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Legislative Assembly

07 March 2023
Kathleen Matthews-Ward  (ALP)


Kathleen MATTHEWS-WARD (Broadmeadows) (18:45): To begin I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we stand on here tonight, the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung. I pay my deepest respects to their elders past and present and First Nations people here tonight, including Sheena Watt and Uncle Andrew Gardiner.

While the Broadmeadows electorate has been my lifelong home, it has been the home of the Wurundjeri for over 60,000 years. Bordered by the Merri Creek to the east and the Moonee Ponds Creek to the west, the electorate includes the suburbs of Campbellfield, Coolaroo, Dallas, Fawkner, Glenroy, Hadfield, Jacana and Oak Park. Respected Wurundjeri elder Uncle Andrew Gardiner passed on to me that it is known as the Moonee Moonee Merri Merri area, after Wurundjeri-willam clansman and head man Moonee Moonee and the waterway which we love so much. At Minister D’Ambrosio’s announcement of the huge new marram baba conservation parklands, which will stretch from Campbellfield to Beveridge along the Merri Creek, Wurundjeri’s Emma Mildenhall spoke of the ancient songlines that run through the electorate. I love the thought of our footsteps and our children’s footsteps following these same ancient paths over our lifetimes.

As the oldest continuing culture on earth, First Nations people are resilient and proud, and I am so proud of Labor’s commitment to voice, treaty, truth and justice at both state and federal levels. Our nation’s truth needs to be told for healing and reconciliation to occur. I thank the first democratically elected body of Aboriginal Victorians, the First Peoples’ Assembly, for the incredible work they have done to progress this important work in Victoria.

I grew up on the steep hillside of the Moonee Ponds Creek valley. It was an idyllic childhood, even if during our games of street cricket half our tennis balls ended up in the creek when we were not quick enough. I would enjoy exploring the creek with my brothers – and the yearly bonfire nights. My husband Joe even proposed to me on the banks of the creek at the Jacana Wetlands, and we scattered our stillborn son Tom’s ashes there over 16 years ago now.

I remember walks along the Merri Creek in Fawkner with my aunties and several of my 42 first cousins. I love being part of a big clan, and I am so honoured to be part of this clan of 71, the fabulous Labor team in the Victorian Parliament. I have had so much support from so many of you, and I thank my comrades here in this chamber and in the other place.

Big families are not uncommon in the Broadmeadows electorate, which ranks the highest in the state for women who have had six or more children. My dad was one of nine Wards who attended St Mark’s primary in Fawkner. His mother helped build the school and church by baking thousands of apple pies to sell at the Sunday cake stalls. My mum Moira was one of 10 O’Sheas, so there is no shortage of aunties, uncles and cousins and no shortage of love and fun – and luckily plenty of hands to help at election time.

Late last year we lost my mother-in-law Nora, who was the toughest, humblest and kindest woman, with a great sense of humour. Nora was raised on a dairy farm in Glenormiston and, like so many country kids, came to find work in Melbourne, where she met my father-in-law Max. During the Second World War, Max served on four ships in the navy and narrowly survived the sinking of the HMAS Canberra in the Pacific. He lost a brother at El Alamein, and another was taken prisoner of war. He carried the effects of this for the remainder of his life, as so many servicepeople do. Max and Nora were dedicated and loving parents and raised four beautiful humans, Andrew, Liz, Maureen and Joe, and I am so lucky to have them in my life.

My grandfather died when my mum was three, leaving my grandma a widow with 10 children in the days when there was no social safety net. Grandma did an incredible job of raising her clan, and I thank the Labor legacy of social welfare so that families do not now suffer, as they did.

My parents Moira and Gary Ward met at work in 1964. Both had left school in their early teens and Mum later went on to study nursing at the Heidelberg repat while Dad was conscripted to the army. Mum was well suited to aged-care nursing, with her compassionate nature and appetite for hard work, but always felt held back by a lack of formal education, so in her 40s she enrolled in a VCE bridging course at Broadmeadows TAFE. Along with her friend Rose, who was living at the Banksia Gardens housing estate, they studied their way through that bridging course whilst raising their young families. They both graduated with social work degrees some years later and have helped so many since. Never underestimate the power of TAFE to transform lives.

Education is my number one priority, and I thank Minister Hutchins and former education minister James Merlino for their support of local capital upgrades and the local education plan. We are also delivering a tech school and building two of the new, affordable government-run childcare centres in Broadmeadows and have invested over $12 million to expand local kinders.

Dad started working at the union just after I was born. Through my childhood I remember him travelling all over the state, working hard to represent members. He was out many evenings at Trades Hall, the commission and the tribunal, but we knew he was doing important work standing up for others and fighting for a better deal for workers.

The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association have always been a big part of my life, and I thank them for their support, especially Michael, Mauro and Dean. We know from our brothers and sisters in the union movement that unity is strength, and I pay tribute to all those who have fought the good fight for workers’ rights and conditions.

Mum and Dad have worked hard all their lives, always giving of themselves and advocating and caring for others. In the last 18 years they have both shown incredible fortitude, since Dad became paralysed in 2005.

In the Catholic tradition they instilled in me a strong sense of social justice and a sense of duty to contribute positively to society. We were raised to stand up when we saw something wrong and speak up for those who were not being heard. The fabulous and dedicated teaching staff at local schools I attended – Corpus Christi Primary, and Sancta Sophia and Geoghegan College, which are now Penola ‍– never hesitated to reinforce this message. It was on a poster outside the school library that I first read the words ‘The pen is mightier than the sword’, which sparked my letter-writing activism as a teenager. I recall being so inspired when Tom Uren spoke to our school on Hiroshima Day. With his incredible capacity for forgiveness and his amazing legacy of service, he ignited my interest in politics.

I became a member of the Glenroy branch of the Labor Party when I was 18, and I recall fascinating discussions between members like Jim, Ilia, Mick, the Purcell brothers, and Wally the electrician, who always had cables hanging out of his pockets. While Labor values of social justice, solidarity and compassion for the vulnerable have always been a part of my life, here I found the platform that could make a difference to many.

In 2000 our local member, Christine Campbell, asked me to work with her. She gave me a masterclass on the true power of advocacy and what can be achieved locally with strong representation. The Premier once said, if he was a constituent, he would most want Christine to be representing him as an MP. Thank you, Christine, for your support and friendship. You inspired me to run for council, and I loved my eight years in local government with some fabulous colleagues. We worked collectively across party lines to get great results. We delivered new and upgraded parks, sporting facilities, neighbourhood houses, libraries and pools and continued to provide quality aged-care services and Meals on Wheels. I have former council colleagues here – Jo Connellan, Alice Pryor and Enver Erdogan – who I would like to acknowledge for their work.

I would like to thank Lizzie Blandthorn for her belief in me when she first asked me to work for her as her policy adviser and for her constant support since. Locally it has been such an honour to open the Glenroy Road level crossing with her, along with Minister Allan and Minister Carroll, and the amazing new community hub along with Minister Stitt.

I also pay tribute to the work and dedication of the former Labor representatives of Broadmeadows that have come before me: Frank McGuire, John Brumby, Jim Kennan, Jack Culpin and John Wilton. I am grateful for the support of Minister Carbines. I really enjoyed working as his adviser and learned so much from him. I have a special place in my heart for Luke Donnellan, a good man and an empowering boss. As his adviser for ageing during the worst of COVID, we went through a lot together.

I loved being part of the ministerial office team with so many fabulous people, including Drew, Jono, Kieran, Jana, Flora, Sandra, Molly, Tim, Jeremy, Angela, Paula and the Becs. I am proud of what we were able to achieve together, with significant investments in public aged care, improved training for palliative care, dementia and oral health, and the expansion of food relief during the pandemic, making sure that those who had no support from the Morrison government – like the temporary protection visa holders and international students – could access state support. During COVID we saw firsthand how dangerous insecure work is, particularly in aged care, and I am very proud of this government’s sick pay guarantee.

The Broadmeadows electorate may not have beautiful beaches or trendy shops, but it has the most wonderful inhabitants in all the world – unassuming, hardworking, generous and unpretentious. It is Josepina walking her shopping jeep down the shops and passing homegrown tomatoes and cucumbers over the fence. It is Jamuna, Rita, Jyoti and Nirajan looking after their mother as she passes on Dashain blessings to the younger generations. It is Birgul and Nilufer collecting donations to send over to earthquake victims in Türkiye and Syria. It is Yvonne, Bec, Roger, Tim and hundreds of others who volunteer their time so our kids can play sport. It is Nadia, Seemab and Saffa catching up at the park every day and supporting other local mums. It is Mariella organising food relief for local families doing it tough. It is Mary and Lou helping to run free meals from St Mark’s and Vaissy rehoming items and building community through the hard rubbish rescue group. It is Molla and Mohamed supporting community members at the mosque on Friday, and it is Eric running his informal support group at the coffee shop in Dallas. I just love the people of the north.

Living in Glenroy I have been part of every wave of migration to Australia since the 1970s and have personally witnessed the richness each culture brings. I love that my kids go to school with kids from over 30 countries who speak more than a dozen different languages, including Arabic, Nepalese, Urdu, Turkish and Assyrian, and that they learned some Sinhalese from our beautiful family day carer Sureka. It is such an honour to represent such a diverse multicultural and multifaith electorate.

With 46 places of worship, faith is an important part of life for over 60 per cent of our locals. For the most part everyone is respectful of each other’s culture and beliefs and the biggest tensions we have locally are over parking. The electorate of Broadmeadows showcases the best of diversity in Australia, and I intend to help keep it this way through dialogue, respect and greater understanding. Local religious leaders play an important role in our communities, and nowhere was this more apparent than during COVID. They stepped up without hesitation to help keep communities informed and safe, and we cannot thank them enough. Central to all the major religions is respect for others and encouragement of the universal human attributes of kindness, generosity and compassion, being part of a collective, something bigger than the individual, and giving many people a sense of purpose, community and belonging. It is these similarities that we should all embrace rather than the differences or the extremes, which feed on hate, polarisation and exclusion. The only antidote is inclusion, celebrating each human and their uniqueness.

My utopia is a world where everyone, no matter their age, ability, culture, religion, sexuality or gender, feels valued, safe and heard and feels a deep sense of belonging. I am so proud to be part of a government where inclusion is at the very core of the values we all hold, and that is where my focus will be – on programs and places that build communities, giving people connection and purpose.

The Broadmeadows electorate has the highest number of people living with disability, a high percentage of people who cannot speak English and over 40,000 people who have not completed year 12. We know that older people, people with a disability and those with low literacy are too often left out of the workforce. Everybody deserves the opportunity for purpose in their life and the dignity of work, and we all need to do more to address this. Their voices should also be heard in our boardrooms, on our councils and in this place. It is not just skilling people up or meeting quotas, it is making all decision-making bodies, institutions and our public services more accessible. In this Parliament we have people from a range of backgrounds – people who grew up in child protection, refugees, First Nations Victorians and family violence survivors – and we know that better decisions are made when different voices are heard.

According to the age discrimination commissioner, ageism remains the most accepted form of prejudice in Australia. And it matters. You might be surprised to hear that men over 85 have the highest rate of suicide in the country. Any person getting to the point of despair, isolation and hopelessness and concluding that suicide is the only answer is a tragedy. The commissioner for senior Victorians also found that over 40 per cent of older people experience loneliness. Loneliness is a growing problem for people of all ages, and there is much we can do. I will work to address transport disadvantage so that everyone can participate fully, especially those who do not drive a car, and will work with all levels of government to improve walking environments, expand community transport and, through the northern bus review, ensure our bus network serves people better.

The digital divide is also creating exclusion and isolation. On average nearly half of people over 70 are not connected and a quarter of people over 50 have limited digital literacy. It is worse for low-income and multicultural communities. One in five households do not access the internet in Broadmeadows. Programs that help people get online, like our recently announced library program for seniors, are fabulous, but we also need to make sure those who are not able to get online have alternative ways to access services and are not discriminated against.

I am proud of Labor’s commitments to the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System and the Royal Commission into Family Violence and the initiatives rolling out across the state, including a new refuge in the north. I just love our investments in the SEC, in kinders, in schools and in TAFE, like the $60 million Health and Community Centre of Excellence at Kangan Institute, which will upskill our next generation of healthcare workers, who give so much of themselves to keep us well and safe. But it was this government’s commitment to special schools that really made my Labor heart sing. Most parents can access after-school care and school holiday programs and can choose to work full-time with four weeks leave, but for families like Kate and Dean with their son Jake and like Nadja and Mark with their son Luca, who both attend Glenroy Specialist School, this choice has not been available. This policy is a life changer for them and for Jake and Luca, and I thank the carers across the state who helped advocate.

There are so many people to thank. So many have been part of my journey, and I express my sincere gratitude and my apologies to anyone I forget. I will start with my hardworking electorate officer team: Sam, Chris, Enass, Sahar, Nathan and Suad, so ably led by the very capable and hardworking Archit. Every day they are helping so many people in the electorate. I also thank the advisers and staff that support us all. We could not do this important work without the hard work, dedication and personal sacrifices you make to serve in government for a better Victoria.

My amazing and dedicated campaign team, led by my good and wise friend Alice Pryor, and the incredible contribution of the Young Labor folk, particularly Disha, Ayra, Luv, Ishita, Mehul, Kevin, Karan, Tarzon, Anurag, Allen, Tvisha, Kunal and Simar. My booth captains, pre-poll stalwarts and early morning helpers: Chris, Greg, Mick, Phil, Michael, Molla, Praveen, Nirajan, Karen, Basem, Zaheer, Ilia, Christine and Kevin and the wonderful Hosseini family. And the unstoppable Hassan Gul and the entire Gul family: Saman, Shaista, Shazad, Ashna, Inshira, Azel and Iniah, whose birthday is today. They helped in so many ways, fed us so often, taught me so much and covered half of Fawkner’s fences with my face.

To all the Labor members and volunteers who helped so much, including Kerrie, Janet, Jenny, Anne, Sue, Helen, Peter, Paul, Habib and so many others, and to all those who have been part of my Labor journey over the last 30 years, including in branches and on policy committees: thank you for keeping the light on the hill burning so brightly. To Enver and the Erdogan family for their support over many years: it is great to be working alongside you again, Minister. Thanks also to Minister Suleyman, Hakki and Mem. To the team at head office, particularly Cam, Kareem, Mikaela, Laura, Oscar and Nicola, who was there to help and advise at any time of day or night. To my friends, the Glenroy crew, and Jo, Liz and Veronica, and the whole Leyden clan, particularly Glenn, who even with terminal cancer was by my side on election day fighting the good fight.

To my wide circle of family: I am the sum of you all. My wonderful sister Liz and brother Dan; Matt and Anna; Sarah and my nieces and nephews, cousins, aunties and uncles; and of course Mum and Dad, for all that you are to me. And my beautiful Joe, who I could call my rock, but being an engineer, he would probably appreciate being called a girder more – the main support beam in any structure, without which I would crumble. Thanks for always having petrol in the car, carrots in the fridge, sangers in the freezer, kids at sport, water on the plants and a warm hug and cup of tea for me and anyone else who needs one. Loved by everyone who knows you, you are quite simply the best, and I am so grateful for all you do for us and so many around you. And my two gorgeous girls, the centre of my universe, even though I am sure it sometimes feels like you are not. I am proud of the kind, strong, resilient, funny and brave young women that you are, and I thank you for your support, your love, your forgiveness when I am home late and for always keeping me humble. I love you both dearly.

Lastly, to the best people on the planet, the warm-hearted people of the Broadmeadows electorate: thank you for the incredible honour of choosing me to be your representative. I will do all I can, every day that I am fortunate enough to be here, to amplify your voices, to make your lives better and to ensure your troubles and your stories are heard, and I will make sure your voices are heard directly too. Whenever I can get you a seat at the table, I will do so.

Members applauded.

Business interrupted under sessional orders.