the land where this place of important decision-making stands. May all of us in this place strive together to make this nation a better, fairer place for all Australians. I thank the Senate.
Order! I know that there is a desire for the House of Representatives to sit in the Senate, but I am going to have to call some order. I was warned if we let you sneak in, you might want to stay. I'll ignore that interjection, thank you, Robbie!