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Anthony CIANFLONE (Pascoe Vale) (16:58): Thank you, Deputy Speaker, and congratulations to you on your appointment and elevation. I congratulate the Speaker on her appointment for this term as well.
I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet, the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin nation, and recognise their continued custodianship and connection to land, water and country. I particularly acknowledge the co-chairs of Victoria’s First Peoples’ Assembly, Aunty Geraldine Atkinson and Marcus Stewart. Here in Victoria we are delivering on the Uluru Statement from the Heart through voice, treaty and truth.
I extend my congratulations to the Premier, the ministry and all Labor members on being elected for a historic third term of the Andrews Labor government, which I am so grateful to be a part of. I commend the Leader of the Opposition on his appointment and extend my very best wishes to all parliamentarians from all sides, who I look forward to working with, particularly the class of 2022.
It is the greatest honour of my life to be standing here in this chamber as the new member for Pascoe Vale, Coburg and parts of Brunswick West. As the son of migrant parents and as a lifelong local of these suburbs, where my wife Anna and I are now raising our own family, it is truly humbling to have been chosen as the community’s representative. As the new local member, first and foremost my priority will be to serve the whole community – every constituent – as best I can, regardless of their political persuasion, background or circumstance. I will be striving to make Pascoe Vale an even better and fairer place to live, learn, work, raise a family and retire in. I am grateful to the local Labor members and the electorate of Pascoe Vale, and I am so proud of the positive local campaign that we ran that brought the community together.
Labor achieved a swing towards us in primary votes at the ballot box, including the highest primary vote across 20 of the 23 election booths. I thank the Victorian Labor Party, which I have been a member of for many years, and the local members for their ongoing support – without you I would not be here. Rarely before has a Victorian Labor government received such a comprehensive third-term endorsement, and even rarer still is it to have so many Labor members sitting on this side of the chamber as well as on that side of the house. This is a rare gift which we must never, ever take for granted and work harder than ever before to build on.
In being elected as the sixth Labor member for Pascoe Vale, I am cognisant of the immense contribution of my predecessors. From the most recent member Lizzie Blandthorn to Christine Campbell and Kelvin Thomson, who all graciously served our community, I thank you for your ongoing counsel and support. To previous members who have represented parts of the area as well – Carlo Carli, Peter Gavin, Tim Read, Tom Roper – thank you all for your service.
It gives me immense pride to represent the suburbs of Pascoe Vale, Coburg and Brunswick West, which have a deep and diverse history. Located on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people, situated between the Moonee Ponds Creek and Merri Creek from Boundary Road to Hope Street, the Pascoe Vale electorate is nestled in the heart of Melbourne’s vibrant northern suburbs. The community has a rich First Nations, multicultural, manufacturing, working-class, industrial, creative, activist history that has helped shape the identity of modern-day Victoria. Just like the bluestone-lined streets, our people are as hardworking and resilient as they come, yet as empathetic as can be.
First settled by migrants seeking refuge from hard times in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales from 1837, the area went on to grow around what has become known as Pentridge prison, an institution older than this state and indeed this Parliament. Since then the area has evolved to capture the very best of what our state has to offer – multiculturalism – with generations of migrants calling Pascoe Vale home, including many of Italian, Greek, Lebanese, Turkish and Maltese heritage. Today almost 50 per cent of local residents have parents who were born overseas. We have a large second-generation community of families, including both my wife and me, and we continue to welcome new generations of migrants from India, China, Nepal, Pakistan and many, many other places.
I became involved in politics because I have long believed that we all play a role in building a better future. I joined Labor because it is the party that fosters aspirations, leaving no-one behind, the party with fairness and equality at its very core, the light on the hill. It has been the policies of Labor governments that have given my family and me the opportunity to be standing in this chamber.
My mum was born in 1946, growing up in the small town of Pianopoli in the province of Catanzaro in Calabria – as was the member for Mill Park – and graduated from primary school, the highest level expected for girls in those days in southern Italy. My dad Pietro was born not far away in Nicastro. Answering the calls originally put out by then Labor Prime Minister Ben Chifley and immigration minister Arthur Calwell, my family migrated to Australia aboard the ships the Galileo Galilei and the Angelina Lauro. Like so many other post-World War II migrants, including my mother-in-law Pauline Owens, who departed Northern Ireland to flee the troubles, or my father-in-law Andreas Chrysanthou, who left his homeland of Cyprus, migrants of that era came with nothing but a suitcase on their backs: a suitcase that was filled with dreams – dreams for a better future, not just for themselves but for their children and their grandchildren. They came with very little in their pockets but a whole lot in their hearts to give to their new country, which was willing to embrace them so enthusiastically.
Over their working lives my parents held numerous blue-collar jobs across the north. My mum sewed and packed dusters, made belts and women’s trousers and served surgeons of the day in the old doctors dining room just around the corner from here at St Vincent’s Hospital. My dad worked as a packer and a bus tyre repair man, followed by stints at Visy and Ford whilst waiting in the evening. My godfather Pietro Pera worked an incredible 40 years at the Ford factory in Broadmeadows.
We were raised in a very modest California bungalow in Jamieson Street, Coburg, where we largely grew up speaking Italian, with very few luxuries but with plenty of love and plenty of homemade pasta sauce. We were as working class as you could get. Along with the support of my parents, it was the safety net sustained by successive Labor governments that provided us with the opportunities we needed to aspire. I was the beneficiary of a good public education, attending Coburg West Primary and Northcote High School, and I was taught by the wonderful teachers who are here in the gallery today: Agatha Blatti, my grade 4 teacher, Helen Anderton and Gary Israel, my former principal.
Whitlam’s and Hawke’s reforms to education gave me the chance to be the first of my family to complete year 12 and then go on to graduate from university at RMIT. When I started my first job in hospitality it was the minimum wage standards and conditions that helped me to stand on my own two feet. When my parents fell on tough times work-wise, and there were plenty, it was the social safety net that provided us the support to get to the next pay cheque. When we got sick it was Medicare that kept us healthy.
Growing up in the northern suburbs during the 1990s I also learned the experience about not having Labor governments in place. As Jeff Kennett pursued the ‘Victoria – on the move’ agenda it was the northern suburbs that wrote the cheque and paid the price through school closures, cuts and sell-offs we will never forget. It was through these experiences that I was inspired to become politically active and community minded. So when our area did not have a dedicated youth hub, I had the opportunity to lead the Oxygen youth centre project, opening Merri-bek’s then first-ever co-located youth centre with youth services. When the Robinson Reserve and Reynard Street Neighbourhood House were experiencing challenges, I had the opportunity to become chair and help revitalise the house to put it back on track. With our community campaign to reopen a years 7 to 12 high school in Coburg – thanks to Cate Hall, who is in the gallery today too – as well as to save Edgars Creek, to stand up for pensioners or to maintain the curfew at Essendon Airport, I had the opportunity to support locals to secure these outcomes.
Work-wise, I have had the privilege to work across all three levels of government, beginning as Kelvin Thomson’s electorate officer and adviser for trade and schools during his parliamentary secretary days. I was then the senior adviser to the former Minister for Tourism and Major Events, Minister for Sport and Minister for Veterans, John Eren, otherwise known as the minister for everything. I also had the pleasure of working in senior advocacy roles at Brimbank council, CPR Communications and Darebin City Council.
But this is also not the first time that I have proudly put up my hand to serve the state. Growing up I was also called on to be the goalkeeper for the Victorian football team – or soccer team in those days – and yes, for the record, before you hear it from anyone else, I was also the 2005 junior Mr Victoria bodybuilding champion. I always knew I would be back to serve the state. Through every role I have gained valuable insights, all of which provide me with the foundations, I hope, to be an effective local member. I am committed to helping build a better community through delivering on job, education, transport, health and social justice outcomes. I have been elected to be a champion for the community.
Every Victorian deserves the security of a job with a decent wage. Victorian Labor has prioritised job creation since 2014, with almost 600,000 new jobs now created and with statewide unemployment now at historically low levels. However, according to North Link’s The Future Workforce: Melbourne’s North report our region will require at least another 182,000 local jobs by 2031 to close the gap between local jobs and resident workers. Despite Merri-bek’s employment, skill and education outcomes having continued to improve over time, around 15 per cent of employed people actually live and work locally – one of the lowest employment self-sufficiency rates for any LGA. I believe we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address these challenges by working towards making Coburg a jobs hub for Melbourne’s north. With Labor’s new world-class stations at Coburg and Moreland, the $17 million new science and tech hub at Coburg High, the $6 million redevelopment of Coburg City Oval and the transformation of Pentridge into a visitor destination, we now have the catalyst projects to begin realising this vision.
As I mentioned, I am the proud product of our local education system, and as a local dad I know just how importantly families value the quality of local kinders and schools. I am very much looking forward to the rollout of free kinder in my community, which is being accompanied by a $10 million investment to upgrade 11 local kinders. I am also very much looking forward to working through the development of a new Merri-bek education plan for the north. This plan will help to ensure we continue to meet the future needs of local secondary students and families, building on the $150 million that Labor has invested into upgrading every local school since 2014.
I am a firm believer that all Victorians deserve access to safe and sustainable transport networks. In this regard I am also proud that it has been a Labor government that has finally removed the dangerous level crossings in Coburg – thank you, Minister – at Moreland, Reynard Street, Munro Street and Bell Street, and that Labor is building the Metro rail tunnel, which will increase the capacity for both the Upfield line and the Craigieburn line. I also welcome the opportunity to advocate, however, for further transport improvements across the community, firstly on the Upfield railway line. While we have committed to the removal of a further eight crossings through Brunswick, opportunities exist for additional improvements along the line which if fully realised can actually become the economic development spine for the whole of the northern corridor. Advocating for improvements along the Craigieburn line will also be a priority of mine. Thirdly, the commissioning of Melbourne’s northern bus review will help us to improve local bus routes and patronage. Fourth, with many young families and elderly residents now living in the area, opportunities to improve road and pedestrian safety as well as accessibility for all commuters will remain a priority. And lastly, as a proud Transport Workers Union member, I will also be focused on ensuring that we as a state continue to elevate our role in how we support and recognise transport, the gig economy and aviation workers.
Our health and wellbeing is paramount. Regardless of the age, background or circumstance, everyone in our community deserves access to quality health care. It is health and community workers that make up the biggest industry that local residents in my area are employed in – almost 14 per cent. Many of these workers are the backbone of our hospitals, social services and med tech sectors across Melbourne. I have doorknocked many of them.
At a local level there are significant opportunities to improve jobs and services for health workers as well as patients, which I welcome the chance to pursue through the delivery of the new Royal Melbourne and Royal Women’s hospitals, upgrades of the Northern and Austin hospitals, and our plans for a new mental health hub in Coburg – finally – partnering with Merri community health. The proposed Coburg health precinct project will create 1000 jobs, and there will be the rollout of free nursing and health studies. Along with more health services our local sporting clubs will also play a big role in preventative health outcomes. Whether it is through the rollout of female-friendly change rooms or other projects, I look forward to working with them.
The environment is fundamental to all life on earth, and real action on the environment is necessary if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Bringing back the SEC will help us to transition our economy to net zero emissions whilst keeping the lights on, businesses going and workers in jobs. Locally I look forward to working on a whole number of opportunities, including protecting and enhancing the Moonee Ponds Creek, Merri Creek and Edgars Creek, improving tree canopy cover across the north and progressing opportunities around the circular economy and recycling as well as incentivising local residents to transition away from gas and support the take-up of electric-powered households, buses and vehicles. I will be committed to building a fairer and more socially just community through all of these and many other priorities. Whether it is mental health, cost of living or family violence, I will always be standing with people.
My journey to this place has been made possible by a village of people over so many years. Firstly I extend my eternal, heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the people of Pascoe Vale for entrusting me to be their local representative. Thank you to the dedicated Labor Pascoe Vale team and the hundreds of local Labor Party members, true believers and volunteers. While there are so many to mention, I would like to give a special thanks to Wayne Swan, Richard Marles, Jana Stewart and John Eren for launching my campaign events. To the La Trobe University and Young Labor activists, to the de facto member for Wills, Mimi Tamburrino, and the many other campaign volunteers, I say thank you. Thank you to the sporting clubs and multicultural community members. A special mention, though, to the Persian Iranian community: your support is appreciated, and I am proud to stand in solidarity with you as you fight for freedom in Iran.
My thanks to the Victorian/Tasmanian branch of the Transport Workers Union, in particular former secretary John Berger, current secretary Mike McNess and assistant secretary Mem Suleyman. Thank you for your friendship and all that you do.
Thank you to all across the Labor movement who have continued to help and support me over the years, including past and current colleagues and community organisations, but namely, Senator Raff Ciccone, Michael Donovan, Sam Rae, Rob Mitchell, Anthony Carbines, Nat Suleyman, Matt Fregon, Sarah Connolly, Ella George, Kelvin Thomson, Christine Campbell, Judy Maddigan, Stephen Conroy, Phil Dalidakis, Maria Vamvakinou and so many others – thank you.
A special thanks of course to my wife and best friend Anna and our daughters Raffaella and Cleopatra for their love and support as I dedicated myself to the campaign and to now serving the community. Thank you for your sacrifices. I love each and every one of you beyond words. Anna is also a successful small business woman in her own right, and she truly inspires me every day. To my parents for all their hard work and sacrifices, to Lorenza, Roberto and Gianluca, and to all of my extended family and friends, many of whom are here or watching online – you know who you are, and I thank you for your lifetime support. And to those who are no longer with us but are watching from the other side of the stars, including my brother-in-law Tom Owens, Senator Mehmet Tillem and others who left us far too soon.
In conclusion, as members of Parliament we are given an honourable opportunity by the people of our electorates to work for the betterment of those that reside in our suburbs – the small business owners, the workers, the families, children, young people, the elderly and the disadvantaged. I thank the people of Pascoe Vale for placing their confidence in me, and I will work every day as hard as I can to do justice to that trust. Now let’s do this, Pascoe Vale!