Tuesday, 20 December 2022

Address to Parliament

Governor’s speech


Address to Parliament

Governor’s speech


Michael GALEA (South-Eastern Metropolitan) (17:29): I move:

That this house agrees to the following address to the Governor in reply to the Governor’s speech:


We, the Legislative Council of Victoria assembled in Parliament, express our loyalty to Australia and the people of Victoria, and thank you for the speech which you have made to the Parliament.

We declare that we will faithfully carry out the important duties entrusted to us by the people of Victoria, to advance the best interests of all sections of the community.

President, may I also congratulate you on your election to your esteemed role today.

I wish to start by acknowledging the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung people, the traditional owners of the land on which we gather today and on which my electorate is located. I pay respect to elders past and present and to all First Nations people present here today. As a state and as a country we still have a long journey ahead on the path to reconciliation. I am deeply proud to be joining a Labor government that is leading the nation with a treaty process that will bring us closer to true reconciliation.

I congratulate Premier Daniel Andrews on his re-election and thank him for his leadership, especially over the past few years. I extend my congratulations to all of the re-elected and newly elected members in this chamber and the other place. The 60th Parliament, sworn in today, looks very different from the first. Back in 1851 you needed to be male, British, white and wealthy to occupy a seat in this chamber. Today I am proud to sit in the first female-majority Legislative Council in Victoria’s history and with at least three other members of the LGBT community here. This is a testament to the progress we have made as a state and as a Parliament.

My electorate of South-Eastern Metropolitan Region stretches from Clayton South to Beaconsfield, from Knox to Frankston, and represents a true microcosm of Victoria. From established suburbs to new growth areas and peri-urban villages, the south-east is a place where people from all walks of life and all corners of the globe come together to build a community and forge a better life for their families. It is therefore no surprise that Melbourne’s south-east is the most multicultural region in Australia. We are blessed to have so many new Australians choose the south-east as their home. Throughout the campaign I have had the fortune of getting to know a wide variety of people from many different cultures, including but not limited to Afghan, Cambodian, Indian, Armenian, Greek, Italian, Turkish, Vietnamese and Sri Lankan Australians.

Like so many here, my family story originates overseas. My maternal great-great-grandfather was Salvino Galea, a Maltese ship captain who navigated merchant ships across the Atlantic, dodging U-boats during the First World War. He probably never intended to leave Malta permanently. But he did so after a voyage took him to Liverpool, where, as the family story goes, he got to know a local girl, and it was not long before she was pregnant. Wedding bells quickly followed, and the family would stay in Liverpool for two generations. That was until 1970, when my grandparents Robert and Patricia moved the family to the other side of the world, settling in Wonga Park and then Montrose.

With them was my mum Heather, aged 11 at the time, and her two brothers. My mum had a difficult time growing up. She came from a troubled home and struggled for many years to find her place in the world. That was before she discovered yoga in her 20s, which probably saved her life. Having devoted her working life to it, she is now happily retired from yoga teaching. When I was growing up, life for my mum remained difficult, not that I would ever have known it myself. Mum gave me everything. As a working mother she singlehandedly raised me, gave me undying love, taught me independence and made sure that I had the best childhood possible. Living week to week and moving across Victoria every few years, she always put my needs first, often at her own expense.

Mum recently reminded me of a story from when I was six years old, which I had forgotten. Apparently some people were driving too fast in a residential street that our house was on, and I was worried someone would get hurt. Mum suggested that I call the council myself, so I did and asked them to do something about it. Council ended up putting in speed bumps. Thus Mum says that she is the one who first sparked my interest in politics – or, as she puts it, it is her fault. Words cannot express my gratitude for everything that my mum did for me. Against difficult circumstances and with great sacrifice she raised me to be the person that I am. I could not be prouder to call her my mother.

Our lives changed forever at the turn of this century when a wonderful man named Leigh walked into our lives. Leigh is my stepfather, though in every meaningful sense he has become my father. Leigh’s family the Blashkis have a long history in Melbourne, with his ancestor Phillip Blashki having migrated from Poland in the 1850s. His journey was not without some hiccups. He had intended to migrate to the United States but turned up at Southampton docks on the wrong day. Phillip then thought he had reached Sydney on the boat, only to later realise he had actually disembarked in Melbourne – how very lucky that he did. His home town had been mistaken as his surname, hence the Blashki surname was born. Phillip went on to become a prominent Victorian public figure and philanthropist in the late 19th century. He was justice of the peace and a guest at the opening of the very first Australian Parliament here in Melbourne. The Blashki family have embraced me with open arms, and Leigh has been an amazing role model and father to me. I am proud to call myself Leigh’s son.

I am also fortunate to have a wide family of support, and wish to acknowledge Madeline, Kirsty, Corey, Paul, Norma, Kim and Montana. Family is what you are born with, but it is also what you forge yourself. To my amazing partner Luke: you make my world whole. I love your creativity and passion. You always have my back and we are on each other’s wavelengths. Thank you for always being there by my side. I am also touched to have Luke’s mum Julie with us here today.

In my lifetime I have benefited from support and guidance from many inspirational mentors: from Di Lucas, my first teacher, who instilled in me the belief that I could be whoever I wanted to be, to Yvette Black, who taught me not only karate as a teenager but also resilience and clarity of purpose. Other mentors included Rhonda Thomas, Garry Regan, Adrian Hildebrand and Garry McGough.

After Leigh came into our lives he, Mum and I moved to the town of Gembrook on the outskirts of the south-eastern suburbs. The community of Gembrook shaped me profoundly and started me on the journey which has led to me being here today. When I was 13 years old I volunteered alongside another mentor, the late Bob Farr, on Puffing Billy. Aside from his main role as stationmaster, Bob relished dressing up as the Fat Controller for special events, a role with which he delighted locals and visitors alike.

As wonderful as the community was and is, it was nevertheless an isolating place to grow up in, with limited services and opportunities for young people. We had just moved from the middle suburbs of Melbourne, where I had started to discover my independence. This was something considerably harder to do when you lived a 30-minute walk from the nearest bus stop. I knew that Bob was involved with the local township group, so I asked him what they were doing to fix public transport in the area. He said to me, ‘What are you doing to fix it?’

From that point on and with Bob’s guidance and support, I organised a campaign to improve the local buses and advocate for a new route to Pakenham. Bob introduced me to our local state Labor MP, Tammy Lobato. Tammy jumped on the campaign with zeal, and together we gathered support and lobbied for the new service over several years. I remember being struck by Tammy’s passion and dedication to our community, and in the end we prevailed. In 2010, the year I finished high school, a Labor state government launched the new route 840 bus service from Gembrook to Pakenham. The route still operates to this day, and it serves as a continual reminder to me of the power of community. It also reminds me that when communities organise and speak up, Labor governments listen and Labor governments deliver. Tammy showed me in the most tangible way that good outcomes can be achieved with politics.

That sparked a fire which has led me to be in this chamber today, and I am honoured that she is here with us too. Labor is fundamentally about fairness, opportunity and action. Fairness and opportunity means that every person should have the same chance to learn, to grow and to succeed; it is about equality of opportunity and ensuring that no-one gets left behind. Action means getting on with the job, listening to communities and delivering the services and the infrastructure that we all need. In short, to use an overused expression, it is about giving everyone a fair go.

Transport was the catalyst that brought me into politics, and it remains a passion of mine to this day. Much in the same way that a quality public education can give all of our young people an equal shot at the future they wish to build for themselves, access to quality public transport is important to ensure that all Victorians have the same opportunities to work, study and socialise without disenfranchisement.

This Labor government has a strong record of delivery when it comes to public transport. In my region alone we have upgraded and delivered new services; have removed 22 level crossings in the region, with every remaining crossing in South-Eastern Metro to be gone by the end of the decade; and will soon complete the Metro Tunnel, which will revolutionise travel on our rail network. But, as is always the case when you have growing communities, there is always more to be done. I am passionate about providing Victorians with the best transport systems possible, and I am particularly eager to work with my parliamentary colleagues on behalf of people in Melbourne’s south-east to deliver the reforms, upgrades and improvements needed across the network. You should not need to live next to a train station to be able to use public transport, so continuing to upgrade our bus network to ensure last-mile connectivity is one such priority.

In my career I am fortunate to have spent the last 11 years working for the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) as a union organiser in the service of many of Victoria’s essential workers. Retail and fast-food workers carry an enormous load in our society, one which became especially visible during the pandemic. Tens of thousands of members continued to go into work every day and kept the shelves stacked and the checkouts running so that we could all stay fed. They did so under trying conditions. They faced supply chain issues, uncertain health risks and an unprecedented amount of customer abuse and violence. Aggression towards an employee in their workplace is always unacceptable. Whether they work in retail, the health system, hospitality or any other industry, I will always stand against it.

In addition to campaigns against customer violence, I had the privilege of working on other campaigns in my time at the union. This included campaigning to make multinational retailers such as Amazon pay their fair share, free and safe car parking for workers in suburban shopping centres and making Easter Sunday a public holiday – a reform that was delivered in the previous Parliament by the Andrews Labor government. Supporting members in their most difficult moments was the greatest honour, though, in my time at the SDA. This included representing mothers against roster changes that would have made it impossible to care for their kids, advocating for young workers who had been unfairly treated, negotiating transfers for workers who had been made redundant and fighting for an 18-year-old woman who was sexually harassed and assaulted by an older co-worker by getting him removed from employment after her employer initially ignored her complaint.

None of our work at the union would have happened without the leadership of SDA state secretary Michael Donovan. Michael has devoted his life to the SDA and to its members. You will not find anyone as dedicated nor as knowledgeable as Michael when it comes to retail working conditions. Fondly referred to as Mr Public Holidays within the union movement, Michael’s relentless efforts have meant that retail workers receive fairer entitlements during the Christmas and New Year period and can choose to spend time with their family and friends over Easter. I would like to thank Michael for his support, for his leadership and for his inspirational dedication to our members. I also wish to acknowledge assistant state secretary Mauro Moretta for his friendship, leadership and support.

Good colleagues are what make a workplace. There are so many wonderful people I worked with at the SDA. I would particularly like to acknowledge my senior organisers Trevor Libbis, Manny Zouros and Julie Davis; fellow organisers Kimi, Jill, Jason, Emma, Amy, Sarah, Vish, Biancca, Denise, Michael and Rob; and other colleagues Andrew, Michael, Clare, Bek, Adam, Karadji, Sachin, Anthony, Tony and John. It was a great joy to get to know our members and some managers in lighter moments as well. In particular I would like to acknowledge the work of the people in our sector who dedicate their own time to making their workplaces better by being store delegates. I would like to note a few who remain very important to me personally: Lisa Williams, Peni Mouzakis, Sue Nance, David Edyvane and Tammy Trimble. These five and countless others embody the spirit of unionism by looking out for their co-workers every day.

One of the most rewarding parts of working in the labour movement is the amazing group of people you get to surround yourself with. To my Labor friends who have supported me the most by giving up their time managing my campaigns, Yvette-Maree Marcelle and Josh McFarlane, thank you. To friends who have mentored me on my political journey, including Dean D’Angelo, Dimity Paul, Simon Curtis and Daniela De Martino, thank you.

And to many other Labor friends who have always been there for me – Matt Musilli, Matt McDonald, Aidan Wright, Liam Attoe, Kasuni Mendis, Amo Chakravarthy, Alan Padgham, Sammi Turner, Akshay Jose, Nichole Hayes, Hafiz Jan, Hovig Melkonian, Cam Petrie and Andrew Stephens – thank you as well. I would also like to acknowledge my federal Labor colleagues Raff Ciccone and Cassandra Fernando, who I have known since we worked together at the SDA, as well as Daniel Mulino, who mentored me on my first campaign. To put your principles into practice requires more than cheering from the sidelines. It requires participation, energy and effort. It requires you to do something about it. Each of these people demonstrate that every day, and they continue to inspire me.

I am also eternally grateful to my friends from outside of politics who have played no small part in keeping me sane these past few months and whose friendship I adore. These include my best friend Mark Howard, who is perhaps the smartest person I know, despite his unfortunate taste in football teams; my dear friends Ryley and Rachel Anderson, who I can always rely on; and other dear friends Stephanie Pallhorn, Lauren Nisbet, Nick and Kylie Chase, Deirdre Monteiro and Voula Kavadas.

My members from my time at the SDA will always be at the front of my mind in this chamber. Treating workers with dignity, respect and reward is a cornerstone of the Labor Party – indeed, it is our party’s reason for existence. Other labour parties around the world have severed their links to the union movement over time, usually to their detriment. It is a great strength of this party that we retain our connection to working people through the union movement, and we must always strive to deliver for working Victorians. To that end I am eager to see this Parliament continue the reforms which give working people in this state a fair go. I am proud that Victoria was the first state to criminalise systematic wage theft. We have also led the way with a sick pay guarantee trial for casual and contract workers. I am eager to make the case for further meaningful and practical reforms which will benefit working people in this state, such as applying penalty rates to long service leave, safe parking for workers and increasing the penalties for assaulting retail and fast-food workers.

The labour movement has an incredibly rich history that those of us on this side of the chamber are rightly proud of. I intend to spend my time in this place working hard to honour that legacy and do my bit to create a better future for all Victorians.

Members applauded.

Jacinta ERMACORA (Western Victoria) (17:52): I second the motion for the address-in-reply to the Governor’s speech. President, I also congratulate you on your appointment.

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we stand here today in this place, the Wurundjeri people, and I acknowledge the Eastern Maar, Gunditjmara, Barengi Gadjin and Wathaurong people as traditional owners of the western region of Victoria. I acknowledge the land was never ceded and that the prosperity of settler people has been at the expense of First Peoples. I wish to recognise the difficult work of the Yoorrook Justice Commission, because as Uncle Rob Lowe said to me recently, ‘If the stories are not told, then the healing can’t happen’. One of my hopes for my time in this place is to play my part in promoting respect and understanding for the scientific, farming, economic and traditional knowledge held by First Nations people. I intend to listen to the stories of the past, and I look forward to working toward a treaty with First People in our state.

I am deeply honoured to stand in this place representing the people of Western Victoria Region. I congratulate all members here today and Premier Daniel Andrews for achieving a resounding endorsement by the people of Victoria at the election. As an incoming member I see a government with a vision, a big and bold agenda, that does what matters for Victorian people, and I am excited to play a part in that.

I have been involved in Labor in Western Victoria for about 25 years. I represented our region at the state conference thanks to the support of Labor members in the seat of Wannon, and I acknowledge Kylie Gaston here today representing those members; it is a very long way from Wannon to here. The friendships and mentoring that I have received over the years across the party mean a lot to me. Helen Coleman, Pam McLeod, Di Clanchy, Lisa Neville, Gayle Tierney, Lily D’Ambrosio, John Eren, Richard Marles, Jaala Pulford, Ella George and Sam Rae are but a few of the wonderful people who have guided me and worked with me on the needs of south-western Victoria in my various roles over the years.

To my knowledge, the last Victorian Labor electorate office located in Warrnambool was that of Malcolm Gladman, 1952 to 1955 – some 67 years ago – so having our Labor office in Warrnambool is almost revolutionary, and I am confident our community will appreciate greater access to government.

The dinner table during my childhood was the place where I first experienced the joy of passionate political debate. My parents Bill and Lorraine Ermacora delighted in encouraging me and my sister Luisa and my brother William to think critically and be engaged in the world around us. Most nights we would listen to the 7 pm ABC radio news – I am that old. Afterwards the radio would be turned off and away we would go discussing and debating our positions on the news of the day. Mum and Dad expressed their values through their community involvement and service. They showed us the value of volunteering, of taking up additional responsibilities and of being active and involved with others to better where we lived. I remember one day a man came to the house and invited Dad to stand for preselection for the Liberal Party. Dad told him he was very honoured, but it was the ‘wrong party, mate’.

My parents supported me in every endeavour I undertook – fought through university in Melbourne, delivering lamb chops and firewood. Later, after I returned to our region, they even fielded constituent inquiries while I was a Warrnambool city councillor, as they were the only Ermacora in the book. They helped shoulder my stress during tough times, always offering a wise listening post. Without fail Mum and Dad would letterbox and work polling booths whenever I asked, and they did this for the candidates I was assisting. We lost Dad in January this year, and I cannot help thinking about how proud he would have been here today. I miss his application of politics to everyday life, the constant list of books he would recommend that I read, and I remember very fondly his humour.

My partner in life, my husband Francis Broekman, and our daughters Annika and Alena Broekman have always been a tower of strength and joy for me. We are a team, our family of four, and they have been through some pretty absurd experiences due to my involvement in politics. Family are both bystanders and inextricably involved, and I know growing up with a mother who was often on the front page of the local paper was not easy. I feel so thankful to Francis, Annika and Alena, always showing dignity, always having my back. I also thank my wonderful parents-in-law Mary and Harry Broekman and the whole Broekman family for their constant support of Francis and I, despite some of them being mystified at my involvement in politics.

We are all the sum of our past. Trauma, hunger and homelessness are primal drivers in the human condition. I am an Australian because of a life-changing tragedy that happened to a 14-year-old boy during World War I in Friuli in north-eastern Italy. He was assisting the war effort when he heard of his older brother’s death before his parents were informed. He could not bring himself to tell his mum and dad. He came home each evening, waiting for three days before the authorities came to tell them. That young boy migrated to Australia in 1922 at the age of 22. His name was Guglielmo Ermacora. He was my grandfather. He and my nonna Olga ran a wine shop in Smith Street, Collingwood – not very far from here – raised their family and volunteered as migration advocates for the second wave of Italian migrants that arrived after World War II. The reason he was a migrant advocate is the same reason I am here in this place today: to play my part in making the world I live in a better place for future generations. Even the most ordinary migration story is full of drama and pain and loss but also full of hope for a better life. The contribution of the waves of migrants that have settled in Victoria is a beautiful example of hope and aspiration for our state. We must continue to welcome and nurture our new migrants, because we will be rewarded with generations of talented contributions to our diverse community.

I have been privileged to work in regional leadership roles across south-west Victoria for 18 years now. I have seen and taken part in change and progress. Following the example of Mum and Dad, I became involved in local community organisations and ran successfully for Warrnambool City Council in 2004 as a local government councillor and became mayor of Warrnambool. I saw how partnerships with government could achieve very positive outcomes for community. The affordable housing program in Dennington, Warrnambool–Port Fairy Rail Trail, numerous new civic facilities, construction of key link roads in growth corridors, a new industrial park to create jobs and the complete redevelopment of the main street of Warrnambool all played a role in positioning Warrnambool for the future during my time in local government. Each of these projects received local, state or federal funding.

Looking back, I would say that I have learned a great deal about the leading role that local government can play in regional development. A region can achieve enormous transformation through the powerful combination of good leadership and good government. These experiences have prepared me for getting to know the whole of the Western Victoria Region and advocating for their needs. Some challenges seem insurmountable at times, but I have seen enormous change in our region. When I think back to the early 2000s, when the gas plant and pipelines were constructed at Port Campbell, I could not have imagined that in a few short years wind farms would spring up across the landscape, that businesses and residents would install solar panels, that Wannon Water would install a wind turbine on its land at Portland and that Deakin University in Warrnambool would be developing renewable hydrogen. Now, with the Andrews Labor government’s return of the State Electricity Commission and renewable trade training at TAFEs, our region is well placed to continue the journey to carbon neutrality. I am confident that a combination of private sector and government investment will achieve affordable electricity, energy security, carbon neutrality, job opportunities and a thriving economy in our state.

As a state we are only as strong as the most vulnerable amongst us. Social justice, fairness and equality are my Labor values. I believe that the unique needs of outer regional communities can be viewed through the lens of diversity and inclusion. To this end I could not be prouder of the approach of the Andrews government – the massive investment in Warrnambool Base Hospital, mental health and the rebuilding of the TAFE sector, which has been transformative, especially in small towns, where it costs more to deliver vital skills to country people. The regional rail upgrade, where the Big Build comes to the regions, is another example of necessary regional equality. It is exciting that stage 1 of the Warrnambool line is now complete. Capping daily V/Line fares to metropolitan fares is a massive recognition by our government that it costs more to live in the country. This initiative alone will make it vastly cheaper for outer regional individuals and families to visit Melbourne to work, for health or for enjoyment. I was honoured to play a very small role in supporting Gayle Tierney and Kylie Gaston achieve a new library for Warrnambool so that everyone can access information and education in a beautiful purpose-built facility. Again this was achieved through a brilliant partnership between the Andrews government, South West TAFE and Warrnambool City Council.

Equality is another value that is brought to life by the actions of this government. Free kinder, construction of state-owned childcare centres and the incredibly important journey to treaty are recent examples, as is our progress towards gender equality. When I reflect on the workforce experiences of three generations of women in my family, I can see enormous progress as well as a long way further to go. My mother was required to resign from her job when she became engaged to Dad. Whilst my generation stayed in the workforce, many had to put up with sexual harassment and discrimination, and today many young women are delaying motherhood due to the high economic and social price paid.

We still have a long way to go, but the leadership of the Andrews government has been groundbreaking to say the least. Among other strategies, the Gender Equality Act 2020 brings in a set of tools to enable employers to make workplace changes. I am delighted to have had the opportunity as chair of Wannon Water to help implement these reforms at a practical level.

As a social worker in the 1990s I had the deep privilege of listening to survivors of sexual assault when I worked as a counsellor advocate at South Western Centre Against Sexual Assault in Warrnambool. The continuum of violence against women, whether it is a demeaning joke in a pub or aggravated sexual assault, continues to underpin the deep structures of exclusion for women in our community today. I want to thank the women and families who came forward to the Royal Commission into Family Violence and told their story so the Andrews Labor government could respond. I also thank the public servants, lawyers and non-government organisations that are working on delivering support to women because of the royal commission. This work is only possible because of the leadership of the Andrews Labor government.

I first joined the Labor Party in 1997. I had not done so earlier, even though I had known I would for a long time, because, to be honest, I found it a bit blokey. Since then, Labor has transformed from an organisation almost exclusive of women to one where women are front and centre. Many of the policy initiatives of this government have come about because women are at the table. I am so proud to be sworn into a government with 14 female ministers. Times are indeed changing, and the Andrews government has been instrumental in facilitating that change.

In closing, it was never about Parliament or bust for me. I have only ever wanted to represent my own regional community. Representing and advocating for the unique needs of Western Victoria and other regional communities is central to my reason for being here in this place. We know that it costs more to live in the country, that our communities are less healthy, have lower education attainment levels, struggle to reach services and earn lower incomes. I have always felt that our voices and perspectives need to be heard and understood. I acknowledge the privilege I have to represent regional Victoria in this place.

The Andrews government is governing for the whole of Victoria, and I am so proud to have the opportunity to play my part. I pledge to always be frank and forthcoming, to always remember where I am from and to work with dedication and focus for the people of Western Victoria.

Members applauded.

Evan MULHOLLAND (Northern Metropolitan) (18:11): I am humbled to be standing here in this place this evening as the new member for the Northern Metropolitan Region. It is a solemn responsibility and a privilege I do not take lightly. I am deeply grateful to the people of the north, who have entrusted me with this office. The northern suburbs are in my blood. My mother and father, David and Jenny, actually met while working together at the old Collingwood City Council. My late grandfather on my father’s side, also David, was a local businessman and a rabbiter in Northcote. On my mother’s side my late nonna and nonno, Teresa and Domenico Caruso, arrived in Australia in the 1950s with nothing and started a life for themselves and their family in Melbourne’s north, in Brunswick and then in Reservoir. Their life story, which is now part of my own life story, is one of familiarity to many constituents in the northern suburbs, but it really goes to show the promise of the north, that you can go from one generation arriving in Australia with nothing but a suitcase to the next generation and having your grandson represent our glorious multicultural community in the Victorian Parliament. I owe so much to their hopes, their dreams and their sacrifices. The north of Melbourne and indeed Victoria owe so much to the contribution of migrants just like my nonni. As a tribute to them I do hope to amplify the voices of migrant families in our multicultural community in the north and fight for them in this place. And now I will be working to ensure the next generation of Victorians can secure the great Australian dream, wherever they may come from.

As the new member for the Northern Metropolitan Region I am also aware of my perspective and my responsibility as a millennial MP to the challenges faced by my demographic. One of the most critical of these is the crisis around housing affordability. For young people in the north, as well as across Victoria, it is the single biggest issue. Young people in this state are increasingly abandoning the hope of ever buying a home. The current unattainable nature of the housing market for many, particularly in my generation, is not the circumstance under which you are going to feel confident to start a family or take a risk investing in your own business. It is popular for those addicted to jargon to talk about a demographic cliff, but what we are currently facing is an economic cliff stemming from our housing crisis. The birth rate in Victoria is the lowest in the country, at 1.48 children per woman. This means a growing share of ageing Victorians that need to be cared for by a diminishing generation of taxpayers. As our party’s founder, Robert Menzies, said once in one of his famous radio addresses, on 22 May 1942:

Your advanced socialist may rave against private property even while he acquires it; but one of the best instincts in us is that which induces us to have one little piece of earth with a house and a garden which is ours; to which we can withdraw, in which we can be among our friends, into which no stranger may come against our will.

Renting leaves young Victorians without a stake in their community. It has been claimed by some in this Parliament that young people are ‘happy to rent’. This is out of touch and does not reflect the aspirational nature of young Victorians. I believe it is immoral that large sections of our inner cities, flush with good transport, schools, health care and other infrastructure, remain almost flat, with obsolete overlays denying young Victorians a chance to buy their first home where they want to live.

If my party wants to remain relevant to young people, we must at every opportunity reject this short-sighted and unfair approach and champion home ownership. This does not mean concrete jungles of apartment towers everywhere. It means that it is within our economic and moral imperative to champion policies that lead to the building of homes in which my generation can start a family and lay down roots. It means more medium density for infrastructure-rich middle suburbs.

Nimbys – ‘not in my backyard’ elites – mostly from the inner city, are often the first to call for more migrants into Australia. As someone who backs a big Australia, I think that is a noble cause worth championing, but these same privileged elites are always the first to demonise and oppose any proposal for sensible development that would house in a humanitarian way the very families they want to bring into Australia. At the first sign of any sensible proposal for medium density, protesters with green triangle placards swoop in quicker than a seagull to a chip on St Kilda beach. To put it plainly, these Green-tinged councils and political elites are the new xenophobes. While these do-gooders and hand wringers might think they are fighting a holy war against evil property developers, all they end up doing is sending young families packing to growth areas like Mickleham, Beveridge and Wallan.

These suburbs in my electorate are where infrastructure, schools, health care and amenities are already a decade behind growth, and the cost of building new infrastructure is enormous. I hope to fight for these communities every day while in this place. The answer is not a centralist, socialist nirvana of government-mandated affordable housing owned by corporates, industry super and big government. The answer is and has always been more supply. Those of a socialist bent may find this concept difficult to understand, yet it has been proven over centuries – build more of something, make it cheaper; build less, make it rare and more expensive. We have to do all we can to stop young Victorians in our migrant community from becoming an asset-less generation.

When we consider other opportunities we can provide to bolster vulnerable communities, I believe the Liberal Party must take back ownership of the conservative value of redemption. In an age where incarceration rates are rising, it is time to appeal to our better selves and the human good in people, exploring innovative ways to combat the root causes of crime. In our criminal justice system, it is time to take a different approach and differentiate between those that we are afraid of and those that we are just mad at. We can and must prioritise community safety and also find alternative punishments for people who should not be in prison. For non-violent offenders, I believe Victorians would rather spend a nominal amount at the start of someone’s interaction with the justice system than spend $120,000 a year, every year, to keep them in prison. This is a proposition that makes sound economic sense, but more importantly, a better outcome for society.

I applaud the efforts of the many corrections officers and community correctional staff doing their best to stop offenders from reoffending, yet we know that once someone has been in prison it is very difficult for them to leave – 43.6 per cent of prisoners released during 2018–19 in Victoria were returned to prison within just two years. Many cannot find a job once they leave prison and end up back there, costing taxpayers millions over a lifetime. This recidivism disproportionately affects already vulnerable communities like First Nations people and those experiencing poor health and poverty.

There is a way we can provide Victorians with a second chance in life and also save taxpayers millions of dollars. Low-level drug possession, defaulting on fines and even some white-collar crime should not be valid reasons for Victorians going to prison. We should be looking at successful criminal justice reform efforts, largely in Republican states in the US like Texas and Georgia, where they have prioritised community safety and given people a second chance at life through alternative punishment and work programs, keeping people out of prison for good and receiving a fiscal dividend by being able to close prisons rather than open new ones. As criminal justice reformer and Republican representative Jerry Madden has said, ‘Democrats tend to focus on changing lives. Republicans’ – such as him – ‘tend to focus on saving money and cutting taxes.’ And so started a bipartisan reform effort. As he said:

I’m a conservative politician who’s saying let’s save taxpayers some money, but if I can change things so crime goes in a different direction, then I can in fact change lives. If I could do that at the same time as saving money and spending smarter, wouldn’t that be a great thing?

The legacy of the reform effort in Texas has been one of closing down 10 separate prisons in the past decade, and the prison population has dropped by 17,000, saving the taxpayer millions and millions of dollars. The same principles can be applied in Victoria. I firmly, firmly believe there are good human qualities to every Victorian, even those that have followed the wrong path at times. We should seek out the good in our fellow Victorians and always find a pathway to redemption. If this makes me a dangerous radical, I am proud to wear the label. We must and can do better.

While on the theme of redemption and second chances, the intolerance created by cancel culture in this country, particularly in Victoria, is highly disturbing. We have reached a point where merely holding an alternative view or being loosely associated with the views of others in some way can see you, your family, your career or anything or anyone you have been involved with heavily targeted by an angry mob. When someone is targeted for their faith, views or comments, we are creating a culture where offence is completely subjective.

Those who accuse my side of politics of waging a culture war are often the first to push for laws that will make unlawful all speech that might offend someone somewhere. Freedom of speech is the most important freedom we have. Without it we lose the ability to argue and defend all freedoms. In this again I quote the founder of our great party, Sir Robert Menzies, who said in his policy speech on 10 November 1949:

There may be some people who think that the only freedom that counts is to have a roof to sleep under, clothes to wear, food to eat.

… but they are not freedoms at all. Each can be obtained in a state of utter slavery.

The real freedoms are to worship, to think, to speak, to choose, to be ambitious, to be independent, to be industrious, to acquire skill, to seek reward. These are the real freedoms, for these are of the essence of the nature of man. Socialism will have none of them …

Safe spaces and trigger warnings seemed a laughable campus fad a decade ago. Now they have wormed their way into our boardrooms, institutions and, more concerningly, our laws. Anti-vilification laws like the ones brought to this place in the last term should never again see the light of day. Laws on speech with ridiculously low thresholds like being ‘likely to’ cause offence should be consigned to the dustbin of history. In terms of cancel culture, subjective laws on speech will lead us to a point of no return. Never again should we see one side of politics met with a heckler’s veto, charged for a police presence at a protest caused by the other side of politics, and never again should we see pregnant women arrested in front of their family for Facebook comments. For me, standing in this place makes me an even stronger advocate for freedom of speech.

Now I am ready to fight a different culture war. Our side of politics should stand up for the future of the arts sector and the important contribution this sector makes. As someone who has been heavily involved in the amateur theatre scene, on stage and off, and was president of a performing arts company in Melbourne’s north, I can state from personal experience that community arts organisations are in crisis. Amateur theatre companies in the north either have closed or are on their knees. Grassroots organisations like ARC Theatre are the lifeblood of communities, providing joy and meaningful social interaction to so many people, particularly young Victorians. While the political class rolls out the pork barrel to sporting clubs, community arts organisations are not even getting the crumbs off the table. This is not to dismiss the important role that community sporting clubs play, but community arts organisations create a form of entertainment and community involvement that is a step beyond the extra bain-marie for the local cricket club. It is about time government policy reflected this. Too often in the arts, government gives precious taxpayer dollars to organisations that already have large philanthropic departments. We need to do better to support culture at a grassroots level.

Lastly I would like to acknowledge some people who helped me get to this place. To Matthew Guy: you gave me my first job in politics when I was a young uni student. I was inspired to follow the path to politics through your energy, enthusiasm and love for our state. I am proud to follow you into this place as another fellow former La Trobe Liberal Club president and a fellow Saints supporter too. I have said this to you before, but it is true: I would likely not be standing in this place were it not for you.

To another old boss of mine who unfortunately cannot be here, former Senator the Honourable Mitch Fifield. While he left a great legacy in the Senate of voluntary student unionism, disability and aged care reform and media reform, Mitch’s real legacy was unseen. While our opponents have the union movement and a plethora of activist organisations to train up the next generation of leaders, in some respects my side only have our members of Parliament. Mitch used his time in the Senate to recruit and mentor the next generation of leaders into his office. I was a beneficiary of his guidance and wise counsel, and the fact that many former Fifield staff are now leaders in business and public policy and are a growing number even in our Parliament is a testament to Mitch’s enthusiasm for supporting the next generation of leadership and a benchmark I hope to follow.

I would like to acknowledge and thank John Roskam, one of the great intellectual leaders of our time. Thank you for your support and guidance of me throughout my six years at the Institute of Public Affairs. Thank you also to IPA chairman the Honourable Rod Kemp, Janet Albrechtsen and Geoff Hone for the support you have given me. While some people think the answer to our public policy problems is to get more IPA members into Parliament, in some respects I think the answer is establishing and nurturing more organisations like the IPA, who so strongly set the terms of debate and guide public policy in a more sensible direction.

It is said that if you want a friend in politics, get a dog. Thankfully this is not the case for me. Firstly, to my friend Senator James Paterson, who unfortunately cannot be here today: thank you for your friendship and support of me for over a decade. If I can make half the contribution you are already making in the Senate, I will be a happy man. It is such a thrill to be joining this place at the same time as my good friend in the other place the member for Kew, Jess Wilson. It feels like yesterday I was your loyal vice-president when you were president of the Victorian Young Liberals. I cannot wait to see the brilliant contribution you will make in the other place for the people of Kew and for Victoria. To my friend Michael O’Brien, the member for Malvern, in the other place: it is great to have another Marcellin old boy in the Victorian Parliament. Thanks also to my friend in the other place the member for Sandringham, Brad Rowswell, for your support, guidance and wise counsel.

There are great friends I have no doubt I would not be here without. I cannot name them all, but I would like to particularly knowledge Mark Briers, Max Williams, Aaron Lane, Stuart Eaton, Clare Chandler, James Wilcox, Andrew Hudgson, Adam McKee, Gemma Whiting, James Duncan, Simon Breheny, Gideon Rozner, Luke Tobin, Deborah Henderson, Byron Hodkinson and Lydia Paterson.

To the countless Liberal Party volunteers: thank you for putting your faith in me. Your dedication makes me proud to be a Liberal. There are too many people to thank individually, but I would like to particularly thank Northern Metro Region electorate council chair Stuart McCraith and long-time party servants Gen Hamilton, Scott Pearce, Jemma Townson, Jacky Douglas and Con Frantzeskos for guiding me on my journey in the party to this place.

Finally, I would like to thank my family. To my mum Jenny: your 16 years of service on Banyule City Council showed me the value of public service. Hopefully I have inherited your stubborn Calabrian drive to achieve outcomes for your community. To my father David: you were well ahead of your time as a stay-at-home dad, working from home in your small businesses so you could support us and watch us grow up. Thank you both for your endless support of me. I would like to acknowledge my siblings. If you see someone walking around who looks like me with a visitors pass, that is actually my identical twin brother Alex. Also to my brother David and sister Olivia: as siblings often do, you formed my character from the earliest of days and my ability to hold my own in a dinner table debate. You also brought wonderful people into our family like Sophie and Sydel as well as a growing multitude of nieces and nephews who are so special, including Isla and Lachie, who are here today.

To my chief adviser and wife Brigid Meney, a political brain who would make a formidable member of Parliament in her own right should she ever take that path. Since we first met in the halls of federal Parliament many years ago you have made my life a joy. I do not take for granted the sacrifices you have made so that I can be here. I love you so much. To my son Ted – who at only two we did not trust to bring into the chamber today – and my very, very soon to arrive daughter, it is your future that will drive my efforts every day that I am an elected representative. I thought I came from a big family as one of four until I married Brigid, who is one of nine, so to all my in-laws, led by Chris and Mary-Clare – two people of profound strength and commitment – each brother- and sister-in-law, their partners and children, who have made our lives so much richer, I have felt like I have had an enormous cheer squad of encouragement and prayers every step of the way on my path to public service.

I would like to thank the good people of the north for electing me to this place. I will lead, listen and learn with you. In parting, my one helpful suggestion to my friends in the Labor Party: seats in the north are no longer yours to carve up to out-of-area factional picks who do not look or sound like the communities they represent. As you may have seen in the trends at this recent election, there is every likelihood that these seats will not be so safe anymore as a result should you continue down this path. I will be making sure of this.

I am so proud of the team of candidates the Liberal Party fielded in the northern suburbs. Their experiences, diversity and commitment to their communities were incredible. I am under no illusions that I am here, with a swing towards the Liberal Party, thanks to your hard work. I am not remotely content being in opposition; I am hungry for government. Victorians are relying on the Liberal Party to be strong, to reform, to challenge and to be accountable, and that is exactly what I am here to do.

Members applauded.

Renee HEATH (Eastern Victoria) (18:34): It is with heartfelt gratitude to the people of the Eastern Victoria Region and to the Liberal Party that I rise to make my maiden speech in this house on the opening of the 60th Parliament of Victoria. When I consider the weight of responsibility and the very real impact that the debates and the decisions made in this chamber will have on the lives of Victorians, I am both humbled and in awe.

Before I continue I would like to acknowledge some key people who have just been so important in this journey. There are so many I would like to mention, but I cannot mention them all. First I would like to mention my mum and dad, Brian and Lynne Heath. Thank you for your incredible love and support throughout my whole life. To my grandfather, who despite being well into his 90s is here today – a pretty inspiring effort. And I would just like to take this opportunity to remember my beautiful grandma Rose and my grandparents Kit and Arthur Heath, who have made such an incredible impact on my life.

I would like to thank my siblings – I just saw one of crying then – and my dear friends Sarah and Joel Churchill. I would like to thank Michael Rowell, Peter Starkey, David Farrelly, Chris Crewther, Briony Hutton, Aaron Brown, Wayne Farnham, Dale Harriman and David Burgess – thank you so much for your support every single day of this campaign. I would like to thank Peter Rawlings, Catriona and Andrew Ronalds, and Robert and Julie Knight for taking the chance of giving me a reference when I decided to run for preselection. I am just so very thankful for that. I would like to thank my dear friend and mentor Bev McArthur and the amazing support of the women’s council of Victoria. Without you I just would not be here. I just want to mention some people that have been an incredible inspiration to me, and also some are here today: Michael Kroger, Helen Kroger, Carol Walters, Alan Tudge and Greg Hunt. Thank you so much for your inspiration. And then of course my girl gang, a lot of which is here, and the quad squad – from the bottom of my heart I want to thank you.

I was born and raised in Eastern Victoria, and to now represent this region in Parliament – its people, families, communities, business and industries – is the greatest privilege of my life. Eastern region is incredibly strategic to Victoria. It is home to a wealth of natural resources and primary industries that provide water, power and timber to our states. Its farms produce the food that feeds our cities and dairy that is exported around the world. Its stunning natural beauty – from its pristine beaches and lake systems to the snow-capped mountains, the breathtaking High Country, the lush forests – draws tourists from all around Australia and abroad. Most importantly, its vibrant suburban and regional communities are filled with hardworking people who rally together during fire, flood, storm and pandemic. Without this region Victorians would not have the standard of living that we enjoy today. When Eastern Victoria prospers, our state prospers. That is why I am passionate to champion this region in the Parliament.

I approach this role with the dedication to the community that has always been a significant part of my life. My parents are pastors, and I grew up watching them show care for the elderly, the vulnerable, the underprivileged and those from broken homes. I come from a large family, and although we did not have a lot, there was always enough for another plate at the dinner table and a bed for those who did not have a safe home. This enriched our family and showed me purpose beyond myself. When I was in my late 20s I co-founded an orphanage in the Philippines. I led a team in fundraising and advocacy that secured enough support from Gippsland to give children a safe haven, food, clothing, education and health care. Our efforts extended to neighbouring villages, offering life-changing medical procedures and treatments to help many. Watching these people use the hand up given to them as an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty sparked my early interest in liberalism, because I believed I was seeing liberalism in action. I saw orphans break the cycle of dependence and build a new life where they called the shots, where they were not dependent on anybody else any longer but could live life on their terms. The endeavours I have been involved in have given me hope that the answers do not lie in government but rest in individuals and their empowering their communities.

Our region has been through a great deal in recent years. In November 2019 lightning ignited a series of fires across East Gippsland known as the Black Summer bushfires. Soon after, 326,000 hectares of land was ablaze and more than 60,000 people were evacuated from their homes in East Gippsland and Hume. My home town of Sale saw people as close as Bairnsdale, 50 kilometres away, evacuated. Our community sprang into action, ready to provide emergency accommodation and essentials for displaced people. I and my colleagues did everything that we could, using our skills to provide free chiropractic care to families affected by the fire and emergency personnel in local shelters.

By the end of December, three fires in East Gippsland had burnt with such intensity that they created their own weather systems, generating local thunder and lightning, with more than 230,000 hectares of land burnt. Harrowing images of children fleeing from Mallacoota to the ocean on rafts, enveloped by a blood-red sky, were truly haunting and apocalyptic. In Victoria the fires took five lives, destroying more than 300 homes and more than 6500 head of livestock. Three years on there are still fire-affected people displaced, without a home and trying to wade through government red tape and insurance claims, and this is to our shame.

A local recovery campaign encouraged people to visit fire-affected areas, buy from local businesses and fill up their eskies, and together we were going to get these towns back on their feet. But before anybody could do that, COVID hit. For the next two years we endured multiple lockdowns, with regional and remote areas often bearing the same restrictions as Melbourne, even though the infection rate was zero or low. Just 16 months after, violent storms hit. There were 97 SES call-outs across the eastern region as trees came down, buildings were damaged and power was cut off. The town of Traralgon suffered unprecedented floods. The Yarra Ranges was hit hard, with 5000 properties affected by flood and 3000 homes without power or internet for more than a month. Thirty-four communities lost NBN services and were unable to call 000 for assistance, and the recovery effort is still ongoing.

For our region, having been hit hard by these natural disasters and the pandemic, the ability to rebuild and to look forward with hope relies heavily on our industries and our businesses, but government policies are leading the eastern region into an era of uncertainty. The Latrobe Valley’s remaining coal-fired power stations will close over the next decade because of renewable energy targets, destroying thousands of jobs. The industries that have kept the lights on in Melbourne for almost a hundred years have been demonised and discarded without a thought. There are families behind every single job loss, every single industry and every single business shutdown. The hundreds of hard hats that were hung on the fence at the Hazelwood power station at its closure in March 2017 are the best indication of the feelings of the workers on the ground. Some of the hard hats read, ‘shut down by Greens and Labor’. Another one said, ‘hanging our hats on a worker transition’. The people of the Latrobe Valley have been let down time and time again.

In 2019 the government announced it would close the native timber industry by 2030. Many regional communities across Eastern Victoria are built on the back of the timber industry. It is estimated that a quarter of jobs in Orbost are in jeopardy. When our industries scale down, our once thriving communities decline as jobs are lost and families suffer. I stand before you today as a representative of a region that is hurting, a region that rightly feels neglected – even despised – by city-centric legislators, a region that feels its industries and economies are the first to be sacrificed to inner-city priorities, without so much as a thought or a plan for their families, jobs and economies. I will champion this region in Parliament. I will advocate for the rebuilding efforts and aid its recovery and policies to secure its future.

During the campaign there seemed to be a lot of fascination around my faith and how it would impact my role in public life. I firstly want to say my faith does not hold anybody else to account; my faith holds me to account. The second thing I want to say is every single person has a worldview that has been developed by their experience, and I am absolutely no different to anybody else. If it is community spirit that has inspired me to serve through leadership, it is my faith that has guided me.

I love the scripture James 1:17, which says every good and perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights, in whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. I love this scripture, because the greatest light in our physical world is the sun. Everything in the galaxy rotates around it, but it is immovable. Everything in the world adapts and changes but the sun never does. It is the ultimate reference point. If you are lost, you look up and you can find your way back. Everybody has a reference point – everyone – and it is your values, your belief and your world view. For me, my faith is my reference point. It is the sun that never moves, and when I am lost it is what I look to.

I want to say unequivocally that regardless of your belief you deserve political representation. You deserve the right to engage, debate, join a party and have a voice just like everybody else. I have come to this chamber to represent the people of Eastern Victoria Region. If you are a Muslim, if you are a Christian or a Jew, a Buddhist or a Sikh, or whatever it is that you believe, if you are gay or if you are straight, if you are a traditionalist or if you are progressive, there is a place for you and you deserve political representation. My aim in this house is to fight for freedom so that you can live according to your world view as closely as I follow mine. If you choose faith, I will fight for you. If you choose atheism, I will fight for you, and if you choose nothing at all, I will fight for you, because for too long Victorians have felt pressured by an ideological government pushing its way into the domain of our heads, our hearts and our homes – personal and sacred spaces that should never be regulated by the state.

This government has ventured into places it should not go yet has failed in jurisdictions that it is responsible for. Whilst the government has locked down our state, shut down our businesses, told us who could come to our homes and uncovered our medical records, people have been dying on the side of the road waiting for an ambulance. Budgets have blown out by billions. Roads and infrastructure have crumbled, corruption has been rife and integrity in public institutions compromised. I believe that this is the cost of overgovernance. My dream is not for a progressive government that operates beyond its jurisdiction but one that returns to its core business, going back to basics, serving the people, managing the budget, maintaining law and order and delivering infrastructure, transport and essential services like health and education. For two terms the government has failed on all these fronts, and it is time for a reprioritisation of policy. Victorians should not be told what to think, what to say, how to worship or how to raise their children. This is symptomatic of a failed socialist experiment which has reinvented itself as a cultural movement in our time. It is time for the government to get out of families, get out of homes, get out of doctors’ rooms and get out of classrooms, get out of churches and temples and businesses and get back to the areas that it is responsible for, which it is failing at dismally.

I believe in basing policy on the rights of the individual rather than the collective and on evidence not ideology. During the past eight years this government has divided Victorians along the lines of gender, race, class, sexuality, religion and any other measure of difference. Labor’s lopsided equality has rewarded some to the detriment of others. It has not created a more caring society but a fractured one. For too long Labor has asserted that it is the party of dignity, equality and compassion while spruiking ideologies that divide, economic principles that create government dependence and policies that punish some and reward others.

I believe that the Liberal Party is the party of true compassion, and it is time for us to reclaim compassion. It is the ideals of the Liberal Party espoused by Sir Robert Menzies that have given rise to progress, social justice, service and volunteerism. The values of the Liberal Party give people the freedom to build their own lives, families, businesses and careers and to take risks, receive rewards and create opportunities for other Victorians from their success.

We must reclaim the five fundamental freedoms that are the great legacy of Western civilisation: freedom of speech, association, religion, assembly and movement. These took centuries to develop. These were forged out of the darkest moments of human history, including slavery, wars, genocide, persecution and prejudice. If we do not protect freedom, we risk repeating the harrowing lessons that have brought us to this point. These rights are universal, not partisan. They promote opportunities for all Victorians. If we are to govern for all people and to heal the divisions between us, we must return to the universal ideas that build our shared interests and unite us as Victorians.

I believe that it is time for us to shake off the pandemic mindset, and it is time for us to return to the foundations that have made us prosperous, united and free. As we step into this next chapter, let us trade shutdowns for innovations, social distancing for togetherness, government directives for personal responsibility and fear for courage. Let us look towards the future so we can build a better tomorrow. To do this we must provide the best start for the next generation. It concerns me a lot that despite record funding into education our standards are dropping. Research shows that over the last 20 years Australian children have lost one year of learning. The average 15-year-old in Australia is three years behind the average 15-year-old in Singapore in mathematics. We need to look at why this is occurring, and we need to correct it so that our children can have the best start in life.

Schools should not be a hub of indoctrination, rather they should be a centre of education. Students should not graduate as activists but rather as individuals that are equipped to become the scientists, the entrepreneurs and the thought leaders of tomorrow. Schools should teach facts, not narratives. Students should be taught how to think and not what to think. Our young people are the future, and we need to give them the freedom and the resources to create that future.

The last area I want to talk about is one that is extremely close to my heart, and it is the area of reconciliation. An incredible man who wrote a reference for me when I ran for preselection is part of the stolen generation. He is not somebody that is out there without a face; he is right here with us in this room today. Robert Knight is a humble yet brave man with a harrowing story. I would like to read you a bit of his story in his words. He writes:

I was taken from my family at seven years of age and put in police cells and institutions. A man was kicked to death in that same cell a week before they locked me in there. There was blood still on the doors. I was scared, crying all the time. Frightened, I couldn’t understand why I was put in the cell. From there I was sent to a boy’s home.

I can still picture my mum weeping her heart out at the train station while I was taken. I couldn’t escape the carriage of the train I was put on.

I didn’t see my mum until three or four years later. This happened to me and my eight brothers. My older brother’s stories are more horrific than mine.

When I came back to my family, I had no respect for anyone. I was out of control. Even as an adult, I have seen some police officers who did some wrong things to me growing up.

The relationship between aboriginal people and non-aboriginal people was very bad.

While Kevin Rudd gave the apology, I cried right through it. It really touched me, but some aboriginal leader had to stand up and respond to the apology. For me having someone apologize needed a response from an aboriginal leader to have reconciliation. Like it says, ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that have trespassed against us’. True reconciliation can eventuate if someone is allowed to stand up and respond to that apology. Something was started, but it was not finished yet …

I have experienced such … restoration, I even became a police liaison officer.

Relationships have been built over time with non-aboriginal people, I have literally felt the hatred and bitterness leave my life.

My family is aboriginal, Renee’s family is non-aboriginal. The relationship that started with me and her parents generation that gone onto our kids. Our families have now walked together for three generations and over twenty years. We have been reconciled. It’s a small part, but if we can experience reconciliation, the nation can too. I know if she gets this job, she will carry that heart into the parliament, I know she loves my people.

What happened all those years ago was a result of horrific decisions made by governments. That is why I will never be able to accept the government telling me who matters and who does not. We are all equal. No-one is born inferior. No-one is born superior. It does not matter what your colour is. It does not matter what your gender is. It does not matter what your sexuality is. It does not matter what your belief system is. We are all precious. When the government tries to tell us who matters, we open the way for destruction. There has been so much talk of reconciliation and many proposals to achieve it, but the benchmark of reconciliation is not tokenism. The benchmark was articulated by Reverend Dr Martin Luther King, who said:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.

My dream is that his dream, spoken all those years ago, will become a reality in our lifetime, that we will come to the table of brotherhood and that that will happen in the homes of individuals, where we face our fears, address our prejudice and walk together, not as people who are the same but as people that connect and celebrate our differences. Restoration does not take place in Parliament alone. It takes place in hearts and homes everywhere, and that is up to us. Like my dear friend Robert, who is here with me today, said:

Something was set in motion when Kevin Rudd spoke those words, but I believe it will be complete in us.

My dream is that the decisions made in this chamber will serve all people, not just some – that they will bring people together and they will not divide, because a people healed are not a people divided. In closing, I am committed to fighting in this chamber for our region, to championing freedom and to making decisions for all Victorians, not just some, and that is my promise.

Members applauded.

Lee TARLAMIS (South-Eastern Metropolitan) (19:00): I move:

That debate on this matter be adjourned until the next day of meeting.

Motion agreed to and debate adjourned until next day of meeting.