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Legislative Assembly

24 February 2015
Governor's speech


Ms WARD (Eltham) — I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we stand, the Wurundjeri, and I pay my respects to elders past and present. Speaker, I congratulate you on your elevation. My next-door neighbour, Alex, also left Uruguay in similar circumstances to you and he could not be prouder of you, as we all are.

Politics is important to my family. We come from a working-class background, and issues around fairness, policy rights and wrongs, the importance of unions and the rights of workers dominate many kitchen table discussions. I come from a long line of Labor voters. This is not to say I joined, supported and worked for this party blindly; I have joined, and now represent, this party because of what it stands for.

Like my family and my party, I believe in fairness, I believe in equality and I believe in opportunity. I believe government has a vital role to play in working to achieve fairness in our country and in our state. I believe that governments should work to achieve true equality and ensure that opportunity is available to all who live here. I believe that people have the right to make choices about their lives. As a feminist, the right to choose the course of one's life is central to my beliefs. Where there is inequality, there is a lack of choice, a lack of opportunity and potential is not fulfilled. Inequality — whether in relation to access to work, education or marriage — should not be tolerated.

Sometimes when walking down the front steps of this building I am reminded of my family and where we came from: I only have to look over to the Hotel Windsor. My great-grandfather met my great-grandmother while working at the Windsor. He was a porter and doorman; she was a chambermaid. I am sure my great-grandfather opened doors for many politicians from this place, and I thank the Labor Party and the Premier for opening this door for me.

My great-grandfather was a strong Catholic, Labor man who resisted the split in 1955 and raged with fury against the Democratic Labor Party and Bob Santamaria for weakening the political voice of working men and women. We know this history — this history of men fighting, of men arguing, of men writing our laws. History has traditionally been written by men, for men. In modern times we see history of women slowly emerging. There is still much of women's history, however, which remains unwritten and sadly may never be fully acknowledged.

Only a few weeks ago, my much-loved Nanna passed away after a long fight with Parkinson's disease and associated dementia. I will use this opportunity today to record the history of my nan, June Prendergast, the daughter of the doorman and the chambermaid, for her story is entwined with my own, and her story puts a fire in my belly and forms part of the journey that brought me to the Labor Party. June's story is also one of the reasons I stand here today as the Labor member for Eltham.

A shy girl, my nan met my pop at a servicemen's dance organised by my great-grandfather, who regularly hosted such events. My pop was a charming man, with a lovely singing voice, great dance moves and sparkly blue eyes. June fell in love with Vincent and married a man who would turn out to be a dreamer who could never make his dreams reality. Before many years passed, they found themselves with three girls under five and no permanent income or home. In Jane Austen's words, my grandfather had 'no prospects'. With what I regard as considerable courage, June gave Vincent an ultimatum: sort yourself out or leave. He left.

With heartbreaking determination, June enrolled her two eldest daughters, three and five, into boarding school. The baby lived with June's parents, and June set off to work, her family broken into pieces. Once June learnt that as a deserted wife she was eligible for the widows pension and public housing, she was able to bring her girls home. Through the safety net created by the state, June was reunited permanently with her girls and could raise them together in safety in her care, not the care of strangers. Without the support of the government, my mum and her sisters could have spent years without the direct care of their mother. As you would expect, money was tight with only a pension and supplementary income from casual jobs on a woman's wage. My nan was poor, but not because she was a leaner; she was poor because she was a woman bringing up children on her own.

My mum and her sisters were born too early to benefit from the reforms of the Whitlam government and could not afford to finish high school or go to university. John Howard has said that Whitlam was not the first Prime Minister to provide free university education, using the example of Howard's own commonwealth scholarship, which provided him with access to a free university degree. It is misguided for this former Prime Minister to make that claim. On the outskirts of Melbourne, in places like Fawkner where my mum grew up, very few people knew how to find the money to finish high school, let alone knew that university scholarships even existed.

Thanks to Whitlam, all Australians were given the opportunity to go to university if they had the desire and the ability. What adds to the fire in my belly are the attempts to erode this legacy by the unfair policies proposed by the Abbott government. Like the Labor Party, my mum and dad value education and training and the opportunities they bring. They worked very hard to give these opportunities to my brother and me. Thanks to the reforms of the Whitlam, Hawke and Keating governments, I have benefited from affordable higher education and health care, and my parents' hard work has been rewarded through their participation in superannuation — benefits that many of the hardworking, working-class people before them were never able to enjoy.

In the Labor Party we know that life is not an equal playing field. We know the state needs to assist in creating equality of choice and opportunity. Your ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality, income and identity should not be used to deny you opportunity. I believe we do not have the right to be bigots. We cannot encourage the haters; we must aspire to be better than that. We do not have the right to hurt people. As citizens, as law-makers, as humans we have the responsibility to promote respect, tolerance and acceptance. We have the responsibility to ensure that people do not get left behind.

The Liberal Party has lionised Robert Menzies, our longest serving Prime Minister, who nurtured and embraced his forgotten people, the middle class. For Menzies, the rich had their money, the working class had their unions. He believed it was the middle class who were forgotten and ignored by government; these were the people he looked to represent. With the Abbott government reducing educational opportunities, the state Liberal Party decimation of TAFE, the proposed increased costs to health care and the cuts to family support and the aged pension, it would seem that most of us have been forgotten. I will not forget the people I represent — the hardworking people of the seat of Eltham, who care about community, who want a fair choice when it comes to education and training opportunities and who want support for small business. They are people who want a sound economy that does not leave anyone behind. Having lived in the seat of Eltham for most of my life, I understand what is important to those I am fortunate enough to represent.

The Eltham electorate is filled with amazing people: those who have written our history in books, illustrated it in paintings, built the buildings that have become our history and even created history through the invention of the bionic ear. This electorate has blessed this state with some remarkable politicians. David McKenzie, who served under the Whitlam government and who helped remove the stigma from abortion; the remarkable Pauline Toner, who was our first state female minister; and Sherryl Garbutt, another fantastic minister. Wayne Phillips's passion for basketball has been felt throughout the area.

Of course we have also been represented by the exceptional Steve Herbert, who achieved a great deal for our community over the last 12 years — not a school, sportsground or major road has remained untouched by improvement thanks to Steve's hard work. Steve's dedication has created new bushlands, a new bridge across our Yarra, modernised our train line and rehoused Eltham's Country Fire Authority. He has given me large shoes to fill, which I plan to, as he has taught me well. I know unreservedly that as the Minister for Training and Skills, Steve will do an exceptional job in restoring our decimated TAFE system.

We have Jenny Macklin, who has given us the national disability insurance scheme, who co-created the apology to the stolen generations and who gave our forgotten children the recognition they deserved. With her determination, vision, compassion and hard work, Jenny has well shown how good policy can transform lives for the better. It does not stop there. Here in this place, my friends the member for Yuroke, the member for Ivanhoe, the member for Williamstown and the member for Bulleen all spent some, if not all, of their childhood in this community. It is truly a special electorate to represent.

I understand this community, and I know it well. I understand their aspirations and I understand their challenges: the small business owners who are doing their best but struggle with paperwork and red tape; the teenager living with his nan who has found a safe haven at the Diamond Valley Learning Centre; and the family confronting the challenges of an adult son now confined to a wheelchair. These are just a few examples of the stories I heard last year, just a few of the challenges that people in my community face — challenges that we as lawmakers have to rise to meet. Not all of the things that happen in our lives happen through our choices or actions. Poverty took away some choices from my grandmother. Accidents can take away some of the choices available to people, such as this young man in a wheelchair. When things go wrong, we must step up and help people. We must lean in and support, not step aside and let people fall over.

I am proud to say that in my community we do step up. This can be seen in so many ways. It can be seen in those who donate to and help out at the Diamond Valley Food Share; those who give so much to CAVE — Community and Volunteers of Eltham; the terrific volunteers at our RSLs and the DViets, who always look out for their mates; those in our local Amnesty International group, who care about the plight of refugees and political prisoners; those who stand up for reconciliation with the Nillumbik Reconciliation Group; those who offer assistance through Diamond Valley Community Support; and those who help out at Nillumbik Community Health Service and at Banyule Community Health. It can be seen in our vibrant sports clubs and in our hardworking service clubs, like Eltham Rotary with its fantastic Eltham festival. We see it with the exceptional volunteers and staff at Araluen and in the magic that happens at Eltham Little Theatre. It can be seen in all of our community groups that focus on protecting our environment.

In my electorate we live among gum trees, foliaged hills, copper butterflies, creeks, wallabies and the Yarra River. Our people are passionate about protecting our green wedge — something Victorian Labor well understands, which is why it will legislate to protect these extraordinarily important natural assets. I thank Rupert Hamer for his decision in recognising early the importance of these breathing, living lungs that radiate out of our city.

I understand how important access to education and training is to my community, which is why so many locals were bitterly disappointed, in fact shocked, at the closure of Greensborough TAFE. Thanks to the strong campaign by many MPs, including the members for Bundoora, Ivanhoe and Yan Yean, the former member for Eltham and myself, Labor will reopen Greensborough TAFE and expand the opportunities for local kids and those needing retraining. I thank the Premier for responding to our concerns. It is why Labor will rebuild Montmorency Secondary College and begin the process of rebuilding Greensborough Secondary College. It is why we will build a sporting precinct across the Eltham North Reserve and St Helena Secondary College. I understand local residents' frustration with transport, which is why Labor will increase peak-hour services on the Hurstbridge line and upgrade Bolton Street.

My community wants to feel safe, which is why we will rebuild the Country Fire Authority station at Plenty and issue the CFA at Research with a new pumper tanker. It is why the Andrews government will hold the Royal Commission into Family Violence.

My community understands that we need to work together as a community if we are to succeed. I will quote US Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren, who said:

There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own … You built a factory out there — good for you … You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for … You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea — God bless! But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

Like Elizabeth Warren, I believe in paying it forward; so does the Labor Party, through investing in the future by building the things that matter. We build roads and train lines, we build schools and hospitals, we build fairer communities. You get fairer communities through investing in people, regardless of where they come from or who they are. You get fairness by continuing to pay it forward. You work to cut greenhouse gas emissions, you work to help kids access education and training opportunities and you work to ensure a fair and affordable access to health care.

I stand here now, ready to pay it forward, and in the process of paying it forward I need to acknowledge all those who have supported me. I want to thank my parents, Sue and Bruce, who have been an amazing support to me, for which I am more than grateful. I thank my grandmothers for all that they gave me, which I could never pay back. I thank my brother for his love and companionship, and I thank him and his wife, Bianca, for the amazing work they put in raising my beautiful nephew, Cooper Jess, who faces his own challenges of living with Fragile X syndrome and autism. I thank my friend and mentor Steve Herbert, who has always shown such faith in me; my friend and mentor Jenny Macklin, who has shown me what hard work and patience can achieve. I want to thank our local branch members, who have worked so hard over so many years. I am grateful for all the work local ambos and fireys have put into protecting our community, and I thank them for the new friendships I made last year and for the ongoing kindness and good humour they displayed throughout the campaign.

I want to thank my union, the Community and Public Sector Union, for its support. My parents have always been members of a union, and I happily follow their example, for my parents, like ambos and fireys, are not thugs.

I thank my friend Kosmos and all at the state office for their fantastic campaign. I thank Trades Hall and union members who fought street by street to give our state a better deal and a better government. I want to thank all the volunteers for their hours and hours of work last year. I thank Nicole for her courage in stepping up and absorbing a huge workload with good humour, determination and exceptional organisation. I thank Clare for her perseverance, enthusiasm and fierce commitment. I thank the La Trobe Labor Club for its support of Clare and myself and their exceptional work ethic. I thank Jennie Juchnevicius for decades of hard work and her loyal and long-lasting friendship and support. I thank Joe Battanta for being able to do pretty much everything. I thank my friends Adele, Caz, Dani, Geoff, Greg, Jenny, Olaf and Paul for all they have done for me and my family.

I thank Ann, Antony, Lachlan and Emily for their amazing friendship, loyalty and belief in me. I thank Jason, Janine, Alistair and Catherine for their great support. I thank my neighbouring MPs for their support over the last 12 months as well.

I am blessed to have a wonderful family. I have a family who recognises that, with support, women and mothers can achieve amazing things. I thank my loyal, loving and patient partner, Mark, and our gorgeous and clever girls, Ella and Molly. I love the three of them with all my heart.

I stand here grateful for all that these people have given me, and I promise I will keep paying it forward. Thank you.

Debate interrupted.