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Justine Keay (ALP-Braddon) – Maiden Speech

This is the maiden speech to the House of Representatives by Justine Keay, ALP member for the Tasmanian electorate of Braddon.

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Hansard transcript of maiden speech by Justine Keay, ALP member for Braddon.

The SPEAKER (18:54): Before I call the honourable member for Braddon I remind the House that this is the honourable member’s first speech, and I ask the House to extend to her the usual courtesies.

Ms KEAY (Braddon) (18:54): Thank you, Mr Speaker, and congratulations on your election to your position there.

I acknowledge the Ngunawal and Ngambri peoples, the custodians of the land on which we meet, and pay my respects to their elders past and present. I also acknowledge the traditional owners of the land which Braddon encompasses today and pay my respect to their elders past and present.

I rise here before you today as the proud first woman elected to the division of Braddon. It has taken some 61 years. However, I am not the first woman to represent the people of the north-west coast of Tasmania in this place. Sixty-five years on, I proudly follow in the footsteps of one other woman: a member for the former division of Darwin, the first woman elected to the House of Representatives and the first woman in federal cabinet, Dame Enid Lyons.

In her first speech she said:

I hope that I shall never forget that everything that takes place in this chamber goes out somewhere to strike a human heart, to influence the life of some fellow being, …

Dame Enid has left a rich legacy in my electorate. She was the wife of Tasmania’s only Prime Minister, Joe Lyons, and Devonport is privileged to have a Prime Minister’s residence, Home Hill, just up the road from my house, with Dame Enid’s personal touches gracing every inch of this wonderful family home.

From her election in 1943, Dame Enid—at that stage a widowed mother of 12 children—successfully led the way for women in federal politics. As she said in her first speech:

I am well aware that, as I acquit myself in the work that I have undertaken for the next three years, so shall I either prejudice or enhance the prospects of those women who may wish to follow me in public service in the years to come.

We have come a long way since Dame Enid in terms of gender equality. A photo of the 1949 cabinet that you can see at Home Hill is a stark reminder of that. In a sea of dark suits stands Dame Enid, the only woman, wearing a wide-brimmed hat. Unfortunately, many governments since, and even of recent times, have not done much better in ensuring there is more than one woman in cabinet. I am proud to stand here as a member on this side, surrounded by talented women. However, from my view here, looking at the other side reminds me somewhat of that cabinet photo of 1949.

I wish to thank the people of Braddon for having faith in me and my ability to represent them here in the federal parliament. Without their support I would not be here, and I will not lose sight of that very fact. The people of King Island and the north-west and west coasts of Tasmania are a resilient lot. We genuinely care for each other, across our towns and cities and our regional, rural and remote communities. We come together in times of crisis; whether they be raging bushfires, devastating droughts or tragic floods, we are generous in nature. It is said there are six degrees of separation; I contest—and dare I say—that in Tasmania there are about three. We all know each other, just about; we are willing to pitch in when someone is in need, and we will do whatever we can to help.

Imagine if you can, the deep, dark forests of the World Heritage areas of south-west Tasmania: pristine and still rivers that mirror the land and sky; wild beaches of white sand and oxidised boulders on the edge of the world; coastal and rural towns and cities brimming with friendly faces and built heritage; breathing in the cleanest air in the world; eating the best steak you have ever had from the grass-fed cattle; drinking the purest water and devouring the best vegetables from the richest volcanic soils; and for seafood lovers, delighting in the world-renowned salmon, ocean trout and shellfish.

Our natural beauty, our wonderful, humble people and our innovative industries and products create our clean green image. This is our competitive advantage that no other place can rival and which needs to be protected at all cost.

We can have balance in what we do, how we interact with our environment, how we can have sustainable development, jobs, industry and business—trading on our competitive advantage, using the Tasmania brand to access markets many others cannot. To go to either extreme, to lock or unlock everything, can only result in damage to our reputation, our economy and our way of life.

We are unassuming, we are unpretentious, we do not boast, yet we should be shouting from every rooftop just how wonderful our products and our people really are. As the years go by, others are doing that for us. I think that is what makes us so special. I believe I live in the best electorate in Australia, but I know the people of Braddon will tell you if you are doing something right and they will tell you when you are doing something wrong. Whether on local or national issues, Braddon has been a marginal seat for 20 years. I would like to pay tribute to Brett Whiteley, the former Liberal member, and Sid Sidebottom, the previous Labor member, for their commitment and dedication to serving the people of Braddon. I would also like to thank Sid for his advice and guidance during the campaign.

To know what we stand for as aspiring politicians, to articulate this to our electors, we must first understand where and who we come from. I am a twin to Damon, a boilermaker welder, and born to Terry and Tresna. My mother, who is here today, spent most of my early childhood volunteering at the P&F and at the local Migrant Resource Centre. I thank her for instilling in me fierce independence, a touch of feistiness and a desire to contribute to my community. Thank you, Mum, for being there for me and my family over this campaign and for the sacrifices you made so that my brother and I had opportunities. I know I have made you proud.

My father was a seafarer, a ten-pound Pom who fell in love with the sea, joined the merchant navy and then became a steward on the Princess of Tasmania, the Empress of Australia and finally the Abel Tasman, the passenger vessels connecting Tasmania to the mainland, on which he passed away at sea when I was 10 years old. He was a strong union man, and many of his past workmates have told me of his passion for helping others in the workplace, whether on the ship or on the wharf, regardless of what union or association they belonged to, in order to make it a safer place and improve their working conditions. This was before the unions amalgamated to form the MUA, a union that I feel a deep connection to; a union and an industry that supported my family growing up and a union that supported me during this campaign. I feel truly honoured by and hold deep gratitude to the members of the MUA for their belief in me and their passion, fighting to keep an Australian shipping industry that supports so many families with stable work and decent pay.

I would also like to thank the union movement, in particular the CFMEU, AMWU, ASU, HACSU, SDA, CPSU, United Voice and CEPU, for their support for me and for working Australians, who are disgracefully and continually attacked by conservative governments. In addition, many thanks go to EMILY’s List for their support of me and progressive women in politics.

My values of equality, fairness, equity and justice I know I received from my parents. These are the values that have guided and will continue to guide me as I make decisions on behalf of the people of Braddon. As an elected alderman on the Devonport City Council for nearly seven years, my decision making on behalf of the residents was based on these values. I believe most reasonable people share in these values. I have a vision for our country to espouse these values in how we interact with each other and how governments and institutions practice equality and fairness; a vision of a society that treats everyone as equals regardless of who we are, where we come from or who we love. Is this a utopian world? I hope not.

I want my children to live in a tolerant world. I want them to have choices, not barriers. As a University of Tasmania graduate in the mid-1990s, at a time in Tasmania when many of my age were leaving the state, I took the first job I could get, working in television. It was not glamorous, it paid terribly, but it was a job. I eventually left Tasmania, not because I wanted to but because I felt I had to. I moved to Perth, WA, to study at Murdoch University, continued to work in television, and after three years was desperate to come home. Perth is a fantastic place—far too hot for me—but it is not Tasmania.

I do not want my children, Ethan, Alex and Oliver, to feel they need to leave Tasmania to have opportunities. They are the reason I chose to contest local government elections. They are the reason I contested a state and a federal election. I want to be part of creating their future and the future of all Tasmanians. I do not look in the rear-view mirror but always ahead. I live by the motto ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ I thank my boys for their understanding of what I do and that I may not be around as much now. To the two of them who are here today, Ethan and Alex: dream big, as you can do anything! Please do your homework, and remember how important education is to your future. I love you all.

Returning from Perth some 14 years ago, I never thought of being involved in politics. With bachelor’s degrees in geography and history, another in environmental impact assessment and a postgraduate diploma in environmental management, I managed to secure a job with the environment minister, Bryan Green, former Deputy Premier and now leader of the state opposition. Bryan gave me the confidence to contest elections and gave me the priceless opportunity to work for the people of Braddon. He also gave me the opportunity to work overseas, allowing me to return to my job when I needed to come home. It was in London, working for the British civil service in the area of constitutional affairs and at the time of the London bombings, that I met my partner, Richard, some 11 years ago. I brought him back to Tasmania with me, and with that I gained an extended family across the oceans in South Africa. Thank you, Bryan, for your faith and belief in me. Bryan, Senator Carol Brown and former senator Kay Denman said to me about eight years ago that I would be a good parliamentarian. I hope I prove them right.

I have seen the best and worst of politics, and the latter does have a lasting impact. Putting my hand up to contest this election was not done lightly, yet I had one advantage. In many years helping the people of Braddon as an electorate officer and campaigning for many elections, you soon get to know the people in the electorate, but not everyone. Yet some of the comments I received from voters this election made me question my decision to run: ‘You are all the same, only in it for yourselves.’ ‘You’ll go in with the best intentions and come out as bad and corrupt as the rest.’ I felt saddened that people felt this way about me; that they tarred me with the same brush as others who behave this way, yet did not know me as a person. None of this comes as a surprise, as I have been around politics a long time, but I say this because daily I heard stories of a community let down by their last representative.

We know the profession of politician is not considered by the general public as one that carries a lot of trust and respect, but it should. Yes, we are human; we are fallible. We make mistakes and at times demonstrate poor judgement. However, there are many examples over many years of politicians who inadvertently, because they are so out of touch with broad public expectations, or deliberately, because of a sense of entitlement, meet and exceed the cynical perceptions of politicians conveyed to me by such comments. I know there are many in this place, and in the past, who have worked tirelessly to improve our country in a positive way without seeking massive public recognition or media attention. These are the politicians and the work that the media need to promote more. I realise this would not be as interesting as divisive political commentary by those fuelled by ignorance and fear.

Mitchell is a volunteer for Labor. He is a recipient of the NDIS. Before the NDIS, Mitchell would not have spoken to people he did not know, let alone speak in public. But now he has spoken at conferences, had radio interviews and has come doorknocking on my campaign. Mitchell and his family are extremely thankful to people like Bill Shorten, Jenny Macklin and Julia Gillard for the NDIS. This is the type of work we do here that changes people’s lives. I am very privileged to know many on this side of the House, and I am in the company of passionate, compassionate and talented people who I know are here for the right reasons: to serve the people they represent and to help make our communities better, guided by their values. Yet it is a reminder to us all that our ability, desire and actions to listen to the people in our communities, to truly listen, are how we can stay grounded. It is how we can develop good policy and have conversations and interactions that are meaningful and that make a positive difference.

The moment we forget how we came to this place and who we serve, or the moment our actions or inactions do not allow us to engage in a meaningful way with people from all walks of life—not just our core base—we will fall foul of and live up to the cynicism that was echoed to me during this election. I say this to put it on record, as a reminder not just to myself but to all, and especially to the electors of Braddon: I will listen; I will do my best to understand. I truly do care, and I respect what you tell me. We may not agree, but I will respect you. As some wise politician once said: you can never keep everyone happy all of the time. Yet to treat our electors with contempt, to not have our doors open to them and to refuse to engage is a sure way to electoral defeat. That is my commitment to the people of Braddon, and I know they will tell me if I stray away from this. I am also reminded of a comment a dairy farmer said to me at a farmers meeting just after the election. He said: ‘See that bloke with dirt on his boots? He has the same number of votes as the one in the expensive suit.’

It is clear that the policies Labor took to the election articulated the priorities of my electorate and many others. That is because we listened, and we understood what was important to people. In my electorate we have a high burden of chronic disease and low educational attainment. We have a growing prevalence of chronic conditions, yet it is clear that better health care has driven down mortality rates. Better and targeted investment in preventative health measures will further reduce preventable diseases. My electorate is very acutely aware of the importance of health funding. So, should health be a policy and funding priority? I strongly believe it should. Tax breaks for the banks and big business at the expense of health funding just will not cut it in my electorate.

Similarly, education as a funding and policy priority is just as important. Not only does educational level influence health behaviour, it can also influence socioeconomic status. By not investing in appropriate evidence based models of education funding, we will tragically let down future generations. I heard some of our opponents during the campaign say that we cannot afford Gonski. Well if you cannot afford to invest in a proven model of education funding that puts the child first and is not based on need, which is Gonski, then you should not be in government. Needs based funding will result in families placing more value on education as fewer children fall through the cracks because they receive the attention they need in our classrooms. I will continue to fight for a better return in education for Tasmanians. If we do not, we set up our country for failure as we will not have developed the next generation to a level that allows them to participate in a global market and have the skills for the jobs of the future.

We also have high unemployment, high underemployment and low workforce participation. During the campaign I gained funding commitments for infrastructure projects that will grow our local economies, grow jobs and improve the liveability of our towns and cities. Unfortunately, not all of these projects received bipartisan support. They are priority projects for local government—the level of government closest to the people, and a sector I have a great passion for. They are projects that communities want to invest in as the economic and social returns to them are immense. The coastal pathways project will link our communities along the beautiful north-facing coastline, which cycle tourists will flock to and which will drive private investment and jobs—and this is one such priority project. I will continue to fight for this project, and the many others that support our communities and our economy.

I will also continue to fight for a better NBN. Tasmania led the way for fibre-to-the-premises NBN. Yet now some of our cities and towns, particularly in my electorate, will receive the second-rate fibre to the node. We will have, whenever the NBN is delivered in Tasmania in full, an inequitable essential service, with many centres in my electorate unable to compete for new IT industries or population growth, as many mainlanders will inevitably move to our island state but will be less likely to move to my region. We will be constricted by a broadband network that is not futureproofed. What has resulted in the NBN during the previous term of government is nothing short of a national tragedy.

Mental health needs to become a long-term national priority, and I know this is very important to the people in my electorate. Earlier this year I graduated from Monash University with a graduate diploma of psychology, which will serve me well in this place, and I have developed the understanding and passion for better mental health services for Braddon. This will be a focus for me during this term. People need and deserve better access to responsive mental health and allied health services in our cities and towns.

These are just some of the challenges and opportunities for my electorate. I will continue to listen and learn from the people of Braddon as I have done during the election campaign. But I was, and will continue to be, helped by a group of passionate people wanting positive and progressive change for Tasmania. Without their help, I would not have been able to communicate and interact as broadly with my community.

I want to thank Senator Anne Urquhart for her unwavering support as my mentor and sounding board, guiding me, advising me and just being there. To my campaign team—John, Julie, Donna, Amanda, Lyn, Bec, Ali, Sharifah, Melissa and Gemma—thank you. I am grateful to every person involved in the campaign—the many volunteers who door-knocked and made phone calls and staffed pre-poll and polling booths in the freezing cold and relentless rain; 15-year-old Sam, who phoned voters; my older volunteers in their 70s and 80s; and everyone in between. They are the true believers of what we do and who we are. This is a team effort, a sum of all parts. I am overwhelmed at the support from the Labor branches in my electorate and I thank each member for their belief and confidence in me. It is not over; we have just begun and we have many, many more conversations to make.

To my Tasmanian federal colleagues—Julie Collins and Senators Carol Brown, Catrina Bilyk, Helen Polley and Lisa Singh—thank you for your friendship and support. To the state parliamentary Labor Party—especially Bryan Green, Michelle O’Byrne and Rebecca White—thank you for your belief in me and the wonderful work you do for Tasmania. Thank you also to my friend and acting secretary Karelle Logan and to Alex Manning, from Nat Sec, George Wright, Paul Erikson and Sebastian Zwalf. What a formidable team of exceptional Labor people!

I was very privileged to have had many visits from shadow ministers over the past year who gave their time to speak with many individuals and groups within my electorate, and for that I am truly thankful. Thank you to Anthony Albanese for launching my campaign in a field of strawberries at the Berry Patch at Turners Beach—he remembers that fondly! Thank you to Tanya Plibersek, Catherine King, Andrew Leigh, Jason Clare, Jenny Macklin, Brendan O’Connor, Stephen Jones, Joel Fitzgibbon, Sharon Bird and Senators Doug Cameron, Claire Moore and Kim Carr. And, of course, I thank Bill Shorten. He visited my electorate a number of times. He demonstrated a keen interest in and commitment to regional Tasmania and its people. Thank you.

I would also like to thank my previous colleagues in local government and at Devonport City Council for their support and friendship despite our political differences. I gained a nickname at the council—’VS’, the Velvet Sledgehammer! I hope I can live up to that reputation in this place when I need to be a strong voice for the people of Braddon.

Finally, thank you to my staff, my wonderful friends and, of course, my family here and in South Africa. To Mum and my stepdad, Ray: thank you for your belief in me and all you do to support my family. To the Keay family in New South Wales and beyond: thank you for telling me my dad would be proud that I am a chip off the old block. It means so much to me to hear that. And to my partner, Richard, who cannot be here today: thank you for coming on this journey with me. It may not always be a straight or flat road that we will travel; it will be one of hills and gullies, of richness and opportunities, of challenges and obstacles, but together we will have a great journey.

Thank you Braddon for the opportunity you have provided to me. If we have belief in what we can achieve, if we tackle our challenges together head on, we can continue to be proud of who we are and we can grab with both hands many opportunities to advance our piece of paradise. Thank you.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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