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Zali Steggall (Ind-Warringah) – Maiden Speech

This is the maiden speech to the House of Representatives by the independent member for Warringah, Zali Steggall.

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Hansard transcript of maiden speech by Zali Steggall, independent member for Warringah.

Ms STEGGALL (Warringah) (10:57): I would like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people whose land we meet on today, the elders past, present and emerging. May we work together to promote harmony and learning, and let us safeguard this land together for generations to come. I would also like to acknowledge the Gayemagal, the Gamaragal and the Borogegal, the First People of Warringah.

It’s an incredible honour to stand before the 46th Parliament as a representative of all of the people of Warringah—only the ninth person to do so, and the first woman. I acknowledge those who came before me: Sir Granville Ryrie, Sir Archdale Parkhill, Sir Percy Spender, Francis Bland, John Cockle, Edward St John, Michael MacKellar and Tony Abbott. All have placed their unique mark on Australia, and I thank them for their service.

No matter where I have travelled in the world, I’ve always been incredibly proud of being born in Warringah. Warringah stretches across the cosy inlets of Mosman Bay, from the Clifton Gardens to the breakers of Freshwater, Curl Curl and Manly Beach, bushland of Killarney Heights, the cliffs of North Head to the calm waters of Neutral Bay. It spans harbour apartments with city views, cosmopolitan centres and family havens, bustling shopping centres and industrial zones, to unique and serene areas, like the Manly Dam War Memorial Park, from the heights of Seaforth and Allambie to the valleys of Manly Vale and Brookvale—the home of the mighty Manly Sea Eagles. We are surrounded on all sides by harbour and coastal waters or beautiful sprawling bushland.

The natural beauty of Warringah is intertwined with its rich past and Indigenous history. Its first people were sturdy, pioneering and resourceful. Their way of life required resilience and endurance. They fished from bark canoes in Port Jackson, they gathered fruit on the ridgelines of Killarney Heights and they hunted in the woodlands of Forestville. Their success is evidenced by Warringah’s over a thousand Indigenous sites, which include rock carvings, middens, ancient bush trails, campsites and meeting areas.

For over 20,000 years, the Guringai people were custodians of the country. Today, over 1,300 people with Indigenous lineage call Warringah their home. We celebrate their history and culture with the Gai-mariagal Festival, previously known as the Guringai Festival. The festival shines a light on the deep Indigenous knowledge of land—a knowledge that will be so important to a sustainable future in Australia. I hope that this parliament will go beyond the apology, accept the voice of our Indigenous people and find mutual respect, and accelerate the process of healing. There are so many gaps still to close.

Warringah’s colonial history is replete with entrepreneurial endeavours that echo through to the present day. Its suburbs have variously been agricultural areas, whaling stations, tourist areas, mining sites, military bases and quite suburban spaces. Many of the suburbs still have founding-era buildings, pavilions, rotundas and depots; and intricate alcoves and sandstone facades. Our predecessors were pioneering and inventive. Many artisans, poets, architects and builders of the original Sydney came from Warringah, and we are grateful for their vision. Today, the electorate has become a hub of professionals in many industries, including hospitality, health services, finance and tourism, and is now blossoming as a hub of renewable energy and tech start-ups—the industries that will be the future of Australia’s economy.

Sport has also played a big part in our history, in defining our character and cultural identity. The people of Warringah have always appreciated the outdoors, flocking to sports on the weekend, whether it’s playing for the Mosman Whales, the Manly Warringah Sapphires or the Manly Marlins; taking the board for a surf; running around our many fantastic tracks; or showing up to patrol at one of the many surf lifesaving clubs in Warringah, and we have been doing so for over 100 years. Mosman Rugby Club was established in 1893 and is one of the oldest Rugby Union clubs in Australia; and, notably, Manly surf lifesaving club is one of the oldest surf lifesaving clubs in the country.

Sport has played a big part in my life. I started competing in pretty much every sport I could try my hand at from the age of four, from swimming, judo, windsurfing, ice skating and running to skiing. At 13, I watched the 1988 Winter Olympic Games, and I decided that I wanted to compete at a Winter Olympics for Australia. I gave up all other sports for skiing. I didn’t worry about whether it was possible or too hard to make the Olympics. I first settled on the conviction that I wanted to strive towards that goal and, once committed to that goal, I set about making it happen. It was a long, hard and often lonely road, with many sacrifices, but ultimately so rewarding, as I took Australia to the peak of alpine skiing and added my small contribution to Australia’s proud sporting history. I strongly believe that it is hard work, planning and resilience that brings about success, and urge all young Australians to dream big. I felt a huge sense of responsibility representing Australia at the Olympic Games, first as a 17-year-old schoolgirl and then, especially, when carrying the Australian flag into the closing ceremony in Nagano in 1988, after winning Australia’s first individual medal at the Winter Olympics.

As I sat here on 2 July for the swearing-in of the 46th Parliament, I was struck by the absolute privilege and the responsibility that falls upon us in representing and serving the people of Australia to the best of our ability. While this may be a place of robust debate, it is time for a more respectful approach, and accountability. Trust in Australian politicians is at its lowest in a decade, and we can only reach our potential as a democracy if we believe in our institutions. As in sport, there can only be respect if you’re playing by the rules. We impose legal standards on business to protect customers and consumers, but we fail to protect our voters with a legal minimum standard of truth in political advertising. This needs to change. We must also safeguard the freedom of the press and our national broadcaster. Without a free press, we cannot hope to preserve the civil liberties and freedoms past generations fought so hard to protect.

In researching and reading many of this parliament’s members’ first speeches I was struck by how many grand statements and ideals are first made but then seem to disappear in the polarisation of party partisanship. It’s time for more than just words. Governments have a duty to serve and to lead. It’s time for fact based policy and sensible politics. Representing the best interests of all of the people must come above party partisanship and personal interest.

I believe Australia has always punched above its weight and never shied away from a challenge or doing its share. We live in a time where we are facing possibly our biggest challenge to date—to properly appreciate, respect and nurture our environment and evolve to a zero carbon economy. Our schoolkids are leading the way in pointing out that there is no second planet, no planet B. The government’s own report tells us our emissions are still rising, and even our schoolkids know that we’re not heading in the right direction.

I’ve listened to many here talk of their love for their families and their children and of their hopes for the future of their communities. When we and our children are sick, we trust in the doctors and the science to heal them. Many scientists from independent and varied fields of study have come to the conclusion that we must reduce our carbon emissions to have a hope of averting the worst consequences of climate change. Australia, especially in regional areas, is vulnerable to those consequences and will experience higher than average warming, leading to more severe weather events, from droughts and floods to bushfires and hurricanes. This will devastate productivity and way of life, regionally and nationally. When the consequences are felt, especially in the regional areas, all of Australia—including us city dwellers—stands together to help impacted communities, for example with drought relief funding, But, accordingly, the duty to prevent the worst from occurring also falls on everyone and cannot be ignored and dismissed.

We need to ensure a prosperous, clean future for the next generations in all regions of Australia. There needs to be less short-termism and opportunistic policymaking and more long-term planning to futureproof our economy. History does not look kindly on leaders that fail to properly prepare a nation for the challenges ahead. Climate change impacts represent the greatest threat to our national security, our economy, our health and our environment. The cost of inaction is so great it is unthinkable that a coalition government driven with ideals of reducing national debt would consider burdening future generations with the greatest debt ever.

It is wrong to believe that concerns for our environment and climate are a Left issue. The world has a bipartisan history of acting on global environmental calamities. In the 1980s, a Conservative Thatcher government led the way in banning CFCs in the atmosphere. Thatcher’s words to the UN General Assembly in 1989 are appropriate today:

We carry common burdens, face common problems and must respond with common action.

The United Kingdom is continuing to lead the way, recently passing a motion in the House of Commons which recognised the climate change emergency. We can and must respond with the same determination and urgency. Two-thirds of Australians see global warming as a significant and pressing problem. It is time to reflect on this with bipartisanship.

Australian diversity, inventiveness and can-do culture has served us well and will continue to do so. By recognising the industries of the future and investing in emerging clean technologies, we can provide jobs for regional Australia and ensure we are a 21st century clean-energy superpower. We have the most abundant natural resources in the world and the innovation and ingenuity to develop them. This parliament has the opportunity to provide the road map and transition plan to be ambitious and lead the way.

I urge this 46th Parliament to be remembered for developing a comprehensive plan to decarbonise every polluting sector by 2050 and then putting it into action. In this plan, we need to identify the sectors that will be hard to decarbonise—like aviation, shipping, agriculture, and manufacturing—and support the agencies, like the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, by broadening their mandate to invest in these areas. If we can take an incremental view, we can break down the challenges ahead, one step at a time.

I firmly believe that we are all, as individuals, accountable for our decisions and actions. It is time. Our time is precious and limited. Like many people in Warringah and all over Australia, I refuse to be part of the generation that had all of the facts but failed to take meaningful action. It’s time to transition our economy and energy production. There’s no need to be afraid of change. It is what we’ve always done: adapt and change.

Australia is built on amazingly brave and resourceful people. My own family history in Australia goes back on my father’s side to the Second Fleet and on my mother’s side to the early 1830s. These early settlers undertook long, arduous and often dangerous sea journeys, in cramped steerage accommodation on ships with varying degrees of seaworthiness, to a foreign country 13,000 kilometres away. They were leaving everything that was familiar and dear to them in the hope of a better life. Today’s refugees are no different, yet we seem to have forgotten our own history and lost our compassion. My mother’s family ultimately settled in Maitland and my father’s family settled in Cessnock, via Western Australia and Queensland.

My family’s relationship with Manly started in the 1920s, when my great-grand-aunts moved there. Seeing his sisters struggle to earn a livelihood, my great-grandfather prioritised his daughters’ education, including that of my grandmother Phemie Faith Mallaby. It was important to have a formal university education. There has never been any question in my family that women are equal, capable and entitled to the same opportunities as men. I never discussed politics with my grandmother, yet she was the honorary treasurer of the Maitland branch of the Liberal Party until the day she died in 2007. I know she was incredibly proud when both my brother Zeke and I represented Australia at the Winter Olympics. I can only imagine how excited she would have been at my election to parliament, notwithstanding my being an Independent and defeating an ex-Liberal Prime Minister.

On my dad’s side, my grandfather Jack Steggall was a Wallaby from 1931 to 1933, touring New Zealand and South Africa, before retiring to practise law. With my grandmother Ruby, eight years his senior and a formidable matron of a hospital, they settled in Cessnock, where Jack, also a lawyer, turned to playing and coaching rugby league. I’m incredibly grateful for having had many strong personalities in any family. My parents, John and Sue, have also achieved so much. My mother is an art historian and writer. My father has played rugby for the Norths and then Manly and practised law in Manly for over 30 years. The most important thing I learnt from them was to believe in myself and never be afraid to give something a go. You only regret when you don’t try.

But the achievements of past generations will be for nothing if we do not evolve our economy for the future and embrace our diversity. Some are fixated on just preserving the status quo, when we are capable of so much more. As Australians, we need to value and respect all of our people, no matter their background, gender, sexual preferences or religious beliefs. No one group has the right to disrespect or discriminate against another. This must be respected at all costs as this parliament makes decisions for the good of all Australians, irrespective of their faiths and beliefs.

We live in a time of opportunity, with more technology than ever before, but we have serious health challenges and social inequalities. There’s still a 14 per cent pay gap between men and women, and women are retiring with 40 per cent less superannuation. Child care needs to be more affordable to ensure equal participation in the workforce. Family and domestic violence is a major health crisis for women that impacts every area of Australian society, and it needs urgent attention. Nationally and in Warringah, mental health and rising suicide rates require a new approach.

We need to learn from local organisations. They are listening and working within our communities. We can offer more hope and care to our youth and older generations. As a mum of teenagers, I’m acutely aware of their concerns and worries. Our young people are our future, and I look forward to welcoming them to Parliament House and creating opportunities and a better Warringah for them.

I’m proud and humbled by the joy and excitement I have received from so many schoolkids in Warringah. A special shout-out to the El Shanditos and all the youths of Warringah. I encourage you to get involved with politics and the issues that matter to you. It is your future that is at stake.

To my fellow parliamentarians in this the 46th Parliament of Australia: I thank you for your warm welcome and I look forward to working with all of you, on both sides of the aisle, as collectively we strive to make our nation an even better place over the next three years. Let our legacy as the 46th Parliament be that we were brave and ambitious, that we set both our standards and our goals at the highest level. I embrace that challenge and I hope you do too.

Reflecting on my last 11 years at the New South Wales bar, I’m thankful to all my instructing solicitors, colleagues and mentors: Her Honour Dr Melissa Perry QC, Todd Alexis SC, Tim Hale SC, Kate Morgan SC, Justine Beaumont and Greg Johnston, to name but a few who have supported me and taught me so much.

Finally, my thoughts go to the most important people in my life and those without whom none of this is possible: my ultimate partner and support, my husband, Tim, and, better than any gold medal, my children Chloe, Rex, and Remy. I’m also so lucky to have bottomless support from my parents John and Sue, my brother and his family, Malcolm and Shelagh Irving and all my extended family.

I’m deeply grateful to Louise Hislop, Anthony Reed and the most amazing team, who worked tirelessly over the four-month campaign, and a special thank you to the more than 1,400 volunteers who helped make this possible.

If there’s one thing this campaign will be remembered for, it is the unbelievable resourcefulness and energy of a team of very talented women led by Kirsty Gold, Anna Josephson, Dof Dickinson, Julie Giannesini and Tina Jackson. Thank you also to Rob Purves, Mark Kelly, Rob Grant, Angus Gemmel and Rickard Garnell for your hard work and support.

The other thing that stood out—and still does if I look around the gallery today—is the passion of the people of Warringah to bring about a new era: moderates with a heart. It is hard to describe the excitement, enthusiasm and energy in Warringah in the last five months. This began as a true grassroots movement driven by passionate locals who care about our future. Over the last three years many diverse groups—grassroots movements—mobilised to start the discussion and really focus on how they wanted to be represented, what contribution they wanted to make to this parliament and what kind of future they wanted for their children and future generations. Voices of Warringah, Think Twice Warringah, the North Shore Environmental Stewards and VTO are just a few. And this can happen all over Australia.

Warringah is a diverse place—one that, like Australia itself, has to accommodate the different needs, beliefs and aspirations of people. Our volunteers believe that striving for political change in Warringah could also offer Australia a more positive future and a defining purpose that goes well beyond traditional political differences. The volunteers, supporters and donors, many of them here today, have been amazing—people who have never campaigned before, some with low incomes and some with high incomes, some progressive and some conservative, and from many different walks of life but all united in their vision for a new era in Warringah.

Finally, I’m grateful to the people of Warringah for entrusting me with the responsibility of representing their views and concerns to this parliament. It’s truly humbling. We all have a voice and the power to make a difference. My favourite book growing up was Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One, and throughout my skiing career and legal career I always remembered:

First with the head and then with the heart …

As Edward Everett wrote about the power of the individual:

I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still I can do something …

I believe that, if everyone takes that approach, we can do anything. Thank you.

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