Tuesday, 20 September 2022


Member for Bellarine

Member for Bellarine

Valedictory statement

Ms NEVILLE (Bellarine) (16:55): Twenty years in 15 minutes—I will do my best not to go over too much. Can I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land we meet on and pay my respects to elders past and present.

The decision to not recontest the seat of Bellarine was a very tough one. Despite being a member of the Labor Party for 35 years, being engaged in student politics and being passionate about politics and communities, I actually did not have a driving ambition to be a member of Parliament. Here we are, 20 years on as an MP, 16 in government, 12 as a minister, four as a shadow minister, and I can truly say that I have loved the journey. It has been a privilege and an honour to have an opportunity to be part of people’s lives. There are very few jobs where you can drive policy, legislation, infrastructure, services, reform—changes that have a lasting impact on our communities. I am still finding it hard to say goodbye. Even in the toughest of times I have loved this job, but you do need to know when it is time to move on, and that is now for me—for health and family reasons particularly—and I am getting to do it on my own terms.

There were certainly times in 2021 when I did not think I would get that chance and thought that Crohn’s would win. I have been lucky that with great medical care over 34 years I have been able to do a pressured job whilst managing this silent autoimmune disease. When it really caught up with me in 2021 it was through great care from my GP, Hugh Seward; my surgeon, Darrin Goodall-Wilson; and my gastroenterologist, Lauren Beswick, that I was able to return to my role as a minister and an MP and that I am able to stand here today. I hope that I can continue to raise awareness of this disease in the years to come.

I never imagined when I won the marginal seat of Bellarine—and there were certainly a couple of times through redistributions that it became even more marginal—that I would go on and win five elections. I thank the communities of Bellarine and the local Labor Party members for their continued support and their belief in me over those years. I had the privilege of working with some of the best people and being part of the lives of so many, helping them with their issues and working with communities to deliver better services and infrastructure. It really was a team effort, and I am now lucky to call so many people across the Bellarine my friends.

Bellarine has a diverse group of communities, as the Premier knows very well, with very different needs and voices. They all required investment in different services and infrastructure, and together we achieved historic funding, from schools to emergency services, new paramedics, surf clubs, sporting and community facilities. I cannot go through the whole list, but I want to touch on some of the highlights: the Drysdale bypass, a road no-one ever thought would be funded; the Portarlington ferry and safe harbour, which have transformed that community; the Queenscliffe Hub and Queenscliff footy and netball facilities; Point Lonsdale Surf Club; Barwon Heads arts hub and footy and netball club; Ocean Grove surf club and tennis club; and Leopold footy, netball, tennis and soccer clubs. You need to go back over my 20 years of Hansard to see the full list.

Of course being a Bellarine MP also meant pushing for critical regional services like health services, rebuilding much of Barwon Health—improved cancer, emergency, aged care and mental health services and the new children’s and women’s service.

The rebuilding of Kardinia Park Stadium, with the final stage almost complete, has been a real highlight—go Cats this weekend!

Members interjecting.

Ms NEVILLE: Never say ‘final’—as was our funding to rebuild the Geelong Arts Centre.

As I said, I was lucky and honoured to be a frontbencher for 16 years, 12 in government as a minister. In my first term as a minister I thanked both Steve Bracks and John Brumby for their faith in me to become the first Minister for Mental Health and to take on the challenging and rewarding portfolios of child protection, disability and aged care. I hope that the first Victorian mental health strategy and the voices of so many who participated in that strategy who had lived experiences ultimately contributed to the establishment of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System that is seeing changes being implemented from the top and the bottom of the system.

The last almost eight years have been some of my most rewarding. I started as Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water and coordinating minister for the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning. Water was a new area for me, including the complexities of the Murray-Darling Basin. I had the first meeting of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority Ministerial Council within the first week. I had a crash course, and from that moment I loved it. Once water gets into your blood, it never leaves you. I had many a South Australian minister yell and swear at me about our position on the basin plan.

I am the longest serving Minister for Water in Victoria. During my time there were some significant reforms that I feel proud of, and I will touch on a couple: achieving over 50 per cent of women on our boards and catchment management authorities and greater diversity across the sector; a new water strategy that saw investment in expanding the water grid right across our state, from Wedderburn down to Korumburra; recreation water; better water market transparency and compliance, leading to integrated water management projects; formal acknowledgement of Aboriginal links to water and undertaking the first return of water to traditional owners; the completion of the Connections Project, with water returned to irrigators and the environment; and of course using desal—the world did not to come to an end, but it is now very much part of our water security.

In May 2016 the position of Minister for Police came up. I remember the call, the subsequent meeting and maybe a glass of wine with the Premier. I do now say I am forever grateful that Daniel saw in me the ability to take on the police portfolio at a very challenging time in terms of law and order. I thank you for that, Daniel, and for your support in that role. I quickly realised that I loved the police portfolio as much as I did water. I am so pleased that I had the opportunity to be both the first female police minister but also the longest serving. Through those six-plus years as minister I was able to deliver as part of the government team long-term service and legislative reform for police; the biggest ever investment of dollars; the biggest ever investment in police numbers; a long-term funding model; investment in equipment, intelligence and people right across the organisation; and new laws and powers for police and PSOs in areas like firearm prohibition orders, counterterrorism and road policing. This was about modernising Victoria Police to ensure it would meet the challenges of the future and drive service delivery transformation from local community policing through to the specialist capabilities to deal with our more challenging crimes and harm.

There were pretty tough times though too—times that made me realise the impact that the job had on so many members. From the Bourke Street attack in 2017 I witnessed not just the grief of those who lost loved ones and that of the broader community but also the impact on our first responders, especially our police. I saw the scars these events left. I also joined with the Victoria Police family to mourn five police officers killed in the line of duty. All of us were reminded of the danger our police face every day. I also saw the strength of the Victoria Police family, looking after each other, often at the worst of times—a true definition of family. Victoria Police, from its executive command and non-sworn members to those members on the ground, is a proud organisation and in my opinion one of Victoria’s finest. It has been a privilege working with them all. I thank Graham Ashton, Shane Patton and their teams and also the Police Association of Victoria.

Following the 2018 election I had laryngitis, but the Premier took the time to ring and ask me to take on the role of emergency services. Of course I could not say no. This is a rewarding, challenging and at times heartbreaking portfolio. Delivering fire services reform and presumptive rights legislation was one of my key tasks, and I am very pleased that we achieved this central and critical reform. Emergency services is a very diverse portfolio, and we invested significantly in all agencies. I learned just the bravery and courage of so many of our emergency services members, and I thank them for their work. Over the course of 12 years as minister I played a role in supporting communities following bushfires, including Black Saturday, Lancefield, Wye River and the recent Black Summer fires. Bushfires ravage not just houses and environments but people’s wellbeing and sometimes lives. During these times I learned firsthand about fear, pain, heartache, resilience and courage from those communities I worked with.

Since those bushfires in 2019–20 we have faced an unprecedented once-in-a-100-year pandemic. As a member of the crisis council of cabinet and the COVID management committee it was a difficult period for all in our community, and the enormity of the decisions we had to consider every day will always stay with me. Every decision made was a result of research, health advice, discussions and feedback from community, health professionals and stakeholders. During my public life it was the most intense of all experiences, and I want to thank my colleagues who were members of those committees. We challenged each other, we challenged decisions and we acted at all times with the needs of Victorians at the forefront of our minds.

I have touched on areas just very lightly—on all I have done over those 20 years, and not everything—but I now need to move on to some thankyous that are so important. To my parents—I lost my mum in 2009, and Dad set me up to be able take on the challenges. To all my Geelong colleagues, we have worked as a team and achieved so much. A special thankyou to Richard Marles and the member for Lara, who encouraged and supported me to run for the seat of Bellarine.

Can I thank the Australian Labor Party and also Labor Unity. We have been a partnership for over half of my life. I want to thank my cabinet and caucus colleagues. It has been an incredible group of people to share this journey with. I want to thank the Premier for his friendship and support well before I even became the member for Bellarine but especially since 2014, when he became leader, and can I thank his office—especially Lissie, Ben and Jessie—for their support.

I thank all my ministerial staff over the years. Many of them are here today. I am not going to be able to name all of you, I am sorry, but I was blessed to have so many great people. I especially want to thank David Griffith, who was my chief of staff for most of the last eight years and in my view is one of the best in government. To Geoff Fraser, who is not here today, but what a gem—it was a joy having you as part of the team. I can see Jane there, who was my water guru as well and taught me much that I needed in my first week particularly.

I want to thank my driver, Cathy Buchanan, who drove me for almost 12 years. We shared so much of our public and personal lives. She was and is part of my family. To my executive assistant, Karen Yeo, thank you for keeping my life on track. Thank you to all my incredible media advisers—too many to name—who were part of helping me manage the challenging issues, but I particularly want to call out Hayley, who I had for nearly eight years in some form or other.

Can I thank my electorate staff over the years. I especially want to thank Kylie Rawson, who has been the most amazing office manager, always ensuring the community got the support they needed. Also thanks to Sharon, Denise, Kim, Parker and all the many others over the years. A special thanks to Sue Spence, who I have known and worked with since 1994. She worked in my electorate office and ministerial office, providing unquestioning support and friendship.

I want to thank Ian Trezise, a Geelong colleague, a friend, a wise counsel and my electorate officer for the last eight years. Who would have thought we would have ended up such close friends? He sadly is unable to be here today as he is having a double heart bypass in the Geelong hospital as we speak. To Joanne Duncan, who I sat next to in my first term and who always claims she taught me everything—I do not recall any of it, which is probably a good thing actually, Jo—your friendship has been so important and helped me manage the ups and downs of the job. My very good friends Gayle, Collette, Vic, Geoff, John, Merri, Harriet, my cousin Louise, Tony and Campbell have heard the good and the bad of the job and have always been by my side. This job can be very lonely; all of those above have made it less so.

I have had the pleasure of working with some incredibly hardworking members of the public service over the 12 years and as a local MP with the local departments. I have enjoyed the debate, the laughs and the work we have done together to put Victorians first and deliver best outcomes, particularly John Bradley, Helen Vaughan and the water team; Rebecca Falkingham, Corri McKenzie and the police team; Emma Cassar; Kate Fitzgerald; and Andrew Crisp. I have learned so much from you.

To the amazing staff of the Parliament—the library, IT, catering, attendants, security, PSOs et cetera—thank you for all you do and the support you provide to us.

I wish Alison Marchant all the best for the upcoming election. I am confident she will represent the communities of Bellarine exceptionally well.

Finally and most importantly to me, I would like to thank my son, Sam. It is hard to believe that when I entered this Parliament 20 years ago he was a little boy—six years old. Today I proudly look at the gallery and he is here supporting me as a mature young man. I am so very proud of him and what he is achieving in his life. He continues to show me the true meaning of compassion, commitment and love and has always made sure I keep my feet firmly on the ground. I thank him for the sacrifices that he has made that have enabled me to embrace my political career. Now is the time for me to repay him with much more of my time, support and attention—whether he likes it or not. In saying that, I do now look forward to the future with my family and good friends and to a different life outside the Parliament. Of course I will continue to contribute in the community in one way or another. Community service has always been and will continue to be very much part of who I am.

In finishing, I wish all my parliamentary colleagues well for the future, those who are retiring and those who will serve in the 60th Parliament—hopefully many more on this side. Despite its critics, when you look around the world, we are fortunate to have such a stable and democratic parliamentary system. For me to have served within it and to have served this state and the community of Bellarine has been an honour and it has been a pleasure. Thank you.

Members applauded.

The SPEAKER: Can I acknowledge a former member for Macedon, Joanne Duncan, in the gallery.