First Speech

Thank you, Madam Speaker, and thank you to my new Assembly colleagues for the opportunity to give my first speech today. I start by acknowledging the Ngunnawal people, on whose land we meet. I honour your ongoing contribution to our city and pay my respects to your elders, past and present, and I look forward to working with you in my capacity as a member of this place.

Madam Speaker, it is a privilege to be elected to the vacancy left by former Chief Minister Katy Gallagher. Katy’s contribution to Canberra was remarkable, and I am glad it will continue. She made many decisions that improved the lives of people in this city as Chief Minister, and especially as health minister. But for me it was the way she did her job—her willingness to explain the complexities of governing and to take her community with her—that was her greatest legacy in this Assembly. That she did this as a working mum was something many women and men across Canberra were inspired by. I was one of them.

Katy lifted people’s views of politicians and of what politics can be. She won, and kept, the community’s trust—no mean feat these days. Writing this speech was hard but rewarding, as each of you has experienced. There is not enough time to acknowledge everyone and everything, but I do want to say some thankyous.

Thank you to the people of Molonglo, and especially Gungahlin, who supported me in 2012. I will work hard to honour the trust that you showed me through your support.

Thank you to my colleagues from other parties for your welcomes. We will not always agree, but where we do, I hope we can acknowledge it. I look forward to working with you. Thank you to the Assembly staff for all your support.

Thank you to ACT Labor, our members and unions, and the Labor staff in this building. And thank you especially to my Labor caucus colleagues for your warm welcome and good advice. With our shared values and diverse backgrounds, we are a team that is greater than the sum of our parts.

A special thank you to the Chief Minister for his mentoring and friendship over the years, most recently as my boss. Your love of this city and all its possibilities and the energy and ideas you bring to your job are inspiring. You have showed me not only how to advocate a vision but also how to achieve it. And, while you are still my boss, I have about 104,000 more now as well.

Thank you to my supporters, and especially my 2012 campaign team—my campaign manager Jules Zanetti, Caitlin Delbridge and Andrew Wade. Also part of my team are Natasha Shahidullah, Mark Nelson, Gabrielle Blair and Alys Gagnon. Together with Dan Hughes, Bernard Philbrick and Michael Cooney, they are good friends who have been a big part of my Labor life. And to everyone who volunteered, especially the indomitable Gerry Lloyd, thank you for all your efforts. To Dan Gaul, Rebecca Ciavattone, Syed Jaffry and Michelle Hoare, Gungahlin locals who went on the record for me, a special thank you.

One person who is not here today is Kurt Steel. Kurt, your loss is still deeply felt, but your infectious optimism that Labor values will be delivered in our community lives on in many of us. Thank you to Jane for coming today.

To Charlotte Barclay and James Koval, it is great to have you with me to start this journey. To all our good friends—Melissa, Kim, Sue and Pete, and especially to Sam and Kate, thank you, Kate, for coming to Canberra today.

Thank you to my family. First of all, my in-laws, Werner and Olga Huetter, sadly are no longer with us. They lived childhoods in Europe during World War II, both born into good families but terrible times. They came to Australia as young adults, met and built a life from scratch, investing their common values in their two children. They worked hard for them to have a better life. They made personal sacrifices, especially Werner, but in Carla and Pierre they did very good and I know they were proud. And most of all I wish they were here today to see their three Aussie grandkids.

The migrant story is, and will continue to be, a major part of what makes Australia great. Olga and Werner’s story is humble and ordinary but no less important because of that—and it is not one ever told in an Australian parliament. It is my privilege to put it on the record today.

To my own family, my sister, Kate, her husband, Jason, and my nieces Hazel and Keita, you set an example for how to tread lightly in this world but still make a huge contribution. This makes our family even luckier.

To my mum and dad—Robyn and Paul—thank you for always encouraging us to take the opportunities that your generation did not have. Mum gave me the values of compassion and hard work, and the value of being organised, although I am still
working on the latter.

Dad showed me what it means to keep an open mind and seize an opportunity, and to value a conversation with anyone, anywhere, but especially in the middle of the footpath.

Together, they gave me their love of talk radio and their example of an enduring friendship and marriage for over 45 years. Thank you.

To my own kids, Al, Esther and Eva, you are a curious, thoughtful and funny trio and you make our lives glow. I do all this in part for you and I hope you experience some of the joy that it can bring. To Pierre, we met talking about how we could change the world and then realised we could start right where we live. Here we are. Thank you for reminding me always of the big picture, for everything you do for us and for how fundamentally good you are.

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to represent the people of Molonglo. The electorate is large and diverse. I would like to talk in particular about one part—Gungahlin, my own local community. In a city only 100 years old, Gungahlin is the infant. With a rich Aboriginal and settler history, it is now what the inner suburbs were in the 1950s, Belconnen in the 1970s and Tuggeranong in the 1980s. It is growing fast every day and remains one of the fastest growing regions in Australia. But Gungahlin is not all shiny and new. Palmerston and Ngunnawal were built over 20 years ago, its residents pioneering the move to the far flung northern suburbs on single lane roads past paddocks.

Twenty years ago locals shopped at a marooned building in the middle of nowhere, but today the town centre is thriving and group shopping centres are emerging across the region, with small businesses being built from the ground up. You can eat Persian, Italian, Korean, Indian, Sri Lankan, Thai, Chinese and Japanese, and there is a vibrant sense of community—that people are building not just their own house but their neighbourhoods and communities.

The people who live in Gungahlin are diverse—from Australia and around the world. We are nurses, teachers, pensioners, retirees, IT professionals, retail workers, public servants, defence personnel, stay-at-home mums and working mums. And there are lots of babies being born; lots of them. In 1991 Gungahlin had 382 residents. Today it is close to 50,000.

Gungahlin is Canberra’s latest pioneering region. This Labor government has invested significantly in high quality community and public infrastructure in the past 10 years especially, but before this there were no schools, no roads, no shopping centres and no recreational facilities. That is why, in 2012, I advocated strongly for a cinema. I look forward to work starting on that this year. There will always be more to do—especially on our roads—but we have always also known that this must be balanced with investment across other parts of our city. Every suburb counts.

I am proud to be the first member of this place to be elected on such strong support from Gungahlin. I came to Gungahlin via Canberra’s inner north, Sydney and New Zealand, where I grew up in a pretty typical family: mum, dad, two kids. Dad was a policeman, mum a nurse. This normal life shaped me but was influenced by two particular experiences. When I was in primary school we lived in Singapore for a few years, a country where multiculturalism and trade are the norm.

We returned to New Zealand in the mid-1980s as a new Labour government was opening up the country. Like the Hawke-Keating Government in Australia, this opening shook some of the country’s foundations. But having returned from a
dynamic and multicultural country that engaged with the world, it seemed the obvious and right thing to do, and it was.

I went to high school in Dunedin, a university town. I spent a few years working in the tourism sector after school, a few years that felt lost but contributed very much to who I am now. I eventually went to university and loved it. I loved research and
understanding our world. I had two important experiences. I studied in Thailand and interviewed Thai women factory workers about their jobs. These women reaffirmed my belief in the importance of work and that globalisation, done well, was a good thing. I went to the United States as an intern at the United Nations headquarters. This strengthened my belief that our world is ever shrinking but that equality on a global scale matters.

I migrated to Australia in 1998, first to Sydney and a job with the New South Wales Police and then to Canberra as a federal public servant. I worked on a project to bring the Australian government into the digital age and then for the Australian Federal Police and Attorney-General’s Department. The AFP is an incredible organisation that delivers such an important service to the Australian community, especially here in the ACT. I have huge respect for its role and its staff.

But I was first drawn to Canberra by the opportunity to contribute to public policy. I arrived at a time when public policymaking was becoming contestable, when governments were realising their old silos no longer worked and that other voices had to be heard. I found it exciting. There are profound possibilities for good that innovative policymaking can deliver.

I had long had instilled in me the idea that public service, in all its forms, was a good thing to do. I do believe government plays a crucial role, but importantly it should not play every role. As a Labor member I believe we should always aim to be in government, for only in government can we best express our values and priorities and deliver for our community.

In some ways mine is a new Canberra story: a career connected to the globe, a busy professional life, family in a new suburban area and juggling all the pressures of modern family life. In some ways, though, it is the oldest Canberra story: coming here for work, staying for friends and family and one day realising you love the city and could never leave.

Over the years I discovered Canberra’s many charms: its exceptional quality of life, its many beautiful built and natural places, and its riches of experiences. But so many of these charms were hidden or only just emerging. I am a great supporter of revealing them. They must be shared, opened up and made more accessible. Canberra is no longer a hidden secret. It is coming of age. It is very exciting. And while Canberrans are generally wealthy by national standards, we must never forget that some in our community find it hard to get by.

Most Canberrans have an income that can sustain them, but some do not, and others can teeter—a big bill, a car problem, an unexpected illness. Personal resilience, especially through families, is vital in these times. A strong society and good intermediate institutions—importantly including trade unions—are a tremendous advantage. And public policy matters. Government support and services at the right time for the right duration can make all the difference.

After having children I worked part time and then casually, juggling the child care, contract work and looking after three children under four. I have experienced Canberra as a young single and a newly married professional, as a part-time working mum, juggling child care and work, and as a stay-at-home mum, finding new activities and connections to enrich what sometimes seemed like very long days. I value these experiences and I bring them all with me to this place. Indeed, it was the sum of these experiences that informed my decision to run for public office. And I come here as a Labor member, with Labor values.

I joined Labor because I believe everyone should be able to reach their potential in life. I believe we should all be equal but not the same. I know that not everyone is born into equal circumstances, but this should not be what determines our future. Labor’s modern values of growth, opportunity and equality through good economic management and progressive social reform are what drive me to be part of a movement that wants the best for everyone.

We must build an economy and a community that encourage growth and enable opportunity. Without both we cannot succeed. The greatest enabler of all is education.

I want to be part of this Labor Government’s efforts to make our world-class education system even better—to invest in technology, to invest in the best teachers—and I want to help nurture all the possibilities that a great education brings. But to realise the benefits of a good education there must be jobs. It is clear the odds are stacked against you if you grow up in a household with no job. It is clear there will be great stress if you work in a job where you cannot rely on a fair go and representation when you need it.

Jobs are important not just because they bring wages into the home but because they bring social bonds and dignity. Jobs are the bedrock of our labour movement, our economy, our community. And Canberra faces real job challenges today. The commonwealth contraction is having a ripple effect across our community and into people’s lives. The ACT Government is doing everything it can to respond to this big external challenge. I know that this is a difficult period for our city, but I have great faith that we will come through it stronger in the long term.

In Canberra we have built a city with strong growth, despite current challenges, and more opportunity than most. But there must also be equality and justice. We are a wealthy city but we are also compassionate. We know we give more money and more time to people and causes that need our help. Our commitment to fairness and equality is part of our identity. We must continue to make sure that the most vulnerable in our community are always part of government’s decision-making.

Madam Speaker, these values will guide me while I am here, but, importantly, I want to advocate for these values to be realised through the decisions this Assembly takes. I want to be part of decisions that keep our budget balanced over the economic cycle.

This is important because we want our public money spent equitably over generations and we want the capacity to continue to deliver high quality services and infrastructure that improve people’s lives.

I want to be part of decisions that grow our economy, particularly our services sector and our digital economy. I want our city to grow and I want this growth to be built on higher density living, a light rail system and clean, energy-efficient buildings. I want to be part of investing in prevention so fewer children end up in care, fewer people end up in jail and fewer people have to go to hospital.

Our out-of-home care system, our jail and our hospitals are of the highest quality and that must continue. But they are among the most expensive things we do. No-one wants to be in out-of-home care, in jail or in hospital unless they really need to be. We must continue to invest in these world-class services, but it just makes sense that we find innovative ways to spend more on prevention. However, the community alone, through the territory’s budget, cannot continue to fund all infrastructure and services. I want to be part of finding new ways to bring private sector investment to solving community problems, whether it is how we invest in our playgrounds or how we deliver more affordable housing—new partnerships that bring public and private sector expertise and resources together for the long-term benefit of our community. I am excited to be part of a government which has delivered real social and economic reform in marriage equality, human rights, our school system, renewable energy, tax reform and modernising human service delivery.

This Labor Government has also built outstanding infrastructure across the city and I am excited that it is investing in light rail. I am certain Capital Metro is the transport system we need and I am certain we can afford it. I travel from Gungahlin to the city every day. I know what our roads are like; I know Northbourne is our most congested route; and I know we cannot go on the way we are forever. Led passionately by Minister Corbell, Capital Metro will prove to be a landmark investment that will transform our city. When it is built people will wonder why we waited so long and they will be thrilled when it comes to their community too. I am proud it is a Labor project.

I am proud also to be part of a team led by this Chief Minister, who stands on the shoulders of Jon Stanhope and Katy Gallagher before him in knowing how great our city can become but who brings his own outlook and considerable skills to this job, especially in understanding what a thriving economy and social justice combined can deliver for our community. In working for these outcomes, I commit to being an MLA who listens, advocates, explains and leads. I commit to being a good local member and a member who contributes to the ideas and debates that will shape our city. This is the uniqueness of this Assembly.

We are a local council and a state government. I do care, and I will care, about the state of our playgrounds, the quality of our roads and our natural spaces. I do care, and will care, about building a modern, sustainable transport system and about our world-class health and education systems. I will care about those people doing it tough. I will be part of this Labor team, the only team that ever truly gives them a voice. And I will care about modern, ordinary Canberra families—about their needs and their dreams. I will give them a voice too. They have no peak body or industry group. In the end, they are the one group that have only us in this chamber, their elected representatives. I will care about advocating for them and for the Labor values that support their lives and I will contribute ideas to promote growth, opportunity and fairness for everyone in our city.

But above all, what makes this place so special is that we do not just debate how best to serve our communities. We can make decisions that actually change things. We can make laws that protect and enable and we can pass legislation that invests scarce public resources in our community to make it better. That is both our privilege and our responsibility.

It is a dream come true for a bit of a policy tragic who loves her local community and cares about everyone having the opportunity to reach their potential. It is the best job going. I look forward to working hard on achieving these things with and in my community.

Thank you.