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12 March 1991 - Current

Page 602
21 February 2019
ASSEMBLY Address-in-reply Gary Maas
Mr MAAS (Narre Warren South) (15:30:32): Thank you, Speaker. It is a tremendous honour and a privilege to stand here today representing the people of Narre Warren South for Labor and in Victoria’s 59th Parliament. In so doing, I also acknowledge the people of the Kulin nations—the traditional owners of the land—and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. Narre Warren South is in Melbourne’s ever-growing outer south-east corridor. It is a multicultural mecca and has been for most, if not all, of its modern history a community that has amongst the highest number in Victoria of residents from a refugee or asylum seeker background and where more than 144 different languages are spoken. It is a strong community, a welcoming community, a community where young families—with many new migrants—work to live and to build better lives for themselves and their future. I am only the third parliamentary member of this electorate and look forward to building on the fine foundational work of my Labor predecessors Judith Graley and Dale Wilson. It is also in this corridor of Melbourne where my journey began. I, in fact, grew up just down the road in Springvale, the Australian‑born son of Sri Lankan migrants. My parents’ journey was made just over 50 years ago with my two older brothers. Though I was not yet born, they chose to leave a country that was very close to a civil war. They did so with uncertainty, but they did so to pursue a better life for their children and for themselves. And they too were welcomed by their new community. So comfortable and integrated in their new emerging and multicultural community, they gave me what they thought was the very Australian name of 'Gary’, and in 1970s suburban Melbourne, quite a hipster name, may I say. My parents both worked hard. They worked a mixture of jobs, from pouring concrete to clerical work, from being cooks to working night shift in textile factories, but they did so under a strong award system that guaranteed their penalty rates and shift loadings. These were permanent jobs, not contractor or casual jobs. Within just a few years, they moved from a rented flat and eventually bought a home in their community—a dream that simply could not be realised in their homeland. I was the direct beneficiary of their vision and hard work. I was fortunate to have an excellent public education at a time of good Labor government policy at both federal and state levels, a time when means‑based funding in education was not questioned, and there was access to university opportunities that I would not have otherwise had. Yes, some inequality still existed, but equitable funding arrangements meant that a migrant kid from the suburbs could go to university if they wanted to and worked hard enough and did not want to be in a lifetime of debt. Sadly, commodified education has been taken to extremes by conservatives, where academics are employed casually, TAFEs and schools are closed to improve an economic bottom line at the expense of our youth and future skills for the state, and insecure workers work second and third jobs just to make ends meet. I stand in this place knowing that my story is part of a much larger Victorian story—whether it be migration, education or equity of access. And it must be said: a fair and equitable Victoria is what you get under Labor, though we must do more to address causes of unacceptable inequality. Now we all have a friend named Dave. My friend Dave I met at kinder more years ago than I care to remember. We attended primary and high school together. I still call him a close friend, and he is here in the gallery today. Dave undertook a teaching degree. He graduated, taught successfully in the public system until, like many mid-career in the profession, he went to put his skill set elsewhere instead. He did well, but he wanted to return to teaching—again, like many in the profession. Five years ago he found a job as a teacher, and this time at a well-known grammar school. The education environment had, however, changed. For his now five years of teaching—teaching regular and systematic hours for most days of the school year and at a school where he works hard, where he is popular and well-known to all staff and students—he is employed on a relief teaching contract with no holiday pay or sick leave and with no pathway to full-time employment at the school he enjoys working at. Dave is not alone, but he does not complain about his predicament. Like so many who are employed in the insecure workforce, and with a family to take care of, he just gets on with it. Now in his sixth year of this form of teaching, he also drives his car for Uber on weekends and on school holidays. Our teachers need good jobs. Our education system needs good teachers in good jobs so that our kids can get the education and access to opportunities they all deserve. We must change the rules so that all workers are respected for the dignified work that they do day in, day out. For the better part of the last 16 years I have been a trade union official at the National Union of Workers (NUW). Each day I represented over 25 000 members in Victoria who built strength for working people and their communities through campaigning, organising and winning. I saw that the hopes and aspirations of people have not changed since I was growing up, but sadly some of the opportunities have. For many, a secure job and/or an affordable home seem unattainable. The use of labour by the labour hire industry has created a class of workers who have grossly inferior rights to directly employed employees. They are vulnerable to exploitation, especially if they are new to the country. There is no security in their employment, even if they are working the equivalent of full-time hours. These workers are employed casually through labour hire or on contract, often on inferior wages with no access to entitlements such as sick leave or annual leave. Often there is no pathway to direct or permanent employment in spite of length of service on site. For many years NUW members campaigned to see change, fighting for labour hire licensing laws in this state. Permanent, direct workers stood together with labour hire employees to demand reforms that meant a fairer deal for workers in all workplaces in Victoria. The NUW fought knowing that labour hire licensing laws would only be one part of the necessary change required in this country to address the growth of insecure work, but it would be a meaningful step in ensuring Victorian workers could have jobs that they could count on. As Victorian secretary of the NUW, I was part of many delegations of members of the union who met with members of Parliament—many of whom are in this place today and I now call colleagues and friends—to talk about why labour hire licensing laws were so important and so needed. I am thrilled that NUW members were listened to and labour hire laws were introduced. It is with great pride that I am now a part of a second-term Andrews Labor government in this state. Indeed I am very proud of the Andrews government’s reform agenda over the past four years with respect to workers rights, which not only saw a labour hire licensing regime introduced to Victoria but also included portable long service leave laws, a Local Jobs First commissioner and a Major Projects Skills Guarantee to encourage and increase secure employment. I am pleased with the government’s reinvestment in our education system, where schools and TAFEs are being reconditioned, newly built or rebuilt for purpose. But we can be, and must be, better. The inequality divide is getting larger. The creation of a Victorian fair jobs code is a step in the right direction. It will ensure that Victorian businesses applying for government contracts or significant industry grants are rewarded if among their legal obligations they also promote secure employment and job security. The introduction of wage theft law into the Crimes Act 1958 to protect systematically underpaid workers will also address this divide. In terms of education, the Andrews Labor government’s investment in the pilot program Ourschool is also helping address inequality through building alumni and mentoring communities in state secondary schools. Whilst private education has recognised and implemented the benefits of alumni development programs in schools for decades, state schools have not had the resources for such programs. Ourschool is a program in which continued investment is worthwhile and something that will help in developing networks for high school students well into their chosen careers. I recently participated in a few of Ourschool’s programs and have seen the tangible benefits and pathways created for state school students. Inequality, however, is not addressed through the existence of pokies machines throughout the suburbs of Melbourne and regional Victoria. It strikes at the heart of electorates that we have long represented, and we need to acknowledge that the time has come to take action. While Narre Warren South has only two pokies venues, $31 million in losses were recorded at those two venues alone in the last financial year—or to put it another way, about $650 for each voter in Narre Warren South. Total losses attributable to pokies gambling are fast approaching the $3 billion mark each year across the state. Losses of this size, in my view, are unsustainable for any civil society. It is simply not fair. But this is where we are now. Aside from being an issue of social isolation and an issue of addiction, this is also a Labor issue, and its breadth, scale and operation needs to be confronted by us all. My journey to this place has been a long one, for me unexpected in many ways, but a pathway provided nonetheless. However, my navigation here has not been a solo effort, and I especially acknowledge the following friends, colleagues and family members for their contribution. To Paul Godfree, my legal mentor in those early years as a lawyer and with whom I worked and was fortunate enough to be articled to, I say thank you. To the members of the Victorian labour movement and all of its constituent parts—the industrial, the political and the administrative—I say thank you. I am so grateful for the life that I have led as a result and so proud to be a small part in something that is so overwhelmingly great and that transforms people’s lives every single day. I have seen it, I live it and I believe it. To that end, I especially thank my National Union of Workers family, who taught me to advocate strongly, to be courageous and strategic, all in equal measure. I especially thank Tim Kennedy for his mentorship and friendship, and a very big thankyou to Susie Allison and Julie Warren too. Any union is only as powerful as its members and the strength, determination, progressive values and solidarity that every NUW member possesses is something very powerful indeed. Thank you to the tens of thousands of members across Victoria who work so hard every day in their workplaces and communities for a fairer society for all. I would like to acknowledge the Victorian Trades Hall Council for the campaigning work they do. The organising efforts of Trades Hall across their sections make a meaningful difference to so many Victorians’ lives and I look forward to continuing to work with you. To my family—my mother, Dawn, and her partner, Rob, and my brothers, Nigel and Randall, I love you all and am so grateful to have you as family. I thank you for all that you have done for me. To my daughters, Audrey and Harriet, who are at the centre of my world, I love you very much, girls. To all of my close friends and family—too numerous to mention—I say thank you for always being there and for being a part of my journey. To my campaign team who strategised, planned and implemented, who reassured me and only occasionally told me to get some sleep, to that end, I would like to thank Sebastian Zwalf, Carina Garland, Steve Staikos, Matt Merry, Paul Thomson and Nikki Hayes. A finer team and bunch of friends I could not ask for. I thank my electorate office staff, Nikki, Myles, James, Amrit, Isabella and Chalo. Thank you for providing your skills and good humour as our new office improves its work mojo each day. A big thankyou to the 'Gary for Narre’ campaign volunteers. You know who you are. And last, but not least, to the people of Narre Warren South, whom I proudly represent, I thank you for accepting me to the community and for your confidence in voting for me. We may not always agree, but I will always do my best for all of us. With all of you I would like to thank them, and with them I thank you. Members applauded.