Brian Mitchell (ALP-Lyons) – Maiden Speech

Brian Mitchell, the new ALP member for Lyons, has delivered his maiden speech in the House of Representatives.

Mitchell

Mitchell, 49, won the Tasmanian seat from the Liberal Party’s Eric Hutchinson at the July 2 double dissolution election. Hutchinson held the seat for just one term. Previously, the ALP’s Dick Adams held the seat for 20 years from 1993.

Mitchell was born in England. He worked as a journalist before joining the ACT Council of Social Service. Between 1992-94, he was an adviser to Roger Price, the Labor member for Chifley (1984-2010). From 1994, he was the editor of the Fremantle Herald, before becoming Chief of Staff to Duncan Kerr, ALP member for Denison (1987-2010), in 2007. Since 2008, he has worked as a media consultant.

Lyons is the largest of Tasmania’s five electorates, covering most of the State. It includes towns such as Beaconsfield, Bridgewater, Deloraine, Evandale, Longford, Perth, St. Helens and Westbury.

Mitchell polled 38.57% of the primary vote in Lyons and 52.31% of the two-party-preferred vote, a swing to the ALP of 3.53%..

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Hansard transcript of maiden speech by Brian Mitchell, ALP member for Lyons.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (16:13): Before I call the honourable member for Lyons, I remind the House that this is the honourable member’s first speech. I ask the House to extend to him the usual courtesies.

Mitchell

Mr BRIAN MITCHELL (Lyons) (16:14): I acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, and pay my respect to elders past and present. I also acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands that comprise my electorate of Lyons and pay my respect to Tasmania’s elders past and present.

It had been my intention to deliver my first speech around noon yesterday, but the rambunctious nature of this chamber can foil even the best laid plans, as the members for Stirling and Pearce discovered a week ago.

I thank the people of Lyons for extending to me the great privilege of representing them in this national parliament. The weighty significance of that trust is not lost upon me. I take this opportunity to thank Eric Hutchinson, the former member for Lyons, for his service to the electorate, the parliament and the nation. We are on different sides of the political fence, but our contest was a civil one. Eric and his family have my very best wishes.

Mitchell

One of my first tasks will be ensuring the government keeps the election promises it made to my electorate, but I am also prosecuting the case for Labor’s agenda in Tasmania—one that is centred on delivering economic growth with fairness. Tasmanians turned overwhelmingly to Labor in July, returning four members in that state, so it is entirely appropriate that government gives more serious consideration to implementing Labor’s plan for our state—the plan that Tasmanians voted for. Indeed, a commitment from the Prime Minister to implement Labor’s plan would provide for him something more elusive than a Tasmanian tiger—an achievement—and it would be marvellous to announce it on this, the anniversary of the day the Prime Minister employed agility and innovation to give the member for Warringah the boot. Government senators would no longer have to wax lyrical about the history of flags and favourite television shows. They could instead be talking about the government investing in Cradle Mountain, delivering the ex-HMAS Tobruk as a dive wreck of St Helens and completing the Three Capes Track on the Tasman Peninsula. They could be crowing about delivering Gonski; providing Tasmanian schoolchildren with the opportunities they need to advance in the 21st century; providing a sports centre to Longford and a football hub to the Derwent Valley. They could be telling my constituents that they had encouraged Launceston Airport, a big multinational, to cough up the $1 million that it owes Northern Midlands residents in unpaid rates.

All these and more were Labor promises for Lyons that the government failed to match, and all of them would provide the jobs and growth that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer are so fond of talking about. Importantly, they would deliver confidence to the regional communities in my electorate that need it most. If the government were to get behind Labor’s plan, I would be more than happy to sing its praises. The offer is there and I do hope it is taken up.

Tasmania is a bountiful state and I am pleased to say much of the bounty is produced in Lyons. People in Lyons produce glorious food—whiskey, gin, beer and wine—and I regard it as a solemn duty, as the local MP, to sample as much as I can as often as possible. It is a heavy, heavy burden! Indeed, as I pile into my ute to criss-cross my visually stunning electorate, with its mountains, forests, plateaus and rocky coastlines, I often thank my good fortune. With Springsteen up loud and the window wound down, I know I have the best job in the world. I get to meet incredible people who are resilient, warm, welcoming and tough: a dairy farming family, their livelihood devastated by floods, who still manage to volunteer for their community and lobby for netball courts; a maritime worker passionate about Australian jobs on Australian ships, who despite losing his own job campaigns for others to keep theirs; migrants from Greece who opened a kebab shop in Bridgewater and work morning till night to provide for their family. A woman suffering leukaemia attended a public meeting in Campbell Town to support rights at work. She has nothing to gain personally—she expects to be dead within a year—but she cares so deeply about her country and its future that she ventures out on a cold evening to make the case. And when I compare her courage and selflessness to the self-interested whining of billionaires who demand lower wages for Australian workers, I know whose side I am on.

Nine in 10 of my constituents are Australian-born and 46 per cent of my workforce are tradies, technicians, labourers or machine operators. It is an electorate at work. They do not suffer spin, and God help any politician who tries to deliver a line cooked up by a Canberra spin doctor hipster. I am in awe always of the volunteers throughout my electorate . Whether ambos or firies, quilt stitchers or cooks and kitchen hands, volunteers are the heroines and heroes of Lyons. Their dedication to their fellow citizens humbles me every day.

Mitchell

Across my electorate some really interesting stuff is going on across a range of sectors, especially agriculture. Millions of people are joining Asia’s emerging middle class and are prepared to pay for top-quality food. That is the market Tasmanian agriculture is increasingly targeting, and key to growing our $1.44 billion agriculture sector is protecting our precious status for GM-free produce and value-adding wherever possible. For example, Peter in Beauty Point makes bacon better. I know—how is it even possible? He smokes it in all sorts of interesting ways, while Kate and Ian raise biodynamic goats in Bream Creek. They are amongst hundreds of small to medium producers and business people finding new markets.

Aquaculture is rocketing ahead with necessary environmental safeguards, and I am excited about the prospect of trials for seaweed farming. Rod at Boyer has big ideas for the manufacture of eco-friendly solvents and I am keen to progress the possibilities for wood-waste biomass energy and electricity production. I acknowledge there are political hurdles to this, including on my side of the House, but I believe the economic potential for Tasmania is too great to ignore. If Europe can accept biomass as an environmentally acceptable alternative to coal—not as a replacement for solar, wind and wave but as an adjunct to it—I fail to see why Tasmania should not benefit.

Just as an agricultural aside, the anticipated $170 million cost of the government’s marriage equality plebiscite is $10 million more than the annual value of Tasmania’s entire crop of spuds. So we are not talking small potatoes. Here is my suggestion, for what it is worth: let’s have a free vote in this parliament, where all the arguments for and against can be freely discussed. And then let’s give every member in this place $1 million, which they can distribute throughout their electorate to community and sporting groups, volunteers and others. That $1 million per electorate could do a lot of good, and there would still be at least $20 million left over. It is just a suggestion. It seems a much better way to spend public money.

Mitchell

I am passionate about the potential for growing new industry in my state and electorate, because behind Tasmania’s beauty there are challenges to be faced and overcome. Tasmanians are left behind when it comes to health, education, jobs, social mobility and income. Regional towns and outer suburbs lag behind on most indicators of economic and social wellbeing. Youth unemployment remains stubbornly high—20 per cent in some areas—and I cannot help but feel that is aligned to historically poor educational outcomes. Fewer than half my constituents complete year 12, let alone higher education. Doing years 11 and 12 can be challenging in regional Tasmania, with students generally expected to travel long distances to specialist colleges. Public transport is absolutely woeful, and I am convinced the two are aligned. If we want better educational outcomes, we must offer better ways to access education. I wish the Tasmanian state government every success with its bid to roll out year 11 and year 12 courses to more local high schools, but I fear that, without proper resourcing and without more intensive efforts to encourage young people to stay on, it will not succeed.

In July 2014, I had the honour of being preselected as the first Australian Labor Party candidate for the 2016 election. Nearly every weekend for two years I doorknocked and attended fairs and agricultural shows—not a bad way to spend a weekend. In the last eight weeks of the campaign, I doorknocked just about every day. I talked to a lot of people, but more importantly I listened. One of the first things I committed to was opposing the presence of freezer factory trawlers operating in Australia’s small pelagic fishery. I continue to oppose the presence of these voracious vessels—a view I know is shared across the aisle with some government members. I look forward to working with my Tasmanian colleagues to progress this further during this parliament.

It will come as no surprise to anyone here that the key concern expressed at the doors was about the future of health care in Australia: the rising costs, the lack of access, and the long waiting lists in emergency and for surgery. For the record, I want Medicare expanded to include dental coverage for all Australians, more focus on mental and preventative health, and a full rollout of medicinal cannabis treatment. I am not amongst those who regard public health care as an unaffordable cost burden, as something to be sliced and diced whenever possible. It is an essential element of Australian society. Improving health improves lives. We are a wealthy country, and the least we owe our citizens is good health.

Our fellow citizens are crying out for evidence of strong, principled and authentic political leadership, and we here in this chamber have a duty to provide it. When I look at the calibre of the membership of this 45th Parliament, I am confident we are up to the challenge. We have members who have done duty in war zones, met with world leaders and overcome adversity through gender, culture or religion that I cannot even begin to fathom. As someone whose most adventurous moment to date was barely surviving the spinning teacup ride at Movie World, I am humbled to be in such exciting company.

I decided to run for parliament for many reasons, but if I had to give just one it is that I do not want Australia to end up like America, where for 40 years trickle-down economics has made a wasteland of the once great American middle class, with wages flattened, jobs casualised and contracted out or sent overseas and working conditions stripped bare. The ‘American Dream’ has been smashed by ruthless corporations that pay little tax and low wages but post big profits. The evidence is in and it is overwhelming. Trickle-down is a dud. It does not build prosperity; it merely entrenches wealth amongst those who have it.

Mitchell

We live in a fantastic country, envied the world over for its standard of living, its natural beauty and its welcoming, laid-back culture. But we did not get here by accident. We got here by design, by former members of this parliament taking deliberate action to create a fairer, more inclusive society. Past parliaments, in economic times much tougher than ours, I might add, created a robust social security system and legislated for universal health and affordable education. They had the foresight to invest heavily in public infrastructure, giving us telecommunications, highways, rail, dams and ports, and they created a progressive taxation system and universal superannuation. They recognised women’s suffrage, Indigenous rights and embraced multiculturalism and the rights of LGBTIQ Australians. Each of these elements was hard won, in the face of substantial, sometimes vitriolic, opposition; but woven together they now form the egalitarian tapestry that defines our national identity, which has been central to 25 years of uninterrupted economic growth. So it is inexplicable to me why some are so intent on unpicking the threads of this tapestry. They appear to have cast their gaze to America and like what they see: higher costs for health and education, with worse outcomes; the freezing of superannuation increments; cutting social security to pay for high-income tax cuts; and demolishing unions because they are too effective at winning higher pay and better conditions. They make life harder, more miserable, more desperate. It is economic and social madness, and morally indefensible.

I arrived in the parliament around 6.40 this morning, and the cleaners were preparing to go home. I looked at those women—and they are mostly women—and I thought: any of them could have been my own mother, who cleaned schools and hospitals throughout my childhood. Part of the great mission we have in Labor is to ensure these women—all women—are paid fairly for their work and have the opportunity to advance through life. That means child care, education and access to services, and that their sons and daughters are able to aspire to their dreams, constrained only by the limits of their own endeavour and ability. I hesitate to say that addressing income inequality is the moral challenge of our time—that space is crowded with climate change and budget repair—but it comes close. Indeed, last year the International Monetary Fund released a paper and repeated Barack Obama’s statement of 2013 that income inequality is ‘the defining challenge of our time’. Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz has written extensively on the subject, as has Robert Reich, who was Bill Clinton’s labour secretary.

A message to the Treasurer after today’s effort in question time: it is not enough to talk about economic growth for its own sake. We need to talk about the outcomes and objectives that growth must deliver. We live in a society, not an economy. We do not live to serve the economy; it exists to serve us. It is an important distinction. When pensioners in Bridgewater cannot afford their power bill they do not feel prosperous. When a family in Deloraine scraping by on Newstart must choose between rent and food, they are not excited by news of record corporate profits. A man in Midway Point already waiting months for bowel cancer treatment, who is told there will be more delays, wonders why $48 billion in corporate tax cuts is deemed more important than funding the surgery that can save his life. What relevance does prosperity have if it is not shared? More and more economists are abandoning trickle-down economics. They can see with their own eyes the promise of the theory does not match the lived experience. We need a new conversation about how Australia’s economy can be utilised to shape better lives for all Australians.

It is my great hope that this 45th Parliament becomes a champion for inclusive prosperity, achieving what Ben Chifley called ‘greater happiness to the mass of the people’. I am delighted to have been seated next to the member for Lilley who, as Treasurer, was instrumental in saving Australia from the global recession that devastated so many other countries and who in the years since has been a leading voice for inclusive prosperity. I give him fair warning that he can look forward to a sore left ear in the months to come.

I was born in England and grew up in Maddington, an outer suburb of Perth in WA. When we landed in Australia in 1975 our parents intended settling in Melbourne, but after some months at the migrant hostel in Maribyrnong they decided the weather was too much like England, so we piled into a Falcon 500 and spent a week crossing the dusty Nullarbor to sunny Perth. Of course, if we had stayed in Melbourne I might well have become the member for Maribyrnong. That does not bear thinking about!

My political journey started, as it does for many, at the kitchen table, and was galvanised by an adolescence listening to The Jam, The Specials and The Smiths. My late mother was a Catholic Irishwoman and staunch union member. We would speak often throughout my childhood of the importance of unions, in between religiously watching Sale of the Century with Tony Barber. From a young age I learned Labor stood for working people while the Liberals, led by the then-detested Malcolm Fraser, were for the rich. Middle age has long mellowed my rage towards the fiend who deposed Gough, but a lifetime of adult experience convinces me the principal contention remains sound.

Mitchell

Childhood in Maddington was carefree, if humble by today’s standards. We visited beautiful beaches on school holidays, endured bushwalks and flies in blazing summer heat with our bush-mad dad, rode bikes without helmets and could disappear from our parents’ view for hours, totally uncontactable. Looking back through adult eyes I can see how hard my parents worked to provide that oasis for my brother and me: two or sometimes three jobs at a time for dad and cleaning for mum, neither particularly well paid. They juggled bills, scrimped and saved for birthdays and Christmas, and neither ever owned a new car. Mum died 14 years ago, with heart disease and a lifetime of smoking finally catching up with her. Don’t smoke, kids! Dad went just over three years ago in a car accident. They would both be proud as punch if they were here and it would have been nice to see them up in that gallery today.

I enjoyed high school but largely drifted my way through, earning a reputation for being argumentative with exasperated teachers. I spent a fair bit of time in the office of deputy principal, Ted Parker, for various infractions, and for my year 12 reference he wrote: ‘Brian is a determined young man, who will not be used as a doormat.’ I took it as praise at the time, but I think it was a warning. At 14 I scored a part-time job at Hungry Jack’s, where I stayed for seven years. I loved that job. My eldest daughter, Bronte, now 17, groans whenever I talk about it, complaining it is one of those dad stories I trot out too often. She will groan again that I mention it here, which of course is why I do so!

I fell in love twice at university—first with my journalism course and next with Tania. I joined the university Labor club, got elected to the student guild and made lifelong friends. Uni opened my eyes to possibilities I could not have dreamed of in Maddington, and that is the real value of higher education. It reveals the unknown and it tears away the veil of ignorance. It is, I think, critical to social mobility, and must never again become the exclusive preserve of those with money. I believe to the core of my soul that access to every level of education is a human right, not a commodity to be bartered, and that we should be aiming to wind back the fees that students pay, not squeeze them for even more.

After uni I was offered a cadetship with The Fremantle Herald, a start-up independent weekly newspaper. I went on to become editor for more than a decade. I cannot begin to describe the enormous influence that Andrew Smith, the paper’s owner, has had on me. I was barely 22 when I started, and he has been part of my life now for 27 years. He confided to me once that he had employed me over the objections of the then-editor, as he believed his fledgling paper needed someone with ‘more arse than class’ and he figured a working-class kid from Maddo might prove more resilient than a private school prima donna. It is with no disrespect to my late father that I say Andrew is the single most influential male figure in my life. He has been unerringly ethical, deeply principled and exceedingly generous. I consider myself very lucky to have walked into that stiflingly hot weatherboard office for a job interview in the summer of 1989.

By late 2006 Tania and I decided to up stumps from Freo and move to Tasmania—we were well over WA’s heat—and I landed a position with Labor MP Duncan Kerr, another man I consider myself privileged to have worked for and known. In late 2008 our second daughter, Julia, arrived—our own Tasmanian devil—so I gave up the job to put out my shingle as a media consultant. I did that for eight years and loved it. But when it came time to make a decision to grow the business or run for office, it was no contest. If you ask my old classmates from Maddo High, they will tell you I was always headed for this life, and they will probably express surprise it took this long.

None of us gets elected by ourselves, and I have many people to thank. With the indulgence of the House I will continue. First, my campaign manager, Stuart Benson: an indefatigable young man who refuses to even bleed unless it is in official Labor PMS colours. Stuart times his holidays around elections overseas so he can volunteer on them. He is the truest of true believers.

Mitchell

My core campaign team—the marvellous Senator Carol Brown, Gordon Luckman, Sue Bailey, Sharon Carnes, Jen Butler and Michael Fitzgerald. Also Robert, Kylie, and an army of doorknocking and phoning volunteers and branch members—Innes, Dee, Morris, Simon, Justine, Ken, Sandra, Geoff and so many more. I cannot name you all, but you are all deeply appreciated.

Bill Shorten, who visited Lyons so often he should enrol, and Jenny Macklin for so kindly launching my campaign in Brighton—thank you for your lifetime of dedication to our cause. Tanya Plibersek, Doug Cameron and the rest of the shadow team—I always appreciated the visits, support and advice. National Secretary George Wright—missed already—and the national campaign team, Alex, Paul, Bryce, Ben and the rest, who keep the place running on caffeine and Pokemon.

My many friends in the union movement—Tim Jacobson and Robbie Moore, the fantastic team at HACSU and Chris Brown at HSU National—you are simply the best, always standing up for stronger health and community services. I wear my union badge with pride. Jason, Alisha, Sean, Scott and all the men and women at the MUA and CFMEU—I know you fight every day to keep jobs in Tasmania and on Australian ships and people safe at work. It is because you are so effective that you are so targeted. Jannette and Tassie’s amazing United Voice team—Jess, Tom, Libby and Viv at the CPSU, John and team at the AMWU, Aaron at the ASU, Paul at the SDA, Rob and co at the AWU—thank you all.

My now colleague in this place, Julie Collins, member for Franklin—you are a star. Senators Anne Urquhart, Catryna Bilyk, Helen Polley and Lisa Singh—thank you. State Labor leader Bryan Green and state MPs Bec White, Craig Farrell, Michelle O’Byrne and Maddy Ogilvie. State secretary Karelle Logan, and the Tasmanian treasurer, Lauren Saunders. My Labor predecessor, Dick Adams, and partner-in-all-things, Dee Alty—thank you for your invaluable advice and assistance. Former state MP for Lyons, Michael Polley—I bow before the master. My life-long friends from the Make Uni Dynamic student guild team, Roger Fletcher and Danielle Wooltorton, who travelled to Tasmania from WA and Victoria respectively to help me out on election day—MUD wins again, so take that, Waddell! That is an in joke.

To my daughters, Bronte and Julia, I apologise in advance for all the things I will undoubtedly miss over the coming years. But please know that while this job is important—I do love it and I am going to give it all I have got—you two are everything to mum and me, and while I may not be home as often, I am always with you both. You two and your mum have all my love, always.

Lastly, to my wife and my life, Tania—I do not know how many more times I can say thank you for the journey that you have undertaken with me so far. We have a while to go yet. After 12 or 13 house moves across three states in 28 years together, 21 years of them married, it is fair to say that you are probably owed a shiny rock of some description. I will get onto Gumtree first thing tomorrow. Thank you.

Mitchell

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