First Speech to the 47th Parliament

First Speech to the 47th Parliament Main Image

26 July 2022

I stand on the lands of the Ngunnawal people and the Ngambri people to speak about my community of Swan, which sits on the lands of the Beeloo people of the Whadjuk Noongar nation. Swan is surrounded by the Derbarl Yerrigan, the Swan River, and by the Djarlgarro Beelier, the Canning River. It is stunning country. The legend is that the river was created by giant serpents, who also created boodjar, moort and katitjin, meaning 'country', 'family' and 'knowledge'. It's astounding that we have the oldest continuous culture right here. Australia's connection to country, family and knowledge will be critical to help us navigate our future.

Building cubbyhouses in the bush and chasing lizards in the red dirt—that's how I grew up. I was born in Kalgoorlie and grew up in Kambalda, a nickel mining town. My dad, Joe, was a metalworker. My mum, Ethel, was a lollipop lady and kindergarten cleaner. Kambalda had the best of everything. Nearly everyone's parents were employed at the mine. It was a highly skilled and multicultural workforce. We had magnificent gum trees that traversed our front yards. For school camp fundraisers we helped rehabilitate mines and planted trees. Mr Woolard, the environment manager, taught us that once you dug up the minerals you put the topsoil back and you healed the land again. The calibre of teachers was phenomenal—in particular, Elaine Wilson and principal Anthony Beatty. They fostered curiosity, play, respect and a love of learning. In fact, my primary school teacher, Mrs Wilson, was my childhood role model. This smart, compassionate woman taught us about our world, the environment, self-belief and, most importantly, that one person can make a difference. Educators lay foundations for kids that are critical. Thank you for the tireless work you do.

My story—my Australian story—would not be possible if it was not for a federal Labor government. When my Goan Indian parents went to the embassy in Kenya they said to my dad: 'You have the right skills, but you're the wrong colour.' This of course was because we still had the white Australia policy in place. My parents came to Australia after Gough Whitlam dismantled the last parts of the white Australia policy. This story taught me two things: politics is personal and politics can transform lives.

Having a dad who is a fitter and turner meant that I got to get on the tools from a young age. Knowing how to fix a leaky tap or change a car tyre are useful lifelong skills. I also loved science and maths, so for me it was natural to study science and engineering at uni. Now, I want the number of women working in science, technology, engineering and maths to grow, and this starts in childhood. Give girls Lego to build those building blocks, hand a girl a spanner, and encourage them to use a telescope to reach for the stars.

Curtin University, in the heart of Swan, is where I studied chemistry and chemical engineering. I loved Curtin. Like you do in the country, you get involved in community, and for me that was through the Curtin Student Guild and the National Union of Students. While Kambalda taught me that one person can make a difference, the union movement taught me that, collectively, we can achieve so much more together. My Australian Labor Students comrades taught me about inclusion, fairness, equality and what leadership looks like. These are skills that I used in corporate Australia, because empowering others to achieve their full potential is something that we should all be striving to do.

This time taught me that unions and bosses don't have to always fight. Often the guild and the university's goals aligned. Yes, the Vice-Chancellor and I disagreed on some things, but when we worked together we achieved better outcomes. In fact, in a sign of the strength of this relationship, Patrick Gorman's Curtin Student Guild ended up naming a bar after Vice-Chancellor Lance Twomey. Despite the dizzying heights Lance had reached in his academic world, he explained that this would have been his dad's proudest moment.

Following on from this, I'm excited about the prospect of businesses, universities, governments, education providers and unions coming together through the Jobs and Skills Australia body. Together, we can solve the wicked problems of our time. I'd also like to extend this willingness to collaborate to my colleagues across the floor. Let's imagine Australia in the year 2100 and create a legacy which future generations can be proud of.

Steelcap boots on a mine site: that's how I started my career. A resources job is a typical career for those that live in Swan. My boss, Tim McDougall, had faith in me and helped build my foundational skills. I relished the opportunity to work with operators and tradies—though times have changed. My dad is from a generation of tradies who have fewer than 10 fingers; my dad has 9½. Growing up, I remember reports of rockfalls underground. Kids would wonder, 'Did my dad get hurt or, worse, did he die?' The mining industry has worked hard to change the safety culture. This has in part been due to community expectations, union power and a recognition that a safe workforce is a productive workforce. Safety trainers know that they are being effective when work practices are actually being practised at home, not just in the workplace. Another indicator of success is seeing that the least powerful person is empowered to speak up. As a graduate engineer on a construction site, I remember calling out an unsafe practice. The maintenance manager, Suresh Vadnagra, backed me and supported my concerns. At another time, this would not be the norm. This culture shift took decades, and the mining industry still has more work to do, but I have all my fingers, unlike my dad.

In all workplaces, everyone has the right to go to work and come home safely. All workers deserve to have a workplace that is free from bullying and sexual harassment. I didn't experience too much sexism on site, but there were some pockets. Others have told me that politics is a blood sport and a Kalgoorlie girl who has made it in mining should be able to hack it in parliament. It should not matter whether your workplace is a bar, a mine site or a parliament. Across Australia, we need to clean up our act. To the brave women and men who participated in the Set the standard review: thank you. Please know that speaking up mattered and will make a difference. I sincerely hope that the pace of cultural change can be fast-tracked. To the 47th parliament: we have a choice to raise the bar and create a new culture. Workplace culture can change. The people of Swan expect this. The people of Australia expect this.

Twelve years ago, I landed a dream job working in climate change. My colleagues Brian Innes and Harriet Kater took a punt on me. I combined my interpersonal skills and technical skills to help ASX 200 companies with their decarbonisation journeys. It was an exciting space to work in, but the policy environment was tough during the climate wars.

During my career the greatest emissions reductions were achieved when there was a Labor government in power. It was a time when economists, scientists and politicians worked together to solve wicked problems. After a decade of government inaction, some companies' investors began to lead the way again. I am proud of the track record in the west. At Goldfields the Agnew mine site meets 85 per cent of its energy needs from wind, solar and battery storage. Companies—such as Wesfarmers, BHP, Rio Tinto and Northern Star—who I've worked with have committed to net zero emissions. We have FMG investing in future energy with hydrogen.

While I am proud of some parts of the resource sector, I must stress that this is not uniform. Smart companies are looking at their climate risks and opportunities over the next three decades. This includes looking at value chains and scope 3 emissions. For us to achieve our goal of well below two degrees of warming, we need all sectors of the economy to pull their weight.

It's important that we paint a picture of what our decarbonised future looks like: jobs, jobs and jobs, and not just any jobs—good jobs, secure jobs, jobs that our kids can be proud of, jobs that will exist in the year 2100. Australia is rich in critical minerals that need to be used to build batteries, wind turbines and solar panels. We can rewire the nation and also power Australia for the future. We can become a renewable energy superpower. Australia needs to increase diversification, commercialisation and sophistication of our industry capability. In WA we need to build beyond the resources boom and make our economy more resilient. We can do this by increasing our advanced manufacturing capability. We are a smart country. We have a history of innovation and ingenuity, particularly against the backdrop of harsh remote conditions.

We saw disruptions to supply chains with COVID and natural disasters and the war. We need to be able to make things in Australia again. In the west we have the potential to become a battery powerhouse. Now humour the engineer within me. To build a battery it takes six steps: you mine the raw materials, you then process the minerals, you then manufacture the battery cells, you assemble it, you install it and then you maintain it. In Australia we're on track to do all of these steps except the manufacturing of cells. This is the value-add step. We can build advanced manufacturing capability. Cathodes and anodes can be built in the west, and once we do this we can look at the full life cycle and recycle components. We can invest in building this capability through our National Reconstruction Fund, and when WA is strong, Australia is strong.

Now let's remember what is at stake. Australia has been taking a battering. We've had parts of Sydney flooded four times in 18 months. Brisbane has experienced multiple catastrophic floods. We had the 2020 Black Summer bushfires. In my home state we've seen fires in Baldivis, Waterloo, the Great Southern and Denmark. With climate change we will see an increase in the frequency and intensity of these events. We can't call these natural disasters anymore. Humankind has had a role to play. These are unnatural disasters.

My friend Steven Goldfinch has worked in disaster management for decades. He explained to me that when we look at disasters people often assess devastation in terms of lives lost. Equally important is understanding how long it takes to rebuild the lives of those affected. Many tired Australians are currently living that reality right now. It's clear that we're at a stage where both climate adaptation and mitigation are required. But the less we mitigate the more costly it will be for us to adapt.

I know that Australian people step up in disasters. We support each other. We show resilience. But, just like an elastic band, we should not stretch them to breaking point.

It is critical that we get this transition right and that regional Australia has pathways to secure, well-paid jobs. You see, I've been the daughter of a fitter and turner who was made redundant after 19 years of loyal service. This was because the nickel price tanked. At 56, my dad was shattered physically and mentally. My dad became the breadwinner of his family at 16 and helped bring up his six brothers and sisters. My dad is a strong man, tough as nails, but losing his job broke my dad. It was worse than losing a finger. This was his identity. I hadn't seen my dad cry until then. Dad would say, 'I'm sorry I have failed you.' Dad, you didn't fail me; the system failed us.

In the climate action space we talk about stranded assets. These are assets that have been prematurely written off. My dad felt like he had been written off. If we are not careful, we will not only have stranded assets; we will have stranded people too. Investment markets move quickly. I know that firsthand. A disruptive exit out of carbon-intensive industries will hurt Australia, so, yes, I want strong action on climate change, but I also want a just and orderly transition. I'm a proud country girl who lives in the city, in the heart of Swan. We can get the transition right for regional and metropolitan Australia. Let's create jobs for the future. Climate action is good for people, the community, the environment and the economy. The triple bottom line is core business. We've had the climate election. The climate war is over. Climate ambition is back!

Now, who would guess that someone like me would be elected as the member for Swan? I stand here as the child of Goan Indian parents, a Kalgoorlie girl, a Swan local, a mum, a lady with an unusual first name and a long surname, a climate change specialist, an engineer. I'd like to shout out to the STEM professionals. You have been some of the rock stars of our time—whether that be medical scientists developing vaccines, tech experts helping us stay virtually connected or engineers helping keep the lights on. Evidence based decision-making will help steer our country in the right direction. There is a place for STEM professionals in all decision-making bodies, including our federal parliament. We use systems thinking, love root cause analysis and problem-solving, obsess over efficiencies and have a continuous improvement mindset. I hope to use these skills to unleash the potential of our nation.

Swan is rich in diversity. Forty-five per cent of people in Swan were born overseas, and nearly two-thirds of people have one or more parents born overseas. I am proudly Australian with Goan Indian heritage. This is the most multicultural parliament we've had in history. This is what modern Australia looks like—well, almost. This is not the high-water mark. The public have spoken. They want to see a parliament that reflects their community. Multicultural Australia can make a tremendous contribution to our society. Let's think about it: why would someone rip themselves away from their family and friends and move to another country? This lies in boodjar, moort and katitjin, meaning country, family and knowledge: having a beautiful land with a good job to put food on the table and a roof over your head, and having access to universal health care and access to education. To multicultural Australia: you belong here.

But we have more work to do, especially for our First Nations people. Those with power and privilege must use that to dismantle casual and institutional racism. It's about a fair go. As Kay Miller, an old family friend, would say: 'Love, our blood's the same colour on the inside.' Implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart will be an important step to do this. We need voice, treaty and truth telling.

Multicultural Australia is a shared story. When my dad came to Australia he came across alone. He worked at Mount Charlotte in Kalgoorlie for a bloke called Bob Martain. When mum and my sister rocked up to Kal, there was nowhere for them to stay. Accommodation was only for single men, not families. Dad's boss, Bob, saw the worry in my dad's eyes and quizzed him. Dad explained the situation. Bob was like: 'No worries. They can stay with me and Sally.' Not only did this act form a lifelong friendship—their daughter Debbie is my godmother—but this generous act also inextricably tied us to Australia forever. It showed us how belonging and inclusion builds a new home. It's called mateship. The day before the election, I cried with anticipation at the prospect of the Murugappan family being reunited with their Biloela family. This spirit lives strong today.

I'd like to begin thankyous by acknowledging the former member for Swan, Stephen Irons, including his work with the forgotten Australians and his bipartisan support for the Rudd government's migrant children apology.

Success in Swan is not something that I own. It's an achievement that's been carried by hundreds of volunteers and supporters who gave their time and/or money. Together, we knocked on 45,000 doors. We had people of different faiths, genders, sexualities and ages. To all the volunteers, thank you—including Christine Miller, Roslyn Hackshaw, Adam Dusty, Ali Rad, Alison McIntyre, Antoine Girardeau, Anne Sippe, Brendan Jackson, Bridie O'Neill, Dani Simatos, Daniel Roden, Diane Mulroy, Francine Allen, Gabrielle Newman, Georgina Wilson, Helen Creed, Jillian Ferguson, John Eaton, Julie Rose, Lewis Chiat, Linda Pickering, Margaret O'Donnell, Mitchell Affleck, Rebecca Thompson, Ros Silberstein, Trish Harris and Warwick Boardman. There were a lot of volunteers—and there were more.

To my campaign team: you are incredibly talented. Thank you to Sally Talbot, Dennis Liddelow, Darcy Gunning, Klara Andric, Jaime Page, Sam Pirie, Catherine Whitely, Shudia Forgol, Nicki Slevin, Zoe Carter, Tom Wulff, Claudia Bakitch, David Scaife, Brock Oswald, Kirsti Gorringe, Bec Misich, Alannah Clohesey and Phil O'Donoghue. You ran a fun, positive and well-coordinated campaign. Also, thanks to my supporters Faz Pollard, Ah Hong Lai, Peter Mann, Raj Selvendra and Daniel Smith.

Thanks to my federal colleagues, including Senator Louise Pratt; the member for Perth, Patrick Gorman; and every Labor shadow minister—and now minister—who campaigned for our cause in Swan. Also, thanks to Senator Sue Lines, who has become the first female Labor President of the Senate. Thanks to my state colleagues Cassie Rowe, Geoff Baker, Hannah Beazley, Stephen Price, Bill Johnson, Stephen Dawson, Dr Jags, and Premier Mark McGowan. To our national secretary, Paul Erickson; our former state secretary, Tim Picton; our current state secretary, Ellie Whitaker; Henny Smith; and the WA Labor team—you ran an incredible campaign.

Thanks to the union movement, including Steve McCartney, Alex Cassie, the AMWU, Wayne Wood and the ASU, the CPSU, the CFMEU, the HSU, Owen Whittle, and Unions WA.

To my mum and dad: you sacrificed everything to come to Australia to give me and my sister Cleta a better life. Thank you for your belief in Australia. To my in-laws, Geoff and Jenny and Aunty Carole and friends: thank you. It takes a village to raise a child, and I love our village. To my husband, Sam: thank you for your unwavering support. Our story is a Swan story. We fell in love at Curtin, we travelled the world and we felt as though we'd won the lotto when we landed our home at East Vic Park. You are my rock. Thank you for stepping up and being a fantastic lead parent. Lead parenting is harder than being an MP. To my children, Lincoln and Felicity: I want you to know that I love you so much and that saying yes to becoming a FIFO mum was really hard, but I want a better future for all Australians and for all children, including you. I hope to make you proud. I hope to make the people of Swan proud. To Prime Minister Anthony Albanese: thank you for bringing us together and being a prime minister that I, my children and my electorate can believe in. Finally, to the people of Swan: thank you for putting your trust in me and Labor. I am so humbled and honoured. We will build a fair, just, prosperous nation on a livable planet. This government will be the spark that leaves the light on for the whole of Australia. We will make tomorrow better.