First Speech

It is a great honour and privilege to stand here today representing the electorate of Altona and the people of Melbourne’s west. As this is my first speech as a parliamentarian, I wish to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land upon which Parliament House stands as well as the land now covered by my electorate: the Kulin nation.

I grew up surrounded by people who believed that you should work hard to make things better and that you have a responsibility to help others. This influence led me at a young age to follow their example and be active in my own community. It also led me to start thinking about the social and economic issues that exclude people from being valued members of our community. The main reason I stand here today is that I have always believed it is the role of governments to lay down the foundations for a prosperous and fair society and to eradicate injustice. I do not believe governments should always hold our hands, but they should not sit on their hands either. We do not elect governments to walk away from people and communities that need them most. We do not elect governments to do nothing while people are treated unfairly or unjustly.

Governments should be enablers of prosperity and equal access to opportunities — of making sure that people have every chance to realise the power and possibility of a good education, to stay healthy, to find a good job and to achieve their potential, wherever they live and whatever their circumstances. Throughout my working life I have seen too many people having a rough trot in life. I have worked to try to help them get back into the workforce after being retrenched, having their businesses fail, being a carer without enough support or being ill themselves. During the by-election campaign in Altona I spoke with people with similar stories to tell, and I was struck yet again not just by their personal losses but by the social and economic cost of their exclusion from things like meaningful employment and a connected community life. I am firm in my belief that equality of opportunity is the basis for a fair and successful society that is resilient in connected communities, a productive workforce and a strong economy. President Franklin Roosevelt said: We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we now know that it is bad economics. I agree with the Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, who recently argued that in tough economic times it helps to recognise that the converse is also true: that good morals are good economics. In other words, helping those who need it, especially those in a time of crisis, through things like better employment and business support, better health services and education opportunities, is not only the morally right thing to do; it is also more likely to be a far more effective form of economic stimulus than slashing public spending.

Making sure that governments can sustain public and community services is not only morally the right thing to do; it is also a way to avoid job losses and limit the extent of an economic slowdown. Victoria is very fortunate to have in John Brumby a Premier who understands this very well. I am proud to be part of a government that gives priority to investing in areas that lead to better opportunities, such as schools and hospitals, jobs, skills and training, and vital community services. There is no doubt that Melbourne’s west has benefited from these opportunities and from its growing popularity as a place to live. I love living and working in the west. We are still subject to some misconceptions from other Melburnians — mainly those who have not set foot in the west for quite some time, if at all.

But it is their loss, because they are missing out on what is now one of Melbourne’s most interesting, dynamic and diverse communities — and one of the fastest growing. Despite our changing fortunes, there is still work to be done. I want Altona to be a place of great opportunity. I want to know that a young girl or boy from my electorate can be confident of having the same opportunities as someone growing up in any other part of Melbourne. I want to know that the people in Laverton have the same chances and choices as people in our most privileged and well-off suburbs. I want to know that the families of Point Cook or Altona Meadows or Hoppers Crossing have every reason to believe that their aspirations for themselves and their children will be realised. We are a lot closer to achieving these things, but we still need to attract more investment and business to Melbourne’s west.

We still need more local jobs so that people do not have to travel as far to work, and we need to continue to build a secure, sustainable and diverse employment base. We need to continue to improve transport connections within the west and between the west and the rest of Melbourne and Victoria. We need to continue to improve the skills of our workforce and to keep investing in infrastructure to keep up with growth and change. We need to keep investing in quality education. We need to support our community leaders and community groups — those like the Laverton Action Group, which is doing such a remarkable job of inspiring and working with our local community to regenerate it. I intend to be a very strong advocate for these things within government, and I intend to do everything I can to make sure that my community is a community that feels safe and optimistic, that celebrates its diversity and that works together to build a future that is fair and full of opportunity.

My sense of fairness and equality comes from my professional and personal experiences. I would like to acknowledge the influence of my parents, Joan and Greg Hennessy, my brothers, my grandparents and my friends. My father has worked on just about every piece of major infrastructure ever built in Victoria. As a child I spent many days being taken on tours of assorted tunnels, bridges and sewerage plants — or ‘purification plants’, as he prefers to call them. Whilst I complained a lot about these tours — because, let’s face it, they are not an eight-year-old’s great idea of a fabulous weekend — along with Dad’s great enthusiasm for civil infrastructure they showed me the difference that governments can make when they have the foresight and commitment to deliver big public projects in areas such as transport and water. My mum has been instrumental in inspiring my belief in justice and opportunities for all, especially in the area of education.

Bringing up a clan of children when you have multiple sclerosis is a daunting task, but one my mother managed with extraordinary humour and courage. She was passionate about all of us getting a good education and challenging accepted wisdoms. To this end she banned television from the house, and instead of taking us to the zoo she took us to university biology departments; and we were banned from ever entering McDonald’s and were made to hiss at it when we drove past it. It was only when I was in the company of other children and would so hiss that I discovered this was not standard childhood behaviour. My brothers have also been a great source of encouragement and endless entertainment. They have given me very effective, practical instruction on how to win, or in my case how to lose, a good fight.

I owe a great debt to my wonderful grandparents — Sven and Marjorie Larsen of Bendigo, and Tess and Herb Hennessy of Gippsland — who were big-hearted, deeply loving and generous people who taught me much about being a decent human being. I also want to thank my in-laws, Lang and Leondis Dean, for their support. Long-time residents of Dimboola, now of Ballarat, they are also great examples of people who care about others and their community. And, of course, they did me the very fine service of producing my wonderful partner, Bernie. So my families’ legacy to me is one of enduring kindness, of not judging people because they are different, in difficulty or down on their luck. To my friends across the Labor Party, my campaign team and local branch members, I thank you for your work and encouragement. I would also like to thank the labour movement.

I promise you that I will be a strong voice in this Parliament for jobs, fair employment conditions, safer workplaces and a better deal for working families. I would also like to say a word of thanks to my old law firm, Holding Redlich, that gave me so many wonderful opportunities and experiences. I also need to acknowledge the support of my civilian friends from all walks of life whose humour and loyalty continue to sustain me. I trust they will continue to keep me in touch with what people are really saying about politicians, to the extent we do not already know that. It was Sir Isaac Newton who said, ‘If I have seen further, it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants’. I am very conscious that in being here today I stand on the shoulders of many people whose wisdom and advice has guided and inspired me. I would not be here without them.

They include Allan Griffin; Kim Carr; my local federal members of Parliament Julia Gillard and Nicola Roxon; Daniel Andrews, Minister for Health; Gavin Jennings, Minister for Environment and Climate Change; Andrew Giles; and former Premier Steve Bracks and former Premier Joan Kirner, who is here today — a remarkable woman whose commitment to improving the lives and representation of women is one I hope I can emulate. To my predecessor in the seat of Altona, Lynne Kosky, I say a big thank you for your example of community leadership, your untiring support for the city’s west and your 14 years of service to the people of Altona and Victoria. To my partner Bernie and my exuberant daughters, Lily-Rose and Ginger: you are my inspiration. I hope I make you proud.

Finally to the people of Altona for electing me as their representative, I say thank you. I assure you that I will represent your hopes, concerns and interests with dedication and passion. I assure you of my commitment and that of the Brumby Labor government to making sure that the people of Melbourne’s west have every opportunity to secure a bright and successful future. Thank you so much for this opportunity. I will give you my utmost.