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Legislative Assembly

21 February 2019
Meng Heang Tak  (ALP)


Mr TAK (Clarinda) (16:04:22): Thank you, Speaker, and I join with the other honourable members here in congratulating you on your appointment. I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land and pay my respects to their elders, past, present and future. I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor, the former member for Clarinda and former Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Asia Engagement, Mr Hong Lim. His election in 1996, more than 22 years ago, was historic as he was the first Cambodian-born person to be elected to a Parliament anywhere in the English-speaking world. Hong has been a dedicated servant of the people of the Clayton and Clarinda electorates, a mentor and a dear friend. I am sure that the house will join me in expressing appreciation and wishing Hong and his wife, Bopha, an enjoyable and well-deserved retirement. I would like to commend the Premier on an outstanding campaign and resounding victory. This government will be one of positivity and optimism. So it is with great pleasure and pride that I stand here today to deliver my first speech as the member for Clarinda. Our electorate and our community is a truly diverse community and one that I am so proud to represent. From the City of Greater Dandenong to Kingston, Glen Eira to Monash, we encompass people from all walks of life. I am so proud and humbled that the voters of Clarinda have given me the opportunity to be their voice in Parliament, and I will honour that trust. I will be a strong voice for equality, irrespective of race, culture or background. As a Cambodian migrant myself, today means a lot to me. Like so many other migrants that came before me, I started my life here in Clayton South. I remember arriving as a 16-year-old at Tullamarine airport with my parents and siblings, and we were shocked—shocked at how different it was, but also surprised at how welcoming Victoria was, except that I did not see as many kangaroos as I was told I would by my uncle. I started at Westall English Language Centre, and later on attended Heatherhill High School, now known as Keysborough College. I went on to continue my education at university and started working at various jobs, from farm worker to interpreter to SBS broadcaster and later to legal practitioner in my suburb of Springvale. My story is like that of so many migrants who have come to Victoria. One significant example of Victoria’s welcoming spirit was the Enterprise Migrant Hostel on Westall Road in Springvale. The Enterprise provided accommodation and comprehensive settlement services to more than 30 000 migrants and refugees from all over the world between 1970 and 1992. Many of the residents at the Enterprise had escaped from oppressive and brutal regimes, and in some cases genocide. In search of new lives with freedom and opportunity, people fled from Chile, El Salvador, Vietnam, East Timor, Cambodia and many other countries. All were welcomed with open arms. My parents lived through the war in Cambodia and the brutal Khmer Rouge. They survived the Killing Fields, the executions and the starvation, malnutrition and slave labour that killed more than 1.5 million Cambodians. After the Killing Fields it was the civil war that again pushed so many to flee the country. These experiences are the lived experiences of many people in my family and many of my constituents. Our electorate is an example of triumph—triumph in the face of oppression, violence and brutality. As I moved around the electorate during the election campaign I met many of our earlier arrivals—the Greeks, the Italians, the Maltese and older‑generation Australians who have also suffered, during World War II, but who have built a treasured family life with children, grandchildren and great‑grandchildren. I also met many younger families and teens from all backgrounds, some struggling to get by week in and week out, but with determination to succeed. Our electorate is a living, breathing example of how strong, cohesive, vibrant communities can be built when migrants and refugees are warmly welcomed through settlement programs based on support and respect. This is the story of modern Victoria, a vibrant multicultural state, where we welcome people from around the world and we are richer for their contributions. Today we face new challenges. Whilst many of the residents of the Clarinda electorate have assimilated into the Australian way of life, complete with democracy, freedom to associate, an independent press and all of the other fundamental freedoms that we cherish, many of my constituents remain strong advocates for true democracy for their countries of birth. Mrs Be Ha, who is in the gallery, fled from Vietnam by boat and built her new life here. She has made significant contributions to the communities of the south-east, and never fails to speak up against oppression or tyranny. Cr Youhorn Chea, who is also in the gallery, is another Khmer Rouge survivor who has never looked back. His dedication and commitment to community service is truly amazing. Equally amazing is his fierce criticism of the dictatorship of the Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen. More than half of the residents in the Clarinda electorate were born overseas and there are many complex issues facing the communities upon settlement. Depression and stress related to the inability to communicate in English can be overwhelming and can lead to isolation. This impacts heavily on families and children. For those newly arrived, there can be a lack of understanding of schools and social supports available for them, but there is a strong drive to work and to support their children. Migrants and refugees know that only education and hard work will bring them happiness in their new life. I can say this of my own family. My parents sacrificed so much in their early life in Australia, working as farm labourers to provide support for me and my brothers and sister, and ensuring that we took the advantage of public education here. They knew that only education would give us a better life here in Australia. These days there are also particular fears that families hold for their children and young people. During my high school years and later at university, too many times I came to know the struggles of parents who had worked so hard to provide a new life for their children, only to see them lost to alcohol or other drugs. There has also traditionally been a gap in services that work with migrant and refugee communities regarding alcohol and drugs, and in particular mental health support. People from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities are significantly under-represented in treatment systems, yet there are multiple groups at risk in these communities. I am looking forward to the Royal Commission into Mental Health and will commit to working with the government on this very important issue. The same can be said when considering family violence. Family violence is a national crisis. It is pervasive across the country. It is the number one law-and-order issue in Victoria, and the impacts will be felt for generations. Those from CALD communities who experience violence may face significant difficulties: socio-economic disadvantage, language barriers, community pressure and limited knowledge about their rights and Australia’s laws. Cultural values, financial pressures and immigration status add further layers of complexity for many of those experiencing violence. These factors may explain why some of those from CALD backgrounds are less likely to report violence and may find it more difficult to address or escape violence. I am proud to be elected to an Andrews Labor government— a government that gives a fair go for all. We all have a responsibility, and I fully commit myself to working with this government and with the community organisations in my electorate to address the family violence epidemic. It is a huge challenge, but I have been so inspired to hear about the initiatives taking place in our community. I am looking forward to supporting prevention initiatives, behaviour change programs and access to legal assistance. I joined Labor during my time at university because of Labor’s values on social justice. I strongly believe that only Labor will ensure investment in the community legal sector and provide access to affordable justice for all. I am also passionate about representing the elderly members of our community. The older residents of the south-east have made countless contributions to our state’s rich culture, identity and history. In later life everyone should live with dignity and comfort, and families should also have peace of mind that their loved ones are receiving appropriate care. This can be done. I have come across many older residents who are very reluctant to consider residential aged‑care services due to the language and cultural barriers. I believe that we can do this better. Whether we are talking about efficiency in terms of the operation of our schools, hospitals, aged‑care facilities or court system, interpreters are vital. With Victoria’s increasing cultural diversity, interpreters have never been more important. I commend the government for committing the well‑deserved funding to increase the serviceability of interpreters to meet the increasing demand in my electorate and across the state. I am so proud to be part of a government that commits to putting more resources towards our language schools. As a former broadcaster at SBS, I know the importance of community media, ethnic media and community language schools. This is in keeping with the cultures of migrant communities, as well as ensuring that our children can speak the language of their ancestors. This is particularly relevant, as research has shown that people revert to their mother tongue when ageing. I strongly believe in the labour movement, fighting for workers and a fair go for all. It was many years ago now that I also worked as a farm worker. As such, I am also extremely proud to be joining a government that is committed to ending the widespread abuse and exploitation of workers by invisible labour hire bosses. I have seen firsthand the underpayments, the lack of safety standards, the abuse of worker visas and poor working conditions. These are unacceptable, and I look forward to supporting workers in my electorate to exercise their rights, including those new rights now under the Labour Hire Licensing Act 2018. I am also looking forward to working with union and worker organisations to bring the black economy back into the light. It is estimated there are up to 100 000 undocumented workers in Australia, many of them from South‑East Asia, and many of them are working seasonally in Victoria. Calls for a farm worker amnesty are growing, and I echo these calls. We must recognise the injustice that these workers are facing at the hands of dodgy contractors and address the problem with a practical and just solution. In the face of many challenges, often communities turn to their temples, their churches or their mosques. For me, the temple is not only a place of worship but is a place to share food and share language, and a place for learning and culture. Most importantly, it is a place where we belong. For this reason I will endeavour to be a strong voice and a fierce advocate for building and maintaining our multicultural infrastructure and our multicultural hubs. That is what this government is all about, record investment in people and infrastructure, and I am excited and proud to be a part of it. Whether it is the record investment into 100 new schools across the state, free TAFE, level crossing removal projects, or better hospitals—like Australia's first standalone heart hospital, Monash Heart—it is an exciting time to be a Victorian. In the Clarinda electorate we have already started to see the effect of record investment into police at our local level. Since 2016 the four cities which make up my electorate have seen significant reductions in criminal incidents. At this point, Speaker, there is no place for race‑based dog whistling where people, based on their ethnicity, are unfairly victimised. All persons should be judged on their own actions; they should have the presumption of innocence and should not be assumed responsible for the actions of others who happen to belong to the same ethnic group or cultural background. I go out to dinner in Dandenong all the time, and claims from the federal Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Peter Dutton, that people in Dandenong are scared to go out at night is just nonsense. I would like to invite the federal minister to Dandenong to have dinner with me at any time. My standing here today would not be possible without the love and strength and support I have received from so many people. I owe so many. I would like to thank the former Victorian MP, Hong Lim, and his wife, Bopha Lim, for their trust and support, along with Minister Robin Scott, Minister Adem Somyurek and Tim Richardson for their encouragement. To my local federal MPs, Clare O’Neil, Mark Dreyfus and Julian Hill, thank you for your friendship. Thanks to my former colleagues from the Greater Dandenong Council: Cr Youhorn Chea; Cr Roz Blades, AM; Cr Jim Memeti; Cr Loi Truong; Cr Sean O’Reilly; Cr Angela Long; and Cr Geoff Lake. I also thank Nick McLennan, Adam Sullivan, Chap Chow, Daniel Cheng, Tsebin Tchen, Stan Chang, Meng Kong, Sokrin Khun, Tree Keo, Kosal Pen, Sokhen Sam, Kevin Tan, Lina Lue, Thearong Khuth and Vibol Roath, along with the Cambodian Association of Victoria, the Cambodian Chinese Friendship Association of Victoria and the Cambodian Australian Federation—and there are so many others. Thank you for all your support. And to all of those who volunteered countless hours, time and energy on the campaign, especially Australian Labor Party Clarinda branch members Peter Davis, Joel Preston, Lily Zhang, Li Gen, Nancy Yang, Jacky Wei, Tony Zhiang and Marty Mei, my deepest thanks to all of you. To my wife, Manette, and my two boys, Lawson and Mason, I love you. And to our family—Mom, Horn, Hiem, Choun, Lin, Sethy, Manique, Uncle Lieng, Dy and Sineth Sar—thanks for your unwavering love and support. To my parents and parents-in-law, thanks for your unconditional love. Most importantly, thanks to the voters of Clarinda. Clarinda is an electorate of the many voices of our multiculturalism but is, after all, the voice of one—the voice of Victorians. I would like to conclude by saying, in Khmer: ខ្ញុំមិនភ្លេចប្រទេសកំណើត ​ហើយខ្ញុំក៏មិនភ្លេច​​ នូវអំណោយ​ និងឱកាស​ដែលផ្តល់ឱ្យខ្ញុំ​​​​ ដោយប្រទេសដ៏ល្អនេះ In English: 'I will never forget where I come from, nor will I forget the gifts and opportunity given to me by this wonderful country’. Thank you. Members applauded.