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David Smith (ALP-Bean) – Maiden Speech

This is the maiden speech to the House of Representatives by David Smith, the ALP member for Bean, Australian Capital Territory.

As a result of a redistribution, Bean was a new, and third, seat for the ACT at the May 19, 2019 elections. Smith was previously an ACT senator. He filled a casual vacancy in 2018, replacing Katy Gallagher, who had been disqualified under Section 44 of the Constitution. Gallagher returned to her previous Senate position at the 2019 elections.

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Hansard transcript of maiden speech by David Smith, ALP member for Bean.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms Bird): I congratulate the member on his contribution. Before I call the honourable member for Bean, I remind the House that this is the honourable member’s first speech and I ask the House to extend to him the normal courtesies.

Mr DAVID SMITH (Bean) (11:32): Let me begin by acknowledging that we meet on the most beautiful land of the Ngunawal and Ngambri people; a land I grew up on and know intimately. I pay my respects to the wise and caring elders past, present and emerging. In my time here, I will work tirelessly to ensure that this House does not simply acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians but that it actively empowers their communities, including my own here in the nation’s capital.

I have a confession to make, which is that during these first parliamentary sitting weeks I have spent much of my time in escalating panic. I have been sitting here listening to the first speeches of my cohort, which have been at varying times moving, incisive, deeply personal, witty and inspirational, all the time conscious that my own contribution was not doing so well.

As you would be aware, I am in the unusual but not unique position of making a second first speech. It is, however, unusual to be making a second first speech within 12 months, particularly when that original first speech was itself unexpected. In my joy at first entering parliament in the Senate chamber, I gave my all to that first presentation of my thoughts and desires about what I wanted to contribute to public life, not pausing to think that I’d have to do it again so soon. As a result, this second time around was looking decidedly less inspired.

In my desperation for some inspiration, I contacted Bob McMullan, a former member for the former seat of Fraser, and asked him how he tackled the herculean task of a second first speech. His response? He didn’t do one. After further research I found that neither did Cheryl Kernot. I didn’t realise that this was an option! While I briefly contemplated going down the same path, I couldn’t for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I could not refuse the opportunity to state again publicly what a privilege it is to be elected. I am honoured to stand here in this chamber as the first member for Bean, representing the most beautiful part of the Australian Capital Territory and Norfolk Island, ready to serve the people of Bean from the Lanyon Valley to Burnt Pine. It’s a privilege that a young David Smith would certainly never have thought was possible and yet a privilege which I take with the seriousness that it deserves.

Secondly, I did not want the first ever member for Bean to have been recorded for posterity as not proffering a first speech. It would be a disservice to the wonderful people of my electorate and the extraordinary man for whom it was named.

Thirdly, I wanted to stand with this new Labor cohort and particularly follow the member for Fraser, my long-time friend since high school. The member for Fraser and I met in 1983, in year 8 at Marist College Canberra, with a thirst for knowledge and an appetite for the common good. In the Hawke and Keating governments we could see an exciting agenda that married policy innovation with a reinvigoration of the social contract, a government prepared to lead at home and abroad. Our journey in the world of work began together at Big W in Woden. A key part of our pay packets—yes, they were literally still those then, for the millennials in the audience!—were the penalty rates we received for working weekends and evenings.

We honed our debating skills in the ACT schools competitions, competitions that like so many other community activities relied upon the tireless efforts of volunteers. After all those debates, this is the first occasion on which I have spoken after the member for Fraser! It is true that we had the capacity to be rather annoying at school, always ready with a smart answer involving some terrible pun and sat in the back row tormenting those at the desks in front of us. It is a joy for me to see some of those tormented people here in the galleries today. But that is why, in the infinite wisdom of the member for Fowler, we are seated nowhere near each other in this chamber!

So, deciding that I would proceed with a second first speech, I shamefacedly unburdened myself to my wife about the trouble I was having pulling together what I wanted to say. My reasons were that much of what I said the first time still held. I am still proud to carry on the tradition of Labor members for the south of Canberra, including Gai Brodtmann, Annette Ellis, Ros Kelly, Kep Enderby and Jim Fraser. Our region has been represented by teachers, public servants, a journalist, a barrister and, now, a Smith with an ‘i’. They have set a standard I stand ready to uphold. This region has a long history of electing Labor members, and I am honoured to be one of them and the first of what will hopefully be many for Bean.

I am still passionate about the causes that motivated me 12 months ago. It won’t be surprising that the positions I outlined in my first first speech in relation to the labour movement, the value and importance of public service, an Australian republic, homelessness and inequality, the importance of STEM education and STEM jobs, and regional responsibilities are ones that I continue to hold.

My wife’s response to all that was to say that, while that may be true, having had the privilege of 12 months in parliament, surely there were things that had happened that had taught me invaluable lessons that I would carry forward into this term, that my experiences at various times had surprised or chastened me or maybe even confirmed what I’d thought being an elected representative would entail. This made me reflect on my time in the Senate and so today, in this unusual second first speech, I wanted to take the time to share with you some of my lessons from my first 12 months in this place as well as to talk about Bean.

I learnt that putting dad jokes in speeches recorded by Hansard does not make them any more endearing to my children!

I have asked, ‘How much of this government can a koala bear?’ and it’s not unusual for me to make a Tom Jones pun. I will keep trying in this place. I learnt that, when you quote from The Betoota Advocate, you should ensure that mainstream media outlets know that you are aware that it is a satirical website! That said, there were times when it was difficult to differentiate between satire and the reality of parliamentary life last year.

I realised that, despite changing houses, I continued to get phone calls for Senator Dean Smith. The temptation to grant pairs is overwhelming! I found out that the standard of question time responses doesn’t improve despite the change in chamber, but the Senate, with Senators Cormann and Cameron, had much better accents. I’ve discovered that, every time you put food in your mouth, there will be a division. This is called tactics!

I learnt that a moment of well-intentioned lightheartedness can be inappropriate in hindsight. After my first first speech, late in the evening, when we thought no-one was around, I indulged my daughter, Stella, to skip hand-in-hand down the length of the corridor that ran past the Senate chamber. But, alas, we were caught by a very sombre-faced senior journalist who commented, ‘At least someone is having fun.’ I thought that was a bit harsh until the next morning, when we had a new Prime Minister.

On a more serious note, I learnt very quickly that Parliament House is really run by the amazing staff, from the chamber attendants, the cleaners and the security staff all the way to the Usher of the Black Rod and the Clerk of this chamber. As a mid-term entrant to the Senate, without the benefit of the formal processes at the beginning of parliamentary terms, I learnt I could rely on the invaluable expertise and kindness of the staff here, whether it was asking questions of the Parliamentary Library, working with the Parliamentary Education Office or asking Events for a tour of this great building.

Often in this noisy chamber, we hear about ‘the quiet Australians’. Well, the quiet Australians that make this place work are public servants. One of those quiet Australians, Gina Hall, is retiring after 25 years serving this great parliament and guiding a few hundred thousand visitors through Parliament House. Gina joined as a guide in September 1994 after two decades of service in the Air Force. Her friends joked at the time, ‘Imagine Gina getting paid to talk!’ She retired yesterday after 25 years serving the visitors, members and senators of Parliament House. Thank you, Gina, for your amazing service.

I have had it confirmed that striking a work-life balance can be hard, even if you’re from Canberra. The first sitting weeks caused complete upheaval in my household as my children did not at all anticipate how all-encompassing my new role would be: that I would be gone by the time they woke, and they’d be asleep by the time I came home; that attempts at conversation would often be shut down by phone calls that I had to take; that they would have to see their dad’s face everywhere, and so would their friends; and that, outside of parliamentary sitting periods, there was a calendar full of competing events at home and events that took me away from Canberra on committee work or to Norfolk Island. Things have gotten much better as we developed the rituals that became touchstones to remind us of our connection, even though we saw little of each other physically: a promised kiss goodnight even if asleep, and ensuring that time in non-parliamentary sitting periods is carved out for family time and that my children also see this as being like any other workplace in this country.

The advice from fellow members has been invaluable in this regard. I can only imagine how much more difficult it would be for members, senators and their families who have to travel significant distances or are constantly on the road. The sacrifices that are made by your families for the public service are enormous. In particular, I pay tribute to the member for Maribyrnong and the extraordinary sacrifices that he and his family have made for the common good over the last six years.

Last year, I also learnt that we deal with complex issues where there are not always easy right or wrong answers. One of the best examples of this was the Restoring Territory Rights (Assisted Suicide Legislation) Bill 2015 considered by the Senate last year. At its essence, the bill was about whether citizens living in the territories should have the same right, through their local legislatures, as citizens in the states to make their own laws. In my view, recorded in Hansard, there can be no doubt the answer to that question is yes.

While my own personal view is not in support of the legalisation of euthanasia—for me, the risk of exploitation of the vulnerable is too great—this is not something that should be restricted from consideration by the ACT and Northern Territory legislative assemblies in a way it is not restricted from consideration by state parliaments. I agree with the former senator and chief minister Gary Humphries when he said:

… we may not agree with the ACT’s legislative choices, but we have an obligation to respect them where they are democratically made.

If this matter returns to this parliament it is a position I will maintain.

I also learnt that territory rights issues are not just about the ACT and NT. An unusual part of the electorate of Bean, in addition to southern ACT, is the external territory of Norfolk Island. You can imagine that being part of an electorate that is largely urban and landlocked and is 1,900 kilometres away is not the most obvious fit for effective representation. This is exacerbated by the lack of representation at a territory level of a kind similar to that which exists in the ACT or NT. Indeed there is an absence of any democratically elected territory-level representation.

Just like the rest of Bean, Norfolk Island has a rich history. The Kingston and Arthur’s Vale Historic Area is one of the best surviving examples of large-scale convict transportation and colonial expansion of European powers. The descendants of the HMAV Bounty mutineers and Tahitians from the Pitcairn Islands gives the island a unique culture and language. It has unique flora and fauna, and is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Its history presents challenges that have vexed this place since its incorporation into the Commonwealth early in the 20th century. Many of those challenges are a result of its remoteness and topography. It has no natural harbour, no place for ships to shelter. To this day, sea freight is still unloaded at sea and lightered into the port.

However, many of the issues the people of Norfolk Island face are of our making, and we certainly have the power to solve them together. We need to promote Norfolk Island as a place for Australian and international visitors and investors, whilst preserving its unspoilt beauty and world heritage areas. We need to ensure it has modern and fast communications facilities so its beauty can be shared, and to overcome the tyranny of distance so residents and visitors can work, play and integrate with the broader Australian economy.

Most importantly, however, I want to reflect on what I said a year ago when I stood in the other place and spoke in favour of the repeal of the Andrews act. I quoted from the Hon. Clyde Holding whilst introducing the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Bill:

However, unlike every other person in this country, where a fair go is the creed by which we live, they cannot elect a member of their own community to their own government. They have no say in the decisions which affect their everyday lives. What an extraordinary admission in a country so committed to democratic ideals, and why? Are these people somehow different from other Australians? Are they second-class citizens in some way? Do they not understand, or have opinions on, the issues that confront them daily? Can they not be trusted with their own destiny? The answer to all these questions is very simple. The only difference between these people and the rest of Australia is that they live in the Australian Capital Territory.

These words hold true today for Norfolk Island. We should not abridge the basic right of all Australians for self-determination in the delivery of services that affect them in their daily lives. At the moment there is significant doubt over the delivery of education services to Norfolk Island once the New South Wales government withdraws its services in 2021. My commitment to my constituents on the island is to work with them and the government over the next three years to tackle these challenges and issues and work on a path towards ensuring the people of Norfolk have a genuine voice and influence over matters that we take for granted. A good start would be providing external territories a voice at COAG.

I realised that the many faiths that make up this parliament are a strength. Like many in this parliament, faith is something that is important to me. I look across our great parliament and am proud to be in a nation where our citizens are entitled to their beliefs, where all beliefs are respected, where we can have a Jewish member for Macnamara, a Muslim member for Cowan, and a Christian member for Bean—and all from the same party. It is essential for me that members of all faiths and those with no faith at all can respectfully gather in our capital and focus on our common cause: to make life better and more equal for all Australians.

There are many of Christian faith who I look to for examples of leadership, but two schools in my electorate hold the names of no finer examples of them. The first, Caroline Chisholm School, is a wonderful public school in Chisholm. Caroline Chisholm offers us all a great example of activist leadership, calling on the British to support the social needs of people in the colonies and helping female immigrants as they arrived in Australia. The second is St Mary Mackillop College in Wanniassa and Isabella Plains. St Mary Mackillop reminds me that this parliament should not just be a place of words but of action; for young people look up to us and, as she said, ‘We must teach more by example than by word’.

My faith journey began at home but was augmented by the influence of Father Parker Moloney, the parish priest at St Augustine’s Farrer for most of my childhood and young adult life. The son of the Hon. Parker Moloney, a minister in the Scullin government, the great talent that Parker had was to make the mysteries of the faith meaningful in the daily lives of parishioners but with an emphasis on social justice. He never forgot that Christmas Day was the greatest of the year because:

It’s the day before the races out at Tangmalangaloo.

The key questions for Parker were: who is my neighbour, and what am I prepared to do for my neighbour? These are, I believe, the critical questions to ask in relation to our work here. It shouldn’t be about picking sides or making statements about unfunded empathy.

In my 12 months here I’ve been reminded that the difference you can make in individuals’ lives is enormous, but I’ve also been continually surprised by the realisation that what happens in your electorate can really impact the world. Two weekends ago, on Sunday, 21 July, more than a thousand people gathered down at the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex under the watchful eye of the old Honeysuckle Creek dish to watch those fateful moments when Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon. You could barely hear a pin drop as the images that had been relayed from Honeysuckle Creek in the ACT radiated around the world.

The Bean area has a rich heritage. A rock shelter just north of the Namadgi National Park contains evidence that our First Peoples were living in the region thousands of years ago. The first pastoralists settled in the valleys at the southern end of the Namadgi National Park in the 1830s. They initially struggled to establish themselves in a remote area subject to severe weather.

Geographically, Bean covers most of southern ACT, as well as Norfolk Island, from the National Arboretum, through the Woden Town Centre and right down to Mount Clear in Namadgi National Park, and everywhere in between. It consists the whole of Tuggeranong, the Lanyon Valley, the suburbs of south Woden, including Phillip and Weston Creek, and the Molonglo Valley.

One of my regrets is similar to that voiced by the former member for Canberra, the Hon Ros Kelly MP. Most federal politicians and their staff spend so much of their lives in Canberra travelling like cruise ships in the night, arriving at port and disembarking but never going beyond the parliamentary triangle. They come so often yet they see so little. I get the reasons why; it’s because of the pressures of political life. But it wouldn’t hurt to get outside the political bubble. If they did they would realise that the people of Bean share the same dreams and hopes as the people back in their electorates. Bean is made up of young people who have the same hopes that I had when I was young: hopes to meet a nice partner, to start a family, to own our own home and to make sure our kids are looked after.

Bean is made up of many, many families who, just like me, are following through with that dream, through the trials, tribulations and struggles but also in those special moments, like seeing your children play their first game of soccer or netball or attending their graduation. Bean is also made up of many older residents, just like my parents; people who have worked hard and want to make sure they are looked after with dignity. One of the differences in my electorate, though, is that most of my constituents are working for the Australian people every day.

So, to Bean. Over the course of the campaign I discovered that not many of my constituents knew why the seat of Bean was so named. Bean is named after one of Australia’s greatest war historians, Charles Bean. A couple of weeks after the federal election I received correspondence from his granddaughter Anne Carroll, congratulating me on the election and providing me further insights into this extraordinary Australian’s life.

Many in this chamber will know the basic story of Bean: born in the 19th century; a scholarship at Oxford; a judges’ associate, then later a journalist and Australia’s first official war correspondent. Bean travelled with the first contingent of the AIF, landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. A determined man, he stayed close to the battlefield in Gallipoli and the Western Front, devoting himself to telling our story of national sacrifice, mateship and bravery—helping, in some way, to define what we now know as the ANZAC spirit.

It was in 1919 that Bean returned to Australia, moving to the Tuggeranong Homestead, in what is now Bean, to complete the official history of World War I, a task so detailed it took him 23 years to finish. It was indeed our next wartime Prime Minister, the great John Curtin, who congratulated Bean on his work when the final volume was completed in 1942.

During his time covering the war, Bean conceived of the idea of the Australian War Memorial as a place to commemorate those who’d died in battle and a museum to house objects from war. His time as a civilian covering World War I made him uniquely aware of the sacrifice of our troops, and he wanted to ensure that that sacrifice was commemorated properly. He actively worked in the decades that followed to ensure that that memorial materialised. Bean’s vision for the Australian War Memorial was realised when it opened on Armistice Day, 11 November 1941.

However, Bean was a much more complex character than just the military Bean, thinking deeply on social policy as well. He knocked back a knighthood as it did not sit with his values. He was an early environmentalist, founding the Parks and Playground Movement; a supporter of universal education; and, in addition to the War Memorial, a driving influence behind the establishment of the National Archives of Australia. He was also a man who once supported the White Australia policy and then, later in life, took a much more internationalist view. While his early views of the great John Monash were almost certainly anti-Semitic, later in life he recognised his error. Bean, like our nation, grew and changed with life.

Charles Bean’s contribution, as an exceptional correspondent and a social philosopher, to enlivening our national story is extraordinary. It’s only right that he is honoured in such as way as to have a federal electorate named after him.

Finally, a lesson that all new members here will have learned is that it takes a village to get here. I wish to particularly acknowledge my staff from the other place and here who have worked so hard for the people of the ACT: Chris, Kim, Karl, Nick, Mikey, Terry, Jess, Ben, Tony and Bryce; my amazing core campaign team: Brendan, Johnno, Kerry, Karl, Terry, Steph, Francis and Natalie; and the army of letterboxers, doorknockers, pre-poll volunteers, booth captains and scrutineers who all worked so hard right up until polling day. I’m delighted to see so many of these people in the gallery today.

To a particular band of friends who have provided my whole family with support across this last mad 12 months: Charmaine, Simon, Jules, Jacqui, Paul, Toni, Mike, Gab, Ang, Seb, Roger, Jacqui, Chris and Lily, your childcaring responsibilities might be called upon by other members of the 2019 cohort. And thanks to my great friends in the Australian labour movement and the mighty Australian Labor Party, which has been a major part of my life since I went on a school excursion to the Old Parliament House to meet my local member, Ros Kelly MP, and then joined the union on my first day of work at Big W, Woden.

Finally, I could not be here without the support of the Smith/Centenera/Garcia/Grealy clan—the support and inspiration of my parents; my brothers, Paul and Bernie; my nieces, nephews and cousins. My road to Bean began when my parents made the decision to come here before Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon. In particular, I could not be here without the support of my immediate family: Liesl, Marcus, Eamonn and Stella. Liesl Centenera, as anyone who knows her, is a deadset legend, and I am lucky every day I can walk beside her.

Every day I have walked into this building, I have done so in the knowledge that I am honoured to serve. But while I am one representative of many, each of us has a responsibility to work together to make Australia a nation where everyone has a chance to succeed. We owe this not just to our future generations but those who have gone before us, and, in particular, those who have paid the ultimate price.

I want to end with a piece of writing by Charles Bean, written in the aftermath of World War I. Reflecting on the sacrifices of thousands of Australians during the Great War, he wrote:

Only by one means can we work out our thanks to them—by continuing the task which they were forced to drop when the bullet took them, and devoting our lives to make this country the happy, great, and generous land whose future with their death they gave into our hands.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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