Wednesday, 22 February 2023

Address to Parliament

Governor’s speech


Address to Parliament

Governor’s speech


Debate resumed on motion of Martha Haylett:

That the following address, in reply to the speech of the Governor to both houses of Parliament, be agreed to by this house.


We, the Legislative Assembly of Victoria assembled in Parliament, wish to express our loyalty to our Sovereign and to thank you for the speech which you have made to the Parliament.

Ella GEORGE (Lara) (18:01): I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of this land, the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin nation. I pay my respects to their elders past, present and future. I acknowledge the Wathaurong of the Kulin nation on whose land I live and work. I thank them for their thousands of years of care for this country, its lands and water. Aboriginal land was never ceded. Sovereignty was never ceded. For too long we have ignored our past and the trauma experienced by First Nations people. We must acknowledge it and as a government take real steps to repair the damage that has been done. I acknowledge the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria and their co-chairs, Aunty Geraldine Atkinson and Marcus Stewart. I thank them for the work they are leading on voice, treaty and truth in this state.

Speaker, may I take this opportunity to congratulate you on your re-election and reappointment to your role. I congratulate the Premier and the Labor caucus on a resounding election victory.

It is the honour of my life to stand in this place, and it is an honour to be the first woman representing Geelong’s north in the Legislative Assembly. I pay tribute to John Eren, a giant of our Labor movement and one of Geelong’s most impressive leaders in recent decades. John’s achievements are many. If I were to list them all, I would be here all day. Beyond his achievements, what I think is most remarkable about John is the way he went about his work: he approached politics with empathy, he listened to people and he truly cared. Thank you, John, for your dedicated service to the Lara electorate and the Victorian community. I am so lucky to call you and Geraldine friends, and I wish you all the best for a very happy retirement.

My story, like so many others here, starts with the values that my parents and grandparents taught me. Growing up, my mum Marian was a primary school teacher, and my dad Tim was a ships engineer before changing careers and starting his own catering business. My parents were both proud union members – my mum a member of the Australian Education Union for almost 40 years and my dad a member of the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers. I learned from an early age just how important education is and the role that schools can play as not just a place to learn to read and write but a place for children to grow and thrive, a place for children to be nurtured and encouraged to reach their full potential. From my mum I also heard about children who were less fortunate, kids who did not have the right uniform or who did not bring any lunch to school. I asked my mum why she became a teacher. She told me it was because when she finished school she had a choice: become a teacher or become a nurse, and she picked teaching. I was recently asked by some grade 5 and 6 students what I wanted to be when I grew up when I was their age. I told them that I wanted to be a teacher, not because I only had two choices but because I saw the example my mum set – an incredible teacher who cared so much about the children she taught, who went above and beyond for all of her students. My mum’s passion for public education is something I will bring with me into this job, because every kid, no matter where they grow up, should get a great education. I am so proud to be a part of a Labor government that is committed to education, whether it be kinder, investing in public schools or making TAFE free.

I have fond memories of spending a lot of time with my grandparents as a child while my parents were at work – with my mother’s parents, my nan Margaret and my grandad Harry; and my father’s parents, my grandmother Meg, my grandad Doug and his partner Tess. I learned much from my grandparents, but there is one thing that has really stuck, and that is social justice. Their definition of it was ‘If you can help other people, then you should.’ That sense of purpose was drummed into me by the time I was five years old, and now 30 years on it is a sense of purpose that I take with me every day.

When I first joined the Labor Party I found out that my grandmother Meg had once been a member of the very same branch and had been a Labor Party activist just like me. I was told about how she once danced around a room with a cardboard cut-out of Bob Hawke when he won the federal election. I heard about her community work, establishing an action group on local aged care services and helping vulnerable children.

I also heard from my mother stories about my nan Margaret, including when she in the 1970s voted for Gough Whitlam and Labor. It was not an easy thing to do. Her husband Harry, my grandfather, was a dedicated Liberal Party member and always encouraged her to vote Liberal. But she voted for Gough Whitlam because her values were Labor values. An honest woman, she felt she needed to tell her husband. I like to think she took some pleasure in this confession. When he heard this my grandad moved out of the bedroom for a week. It was the first time my nan had had a bedroom to herself in her whole life, and I am not sure she minded. These strong, selfless and caring women – my mum and my grandmothers – have shaped me. They are women who care deeply for their families and their communities. I will bring the example they set into this role.

Over the past year many people have asked me why I wanted to run for Parliament. I have spent the past few years working in family violence reform in Victoria’s court system. There I saw firsthand the impact that a government can make in an incredibly challenging area of reform. I want to be part of a government doing this important work. For the first time in this state’s history there has been real action on family violence – not just words, but real funding and a real commitment. I commend the Premier for his leadership in this space and commitment to ending violence against women and children. It was an honour to be part of a team implementing Victoria’s first specialist family violence courts. This work has given me an insight into Victoria’s criminal justice system.

I bring a passion for reforming our criminal justice system to this place. I have seen how therapeutic courts – problem-solving courts – can offer a more supported experience of the criminal justice system, support families better and change lives for the better. Labor has demonstrated an immense commitment to therapeutic courts. It is so important that these courts are embedded and expanded across the state so that more people have access to the programs and services that they offer. It is time for bail reform and for our bail laws to differentiate between violent and non-violent offenders, and it is time to raise the age of criminal responsibility. Real reform is challenging. It means accepting truths that are hard to hear. It means listening to people with lived experience, and it means making a commitment to do better. I am proud to be part of a Labor team considering these crucial reforms.

The district of Lara is a beautiful place. The land stretches around the coast from the northern parts of Corio Bay, taking in Limeburners Lagoon, creeks, wetlands and coastal reserves as you head north. Inland, the peaceful Brisbane Ranges are home to Victoria’s richest wildflower habitat. The peaks of Wurdi Youang, which means big hills in Wadawurrung language, puncture the skyline. From the top are endless views over bush, farmland, the suburbs of Geelong and Corio Bay.

Even more spectacular than the country is the community. There is a real sense of community in the north – neighbours who look after one another and care deeply for their towns and neighbourhoods, like the Northshore Sports Club, who will throw their clubroom doors open for anyone; like Northern Futures, a team deeply committed to supporting long-term jobseekers into employment; like the Hazara community, fierce advocates for their friends and family living in Afghanistan; like members of Anakie Community House, ensuring the voices of their small town and tightknit community are heard; and like the school leaders at North Geelong Secondary College, who are so proud of their school community and their classmates’ achievements.

There is deep pride in the communities of the north. It has long been the economic powerhouse of Geelong, with a seaport and an airport, and was once home to one of Australia’s largest car manufacturers. When Ford closed its doors, others thought the north of Geelong would crumble. It did not. Instead, the north has embraced new industries and has huge potential to be a leader in advanced manufacturing in Australia, and this is where the power of a Labor government comes in, with a commitment to investing in the skills, training and jobs of the future.

There are many people who have helped me along the way on my journey to this place. I thank my colleagues, the Deputy Premier and Minister Carroll, for their support during my campaign. I thank the Geelong Labor team; the member for Geelong, Christine Couzens; the member for Bellarine, Alison Marchant; the member for South Barwon, Darren Cheeseman; and a member for Western Victoria in the other place, Gayle Tierney. It is a great team. To Deputy Prime Minister and federal member for Corio Richard Marles, thank you for your friendship and unwavering support. I have learned so much from you over the years, and I look forward to working with you for many years to come in Geelong’s north.

I thank the many volunteers and the Lara branch members for their tireless efforts doorknocking at pre-poll and on election day. I thank my incredible campaign manager, Kelly Toyne and her family, Carey, Saria, Mason and Avery. I thank my wonderful electorate office team James McDonald, Catherine De Luca and Rachael Hynds. I thank the brilliant women who volunteered on my campaign – Sybilla George, Ruth Navidinejad and Bella Conroy – you have the brightest futures ahead of you.

I thank Victorian Labor state secretary Chris Ford, and his team and commend them on a stunning campaign. I thank my wonderful friends – Sam Rae; Noah Carroll; Ashlea Gilmore; Ben Fourniotis, Jett Fogarty; the member for Ripon, Martha Haylett; Zoe Edwards; Sam Lynch; Bassel Tallal; Stephen Conroy; Philip Dalidakis; the member for Narre Warren North, Belinda Wilson; a member for Western Victoria, Jacinta Ermacora; the member for Pascoe Vale, Anthony Cianflone; Jason Chai; Nick Douros; Nathalie Rosales-Cheng; Dean Sherr; Millie Boag; Katherine Munt; Dimity Paul; Sacha Fenton; and Lucien Wells. I thank my old friend Peter Zigouras – a constant source of encouragement.

To my friends at the mighty Transport Workers Union – former secretary and now member for Southern Metropolitan, John Berger; secretary Mike McNess; and my old friend, assistant secretary Mem Suleyman – thank you for your support. Victorian transport workers and all road users are safer because of the work you do.

I thank all the Labor women who have come before me and made this possible for future generations, and in particular I thank Janice Munt, Jenny Lindell and Marsha Thomson.

I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge two people who are no longer with us. Clara Jordan Baird lit up every room she walked into. Her passion was infectious and so was her smile. Clara, every time I see a wattle tree I think of you. Know that you have inspired so many of your friends to do more and to do better. My dear friend Senator Mehmet Tillem left us far too soon. I thought long and hard about what I want to say about Mehmet. The truth is it is hard to capture his spirit. Mehmet was a trailblazer, a leader in his community, someone you wanted on your team because he always had your back. He was the greatest friend you could ask for – intelligent, witty and always with a smile on his face. Mehmet constantly reminded us of why we are all here: to build a better, fairer society for every single Victorian. Mehmet also opened my eyes to an important issue: organ donation. Organ donation can change and save lives, but too few people are registered organ donors. In Mehmet’s memory I will pursue this issue. A passionate man, he loved his city, Melbourne, the Richmond Tigers and the Labor Party. Most of all he loved his family, and he was so proud of his son Mikhail. To his wife Ferda and son Mikhail: thank you for sharing your husband and your dad with us.

I am fortunate to have a wonderful family. I have many aunts, uncles and cousins here today, and I thank them for being here. I thank my partner Alby for his love and belief in me. To my dad Tim: you are my role model in everything in life – our family problem solver. I get my work ethic from you, but you have also taught me the importance of balance. Your kindness and generosity are second to none. To my mum Marian: your wit, humour and love for us all bind us together as a family. I think you are the bravest person I know. You taught me what it means to be a feminist and how to be strong by myself. Thank you for all that you sacrificed for my sister and me. To my sister Maya: you are my best friend. You are the smartest person I know. Thank you for pushing me to be my best day in and day out. You are my moral compass.

As I mentioned earlier, many people asked me why I wanted to run for Parliament. I ran for Parliament to build a stronger, fairer and more inclusive state. I visited St Francis Xavier primary school in Corio recently, where I met a grade 6 student, Dyson, who told me he wanted to be a school leader so he could be the eyes, ears and voice for those in need. I do not think I can put it better myself. To the people in the Lara district: you will always come first. I thank you for trusting in me to represent your voices in Spring Street, and I will work hard every day I am your member of Parliament to deliver for our community.

Members applauded.

Paul HAMER (Box Hill) (18:22): It is a real privilege to come back and return for a second time and deliver an address-in-reply. I must say, just looking around at the audience today, I think I might have had even more distinguished guests arrive this time than for my speech four years ago.

I do want to start with the thankyous because I do want to make sure that I do get through the thankyous and leave plenty of time for our next inaugural speaker. I firstly want to just start by thanking the electors of Box Hill for putting their faith in me for another four years. It is an honour and a privilege for any of us in Parliament to serve our communities. I did not think I would be here the first time, in 2018. I possibly had a little bit more confidence going into 2022, but it is certainly a huge privilege, and I will continue to work every day for the next four years to serve my community with pride.

I want to start my thankyous by thanking my family. None of us can be here without the support of our families. They sacrifice an enormous amount to allow us to serve in this place. To my wife Roslyn: she has achieved enormous amounts in her own career at the same time as raising our two boys. Many times, many nights like this evening, she will be the one who is responsible for putting them to bed and making sure that they have done all their homework, had their dinner and their showers – it is still sometimes a battle when they are only six and nine to make sure that everyone does what they are required to do. She is just an amazing woman. It is amazing what she has been able to achieve; if only I could achieve half as much as she has achieved in her life it would be an amazing success.

To my two beautiful sons: I love every day that I spend with you. Every hour that I am out on the campaign that I do not get to spend with you is time that I miss. It is just wonderful being able to have this time after the election to spend more time cooking with you, going to the cricket matches with you and just playing around and being Dad. It is the most rewarding experience.

To my electorate office staff – my office manager is Antony Kenney. I know many on my side know Antony very well. He is the best office manager that anyone could wish to have. His knowledge of the political system, of campaigns, of strategy, is just second to none. He is just a wonderful, wonderful asset to have in the office. To my other staff Kaeli Zavalianos, Monika Galovic and Jie Fan – what a breadth of experience you bring to our office, each offering a range of special skills that make our office really click together. If you do not have a functional office, it is really difficult to get through a Parliament week and to get through the tasks that are required to service the electorate. In electorates of 50,000 people you need to have fantastic staff and reliable and loyal staff, and all of those fit that bill absolutely.

Can I thank my campaign team. We had a really magnificent campaign team that would not stop. At any hour of the day that we asked them to complete a task, they would do it. You could just delegate a task to them. They would get other people to do it as well. They would bring other volunteers. So my thanks go to Peter Chandler, Kieran Simpson, Melissa Birch, Chris Devers, Oskar Beadell, Ning Yan, Julia Donovan, Maddie Bradford and Jennifer Yang – just a really fantastic team. They know the east like the back of their hand and worked tirelessly, like I said, day and night – it did not matter, really, what hour it was – to make sure that we got the result that we needed.

There are just a few other thankyous. I want to pay tribute to and thank the current member for Chisholm Carina Garland for all her support during the campaign and also the wonderful former member for Chisholm Anna Burke. Anna is a fantastic individual, and no task is too small for her. Notwithstanding her previous role as Speaker of the House of Representatives, if it was a couple of hours – Anna came down on, I think, one of the worst days of weather on the pre-poll. She had a raincoat – she did not have an umbrella – and she was standing there out in the rain, handing out her pamphlets. It did not matter, as I said, that she had 20 years in the federal Parliament. It did not matter. She was there to support her local member, which is just a wonderful tribute to Anna’s commitment to the Labor cause.

Can I also thank all the Box Hill branch ALP members and the Canterbury branch ALP members. Our campaign, as in 2018, was a real grassroots campaign. It drew heavily on our local volunteers, and it was really the work that they did which helped us get over the line. Can I pay special thanks also to the La Trobe Labor Left club. I know how many hours you put in on doorknocking and phone calling into the Box Hill electorate, understanding the issues that really matter to the people of Box Hill. Thanks for all the support that came from the Premier’s office, the Premier in particular and many ministers. I know the minister at the table, Minister D’Ambrosio, came out and helped launch my campaign. She came out a number of times to help support me, and many other ministers did as well. I really thank them for the support I got from the team.

As I said, I do not want to spend too long on my contribution tonight because there are other inaugural speeches here, but I do want to just touch briefly on the conduct of the election. I do want to thank all candidates who put up their name for the election and for nomination. It is a part of our democracy that anyone can put up their name for election, and I thank them for it. Unfortunately we did witness some unsavoury moments during the campaign, particularly at pre-poll. There was quite a lot of hateful and spiteful language that was used, and I want to call out a couple of incidents. At one point in time one of our campaign workers was physically threatened by another campaign worker. There was also a candidate who put out a post on his social media. It was a photo of a poster that I had had at a sporting ground which had been defaced with the word ‘traitor’ and a black mark was scribbled just underneath the nose. He posted that photo and said ‘Accurate’. The real shame is that this person was preference number two on the Liberal how-to-vote ticket.

I think that we need to really consider going forward that while everyone is entitled to stand and voice their opinion, we do need to be thinking about what these candidates stand for and who we should be preferencing. It is all very well to say ‘Put Labor last’, but we do need to be considering what these individuals are standing for. So there are many things that I think I would like to contribute, particularly when the Electoral Matters Committee meets and discusses how future elections might be able to be run, but in the interests of time and the crowd that has gathered I will leave my comments there.

Members applauded.

Belinda WILSON (Narre Warren North) (18:32): I would like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land where we meet today, the Wurundjeri people, and the traditional owners of my electorate Narre Warren North, the Bunurong people, and pay my respects to their elders past and present. In a few months time we will be given the chance to vote for an Indigenous voice to the Commonwealth Parliament, a history-making vote. As Senator Jana Stewart said a few weeks ago in Canberra, this is an incredible opportunity to unify our country, so why wouldn’t we do this? Victoria is well ahead, and I am proud to be part of a government which is working towards treaty.

I stand before the house today delighted to be the first female member for Narre Warren North. I acknowledge the work of former member for Narre Warren North the Honourable Luke Donnellan and his 20 years of service. I wish him well for the future. I am honoured to stand in this chamber with my Labor colleagues and be part of a Labor caucus which has 30 female members out of 71.

Although I am a new member, this place is not new to me. This was my grandfather’s workplace for 15 years. Bill Fogarty was the Labor member for Sunshine from 1973 to 1988 and a proud Labor member for over 50 years. He was also a lifelong trade unionist as the federal secretary for the Cold Storage and Meat Preserving Employees Union. Before he was a politician Grandpa was a signalman in the navy, and his ship was one of the first to arrive in Japan when peace was declared at the end of World War II. He would tell us many stories. One of his favourites was when the ship arrived in Japan to bring the prisoners home. All they wanted to know was who was winning the footy.

He met my grandmother Olive McIntosh, a member of the army, in Sydney, and the rest is history. They were a sight for sore eyes, both in uniform – a photo that is shared often in our family on Anzac and Remembrance days.

Grandpa was one of the lost generations of Labor members who served here during the 27 years that we were in opposition. Narre Warren was then a new and distant outer suburb which would not have dreamed of electing a Labor member. Today the south-east suburbs are the new Labor heartland, and the member for Mulgrave is the first Labor Premier to hold a south-eastern suburbs seat.

A member: Six times.

Belinda WILSON: Six times. My generation of Labor members have the good fortune to serve in a progressive, reforming government, the Andrews Labor government, now in our third term. We follow in the footsteps of great Labor premiers in Cain, Kirner, Bracks and Brumby, and this is not an opportunity that I intend to waste.

My family have deep roots in Victoria. They arrived at various times in Australia on a ship from Ireland and Scotland. They all had unique stories as to why they made their journey – many carpenters and many farmers. My favourite story was of my grandmother’s great-grandfather, who was sent to Australia because he stole a pig to feed his family. My paternal grandmother, Ellen Sheehy, was born and bred in Beulah in the Mallee. She was one of six sisters. They were strong women who all taught me to stand up for myself and for what I believe in, and I am so happy to have known each of them.

My mum and dad will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this September. The girl from the west and the boy from the south-east. When Mum was looking for a house she asked the real estate agent to find her a house as far away from Dad’s footy club as possible. They have both done everything to give my brother Brent and I the best life. My Dad started his business with $300 and a dream to succeed. I have always been taught to work hard, to dream big and to believe that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. I know that my mum and dad have sacrificed many things for Brent and me, and for that I will always be grateful. Dad worked long hours, and Mum always did all the running around to make sure that we did not miss out.

My friends who are not involved in politics have asked me, ‘Why on earth are you wanting to be in that place at 48?’ The answer is very, very simple: I am here to make a difference, to be the voice of my electorate and those that do not have a voice, to be part of policy and advocacy and to continue to get things done – progressively practical things that will improve the lives of the people who sent me here.

I always say that I did not find politics, politics found me. While I could have been involved in politics much earlier in my life due to my family history, it was not until I had kids that I realised the true work of a Labor government. I am a mother of three, I am a wife, and I am a community activist, a former small business operator, a fourth-generation Doggies supporter and, apparently, a feminist. Many years ago my son Ned asked me if I was a feminist, and you may be surprised that I actually answered with a no. My daughter then chimed up and said, ‘Um, I think that you are.’ At the time I did not really understand what feminism was. I thought that a feminist was someone holding a placard and protesting in the streets, which I did not really identify with, but what I have learned is that feminism comes in lots of shapes and sizes. The definition of ‘feminism’ is about all genders having equal rights and opportunities, and it is about respecting diverse women’s experiences, identities, knowledge and strengths and striving to empower all women to realise their full rights. I have come to realise that I am a feminist, and I am really proud of it, and I am thrilled to be in this place to be part of one of the country’s most progressive governments, which is representing all of Victoria.

I have always been a little bit different. From a really early age I was a performer. I have sung, I have danced and I have acted most of my life. I was constantly told as a child to talk less and to stop asking so many questions. Well, I certainly will not be doing that. My curiosity is one of my greatest assets. I try to stand up for what is right, and I will never, ever apologise for that.

When my kids started at the local primary school I took over as the Parents and Friends Association president, and I was on school council for eight years. Our school desperately needed work, and I lobbied both the Liberal and Labor governments to fund our master plan. It was during this process that I met the Honourable Philip Dalidakis, who is here with us today. On my youngest son’s last day at school I received a phone call from Philip to say that Labor was funding our project to the tune of $7.8 million, because Labor gets things done.

I was fortunate enough five years ago to start working in Philip’s electorate office, which for me was life changing. I had found my place, and I had found my people. I met like-minded people who wanted to make change and to advocate, just like me. Philip saw something in me that I did not see myself, and I thank him for giving me my first political job. He was a hard taskmaster, and I had no choice but to learn the ropes very quickly. After a year in state politics I moved on to manage the office of Josh Burns, the federal member for Macnamara, and what a three years we had. We navigated federal politics together in opposition, which is not nearly as fun. We all worked hard, and Josh was re-elected in May last year. I acknowledge Josh in the gallery today.

This is how I came to be here, and what am I here to do? I am here to work for my constituents of Narre Warren North, to speak for them and to deliver for them. As I mentioned earlier, Narre Warren North is not a traditional Labor area, and it really only began to grow in the 1970s. Nestled in the heart of the south-east growth corridor, my electorate includes Hallam, Narre Warren, Narre Warren North, Endeavour Hills and parts of Lysterfield South and Berwick. My electorate has welcomed new residents from many parts of the world, notably Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and India. We are one of the most diverse electorates in the state, something we celebrate. Throughout the campaign I spoke to hundreds, maybe thousands, of people who have chosen to call my electorate home, and I heard so many words of great hardship and courage and a want for a better life for their family and their communities. I was inspired by so many of these stories. They illustrate to me what Labor governments stand for.

I would really like to share one of those stories with you today. I met Qamaria at a local barbecue in Hallam, and she shared with me her incredible journey to Australia with her family. Qamaria studied law in Kabul and is fluent in six languages. Her husband Hameed was a public servant in Afghanistan. They were both civil rights and peace activists when Kabul fell, as well as raising their five daughters. Qamaria’s family became targets of the Taliban and were attacked twice, with Hameed’s car being blown up by an IED.

Since arriving in Australia nearly a year ago Qamaria has dedicated herself to our community. Her self-described love of Australia has driven her to volunteer her time in local women’s refuges and welfare organisations. She has also helped to develop vocational pathway strategies for women from diverse backgrounds in the south-east, has become a motivational speaker and is working with her husband to create a multicultural climate dialogue. Qamaria and Hameed stood up for what they believe at the risk of their own lives and now use their time to give back to our community in so many ways. I am proud to be part of our democratically elected Labor government and to represent such incredible, hardworking, diverse communities, full of amazing stories just like this one. Our government celebrates and prioritises our cultural diversity and has a track record of investing in our communities. I thank Qamaria and Hameed and their daughters for being in the gallery this evening.

None of us find ourselves in this place because of luck. We are here because we want to make a difference to our communities and to our state. We want to be part of policy and advocacy. I have never been prouder than to stand in this chamber with my colleagues and be part of the Labor movement, because we get things done. I would like to acknowledge the Premier and thank him for his support during my campaign. I am honoured to be part of your team, and I am grateful for the opportunities that you have given me so far.

Just before my grandfather passed away he wrote his life story. I have really enjoyed reading recently about my family and his life. He wrote how one of the proudest days was when I was married, but I am sure this moment may just top that. Mama and he are having a sherry up above to celebrate.

I am very big on gratitude, and I am so thankful to so many people. First of all, to my parents Frank and Di and my brother Brent for your constant support through the good and the tough times, I hope today you are proud of what I have achieved. To my husband Willow, thank you for jumping on this crazy life ride with me 27 years ago. Life has not always been easy, with three kids, four dogs and the roller-coaster of life. Without your support I could not do what I do. To Bridie, Kane and Ned, my amazing three kids and my three greatest achievements, I am so proud of each of you. Being your mum is the greatest gift I have ever been given. Live your best life to the fullest. Keep being your authentic selves. Follow your dreams. Life is only just beginning for the three of you.

To Philip, Debra, Asha, Zoe and Benjamin, thank you for your support and encouragement. To Josh Burns and Sam Rae, thank you for the opportunity, for backing me in and for your support. To Stephen Conroy, Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, Mem Suleyman, Michael Donovan, Ari Suss, Julian Hill, Janice Munt, Lee Tarlamis, Ben Carroll, Melissa Horne, Gary Maas, Jo Ryan, Rob Mitchell, Pauline Richards and Michael Galea, thank you. To Chris Ford, Nicola Castleman, Cam Petrie, Lissie Ratclife, Matt McDonald and Declan McGonigle, thank you for an outstanding campaign. To Luke Hilakari and the incredible team at Trades Hall for your support through the campaign, thank you. To Dean Sherr, my first political friend, thank you for your guidance, your friendship and always being my teacher. To Millie Boag, thank you for being by my side and solving the world’s problems. To Bassel Tallal, thank you for always cheering me on and believing in me. To Micky Fisher and Jett Fogarty, thank you for being by my side every step of the way. To Henry Fox, Josh Pelach, James McDonald, Sam Lynch, Ella George, Gab Dawson, Adam Carr and Stephen Morey, thank you.

To my branch members, who worked so hard – to Fergus, Rumaan, Moz, George, Mick, Rahimi, Jack, Hector, Taylah, Jawad, Nisar, Dur Ashna and anyone I have forgotten – thank you. To my campaign team, Matthew Clarke, who arrived from Perth and brought an energy to the campaign when we needed to bring the last few weeks home; to Tara and Brendan from the field team; to Abby Pinskier, Raph Mengem, Micha Bergmoser, Aidan Chu, Ben Chaney and Ben Fourniotis for all your encouragement, support and hard work, thank you. To my campaign manager, Millie Page: what an incredible young woman you are. Your work and commitment to me and to Labor are exceptional, and I could not be here without you.

Finally, to the people of Narre Warren North, thank you for believing in me and knowing that Labor does what matters. This will never change. We will continue to build better schools, better health care and better roads, and we will continue to embrace our multicultural community. I thank the house for giving me this indulgence.

Members applauded.

Natalie SULEYMAN (St Albans – Minister for Veterans, Minister for Small Business, Minister for Youth) (18:53): Thank you, Deputy Speaker. Today I rise to speak on the address-in-reply. First of all, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you in your role as Deputy Speaker, and I wish you all the very best in this term.

It is fantastic and an absolute honour to be here again in 2023 for the 60th Parliament. I congratulate the Premier and of course my parliamentary colleagues for their very successful election. It is also fantastic to see the new faces and welcome them to this place. We have just heard from the member for Lara and of course the member for Narre Warren South, and it was fantastic to hear their first speeches. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to deliver the best outcomes for the St Albans community and for my electorate – and what an agenda we have for the next four years. It is a great opportunity also to thank the people of St Albans, a place that I call home. I was born and raised in the west, and I am very proud of St Albans and to be part of, as I said, the Andrews Labor government.

I want to thank the many, many volunteers that assisted me along my journey, in particular during the election period, from the pre-poll to election day, and the many organisations, community groups and supporters throughout the electorate. Whether it was rain, hail or shine, they were there to support me and the re-election of the Andrews Labor government.

As I said, as a lifelong local I am humbled to be re-elected to this place and most of all to deliver for the St Albans electorate. From the moment that I was elected in 2014, we have not wasted a moment. The first election commitment that we had, and one that is very dear to my heart, was the removal of the dangerous level crossing at Main Road in St Albans. I can tell you that one of the first tasks that we did was to remove that level crossing and also the Furlong Road level crossing. The reason why I speak about the Main Road level crossing is because we saw 16 terrible fatalities at that level crossing. Since our government has removed that level crossing we have seen a community come together, connected. The business community in St Albans is growing and prospering each day, from strength to strength. Today we see a community that is united, is safer and is less congested and, quite frankly, a St Albans that is united as one.

That was one of our most important commitments for the electorate of St Albans, but another was to build the Joan Kirner Women’s and Children’s Hospital. We have absolutely been committed to delivering in education, health, public transport, roads and jobs. I have just talked about the build of the Joan Kirner Women’s and Children’s Hospital, and it has changed the community not only in St Albans but also across the west to actually have the first women’s and children’s hospital placed in St Albans, providing that valuable service but also creating the jobs. Now that particular area has become a health and wellbeing and education precinct. We have seen the building of the Joan Kirner Women’s and Children’s Hospital, and I am looking forward to the next couple of weeks when I will be part of opening the Sunshine Private Hospital, and there is our commitment to investment in Victoria University’s St Albans campus. What we have done in the last eight years when it comes to free TAFE and bringing those programs and courses to the doorsteps of the St Albans community has really opened up and provided opportunities that as I say has really created a buzz in St Albans.

There are many other achievements. Every single special school, from Jackson School to Furlong Park School for Deaf Children, has been funded by our government. These are two important schools that are very special and dear to our hearts, and it is great to see that we are able to provide that rebuild – that important rebuild – for our community.

We have seen every school receive funding. The introduction of the school breakfast program has led to holiday school programs as well, and this has been very popular for families across my electorate of St Albans. It is so important that we provide assistance and support for our families. It could be for whatever reason, but to know that every child will be able to learn without an empty stomach is so important to me. We have also seen our investment in Best Start, Best Life, delivering and investing in kindergarten and childcare programs. This is so important because in March last year the Joan Kirner had its busiest month. We had over 621 babies born and thousands over the year. It gives you an idea of the demand and the growth that we have in the west, and in particular in St Albans.

Business interrupted under sessional orders.