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Legislative Assembly

19 February 2019
Dustin Halse  (ALP)


Mr HALSE (Ringwood) (17:36:15): Speaker, thank you, and may I congratulate you on your recent reappointment to the speakership of this Assembly. I begin by acknowledging the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, the traditional custodians of the land on which we are meeting today. I pay my respects to their elders, past, present and emerging, as well as any members of other First Nations in this room and beyond. The land on which we meet is an ancient land. It is a place of age-old ceremony, initiation and renewal. There is deep knowledge, strength and memory embedded within the communities of the Aboriginal people here and in the district of Ringwood. The unique history, living culture and skill set evident among our state’s first peoples enriches us all. However, as a public representative it would be remiss of me to avoid any reference to the dispossession and tragedy inflicted upon the Aboriginal people of Victoria wrought by white imperialism and colonisation. As is noted in the annals of Victorian history, we brought the disease, we trashed ancient social structures and we destroyed the place of home. Worse still, as Bruce Pascoe points out in his brilliantly written history, Dark Emu, we have built the narrative of our state, our nation and our story through the amelioration of the history and cultural knowledge of our first peoples. I acknowledge that I am delivering this speech here in this chamber on land that was stolen and never ceded—on land that is, was and always will be Aboriginal land. It therefore fills me with a sense of hope as I join my Labor colleagues, led by our Premier, as we stand together with first peoples as equals and work collectively towards negotiating treaty. This treaty is long overdue. It is righting a historical and present injustice. It is core Labor business. Nevertheless, there is much work to be done in this policy arena. I note that on average here in Victoria an Aboriginal male of my age will die more than 10 years earlier than I will. His life is far more likely to include poverty and health complications, and an experience of inequality that I am unable to comprehend. I cannot truly know the injustice inflicted upon our first peoples, but I can listen. I can listen to their stories and stand in solidarity with the Aboriginal citizens of our state. To quote the great First Nations activist, Lilla Watson: If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together. An injustice inflicted upon one is an injustice inflicted upon all. We must work together to achieve our collective liberation. It is a tremendous privilege to rise in this place as the member for Ringwood. I want to say thank you to the voters of Ringwood. Thank you for embracing the progressive and bold agenda of the Victorian Andrews Labor government. I am truly humbled to be your elected representative, and I look forward to working with you and for you to achieve the best for our community. I was born in Box Hill Hospital and into this community. I have lived in the eastern suburbs for nearly my entire life. Many of my friends, some who are here today, and family members live in the electorate. Ours is a quintessentially suburban place wedged between metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria. We have schools, hospitals, churches, parks, sports clubs, pubs, local businesses and shopping centres. It is a place that people proudly call home. It is a place that I call home. I stand here as a product of my social context, my education and my upbringing. My parents have dedicated their lives to others through their ministry and service in the Salvation Army. I spent my childhood exposed to the stark realities of social and economic disadvantage and dislocation. I saw drug addicts come through the church doors, seeking assistance. I saw brave women with children in tow, fleeing situations of domestic violence in search of crisis accommodation. I saw families attend community dinners every Sunday night in order to receive the only substantive meal that they would enjoy all week. In all this, I saw my parents, especially my mother, supporting these people with compassion and understanding. Even then, in my youthful naivety I began to grasp the importance of standing with others, the importance of solidarity. I knew then that what these people needed was not judgement or blame. They did not need pity or charity. What they needed was understanding, support and solidarity. Yet it was not until I commenced university that I was able to connect what I had seen and experienced with the broader social, political and economic context. I began to understand that secure work was the foundation upon which a stable and rewarding life could be built. I realised that much of the disadvantage that I had witnessed in my childhood was born from the cracks in this foundation. This realisation was the start of a journey that has led me into this chamber today. At this point I joined the Labor Party and the trade union movement. It was the only logical thing to do in order to stand in solidarity with those around me. I have had the privilege of working for two trade unions, the National Tertiary Education Union and the Health Services Union. By working at these unions I have seen in detail the harsh externalities created by an unfairly regulated industrial relations system and an unrestrained market economy. Put yourself in the shoes of someone else for a moment: a middle-aged woman with a PhD and an exemplary annual teaching record over the course of 15 years. Imagine never being offered a permanent contract. Imagine never being able to access sick leave. Imagine being denied a home loan because no bank will give credit to a middle-aged woman on an insecure contract. Alternatively, perhaps consider what it might be like if you are an aged-care or disability support worker in Victoria. You are tasked with overseeing the physical and emotional wellbeing of those with a variety of complex care requirements. Is $22 an hour fair compensation for such vital work? Will it guarantee the level of care that those in need deserve? These experiences are the new industrial norm for many Victorian workers. They remain so because our federal industrial relations system is broken. Australia currently has some of the most regressive industrial systems in the world. Freedom of association and the right to collectively organise is an enshrined and codified human right, but just not here in Australia or Victoria. To the workers of Victoria, to the workers of my community, I stand in solidarity with you. It is the Labor Party and the labour movement that takes solidarity, fairness and social justice as its starting position. We understand that the state has a positive role to play in ensuring that the excesses of speculative and predatory capitalism are confronted. It is now irrefutable that the neoclassical doctrine of trickle-down economics has failed. The traditionally conservative World Bank and International Monetary Fund have demonstrated clearly that widening income and wealth inequality constricts economic growth. Therefore we must support and stand in solidarity with those who are caught in the grip of economic dislocation or hardship. We must recognise that the struggles of the disadvantaged, the unemployed and the poor are not the failings of the individual but the failings of us all. Moreover, we must boldly support local businesses and the Victorian manufacturing sector to provide decent, secure and dignified jobs for Victorians. And we must condemn those who are found to be intentionally and systematically breaking our industrial laws. Labor politicians are apt to cite Ben Chifley’s famous 'Light on the Hill’ speech. Yet there is another lesser known quote that we should bring to mind. Chifley saw no value in, and I quote: ... being in the labour movement without radical tendencies. You cannot afford to be in the middle of the road. You have to be quite clear about what you believe in, whether popular or unpopular, and you have to fight for it. It is in this spirit that I stand here today. Our government must have both the radical vision to imagine a better Victoria and the pragmatic sensibilities to build it. I commend the Premier and my Labor colleagues for getting on with the job of delivering for Victorians over the previous four years. I would like to take a moment to highlight just a few significant achievements over this period: improvements to nurse and midwife-to-patient ratios that are delivering safer and better patient care in our hospitals; the commitment to legislating wage theft and industrial manslaughter as criminal behaviour is long overdue and to be lauded; our support of new renewable energy generation, particularly the recently announced commitment to building wind turbines in the old Ford factory, is bold and necessary; and the record investments in schools, roads, local jobs, and public infrastructure will provide for future generations of Victorians. Moreover, on a more personal note, I would like to commend this government for establishing a Royal Commission into Mental Health. During the New Year period I was struck and diagnosed with depression. I know the raw pain that many in our community manage and confront every day. I stand in solidarity with others who struggle with mental health conditions. There is great courage and resilience in your story. You are not alone. In addition, on this point, may I also thank the mental health workers across this state—you are lifesavers. You deserve greater recognition and recompense for the work that you do. These reforms and projects are a great start—but the work of the labour movement is never complete, for we strive for that light on the hill. Tonight, in my district of Ringwood, nearly 300 people will be homeless. Almost 2000 of my constituents are unable to find employment. Hundreds of LGBTIQ people will be experiencing discrimination and hardship at school, in the community and too often in their own homes. Women will be fleeing domestic violence in desperate search of crisis accommodation. Young people will be battling drug addiction. Older Australians are worrying about how they will make ends meet. Moreover, a looming environmental crisis threatens our collective future. All of these issues, and countless more, show that we still have work to do. We should be bold in our policy agenda. We should be unafraid in exploring radical ideas, both old and new. We should continue to build a better future for all Victorians, right here, right now, and dismantle the system of inequality that benefits so very few at the cost of so many. I conclude with an acknowledgment and take the opportunity to say thanks to a number of people. I acknowledge the previous member and note her service to the community. Thank you to the Premier and my Labor parliamentary colleagues who have dared to embrace a bold, progressive and intergenerational vision for Victoria. Thanks to the Mitcham and Maroondah branches of the Labor Party for your support. Thanks to Zack, Harry, Donna, Marj, Mike, John, Lynne, Nildhara, Matt, Leonie, Don, Tony and Shirley. Thanks to the unions and the local We Are Union eastern suburbs group who campaigned for fairness. To my close friends—you know who you are—thanks for your friendship and ongoing support. To Gerard Hayes, Lloyd Williams and Tim Jacobson, I say thank you for your solidarity and friendship. To Ged Kearney and Leigh Hubbard, thanks for your support and advice. To the President in the other place, thank you for your enthusiasm. Now to my family. To Gina and Graham, Felice and Daniel, thanks for everything you did during the campaign as well as your love and support. To my grandfather, the old boy, an old‑time Labor man, who is here today despite numerous health issues and the recent passing of our Nanna, I cherish your solidarity. To my mother, Elli, or should I say Dr Elli McGavin, your resilience, strength and love have had an indelible impact upon my life. Finally, to my wife, Rachel, an emergency department nurse and an industrial organiser with the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, you are a loyal friend and the fiercest woman I know. Thank you, and I love you. Now it is time to get back to the work of delivering for all Victorians. Members applauded.