Wednesday, 31 August 2022


Mr McIntosh


Mr McIntosh

Inaugural speech

Mr McINTOSH (Eastern Victoria) (17:46): Good evening, everybody. It is an incredible honour to stand here before so many colleagues, friends and family in the Victorian Parliament today. I know there are many more watching online due to distance or health or because they are feeding their babies and toddlers in the witching hour at home—good luck to you all. Thank you all for your support.

There are two acknowledgements I want to start with tonight, the first being to the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Wurundjeri people. I pay my respect to their elders past, present and emerging. I also look forward to learning more from our First Nations communities in Eastern Victoria, the Boon Wurrung and Gunnai/Kurnai people. I am particularly interested in understanding and sharing their deep care for country. I cannot pretend to understand the difficulties and trauma that have been suffered by our First Nations people in the last 250 years, but I am proud that the Victorian Parliament is working on a treaty with our First Peoples. I am also willing to do everything in my power to ensure that Australia has a First Nations voice to Parliament.

Secondly, I also want to acknowledge and pay my respects to Jane Garrett and her family. Jane was an incredible talent. I was always in awe of her ability to take in information and in no time develop a thorough understanding of an issue. Jane was kind, caring and personable with everyone she met and was incredibly popular. Jane gave me my first job in government, as her consumer affairs adviser. That was the first door that opened for me in politics, nearly 10 years ago. Now as I transition into this role I thank Jane for all the opportunities she has given me.

Tonight I give my first speech as a member for Eastern Victoria. I start this role with excitement as I now represent a region where the challenges and opportunities align so closely with my passions and my values. In this role I will work tirelessly on mitigating against and adapting to climate change; providing housing for all Victorians; continually improving and protecting mental health; delivering clean energy for our state, a thriving agricultural industry and well-resourced social services; and delivering well-paid, safe jobs across these sectors and more.

My values have been shaped by my lived experiences. I spent my first 18 years on the farm before moving to Ballarat and working as an electrician for the next decade. I then ran my own small business in renewable energy, which led me to Melbourne, and this is when I joined the Labor Party. My dad’s parents were farmers from the Mallee and my mum’s parents lived in Melbourne, where my granddad was a professor of science at Melbourne Uni. Undoubtedly I have been influenced by both sides, but it was Pat and Tom—that is Nanna and Da Tom to me—who were from a long line of Irish-Australian descendants, who influenced my passion for social justice most.

Nanna and Da Tom came from families who had become politically active almost immediately upon migrating, starting at the Eureka Rebellion. Mum is one of seven kids, and with all the grandkids included we would spend every birthday and festive celebration around Nanna and Da Tom’s dining table with conversation dominated by past Labor figures, Labor achievements and of course the Collingwood Football Club. Although Da Tom and my extended family were Labor voters, they were never members of the ALP like some of the generations previous. They were all true believers in social justice, education, supporting refugees and that certain thing leaders like Margaret Thatcher did not believe in: society. Da Tom had the social positions and titles to socialise with whoever he wished, yet he and Nanna lived a modest life. And whilst Da Tom had the title, in the true matriarchal style of the Irish, Nanna ruled the roost. Possessions were not important to Nanna and Da Tom; people were. And whilst their modest life left behind few flashy worldly belongings, the churches at their funerals were full and the deeds of their lives good. The seed of social justice had been sown in me from a young age. I knew I wanted to act on my passion for social justice, but what that looked like I did not know.

When I finished school, still 17 and living with Mum and my siblings in a rental house, uni never even crossed my mind. I did my apprenticeship through Ballarat TAFE, and over the next 10 years work took me all over Victoria and Australia. Unionism has always been in my blood, and I am proud to be joined by so many unionists here tonight, particularly the large turnouts from the CFMEU; the Rail, Tram and Bus Union; the Health and Community Services Union; and the historic Maritime Union of Australia. I joined the union upon starting work because I wanted to pay respect to those who came before me and fought for everything that led to the privilege of my pay and conditions. Much like our First Nations people live as custodians of the land, I believe workers are custodians of workers rights, and although fortunately our battles today are not on the battlefield like my family’s at Eureka, they are still critically important.

The CFMEU has saved my life at least once that I know of, and I am eternally grateful. Though I was a passionate ETU member, their size meant I only met an organiser a couple of times in my decade on the tools, but the CFMEU were always present. Every job they were there—every day, every hour. As a young bloke I did not want to wear a hard hat, much like I do not really want to wear a tie in here. But what I did not realise at the time was the big, burly shop stewards who patrolled the sites were keeping me safe.

In my second year on the tools we were building a Bunnings in Bayswater. Rocky would yell at me to put my hard hat on, and I would try to sneak around him like I was still at school. One day whilst digging trenches alongside a 20-tonne excavator we came alongside some temp fencing. The driver tried to move it with his bucket, but it would not budge. I went in and tried to free it while the bucket pushed. Suddenly it was free, and when I was bent over, the six-foot metal fence smashed into my head. I was sent flying, and the tattooed excavator driver who rarely gave a smile or emotion leapt out of the cab to check on me in panic. If it had not been for the CFMEU presence on that site and my hard hat, I would have been severely injured or killed.

Alternatively, when I returned from travel in 2006 and construction was quiet, I went to a large mine site in outback New South Wales where there was no union presence. On my last day, a 30-minute drive and vertical 2-kilometre drop underground, I was checking a switchboard whilst working on my own and accidentally came in contact with a metal lug that had not been insulated properly. I copped 600 volts and was thrown back on the concrete pad I was working on. Had I stuck to the copper I would have been fried. Had I gone back another 2 feet I would have fallen backwards 2 metres onto a pitch-black road where dump trucks were crossing. That lug should have been insulated, I probably should not have been on my own and there should have been guardrails on that work platform. I was lucky, but so many are not.

Injuries and deaths are simply not stats. They devastate families and traumatise co-workers. Imagine being at work, unexpectedly witnessing someone being electrocuted, cut in half or crushed and left in a pool of their own blood. We must never take our focus off safety, as the cost is far too dear.

We need skilled trades, well-paid trades and safe trades. We want projects built well. We want the wages to support families, communities and our economy, and we want those families to receive their workers home safe at the end of a shift.

I was recently speaking to a young Colombian woman whose Colombian husband is a construction worker here, and upon asking her her thoughts of Australia, her reply was, ‘I love how equal it is—that someone without a degree can earn good money’. And that says it all for me.

We need people—many people—in this place with degrees, but we also need people from other walks of life. I am proud that I am here without a degree and as an equal member of this Parliament. For years I struggled to capture my values in a sentence—I mean, what is social justice?—until a mate crystallised it for me over a beer: it is equality. And everything I will do in this place will strive for it.

All workers deserve fair pay and safe conditions, particularly women. We have a pay gap that must be closed. The consequence is a whole generation of women my mum’s age who are living in poverty around Australia and the world through no fault of their own. Many have raised families and given their all and for whatever reason find themselves on their own with no super and little income. We must do all we can for these women. Many still care for the generation above them and frequently two generations below them. In an equal society they deserve to live in dignity.

A secure home is the foundation of a dignified life. Mum had just enough money to get a mortgage for a house. It was small and had been owned by a hermit. It had tuna oil all over the benches, and the house stank. We pulled up the carpet, painted the walls and made it a home. A home is a buffer from the stormy seas of life, and I am committed to ensuring Victorians own or live in safe, secure and affordable housing. A home is where so much of a person’s and family’s dignity stems from, and it also becomes a base of equity for generations to come.

I want to take this opportunity to thank my mum. I do not know if you can all see her; she is down the front there. She has done so much for us kids and, like so many women, gives everything of herself at the expense of her own comfort. Three years ago Mum spent a month in hospital following pneumonia and sepsis. Last year Mum battled and overcame a serious bowel cancer, and just last week Mum had a breast cancer removed, only getting out of hospital 48 hours ago. She travelled to Melbourne today and is in a wheelchair here tonight. She has made it here against all the odds. Can I please have a round of applause for Mum.

Members applauded.

Mr McINTOSH: Many face hardship in our community. After working for Jane, I led policy and campaigns for the Financial and Consumer Rights Council, the peak body for financial counsellors. These incredible workers help people in the most severe financial hardship to find a path out of seemingly hopeless situations and towards a life of financial stability. We must ensure those support workers themselves are paid fairly, that they are not in a position of financial vulnerability and that companies dealing with Victorian consumers all provide fair hardship programs.

We have progressed on social issues that contribute to equality so much in recent years. Looking back, growing up in Victoria many minorities were almost second-class citizens. Whether casually or overtly, as men we were often sexist, homophobic, racist and violent, and we still have a lot to improve. It took brave people suffering marginalisation to stand up and call these behaviours out, and whilst they should continue to do so, the responsibility lies at the feet of men to continue to change. My beloved workers club pub footy team is a great example of this change. It has turned from an all-male team a decade ago to a fully mixed team today where everyone can be whoever they want to be, and it is amazing. We get fit, have a lot of fun and build incredible friendships. What is not to like? When I was 21 I did not know one openly gay person and was threatened by the idea. Now my life is full of so many wonderful people whose sexuality does not cross my mind, and many are here tonight. We still have a long way to go, but I believe if men are supported to understand the importance of change and be their best selves, we will all benefit.

Like many, I suffered violence growing up in Victoria, and I want to see a Victoria free from violence. It may seem impossible, but even since I was a kid regular brawls at the AFL—in the crowds, that is, at the MCG—have become a thing of the past. With buy-in across our community I think we can constantly improve and reduce violence. This will help improve mental health and substance abuse. I have buried far too many mates for my age. My close friends who I lived, travelled and partied with—Maxi, Dolts, Pete, Mick, Torps and Quicky—are all no longer with us, and guys I knew through school, work, family and friends, Shaun, Basher and Ozzie, are all gone well before their time. I am sure many of them would still be with us if we were better at talking about health, particularly mental health, and practically supporting those doing it tough.

So many of our society’s ills start with men and their violence. I believe that if we dig beneath the surface we will find that the mental health problems, violence and trauma men have experienced are often at the heart of their own aggression, intolerance and violence. It is a vicious circle that has to stop, because trauma is intergenerational; it affects not just individuals but families and gradually our communities as well. Having lived in Ballarat I am acutely aware of its impacts. I have seen alcohol and drugs used as a response to trauma ultimately destroy and take lives. On my very first job, before I went to union sites, good but broken guys I worked with shot up speed from a teaspoon and a lighter in our lunchbreaks, only to end up in jail for burglaries later on. I consider myself fortunate that I drew a line at alcohol and declined the needles. When I was 15 my dad’s sister died of a heroin overdose, and I decided from that point to stay away from addictive drugs altogether, even coffee. Now you know why I do not drink coffee.

I admire my cousin, who is watching at home tonight. After being in and out of different care much of her life, following her mum’s death she settled with an incredible foster family and has gone on to have four boys with her husband—the last birth a set of twins—all of whom are under six. She works shift work in aged care whilst raising the four boys and takes it all in her stride. It is a testament to her will but also the people and the system who have supported her along the way.

Watching Madeleine’s journey inspired me to become a foster carer, and with my partner we opened our home to provide emergency care to teenagers. People ask what it was like, and truly the kids were all kind, considerate and a joy to be around. I will always advocate for anyone with the opportunity to provide crisis or ongoing care to lean in and consider it in detail. My only regret was not being able to provide more support to the one kid who was really on a dangerous path—a 15-year-old who had dropped out of school and was following in his two uncles’ footsteps as the leader of a youth gang. When he arrived with us he was using, but he quickly stopped. This young guy was brilliant. He could have been a business entrepreneur. If illicit drugs were a regulated industry, he could have been a success. However, the allure of a makeshift family, the sense of belonging within the gang, the income of dealing and the lack of other options saw him return to the streets. I am sad that he did not stay with us longer than the three weeks, and I am angry that the worldwide syndicates are allowed to make billions of dollars at the expense of our children, who are drawn into gangs like child soldiers, ending up either in jail or dead and causing unknown damage to our society on the way as they abuse their product.

I am humbled in the presence of workers in our social and emergency services and everyone working in community-facing roles. It is one thing to fight for better funding programs and awareness from Parliament but another to provide direct support to people in need, day in and day out. I was told many years ago that I will not truly understand many things in life until I have lived them. I have found this to be true, and that is why it is so important that our Parliament is a place of diverse lived experience. Embracing diversity and lived experience ensures we have the greatest possible understanding of the lives that all Victorians experience and can best represent these in the decisions that we make in this place. I thank pre- and post-natal, day care and kinder workers for all their support for young parents in what is a joyous but incredibly difficult time.

I have lived much of my recent life with chronic pain. I am lucky that I can still function relatively well. However, I am incredibly mindful of the many who cannot. I give my gratitude and support to our medical teams and pain specialists who work on supporting people in pain and continue to search for the answers that so many desperately need.

We are a multicultural state, and I am truly thankful for this. Victoria, with communities from every nation in the world, is fascinating, rich with culture and an incredible place to live. We are an example to the world of not only what peace, harmony and respect can look like but also how it makes a state thrive. Modern migration has been occurring on these lands for 250 years, and we are lucky to have such hospitable hosts. We must never forget and do everything to honour our First Nations history, present and future. I grew up in towns that were wall-to-wall Anglo Celts, and I can tell you that every crime, misdemeanour or piece of antisocial behaviour that has ever been blamed on migrant communities elsewhere occurred in our mostly white communities. Migrants have contributed so much of what makes Victoria so enjoyable—the food, arts, culture and of course sport. You cannot mention Victoria without mentioning Aussie Rules. We are the home of footy, and the MCG is our Colosseum. Regionally and rurally, footy and netball clubs have been the lifeblood of our communities for generations.

For me, having grown up on a farm means that I have incredible respect for farmers and connected local businesses. It is bloody tough. They are at the mercy of the weather, the markets and the difficulties that come with living remotely. I remember being a kid in the 1990s as first the dams disappeared and then the lakes. The drought hurt farmers but also changed our communities and peoples’ lives. Footy ovals turned as hard as concrete, B & S balls were held where lakes had been and kids younger than me actually did not know what it was like to play wet-weather footy when the rains came a decade later. We lost our farm to severe weather. The 1983 drought forced the sale of half the farm, and the late 1990s finished us off. I want to support farmers with resilience and adaptation to climate change to plant prosperous crops, to run the best breeds of livestock and to use and care for their land to ensure farms are profitable and sustainable for generations of families and connected communities to come.

I see no bigger challenge for us all than climate change, and I have felt that way for a very, very long time. Sadly we already have some temperature rise baked in. However, we must continue to do all in our power to be world leaders on every front to reduce emissions. We must also protect our natural environment. Environmental protection of flora and fauna is not just an abstract ideology, it is key to balancing the ecosystem we are a part of and so thoroughly depend on. As a proud member of the union movement I fight for equality, and without a stable climate we cannot achieve equality. If our lands flood and burn, storm damage becomes more regular and severe and crops fail, then it will become harder and harder to feed, shelter and care for the population of Victoria, Australia and the world.

Thank you to my siblings, my family, my friends and my colleagues, who have all supported me up to now. Any of my successes in this place will be thanks to your ongoing support. To those in my party, I am proud of everything you have achieved and I look forward to making a significant contribution going forward. To those opposite and in between on the crossbench, I look forward to working with you. Despite having different views on how to get there, I know we have a shared goal of a great Victoria, and I commit myself to showing respect to all of you as we debate our path over the years ahead.

Most importantly, I thank my beautiful partner. You might not thrive on politics, which for me has been a blessing, but you unquestioningly support me and more importantly you have made my life richer than anyone or anything in this world. Politics is important, but if life is not rich and full of love, what is it all for? You have gifted me a life full of love. Our beautiful kids have been the defining event of my life, and I know you will be with me through this chapter and every chapter of our lives until we are old. I also ask for a round of applause for Liz, if you do not mind.

Members applauded.

Mr McINTOSH: I am a proud Victorian and I am incredibly proud to represent Eastern Victoria, a region that has such immense history and such an important future for all Victorians. As we transition our entire economy to deal with climate change, we are on the cusp of a jobs revolution that will establish new industries and be a massive employer in agriculture, construction, manufacturing, energy and so many more sectors indirectly. We must ensure these jobs that will benefit generations of people to come are based on conditions that will see workers, their families, their communities and this state prosper. I will draw on my experience of having lived in our suburbs, our regions and rurally to ensure I balance my responsibilities and respect, listen to and advocate for all groups across the region. This place and our community are not about individuals. They are about all of us. My life’s ambition was not initially to become a politician but to make a difference; however, now that I am here this is a pretty good place to make a damn big difference.

Da Tom, my grandfather and role model, was probably not suited to some of the tougher elements of politics, but what stands before you today are the values of Da Tom and the generations of activists prior and a willingness to continue chasing that light on the hill of an equal and just society. I will do everything to deliver upon the faith you have all put in me. Our Victorian community depends on all of us turning up and giving our best every day to continue to see a Victoria that is an economic powerhouse and an incredible and kind place to live and remains the envy of the world.

Members applauded.