12 March 1991 - Current
Ms VAGHELA (Western Metropolitan) (17:53:17): President, I second the motion for the address‑in‑reply to the Governor’s opening speech. President, congratulations on your new role. I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we have gathered today. I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. I am honoured and humbled to be standing here today before my friends and family who are in the chamber. Today I stand before you the daughter of visionary parents. I have been the first in my achievements here. I was the first woman to hold a ministerial advisory role in the Victorian government. I am the first Indian‑born MP to enter the Victorian Parliament. I am the first Indian‑born Hindu to enter any Parliament in Australia. Of course I owe this honour first and foremost to the people of the Western Metropolitan Region, but I also owe it to my parents. My father, Virjibhai Vaghela, grew up in poverty. His mother died when he was about six years old. He began working as a shoe polisher at a very early age. He knew that if he wanted a better future he must educate himself, and so he studied and eventually he joined the Indian Air Force and later became a lawyer. He was poor when my mother, Yamunaben Gohil, married him. They had five children—four daughters and then a son. I am the eldest. I was born and raised in a small town called Jamnagar in the state of Gujarat in India. I have yet to meet people who possess the qualities of intelligence, discipline, kindness, honesty and generosity to the same degree as my parents. Their love and devotion to us, their children, was overwhelming. We were filled with ideas of self‑belief, resilience, hard work, equality, justice and the belief that we were worthy and would achieve anything we put our minds to. Simply, their mantra was: 'Nothing is impossible for us’. They were united in the very strong, progressive belief that educating their daughters would lead us to a life of independence and prosperity. Growing up, we daughters were never made to feel inferior because of our gender. We were allowed independence and freedom of self‑expression. They sent us to private school and university despite facing financial hardship for which they had to make many sacrifices in their life. My sister and I were sent to live in St Xavier’s Ladies Hostel in the capital city of Gujarat, Ahmedabad, where we stayed until we finished our undergraduate degrees. I completed my bachelor of science at St Xavier’s College, where I was first in university in my subjects. I met a man named Dinesh Chauhan when I was doing my first year of a master of science degree. He proposed to me. I had stipulations that he would need to fulfil for me to consider his proposal. One of my conditions was that he must let me continue my studies after marriage, and two, we would go overseas for my further studies, which was a childhood aspiration of mine. I never thought he would accept, but he did, and today I can tell you that he fulfilled all my conditions and I have been married to him for 26 years. As I have been the beneficiary of the belief in gender equality, my heart fills with joy when I see that our cabinet is comprised of 50 per cent women. As our population is 50 per cent women, so must be our governance and our workforce. After marriage I did complete my master’s degree and had a daughter, whom we named Aishwarya. My ambition to study overseas did not subside after becoming a wife or a mother. I came to Australia as an international student to study a master’s of applied science at RMIT in 1998. My husband, Dinesh Chauhan, also came with me on a spouse visa, and we left my daughter, aged three and a half, in the care of my parents. We thought that my further studies from a Western country would bring us more job opportunities in India, which would help us in providing a good education to my daughter. Initially life in Australia was very difficult for us. My studies included full days in the laboratory from Monday to Friday and left me little time to do casual work as a waitress in the evenings. I could not find a job in my field, as I either was overqualified or did not have local experience. My husband worked odd hours as a taxidriver. Eventually I got a casual job working evening or night shifts as a laboratory assistant at the Northern Hospital. This was followed by an opportunity to work as a medical scientist in the same hospital. Once I finished my studies, we decided to stay in Australia. I applied for my permanent residency in Australia. Soon after that I landed a full-time job as an anti-cancer researcher at Monash University. I did this job for four and a half years, during which I also studied part time to try and obtain my PhD. We bought a house, and my husband started his own small retail business in the Dandenong Little India precinct. It seemed that we were finally settling into life in Australia. Unfortunately life dealt us some blows. I became unwell. This affected my work and my studies. While my husband’s business operated fine for a few years, businesses of Little India suffered massive losses once major construction work began in the area and our buildings were compulsorily acquired. We traders received no proper recourse or adequate assistance, and there was not enough income coming from the shop. It was not enough for us to pay the bills and the mortgage. My family’s hard‑earned house was put onto the market. Many traders had to do the same and some had to close their businesses. As I have faced these hardships, I know how it feels to not have any money in the wallet. I have had groceries put back many times at the counter as I could not pay for them. While struggling to save our business in Little India, Dandenong, we did not know what to do or who to speak with, but we knew that we were being treated unfairly and that we must fight for our rights as traders. I took the lead in advocating for the Little India Traders Campaign for Justice. This advocacy went on for a very long time. It is how I got involved with the Labor Party and got involved with the Indian community here in Victoria. I became involved with two organisations which are composed of South Asian members, one of which is the South Asian Public Affairs Council, known as SAPAC, and the other is the Subcontinent Friends of Labor, also known as SCFOL. I personally had never envisioned becoming a politician. It was my long‑term advocacy work that gradually led me down the path of pursuing politics. I worked at a grassroots level for many years, and I worked as an adviser to the then multicultural affairs minister, Robin Scott. I greatly enjoyed my time in that role, and it gave me the opportunity to cross paths with people from all walks of life. When we were fighting for Little India traders we realised the need for an Indian representative in the Victorian Parliament who would truly understand our issues. We Indians form a sizeable community in Victoria, and we felt that the need for our representation in Parliament is imperative. I joined the Labor Party because I believed in the Labor Party and the Labor Party believed in us. Not only am I the first Indian-born to enter the Victorian Parliament, I am the first Indian-born woman to enter the Victorian Parliament. This is something that I am extremely proud of. While it is excellent that we are balancing appointments in favour of gender equality, we must also strive to achieve an even more diverse and representative Parliament and cabinet. We must remember that, other than the Indigenous Australians, we all are migrants to this country. This country was built on immigration. Migrants, especially people of colour, should not have to accept racism and intolerance as a fact of life in Australia. In Victoria we must celebrate multiculturalism and ensure that people from all traditions are respected, welcomed and valued for their contributions. As Mahatma Gandhi said, the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members. It is important that we consider the disadvantaged and vulnerable in our wider community, whether they be migrants, the elderly, women, refugees, LGBTQI or the homeless. Food, shelter, health and education should be the basic right for all human beings. Western Metropolitan Region is home to some of the most diverse suburbs on earth. People who reside in the west believe that education for their children is paramount and know that Labor invests in schools and education. They want good hospitals and good health care. They want congestion on the roads to be removed. Issues affecting Victorians in the west must not be overlooked, such as inequality, congestion, cost of living, livability and housing. Over the last four years the Andrews Labor government has built schools and hospitals and removed level crossings across the west. We are building the airport rail link and the West Gate Tunnel. We must ensure that schools and health services are available and that sporting grounds, roads and public transport infrastructure are in place to cope with our rapidly expanding population in the west. The Labor Party’s core values of compassion, justice, equality and progressive policies resonate with me, and it is in accordance with these Labor values that I intend to represent not only the Western Metropolitan Region but of course all of Victoria. Internationally I believe we must strengthen the relationship between Victoria and India, as I feel it has not yet been fully explored. There is an enormous potential for trade and commerce between these two economies that will benefit us both. Both Australia and India have wonderful attributes in common—they are multicultural societies. We live alongside people of different faiths, ethnicities and languages. I am very proud of my Indian heritage. India is the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. With Indian heritage, I am aware of the distinct and unique cultures of all religions and communities present in India. Of course I also honour the culture of Australia and my fellow citizens. I am very grateful for every opportunity I have been offered here. My election would not have been possible without the support and hard work of a lot of people. Due to time constraints I will be unable to acknowledge each person who has played a role in my life and also in my success, so I do apologise to them. I extend my gratitude to Minister Marlene Kairouz, who managed my campaign and who has become a good friend. I would like to thank Minister Robin Scott, who gave me the opportunity to work with him and has become my mentor. I would like to also say thanks to Minister Adem Somyurek for providing me guidance, support and utmost respect. Thank you to my sister Kusum Vaghela, a lawyer who runs her own law firm in Melbourne; to my brother‑in‑law, Siddharth Maitrak; and to my niece Vera. They have provided me ongoing and invaluable support for many years. Thank you to my in‑laws, chiefly my mother‑in‑law, Maniben, and sister‑in‑law, Leelaben, for their unwavering and loving support for the last 26 years. Thanks to my husband, who has supported me in every step of my life and has always believed in me. Thank you to my daughter, Aishwarya, the best daughter any parent could ask for. I am very thankful to our dear friends Neeraj Nanda and Manoj Kumar, who introduced us to the Labor Party. Through them I came to know Aloke Kumar and Akash Kumar, two brothers who have become my strong pillars of support. Very rarely in life do you get friends who will stick by you through thick and thin. The Kumar brothers are an example of those friends. Thank you to the hundreds of volunteers and supporters for your help. Thank you to everyone from the South Asian community who united on an unprecedented level in Victoria and rallied around me during the election, especially the Gujarati community. Thanks to Sepal Patel—I wish he was here in Melbourne today. I am thankful to my close friends from Little India in Dandenong and also to friends from SAPAC and SCFOL. I want to express appreciation for the earnest hard work done by our members in the Andrews Labor government, especially my colleagues in Western Metropolitan Region. Most importantly, none of this would have been possible without the people of the western suburbs. They believe in the vision that Daniel Andrews has for the Labor Party. I seek to uphold that vision and serve them to the best of my ability. Members applauded.