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Legislative Assembly

19 December 2018
Will Fowles  (ALP)


Mr FOWLES (Burwood) (18:21:50): Victoria: our home, my home. The conscience, the soul and the intellect of the nation. The place where progressive hearts beat true. Like so many Victorian families, mine has a diverse history. It includes farmers and bankers, teachers and nurses, librarians and doctors, theologians and auctioneers. It also includes the usual spread of faiths, genders, sexualities, dietary requirements and abilities to adequately operate a mobile telephone. It is principally Western European in origin—mainly Irish, evidenced by the love of a song, a pint, a laugh, a chat and a cry. In composing this speech I have reflected upon my origins and my journey to this moment and this place. Those reflections were principally about family—that grounding, loving, maddening, enabling, supporting, uplifting bunch of humans, part destined, part chosen and part created, who all give up a great deal to support us in this life. Some of my family have stood here before. My maternal grandmother’s grandfather, Thomas Livingston, was elected to this house for the seat of Gippsland South in 1902 after a career as a teacher and a journalist. He advocated for better pay and conditions for state school teachers and was a whip and cabinet secretary in the Murray government of 1909 to 1912. Then, as a minister in the Watt and Peacock governments during the course of the First World War, he established the precursor to the State Electricity Commission of Victoria and protected native forest from overeager millers. While we have some views that align, he was also a Freemason and a temperance advocate, and on those measures at least we could not be more different. My paternal grandmother’s great‑grandfather served in the other place at around the same time. Joseph Henry Abbott was, like Livingston, a migrant‑cum‑journalist. In 1858 he co‑founded a newspaper, the Diggers Advocate, which was described as 'the champion of the diggers in the opposition to the licence fee’. In 1889, after an earlier unsuccessful attempt, he was elected to the Legislative Council for Northern Province. Abbott was a strong supporter of federation, saying in 1892 that it was one of the greatest objects which the Parliament of Victoria could set itself to accomplish. He was also a tireless supporter of women’s suffrage against the sort of stiff opposition then expected in the other place. Both Abbott and Livingston received the attention of my great‑great‑grandfather and another journalist, David Hewitt Maling from the Argus. Maling wrote that Abbott would 'take you by the button and hold you for an hour or 2 hours, and you will never feel the slightest inclination to snip off the button, but in the house he is usually as solemn as a funeral on a wet day’. That Maling had been married to Abbott’s daughter for eight years when he penned this characterisation can only have made for an awkward Christmas. Now, over 100 years later, a descendant of Abbott, Livingston and Maling stands in this house proudly giving his first address with many fellow descendants watching on. My extremely clever choice of forebears has meant that I have always had a roof over my head. Sadly, that is not a universal experience in Australia. I simply do not accept that a city and a state and a nation as wealthy as ours should have such high levels of homelessness and housing stress. The knock‑on effects of this social malaise are enormous in health services, the justice system, mental health, family violence and drug abuse. It is incumbent upon us all to work towards a society that ensures a basic level of decency and fairness, including meeting the most primal needs: food and shelter. Food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless. It sounds simple but the evidence of the difficulty in delivering on this can be found by looking no further than the streets outside this Parliament. When a woman flees an abusive partner with her three young kids she should have somewhere safe to go. When the veteran of armed conflict serving in Australia’s interests and at Australia’s behest succumbs to the crippling effects of PTSD he should not find himself unable to secure even a room in a boarding house. When the teenage victim of sexual abuse finally gets moved on from her best mate’s couch she should not find herself under a bridge where her first 48 hours include assault, theft and an initiation into crystal methamphetamine. These are real stories. They are the stories of people who feel embarrassed and ashamed about their circumstances rather than supported and cared for. The outcomes are binary. With housing in place the delivery of social services, counselling, psychological support, financial support and health services becomes so much easier. Without it, however, the mission is almost impossible. People in a daily scrap for survival have no capacity to address underlying health problems or secure employment or continue their education, and the cycle of disadvantage will just continue until our social compact breaks and our democracy itself begins to fray. A significant investment in housing can stop the spiral and work to mitigate against costs in the health and justice systems. Labor’s housing policy at this election was not particularly ambitious, but at least we had one. Under a federal Labor government there will again be a housing minister because Labor believes in it. We believe in the dignity of work, the importance of education and the social imperative of ensuring that everyone can be fed, clothed and sheltered. Those beliefs are why Labor has been the dominant political force in this state since 1982. We have produced leadership and policies which have put our great state at the heart of economic growth and social progress. We have led the fight to end discrimination against minorities and women. We have removed government from people’s bedrooms, secured passage of the treaty legislation and enshrined one vote, one value in the upper house. We have cemented Victoria’s advantages—advantages not derived from natural resources but from nation-leading infrastructure and education and health care. I am blessed to have lived through this period of prosperity and social progress. But there have been mistakes too. Like the Whitlams, 'I wish, I wish I knew the right words to blow up the pokies and drag them away’. In Brimbank, where unemployment is the second highest in the state, over $380 000 is lost every day on poker machines. In wealthy Boroondara, which intersects my electorate, it is $56 000. These insidious devices strike into the heart of the very communities we should be protecting and nurturing, not exploiting. It is time for an honest conversation about removing the reliance on regressive measures like gaming machine revenue, removing barriers to jobs growth and contemplating whether intergenerational wealth transfer ought to be part of the state’s revenue base. We must work always towards a system that is fairer. A government that does not enable fair economic progress is a government doomed to fail. We have done better in Victoria at sharing our dividends and have evaded the growth of the Trumpist lunatic fringe, but the insidious growth of inequity will always, if allowed to go unchecked, provide a climate in which those voices can thrive. Fairness is, of course, core business for the broader labour movement. Unions and working people being at the decision table with Labor has been the foundation of our success, because it roots the needs of our voters in our party. The union movement has been the great enabler of the social advances we have made through its energy, its optimism and its sheer organisational prowess. Michael Cooney in his book The Gillard Project said that, 'When Australia turns up to the big debates, it’s the unions that book the room’—and he is right. Through the principled and determined leadership of fine people like Luke Hilakari and Will Stracke, we are seeing the aspirations of working Victorians again at the centre of political life, and not just on economic matters. The marriage equality campaign was supported right across the trade union movement. Unions recognise that their members are interested in more than just better pay and conditions. They want a society that is fairer and more decent and prouder of its diversity. Unions keep Labor grounded in reality, shining a light on privilege and unequal opportunity in the process. I am acutely conscious of the great privilege and opportunity I have enjoyed in my life. I have had the support of a strong family and a first-class education and have been the beneficiary of the irrational biases that still attach to being male and white and middle class. One only needs to glance around an airline members lounge or a city restaurant at lunchtime on Friday or the boardrooms of corporate Australia or the gender composition of that opposition area over there to see that we remain an unequal society. Being a successful man in an equal world does not mean parading the fact that you have a mother or sisters or daughters like it is some grand achievement, rather than an accident of genetics, and it does not mean claiming that a love of women somehow equates to removing the gender blinkers from your eyes. But neither should we pretend there are not differences: 20 per cent of all women say they have experienced sexual violence and every week in Australia a woman is murdered by a current or former partner. At the same time, one in five Australian boys will experience depression before the age of 18, while suicide is the leading cause of death for all men under 25. As a society we need to think harder and longer about the gender stereotypes we perpetuate, whether consciously or unconsciously, and we need to ensure that we successfully teach boys that respect for women is paramount. That extends, of course, to respect for all difference: in gender, sexuality, ability, race and religion. Hannah Gadsby in her breathtaking, scintillating and brave show Nanette said that violent homophobia is what happens 'when you soak one child in shame and give permission to another to hate’. We need less hate. We need more love. That starts with respect. And as parliamentarians we should set the standard. The vast majority of members of Parliament, irrespective of party affiliation, are decent, well-meaning and hardworking women and men who are trying to do their best for their communities. But the actions of the dishonest few, amplified by a voracious and unrelenting media, have soured the relationship between representatives and the represented. We have a duty to try and repair that reputation by engaging in more substance and less spin, by listening and not shouting, by treating our opponents first as people and by not abusing the sacred trust given to us to work for the greater good and not for personal and political gain. Only through principled behaviour and disciplined debate will this generation of public leaders win back the trust of the citizens we represent. I would like to acknowledge a number of people who have made special contributions to my passage here. To the mighty women and men who are fellow alumni of the Monash Student Association (MSA) and the ALP club: Christina Dickinson, Ozan Ibrisim, Tanja Kovac, David Imber, Jacqui Cameron, Luke Hilakari, Mel McGrath, Matt Rocks, Mat Hilakari, Laura Smythe, Chris King and Katie Hall; to the lawyer who advised us with humility and integrity, Tony Lang; as well as the campus legends I first knew only by reputation and who are now known to me as the Premier, the Attorney-General, the federal member for Bruce and the member for Wendouree. To my wonderful campaign team: Gavin Ryan, who in a not very different set of circumstances could, quite rightly, be standing here in my place; Erik Locke, one of the nation’s best political communicators and a friend of extraordinary generosity; Claire March, an innovative and talented political professional with a mighty future in front of her; and Glenn Donahoo, another MSA alumnus, who as campaign manager could not have worked harder for the cause. To my colleague and friend, the member for Richmond, for all of his guidance, advice and support over many years. To my political mentors and heroes for their wise counsel and words of encouragement: Steve Bracks and Maxine Morand. To the Australian Republic Movement, which gave me my start and an awesome political apprenticeship, particularly through Senator Marise Payne, Allison Henry and Richard Fidler. And to the Melbourne Cricket Club (MCC) for its patience with the over-confident 27-year-old who arrived both unelected and uninvited but who enjoyed nine brilliant years learning from some of the greatest minds in business, government and sport, especially Jane Nathan, Karen Wood, Charles Sitch and Stephen Gough. Also to John Cain for his special interest and scholarly insights into my contribution at both the MCC and the Melbourne and Olympic Parks Trust. To one of my predecessors in Burwood, the ever-helpful, tireless and still hugely popular Bob Stensholt. His is a fine legacy as a local member that I will struggle to surpass but nonetheless hope to emulate. To my immediate predecessor, Graham Watt, for the gracious way in which he held himself in defeat and for working hard, always, for our community. To the people of Burwood, for putting your faith in me. To my friends, who have stuck with me on this journey, even when it was difficult—I love you. To my extended family—the very large tribe of cousins and aunts and uncles and in-laws, some of whom are no longer with us but whose legacy of love remains—I love you. To my grandmother, Granna, 88 and going strong, and here today—I love you. To my brothers and their partners: Matt and Luise, Jim and Jay, and Jack and Elise—I love you. To my parents, Joan and David—mum and dad—I love you. To my wife, Jessica, and my children, Molly, Hugo and Angus—you are the centre of my universe. I love you. My favourite Victorian memories come from lots of places. For me Victoria is the feeling of the crisp air as you walk across Yarra Park to the G, bathed in the golden sunlight of an immaculate autumn afternoon, followed by the muted roar of the crowd outside the ground and the picture-perfect piece of greenery within. It is the rhythmic rumble of the surf in Bridgewater Bay that hits deep in the chest, the shining white froth followed by endless blue and the taste of salt spray on sandy lips. It is the trickle of a stream in the Dandenong Ranges, with both the light and the sound softened by the towering ferns above and the leaf litter below. And it is the intriguing hum of the eucalypts on a baking hot day in a part of the world which is variously described as the Loddon Murray, the High Country or central Victoria—but which actually always was and always will be Taungurung country. Victoria is that incredible roar during the last bar of the national anthem on grand final day, it is the profound silence at the shrine that follows the last post on Anzac Day and it is the universally recognised ding-ding of the trams as they rattle up Bourke Street. Home is indeed where the heart is, and my heart is here, in the best place in the world—Victoria. Members applauded. The SPEAKER: Order! I remind people in the gallery about not taking photos in the chamber. Before calling the next member, I welcome to the gallery the President of the Australian Senate, Senator Scott Ryan.