Tuesday, 20 September 2022


Member for Altona

Member for Altona

Valedictory statement

Ms HENNESSY (Altona) (17:58): I would like to begin my comments by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land and to pay my respects to their elders past and present.

I am sad and excited to give my valedictory speech, because it was only 13 years ago that I came to this place after I replaced the late, great, wonderful Lynne Kosky. I would just like to acknowledge Jim, her husband, who is with us here tonight as well. Jim, I hope that we have honoured Lynne through the contribution that our government has made not only to Melbourne’s western suburbs but in respect of so many policy issues that I know she deeply cared about.

I also want to thank the good people of Altona for electing me and having confidence in me and for the support of the Altona branch of the Labor Party, many of whom are here tonight as well. Of course my union, the Australian Services Union, has always been a wonderful source of support to me, and I am so delighted to see so many leaders from the Australian Services Union here today.

My journey into parliamentary politics was a bit of a windy one, in a sense. The Labor Party for me has sometimes been like a bit of a bad boyfriend: when I have been really into it, it has been less interested, and when I have moved on with my life, it has come a-knocking. Because I am a super-nerd I joined the party when I was 15 years old. My mum, as an unreconstructed Whitlamite, was very delighted about this. My dad was only bemused because he thought it would relieve him of having to take me to drama lessons—as if I needed those, was his view—but the drama was just to begin. I got involved in the Labor Party, and it has been the most wonderful decision of my life, because that of course took me on a bit of a journey, and that journey involved ending up in what was a pretty crazy office, the office of Alan Griffin. That will be known to many people in this Parliament. It was one of those offices that was fuelled by Alpine cigarettes, fast food and Coke—the drink, I should say, not the white stuff.

But what my experience in that office did other than make me very resilient was bring me into connection with all of these extraordinary people, these amazing community, labour and union activists—I have mentioned some of the wonderful people from the Australian Services Union, and I see the wonderful Dave Leydon and Linda White and Matt Norrey sitting here; our wonderful colleague Minister Stitt; and the member for Albert Park, who was as droll then as he is now. And I met the wonderful Minister for Energy when I became the young president of the Labor Party. She was the assistant secretary then. She was always up for a fight, always across the detail—a skill we see her reflect in every one of her question times, and may there be more power to it. There was the newer, quirkier federal member for Bruce, Julian Hill, who I know has joined us here today. Also there was this man that worked for the Deputy Prime Minister and subsequently kind of joined that office, and he used to slide in like Kramer slides into Seinfeld’s kitchen all the time, talking about Mabo and housing policy, and that man of course is the member for Richmond as well. So to meet all of those extraordinary people through that experience really did change the landscape of my life.

But there was one other person that I met through that office—actually, I did not first meet the Premier in that office, I first met him at a Newman Society function, which is a social group for young Catholics. It turns out that not only is he a much better politician than me, he is a much better Catholic than me.

Mr Andrews interjected.

Ms HENNESSY: There may have been green tins involved.

But what an extraordinary thing to have happen in my life, to have that opportunity to meet those people, to become involved in the Labor Party and to meet such a motley yet wonderful and inspiring group of people. So I am not only just grateful for the opportunity to have made them as friends and as activists, I am so extraordinarily grateful to have had the opportunity to come here and to serve our Premier, to have the opportunity to be in a government that has done so many magnificent things. As a person that has always been really interested in reform, to have the opportunity to come into this place, to get to be the Minister for Health and Minister for Ambulance Services and Minister for Workplace Safety and Attorney-General and to have a government and to serve a leader that is actually seriously up for it—that is the stuff that most young political activists’ dreams are made of. I cannot tell you how grateful I am. I am incredibly grateful for the leadership and the sacrifices of our Premier and those of his family and friends who have to share him so generously. Others have reflected upon how tough this job is, but when you get to see that up close and personal, it is something to behold. It is something that people do not brag about often, but it is an incredible form of service, and it is service to the public interest. I am so deeply grateful for having had the opportunity to serve with our Premier.

Paul Keating, who so many of us love—except the left when we were a bit cross with him about a few things back in the day—said that leadership was about two things, that it was about imagination and courage. To have been part of a government that has been full of such imagination and courage, again, has been one of the great honours of my life. It has meant that we have not just been served by a leader and a cabinet and a caucus but by people of conviction, people who are prepared to go out and argue the case for that sort of reform. They have got the ability to actually see it through and implement it, and I think that that is something that has been incredibly unique.

Reform is really hard, and many of my colleagues have spoken about that today. It is messy, it is multilateral, it is not a simple policy development process. It is often a contest, and it kind of needs to be because otherwise you get cornered into thinking about things in a very limited way. I think one of the hallmarks of this government has been its preparedness to try and think about things in a different way—to try and challenge things, and in a sense, some of the great unforecastable events have meant that we have had to. I think that that will be an incredibly important new step, a new standard, for how we think about policy development, because good policy development needs not only a brilliant public service—and I want to honour and acknowledge the Victorian public service, and particularly those from the justice system and the health system and the regulators that I had a chance to work with—it really involves stories and people and community organising as well, and doing that in partnership and combination with other people. We have had the opportunity and I have had the opportunity to work in partnership with so many wonderful people, and I do just want to call them out because I do not think many of the great reforms that our government has been involved with and associated with would have happened without them, because what they do is bring out the human story and the human face. It is really easy to say no to a proposition for change. You can always find a million problems. But to find a reason to reject the status quo and get to yes is about the urgency of taking action.

I want to particularly call out the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation. Their wonderful secretary is here as well. There is the Victorian Ambulance Union, and I know Danny and Olga are here. The member for Melton I had the chance to work with very, very closely in my tenure as health minister before he had—I do not know; how many was it, Steve?—five retirement parties before he bounced back with a new job the following Monday. Do not put in the first time—that is the trick on the gift.

Mr McGhie interjected.

Ms HENNESSY: And Karen Batt as well and her members and the members of the CPSU that I worked with—without them, I tell you, and without the support and the leadership of our leader and our cabinet, we would not have the first nurse-to-patient ratios as law in this state. We would not have no jab, no play laws and actually have had a government that said, ‘We back science’, back when it was less fashionable to do so. We would not have things like advance care plans into law. We would not have legalised medicinal cannabis or established Safer Care Victoria out of the great horrors of Djerriwarrh. We would not have rights for donor-conceived kids, which the Minister for Police spoke about so movingly just a few weeks ago. We would not have safe access zones, which protect women accessing lawful medical services, as is their right. We would not have had people that had to deal with the really tricky and messy issues associated with the Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants and people doing the hard work to expand the jurisdiction of the Drug Court into the County Court and expand it into country Victoria and saying that we actually believe in second chances and the productive potential of people. I think that that is a very powerful sentiment and one that I also want to acknowledge the member for Morwell spoke about very movingly beforehand.

We also formed a great partnership with Trades Hall, and I want to acknowledge Luke Hilakari and Wil Stracke, who I know is glamming in up on Rhodes, in Greece, at the moment. But without them and their members and without them showcasing the exploitative sorts of work that has been done, we would not have in this state the country’s first wage theft law. We would not have workplace manslaughter laws. We would not have got to be able to do things like ban dry-stone cutting, which is killing so many young men working in manufacturing. We would not have reform around compensation claims to give people early support on mental health and to give people early access to compensation. All of those changes require a coalition of people to not only keep us motivated but also help us take that into that scariest of places, the Legislative Council. I do just want to thank my colleagues in the Legislative Council for all of their great help in trying to bring home many of those reforms.

I also want to acknowledge the voices of victims that have been so incredibly important for us to pursue reforms like the removal of the veil of the confessional when it comes to reporting child abuse and child exploitation, or improving manslaughter accountability and homicide by firearm—all of those offences that are so prevalently used around the abuse of women and children. We would not have banned gay conversion therapy, something that rejects the essence of who people are, and we certainly would not have had important reform around having the state’s first spent conviction scheme, to give people a second chance. We saw that our great brother Uncle Jack last week unfortunately died—one of the great advocates to this government about a spent conviction scheme, and one that was delivered by this government.

Without all of that sort of support we would not have got to deliver another state first, and that was the voluntary assisted dying laws in this state of course. That was a great, fine moment in this Parliament. I want to honour and thank all of the people that told their stories. One of the very sad experiences I now have is that people ring me to tell me they have been approved for a voluntary assisted death, and sometimes their family will contact me after. But they have gratitude for the courage of this government and this Parliament to deliver on that reform. For even those that were not supporters of that reform, for us to be able to come and talk about death so openly and so vulnerably I think was just really a great moment, certainly in my parliamentary experience.

I should also give a shout-out to the Embassy Cafe in Spencer Street. A little aside, when things were looking a bit tricky in the upper house around assisted dying, and it was about 2.30 or nearly 3.00 am in the morning, I was afraid that we were losing some of our yes votes. They were getting tired. Everyone was a bit over it. Things were a bit testy. You know, friends were on different sides of debates. It was very, very challenging. There was no food and I thought, ‘If I can get them some food, I can maybe keep them here’. There was nothing open at 2.00 am so I rang the Embassy Cafe down in Spencer Street and said, ‘Could I please have 200 bucks worth of potato cakes and 100 bucks worth of chips’ and the guy hung up on me. So I rang him back. I had to rock out the old, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’. Of course he did not know who I was. Then when I said, ‘I’m the health minister,’ he’s like, ‘What’s a health minister doing ringing up wanting 200 bucks worth of potato cakes and $100 worth of chips?’. So a credit card fixes most problems, I have learned in a busy life. Money talked and Charlie and I went on down there. He still could not believe it, but we picked up those potato cakes and we took them back. Those that were voting yes got a potato cake, and the rest as they say was history. Oh, there was chicken salt on them as well—we had to keep people thirsty.

When I think about all of those wonderful reforms that our government and our partners and our community have been able to deliver, can I just tell you how delighted I am to have had a seat on those bandwagons. This is a really special time in history. I cannot wait to see what this government continues to do, because my very short tenure in this place has been one that has taken me to all the extraordinary places.

I do just want to acknowledge the women of this Parliament and the women of our government in particular. When I came to this place my mother and Joan Kirner sat in that back corner, and they would just be so delighted to see all of these incredible women in this place. We had three women at the table two sittings ago when the Premier was at national cabinet. We have a cabinet now that has 65 per cent women. That is a really extraordinary and important thing, and that shows I think in the quality of the policy priorities of this place.

I know that when you come to this place sometimes you can feel like an impostor, and I want to say to the women of this Parliament that we are not impostors any more. We have a rightful place. We are representing. I know sometimes people used to mutter the old impostors prayer: give me the confidence of a mediocre man. But women in this Parliament are in leadership positions, in non-traditional—

Mr Andrews interjected.

Ms HENNESSY: I did not look that way.

Mr Andrews: You looked that way, though.

Ms HENNESSY: I sure did. But we are making some extraordinary strides and whilst we need to make sure that we have got better diversity, to serve in a government and when you leave there is 65 per cent women, I will be out in the village really cheering you all on. And it does take a village to survive in this place. I would just like to briefly thank many of the people that have been in my village that have helped me through.

First and foremost if you want to be in politics you not only need a beautiful partner but you also need a wife, and I have had many wives who have helped care for my children, clean my house, do the shopping, life administration—you know, help you when you have forgotten it is dress-up day at school and your children have been dropped off at before-school care in their school uniforms again. So to my mother’s group but also to Sue Henkell, Tess Henkell and Bridget Henkell who have been babysitters of mine throughout the entirety of my time in this Parliament—I acknowledge them because they helped keep our life together.

I also really want to thank some of my staff as well. When I retired from the cabinet I had a chance to acknowledge all of my ministerial staff, in particular my chief of staff Chris McDermott who had been with me from the get-go. But there were also so many people who helped to really keep my life together during that period of time in the electorate office, and again if I could acknowledge Memphis Calzone, John Ballestrino, Amanda Crossin and of course Kyah Monaghan who continues to support me to this day. But in the ministerial office Jane Lawless and Tracey Lanza, Charlie Genovese and Noni Sproule particularly helped me with such extraordinary support. You do need to try and be a human being in this job. You do need people who understand what school holidays are, what doctors and dental appointments mean, and to have people like that around me was a matter of great strength. I know they are going to be really glad that they no longer have to see the ‘password to your email is changing’ day coming, when everyone used to have to put helmets on and get under because of my technology shortcomings.

Two other final thankyous: the help and the support and can I say the cheap champagne counselling of many of my neglected friends has been something that I deeply, deeply valued. To Llewellyn Prain and Claire Burford and Kathleen Riches, who are all here tonight, and to Matty and all of my childhood girls from the hood, the Avila gang, Donna Maree Janes, Suzette Goodwill, Georgina Randall and Marlene ‘Mars’ Fry, thank you for your decades of loyal friendship and in particular for not giving a brass razoo about politics when we would catch up. The extended Hennessy and Dean clan: they have endured my lack of physical and emotional presence. I want to thank them for their love and support, particularly my fun aunties Tricia and Herbie, who are both here tonight. To all of my brothers who in our quirky childhood really guaranteed that I was going to be churned out as a feminist with some resilience: I am very proud of their extraordinary achievements and all of their beautiful families.

Thirteen years ago when I came to this place two little girls were sitting up in the public gallery there and they were in really big trouble. They got told off by the attendants because they were hanging over and yelling out, ‘Hi, mum’. Well, Speaker, I have to tell you that they still disrespect authority, they still break the rules, they are still pushing back and I could not be prouder of them. They are the great joys of my life. I love them dearly. They have endured a lot, as all children of politicians do, but they have also had a front seat at so many exciting moments in our political history. I cannot wait to spend even more time with them as they quiver in fear.

Of course last but not least, my beloved Bernie Dean. We kind of agreed when I came here that my time in this place would be short and impactful. He would have liked it to have been a little shorter and I would have liked it to be a little more impactful. But he is the most patient man in the world. He waited 19 years before I would get married, so he has hung on for that long. I am so very, very grateful for his endurance and his humour. He is smart, he is decent, he is a wonderful cook, he is very patient and he is more earnest and handsome than Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice—just to give you the vibe. I am very much looking forward to spending more time with him.

Can I say to you all: good luck, have fun. I have had an absolute ball, and I will be cheering you on from the sidelines. I am so deeply grateful for having had the opportunity to serve with you all. Adios.

Members applauded.