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Legislative Assembly

07 February 2024
Inaugural speech
Eden Foster  (ALP)


Eden FOSTER (Mulgrave) (18:30): Before I begin, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge and pay my respects to the traditional custodians of the land on which we gather, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. I extend my deep respect to their elders past and present, recognising their enduring connection to this land which has been a place of cultural, spiritual and social significance for millennia. I would also like to pay my respects and acknowledge the land on which the Mulgrave electorate sits, the land of the Bunurong people, and pay my respects to all First Nations people here today.

The Mulgrave electorate is situated on lands with a rich cultural history and significance to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is important to reflect on the ancient traditions, wisdom and custodianship of the land held by the First Nations people. Their profound connection to the land, their resilience and their contributions to the diverse tapestry of our nation are integral to the shared history of our nation and our state of Victoria. In representing the people of Mulgrave, I commit to fostering a spirit of reconciliation and collaboration, working towards a future that respects, values and honours the rights and perspectives of First Nations people. I am proud to be part of a government that engages in a meaningful and respectful process of treaty making with Aboriginal Victorians.

I wish to thank the wonderful people of the Mulgrave district for entrusting me this opportunity and honour to represent them in our Victorian Parliament and to be part of the Allan Labor government. It is so truly humbling to be standing in this chamber chosen to serve my local community, and I commit myself to representing all constituents of Mulgrave and listening to their needs. Having served as a local councillor and mayor of the City of Greater Dandenong, I have witnessed firsthand the strength and resilience of our community. Now as their representative in the Victorian state Parliament I am eager to continue advocating for the issues that matter most to them, from local infrastructure improvements to enhanced education and healthcare services. I am dedicated to championing policies that will contribute to the wellbeing and prosperity of Mulgrave.

My journey to this point started with my mum Patsy, who immigrated with her family to Australia from Kolkata, India, in 1969 seeking better opportunities. Over a decade later she met my late father Robert and without planning I came into existence. My mum was ahead of her time really. She did not need a partner in her life to complete our family. We were the start of a non-traditional family, just the two of us. In 1982 my mum courageously decided to move to Springvale as a single parent with an 18-month-old child in tow. During a period marked by challenging 16 per cent interest rates she purchased our first home, a humble, modest two-bedroom unit conveniently located near public transport. Having no car, our activities were confined to the schedules of buses and trains, and as a child I understood the significance of an affordable and comprehensive public transport system. For this reason, I take pride in being part of a Victorian state government that invests in public transport, whether it involves the elimination of level crossings for enhanced train frequency and a safer transport network or initiatives like the Metro Tunnel transforming our travel experience into Melbourne’s CBD. I will continue to advocate for accessible and affordable public transport in Victoria and the seat of Mulgrave.

My upbringing, though, was never easy but it was certainly one filled with love and support. My mum worked tirelessly to pay off the mortgage, rushing from her city job to ensure she was home for me after child care. Juggling work and family life on her own was always challenging, to the extent that she was given an ultimatum by her employer: choose your family or choose your job. The pressure she faced to try to maintain both led to an unfortunate workplace injury, and it was the invaluable support of her union that aided my mum through this ordeal.

Despite her efforts, my mum struggled to sustain the work–life balance and went on to a single parent benefit and later, due to health issues, a disability support pension. Our lives were lived day by day with a constant focus on meeting mortgage and bill obligations, and even at the age of seven I found myself with a calculator in hand, helping my mum crunch the numbers to manage the weekly budget. These early experiences witnessing my mum’s strength, determination and ‘never give up’ attitude have shaped me into the woman I am today, cultivating my resilience, courage and, most importantly, my sense of compassion for those facing adversity. It has shaped my values of fairness and equity, of social justice and acceptance of all.

Growing up I often felt a sense of embarrassment that I was different. I was biracial, came from a broken home, lived in a modest house without a car and never went on holidays like the other kids, but looking back, I was truly fortunate. I had a roof over my head, I had a safe and loving environment to call home and, most importantly, I had the loving presence of my mum. And thanks to the Labor Party values, I had access to good public education, affordable public transport and a public and free healthcare system. Without these fair and equitable values and policies, I would not be standing here before you today.

These values have also been shaped by my faith. As a Catholic my faith holds significant importance in my life. Like approximately two-thirds of the Mulgrave electorate who also acknowledge a religious affiliation, faith has been a source of great solace and fortitude in moments of challenge. It has also taught me the importance of social justice, compassion, fairness and equality – values that I have aligned greatly with the Labor Party values.

Like me, three-quarters of individuals in the Mulgrave district have at least one parent born overseas, reflecting the cultural diversity of the community. The electorate was once home to the Enterprise Migrant Hostel in Springvale, which housed new arrivals to Australia in motel-style accommodation from 1969 to 1992. The hostel welcomed over 30,000 individuals from 58 nations, contributing to the formation of the diverse community we have today not only in Springvale but in surrounding suburbs.

Each suburb of the Mulgrave district has its own unique charm and character. Springvale is a cultural melting pot with lively shopping strips and an abundance of great food, exhibiting the beauty of multicultural Australia. It is renowned for its South-East Asian cuisine and is home to one of the largest communities of Victorians with Vietnamese heritage. Then we have Noble Park North, a sliver of Dandenong North and of course Noble Park, where I attended school and now live. They are known for their diverse communities, recreational spaces and their proximity to amenities – and I might add it has the best skate park in Victoria. There is Wheelers Hill with its beautiful parks and open spaces and the suburb of Mulgrave, characterised by a blend of residential and commercial spaces and home to Waverley Park estate, once known as VFL Park, now home to 1400 new dwellings for 3500 people and of course the Hawthorn Football Club.

The Mulgrave electorate is an inclusive and vibrant place to live, work and play. Embracing South-East Asian and South Asian communities, including individuals of Vietnamese, Chinese and Indian heritage, and European communities, including English, Greek and Italian, Mulgrave represents a vibrant tapestry of cultural diversity and harmony. Having grown up in the suburbs of the Mulgrave electorate, I have had the unique privilege of witnessing the evolution and transformation of these areas over the past four decades. I have lived in a community that has helped forge my identity and continues to shape my deep and ongoing appreciation for the diverse and dynamic community I call home.

My own Indian heritage, stemming from my mother’s side of the family, has borne some influence on who I am today, including my love for cricket and curry, my hardworking values and my passion for democracy. But it is also a reminder of the past impact colonialism has had on India and for many Anglo Indians like my mum. As a daughter of an Anglo–Indian mother, I have experienced the loss of language and loss of culture. I look back now at my early years and long to have had traditional Indian dance lessons, to be able to speak the language of my mother’s homeland and cook Indian dishes that go beyond prepackaged options. The expanding diversity within the Mulgrave electorate has fuelled my curiosity and eagerness to delve deeper into my cultural heritage, and I take pride in identifying as a woman of Indian heritage and – as I have been informed – the first woman with Indian roots to serve in the Legislative Assembly in Victoria. My election to the Legislative Assembly not only contributes to the cultural diversity within the Victorian Parliament, mirroring our state’s rich cultural tapestry, but also stands as a milestone for gender equality. A century after women were given the right to stand for election in the lower house, my victory in the Mulgrave seat achieves gender parity in our state’s Parliament for the first time, and I am so proud to be part of an Allan Labor government that continues to work hard for gender equality.

My early life experiences set me on a path of helping others, a journey I pursued through my career as a clinical psychologist. My early work involved supporting individuals with substance use issues, which led me to offering expert witness opinions to a Victorian Parliament inquiry into the supply and use of methamphetamines in Victoria in 2014. This experience fuelled my interest in working with young people for prevention and early intervention, leading me to the education sector. Now drawing upon my experience and a genuine desire to aid those in need, I aim to contribute to the broader Victorian community and my local community through my new role as member for Mulgrave and a member of the Allan Labor government. I take great pride in being part of a Labor government that conducted the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System, actively listening to the needs and perspectives of those with firsthand experience to implement meaningful recommendations. This has meant the current Victorian government has made the largest investment into mental health ever made by an Australian government.

But I cannot speak about the district of Mulgrave without acknowledging the great work of my predecessor and our state’s former Premier, Daniel Andrews. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to him for his outstanding contributions to the Mulgrave electorate and the wider Victorian community over the past 21 years as member for Mulgrave and past nine years as our state’s Premier. His exemplary leadership and unwavering commitment to public service has left a remarkable legacy for our state and the electorate of Mulgrave. From championing crucial local infrastructure projects, such as level crossing removals, and improvements to local schools and education, to enhancing our health services, including the recently built Victorian Heart Hospital, to policies that enhance the quality of life, his hard work and dedication has set a commendable standard with – as I am regularly reminded – big shoes to fill. But I am honoured to follow in his footsteps as member for Mulgrave and build upon the great work already achieved in my electorate. His legacy of service is an inspiration, and I am committed to continuing his great work in my own way – and in my stilettos, I might add – for the betterment of Mulgrave and all its constituents.

I certainly would not be in this position if it were not for the support of my local community, friends and family. I want to take this opportunity to thank them now. Julian Hill, the federal member for Bruce, a mentor, good friend and comrade – his guidance, honesty and support are greatly appreciated and valued, and without his faith in my abilities, and encouragement, I would not be present in this chamber today. Minister for Government Services, Minister for Consumer Affairs and Minister for Public and Active Transport the Honourable Gabrielle Williams, as well as a member for South-Eastern Metropolitan Region in the other place Lee Tarlamis – their guidance, support, mentorship and friendship have been invaluable, not only during my campaign but also in my previous roles in local government. I also want to thank senior party figures, including Alan Griffin, for their support during the preselection process. I wish to express my gratitude and appreciation to the Premier and my parliamentary colleagues for regularly taking time out of their busy schedules to accompany me on the campaign trail.

A big thankyou to my campaign team Connor Grant, Riley Eggleton and Walter Koch; Labor head office; the many ALP members and supporters who assisted me with doorknocking, phone calls and street stalls; Young Labor and EMILY’s List volunteers; volunteers from the great union movement; the Mulgrave branch members; and all Labor volunteers who went out of their way to help me, along with various organisations and community leaders. Their hard work and commitment assisted me greatly through the campaign. To my staff – I cannot forget you: you have been my rock and sounding board as I establish my electorate office.

Finally, I would like to thank my family, particularly my mum, who has made many sacrifices in her life to give me a wonderful future and has supported my accomplishments. Thank you to my friends and my local church for their support and encouragement and of course to my local community and the Mulgrave constituents.

I pledge my commitment to the people of Mulgrave and thank them from the bottom of my heart for the opportunity to represent them here in our Parliament of Victoria. They took the little girl from Springvale to Spring Street, and for that I am truly grateful and commit myself to working hard to be their voice. Thank you.

Members applauded.