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Legislative Council

05 February 2019
Ingrid Stitt  (ALP)


Ms STITT (Western Metropolitan) (15:44:38): I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet and pay my respect to their elders past, present and emerging. And I acknowledge the important contribution our First Nations peoples continue to make to our state, and I sincerely look forward to treaty becoming a reality. I acknowledge the President of the Legislative Council and congratulate him on his elevation to that role. I acknowledge all members of the Legislative Council, my parliamentary colleagues and my family and friends in the gallery today. Like so many, my Australian story began somewhere else. I come from a long line of travellers. My people hailed from Scotland and Ireland and northern England. My grandparents and great-grandparents were coalminers, itinerant farm workers from Ireland who hand-picked crops in the fields of Scotland, housekeepers to the landed gentry, factory workers and clerks. When your home lacks economic opportunity you find a new home. That is what many of my family members across the generations did. They took a great leap into the unknown to pursue opportunity for themselves and their families and to escape the poverty they were born into. That meant leaving home and travelling to places like Canada, Australia and New Zealand. And so in 1975 as a child I took the journey with my mother from Birmingham, in the depressed midlands of England, to Heathrow Airport. We boarded a Qantas flight and made the long trip to Melbourne. My father was waiting for us at Tullamarine airport having come to Australia the year before for work. It was an emotional reunion for our small family. My eight-year-old memories of Melbourne: the blinding light of the sun and the huge Australian sky; the wonder of the fresh fruit and vegetables in the shops. I thought we had landed in paradise, and I have been grateful to call Australia my home ever since. I have always felt welcome in this country, and I want to see those coming here in much harder circumstances than I did welcomed with that same spirit. On Australia Day this year I had the privilege to witness Brimbank residents from all corners of the globe become Australian citizens. The joy and hope on display that day is the big-hearted, generous and optimistic Australia that I want to be part of. I adapted to Australian life quickly; it was not hard. Even as a young child I could appreciate the cultural differences in Australia. No-one was putting on any airs and graces. There was none of that class snobbery that exists in England, and it felt right. My parents were both gifted artists, but their artistic talents rarely paid our bills. Consequently moving for work was a regular occurrence for our family during my early years in Australia. We never had much money, but what we lacked in material wealth was made up for in many other ways. We travelled. We talked politics, history and geography. My family home was full of books and maps and art from all over the world. I thank my parents for always encouraging me to speak my mind and to think for myself, for instilling in me a strong sense of social justice, for giving me a sense of pride about my working-class background and for encouraging me to look at the big picture and question why things were so and not just passively observe life’s injustices. I am a feminist, a unionist and a worker. From the time I could legally work I did. It gave me my own money, but it also gave me a great sense of myself—a sense of what I could achieve and a sense that I could contribute. Whilst I did okay at school, I did not embrace university life. Work and travel took precedence, and I never did finish that arts degree. I worked in hospitality mostly—physically hard work, long hours and low pay. I often got ripped off and treated poorly, but it was not all bad. I worked for some very decent and hardworking restaurant owners, and I met some brilliant people in my co-workers who I remain friends with today. It was an education on the job. I think it is important as a society to acknowledge that pursuing a tertiary qualification is not for everyone, and people can make an equally valid and worthy contribution via other pathways, be that TAFE, paid or voluntary work. I am incredibly proud of the Andrews Labor government for recognising this and investing heavily in our TAFE system to ensure that people young and old have access to the skills they will need and the skills that we will need as a community going forward. And if education is the great leveller, then a job is the great enabler. In Australia a good steady job once set you up for life. It enabled you to purchase a modest home and provide all the necessities of life. Today that picture is very different. Rising inequality, the fragmentation of work and the insecure nature of many jobs across the economy has seen for many in this country the trashing of the 'fair go’ and the principles of the 'living wage’ uniquely spelt out in the Harvester judgement. If we are to avoid entrenching a US‑style working poor in this country, then the industrial landscape must change. The power imbalance in our system must be reversed and the rules changed to ensure that working people in Australia have stronger rights and greater bargaining power. This is particularly so for women, young workers and other vulnerable workers who are disproportionately represented in work that is undervalued and insecure in nature, and who, because of this, need the restoration of a robust safety net of rights. Twenty-five years of experience as a union official tells me that this power imbalance will not be restored with goodwill or cultural change. It will only be restored by establishing enforceable rights for workers in our laws. I commend the Andrew’s Labor government for taking on important reforms in tackling exploitation in the labour hire industry, for using the government’s purchasing power to promote local employment and local content, and for reforming long service leave arrangements in this state. I look forward to legislation passing this Parliament to further strengthen the rights and safety of all Victorians. A casual admin job at the Victorian Trades Hall Council in my 20s enabled me to join and become involved in my own union, the Australian Services Union. I worked as the Trades Hall receptionist for three years under the leadership of John Halfpenny. Becoming the ASU delegate and having to negotiate with union legend John Halfpenny as my employer was daunting and just a little terrifying. Somehow I managed to hold my own and learn some things along the way. I was employed as an organiser with the ASU in 1993 at a time when Victorian workers were facing some of the worst attacks on their rights in a generation. The union’s secretary of the day, my friend and mentor, Gaye Yuille—a fearless union leader—taught me many early lessons about standing up for our members and never giving up in the face of a much better resourced opponent. My assistant secretary from that time, my friend and colleague Martin Foley, was a tireless advocate for ASU members, and he taught me much about being an effective organiser and the importance of always being accountable back to the union members who we had the honour to represent. This was also the time that I joined the Labor Party, because I understood that there was a direct link between advocating for the industrial interests of ASU members and seeing Labor governments elected that reflected the collective aspirations of working people. For the last 25 years I have had the privilege of representing ASU members across a diverse range of industries, and it has been the greatest honour to have had their support to lead the union for the past 15 years. This has exposed me to businesses, small, medium and large, across the private sector as well as the not‑for‑profit sector and organisations reliant on government or philanthropic funding to operate. I led a union with 70 per cent female membership, predominantly low paid and often working in undervalued occupations and industries. I am proud of what we have achieved collectively through the efforts of so many in my union and that our union has been, and remains, at the forefront of important campaigns, including the ongoing fight for equal pay, including winning groundbreaking provisions to address the disgraceful gender gap in superannuation outcomes for women in Australia; winning paid family violence leave for workers across many industries and campaigning for family violence leave to be a universal right for all workers in the national employment standards; securing flexible work arrangements for predominantly—but not exclusively—women workers so they can remain in the workforce; securing procurement policy outcomes that promote ethical employment of local workers in the service sector; and of course the union‑wide campaign to 'change the rules’ for working people. Over the years there have been many campaigns and disputes that I am old enough to have been involved in, including the fight against WorkChoices; the 10‑year‑long fight to secure the entitlements of thousands of Ansett workers in the aftermath of Australia’s largest corporate collapse—many of those workers were residents of Western Metropolitan Region; and the fight against our members being unilaterally placed on individual contracts or having their jobs contracted out at scores of private sector employers over the years. What is common across all these struggles is the dignity and courage of the workers involved. They inspire me and humble me in equal measure, and I will always stand with them, with my union and with the broader trade union movement. I have lived in the western suburbs of Melbourne for almost 25 years. I moved there seeking affordable housing but found so much more. One of the best things about the west is its people: hardworking, resourceful and engaged in their communities and with inbuilt BS detectors. From the community groups who do such wonderful work in keeping community members connected, to the sporting clubs who do so much more than play sport, to the many people who volunteer, to the many carers across the region—they all display the very best qualities of the community spirit in Melbourne’s west in everything they do. In the west we are proud of our industrial history as the engine room of the state but determined not to be the poor cousins to other regions or Melbourne’s dumping ground. We live in a richly diverse region where 40 per cent of the population of the region were born overseas, representing over 130 different nationalities. Despite recent media attention I have rarely seen racial disharmony in the west. We coexist with so many different cultures, religions and nationalities. I see this diversity as one of the great strengths of Melbourne’s west, and I never want to see particular communities demonised for the sake of political pointscoring. Currently Western Metropolitan Region is home to 835 000 residents. This is projected to grow to 1.8 million by 2050. Two hundred and fifty babies are born in our region every week. Just let that sink in for a moment. This level of growth represents huge challenges for our region, our city and our state. Every one of the people of Melbourne’s west deserves access to world‑class education and health and community services, modern and efficient public transport infrastructure, decent jobs, clean air and green, open spaces to enjoy. I am proud of the work, and record investment to date, by the Andrew’s Labor government in Melbourne’s west, and the election commitments soon to be delivered upon. But there is still more to do. I believe that electoral success comes with a responsibility to use our time here to tackle the disadvantage that exists in parts of our region. This should include continuing the effort to secure decent and sustainable jobs for locals across our region with an eye to the jobs and industries of the future; tackling youth unemployment and disadvantage, particularly where generational unemployment is a factor, and building social inclusion for our young people through education, training, work, sport and other community programs; supporting our recently arrived communities to thrive in Western Metropolitan Region; continuing the important work of the first‑term Andrews government in tackling gender inequality in our society; continuing to invest in measures to prevent family violence and violence against women, including addressing the link between family violence, financial stress, including mortgage and rent stress, or financial control as a form of abuse and violence, problem gambling and drug and alcohol abuse; addressing the rising levels of women’s incarceration rates for what I would describe as crimes of economic and social disadvantage—women prisoners are disproportionately victims of family violence, sexual abuse, financial disadvantage and homelessness; doing more to address homelessness by increasing our social housing stock—there are currently nearly 4000 people in Western Metropolitan Region who are homeless, and this is only those that we know of, and alarmingly 58 per cent of those are women; and ensuring our frontline community services are properly funded and resourced in order to retain those experienced and qualified staff capable of working with these vulnerable Victorians, which is so important; and improving air quality in the west and tackling the illegal dumping and storage of hazardous materials. I am committed to working with my colleagues in this place and the other place on outcomes for our region that address these and other priorities for our community, and in doing so I will always listen to the concerns and aspirations of the people of Western Metropolitan Region. There are a number of people that I would like to thank today, without whom I would not be here. To my comrades in the union movement: thank you to the unions that supported my election—your solidarity, support and friendship mean a lot. Thank you to my union, the Australian Services Union, and the members, delegates, staff and officials. Thank you to the talented and hardworking leadership of the ASU who I have had the privilege to work with over many years and made life-long friendships with: Matt Norrey, David Leydon, Imogen Sturni and Linda White. Thank you to my Labor Party friends and colleagues for their guidance, support and wise counsel: Alan Griffin, Andrew Giles, Lily D’Ambrosio, Jill Hennessy, Kat Hardy, Mat Hilakari and Lee Tarlamis. And thank you to the Labor Party branch members, volunteers and activists who bring their heart and soul to the contest. Particular thanks to Catherine Van Vliet, Louise Persse, Vinayakk Kolaape, Emeline Gaske, Daniel Scoullar and Lori Faroane. I wish to acknowledge the successful campaign effort by the Labor team contesting the lower house in Western Metropolitan Region and thank them for welcoming me. I look forward to working with them, and with my other upper house colleagues, for the next four years. To those MLCs elected to represent Western Metropolitan Region in the upper house: I look forward to working with you constructively in the interests of our community. I would also like to acknowledge and thank former member Khalil Eideh for his contribution to Western Metropolitan Region over his time in the Parliament. To my family, thank you for your love and support: to my dad, who is no longer with us but who I think of daily; to my mum for her love and passion for the things that matter; and to my husband and great love, Matt, who has given me so much, including the opportunity to be a stepmother to Brandon, Dylan and Callum, each of whom I love and have built a strong bond with. To my children, Shauna and Darcy: I love you and could not be prouder of you. You all mean the world to me. And to two very important family members, my beloved and naughty black labradors, Wilbur and Charlie: they are the special glue that binds our large blended family together, and both of them have given us so much joy, love and hilarious moments. Finally, I thank the people of Western Metropolitan Region. I bring to this role my work ethic and my determination to ensure that my time here is focused on their needs, their priorities and their aspirations, and I commit to always be accountable back to them. It is a great honour to be a voice for them in the Parliament. Thank you. Members applauded. Debate interrupted.