Steve Georganas (ALP-Hindmarsh) – Maiden Speech

This is the first speech to the House of Representatives from Steve Georganas, the newly-elected Labor member for the South Australian electorate of Hindmarsh.

Hindmarsh is an inner western seat in Adelaide. Georganas defeated Christine Gallus, who had held the seat for the Liberal Party since 1993. His margin was 108 votes, a margin of 0.06%.

Georganas, 45, was most recently an advisor to the South Australian state minister Jay Weatherill. He contested the seat in 1998 and again in 2001.

Hansard transcript of maiden speech by Steve Georganas, ALP member for Hindmarsh.

The SPEAKER—Order! Before I call the honourable member for Hindmarsh, I remind honourable members that this is his first speech. I therefore ask that the House extend to him the usual courtesies.

Mr GEORGANAS (11:17 AM) —I would like to begin by congratulating the new Speaker of the House, the member for Wannon. Obviously the job of Speaker is very important, and I congratulate him on his position. It is an absolute privilege to be here and I would like to thank those in the electorate of Hindmarsh who decided to place their trust in me to be their local federal member of parliament. They have put me here and they will no doubt decide how long I stay here. I have been humbled by the words of support that I have received from members of the public.

I stand here today so that I can fight for a fair go for the people of the electorate of Hindmarsh. I will fight on their behalf for the things that matter to them. I have listened to people tell me that they need affordable health care and dental care, quality education for their children and a safe and clean environment for the future. I thank them for the opportunity to represent them.

I have lived in the electorate of Hindmarsh all my life, for 45 years. I was born there, went to school there, got married there, had children there—and one day will no doubt die there. It was always the case for me that, win or lose the seat, the suburbs of Hindmarsh would always be my home.

The area has seen many changes over the years. As a boy, I remember playing in the Mile End railway yards, which employed hundreds of workers; by the late eighties they were closed. Most of the people who lived in the suburb of Mile End, where I grew up, worked at the railway yards, like my father. I also remember playing along the River Torrens. As a child I learned to swim at West Beach and Henley Beach, just as my children did years later. Back then we could even swim in the River Torrens.

My first job was as a paperboy selling the News outside the Hilton Hotel—and this was not the Hilton of the famous Hilton chain but the worker’s Hilton down in the suburbs of Mile End and Hilton. Workers from the Electricity Trust of South Australia, the South Australian Railways and the hotel were my customers. In my first week, I remember vividly that I earned 70c, which was enough to go to the movies and get a drink—and I had change left over. These days it costs quite a bit more to go to the movies, the paper boys are no more and, sadly, the Electricity Trust of South Australia—or ETSA, as it is known—is not what it used to be. In the sixties the suburbs of Hindmarsh were a hive of manufacturing activity. There were factories like Lightburn Whitegoods in Novar Gardens, Perry Engineering in Mile End, Hills and Bridgestone in Edwardstown—Bridgestone was then known as SA Rubber Mills.

The people of the suburbs of Hindmarsh are those who believe that if you work hard you can have a brighter future. The people of Hindmarsh I know are people with good old-fashioned principles who understand the meaning of community.

At one time, the Hindmarsh area was a collection of individual and distinct communities. There were the suburbs—or villages in those days—of Glenelg, Henley Beach, Grange, Mile End and Torrensville. They were each unique hubs of activity, with a village-like atmosphere. Between these lay swamps, agricultural land, piggeries and dairies. Despite the changes we see today, that sense of community remains. And it is that sense which drew me into a wide range of community groups in the area.

Back in the mid-1980s my son’s kindergarten, Kurralta Park Kindy, was threatened with closure. John Trainer, then the state member for Walsh, told me to stop complaining and take action. So a bunch of parents got together to stop it—and we won. Not long after that, John Trainer, who at the time was Speaker of the South Australian House of Assembly, coaxed me into a more active political life in the Labor Party, and I thank him for that.

With the Adelaide airport right in the middle of the electorate of Hindmarsh, aircraft noise has always been a big issue for people living in the surrounding suburbs. We were sick of our children being woken up late at night and early in the morning and of not being able to hold a conversation in our own homes every time a plane flew overhead. We needed a curfew and a noise insulation program—and we got them through our work on the Adelaide Airport Action Group, of which I was proud to be the chair for many years well before I became a political candidate.

Today the Adelaide airport remains an issue, but now we have the added concern of development on federal airport land—an issue that I am working on closely with the Netley Residents Association and the Southern Lockleys Residents Association, the areas most affected by the new airport developments. Over the years these residents’ associations, along with the West Torrens Residents Association, the Henley and Grange Residents Association and the Glenelg Residents Association, have all kept me on my toes and, win or lose, I knew I would still be working with them on their valuable work. I thank them for their commitment to the community. They are already lobbying me to take up their causes with the shadow ministers, state governments and the federal government—and, of course, I will be doing that.

One issue that requires a particular mention and which the Henley and Grange residents group have been very vocal about is the Senate inquiry into the Gulf St Vincent. Our treatment of the gulf is killing it. The inquiry made it clear that, unless we took urgent action, the seagrasses and therefore the marine life would be completely wiped out. The government cannot stand by and hope that noone notices that in four years they have done nothing to address the recommendations of the inquiry. I have noticed and the people living along the coast have noticed. It is not okay to ignore this information and I will be taking up this issue at every opportunity. It is time to treat our coastline and our Gulf St Vincent with respect. We know that we cannot continue to take our environment for granted and that, if we do, our children and grandchildren will not be able to enjoy summers at the beaches as we did when we were children. The water will become more polluted and the sand more eroded.

Another issue close to my heart is the treatment of Ansett workers. In 2001, 3,000 South Australian workers, many of them living in Hindmarsh, were told that after years with Ansett they suddenly had no job. As if that was not enough, they were also told that because Ansett had gone broke they would receive no entitlements. In response and after much lobbying, the government introduced the ticket tax to fund workers’ payouts. Three years on and the tax is still there, but many workers have not seen a cent and it seems certain they will never receive their full entitlements. Many of those workers are now in lower paid jobs, are working casually or have retired on incomes far lower than they had worked towards. I am proud to say that I will be employing a former Ansett worker in my electorate office and making good use of the impressive skills she developed while working for Ansett.

I have worked in the community for the community and have very much been part of the community for years. Now, as the member for Hindmarsh, I can dedicate even more time and energy to it and work to help more people as a result. As members of parliament, whether we are in so-called `safe’ seats or in seats as marginal as Hindmarsh where just 108 votes got me over the line, we all have an absolute obligation to work hard for the people who live in those electorates that we represent. And there are plenty of people in the electorate of Hindmarsh who could do with a helping hand. There are people who I have grown up with and known all my life who do not have a job and who have never worked or have worked very little over their lives. Like so many people, they could not get a job in the seventies and early eighties and now, without the skills and the history of employment, they still cannot get a job. They have become stuck and it is time we did something about that. Mature age unemployment is often overlooked amid the important attempts to get young people into the work force.

Hindmarsh is one of the oldest electorates in the country and has the greatest number of people aged 65 or over—more than 20 per cent of people compared with a national figure of around 12 per cent. As a society our treatment of older citizens concerns me greatly. Many older people talk about having become invisible to others, but it is so much more than that. Many of these people have gone through wars, they have worked all their lives, they have paid their taxes and they have contributed towards building this country. We cannot turn our backs on them. We cannot forget them. They deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. We owe them at least that much. It is time to fix our health care system so that people do not die before they reach the top of the waiting list to get their teeth fixed. It is time to make sure there are enough aged care beds and that hospital beds are not being used to prop up our aged care system.

There is another group in the area who have a struggle of a different kind. Although health care matters to families, for most their daily grind is of greater concern. For the sake of parents and their children, it is time that we challenged the dominance of work and the pursuit of prosperity without a purpose. There are too many families whose days consist of getting the children dressed, fed and off to school before going to work for days that are far too long, then picking the children up from day care or after school care, getting the children washed, fed and into bed with a story and then typically falling asleep, exhausted, with no time for themselves, their partners or their families. It is time to give families a balance between their work and time with each other. We need an industrial relations system that recognises the rights of employees to access family friendly work practices. It is essential, and I call on my parliamentary colleagues to set an example by supporting family friendly policies for their own staff.

With two young children in the sixties my parents faced the same challenges that many parents face today—too much time at work and not enough time for family. I remember hassling my father to play with me when he got home from work, so tired he could barely stand up after hours on a factory floor on a production line at General Motors Holden with no fans or airconditioning. Despite being exhausted he did kick the ball with me and play with me. It was only when I had my own boys that I had any understanding of what it was like to juggle parenthood with long hours at work. I have to thank my mother and my father for all they have done for me.

My mother and father taught me to work hard and to persist, and that is why I stand in this House today. I thank them for all they have done for me. They both came to Australia from Greece, but they met in South Australia and married in Adelaide. Like many other migrants who were arriving in great numbers in the early fifties, my father’s working life in Australia began at General Motors Holden, and then after many years he went to work at the Mile End railway yards, where he remained until he retired. My mother was a domestic at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and later worked as a seamstress in various places. My mother and father left Greece to come to Australia for a better life. In 1954 when my father arrived in Australia he spent his first months in Bonegilla migrant camp near Wodonga. My parents left behind them terrible poverty and unrest and they came to a country where, through hard work and perseverance, they would eventually be able to buy their own home and provide a decent life for my sister and me, and for themselves.

There is no doubt that Australia’s migrants have made this country a better place. There are more than 31 nationalities and 32 languages represented in Hindmarsh. Since migration to Australia began in the 1800s, the hopes and dreams of migrants for a new life in Australia have given this country an optimism, resilience, diversity and vitality that must be valued and nurtured. At our heart we are a country of opportunity, a country that respects all of its citizens and a country which believes in the right of Australians to a fair go. By the early nineties we were already comfortable and relaxed and we were striving to have the most equitable health care system in the world, the best schools and universities and an educated and skilled work force.

It is time we reclaimed that vision and reclaimed our place in the world as a country that we can be proud of—a fair go for all Australians. That means narrowing the gap between rich and poor, it means helping people who have lost their way to get back on track so they can give something back to the community and it means refusing to be a part of a culture of fear and greed. Whoever we are and whatever our circumstances, we all have the power to refuse to be afraid and to care about others. Neighbour by neighbour, street by street and suburb by suburb we can become a nation of people who care for one another and who understand one another. In a country where we are not afraid of our fellow country men and women, there is nothing to be afraid of.

For the opportunity I have to represent the people of Hindmarsh and to contribute to an Australia we are all proud of, there are a number of people I have to thank. Firstly, let me thank the people of Hindmarsh once again, as they are the ones who put me here. I would also like to thank all of the trade unions in South Australia and their members for their support. I particularly want to mention the AWU, the CFMEU, the AMWU and my own union, the Australian Services Union, of which I am proud to be a member, and especially the Australian Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union. Thanks also must go to the Premier of South Australia, Mike Rann, for his active support over the years. I think he has come to know the area of Hindmarsh nearly as well as I do. To Mark Butler and everyone at the Missos, thank you for all of your hard work. I know you gave it your all.

To Senator Penny Wong, who worked so hard and so tirelessly over three campaigns to ensure I got elected, thank you. Thanks especially go to my former boss, the South Australian Minister for Families and Communities, Jay Weatherill. This would not have been possible without your support. Thank you to Ian Hunter, the South Australian Labor Party secretary, who was behind my decision to run the first time back in 1998, and to Kevin Hamilton, the former state member for Albert Park, which covered the northern coastal strip of the electorate of Hindmarsh, including all of West Lakes.

Thanks also to George Weatherill, Stephanie Key, Kevin Purse, Tom Koutsantonis, Paul Caica, Pat Conlon, Michael Wright, Lois Boswell, Don Frater, Chris Angelopolous, Angela Gerace, Louisa Sasopoulos, Jared Bowen, Julie Duncan, John Olenich, John Love, Mick Tumbers, Astrid Roth, Geoff McCaw, Grace Portolesi, Gaby Humell, Mick Petrovski, Susan Close, John Gazzola, Anne McEwen, Gail and Peter Gago and my parliamentary colleague Rod Sawford. I want to make special mention of my staff, including Nigel Minge and Sky Laris who have been of great support in the last couple of weeks in setting up the office and have done tremendous work in the last two weeks. I thank them for their support over the years and in the last two weeks. Thanks also must go to Senator Nick Bolkus, who was instrumental in my early days as a candidate. I thank him for all he has done for me over the years. Thank you to the members of the Hindmarsh Federal Electorate Council and the Western Suburbs Residents Association.

Needless to say, it takes a lot of help from others to get elected to parliament, and I could not have wished for more support than I got. For that, I would particularly like to thank three people who have been on this journey with me since it started in 1996: Steven May, Nigel Minge and Michael Subacius. They never gave up, and this victory is just as much theirs as mine.

I am grateful for all of the support I received. There were so many people that it is impossible to name them all, but I thank them all for their help and for their belief in me not only over this last campaign but for the entire seven to eight years that I have been campaigning.

Thanks also to the federal Leader of the Opposition, Mark Latham, and all of my federal Labor colleagues and shadow ministers present and past who have put time and effort into helping me in the electorate over the years. I would also like to acknowledge the work of the previous member for Hindmarsh, Chris Gallus. She was a formidable opponent. Before Chris Gallus, John Scott and Clyde Cameron held the seat, and I would like to thank both of them for their support and keen interest in the seat even though the boundaries and demographics have completely changed from the days when they held it. Prior to Clyde Cameron, Norman Makin was the member for Hindmarsh. Each of them has made a contribution to political life and to the local community.

I also have to mention the late Ralph Jacobi, who was a dear friend of mine. He held the seat of Hawker for many years, which now makes up the southern part of the Hindmarsh electorate. He was a committed and hardworking member with good old-fashioned principles. Through his actions he taught me a great deal about what it means to be a good member of parliament.

As I mentioned earlier, I have won the seat by just 108 votes, and as a percentage that makes it the most marginal seat in the country. Perhaps it has become a cliche, but I know that I am not here to fight just for those who voted for me, although I would thank each of them personally if I could; I am here for all of the people of Hindmarsh. It is now my job to help people to get a fair go, to make sure that they do not fall through the gaps.

Last, but definitely not least, I want to thank my family: my wife, Wendy, and my boys, George and Alex. Thank you. What haven’t I put you through to be here today? But through three campaigns you have always supported me. When I started campaigning for the seat of Hindmarsh, my boys were just nine and 12. Today they are young adults, 17 and 20. Thank you for your patience, for all of your work on the campaigns and for your never-ending support and encouragement.

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