Tim Hammond, the new ALP member for Perth, has delivered his maiden speech to the House of Representatives.
Hammond, 40, a barrister, began his legal career with Slater and Gordon. He has specialised in asbestos litigation and acted for indigenous victims of road trauma.
Hammond was promoted directly into the ALP’s shadow ministry as Shadow Assistant Minister for Digital Economy and Startups, Innovation, and Resources and Western Australia.
Hammond succeeds Alannah MacTiernan as member for Perth. He polled 37.36% of the primary vote and 53.33% of the two-party-preferred vote.
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Hansard transcript of maiden speech to the House of Representatives by Tim Hammond, ALP member for Perth.
The SPEAKER: Before I call the honourable member for Perth, I remind the House that this is the honourable member’s first speech, and I ask the House to extend to him the usual courtesies. I call the honourable member for Perth.
Mr HAMMOND (Perth) (17:59): Thank you, Mr Speaker, and congratulations on your re-election to your very important office.
I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet, and pay my respects to their elders, both past and present. I also acknowledge the traditional owners, the Noongar people, of my local community, and also pay my respects to their elders, both past and present.
I stand before all of you today, incredibly honoured and privileged at the trust that has been placed in me, by my local community, my friends and my family, as I address this chamber in my capacity as the federal member for Perth for the very first time. That only 10 others since Federation have been able to make such a claim brings the magnitude of this privilege into even sharper focus. But we are by our very nature, having arrived here today, a competitive bunch and we all quite rightly claim more boldly than each other that the respective qualities of our electorates surpass easily all the rest. And not for the first time you will hear me make a confident yet possibly unqualified claim to it being beyond contention that the federal seat of Perth actually beats them all. I could extol the virtues of my local community until you have all gone home and the lights have gone out. Bordered by Perth city itself, Kings Park and flanked by the Swan River, the result is unrivalled beauty and a diversity of ethnicities, cultures and values. A truly wonderful, culturally-rich place with opportunities but also challenges around every corner. To the men and women in the federal seat of Perth: I am only here today because of the faith you have all placed in me, and I will not let you down.
I am also incredibly honoured upon entering this place to have been allocated additional portfolio responsibilities in the shadow executive as shadow assistant minister for Western Australia, resources, innovation, the digital economy and start-ups. Western Australia is of course important for a whole lot more than just mining and resources; but, having said that, the economic impact that the mining industry has upon our community is significant and cannot be overstated. In 2013-14, for example, the mining sector contributed $78 billion or almost one-third of Western Australia’s output alone. Once the impact of the resources sector is taken into account in relation to indirect employment opportunities and community engagement, it is abundantly clear that the key driver to our future prosperity in Western Australia involves careful planning and risk management of the resources industry so that all Western Australians, and indeed all Australians, continue to derive the benefit from such an important and incredibly valuable part of our community.
No discussion of the interface between the resources sector in Western Australia and government would be complete without recognising the work of Gary Gray, the former member for Brand. Indeed, I owe Gary a great deal both for his support and friendship and also for the fact that he has the enduring confidence of the sector, which helps us greatly in ensuring a smooth transition from the past to the present.
I am also incredibly excited about having the opportunity to contribute our national conversation in relation to innovation, the digital economy and start-ups. Our communities and our places of work are changing forever primarily due to rapid advances in technology, innovative disruption and automation and it seems to me that our great challenge as a nation is to search out new ways of work and, more importantly, to make sure that our workers of today and tomorrow are ready to take their place in the global economy.
In my areas of portfolio responsibility, I have the great fortune of working not only with our leader, Bill Shorten the honourable member for Maribyrnong, but other immensely intelligent and hardworking shadow ministers in the member for Blaxland, Jason Clare; and Senator Kim Carr. To you all: I thank you in advance for what will be significant patience required. And a word of warning to all three of you: if the phrase ‘what Tim lacks in natural talent he certainly makes up for in enthusiasm’ springs to your mind as I undertake those responsibilities, I can assure you that you are not singing solo. It is a common refrain shared by every teacher, friend or mentor I have had since about the age of five and, on reflection, it was probably events of about that time that indirectly have caused me to arrive in this place. Mercifully for each and every one of you, restrictions on time limits on first speeches mean that I shall limit my story since that age to the abridged version. Growing up, if I possessed a character trait that rivalled my rampant enthusiasm, it was insatiable curiosity. My wife suggested that is just being plain nosey, but I beg to differ.
With a strict no-television-in-the-mornings policy in our house growing up, all roads actually led to the daily newspaper—The West Australian, for those seeking particulars. I would religiously read The West Australian in the morning, half of the thrill to see if I could put it back together in its preruffled state before the old man got to reading it because, if I did not, the result was not pretty. But I can assure members that any connection between a plug for ‘the West’ and the allegation that they went very easy on me in the course of the election campaign is purely coincidence and is more due to the fact that I live an entirely boring and unblemished life. Any alleged impeachable conduct almost certainly occurred in my youth, well before the digital age, and therefore never occurred at all!
Some 15 years later, my habit of reading the daily papers continued, and on one particular day—it was actually 12 June 1996—I was a twenty-something, long-haired university student who could not grow a bid to save my life. Meandering through an arts degree, I stumbled quite literally by chance across a story in the paper that was so powerful that it actually changed the direction of my life. The story was about Rex Dagi, a tribesman from a village in remote Papua New Guinea who, on behalf of tens of thousands of his fellow villagers, took BHP on in the Australian courts in a class action alleging wrongdoing for the damage done to the once crystal clear Fly and Ok Tedi rivers that now flowed hopelessly polluted past his home. And Rex Dagi was successful.
It might actually be the closest I will ever come to experiencing a moment of complete clarity, because right then it became pretty clear that with enough tenacity, with enough hard work, with more than a bit of luck and sheer force of will victory for a just cause was achievable even against an opponent who on face value just seemed too big, too well resourced, too clever.
I went in search of the Perth lawyer John Gordon, who acted for Rex Dagi and his thousands of fellow villagers. John would be much too modest ever to admit it, but for those wannabe lawyers like me in search of a legal ‘light on the hill’ John Gordon was a modern incarnation of Chifley. John gave me a chance, and I grabbed it and latched onto it like a limpet. And what a ride it was: too young to be fearful, crashing out or crashing through court cases that coincidentally took me to Papua New Guinea as the Ok Tedi litigation continued and then on to Bougainville and another class action, being confronted by armed rebels and bitten by a mangy dog, all in the quest for justice.
I also experienced working alongside litigation giants like Peter Gordon during the time he and others took on the fight against big tobacco on behalf of a dying Rolah McCabe, as she was stricken with lung cancer and breathing her last breaths. Being in the thick of those fights against such powerful, well-resourced and well-organised opponents taught me that we could not always rely upon large corporates to get it right. Sometimes it was essential for someone to be there to hold them to account, to ask tough and uncomfortable questions and seek justice on behalf of those whose voices were otherwise not heard. It was a desire to help remedy that injustice that took me closer to home, back to Perth, to work as a lawyer and then a barrister representing in the courts men and women who were dying from mesothelioma and lung cancer, their lives robbed in the cruellest manner possible by an insidious and vile industrial disease caused by exposure to asbestos. Almost without exception, decades of their lives, their love, their laughter and their memories were stolen from these women and men as a result of exposure to a deadly dust in circumstances that were entirely preventable—preventable because available knowledge surrounding the harm caused by exposure to asbestos had existed as far back as the 1890s. But the reality was that asbestos companies, employers and governments had simply not done enough to stop people from getting sick. Good government could have fixed it but it was not fixed, and people died because it was not fixed. My working life became bedside courtrooms, shaking hands with my dying client as we landed a settlement just hours before trial. What I will never, ever forget about those handshakes is that they went on for just a little too long, with the grasp just a little bit too tight. It was too tight and it was too long because you could tell they just wanted to hold on to a life as theirs was slipping away.
Outside the courtroom, while all that was going on, it took a Labor government in New South Wales to step up and set up a special commission of inquiry to investigate whether James Hardie had left enough money behind to compensate current and future victims of asbestos disease. It is now common knowledge, of course, that they had not. And then we saw Greg Combet and the trade union movement, together with the victims groups, led by Robert Vojakovic and Bernie Banton, hammer out a deal that made James Hardie stay and pay. But where all of that actually began was with good government done well in setting up that special commission of inquiry. That is what brought me to the Labor Party—it was a Labor government making decisions to keep James Hardie accountable while having the welfare of ordinary working women and men in front of mind.
Much of my legal work, which it has been a privilege over the years to undertake, has been for precisely the same reason that I want to be here: to do whatever it takes to get outcomes that are fair, reasonable and just. More recently that has taken me to the far reaches of the north-west of Western Australia, dragging a courtroom out to remote Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley, getting compensation for Aboriginal victims of road trauma on instructions from a rough-and-tumble, crazy-brave bush lawyer by the name of Tom Cannon, who is also known as ‘the crash-bash man’ to his Aboriginal clients, for many of whom English is a second language.
I have always had the belief that distributive justice, or at the very least compensation, to address a wrongdoing can go a very long way to restoring a balance when injustice has occurred. But it is actually here, in this place, on behalf of our electorates and with the beliefs that we all hold so dear, that I think we actually have a chance to get ahead of that curve, to improve lives, to improve outcomes in our communities and, most importantly, to enact laws that stop injustice or inequity from occurring. I really want to be a part of that. I want to be able to contribute on behalf of those in our community who, for one reason or another, just cannot advocate for themselves.
I believe that when federal government is done well it is the most effective and efficient means by which to improve the lives of every Australian. My best guess is that we achieve positive change in politics by being bold, by being a big target; sometimes by doing a lot of little things, even boring things, which result in living a big life in this place; putting our collective reputations on the line by spelling out how we will improve outcomes in education and health or create more jobs that will see us punch above our weight globally.
Being brave and bold saw us avoid a recession in the wake of the global financial crisis. I could not be more proud—together with having the utmost respect for the member for Lilley and my great friend Jim Chalmers, the member for Rankin—to say that I am actually now part of a federal parliamentary team that in 2008 and 2009 created hundreds of thousands of jobs, which meant this country avoided recession while the rest of the developed world reeled from the effect of the GFC.
Being brave and bold saw us challenge the paradigm of care and support for the catastrophically injured and unwell when Labor created the National Disability Insurance Scheme under the guiding hand of our current leader, Bill Shorten, whom I first met on the campaign trail in 2010 when I was trying to dislodge the member for Swan—who I see, as I look across the chamber, is still stubbornly here! What struck me at the time was how committed and focused Bill was in encouraging the disability sector to organise in a way that meant working together with Labor to achieve unstoppable change for the ultimate benefit of the disabled or impaired—and their carers—all of whom had been marginalised in our society for just too long.
I keep the faith that somehow, somewhere we will eventually see the completion of what could be our most magnificent infrastructure project since the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme: a proper National Broadband Network that is truly futureproof, with the capacity to unleash our enormous potential onto the world.
I believe that good government done well will address once and for all the overwhelming and institutionalised pain of Aboriginal Australians and those abused while in institutional care. Good government done well has a responsibility to steer our national conversation to a place that recognises and celebrates diversity and tolerance, not to a place where it is shouted down.
Representing in a courtroom men and women dying of asbestos disease has taught me that every single second is precious and life is very short.
Our obligation is to live a big life. But living a big life does not mean making a big noise or even arriving here. Living a big life means something unique to all of us. There is no playbook; there is no template.
Our recent federal campaign was a big campaign with big ideas and it was a campaign I was incredibly proud to be a part of. I thank our leader Bill Shorten, the honourable member for Maribyrnong; my great friend Chris Bowen; Tanya Plibersek; Anthony Albanese; Mark Dreyfus; Ed Husic and a host of others for all of the unwavering support that they have provided me without any hesitation at all over a gruelling 100-day campaign, to allow us to keep the federal seat of Perth in Labor hands. But I thank more than anyone else my beautiful wife Lindsay and my little girls Sidney and O’Hara, or more commonly known as Sid and Harry. You guys are everything to me. Lindsay, I know that you know I am brimming with pride at the moment but, make no mistake, as moments go it comes fourth behind the birth of our two girls and of course getting married to you. None of this will work for the right reasons unless we are in it together and by each other’s sides.
To my campaign team and my immediate predecessor Alannah MacTiernan; to Bruce, Tommy Cazaly, Rob, John, Megan, Ron, Daniel, Mark, Prue, Colleen, Wade Lapp and Chris Prast; to my adviser, campaign auditor and all-time polling day sidekick, Stephen Smith: thanks to all of you and thank you to hundreds of others who helped me on the campaign. Thank you to all of the branch members in the federal seat of Perth and in Western Australia generally and thank you to the mighty North Perth branch of course and to all of the others whose names time, sadly, does not permit me to mention. To the trade union movement for supporting me and my campaign, but in particular Gerard Dwyer and Peter O Keefe at the SDA, Scott McDine, Stephen Price and Mike Zoedbroot at the AWU and Tony Sheldon and Tim Dawson at the TWU, thank you. To the Praetorian Guard—Lenda, Brendan, Laurence—none of us is having fun.
To my lifelong mates, some of whom have made the trip from various capital cities around Australia and are here in the gallery today—thank you. To the Q court, you will always be my ethical and philosophical compass. Thank you to my mum, my sisters Karen and Megan, and to Jaci and Ivan. To the ones I love who are not here anymore, I constantly look to you for inspiration—David Prast, Sharon Fletcher and of course my Dad, now gone more than 10 years.
As you can see many people have helped me live a big life in this world, but our new world does not sit cosily alongside our old world. Our teenagers are more likely to use their spare time collaborating with 20 other programmers, artists and writers all over the world in real time to create web based computer games in their bedroom in their spare moments. Globalisation seems to be now. Our challenge seems to be to embrace this change, not chase after it in a clumsy attempt to catch up. That means a new conversation about what it means for mums, dads and kids. Most of all it means a new conversation about what it means for prosperity, for productivity and for creating new jobs.
I remain completely convinced now, more than ever, that a Labor government is best placed to create an opportunity for our old and new generations to strive to achieve a new Australian community that takes the best of who we are and applies it to our new world, to give every single Australian the opportunity to exercise their fundamental right to achieve their full potential, to skill-up workers transitioning out of traditional employment roles so they can grab with both hands the opportunities in our digital economy and everything that it has to offer, to invest in our kids, to close the gap, to care for the most vulnerable and marginalised in our society and to make marriage equality a reality right now. That is good government done well.
When I am done and when we turn out the lights and the next member for Perth takes my place what do I hope my contribution to public life might look like? I just want the people of Perth, my colleagues and my party to know that I have given it everything. I just want to play a very small part in my own way in creating a prosperous Australia that is competitive on the world stage. I want my family to be proud of what I have worked towards and I hope above all else that my girls think I have done okay. Because if I can achieve all of that I do not reckon life gets any bigger.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Craig Kelly): The chair congratulates the member for Perth on his maiden speech and we welcome you to the chamber.