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Legislative Assembly

20 February 2019
Michaela Settle  (ALP)


Ms SETTLE (Buninyong) (12:28:14): Thank you, Speaker, and to my colleagues from both sides of the house, thank you for this opportunity to address you all. I am a proud single mum of two amazing young men, my sons Sam and Alex. When I decided I wanted to serve the community I talked to them about it and we discussed it as a family. They knew that it would take a toll on our family life, but they supported me all the way. Without Alex cooking dinner and Sam keeping the home fires burning I would not be here today, and so it is to them that I give my deepest thanks. A week after I was elected my two sons took part in a 500‑strong march through Ballarat as students demanding action on climate change. My heart burst with pride, and I knew then that my mother’s blood runs strong in all of us. My mother, Christine Forster, is a pioneer. She has campaigned tirelessly on environmental issues for many years with the support and commitment of my dad, Peter Forster. She taught me and now my sons that when you see a need for change you must stand up and be counted. In the early 1970s my mother was a scientist working for the public service in Darwin. I remember her coming home at Christmas with a departmental staff photo taken on the steps of their office, and there amid a group of 50 men in safari suits stood my mother. It is with great pride that I stand before her today as part of a party and a government who have made equal representation a reality. I thank her and all the women of her generation who forged the path so that I can stand here today. But above all else, I thank her for teaching me resilience. At every stumble she said to me, 'It never matters how many times you fall over; it only matters how many times you get up’, and those words have stood me in good stead through the highs and the lows that have brought me to this place. In many ways the journey here began in the late 1980s when as a young PR professional I worked for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. That experience shaped me. I saw a community band together to create change. I became impassioned for the fight for equality, and I saw a Labor government truly consult with a community. That community was united by a lifetime of prejudice and homophobia, but worse was to come. By the late 1980s we were facing the deaths of our friends and families through the HIV epidemic. As the world struggled to deal with this epidemic, Australia took action that would shape our response and see us acknowledged as world leaders. Neal Blewett realised that HIV could not be addressed without the direct input of those affected by it—gay men, intravenous drug users and sex workers. The actions that resulted from those consultations saved many lives, and that lesson has stayed with me. As I work to improve the lives of people in my electorate, I will turn to them for solutions. I am delighted that the Premier has committed $5 million to revitalise Sebastopol. Sebastopol is an old and proud community in Ballarat, and it has been left behind for far too long. From the very start this project will include the community. The success of this project will depend on the community. When a community is not at the heart of decisions made the outcomes are dire. In 2001 when I returned to my family farm in Ararat to raise my children the howls of that community were loud. I found a town that had been decimated by a Kennett Liberal government. That decimation was best symbolised by a train line that was ripped out by Kennett, and it was a Labor government that brought the trains back. I remember my then two-year-old son beaming with joy as he rode the first train back into Ararat with the Premier who rebuilt regional Victoria, Steve Bracks. It was that glaring difference that made me want to belong to a party that understands regional communities and believes in the same opportunities for all. As a young girl in Castlemaine, I babysat my colleague from the other place, Minister Pulford, and so it was with a personal joy that I watched her incredible work as the Minister for Regional Development during the Andrews government’s first term. The cranes in the skies in Ballarat today are testament to this government’s investment in regional Victoria. Regional communities offer the very best of life but also bear the brunt of an urbanised and individualised society. We feature too large in the statistics of diminished health, mental health and addiction. Like too many people in my community, I have been deeply affected by the scourge of gambling, and I know the awful truth that lies behind the statistics of loss. Gambling is an addiction like any other, and like all addictions it is an issue of mental health. Our health system has made great strides in understanding the need for integrated treatment within the mental health system for people who are affected by alcohol and other drugs, but this is not yet true for people suffering from a gambling addiction. The connection between mental health and gambling is stark. In a 2011 study nearly 20 per cent of people presenting at the Alfred acute mental health facility identified as having a gambling problem. We need a systemic response to recognise gambling as an issue that requires both universal screening and an integrated response. The support systems were not there as my family struggled with the mental health of a loved one, but I will work hard to make sure that they are there in the future for families affected by gambling. The impacts of gambling on families are far-reaching. For me, it meant starting again. As a newly single mother trying to return to the workforce, I discovered what too many women of my age come to know: after 10 years of raising my kids and running a farm my skills from my previous career had become redundant. I had always worked in media and marketing, and in the time I was away social media was born. I quickly discovered that no‑one was interested in my exemplary skills with a fax machine. So I went back to TAFE to retrain. I will be forever indebted to Irene Wharfe, my wonderful TAFE teacher in Ballarat who not only gave me the skills to get back into the workforce but also the confidence to start again. I welcomed this government’s announcement of free TAFE courses because I know from personal experience what a difference TAFE can make. Free TAFE is a policy that will impact people’s lives for the better, both the lives of young Victorians and the lives of many who need to reskill and retrain to re-enter the workforce. I am proud that this government understands the importance of skills and training and has restored TAFE to its rightful place as an institution dedicated to providing the right skills for the right jobs. I had the good fortune to have family support that enabled me to return to TAFE and upgrade my skills. As I sought to set up house and provide for my two sons, I was keenly aware of the many women in my situation who did not have that family support. But for the circumstance of my birth, I could have been living in a refuge and surviving on Newstart. We need to do more to address the fastest growing cohort of the homeless—middle-aged women. I commend this government for its commitment to public housing, with 100 new houses to be built in Ballarat. A roof over your head is a start, but real empowerment comes through getting the skills to play an active role in the world. McAuley House, a supported accommodation service for homeless women, recently opened in Ballarat. Its model of both accommodation and support to return to the workforce will make a transformative difference to many women’s lives. What I have learnt and bring to this house is the knowledge that when we work together we create real change. I was inspired by the collaborative ethos of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, and I see it today in the union movement. In these times of wages barely keeping up with inflation and the ever‑increasing casualisation of the workforce, I believe everyone who is committed to progress must stand with the union movement to create real change for working people. As my sons near the age of looking for full‑time work, I am keenly aware that young people in our community are being cheated by the gig economy; seeing their rights at work ever eroded by cash‑in‑hand work and insecure jobs. I want my sons to grow strong in a community, not just an economy. The union movement was borne out of the need for working people to have a voice at the table and we need that voice now, more than ever. The Ballarat Regional Trades and Labour Council is 160 years old. I am proud to march each year with members of the council and the region’s labour movement on Labour Day. I commend to you the work that the current secretary, Brett Edgington, has done to create the Young Workers Legal Centre in Ballarat. The union movement not only protects our rights at work but is also an important defender of occupational health and safety. Last year, 154 people were killed at work in Australia, and that is 154 too many. I am proud that this government has committed to industrial manslaughter legislation and I look forward to working with Lana Cormie, the Brownlees and the unions to get our industrial manslaughter laws right. I would now like to acknowledge the hard work and commitment of the previous member for Buninyong, Geoff Howard. He took and held the seat of Ballarat East and latterly Buninyong for 19 years. I believe that this was the consequence of Geoff’s complete commitment to his constituents. That commitment and his personal values can be seen in all that he achieved for the electorate both in and out of government. His passion for education is well known, and under his watch every state school in the electorate has seen a substantial upgrade. That legacy will have impacts on generations to come. Geoff’s passion for the environment has also led to many gains for our community. For those of us in Ballarat East, the creation of Woowookarung Regional Park will be a lasting reminder of his good works. I applaud Geoff’s work in his final term as a member of the committee for drug law reform and that he now continues to advocate for harm minimisation. I know that Geoff will continue to advocate for issues within in our community, and it gives me strength to know that I can always draw on his long experience. No matter how good a politician is, we all need the support of our community to get here. And it is with deep thanks that I acknowledge the endless work of our Community Action Network. To each and every volunteer who spent their time knocking on doors and talking to the community about our Labor values, I say thank you. I extend my thanks to the Victorian branch of the Labor Party and in particular to Kos Samaras for his unwavering support and guidance. I thank my campaign team and in particular my campaign manager and bestie, Heidi Flower. We all worked long and hard to ensure we got another Labor government. Time and time again on the doors and the phones I had the same conversation—people telling me that at last we had a government that was getting things done. And so it is to my colleagues from the 58th Parliament and in particular our leader, Premier Andrews, that I say thank you. You have restored the confidence of the community in government and remained true to our progressive values. I look forward to being part of this positive and progressive government. My colleagues, my community and my family helped me get here, but the truly exciting path is that which is yet to come. The electorate of Buninyong is a rich and diverse one, from the strong and proud community of Sebastopol in Ballarat to Linton, the little arts village that is punching above its weight. These communities find ever more interesting ways to bring their small townships together. The Dereel community garden is a haven, the Meredith historical society is a community linchpin, and the markets of Smythesdale and Ballan bring whole towns and more together. In the years ahead I look forward to working with all of the communities in my electorate. There are challenges ahead. Ballarat is experiencing rapid growth and with that comes the need for change. The Andrews Labor government has begun an agenda that will equip Ballarat for decades to come. The extensive work on improving our rail services is well underway. I will work to improve the routes into Ballarat. This will mean better roads and better bus routes. As a farmer, I know too well the teeth‑rattling experience of corrugated roads. Regional Roads Victoria is a game changer. Based in Ballarat, it provides the community with a direct line to report and track progress on roadworks. Ballarat can and should be the hub for our whole region. We should encourage people in Ballan to come west for university, great medical and community health services, and a blossoming food and wine culture. The communities of the Golden Plains and Moorabool shires deserve local community facilities that rival any town and the right to find work and services close to home. I joined the Labor Party for its commitment to social equity. As the member for Buninyong I commit to fighting every day to ensure that the people of my electorate have equal opportunity no matter where they live. Members applauded.