On Tuesday 13 December I gave my inaugural speech to the ACT Parliament.
A friend of mine mentioned afterwards that he didn’t know anyone who had moved to a state or territory, not knowing anyone (and having never even visited before they moved here), who became a member of its Parliament within nine years.
This is my story.
You can read it in full below or watch it online.
I start by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal people, and to pay my respects to the elders past and present and to those present today. I acknowledge their continuing contribution.
First, I would like to offer thanks to all of my colleagues, many new themselves, for the warm welcome to the Assembly, and especially to the Assembly staff who have had no small task in literally accommodating us all.
I am proud to be joined by so many women on all sides of the chamber in making up the first majority female parliament in Australia. But let me put on the record how frustrated I am that it has not happened any sooner in any parliament.
To my staff, Josh, Minuri, Jemma and Jordan, thank you for your support in helping me start this new chapter of my journey. I also want to thank my partner, Hamish, for his support and love. It is a lot of fun to go through this life with you—and our dogs— and you have witnessed and been there through all the good times and all the tough times that have led to this point. You know better than anyone what it takes.
Madam Speaker, I was born an only child to small business owners in Cairns in north Queensland. My mother, Deb, and my father, Pete, ran a successful restaurant in the 1980s. By the end of that decade they upended their lives, and we moved to Toowoomba.
It is no secret that as well as being my biggest supporter, my mother is my inspiration. Through her example, I have never known anything else other than “women can do anything”. As I entered grade one, my mother, who had left school at 15, started university as a mature aged student while my father drove a taxi.
In the mid 1990s we moved to mining town Moura in central Queensland, followed by Dysart and Blackwater. As I grew up, my mother went from strength to strength, holding numerous significant leadership roles in a tough, male-dominated industry.
I have unashamedly copied her in many areas. If she had not done it before me, I expect I may not ever have even thought of going to university, getting an MBA, and even learning shorthand.
One of our shared qualities is our determination, and that will come as no surprise to anyone who saw her camped out at the Belconnen pre poll every single day for three weeks of voting this year.
For much of the time that my mother worked, my father was a stay-at-home dad. This was especially unusual in a mining town, even in the 1990s, but it was brilliant. He remains the cleverest person I have ever known. There was nothing he could not do with his brain or his hands. He created a voracious reader in me, and we would go to the local library together twice a week. As an only child, he was often my only company, and he was the best company. Throughout his life, he was a great contributor to and volunteer in his communities, and he was the biggest fan of the two ambitious women in his life.
I am deeply sad that my father was not able to be part of the journey over the last year.
I grew up quickly in a Rockhampton boarding school, where I made lasting friendships and was challenged by teachers who saw the potential in me and made it attractive to want to do my very best. A lot of people laugh at the cliché that school years are the best years of your life, but mine were fantastic.
It was at university in Brisbane that two very, very important things happened. On my very first day I met my best friend, Jane Symonds. We are now separated by distance, but she continues to be one of the single greatest influences in my life because of her friendship, intelligence and for simply being a remarkable human being. And she is a great writer. The second is that I joined the Labor Party. I did not necessarily come from a Labor family, but I was drawn to the values of justice, fairness and opportunity. And in the year I joined, Labor was returned to power federally and Anna Bligh became the first female Premier in Queensland.
Madam Speaker, it was a big deal for me to accept a graduate job in Canberra in the commonwealth public service and move here on 17 January 2008. With no friends and no family south of the Queensland border, I knew no-one, and I had actually never stepped foot in Canberra before I moved here. I got over some of my initial nerves by convincing myself it was not permanent and that I would last about four years, the average time I had spent living in every other place. As you have heard, this story is familiar to other members too.
In the Attorney-General’s Department I was lucky to have a varied career and was privileged to be mentored by some incredible individuals as well as to serve as a manager and a mentor myself. I would like to make special mention of Rachael Jackson, who is here today, and Matt Hall, whose trust in me opened door after door for me, as well as David Fredericks and Robyn Kruk, two extraordinary leaders who instilled in me compassion and pragmatism. Of the many jobs I had, none left a more lasting impression on me than my work in the Defence Abuse Response Task Force. This important task force was established in November 2012 to assist complainants who had suffered sexual abuse, physical abuse, sexual harassment, workplace harassment and bullying in defence. It was an honour and a privilege to undertake this meaningful work, the lessons of which will stay with me for the rest of my life.
But, Madam Speaker, while I led a fulfilling public service career with some amazing individuals, something else was happening to me. My friends said I was acting peculiarly.
Having moved around so much growing up, I had never really felt like I had a home town, but moving to Belconnen had changed that.
I finally felt like I belonged. I did not just like where I lived; I loved it.
Madam Speaker, when you love something, you want the very best for it, and you want to share that love with others. Moving here, starting life here from somewhere else, is a story shared by many Canberrans, and I was happy to share my story and show people why I fell in love with my home. I created a blog called “In the Taratory”, a portmanteau of my name and “territory”. The blog serves as a record of the fun I have had in the capital, but I know it has inspired others to get to know their city better. I am proud and humbled by its reach and its influence.
From there I joined the Belconnen Community Council and the Belconnen Arts Centre board, organisations that are committed to people. One of my proudest achievements as part of these organisations was encouraging as many people as possible to have their say on the Belconnen town centre master plan so that it best reflected community needs and desires.
Having achieved numerous community ambitions, I knew I wanted to and could do more for the city that had become my home. I knew the best way to make the biggest difference was by being here in the Assembly. I knew that in addition to caring deeply about the electorate, members should be energetic and hard working. That is the kind of member I want to be, and I knew I had those qualities to help me contribute in my own way to developing a positive vision for this city as part of a progressive Barr government.
Madam Speaker, I was also and still am inspired by those who sit beside me and those who came before me, but none more so than former MLA for Ginninderra Mary Porter. Mary set the standard for being an effective member, and I was determined that if I was lucky enough to be preselected as a candidate by my party I would attempt to do her enormous legacy justice.
I am indebted to the Belconnen Labor members, many who are here today, who put their trust in me to be an effective candidate for the Labor Party. I committed to each of them that I would work my hardest to ensure that Labor would retain three seats in Ginninderra, and I am pleased to have done that. I offer them my sincere thanks, and am grateful for their ongoing support and their friendship.
My campaign was powered by people, ideas and conversations. This is significant because I ran my campaign in the way I wish to be an MLA.
I surrounded myself with a fantastic team. I would not be here if not for all the people who believed in me, who gave up their time to support and campaign with me, people who joined me before preselection as well as those who literally joined me on the final day. I regret that I cannot mention all the volunteers but I would like to make particular mention of Nicholas Argy; Damien Haas, who is here today; Mark Nelson, Hamish; Greg Lloyd; Kim Angove and Deb. Each of these persons gave me their unconditional support. I also want to thank Elizabeth, Michael, Eleanor and Mary Porter for going on the record with their support.
My campaign and Labor’s campaign was marked by positive vision, and I am proud to continue that in the Assembly. From innovative health services to an integrated world-class public transport system, there was and is an awful lot to talk about. But the people of Ginninderra had taught me local matters too. It is why I campaigned so hard for things like a bulky waste kerbside pick-up service and green bins to households, policies which are not terribly sexy but which will make a real difference to everyday Canberrans. I am proud these are Labor government commitments.
We are also a growing population and an ageing population. As in the campaign, I look forward to participating in ideas debates to ensure we continue to invest in the right infrastructure to support us to ensure that we remain and grow as a community that is connected both physically and socially.
The completion of the Belconnen Arts Centre and the implementation of the Belconnen town centre master plan policies, as well as developments like those at the University of Canberra and the west Belconnen site of Ginninderry are just a few examples of local opportunities to achieve this.
Madam Speaker, the most important part of my campaign—and now as an MLA—is the conversations.
Over the past year I have had thousands of positive conversations. In the dead dark of winter I stood at Jamison shops. On days of wind and rain I knocked on doors. These were tough points throughout the campaign, but I would always ask myself, “What would Mary Porter do?” And the answer was always clear: get out there and keep talking to people, no matter what. I have the same attitude as an MLA. I have held five shopping centre stalls since my election and met with over a dozen local businesses, and I am only just getting started, I can promise you that.
I have always believed that we get the best outcomes for our community when our community’s voice is heard, and I will be that voice. I am committed to being an MLA who is present, available and accessible. You can never over-explain something, especially when you have 54,000 people to reach. In my role here I promise I will be curious and seek to understand before making myself understood. Much has been made of my social media presence, and I can confirm that presence will continue. It is our job as representatives to employ as many channels as possible to have as many conversations with as many people as possible.
Before I conclude, Madam Speaker, I would like to acknowledge what a hardworking Labor team we have, and none more so than in the Ginninderra Labor team. I give special mention to my colleagues Minister Berry and Minister Ramsay, but also Kim Fischer and former MLA and minister Chris Bourke. Due to Hare-Clark and preference flows I have benefited from their hard work, and I promise I will not forget that over the next four years.
Politics is about people and I have mentioned a lot of people in this speech who have shaped who I am and have contributed to me being here. I would like to finish by thanking the people who have had the greatest hand in that, that is, the people of Ginninderra. Thank you for your trust in me, your support of me and for sharing your stories with me, now and in the future. Your stories have and will become part of me. Madam Speaker, by being elected I will be bringing their stories and their voice with me every day to this Assembly. It is an honour and a privilege to do that.
I am a long way from that daunting plane flight on 17 January 2008. It is enormously humbling to be a representative of the home I love so much in the city I love so much. Thank you.
Did you spot the Fleetwood Mac lyrics?