This is the maiden speech to the House of Representatives by Emma Husar, the new ALP member for Lindsay.
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Hansard transcript of maiden speech by Emma Husar, ALP member for Lindsay.
The SPEAKER: Before I call the honourable member for Lindsay, I remind honourable members that this is her first speech. I therefore ask that the usual courtesies be extended to her.
Ms HUSAR (Lindsay) (15:49): Thank you, Mr Speaker, and can I congratulate you on your re-election to the role of Speaker. I suspect that there may be times when my passionate advocacy for the people of Western Sydney is too loud or too frequent and earns me a bench seat outside this chamber—but hopefully not too often. In the end, I appreciate that we are both here to make sure that this place, where important decisions are made, operates fairly for all those inside and outside its walls.
I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respect to those people. I would also like to acknowledge the people of the lands of Lindsay that I proudly represent. To these the traditional custodians of the land, and ancestors past, present and future, I pay my deep respects to you and your culture, the oldest continuing culture on earth. During my time in this place I will work hard to close the gaps of inequity that sadly still exists today, and I will work hard for the proper recognition of our nation’s first people as a sign of my commitment and the deep respect I hold for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the first Australians.
I am Lindsay version 5.0—the fifth member for Lindsay in the 45th Parliament, voted in from position No. 5 on the ballot paper. Some might say No. 5 is alive! In winning Lindsay, something they said could not be done, we achieved the impossible. Lindsay is no longer a bellwether seat, and I am proud to be the first Labor woman to represent Lindsay. I acknowledge Lindsay version 1.0, the Honourable Ross Free, who is here today; and also version 3.0, the Honourable David Bradbury, who is in part responsible for my being here today. I would like to thank the voters of Lindsay who have placed their faith in me to represent them, to speak for them and to ensure that the needs of our community are a first-order priority, not an optional extra.
Before I move on, the fact that I have been in the Labor Party a short time needs some reflection. I would like to thank the people who in my brief period have shown me a huge amount of support and guidance and made me see things in myself that I did not even know existed. I thank Kaila Murnain—our New South Wales general secretary, ceiling smasher, Fortress New South Wales boss lady and election slayer!—who has had my back since I walked through the door and has supported me even as an unknown quantity. I would also like to acknowledge Pat Garcia and Jay Suuval, from New South Wales Labor, who join us here today. I thank Alex Classons and Russ Collison, two of the starting five who knew I had something to contribute and backed me from the beginning. And to the leader in the upper house in New South Wales, the Honourable Adam Searle: I do not know how, when or why our friendship began, I just know it has been there from the very beginning. I thank you for your trusted and measured advice. To former New South Wales Premier, the Hon. Nathan Rees, who gives advice freely, refrains from judgement, and lets me make my own mistakes occasionally: your firm advice has not let me down. To my former boss turned colleague, my electoral neighbour, mentor and friend, Ed Husic: keep the meter running, add it to my tally, and one day I will figure out how to repay the debt of gratitude I have for the time, the wisdom, and the answering of 47 million questions—even if I may have asked them before—and for only ever saying, ‘I told you so’ once, and being right. Next time you tell me not to play basketball during a campaign, I will probably listen—probably.
To the wonderful members of the great Australian Labor Party, the Lindsay FEC, the Young Labor crew, the volunteers who want Labor governments, and to friends who for months campaigned alongside me in this two-year battle, some of whom join me here today: thank you seems an inadequate statement for what your support means to me. I will stand up for our shared values in this place and, in doing so, honour your time and commitment to our common goals. To our campaign family, which spans two elections—both of which were run out of my home, and forced you all to become de facto family members in a most unconventional family—thank you for working in sometimes less-than-ideal conditions, and for showing up and making sure I did the same, even when exhaustion and breaking my body made your jobs harder. Liam Rankine and Peter Grey, the Western Sydney campaign team bosses, I thank you.
I would just like to acknowledge all of the people in the gallery today, all of my friends, for their epic journey on the bus from Sydney to be here in support of me today. My sincere thanks to the Penrith Valley Community Unions, Unions NSW, the Rail, Tram and Bus Union, Communications, Electrical Plumbing Union, Transport Workers Union, Health Services Union, United Services Union, and the Australian Workers’ Union. Mary Court, Mary Yaager, Mark Morey, Alex Claassens, Jim Metcher, Tony Sheldon, Gerard Hayes, Graeme Kelly, Russ Collison: without your support I would not be here. The decent working conditions of every single Australian are owed to the mighty trade union movement, and without your continued advocacy for workers and their families, our country would go backwards. Never stop fighting for fairness. I know, in this place and beyond, I will not.
Thank you also to EMILY’s List for supporting me, and for the work you do in ensuring that women get elected to our parliaments. Our parliaments should reflect the people they represent, and you cannot do that without women. I have to admit though, and probably not unlike yourselves, I look forward to the day when EMILY’s List is not needed, a time when women are treated equally and allowed to make their own health choices, when quotas are not necessary, and when women receive equal pay for equal work.
To my favourite New South Wales state members, particularly those I came to know during the 2015 state campaign: I may now be in a different parliament but rest assured, I will help wrestle Western Sydney back into the Labor fold, and I will do this because we know only Labor understands Western Sydney.
To our leader Bill Shorten—epic timing!—thank you for your leadership which was outstanding in arguing our case for a fairer Australia and putting people first, and for joining me more than once on the campaign trail. To my federal colleagues, Tanya Plibersek and the Chrises Bowen and Hayes, Tony Burke, Catherine King, Jason Clare, Sharon Bird, Justine Elliot, Ed Husic, Deb O’Neil and Sam Dastyari: thank you for your support throughout the campaign and for continuing that support following my arrival in this place.
To my long-suffering and neglected friends: I know I almost never answer my phone, and responding to a text message or email or even listening to a voicemail is absolutely out of the question. I do not know how you put up with me but I am forever grateful for our friendships. Thanks for letting me miss out on some of the special occasions, and not making me feel guilty for my absence by welcoming me back seamlessly when I am around. And to Leonie: none of this would have happened without your loyalty, support and the dedication you have to me, and for my children, and I thank you for being who you are.
Getting here was an absolute team effort and I thank everybody involved. I look forward to continuing this journey with you all. Lindsay is now my patch of the world that I have called home my whole life, and a place I now proudly represent. When I look around that place, I see things that make the community I love so great: our university, our thriving city centre, the small businesses, our growing arts scene, an active sporting community, and the living elements—our river, the lakes, the Cumberland plains, and the World Heritage listed Blue Mountains as our backyard. I see our people, and I count the people of Lindsay as our No. 1 asset. We do not ask for much, we are fair-minded, we are loyal, we help each other out, and we work hard. We are, however, disproportionately disadvantaged when it comes to most things, compared to our inner city and northern suburbs neighbours—public transport, roads infrastructure, and a lack of local jobs. And our health is affected, with some of the highest rates of heart and lung disease, and we currently—sadly—claim the title of having the most under-pressure hospital in the state of New South Wales.
A hospital that already cares for 350,000 people will need to serve even more, as our Western Sydney home grows to become Sydney’s third city. Like many parents in Lindsay, I have frequently relied on the exceptional care provided by the under-resourced and overworked staff at Nepean Hospital, without whom my youngest child would have died at just 10 days old. Had it not been for our world-class universal healthcare system, I would have been faced with crippling debt, or the death of a baby—which is why I will always defend Medicare. The inequity for the people in my community is without doubt growing. With Medicare under threat, huge cuts to health care, plans to deregulate university fees, stagnant wages, housing markets exploding, the casualisation of the workforce, and the cost of living increasing, the divide is getting wider. These, though, are not endemic problems faced by my community alone. They are challenges repeated in communities right across Australia, and they demand and deserve immediate action. These are questions of intergenerational equality, and I look forward to being part of this debate—a debate that is so important my community.
Since my election to this place, I have seen the people of Lindsay stand up and fight for what they believe is fair and just for us. Liberal governments have consistently shown they simply do not understand us, do not serve us, and do not represent us. The people of Lindsay know they need someone in their corner, one of their own, someone like them, to advocate for their needs and those of their family, and the people they care about. That is how I ended up here. So often I hear people refer to politicians as out of touch and not being from the real world—when I look to the class of 2016 and all of the diversity my newly elected peers bring, particularly those on this side of the House, I see a paediatrician, a pharmacist, an early education teacher, journalists, lawyers, counter-terrorism experts, mothers, fathers, women, Indigenous women. I believe that if you want to know how to solve some of the complex issues facing our country, you need to ask those who have been affected by the inequity and the injustice, or those whose luck of the draw has simply just been less lucky. You need to ask the people who have not just lived through adversity but who have helped others to overcome it. I am a mum—I am a single mum—raising three very different but amazing children, one of whom has special needs, one of whom has her own additional health needs, and one who is just a typical teenager. I will leave it to you all to decide which of these three presents the greater challenges!
Life for me has not been without adversity. I have spent 29 out of my 36 years, both as a child and as an adult, living in domestic violence. If you want to know how to address the biggest challenge facing women and our children today, you need to ask the people who have been affected. Even better than that, you need to elect them to decision-making tables where rhetoric will not be accepted and only action will be good enough. In this place I will use my life’s experience to contribute all that I can to tackling the scourge of domestic and family violence. I will stand up for the parents leaving violence who are confronted with a family law system that does not always work for them.
The situation at the moment is truly a national emergency, and one that cries out for more focus and more attention from our leaders. Domestic and family violence is one of the contributors to children living in out-of-home care. Children in foster care are typically disadvantaged compared to their peers. Despite best efforts, children often bounce from home to home, with little to no regard for stability and the wellbeing of the child. We must do better. I will be looking for opportunities to work with the states to reform our out-of-home care system and ensure that society’s most vulnerable children are no further disadvantaged by the system.
Another of the challenges facing many families in Lindsay is accessing the services they need when caring for someone with special needs. Raising a child with special needs and navigating what is a minefield was probably my lever for really getting started in politics. There is no more isolating feeling in the world than being a special needs parent. When all the other families can access and engage in the community at their own free will, ours needs special planning, special stories and sometimes a reconnaissance mission. to explore the suitability. After all the box ticking had been done and the mission looked like it might be a success, you would forge ahead. And when I say ‘mission’, I actually mean getting from one end of the local supermarket to the other without my son experiencing a total meltdown and the unaware shoppers you come across offering a wooden spoon to spank your naughty son with.
When the campaign for the National Disability Insurance Scheme began I immediately knew, from my experience with my son, that I needed to support this to ensure that kids like mine, mums like me and families like ours were able to access something that can and will change their lives forever. I thank those people on my side: Bill Shorten, Julia Gillard and all of those people who worked tirelessly to ensure that this was a national priority. The NDIS is a great starting point. It will help serve the day-to-day needs of people living with a disability. Now is the time to start the next conversation about raising participation rates in open employment and the significant contribution people with a disability can, do and will make to the workforce.
And whilst we work towards the rollout of the NDIS we must be thinking about the physical accessibility of public places. Before arriving here I worked for the disability access committee serving Penrith City Council. Our committee advocated for improved accessibility within the local community. However, there is still a long way to go. I want to see major changes around physical access, particularly two basic and frequently overlooked areas: changing places and play spaces. It is necessary to legislate for public bathrooms to be accessible for those who need it. Changing tables which cater to the needs of older children and adults are a basic necessity requiring immediate action. For those who rely on changing facilities like these, the choice currently is between a public toilet floor and leaving the venue altogether and heading home. Neither of these is acceptable and undermines the quality of life for those with a disability and their carers.
In another area of my advocacy work it has been my great privilege to work alongside the Touched by Olivia Foundation, who are the world leaders in inclusive playground design, ensuring that children with special needs can enjoy the same facilities as their peers. However, until such time that there is legislative leadership in this space, inclusive play areas will remain the exception and not the norm. Inclusion in society makes all of us stronger.
We are all shaped by our families and by our experiences—for better or for worse in a lot of cases. It is the lottery of life. Sometimes bad things happen to good people and there is no making sense of any of it. This was my experience in 2007 when my amazing, smart and beautiful cousin Chloe died unexpectedly at age 18 from a catastrophic brain aneurysm. Chloe impacted my life in many ways, none more significant than her choice to be an organ donor. On her passing, our family honoured her wishes, and through her gift of life she saved seven others.
Our rates of organ and tissue donation here in Australia are unacceptably low. Tara Bennett, a local Glenmore Park schoolgirl in my electorate, came to meet me last week. She lost her three-year-old brother, who was waiting for an organ transplant. Our organ donor opt-in system, which can be overridden by families, is not working. We have an opportunity and an obligation to create legislation which will increase our rates of organ donation, and we need to continue this conversation about how we achieve this.
There are many issues that I am passionate about, but time prevents me from covering all of them in detail today. I will be an advocate for policies that ensure we defend fair working conditions and end all forms of discrimination. So with all of my lived experience, both as a mother and an advocate for the issues I have outlined today, I promise to work hard as the member for Lindsay.
I cannot let today pass though without acknowledging the most important people of my life: my mum, my dad, my sister, Amy—the people who will always love me the most; thank you for your support—and my freakishly amazing children, who are, beyond a shadow of doubt, the most exceptional part of my life. Being your mamma is the greatest privilege I will ever know. The triumphs, the tests, the tantrums—all of it: I would not trade a single moment. Mitch, through you I have learnt patience I did not even realise was possible. Zhalia, you remind me too much of myself most days. Your strong will, belief in fairness, your empathy and your outstanding ability to argue your point will stand you in good stead for the future, little girl. And when you tell me you are proud of me, you bring tears to my eyes. And to my little Evie: you reinforced the lesson I learnt from Chloe about not taking any of it for granted. When the doctor told me you were touch and go there for a while, I was reminded that we are all on loan from some other place and in a second it could all be gone. And with that I vowed that each second would be valued and I would let you know each day through my actions how much you are all loved and cared for. Thank you for supporting me to come into this place and your daily reminders to keep it real.
I thought I would share a quote by Daniel Goldston that hangs in our home and one I often tell my children. I think it is quite relevant to all young people in my electorate of Lindsay:
If you’re going to be passionate about something, be passionate about learning. If you’re going to fight something, fight for those in need. If you’re going to question something, question authority. If you’re going to lose something, lose your inhibitions. If you’re going to gain something, gain respect and confidence. And if you’re going to hate something, hate the false idea that you are not capable of your dreams.
For those of you who might struggle to see the amazing opportunities ahead of you and for those of you who, for one reason or another, feel like things are stacked against you, I stand here as proof that you are not voiceless, that we can as a community come together and demonstrate and agitate for the things we think are important and the things we want to see changed. That is why I am here.
As my good friend Adam still reminds me, governments more or less tax the same amount and spend the same amount. It is who they choose to tax and what spending they choose to prioritise that reveals their true nature. Government is about making choices, and I am proud to be on the side that chooses to make fairness, equality and opportunity for all a priority.
On 19 June we launched the federal campaign in my home town. I stood proudly under a banner that read ‘We will put people first.’ From now until my time in this place, that is exactly what I will do.