I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we stand, the Kulin nation, and pay my respects to their elders.
President, I take this opportunity to congratulate you on being elected President of the Legislative Council. I am confident that you will ensure the efficient operation of this Council in a manner that will be both inclusive and enjoyable.
Firstly I wish to pay tribute to the enormous effort being put in by the firefighters, community members and departmental staff currently engaged in fighting Victoria’s bushfires. I am sure all members of this chamber will be thinking of them and their families, especially as it is getting so close to Christmas. I also wish to express my appreciation to the staff of the parliamentary departments for the assistance that they have provided us as new members of this 56th Parliament. I also wish to acknowledge the goodwill and warmth expressed towards me by my parliamentary colleagues; I can assure them that it is very much appreciated.
It was interesting yesterday listening to Jaala Pulford, who in the course of research for her reply to the Governor’s speech uncovered the fact that her ancestors arrived in Victoria in 1850s and then made their way to Ballarat to settle. I also uncovered a similar 1850s ancestral journey. At that time my great-great-great-grandmother, Mary Anne Williamson, at the age of 16, arrived in Australia from Ireland. Mary, along with her sister and her brother, William, walked from the ship near Melbourne to Ballarat. Mary’s daughter Mary Jane — one of 14 — was born in Ballarat and her daughter Ida, my great-grandmother, was born in Clunes.
This was an era when the men worked in the mines and the girls and the women in the family ran the boarding houses.
I am fortunate that Ida was able to pass on numerous family stories to me about growing up in Ballarat and Clunes. My ancestors, as I found out last night from Jaala, now rest in the same cemetery in Ballarat as hers, so it is entirely appropriate that both Jaala and I put in our best efforts and continue to build the electorate that our ancestors chose to create and live in.
Most of my working life has been spent representing working families, which has been a very broad and a very privileged experience. I, like so many of my generation, was fortunate to live at a time where a Whitlam Labor government acted to eliminate tuition fees as a barrier to higher education. This made a decent university education accessible to working families in Australia for the first time, which to this very day remains a legacy for which I am eternally indebted. My entire secondary school education was undertaken at country high schools, where netball, weekend football, the Saturday night dance and church on Sunday ruled.
In summer it was the town swimming pool, the railway dam and listening out for the fire siren. Saturday night was movies at the mechanics institute, and church was on Sunday. In the evenings throughout the week local community groups met regularly on a whole range of issues, from swimming pool finances to canteen rosters to establishing the library, or re-establishing it, and hospital extensions.
At school we established a Junior Rural Youth Group, and as president over a two-year period I organised numerous activities for rural youth, as well as community fundraisers. In fact I owe the rural youth organisation a significant amount. Looking back now, it was the beginning of things to come. As a consequence I do know the importance of community. I do know the importance of organising. I do know the importance of proper financial management and accessible services.
This is also true of course of the Bracks government, which continues to ensure that regional Victorians are not regarded as second-class citizens.
The new electorate of Western Victoria Region, which I have been elected to represent, covers over 70 000 square kilometres, an expanse that runs from the Werribee River, Lara and along the entire western coast, including the Surf Coast, Apollo Bay, the Apostles, Warrnambool, Port Fairy, Portland, Nelson and the significant farming and primary industry serviced by the townships of Colac, Camperdown, Terang and Hamilton. The circle continues into the Wimmera to Nhill, Horsham, Jeparit and Rainbow and back through the Grampians to Stawell, Ararat, Maryborough and includes the natural attractions of Daylesford and the Kyneton region.
The geographic diversity of the region is also demonstrated by its large provincial cities such as Geelong and Ballarat, which have their own unique histories and beauty. Its diversity is further enhanced through the growing communities in and around the Bacchus Marsh area and the larger outer western suburb of Melton. The Western Victoria Region also has many smaller towns, such as Garvoc, Harrow, Talbot and Glenthompson and many others — too many to mention — but each and every one of these communities has stories to tell, with specific needs as well as needs that are common across other regional and urban communities.
Whilst my role in the Vehicle Builders Union has often taken me to Geelong and Ballarat, I have also had the privilege to experience other parts of Western Victoria Region. I have appreciated briefings from the many municipal councils on matters of concern to their communities.
I have particularly enjoyed listening and talking to people at the Hamilton Sheepvention and the Warrnambool, Horsham, Ballarat and Geelong shows and meeting various community leaders, whether they be at Edenhope, Bannockburn, Apollo Bay or Portland.
The major issues fronting Western Victoria Region, like most of Victoria, are drought, the protection of water supplies and the all-pervasive issue of climate change. Like many other members of this chamber, I am committed to tackling these challenges head on. Solutions to these problems need cross-party support, and as such our level of maturity in arriving at solutions will be tested. The electorate will not tolerate party-political point scoring on these terribly vital issues, and quite rightly so. The provision of accessible
services in regional Victoria is fundamental to the future of all of those I am elected to represent.
It is a matter of fact that the restitution of services, whether it be education, health, police, infrastructure or transport, are policy imperatives and priorities of this government. They are clear, and they are plain for all to see. Almost every town, rural city and provincial city has had a new aged care centre, a children’s hub, a hospital extension, a rest room facility, a police station and a aquatic centre, and schools have been built, but there will be much more to come. I look forward to being part of a team that continues this momentum.
Rural communities in particular know that historically their towns have grown as a consequence of their own community working together.
Reliance on each other is woven into the fabric of everyday life, and in tough times everyone in a town pulls together. When someone’s family has had a terrible misfortune everyone rallies to offer generous support, both physical and emotional. Rural and regional areas are the natural landscape for community capacity building. Community renewal is the lynchpin in communities being able to participate in determining their growth. Planning ahead and making sure that each community has a vision and a capacity to deliver the vision to the next generation is our challenge, and I keenly look forward to being involved in this process. For all the progress and growth that has been achieved to date, we need to be continually vigilant in ensuring that the most vulnerable are protected.
I stand on this side of the chamber because this side of the chamber represents a serious understanding of power relationships within our society. It develops programs to protect and engage the vulnerable.
It recognises the pressures of modern life and the consequences which lead to the fragmentation of our society and tackles them at the grassroots level with community renewal and human capacity building. It is seriously committed to working with all Victorians regardless of class, age or geographic location. This is amply demonstrated by the whole-of-government approach to regional development and a clear focus on services for regional Victoria.
It is this side of the chamber that recognises that employment and prosperity sustain families and that there is no room for unfair and unsafe practices in the workplace. It is this side of the chamber that supports a collaborative culture to resolve problems and foster relationships where workers and their unions are respected, not sidelined or treated with derision. It is this side of the chamber that ensures the voices of ordinary working families are taken seriously.
I have been fortunate to have been able to participate in the last two Victorian Trades Hall Council’s Your Rights at Work country cavalcades throughout western Victoria, talking to people at shopping centres and railway stations, addressing workers in the workplace, organising public meetings, and listening to their experiences and what is happening to them in their factories, their shops and their areas of expertise. This has all happened in a whole range of rural towns. It is very clear how Victorians feel about this new anti-worker legislation that has been introduced by the commonwealth government. If there is anyone in this chamber who believes opposition to the federal government’s WorkChoices legislation is only metropolitan based, they are being seriously misled.
My experience in western Victoria is that people are worried. They are concerned; some are angry and some are even scared. Working families are realising how damaging these insidious industrial relations laws are to their way of life.
Many of them are experiencing the impact first hand, whether it be on a family member or indeed on themselves. Working families in western Victoria want a fair system of workplace laws, and they want a Bracks government that stands strongly against bad laws that damage their communities.
Working families also want governments to have a positive vision for the future and to work on ensuring that the next generation will not be worse off and to encourage our children to aspire towards and realise their goals. A starting point for this vision has to be the retention of industry, particularly industries that allow skills development and industries that have decently funded apprenticeships and traineeship schemes for our children, as well as the provision of long-term stable employment.
This is why it is important to support the Australian manufacturing industry in a real and genuine way and to stop a culture that allows people to just shrug their shoulders and say it is all too hard, allowing our jobs to haemorrhage out of Australia into low-wage countries such as China and India.
We cannot be a country that continues to just simply dig it up and sell it off. Nor can we think that we have sustainable employment that revolves solely around the services industry. All progressive countries around the world have highly developed manufacturing industries coupled with highly developed industry policies. This is what drives employment and economic prosperity. You can imagine the impact on Geelong, for example, if the automotive industry were to close. As stated by the Geelong Manufacturing Council:
- Geelong’s social and economic fabric would suffer significantly from a less favourable investment climate in
Australia. Through direct and indirect effects, 10 000 people in Geelong are dependent on the automotive sector.
Victoria is the home of automotive manufacturing in this country and provides stable, well-paid, properly regulated employment. It is an industry that has mature industrial partnerships that have stood the test of time and the test of government. It is at the cutting edge of technology, design, manufacturing processes, research, training, education and just about any other process or area that you can think of. It is this diversity that provides young people with a launching pad into a range of career opportunities. These are the sorts of industries that should be fostered by governments. These are the sorts of industries that need to be the bedrock of our economy. To do otherwise is to abandon our children’s future to the altar of market forces and to accordingly suffer the consequences.
I look forward to being involved in policies and programs that do not widen the gap between the advantaged and the disadvantaged, whether it be in education, health, employment or transport, and I am particularly interested in engaging with the disengaged. It is a fact that when a society allows people to be detained without trial or charge, when it simply cannot come to terms with our indigenous people, when racism raises its ugly head, when social justice is forgotten or just plainly not understood, when drug abuse continues to rise, when there is a growing indifference among people as to whether they should exercise their responsibility of citizenship through voting, and when governments act ideologically in closing down institutions such as student organisations, then people become disengaged from the political process and lose confidence in the structure of our society.
This is where Labor can make a difference. It is an area I look forward with optimism to working in.
I am looking forward to being very much part of the Bracks team, representing western Victoria, working to the best of my ability and getting on with issues and programs that really matter.
In closing, like many new members I have many people to acknowledge and thank. Firstly I would like to thank the ordinary members of the Vehicle Builders Union. I thank the shop stewards, organisers and staff of the VBU for their insights, their unity, their determination and their overwhelming support for me over the past 18 years, in particular the last 14 years as state secretary. The VBU is a genuine family where I have been treated as a daughter and a sister, and I have been very honoured to be a leader. Thanks must also go to the hardworking Vehicle Builders Union women’s committee, which has continually demonstrated and lived its community activism. This in turn has inspired others to take grassroots approaches to organising in our campaign against WorkChoices.
I wish to acknowledge and thank very much Greg Combet, Sharan Burrow and Brian Boyd and the many others who are steering a truly magnificent Your Rights at Work campaign in support of working families in this country. They are continuing to widen the debate on core values in our society in a thoughtful and considered manner that makes us proud to be union.
I thank the hundreds of ALP members and supporters who worked on the polling booths and who are committed to bringing about a more ongoing compassionate, democratic and sustainable society.
I thank my parents, Rylice and Ken, for providing good grounding. I also thank them for their enormous strength and resilience in terms of the experiences they have had in their lives. My son, Shea, gives me great pleasure. I thank him for his understanding and support and his solid notions of social justice that make it so important for us to speak up for the next generation.
I thank Ian, my closest friend and husband. His tough-yet-compassionate, hardworking qualities, mixed with optimism, always provide me with inspiration to simply do better on a daily basis. I love him for that.
Acting President, I thank you and members of the Legislative Council for your attention.