This is the maiden speech of Ged Kearney to the House of Representatives.
The new ALP member for Batman was elected at a by-election on March 17, 2018. The by-election was caused by the resignation of David Feeney, due to his inability to provide evidence that he had renounced his dual citizenship with the United Kingdom.
Kearney, 54, was the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) between 2010 and February 2018. She is a former nurse and a former official of the Australian Nursing Federation.
Kearney is the 115th woman elected to the House of Representatives and the 61st this century.
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Official transcript of the First Speech of Ged Kearney to the House of Representatives.
I thank the House for the opportunity to make this speech.
I believe it’s respectful – and appropriate – to begin with acknowledgment of Australia’s first peoples.
Today, I pay my respects to the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet. I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging, as well as to those of all Indigenous Australians in this room, and beyond it.
My seat of Batman is on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation – a proud people who have survived all challenges over the decades, and prospered.
Batman is a vibrant inner city electorate, with an electric arts and music culture, and a tradition of community activism.
The by-election that elected me was fought between competing progressive campaigns – and this says much about the unique values of our beloved Melbourne borough.
I acknowledge that genuine love of Batman’s diversity and engagement motivated the campaign of my opponent, Alex Bhathal, as much as it did mine.
I’d like to thank everyone who worked on and supported me in that election , especially Bill Shorten for his leadership, personal encouragement and support.
The Aboriginal community has always been at the heart of Batman’s identity. It’s the home of the Aboriginal Advancement League, the mighty All Stars football team and aboriginal voice Radio 3KND – that’s Radio Kool-n-Deadly – to name just a few.
… But my seat is named after John Batman.
He was a mercenary with a private army who – in concert with the British military – spent the 1820s and early 1830s tracking and hunting the indigenous people of Tasmania.
This history is not disputed.
The man himself wrote of shooting dead two Indigenous Tasmanians who were wounded and captured in a raid – because they wouldn’t walk at his required pace.
His colonial contemporary – the artist John Glover – described Batman as “a rogue, thief, cheat, and liar, a murderer of blacks and the vilest man I have ever known.”
I mention this history because I stand side by side with the thousands of people in my electorate who’d prefer instead to acknowledge Simon Wonga – the Wurrundjeri leader of the 1850s.
And I mention this because in this parliament – bestowed as we are with the great and rare privilege of serving all Australian people – we can never forget the brutality, the cruelty in the dispossession of Australia’s First Nations.
I also commit myself to advocate for the implementation of the Uluru Statement, and a First Nations voice within the parliament.
Today is my first speech in this house, but my actual first speech was to my dad’s dinner-time parliament – where he was always the Speaker and each of us nine – yes, nine – Kearney kids was cast in a parliamentary role.
Mick Kearney was a publican, like his own mum before him – a working widowed mother who, in her own way, was a beacon for what women can do if they get an opportunity. Nanna and my own mum – Nance – sowed the seeds for my own feminism.
I’m so proud to be standing here today in Parliament where women are 48% of the Labor caucus.
Nance ran the kitchen of our pub, the Lord Raglan.
She was a tireless worker, community organizer and mother.
The rowdy debates of dinner-time parliament were good practice for a pub that was full of politicians and priests, footballers and fighters, academics and alcoholics.
It was the favourite drinking place of the mighty Richmond Tigers: busy, crowded and loud.
Catholicism certainly informed my parents’ view of the world – but it was the community they created in that pub that formed mine.
Mum and Dad had an extraordinary sense of civics and were generous to a fault – from organising haircuts and meals for the bar-flys whose only family was the Lord Raglan, to helping out the parish school in Hoddle Street, or providing a helping hand for local people – even their business competitors in other pubs – when they needed it.
When there were hotel strikes, my dad still fed his staff – and their families – every night.
It was within that large extended family of pub life and the working class in the suburbs where I grew up, that has nourished and inspired in me the most important value in my life – as a mum, as a nurse, as a trade unionist.
It is the value I hope will define my contribution to this parliament.
The value of solidarity.
Solidarity is the expression of our shared humanity. It is the importance of not merely reaching out, but standing beside.
Solidarity is not individual charity, but collective empowerment.
Solidarity does not subsidise, it does not patronise.
It is the fundamental recognition that the greatest human dignity is the experience of opportunity and equality.
Now, not only did the Kearney’s have a family parliament. We also had a family trade union.
It was called the Kearney Family Union. All nine kids were members, we paid dues, we made demands on the bosses – Mum and Dad – and we even went on strike once when Mum wanted to get the cat spayed.
This led to a sit-in in the kitchen.
But a strike-breaker appeared – my mum, with a broom – and we were forcibly dispersed.
We didn’t win that one, neither did the cat.
But we were happy with the fight we put up – and Dad thought we were pretty wonderful.
My Dad died at the age of 54 from a rare pituitary cancer in 1984. I was 21.
It was that year that I began my career in nursing.
Nursing demands immediate solidarity with people in their hours of greatest need.
Nursing is also about teamwork and collaboration across the health professions.
It obliges hard, exhausting physical and emotional labour – yet no one had a more humble appreciation of its rewards of community and generosity than I did, when I found myself pregnant with twins in the middle of my training.
With the support of the Mercy Hospital and my family I was back at work to finish my training when the twins were only 7 weeks old.
I went on to have another two wonderful children and I worked full time shift-work all their young lives.
I could not have done that without my Mum and my village – that is my sisters and brothers – two of my wonderful sisters are here today and I know the others are watching. To them I say: thank you.
And those beautiful twins Bridget and Alex are in the gallery today, together with Ryan my son and all their partners. My youngest, Elizabeth and her partner, are overseas.
I have an extended family now, and they are here as well; my step family, Lil, her partner Davey and Ros. My step daughter Maeve and her partner also live overseas.
And a very special mention of my beautiful granddaughter Isla – may there be many more Islas to light up our lives.
I also acknowledge my loving Canberra and Sydney families, some of whom are here today.
I love you all very much.
I learned directly from my experience about the needs of working mums, and the crucial need for paid parental leave – because I didn’t have it.
Raising children should not be a struggle for economic survival.
Everyone deserves the financial security to bond with their babies.
Everyone deserves access to quality childcare.
When my fourth child Elizabeth was born, my husband was a chef, working split shifts. I worked full time night shift at the Austin Hospital. Our lives were a tag-team wrestle to feed and care for our family – and it nearly destroyed us both.
Be aware: I will take on anyone in this room who has a crack at the Federal paid parental leave scheme and paid parental leave entitlements in enterprise agreements.
Every primary carer deserves the very best our nation can provide.
I worked at the Austin hospital while completing a degree in education at La Trobe University – a world class university that I’m very proud to say is in the seat of Batman!
I progressed to become head of Clinical Nursing Education at Austin Health.
What I taught is what I’d learned…
Nursing is about listening. Listening to patients. Listening to colleagues. Listening to difference, and accommodating it.
And at Austin I learned how quality vocational education and training can complement and enhance the work of service providers – even as it trains its students.
One of my most rewarding roles at the ACTU was to sit on the board of Skills Australia.
You can never invest enough in education, and it makes me proud to represent an Australian Labor Party that will restore the full Gonski funding model when it wins government – as well as open the doors to a re-established, properly-funded and accessible TAFE system.
It also makes me proud to represent the party of Medicare, one that defends with ferocity a quality, universal healthcare system.
It was in 1993 when I began my union journey as a rep for the Australian Nursing Federation, during the struggle to overcome the savage staffing cuts of the Kennett Government.
Chronic understaffing resulted from cuts to nurse numbers and the workloads were unimaginable.
The fight lasted years – not just to protect jobs and improve conditions, but to defend standards for the quality of care.
John Cummins – a legend of the Victorian union movement – would always finish a speech with:
“Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win”.
Then he’d say “If you don’t fight” and the workers loud response would always be …“You lose”.
We nurses heeded that lesson and we demanded nurse-to-patient ratios. We took direct industrial action and it was really hard – but we fought, until we won.
I’m proud to be part of a union movement that fights not only for its members’ benefit, but for the benefit of the whole community.
I was also at the Austin when Kennett tried to privatize it – which would have been a disaster.
Australians are right to distrust privatisation. It rarely delivers benefits to everyday people.
We won that battle – and the Austin was saved with the election of the Bracks Labor government.
In that campaign I worked with Jenny Macklin – the member for Jaga Jaga – who I am excited to join as a colleague today.
I became honorary President of the Victorian Branch of the ANMF and then then honorary Federal President, while continuing to work full-time as a nurse.
I take this opportunity to thank my comrades both at the Austin and in the ANMF for the encouragement and support that has led me here, especially the wonderful Belinda Morieson, Lisa Fitzpatrick, Mark Petty, Jen Hancock, Jill Iliffe and Lee Thomas, to name just a few.
In 2003 I was elected Assistant Federal Secretary of my union, and started to work heavily in aged care funding and policy.
While some enterprises are caring providers that struggle to stay afloat, too many are simply investors who cut costs and services to maintain profit.
When 80% of your industry income comes from federal government coffers, your company should not be listed on the stock exchange.
It should not be an option to keep your books a secret.
Staffing and skill mix is at a crisis point in private aged care and it must be fixed.
We must show solidarity for the needs of our ageing population, because how we treat our elderly says everything about our values as a nation.
My experience of aged care and other privatised services has disabused me of any faith in “trickle-down economics”.
Nowhere on earth has diverting national wealth to the richest resulted in gains for ordinary workers, let alone those who are vulnerable, or poor.
Our own history demonstrates that when you provide an unemployed person a Newstart increase – or a low-income family a tax cut or a wage rise – then they spend every dollar of it.
And I learned from my publican parents what it means to an enterprising small business to see consumer spending increase.
It is what the Rudd Government did to save Australia from going into recession, even depression – pump money into the economy for the benefit of those who will spend it quickly.
Australia’s relatively high minimum wage has been the bedrock of our economy and stopped us going into recession more than once.
Let me acknowledge Justice HB Higgins – who established Australia as the nation with the first living wage in the world, when he delivered his Harvester judgment in 1907.
He said wages should be sufficient for a human being to live in a civilized world, regardless of an employer’s capacity to pay.
His judgment spoke to a fair go – and a more equitable society.
Of course, it took decades for the same consideration of workplace equality to apply to Indigenous Australians or to women, or even to our LGBTIQ community, who have fought their own battles within the great movement of working people.
Poor old H V McKay, the owner of Sunshine Harvester, never got over the judgment against him.
He was still railing against the setting of fair wages fifteen years later, insisting that pay should be – and I quote – “a minimum wage for the minimum man – and maximum wage for the maximum man.”
That was the ideological battle in 1907 and in 1922.
It is still the battle today.
For the last decade, corporate profits have been steadily increasing to an all-time high, while the share of wages is at a record low: Workers work longer and harder, in less secure, more fragmented jobs.
This is the real economy that working Australians live in, not the fantasy world that neoliberals would have us imagine.
Australians have BS detectors taller than the telescope at Parkes.
They can see the unemployed in our suburbs and towns.
They know that their wages haven’t risen in real terms.
They know enterprise bargaining is one-sided.
They know there are less apprenticeships for their kids, that TAFE hasn’t had the funding to provide opportunities and that casual jobs can stay casual forever.
They know gig economy jobs are more prevalent, that permanent workers have to take pay cuts or become “independent contractors” in the very same place they used to be an employee.
Penalty rates have been cut and wage theft is rampant.
I congratulate the fearless Sally McManus, the ACTU and State Labor Councils for leading the campaigns to deliver fairness on the job and workplace rights. Unions fight for better minimum standards and a new living wage, even for those who are not members of unions.
Labor’s commitment is to change workplace relations laws to make them fairer for workers. Labor will change the rules.
I do not believe it serves working people or Australia to give handouts of $80 BILLION in corporate tax cuts to the big end of town, not least of all $17 BILLION in tax cuts to the big banks, whose combined after-tax profit was over $31 BILLION last year.
Last year, employment didn’t jump in financial services.
Wages didn’t shoot up, either. Not even a trickle.
Eighty billion dollars!
Budget items this size should be for nation building infrastructure, for job creation, for revitalising depressed communities and modernising services.
Eighty billion dollars can build skills, support innovative projects, and target and fund growth strategies for high wage and high skill industries -niche manufacturing, science and technology, logistics, education, health and social services.
There is also the need for new jobs as we transition industries to meet the new reality of climate change.
… And it could also be better spent ensuring we live up to our international obligations.
This brings me to the issue of asylum seekers – a passionate and emotional issue for voters in Batman’s community.
I think proudly of the great achievements of both sides of this house – of Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke – who with bipartisan support provided sanctuary to those fleeing the consequences of wars in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and later from the events of Tiananmen Square.
I cannot comprehend how a nation that provided a safe home to so many in the wake of World War 2 – including our large Jewish community of Holocaust survivors – allowed the Tampa and the “children overboard” scandal to evolve into the shameful policy of indefinite detention on Manus and Nauru.
Racist dog-whistling has demonized and vilified a community that has everything to give to Australia – and the sacrifice of this human potential has been made solely for political gain.
Facts remain facts:
The overwhelming majority of asylum seekers are from places of conflict. And the overwhelming majority have been assessed as refugees under the International Conventions to which Australia is a signatory.
We are a rich country. We can afford to take more refugees.
I doubt, however, we can afford the ongoing cost to our national psyche of subjecting men, women and children to years of punitive, indefinite detention.
We must – as a priority – move the asylum seekers off Manus and Nauru to permanent resettlement, and ensure that indefinite detention never happens again.
My commitment in this house is to the cause of humane refugee policy.
It is to foreign policy and foreign aid that pro-actively supports people as they flee conflict.
It is to assessment, not punishment – assessment, within a fair time-limit, and as part of regional agreements for humane resettlement.
It is to collaboration with the UNHCR and more funds for its operation, as well as a greater permanent intake of refugees, with an expansion of our humanitarian program.
It is ensuring all refugees have access to social services, and income support.
Offering sanctuary to refugees does not need to compromise or undercut other paths to citizenship that Australia offers to migrants, like family re-unions.
My own community is living evidence that we have, actually, done this before.
Just as migration benefits us, so too does meaningful engagement with our neighbours within Pacific and Asian countries.
In my role as ACTU President, I was on the board of APHEDA – an international aid agency led in true solidarity by the wonderful Kate Lee.
APHEDA runs small-scale aid projects that empower communities.
But APHEDA and the many other aid agencies need more resources to expand their work.
The United Nations and OECD international benchmark for official development assistance is 0.7% of gross national income – but our current aid budget is 0.27%.
Shamefully, we are 16th on the OECD list of contributors.
Labor has committed to increasing our aid and development contributions.
Lifting the living standards and opportunities of our neighbours is in our national interest – especially as this region grapples with the destabilising political and social consequences of the global climate emergency.
Sea level rises aren’t “some theory” or a “future problem” for our Pacific neighbours – our practical solidarity both assists them and prepares us for the changes to come.
Strategically, it’s a bit rich to voice concerns about the growing influence of China in Asia and the Pacific, when many of those countries see Australian leadership dwindling.
Nor is it good enough for Australia to act as someone else’s police-force in the region, or globally.
Labor’s recognition of the climate emergency is the framework for our policy deliberations, from environmental protection to job creation.
I was proud to promote Labor’s commitment to climate action as both ambitious and achievable during the by-election.
Labor has clear goals for reduced carbon emissions, for renewable energy, for de-carbonising our economy.
We comprehend the reality of climate change as it impacts refugee movements, health and land use.
We are committed to our international responsibilities under the Paris agreement. As we urgently shift away from thermal coal-fired power, we need to protect our world heritage areas, including the Great Barrier Reef.
In the task of transitioning energy generation to renewable sources we are committed to a just transition for workers and communities who rely on coal based industries.
We will never abandon any community.
We will bring them with us, into the creation of new clean industries, jobs and new opportunities.
This is what the Andrews Government in Victoria has done to support the closure of Hazelwood power station through a Just Transition approach – an initiative I was proud to support as ACTU president.
I am here, of course, to ultimately fulfil the obligation of the Labor movement and the Labor Party – to make people’s lives better.
I will not be the last on this side of the house to quote Ben Chifley’s speech to 1949 NSW Labor Party Conference which says this so eloquently. Chifley said:
I try to think of the Labour movement, not as putting an extra sixpence into somebody’s pocket, or making somebody Prime Minister or Premier, but as a movement, bringing something better to the people, better standards of living, greater happiness to the mass of the people. We have a great objective – the light on the hill – which we aim to reach by working for the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand.
This is the solidarity to which Labor commits.
Of course, that Light on the Hill keeps moving. The moment you think you reach the ultimate goal of justice and fairness, it seems just that much further away.
But in making the journey, in challenging ourselves to reach out for that Light, we change ourselves and we change the course of our society.
I’m both humbled and excited to be continuing my journey in public life in this Parliament and as a member of the Australian Labor Party. I am excited to join a most excellent cohort of comrades representing Labor in this house and the senate.
And this journey as I have said has been supported by so many but none more than by my long suffering, hardworking wonderful partner, Leigh Hubbard, whose wisdom and love keeps me going.
In honour of the many people I have referred to in this speech, but especially the thousands of union members I have had the privilege to serve, I recommit myself to making ‘solidarity’ the cornerstone of everything I do in this place.
I hope my small contribution ultimately adds to the brightness of that magnificent light on the hill, as we collectively strive to achieve that great objective of the mighty labour movement.
May that light be a beacon for us all.
Thank you for listening.