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Peta Murphy (ALP-Dunkley) – Maiden Speech

This is the maiden speech to the House of Representatives by Peta Murphy, the ALP member for Dunkley.

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Hansard transcript of maiden speech by Peta Murphy, ALP member for Dunkley.

The SPEAKER: Before I call the honourable member for Dunkley, I remind the House that this is the honourable member’s first speech. I ask the House to extend to her the usual courtesies.

Ms MURPHY (Dunkley) (11:23): We meet today on the lands of the Ngunawal people. My electorate of Dunkley is on the lands of the Boonwurrung people of the Kulin nation. We recognise and support local Indigenous culture, history and people at the gathering place by the bay, Nairm Marr Djambana. I pay my respects to their elders, past and present, and to all traditional owners. I stand here today to pledge my support for the recognition of First Nations people in Australia’s Constitution and the establishment of an Indigenous voice to parliament based on the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

It’s been quite a journey to this place for a public-school girl from Wagga. I grew up during the Hawke and Keating years, benefitting from the long list of economic, social and environmental reforms their government introduced. Their government was a Labor government who, like all Labor governments before and since, took seriously their core business of enlarging opportunities for those without power or resources. But what really inspired teenage me was the way Hawke and Keating also enlarged our national imagination about who we could be and the place we could take in the world. They made me believe in our democratic system because they demonstrated how that system could deliver good government and how good government could deliver a better future. They, and the values my parents instilled in me, also made me Labor.

Recently I was asked to imagine what, at the end of my parliamentary career, I would like to be able to look back on and say I was proud to have been a part of—what I would like to have achieved. It’s a very long list, those who know me won’t be surprised to hear, only some of which, you’ll also be glad to hear, I’m going to have time to touch on today. But it does span initiatives in my local community, structural reforms to national systems and institutions, and, of course, Australia’s role as a leader in our region and in the world. But, above all else, I would like to be able to say that I left Australian politics—Australian democracy—in better shape than when I joined it, that I was part of a generation of Australian politicians who worked to recover the public’s faith in our democratic system and who strove to reharness politics as that vehicle for enlarging opportunities and enlarging our national imagination, and that we did so by rejecting politics based on fear and division, by refusing to see societal problems as weapons with which to wedge our political opponents and by choosing robust debates about ideas and solutions over personal attacks and petty judgements. It’s what my community wants me to do, and it’s what Australians want all of us here to do. And, be in no doubt, it’s what we have to do. At a time when less than half of all Australians are satisfied with the way democracy works and only one in five say they trust politicians, surely the alarm bells are ringing. There is too often a machismo about politics which mistakes aggressiveness for advocacy, which demands certainty and rejects reflection as weakness, and which is quick to judge and slow to forgive.

This parliament is the cauldron of Australia’s national conversation, and politicians are not just participants in it; we are its custodians, and we must do better. Of course, not everyone in this place shares the same political philosophy and we don’t always agree on the way forward. Politics is a place where ideas should be contested. They should be contested with a passion. They should be contested fiercely, robustly and forcefully, and there will be times when the behaviour, motivations and policies of our opponents should rightly be called out and criticised. But how we do that matters. When the participants in our body politic get so caught up in beating their opposition—in winning the daily argument at all costs—that they stop listening and striving to understand what others are saying, we are not just dumbed down; we are diminished. We are diminished in the eyes of the Australian people and we are diminished in our capacity to tackle the difficult challenges—challenges such as those posed to us by the Sustainable Development Goals, whose pin I’m wearing today, and the challenge of being the first generation to end poverty and the last generation to address climate change; challenges such as introducing a federal bill of rights so that complex, important national debates can occur within a comprehensive national human rights framework; and challenges that my community cares about, including preserving our environment, ensuring decent secure jobs for our children and protecting the egalitarian nature of our society. Meeting those challenges is going to take a willingness from all of us here to persist with complex debates over a sustained period—certainly longer than the 24-hour news cycle.

In the spirit of Louisa Dunkley, I am up for those debates. Although my electorate is named after her, Louisa Dunkley’s story is not widely known to people, apart from those who know me or in some way came across my campaign. As the first woman to represent Dunkley, it’s my responsibility and my pleasure to tell her story. It’s also my hope that other people—girls and boys, women and men—will also find inspiration in Louisa and her achievements. Louisa Dunkley didn’t come from particular wealth or privilege. After her father died someone had to provide for her family, so, in 1882, Louisa entered the Victorian Postmaster-General’s Department as a junior assistant. Over the next decade she worked her way up to become a telegraphist at the Chief Telegraph Office. As her career progressed, so did her indignation at the unfair pay and conditions of her female colleagues.

Louisa Dunkley was a worker, she was a feminist and, in 1895, she became a trade unionist. The Victorian telegraph union of the mid-1890s wouldn’t admit women as its members and it certainly wouldn’t advocate for their workplace rights, so Louisa and her female colleagues took the cause into their own hands and the Victorian Women’s Post and Telegraph Association was born. On behalf of that association, Louisa went before the Victorian colonial public service classification board and advocated for women to be paid the same as their male colleagues. Her advocacy was described at the time as brilliant, and she won pay increases for the women of that office. Meanwhile, the men, whose union had refused to make submissions for fear of putting the colonial government offside, received pay cuts. Of course, not everyone was so pleased with that outcome. In an attempt to isolate her from her female colleagues and supporters, the masters of the Post and Telegraph Office transferred Louisa to a more remote workplace, but they didn’t really think that through. She worked at the Post and Telegraph Office where the means of communication were pretty readily available. So, undaunted by opposition from those who resisted change and those who protected power, Louisa continued her campaign, attracting like-minded men and women alike to her cause.

In 1900, she gained endorsement at the first national congress of telegraph and post office associations to argue for equal pay in the soon-to-be formed federal Public Service. She also played an important role in uniting those associations into what later became Australia’s first national Public Service union. So there is some synchronicity that I stand here today, not just as the first woman to represent Dunkley in the federal parliament but also as a proud member of the Commonwealth Public Service union. Under Louisa’s leadership, two more years of letter writing, lobbying, pamphleteering and demonstrating—activities that many here will be familiar with—led to the inclusion of an equal pay provision in the Commonwealth Public Service Act 1902, which was a remarkable achievement at any time but particularly at that time. After securing that historic achievement, Louisa wrote these words:

… though at first we only asked for equal pay as an act of justice to those women … who had … been doing the same work as men, we now advocate it as the only solution … as to how to keep up the value of the work and provide fair opportunities for employment of both men and women in the future …

In 2019, living in that future, we still have some way to go to achieve Louisa’s aims. Across every occupation women are paid less than men, and the work which is predominantly done by women remains systemically undervalued. Just ask our early childhood educators and childcare workers what it’s like to have to value yourself against a male comparator. And women continue to be under-represented in positions of leadership across all workplaces, including this one, so I’m proud to be part of a political party which has taken real action towards rectifying that. Reforms that encourage sharing of parental leave, make child care more affordable and accessible and better integrate family and work life would also go a long way to redressing the imbalance. So, too, would properly valuing unpaid work—caring for family members, doing the housework—and making it perhaps a little less gender oriented. Louisa Dunkley understood it was work of real value. After both of their parents died, her sister took on responsibility for running the household—real work which Louisa believed deserved real pay, so every week, she split her pay packet with her sister. Louisa Dunkley lived and fought for her values, for fairness, for equality and for the power of collective action. We could all do much worse than follow in her footsteps.

I come to this parliament after a professional career that has spanned the law, public service and politics. As a solicitor, barrister and senior public defender, I have represented the damaged and the difficult, victims and perpetrators, the blameless and the blameworthy. At every turn, I have seen the corrosive effect that intergenerational disadvantage can have on people, families and communities. I have also seen the way the operation of the legal system can cause further distress and damage to people when they’re at their lowest. This is true no matter what socioeconomic background you come from, but it’s particularly true for those who already face other challenges in their lives. Last year, the Peninsula Community Legal Centre in my electorate provided over 9,000 legal services to people in need—people in my community struggling with mental illness, addiction, homelessness and family violence and breakdown.

There are too many people where poor educational and economic opportunities first put them at risk of becoming entangled in the justice system, and then enormous, insurmountable barriers to getting out are put up. Too often, before the kids with the fewest opportunities leave the tail end of our school system, they have already entered the front end of the justice system. Anyone who has worked in the justice system, criminal or civil, will viscerally understand when I say that justice cannot be left to the justice system alone. To really find justice in our society, to break the cycle of disadvantage and dysfunction, we need to take a holistic and long-term approach. We need to start by making sure our public education system and the educators who work in it have the resources and support they need to give every child the best start in life, no matter how much money their parents have. We need services—legal, social, health, employment and education—that are, to use a policy-boffin phrase, bottom up and joined up. We need a political climate and politicians who are prepared to champion the services and the needs of the people they serve. It’s that task that motivated me to move from the law into politics.

I want to now talk briefly about my community of Dunkley. We are wealthy and poor. We’re old and we’re young. We’re migrant and we’re First Peoples. We’re employers and employees. But we have a lot more that binds us than separates us. From the Pines to Mount Eliza, we are ambitious for our children. We are proud of where we live. We would like life to be just that little bit easier for us and for our neighbours. And we really, really love our dogs! We have a lot to be proud of, from our growing industrial and health and education precinct, a strong cultural sector based around the Frankston Arts Centre and the McClelland Sculpture Park and Gallery in Langwarrin to a growing number of music and arts festivals, restaurant, cafe’s and craft breweries.

We boast the Dolphins in the VFL, the Waves in the VNL and the Blues in the VBL. We have athletes and clubs participating from grassroots to elite in every sporting code you can name. Sport is more than a game to us, and those who know me know it’s more than a game to me. One, I like to win, but it’s more than a game to me! When local clubs talk to me about why they need better facilities—a new clubhouse, lighting or change rooms for the women’s team—they never talk about winning premierships. They talk about building pride and expanding opportunities. They talk about giving people a sense of belonging. They talk about supporting girls and women to be strong, brave athletes and to have the same opportunities and respect as the men. I love it, and it’s why I’ll always back them.

While Dunkley is socioeconomically diverse, it’s perhaps not one of Melbourne’s most multicultural areas. However, if you wander down to the magnificent Frankston Foreshore on a summer weekend, you’ll find hundreds of people from dozens of cultures all with their picnics and barbecues. They have flocked to Frankston to share in a patch of our coastal paradise. It’s a site of pure joy and it’s a symbol of modern Australia.

We’re also a community that cares deeply about the environment—our beaches, our bushlands, our green wedges. The first member for Dunkley, Bob Chynoweth, was a champion of the environment in the Hawke government. I intend to uphold Bob’s legacy as we face up to the challenges of climate change and the loss of biodiversity. Chris Crewther represented Dunkley in the last term of this parliament and, before him, Bruce Billson was Dunkley’s main cheerleader and advocate for 20 years. I want to acknowledge their contributions to our community today.

For all of our strengths, Dunkley does face local education, health and social challenges, but we’re a community rich with talent and compassion and with people who are using those traits to drive initiatives for local and wider benefits. Hands On Learning, founded 20 years ago by Russ Kerr at Frankston High School and now in more than 100 schools across the state, has been recognised as one of the world’s top 100 innovations in education. It should be in every school in the country with disadvantaged or disengaged kids. Backing in the vision of local researchers and medical professionals, Peninsula Health and Monash University obtained bipartisan support at the last election to establish, in Frankston, a national centre for research and clinical trials to support positive ageing and rehabilitation, mental illness and addiction. I’m so excited to be a part of seeing that vision come to fruition.

Cam and James at Frankston Foundry have cultivated an exciting innovation ecosystem, and they have an ambition to make Frankston the nation’s leader in med tech innovation. I have no doubt that with the support of the community and their new federal member for Dunkley they will succeed. Project O and the Colour of Hope are programs working with schools, in Frankston North and Karingal, to give young women and men confidence and life skills through visual, digital and performing art.

The Women’s Spirit Project has empowered women from across the electorate to change their lives through exercise and self-awareness. Mums supporting families in need do exactly that, distributing donations stored in a warehouse in Carrum Downs to kids and parents across the Peninsula. Guru Glenn—self-named—and That’s The Thing About Fishing give disadvantaged and disabled kids the chance to experience fun and friendship. These initiatives and so many more reflect a community that is stepping up to take responsibility, and it’s my absolute privilege to walk alongside them, to be their voice in this parliament and to fight to get them the support and the recognition they deserve.

In 2011 Rod Glover, my husband, and I were sold up, packed up and moving to San Francisco with big plans for work, life and adventure. Just days before we were to board the plane, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. On one view: confirmation that Murphy’s law is real! But looking at it from another perspective, we were lucky. We had strong, loving families and friends. We had the resources that come with professional careers. We could afford and access the best quality health care. I am acutely aware that this is not everyone’s story and that it should be. I pay tribute to the team of dedicated healthcare professionals who looked after me then and the ones who look after people every day, day in, day out, when they need it the most.

Let’s be frank: cancer sucks. Don’t kick me out for unparliamentary language! It changes the way your body feels and it changes the way you feel about your body. The treatments can make you sick. Sometimes you’re scared. Sometimes you’re angry. In my experience, you’re often both at the same time. You worry about how your family and your friends are coping. You value their support but you resent the fact that you need it. And for too many people, on top of all of this, is the worry about how to pay the bills if you can’t work, about who’s going to look after the children while you’re getting treatment, how you’re going to get to and from your opponents—sorry, appointments; cancer is your opponent—and so it goes on.

For me, though, two good things came out of it all. The first was the decision to make Dunkley, where Rod grew up and his family lived, home. It was the best decision we ever made. The second was the reminder that life can be fragile and we’d better make the most of it. So when the opportunity arose I put myself forward as the ALP candidate for Dunkley for the 2016 election, notwithstanding it then had a margin of 5.6 per cent and had been held by the Liberal Party for 20 years.

As I now know, cancer is not just indiscriminate, it’s sneaky. Two weeks ago, a week after being sworn in as the member for Dunkley, I received the unexpected news that my cancer had returned. You might say, Murphy’s law strikes again. But my mother, Jan, who is a Murphy by marriage, not birth, and therefore able to adopt a less pessimistic personal motto, would say: everything happens for a reason. I am neither unique nor alone in the fight that I am about to take on. Cancer Australia estimates that in 2019 just over 19,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 145,000 Australians will be diagnosed with some form of cancer. I am neither unique nor alone, but I am someone who has a platform that can be used to benefit others. And as long as the people of Dunkley continue to vote for me to represent them in this place, I intend to use it.

I’m going to start by saying this today: ladies, check your breasts!

Men, stop ignoring what your body’s telling you. Fellow members of this parliament, listen to the experts who warn that the promise of universal health care is under threat. Commit to the reform and funding that our health system needs and do whatever is required to ensure that Australia trains, retains and invests in the healthcare professionals and researchers who make our system great. We owe it to our community to do that.

Many are here today to share this day with me—family, friends from university, from squash, from the law. I don’t know why everyone always laughs about squash. It is an amazing game. We boast the best female athlete in the world in Heather McKay, and there’s a world champion sitting up there, Vicki Cardwell, watching us today. So stop laughing at my sport!

I’m just going to start that bit again. Many are here today to share this day with me—family, friends from university, from squash, from the law and from the ALP, and I know many other people would be here if they could. I can’t name you all, but I know that you know who you are and I know that you know how much you mean to me and that my life would not have been, and will not continue to be, as rich and as fortunate if it wasn’t for all of you. I am going to say, though, that Clementine, Joss and Pippa: it’s so excellent you are here today.

I also want to single out my parents, Bob and Jan—they’re here with my sisters Jodi and Penni and my awesome niece Ambryia representing Oliver, Ingrid, Bridget, Saana and Kyomi. Mum and Dad, public school teachers, educators and sporting tragics taught us to make the most of every opportunity in life and they taught us about the unparalleled importance of education. My parents are the two most humble, principled and selfless people I have ever met, and anything I have ever achieved is because of them. Jodi and Penni, I love you and I’m proud of you.

I am very fortunate to have shared the last 20 years of my life with my husband, Rod. Together we’ve travelled, made good friends—great friends—spent endless amounts of time talking and arguing about ideas and have watched every single political drama and BBC police procedural ever made. He won’t let me tell the story about how we met. Rod is compassionate, he’s brilliant, he’s stubborn and he’s silly. He’s my most constructive critic, my most loyal supporter and my greatest friend. I wouldn’t be standing here without him and I wouldn’t want to.

I’m very grateful as well for the love and support of Rod’s mum, Betty, Gary, Donna and Debbie and our whole extended family clan. I’ve also been very fortunate in my life to have bosses who are also mentors and friends. Duncan Kerr and Robert Stary, who are both here in the gallery today, and Brendan O’Connor, who is seated behind me.

I’ve also had the support of Labor colleagues that I value deeply and admire—my great and awesome friend Melissa Horne, who’s now a cabinet minister in the Andrews government, Mark Dreyfus, Paul Edbrooke, Sonya Kilkenny, Julian Hill and so many other people that I would name if only time permitted. To everyone who worked on and supported the Dunkley campaign—particularly Sue Heath and Peachy—my local branch members, my volunteers, all of my union comrades, my friends, thank you so much.

Looking around this chamber, at the gallery, at the people I have the privilege to work with and beside, and knowing that there are people who are watching this at home, I am struck yet again by the awesome privilege and responsibility that has been bestowed upon me. I am humbled by the confidence that my community has shown in me. I will work for all of you each and every day, at home and in Canberra.

Finally, I want to end with a quote from Pippi Longstocking and thank my friend Lucy and her daughter Edie for recently reminding me of it. Pippi’s friend Annika had just told her that she couldn’t beat the strong man at the show because he’s the strongest man in the world.

‘Man, yes,’ said Pippi, ‘but I’m the strongest girl in the world, remember that.’

Thank you.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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