Mike Freelander, the ALP member for Macarthur, has delivered his maiden speech to the House of Representatives.
Freelander, aged 62-63, won the New South Wales electorate with a swing of 11.72%, the largest of any seat in the 2016 federal election. He defeated Russell Matheson, who had represented the seat for the Liberal Party since 2010. The Liberal Party had held the seat since 1996.
Freelander, a paediatrician who has worked in the electorate for 30 years, won the seat with 51.88% of the primary vote, an increase of 13.68%. On a two-party-preferred basis, Freelander won 58.33%.
An outer metropolitan electorate in Sydney’s west, Macarthur is based about Campbelltown and includes areas such as Airds, Claymore, Glen Alpine, Ingleburn, Leumeah, Rosemedow and St. Helens Park. It is home to commercial and service industries with light industry and fruit, vegetable and wine production.
- Listen to Freelander’s speech (26m – transcript below)
- Watch Freelander (26m)
Hansard transcript of maiden speech by Mike Freelander, ALP member for Macarthur.
Dr FREELANDER (Macarthur) (17:37): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I congratulate you on your appointment.
I would like to acknowledge that we are meeting on the land of the Ngunawal and Ngambri peoples and I thank them and acknowledge their elders past and present. I would also like to acknowledge the Dharawal people of my own electorate and the Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation and thank them for their support and such positive encouragement throughout the election campaign. I would also like to acknowledge our Aboriginal colleagues: Senator Pat Dodson, Senator Jacqui Lambie, Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, the Hon. Ken Wyatt and the Hon. Linda Burney. It is a truly historic time that we welcome so many Indigenous members of parliament and we can all tackle the large discrepancies in Indigenous health, incarceration rates, child removal and workforce participation which have been a national shame for far too long.
When it was suggested I stand for preselection for Macarthur for the Labor Party, I was very greatly honoured. Subsequently, to win the election by such a significant margin was very, very humbling, but I do feel a great weight of expectation upon my shoulders and I will do my best to fulfil those expectations. I would like to thank the previous member for Macarthur, Russell Matheson. Even though we are on opposite sides, he is a decent man and I wish him well. I thank him for his good wishes after the election. It is with great pride that I hold the seat previously held by the Hon. John Kerin during the time of the Whitlam Labor government—a time of my political awakening—and who later was the member for Werriwa and a minister in the Hawke and Keating governments. I would also like to acknowledge the previous Labor members for Macarthur: Colin Hollis, Stephen Martin and Chris Haviland. They served the area well, but it has been 20 years since Macarthur has had a Labor member.
The seat of Macarthur is one of the most rapidly growing areas in Australia. It was originally a farming area, the original Cowpastures. It is now named after John and Elizabeth Macarthur, the founders of the Australian merino wool industry. I am pleased to report their descendants still live in the area. Macarthur has rapidly become urbanised and its population of 150,000 is increasing every day. Macarthur embraces many suburbs, including old areas of Campbelltown, Ingleburn and Minto and the newer areas of Harrington Park, Oran Park, Gregory Hills and Currans Hill. There is great diversity in Macarthur. There are large areas of public housing, but also significant areas with house prices well over $1 million.
A baby having begun crying in the gallery—
Dr FREELANDER: I like that sound. Whilst the demographics are changing, the area is predominantly one of young families looking to the future with optimism. It has been my great privilege to care for the children of Macarthur for over 30 years as a paediatrician.
The story of Macarthur is the story of its people and the enormous resource they are. Macarthur, as I have mentioned, has many areas of disadvantage, but also areas of great affluence. It has many people prominent in the arts, music and academia. It has prominent business people as well as many high-profile sportspeople. It has a strong, well-educated workforce with a significant manufacturing base even now.
I intend to make sure that in Macarthur we foster local jobs so that people can work locally. I have promised to try and improve our local infrastructure to make the quality of life better for our residents. This means making sure that all three levels of government and business work together to provide improvements in public transport, schools, roads, hospitals, industry and social policy so that everyone can feel included. I know that with cooperation at all levels we can make a big difference to how people feel about and look to the future. We can make substantial differences to people’s lives. We are all in this together, and inclusion is the only approach that works. Everyone should be supported. As best as we can manage, I feel it is about taking luck out of the equation.
But having said that, I am a very lucky man. I have had a very privileged life. I am the eldest of four children. My father, Selwyn, was a dentist and president of the West Harbour rugby union club for many years.
An opposition member: Good man.
Dr FREELANDER: He was a very good man. My mother, Ruth, was a preschool teacher. My extended family is mostly professional and one of the oldest Jewish families in Australia. My siblings—Greg, Andrew and Lynn—have been very supportive, and I thank them for their support and encouragement.
I am proud that my great-great-grandfather Abraham Rheuben came here as a convict at age 16 and helped build the first permanent synagogue in Australia, which still stands today in Hobart. He became an alderman and successful businessman. It was said of him that he always reached out into the darkness to help those less fortunate than himself. He believed in paying his employees a wage sufficient for them to support their families. He also supported his employees when they became unwell and he supported the families whose main breadwinner had died.
My great-grandmother Jenny Scott Griffiths was a mother of 10, a prominent Labor Party leader at the turn of the century, a prominent feminist, pacifist and also the editor of the Australian Women’s Weekly during the First World War. However, she was sacked from her role as editor for her anti-conscription views. She was quoted as saying, ‘The world would be a better place if men stayed in the kitchen doing the cooking and cleaning and women ran the businesses.’ I think it is probably still true today.
My paternal grandfather came to Australia as a cabin boy on a ship at age 13. He jumped ship in Sydney, hid from the authorities and later educated himself. He became a very successful man and he became mayor of Katoomba, the city of the Blue Mountains. Like the first settlers, yet another boat person who has done well. His wife, my grandmother Ruby Greenburg, died at the birth of my father, Selwyn, and my father, who I loved dearly, was forever regretful that he neither met nor knew his mother.
My outlook on life has been shaped by my history and, I think, also by a great deal of luck. While I have lived a fortunate life, many others have not. I trained as a paediatrician at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children at Camperdown in Sydney. I am the first paediatrician to serve in this place. I have had wonderful mentors. Early in my career Dr John Davis, always known as Tubby Davis, encouraged me to be a paediatrician and supported my training. Dr Arnold Tink mentored me at the children’s hospital and supported me in some very stressful times during my fellowship. Sadly, both men are no longer with us, but they were both wonderful role models for me, and I owe much of my achievements to their guidance. In my paediatric career in Macarthur, I could not have had better colleagues than Professor John Whitehall, Professor Matt Edwards, Dr Rick Dunstan, Dr Geoff Bent, Dr Caroline Cottier, Dr Katherine Allgood, Dr Sethi Ung, Dr Raymond Chin, Dr Kim Leung, Dr Bijenda Gautam and Sister Amanda Ramsay. Especially, I would like to thank my very good friends Dr Andrew McDonald—a previous shadow minister for health in the New South Wales government—and Dr Jenny McDonald for their constant support and very wise counsel over many years.
I have always been encouraged by my patients and their families. I have seen children with many different developmental problems and illnesses. I have seen them through their serious illness and seen some who have died—and I remember every one of them. I have witnessed the illnesses and heartbreaking sorrow that they have faced with bravery, candour and strength, and I marvel at the ability of children and their parents and extended families to deal with situations that would test us all.
I know the joy that can come from what, to us, are little victories—the autistic boy who at the age of 12 says ‘I love you, Mum’ for the first time; the intellectually handicapped girl who is finally toilet trained at the age of 10 after many years of trying; the four-year-old Bangladeshi boy with cerebral palsy who is able to swallow solids for the first time. Seeing those victories means so much to me. I am part of their journey and it has been, and continues to be, a great privilege. I have cherished every child I have seen. It was a great pleasure during the election campaign to knock on doors and see some of the people I had seen as children now grown up with families of their own.
Increasingly, it has become apparent to me that there are large inequalities in health care. though not necessarily at first sight related to health issues. Sir Michael Marmot, in Australia to deliver the Boyer lectures, talks about the social determinants of health and demonstrates that health inequalities arise from inequalities in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. They are related to inequities in power, money and resources. It was Martin Luther King who said that the most severe type of discrimination is discrimination in health care. These issues have become increasingly apparent to me over the 36 years I have spent caring for children and families. These I call ‘access issues’—access to health care, access to work, access to housing and access to education.
I am old enough to have seen the tremendous burden healthcare costs caused families before the implementation of a universal health care system. Medibank—as it was first called—only became a reality in Australia after a double dissolution election was forced on the Whitlam government and the subsequent parliamentary joint sitting. Even then, the Fraser Liberal government sought to emasculate the core principle of universality, only for it to be restored by the Hawke Labor government in 1984. Medicare was the Australian Labor Party’s great gift to the Australian people and it is a gift that we intend to see keeps on giving. It has been under siege many times in the last 40 years by reactionary forces and vested interests both inside and outside the medical profession. Labor—only Labor—has constantly fought to protect it, especially bulk-billing. We do need to adapt and refine Medicare as our world changes, but we must maintain a universal healthcare system and make sure that all Australians have access to the best health care.
There have been remarkable advances in health care in the last few years, and I have been lucky enough to witness them. We will continue to advance such things as whole genome sequencing, looking at the genetic basis of disease, and pharmacogenetics, looking at individual pharmacological treatments. Robotic surgery and endoscopic surgery have caused dramatic improvements in care, and we must make sure that we maintain equality of access to these evolving technologies.
I have always tried to do my best to support the children and the families I have seen—emotionally and socially, as well as medically. I have tried to get them through what are sometimes traumatic and stressful periods. I have always made myself available to them. However, for some time I have been concerned about these access difficulties, particularly for my patients with disabilities. Recently, I saw a family of five children who I have known for many years. Both parents were working. One of the younger children was born with multiple congenital abnormalities and is quite disabled. We had just managed to get some school support—including modification of the school itself—in place for this little girl at her local school when the family came to see me on an urgent basis. Unfortunately, the house they were renting was being sold and they had to move. They did not feel they would be able to afford to rent in the local area and they felt they would never be able to afford to buy a house of their own. They would have to move to another area and we would have to start all over again the whole process of organising school support, as well as medical supports. This was going to make life very difficult for the family.
This was related to non-medical difficulties such as housing affordability and having access to stable housing, which makes ongoing care very difficult. A permanent place of residence is very important, particularly if your child has a disability requiring physical, educational and health supports. I have also seen an increasing number of children recently whose families feel they have been excluded from specialist care such as ear, nose and throat surgery, ophthalmic surgery, paediatric surgery and mental health support. Some families are placed in a position where the gap cost is so much they cannot afford to access specialist care, as very few specialists bulk bill. This is not the Australia that I want. The WHO tells us that our healthcare costs are not unaffordable. We spend about 9½ or 10 per cent of our GDP on health care. In some developed countries, such as the United States, it is up to 17 per cent of GDP—for worse care.
According to the latest census data—the latest accurate census data, I should say!—there are significant and increasing wealth discrepancies in Australia. For example, the wealthiest 20 per cent of Australian households control 60 per cent of total household net worth; the bottom 20 per cent control only one per cent of household net worth. The proportion of Australian households owning their own homes—as we know—is steadily decreasing.
I believe it is only the Labor Party, with its policies of social justice, including equality in health care, equality in education and social policy, that can provide a framework of equity and equality for all Australian families, and that is what I care about.
That is why I am here today. Labor’s economic policies, such as the reform of negative gearing and capital gains tax, as well as changes to the superannuation system, are necessary if we are to have a fairer country and restore the capacity of the Commonwealth to provide new programs and initiatives. My overwhelming belief is that we are all in this together, and we should judge a society by how it treats its most disadvantaged and most powerless. Supporting these people is something that is the responsibility of us all. For example, a proper rollout of the NDIS will make an enormous difference to these children and to these families that I see. I am determined to see the NDIS rolled out as soon as possible and as effectively as possible. It is extremely gratifying, I must say, to know that the NDIS has bipartisan support, but the rollout has been slow and some severely handicapped people are struggling to access care.
Very briefly, there are some issues that we also need to address that are long overdue. I am a 63-year-old conservative, middle-class doctor; society has changed a lot in my time. I was born and I grew up in a different era. However, there are some issues that we must act on now. My position on Australia’s refugee policy is well known. We must also act on marriage equality. This, to me, is a human rights issue, and as elected representatives we must vote for marriage equality. The plebiscite is a divisive, non-binding and expensive sideshow. I have been happily married for 36 years, and I would not deny that right to anyone. I also want the children of the same-sex couples that I see to have the same uncontestable rights as my children and my grandchildren. We also must have constitutional recognition of our Indigenous people: it is long overdue and will partially redress some of the wrongs of the past. Many people in our nation remain ignorant of the entrenched disparities and mistreatment of Indigenous Australians. I can recall very well, as a teenager, thinking it both wrong and simply downright odd that Aboriginal people had only just been given full voting rights and that, as late as 1967, the federal parliament was still prohibited from making laws to advance their welfare and protect their interests. Fifty years from now, my own grandchildren may well look back and wonder how it could possibly be that, for close to 120 years, the Australian Constitution—our national compact—did not fully recognise our country’s first inhabitants. History is a tough judge, particularly of those who oppose change for no good reason or—worse still—out of ignorance, fear or prejudice. We must not ignore this part of our past and present any longer. We must act for the future and recognise the original owners of this country. I also believe, in order to move forward, we must become a republic.
I have come some distance over time, and I have many people to thank. My parents are no longer with us, but I loved them dearly and I think they would be proud of me—although I think my father would have probably been prouder if I had played for the Wallabies. I thank my state colleagues, Greg Warren, the member for Campbelltown; Anoulack Chanthivong, the member for Macquarie Fields; and my federal colleagues, Chris Hayes and the now retired Laurie Ferguson, who have tirelessly encouraged, supported and pushed me all the way. I thank Kaila Murnain, General Secretary of the NSW ALP, for the support and encouragement she has given me. I also thank, and I acknowledge the support of, the affiliated unions of Unions NSW, especially Gerard Hayes from the HSU, and the TWU. I would like to thank the Campbelltown councillors who supported me, in particular Meg Oates and Rudi Kolkman, who supported me so diligently. I also thank my branch members from the Camden, Campbelltown and Ingleburn branches, and Pauline and Ray James from the veterans community. I am grateful, too, to my campaign crew, who have stuck with me: Jennifer Light, Jess Malnersic, Jason Cranson, Raymond Pham, Amy Mulcahy, Mitch Wright, Kathryn Miller, Karen Hunt, Emily Baldwin, George Brticevic, Darcy Lound and my cousin Scott Whitmont—who is here today—and all the wonderful Young Labor supporters. They all gave me great support and put up with me over a long campaign. I certainly could not have done it without them. Thanks also to my secretary, Cheryl Roberts, who has provided continual support in my practice for over 30 years and puts up with my eccentricities. I want to also acknowledge—and this is really important—my newly elected NSW colleagues: Emma Hussar, Emma McBride, Susan Templeman, Anne Stanley, Linda Burney and Meryl Swanson. They have been a wonderful support for me as well, as the only newly elected male Labor member from NSW. They certainly prove that two X chromosomes are better than one! I particularly thank Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek, and the Labor Party front bench, Chris Bowen, Ed Husic, Tony Burke, Stephen Jones, Jason Clare, Joel Fitzgibbon, Deb O’Neil, Andrew Leigh, Sharon Bird and all their colleagues, who have been tremendously supportive and encouraging of me. I am also grateful to the people of Macarthur. I am conscious of the expectations they have of me, and I promise to do my best to fulfil them.
I have of course left the best till last. To my children, William, Edward, Eliza, Amelia, Rheuben and Rosetta: you cannot know how much I love you and how proud I am of you. I am so grateful for your support. I know I am not a perfect parent, but no-one could love you more. I love my grandchildren, Julian, Verity, Hamish, Archie and Jarvis, and to my daughter-in-law, Laura, and son-in-law, Greg: you are wonderful supports to me and I love you dearly. To my wife, Sharon: you are my muse. Marrying you is the best thing I ever did. You are more beautiful every day, more perceptive and more wise. I cannot imagine this journey without you. I do not know how you cope with me, our six kids, and managing all of our household crises, minor and major, almost as a single parent. I love you more than ever. We have many more exciting adventures to come.
So I am here today for no other reason than to try and make life better for the children and the families that I have cared for over a long period of time. I want them all to do well. I love seeing them still and I will always be available to them. I look forward to working constructively as the 45th Parliament gets to work; there are some urgent things that we need to do, and some important changes that need to happen. As always, I look forward to the future with optimism. I thank you, Mr Speaker, and I thank the House.