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Legislative Assembly

20 February 2019
Paul Hamer  (ALP)


Mr HAMER (Box Hill) (17:55:32): I would like to start by acknowledging the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, the traditional owners of this land and the land on which the electorate of Box Hill is located, and I wish to pay my respect to their elders past, present and emerging. I am proud to be standing here today representing the Andrews Labor government—a progressive government that delivers for all Victorians. I am particularly humbled and honoured that the electors of Box Hill have put faith in a Labor government to deliver better health, education, transport and environmental outcomes and have elected me to serve them as their representative in the Victorian Parliament. It is a privilege to serve the community in which I grew up, and I am committed to doing my best to fight for the infrastructure and services that our community needs. Prior to my election the electorate of Box Hill had been held by the former Attorney-General and father of the house, Robert Clark. Robert Clark served the Box Hill community with distinction for 26 years and, before that, the Balwyn community. He made a significant contribution to public life in Victoria and this Parliament. He was a strong advocate for local issues and concerns and was well respected in the community as a man of conviction; whether you agreed with him or not, it was always absolutely clear where he stood. I thank him for his service to the people of Box Hill and for the respect which he showed to me and other candidates during the campaign. I wish him and his family well. I am incredibly fortunate to be standing here before you today. I use the term 'fortunate’ deliberately, although I am not referring to the result of the election on 24 November. I am referring to the story of a brave little boy, barely four years old, similar to the age of my own children, who later recalled the story as follows: We were then hidden in somebody’s house. [The owner] had a … cellar under her lounge room [on top of which sat] a large … cupboard … but there was a gap and somehow … we were [betrayed] and some soldiers came in and one of the guys with us had a grenade and I remember him pulling the pin and then, I presume I fainted because I woke some time later and we had to leave from there because [the owner] wasn’t taking any more risks. Somehow the [soldier] didn’t see this space under the cupboard, the sun got in his eyes or whatever it was, and left, and that night we had to go out and again lived in the forests for some time. This is part of the testimony my father gave to the Holocaust museum about his personal journey of surviving in Poland as a young Jewish boy during the Second World War. My own two children are of a similar age to that of my father and aunt during this period. It is a challenge to keep them quiet for 3 minutes; it is unimaginable how one would keep them quiet for more than three years if they were constantly cold and hungry. How does a child of this age even understand that the slightest of moves, the barest noise, could have resulted in the extinguishment of my entire family in that instant. But through the strength of my father’s family and a lot of good fortune, somehow—miraculously—they survived. So every day that I will walk into this place, as only very few Victorians have been privileged to do, I will remind myself just how fortunate I am—how fortunate I am to be alive, how fortunate I am that after the horrors of the Holocaust it was Australia that gave my family a home, and how fortunate I am that my family chose to settle in the greatest state in Australia. I was not brought up in a political family, and I am the first—and to date still the only—member of my immediate family to join a political party. We were neither working class nor of inherited wealth; we were neither poor nor rich. In the early 1970s Mum and Dad bought their first home in the eastern suburbs, where my sisters and I were raised in a loving environment and where everything was done so that we could be provided with the very best educational opportunities. At home we were encouraged to find our voice by discussing and debating the issues of the day and to challenge conventional thinking. In many ways my story is typical of so many immigrant families who made Australia their home during the postwar boom. We are very lucky to live in a country and a state that has welcomed so many families like mine over the years. In my electorate of Box Hill more than 60 per cent of the population have at least one parent born overseas, more than 40 per cent of the population speak a language other than English at home and residents originate from more than 120 countries. And regardless of whether their families have been here for thousands of years or just a few, their contribution to Victoria culturally, socially and economically has been immense. It is against this background that my political activism was formed—standing up against the racist views of a few who threatened to overwhelm the voices of the many. And in light of events over the past year, including those in the summer just gone, it is now more important than ever that I speak out against the racial and ethnic bigotry that continues to exist in our society and make my voice heard for those who cannot be heard and will not be listened to. When fear is instilled in the community by targeting particular ethnic groups, when the voices of bigotry are encouraged to be heard or when the statements of the white supremacist movements are supported, it is the responsibility of all of us who do not support these views to speak out about who we are and what it is that makes Victoria—and Australia— the great place that it is today. For if we do not, the voice of fear and division will prevail. My concern is not driven by a desire for political correctness, nor by a desire to limit freedom of speech; rather it is driven out of a desire for mutual respect and social cohesion. Targeting individuals on the basis of their race or ethnicity reinforces social barriers. When a group is singled out because of the actions of a few, it is the many who have to bear the bulk of the suffering. Even the casual or throwaway line that relies on negative stereotypes about a person’s race or ethnicity can lead to further marginalisation of already disadvantaged groups. The other big influence in shaping my views has been my professional background. As a profession, engineers are and have always been poorly represented in this Parliament. Since the election of the first Victorian Parliament there have been just 31 members who have had some form of engineering qualification; even fewer have spent the majority of their career prior to entering the Parliament in engineering or a related industry. I believe that it is critical that engineers and others from the science and technology realm become more involved and engaged in politics. Indeed one of my motivating factors for choosing to stand for election was the desire to bring the forensic and analytical skills that I have applied to my working life to help address our state’s biggest challenges. One of these challenges is the provision of transport and jobs in a growing city, particularly to those who live beyond the tram zone. The expansion of Melbourne’s population and the rapid increase in house prices that has occurred over the last few years have forced many new home buyers—particularly those on lower incomes—to areas of metropolitan Melbourne that have fewer job opportunities and poorer connections to the public transport network. Many of these households have little choice but to purchase and use cars to access jobs and maintain a reasonable lifestyle. The cost of running multiple cars, combined with housing costs, puts considerable stress on low‑income households. Contemporary research has identified that low‑income households having a high proportion of their income going to their cars is one of the most prevalent social and economic problems in Australia’s major cities. It is not just housing unaffordability that forces households into car dependency. The rise of the gig economy means that more workers are working multiple precarious jobs, often far from home, rather than commuting to and from one steady job during normal business hours. Shift workers too, particularly those who work in suburban locations, often face limited public transport options at the beginning or end of their day. Almost three-quarters of Melbourne’s jobs are located more than 4 kilometres from the CBD, but the majority of these jobs are located outside large activity centres. To reduce congestion on our roads and our public transport system, minimise our environmental footprint and give people more time with their families we must continue to encourage jobs in suburban locations that can take advantage of current and future planned mass public transport investment. In particular we must maximise the opportunity presented by the Suburban Rail Loop to drive changes in travel behaviour and the desirability of work and study locations. We also need a public transport system that works for all people. This government is delivering the biggest public transport infrastructure program that Victoria has ever seen, with the Metro Tunnel, an upgrade to every regional passenger line and removal of 75 level crossings all ensuring that our radial trips to the city are faster and safer. In the Box Hill electorate this includes the removal of the Union Road and Mont Albert Road level crossings, meaning a level-crossing-free route from Ringwood through to the city. For the residents of Box Hill electorate and the thousands of workers who commute to Box Hill every day the Suburban Rail Loop will be transformational, slashing commute times and linking up major health and education precincts. For the Box Hill interchange in particular the Suburban Rail Loop offers the opportunity to work with the community and stakeholders to reimagine the station precinct to meet future demands. For those trips outside the rail corridors, this government is providing more bus services to more people, but as our population grows we must continue to invest in the services needed to accommodate our dispersed trip patterns. If it is to maintain its ranking at the top of the livability indices, Melbourne at 8 million must aspire to have a grid of high-quality public transport services with a turn-up-and-go timetable so that users can travel anywhere in the metropolitan area no matter how far they live from a rail line. We must not be afraid to challenge existing orthodoxy or adopt new technology if it is to produce sustainable and socially responsible outcomes to meet our future needs. To address challenges such as these and provide our children and grandchildren with the same quality of life as ours, or better, then now more than ever we as a community need to rely on the ingenuity and innovation that those in the science and engineering industry bring. To put us on this pathway this government has invested heavily in STEM programs and initiatives and has transformed our training and TAFE system to support Victorians to develop STEM skills that lead to real jobs and support future industries. While great progress is being made, we must continue to lift students’ proficiency in STEM, ensure that students remain engaged in STEM subjects throughout their primary and secondary schooling and promote the diverse career opportunities that STEM provides. In particular we must continue to grow and retain interest in STEM amongst female students. Too many of the technical roles in my workplaces have been overwhelming dominated by men. It is critical that we continue to encourage the take-up of STEM subjects by both boys and girls in our education system. Our STEM challenge can never be met if we are only targeting part of the population. I would like to conclude by acknowledging the people who have helped me get here today. I would particularly like to thank the member for Eltham for all her support and guidance over the years. I would also like to thank the member for Jagajaga in the federal Parliament and the former Victorian Premier, the Honourable John Cain, for their words of encouragement. Thank you to my campaign team: Peter Chandler, Chris Devers, Chris Hurley, Bernard Shepherd, Melissa Birch, Gerry O’Reilly and a former Speaker of this house, Dr Ken Coghill, and to all the friends and supporters that volunteered during the campaign. I am particularly indebted to the support from the former federal member for Chisholm, Anna Burke, and the President of the other place. Finally, and most importantly, I would like to thank my family. To my wife, Roslyn, you are an amazing person and are the rock that holds our family together; thank you for your tolerance and allowing me to follow this path. To my two little helpers, William and Jacob, you bring so much joy to our lives; our time together is always my favourite time of the week. To Mum and Dad, thank you for always being there for me and for helping me through tough times. And to Michelle, Jess and Brent, thank you for all your support. I love you all very much. Members applauded.