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Fiona Martin (Lib-Reid) – Maiden Speech

This is the maiden speech to the House of Representatives of Dr Fiona Martin, the Liberal member for Reid.

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Hansard transcript of maiden speech by Dr Fiona Martin, Liberal member for Reid.

The SPEAKER (12:05): Before I call the honourable member for Reid, 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.

Dr MARTIN (Reid) (12:06): Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is an honour and a privilege to address this House today as the new member for Reid, and I thank the people of Reid for the trust they have placed in me to represent them. As the federal member for Reid, I have been elected to serve and advocate on behalf of my constituency, and it is a privilege to serve a community that I grew up in and that I will now raise my family in.

I would like to acknowledge the Wangal people of the Eora nation, the First Peoples to inhabit what we now know as the Division of Reid, and I pay my respects to all Indigenous elders past, present and emerging.

It is hard to believe that it was only two months ago that I was standing alongside the many volunteers who supported me and the campaign as we watched the results pour in from across the electorate. The campaign was a whirlwind. I found myself facing a five-week sprint to the finish line against an opposition who had campaigned for over 12 months. There were many people who believed it would be impossible to run a successful campaign in such a short period. Others simply could not understand what would motivate me to enter the race at all, especially at a time when meaningful engagement with our democratic system is as its lowest in generations. I believe that, as Australians, we should celebrate our democracy. We are privileged to have the opportunity to cast a vote in our nation’s elections and to take part in our nation’s debate. Our democracy is made stronger by the participation of more Australians in political conversation, and, as a member of parliament, it will be my priority to engage with as many voters as I can to ensure the voices of our quiet Australians in Reid are represented in this place. I have always believed it is honourable to serve your community and your country. We must be the change we wish to see. We must be willing to put up our hands to serve, and that’s what I did. I am proud to be the first female member for Reid and to work alongside so many accomplished women in this parliament. It is so important that women are represented in all levels of government, because women can bring a broader range of issues to the table and can use different methods to problem-solve, and that can only make us stronger.

There were a number of key factors that led to our convincing win in May. The first was good leadership. The Prime Minister led us to victory through his strong convictions, through his humility and by placing the Australian people front and centre. He sought to rebuild the nation’s trust in our political system by elevating the voices of quiet Australians. I can say with confidence that the strongest leadership is marked by authenticity, respect and a desire to serve—to place the needs of the public at the centre of every decision and debate. This is exactly what it means to truly serve your community.

Good leadership requires one to be fixed on a goal but flexible on the details. As Sir Robert Menzies remarked in ‘The Forgotten People’ speech, the ingredients of a good leader are flexibility of mind, constructive capacity and marked judgment. And as Australia’s longest-serving Prime Minister, he was clearly onto something. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has truly modelled this transformational leadership not only for our party but for our country. Today I honour the clear vision and drive he has demonstrated and will no doubt continue to demonstrate as leader of our nation.

During the campaign, the majority of Australians were able to see the difference a strong economy makes. Investment in key infrastructure and services, delivering personal income tax cuts and support for small businesses and families were significant issues that needed to be addressed. And what a strong start as a member of parliament to be part of a government that has already delivered on tax cuts and is getting on with the work we were elected to do.

As a small-business owner myself, I understand the hard work that goes into running a business, the pride you have in delivering your products and services to the community and the challenges and risks that small-business owners face. Reid’s thousands of small businesses are as diverse as our cultural heritage and they’re often family owned. As a government, we have never doubted the value of small businesses. Only we truly understand that small businesses are the backbone of the Australian economy and we can promise to never take for granted the business community or the jobs it provides.

The electorate of Reid is named after the Right Honourable Sir George Houston Reid, a former Premier of New South Wales and the fourth Prime Minister of Australia. Like me, George Reid believed in liberalism and understood the importance of free trade and the benefits of free enterprise in building our country’s prosperity. Reid is a beautiful electorate to live in, to do business in or just to visit. It stretches from Drummoyne’s marina to its most western point in Silverwater, from Rhodes on the Parramatta River down to Strathfield. Its bustling urban setting is balanced by stunning waterfronts and green spaces. Reid is home to sprawling parks such as Bicentennial Park and historic sites including the Arnott’s Biscuits factory in North Strathfield. Of course, Reid has flaunted itself on the world stage through its world-class entertainment and sporting facilities at Sydney Olympic Park. I remember, as a student of Rosebank College, standing with my peers in the early nineties at Homebush as we heard, ‘And the winner is Sydney!’ and all the celebrations of the 2000 Olympics that followed.

Reid is a corridor that links Sydney’s eastern CBD to the growing western CBD. It was just over a week ago that I joined the Deputy Prime Minister and the NSW Premier in the opening of the first stage of WestConnex, a core piece of infrastructure that our city has needed. I’m looking forward to improvements to Homebush Bay Drive and working with local families and businesses to tackle other local traffic blackspots to get us home sooner and safer.

I’m proud the coalition government has invested so much into local sporting and community infrastructure. I am passionate about sport and what sport offers to young people and I’m so pleased that I live in an electorate where local sporting groups such as the Strathfield Strikers, the Inner West Suburbs Netball Association and the Wests Tigers offer these exact opportunities to youth. I am looking forward to continuing this work.

Education is the pillar of our society. Effective school and family partnerships are necessary for children to develop, learn and thrive. I’d like to acknowledge the outstanding government, Catholic and independent schools in Reid. It is our committed teachers and parents that make up our school communities and nurture our future leaders.

It is important to acknowledge the role our heritage and personal history have in shaping our ways of leadership. My grandparents in particular were outstanding examples of everyday, ordinary leaders—leaders who served their families and communities.

As the granddaughter of migrants, I understand the hard work, sacrifices and, in many cases, trauma, that motivated millions of people to come to Australia to build a better life for themselves and their children. My papou, Mark Barbouttis, migrated to Australia in 1926 from a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea, Kastellorizo. He would become a small business owner, trained in the Australian Air Force and eventually represented his local community as an alderman. His wife, my yiayia, Mersina Manettas, also from Kastellorizo, arrived a little later, in 1947. She lived through occupations and bombings, eventually became a refugee of the war and migrated to Australia in search of a better life. She and my papou had a desire to create a new home for their family in Australia.

Australia is one of the most successful multicultural societies. We have become one of the most culturally diverse, yet socially cohesive, nations in the world. My electorate is one fine example of this—made up of people from different cultures, languages and religions. I have said on many occasions that being the member for Reid is like traveling around the world in one day. We have migrant communities from China, Korea, India, Italy, Greece, Lebanon and so many more, and the diversity of our people is visible in our streets. I have great admiration for those who, like my grandparents, uprooted their lives to make a go of it in this lucky country. It takes strength, resilience and courage to show that sort of leadership in everyday life.

As a Liberal, I believe in the rights and freedoms of all people, including freedom to practice religion, culture and beliefs without intimidation or interference, as long as those practices are within Australian law. We respect and celebrate our diversity. And in the words of former Prime Minister John Howard, we should look to ‘the things that unite us rather than the things that divide us’.

While Reid’s cultural diversity makes it unique, I have seen everyday leadership modelled through the strong veterans community that exists in our electorate. The service and sacrifice of our service men and women has shown Australia that leadership is not about obtaining authority or power, but is through exerting mateship, resilience and courage. When I look out of my office and see the Burwood War Memorial Arch, I am reminded of this. Concord hospital’s historical ties to the Australian Army during the Second World War remind me of this. When I visit the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway in Rhodes, I am reminded me of this.

My maternal grandfather, George Kenneth Dashwood, was 18 when he and his brother James enlisted in the Australian Army. During World War II, Poppy Dashwood was stationed in Darwin with the Australian Infantry Battalion before being discharged five years later. His brother James had a more harrowing fate, becoming a prisoner of war in Changi, Singapore. Their stories are part of our veteran community’s collective story that again, to me, encapsulates what it means to be a leader.

When I reflect on my years growing up in Reid, my education was instrumental in giving me the tools to be a good leader. After finishing school, I completed a degree in government and psychology—an odd combination at the time, but clearly something was emerging. My love of politics started at about 18 years of age when I joined the Young Liberals and became involved in student politics. During this time, I was surrounded by other young people who wanted to make a difference, many of whom remain friends to this day and supported me through the campaign, and some of whom sit in this place today.

The values of the Liberal Party which I identified with as a young adult will pave the road I will walk during my time in parliament. I stand with a government that nurtures incentive and encourages aspiration. I stand with a government that protects the fundamental freedoms to allow democracy to flourish. I believe a society built on these principles is a strong society—one where we can protect those who may be vulnerable.

During the completion of my PhD at the University of Sydney, my academic mentor, Emeritus Professor Susan Hayes, instilled in me the scientist-practitioner model and the importance of evidence based medicine, as well as the significance of early intervention in all aspects of disability and mental health policy. Consequently, much of my research has focused on early intervention for children with neurodevelopmental disorders, people with intellectual disabilities, improving the accuracy of children’s eyewitness testimony and the important area of resilience. Resilience is the foundation for good mental health.

Resilience is key not only to our individual mental health but to the wellbeing of our society and our democracy. Our ability to recover from setbacks through flexibility and fortitude is necessary in federalism as much as it is necessary in our day-to-day lives. Good fiscal management is not in opposition to providing evidence based health services and supports, but rather it is the means through which it can be achieved. One of the biggest challenges our country faces in the 21st century is the mental and psychological wellbeing of our citizens. My professional career as a psychologist has infused me with a strong desire to see all Australians realise their full potential, develop resilience and better cope with life’s many challenges.

I come from a unique position. I’ve been a clinician for over 15 years and an academic researcher, and I am now a member of parliament. I have the opportunity to bring this experience from the front line to contribute to policy to help close the evidence-policy gap. The need for innovative research and a strong policy agenda represents one of our greatest opportunities and challenges in the field of not only mental health but health care more broadly. Placing an emphasis on prevention and early intervention is the key to addressing an array of mental health conditions so we can combat the many societal issues that arise from poor mental health.

It is a tragic statistic that suicide remains a leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44. Few among us have not been impacted by suicide. It has become a silent epidemic. While the link between suicide and mental disorders is well established, many suicides happen impulsively in moments of crisis, with a breakdown in the ability to deal with life stresses. We must recognise that some groups are at greater risk. Suicide rates are higher among men, among Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people and among our veteran communities.

By far the strongest risk factor for suicide is a previous suicide attempt. Those most at risk are the people who have recently been discharged from hospital. And this is where effective discharge plans, follow-up care and support are vital. Suicides are preventable with timely, evidence based and often low-cost interventions. This is why our government is providing greater support for all Australians needing mental health and suicide prevention services. It is our national priority to work towards a zero suicide goal, and I look forward to using my professional skills and taking an active role in the work that must be done to reduce our suicide rates.

Poor mental health often affects more than just the person and can have a terrible impact on those around them. Prioritising mental health is at the core of addressing a number of societal problems in this country, but particularly domestic violence. Living free of violence is everyone’s right and reducing violence is everyone’s business. We must continue to make reducing violence a priority. All forms of violence against women and children are unacceptable in any community and in any culture.

We must acknowledge that women and children are far more vulnerable to family violence, often, tragically, leading to fatalities. More than three million Australian women have since the age of 15 experienced violence by an intimate partner. Police respond to a domestic violence incident every two minutes. People who witness partner violence as children are two to four times more likely to experience partner violence as adults.

Since 2013 the coalition government have invested $840 million on programs and services for survivors of domestic, family and sexual violence. I commend the government in particular for its 1800RESPECT service, offering a one-stop shop to support Australians who have experienced or are at risk of experiencing domestic violence. Investment in women’s and children’s safety is critical to the wellbeing and success of our nation.

While intervention and recovery services for victims are absolutely essential, if we want to substantially reduce domestic and family violence, we must see domestic and family violence as a mental health problem. I am proud to be part of a government that has invested more money into mental health than any other previous government. However, scientific evidence should take a greater role in informing our decisions when it comes to mental health and domestic violence. There will always be more work to be done.

Before I express my gratitude to the people who supported me I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge my Labor opponent. I wish him all the best in his future endeavours.

I’d like to thank my predecessor, Craig Laundy, the former member for Reid. He had been a strong and passionate voice for our community since 2013. His guidance, support and advice through the campaign were vital to our strong result in Reid. I know he’s very happy to be back as a publican. I’m looking forward to many more words of advice over the years to come.

Mr John Sidoti, the member for Drummoyne, and our local team of Liberal councillors across Canada Bay, Burwood, Strathfield, Parramatta and Cumberland councils: thank you for the support you offered me during the campaign. I thank our Liberal leaders in New South Wales. It was an honour to have alongside me in Reid the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and the New South Wales Premier, Gladys Berejiklian.

The New South Wales division of the Liberal Party is led by the very dedicated Chris Stone—thank you for the support and guidance you offered me from day one. The federal campaign team was led by Andrew Hirst—congratulations on an outstanding campaign. I thank Kellie Sloane and David Miles, who provided advice and guidance in the early stages of my candidacy.

I’d like to thank the many ministers, MPs and Liberal Party stalwarts who stood on pre-poll, train stations and street stalls with me. My sincere thanks go to the Reid FEC and in particular members of the executive for their support and trust in this short sprint of a campaign. The work of our local branches can never be taken for granted.

My campaign team was led by Olivia Simpson and Will Nemesh, who worked tirelessly for the six weeks of the campaign. I also thank my new team—Vanessa, Olivia, Klaudia, Jodie, Alex, Matthew and Chanel. Thank you for taking up the challenge of working with Team Reid.

Many supporters and volunteers—many of them friends and family—backed the campaign and helped man booths on election day. Thank you for your time and energy that helped get us across the line in Reid. I’m pleased so many of you could join me here today. I particularly would like to acknowledge the work of the Australian Chinese Political Forum, the Australian Korean Political Forum, the Liberal Friends of Korea and the Liberal Friends of Israel. I’d also like to acknowledge Joel Hornsey and Shane Hale for the boost in manpower and morale.

Then there is my family. Firstly, there is my 92-year-old nan, Marie Dashwood. Stand up. As she says, she’s 92 and not out. She’s the matriarch of our mostly Irish-blooded Dashwood-Harvey clan. It is such a blessing to have you here today. I’m only able to be here because of the sacrifices of my family, particularly of my husband, Nicolai. Nico, your willingness to embrace this journey makes it possible for me to be here. You have supported me to pursue this very ambitious goal of mine. Your attention to detail is often a frame of reference for me, as is your Danish sense of humour, which has helped me get through many life challenges.

To my four children, Sophia, Zachary, Nicholas—who are in the gallery today—and little Olivia, who is having more fun at Capital Hill Early Childcare Centre, I am excited for you to learn about politics in such a hands-on way. I know it is not easy being the child of a politician. At times, it will be a great challenge having mum away from home, serving the country. I hope what you are able to take from this is the importance of contributing to the community and broader society. Particularly to Sophia and Olivia, you come from a long line of strong, independent women. I hope I am able to be a role model to you in the same way my mother and grandmother were to me. Kids, as the Irish say, ‘When I count my blessings, I count you twice.’

Thank you to my mum, Kathy. Elle, Diana and I have all grown into confident and capable women because of the person you are. You are empathic, intelligent and hardworking. Thank you for everything you have done for me. To my Dad, George, who was part of the Australian soccer squad back in the day, your sporting career certainly inspired my competitive nature. You always emphasised the need to keep your eye on the ball. I’ll be hearing your mantra for the rest of my life: ‘When you wake up, the game is over.’ As it turns out, that’s good advice for this place. I’d like to acknowledge my sisters, Elle and Diana; my stepfather, Geoff; and Ben, Peter and Kate. Thank you to the rest of my family who have joined us here today. It takes a village to raise a child. I would like to thank the whole team of people who contribute to my children’s lives, but particularly Nicolai, Jeremy and my mother.

Finally, and most significantly, thank you to the people of Reid, who have put their trust in me to serve and represent their issues in this place. Reid, I’m ready for the challenge and I will not let you down. As Churchill said:

I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.

Debate adjourned.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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