This is the maiden speech delivered to the House of Representatives by Gladys Liu, the Liberal member for Chisholm, Victoria.
Liu is the first Chinese Australian woman elected to the House of Representatives. Her family has operated a number of small businesses in the Chisholm area. She previously worked as an adviser to Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu. She unsuccessfully contested the Victorian Legislative Council election in 2014.
Liu won Chisholm at the May 18, 2019 elections. She replaced Julia Banks, who won the seat for the Liberal Party in 2016 and resigned to sit as an independent following the overthrow of Malcolm Turnbull in August 2018. Banks unsuccessfully contested Flinders as an independent at the election. The Liberal member for Flinders, Greg Hunt, can be seen linking arms with Liu at the end of her speech.
Chisholm is in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Predominantly residential, it is based around Box Hill, Blackburn, Mount Waverley and Glen Waverley.
Liu won the seat with 50.57% of the two-party-preferred vote, a swing against the Liberal Party of 2.34%. The Liberal Party’s primary vote 43.38%, a decrease of 3.71%. The ALP polled 34.30% of the primary vote, a decrease of 0.39%. The Greens polled 11.84%, up 0.30%.
Chisholm is now the most marginal seat in Victoria, held by 1,090 votes. It is the Morrison government’s second most marginal seat in the nation. Bass is the most marginal, held by 563 votes, or 0.41%.
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Hansard transcript of maiden speech by Gladys Liu (Liberal-Chisholm).
The SPEAKER (16:57): Before I call the honourable member for Chisholm, 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 LIU (Chisholm) (16:57): I am thankful to rise to speak in the Parliament of Australia for the first time and for the opportunity to represent the people of Chisholm, who have entrusted me to be their voice in this place. It is a wonderful example of the welcoming character of Australians that my electorate has sent a woman born in Hong Kong to speak for them in the parliament. We are so fortunate to live in a country where migrants can come to Australia, become Australians and serve its people here in the parliament. How good is Australia?
Dame Enid Lyons, the first woman elected to this place, said in her inaugural 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.
It is with the same sense of responsibility that I stand here, more than 75 years later, with respect to Australia’s Chinese community. As a migrant, my story is not unlike the story of many others who have come before me or of those who will follow. My parents were not from a well-educated or wealthy background, but they did what they needed to do to provide for their six children. My mother often said if you want something badly you have to work hard to get it. And so I did.
When I was seven, I had to look after my younger siblings. I had to shop, cook, mop the floor, bathe them and take them to see our parents who were running a milk bar 30 kilometres away. I also did deliveries for the business. But don’t tell my Dad that I used to take a bar of chocolate without him knowing. When I was a teenager, I worked every summer holiday to fund my education. I also lived with a secret. I discovered that I was deaf in one ear. Having a disability can be a shameful thing in the Asian culture, so I didn’t tell anyone. Of course, when I couldn’t hear people speaking to me on my left side, I was labelled as snobbish, not cooperative or simply rude. I suffered in silence.
It’s only in recent years that I realised that in Australia you don’t have to suffer in silence. My hearing did not stop me from playing the trombone with the Hong Kong Youth Symphony Orchestra or learning music at Belilios, the top government girls school in Hong Kong. I want to thank my sister, Connie, for encouraging me to apply for this school. Without going to Belilios I would never have had the opportunity to study speech pathology in Australia; I would never have been awarded a scholarship to study in Melbourne. However, my time as a student, like many international students, came with its own challenges. I arrived in Melbourne with just two suitcases and a determination to succeed. I knew nobody and nobody knew me. I thought, ‘Well, Gladys, if other international students can do this, so can you.’
While studying at La Trobe University, I did a number of interesting jobs, including being a dressmaker, a waitress and an accident analyst at the Road Traffic Authority. Following my graduation, I took up a position as a speech pathologist at the Department of Education. I practiced for 14 years in schools around Melbourne, supporting children who struggled with pronunciation, language reception and expression, and stuttering. The fact that I could transform their lives inspired my lifelong passion for helping others to overcome their challenges and to achieve their potential.
Around the same time, my family opened our first small business. We had a pharmacy in Glen Waverley. If anyone understands the difficulties faced by small-business owners, hand on heart, I can say that I get it; I understand. Small business is tough, but, with dreams to support my family, I persisted. And, if one small business weren’t enough, our family went on to open more, including a Chinese restaurant in Box Hill. In the year 2000, I started my own private speech pathology clinic. To my knowledge, it was the first bilingual Chinese-English speech pathology in Australia.
It is with these experiences close to my heart that I have developed my deep understanding and passion for small and family businesses. But this period was also one of the most difficult times in my life. Whilst I embrace my ethnicity and culture, the unfortunate truth is that it is not uncommon for ethnic women to stay with their husbands during unjust situations rather than face the family shame of being a single mother. Social norms told me I was doing the wrong thing, so I didn’t tell anyone, including my parents and siblings, until years later when they came to visit me in Australia. Once again, I felt that I had no choice but to suffer in silence. It was my children who gave me strength to do what was right by them and they gave me a purpose: to keep being a good mother. I am so proud of my two wonderful children. I persisted through the tough times in the hope that they too would be proud of me.
I am proud of overcoming the obstacles I have faced in my journey to this place and I am proud of all Australians who do not give up hope in difficult times. In the last 20 years, my own experiences have motivated me to help others who were suffering in silence, who were less fortunate and who simply needed help. This is why I have been actively helping people, including many strangers. This is why I was the founder and president of the SHERO Association for victims of domestic violence, and this is why I’m proud to see headspace coming to Monash. My experiences have also motivated me to seek public office so that I can be in a better place to provide that help.
My first taste of politics actually came through tai chi, of all places. I was encouraged to join the committee. From there it wasn’t long before I was asked to join the Chinese Professional and Business Association, where I organised a seminar named Path to Politics. That’s when my journey to this place really started to take shape. I didn’t really know much about party politics. I could have chosen either of the major parties, but it was always going to be the Liberal Party where I found my political home. Chinese migrants naturally share many of the values of the Liberal Party, including an affinity for hard work, individual responsibility, achievement in education and business, family values, and respect for the rules of society. I will continue to champion these values which are based around giving Australian families the opportunity to flourish like mine has done.
Chisholm is a place where migrants have settled to seek new opportunities and prosperity. It is fitting that an electorate named after Caroline Chisholm, who was best known for assisting migrants, now has not only a member of parliament who was born overseas but also more than half of its residents born overseas. Chisholm is well known for its vibrant Chinese community, but there are also sizable and active communities from Greece, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, as well as Italy, South Korea and many others. It is only natural that our parliament reflects the make-up of our brilliant and diverse society. If I’m able to play a small part in creating a clearer reflection and if I’m able to help build mutual respect among all people, then I stand proudly ready to do so.
As a member of parliament I hope that my heritage and experience can contribute to a long and healthy relationship between Australia and China. Australia and China have much to gain from a robust economic and cultural exchange. I will look to support future opportunities for collaboration and cooperation, and for an enduring and constructive relationship in Australia’s interest.
As the member for Chisholm, as a mother of two children and as a qualified speech pathologist, I maintain a keen interest in education and particularly in the local schools. It is no accident that my first official engagement as the local member was to visit Ashwood High School, and I look forward to visiting all of the other 57 schools in Chisholm soon.
I have a passion for improving access to local sport. Sport is a great vehicle that can bring communities together across cultural and economic boundaries. I want to work with our many sporting and community groups to help make Chisholm a more vibrant place to live. That’s why we are investing in facilities for the Box Hill Rugby Union Football Club, Box Hill Tennis Club, Blackburn Football Club and many more.
Chisholm is a tapestry of established suburbs, commercial areas and bustling retail centres. There is so much aspiration in Chisholm. I hear that aspiration when I shop at Box Hill Central, where I meet with local businesses, workers and families. Our job in this place is to make sure that we deliver on the promise of the Prime Minister that, if you have a go, you’ll get a go. That’s why I was proud that, with my first vote in this House, I was able to deliver a tax cut for hardworking Australians, including 71,469 taxpayers in Chisholm.
I do not underestimate the enormity of being the first Chinese-born member of this place and I know some people will see everything I do through the lens of my birthplace but I hope that they will see more than just the first Chinese woman elected to this place. I hope they will see me as a strong advocate for everyone in Chisholm. Chisholm is where my heart is. I have lived in and around Chisholm for the past thirty years. As I sit in my electorate office in Burwood and look out the window, I see the girls on the school oval and think that this is where my daughter used to play not that long ago. I have run businesses in Chisholm, I have raised my family in Chisholm and I have volunteered with local clubs like the Box Hill Little Athletics and the Box Hill Chess Club, an organisation for which I served as the first and only female president.
I want to acknowledge the work of all the people who have contributed in some way to make my electorate of Chisholm a better place, including my predecessor Julia Banks. My journey to this place has been long and uncertain, and I want to thank those who put their confidence in me and made it possible for me to become the member for Chisholm. I have had incredible support from my friends, mentors and supporters in the Liberal Party over many years. I have been a humble campaign volunteer, a branch president, a member of the administrative committee and an adviser to two Victorian Premiers and I am now the member for Chisholm.
Thank you to Ted Baillieu, who brought me into his office when he was the opposition leader and who I was proud to work closely with when he became the Premier of Victoria. Ted has been a genuine friend and a trusted source of guidance ever since. Thank you to Noel Pink, the chairman of the Chisholm FEC; Inga Peulich, my campaign director; and Robert Clark, a long-term friend and current president of the Victorian division of the Liberal Party. To my campaign team Graham Watt, Marian Obenchain, Neil Weeden, Danny Wan, Phil Brabin, John Croft, Albert Philips, Paul Peulich, Susan Serey, David He, Margaret Kirby, Adrienne Jardine, Ben Djung, Michael Pointer, Peter Wilson, Cici Ma, John Osborn and John Varano: thank you.
To the many team leaders and volunteers, including Sandra Lemke, Alistair Birch, Joey Chan, Mary You, Kacey Lam, Michelle Lam, David Yang, Jen Li, Eric Tse, Johnson Luo, Kevin Huang, Peiling Wong, Miaosheng Yang, Meihua Li, Tom Huynh, Yichen Xu, Russell Gray, Robert Davies, Danny Stevenson, Peter Pan—it’s a real name!—Sean Armistead, Terry Barnes, Rodney Blackwood, Minwen Wu, Vincent Sit and Laura Qin: your support was critical to our victory.
Thank you to the Asian Business Association of Whitehorse’s Tom Zheng and William Ma and to my good friends Jason Yeap, Wilkin Fon, Desmond Cheung, Teresa Chen, Joe Zhou, George Hu and Guojing Chen. To all those who flew in to sit at the balcony: you’re too many to name but you also have my sincere thanks. This wasn’t about winning Chisholm back for the Liberal Party; it was always about the people of Chisholm. Thank you to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the deputy leader, Josh Frydenberg, for their kind support and for providing the strong and focused government that the Australian people deserve.
To my family, especially my father, who flew here from the United States and is sitting at the balcony, and my mum, looking down from heaven—
Ms Liu then spoke in language—
Ms LIU: I said in my hometown language, ‘I feel extremely proud to be of Chaozhou decent.’ To my sister, in Cantonese I say:
Ms Liu then spoke in language—
Thank you for doing so much for our family. You are a major factor in shaping who I am today.
To the whole Chinese community in Australia I say:
Ms Liu then spoke in language—
In Mandarin I said, ‘As the first Chinese-Australian woman elected to this place, I am fully aware of the historic significance and, therefore, I am determined to do my very best.’
To my children, Derek and Sally, watching from Boston and Shanghai, thank you for believing in me. I love you. I am proud of both of you. And I can’t imagine that I would be here today without your support and encouragement.
Finally, thank you to the people of Chisholm. Thank you for your support and confidence. Thank you for inviting me into your lives. Thank you for sharing your hopes and dreams and for putting your trust in me. I promise to spend every day in this place working to deliver for you.