Te, hello in the Yorta Yorta language of the Bangerang country where I grew up, and yuma, hello in the Ngunnawal language of our bush capital that is now my home. I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respects to their elders past, present, and emerging. As I come into this place where we make laws, I think about what it means that we do so on land that was never ceded, and will always be Aboriginal land. I commit to listening to and learning from First Nations people.
I am very happy today to be making my first speech in this Assembly, as another small foothill in the mountain range of Greens MLAs before me: Lucy Horodny, Kerrie Tucker, Deb Foskey, Amanda Bresnan, Meredith Hunter, and Caroline Le Couteur. I thank Shane Rattenbury, who has shown generosity and a fair bit of patience in helping all of us new Greens MLAs settle into our jobs.
Since 1995, Greens MLAs have made a real and lasting positive difference in the Assembly. Thanks to the Greens, we have:
- Legislated, achievable climate targets;
- Established Australia’s first ministerial portfolio of Mental Health;
- Banned outright lies from political parties in election advertising (thank you Caroline); and
- Increased protections for biodiversity.
But our Greens MLAs do not do this work alone. There’s more of us. We could not have achieved the things we’ve done so far without the work of committed staff and volunteers. Especially Indra Esguerra, who has been a driving force within the ACT Greens since the very beginning. And I would not be in this room today if not for ACT Greens campaign staff over the past year, and our wonderful team of volunteers, as we engaged with the community about how we will build a better normal together. Election campaigns are hard work, but the Murrumbidgee Greens managed to make it joyful work too.
I am also very happy to be sharing this moment with my family, who have always been supportive despite the missed time with them. Thank you Ashley, Sophia, Juliet, and William for coming on this journey with me.
It was my daughter Sophia who gave me the push I needed to join the Greens six years ago when she herself joined. The actions taken by young people to try and solve problems as big as the future of our planet, our society, and our democracy are the reason I have hope for our future, and why I believe 16 year olds should have the right and the choice to vote.
Over the course of the 2020 campaign, everyone in this Assembly talked about wanting to make Canberra a better place. But it’s what we do that really matters. Words without action mean nothing. Where there is common ground between what our Greens team committed to during the election campaign, and what my Assembly colleagues from other parties said they wanted for our city, I expect that we will work together for the common good of everyone in our community. To any of my Labor or Liberal colleagues who put politics above progressing towards a more equal, fair, and respectful Canberra, and care for our planet, I won’t be angry with you – I will be disappointed. Doing politics differently means holding ourselves to a higher standard of integrity.
Seeing the election results come in on the night of Saturday the 17th of October was beyond anything I had prepared for. I told Shane I’d need to go for a bit of a walk to clear my head on the Monday, and he said I could have 24 hours. So I drove to the old Jerilderie stock route near the farm where I grew up, where there’s no mobile phone access, just blue sky and red earth. As I walked, I saw the same wildflowers that would have been growing there when my grandfather was a drover almost a century ago. I saw eagles like the one that lived in my dad’s grain shed. I thought about the contribution to biodiversity of having open grasslands that are protected from overgrazing and development, and what it means to hold onto that connection between what we do here in the short moment that is a human lifetime, and places that have been here forever. This is something our First nations people know and understand all too well.
I come to this place after many years working in the community on housing affordability, economic inequality, women’s health, and ending violence against women. I have campaigned to protect green spaces, and for public education and healthcare. Everything is connected, and the only way through hard times is together. This is the way my parents and my country upbringing taught me. In the town where I grew up, there were more community associations than buildings, because people working together is what builds a community. It’s why I followed the example set by my parents and started volunteering as a teenager. I’ve lived in Canberra for over 25 years now, coming here after finishing high school, but that spirit of volunteering and being of service to my community continues.
When we talk about improving public transport, I think about a woman in Lanyon, trying to get the kids to school on time and herself to a minimum wage job in Civic that doesn’t pay enough to cover car parking, with no partner to share the drop-offs and pick-ups. I think about a man in his eighties who can’t walk as far as he used to, but still wants to get out to see friends without having to organise someone to drive him.
When I think about people on the long waiting list for counselling or psychologists, my first thoughts are for the people who can’t afford private services, and the people who can’t wait months for a first appointment. And when I think about people on the waiting list for public housing, the ones I am most worried about are women and their kids in domestic violence crisis housing who are ready to move on with their life, if only there was affordable, safe, long term housing to move into.
I’ve spent so many hours analysing data about economic inequality in Canberra. But when I look at the spreadsheets, I don’t see numbers. What I see are women working with no job security and for low pay in aged care, childcare, disability care, and the community sector. I see young people who lost their jobs in hospitality and retail because of COVID, just when they were thinking about moving out of home or starting university or making plans to see the world. I see the labour force permanently changed while housing costs continue to rise. I see capitalism failing.
And when I look at our bush capital, I see tens of thousands of years of care and cultural history by the Ngunnawal, Ngambri, and Ngarigo people. I think about how interconnected our wellbeing is with the wellbeing of the environment we live in. When our world is burning around us, and we can’t breathe the air, I hear our planet crying out for help.
I am here today because I want to build social infrastructure as well as housing infrastructure. I want to protect biodiversity. We can grow as a city without paving over the parks and reserves that are home to the diversity of birds and plants and wildlife in our bush capital. I want us to reach zero net emissions well before 2045, and I want us to do this by transitioning to a renewable economy, a Green New Deal that leaves nobody behind. This world is changing, and we have a choice about how we manage that change. We can choose to do things differently.
It’s a lot, I know. But I won’t be doing it alone. Because when the people of Murrumbidgee elected me as an MLA, they didn’t just get me. There’s more of us. And I don’t just mean the six Greens MLAs here today. There’s a whole community of people I want to work alongside in Woden, Weston Creek, Molonglo Valley, and my favourite part of Kambah where I could do five deliveries in under 30 minutes when I was a pizza delivery driver to pay the rent as a student. Canberra is a city filled with people who think deeply about our future, have amazing skills to contribute, and want to work together to make that better future happen. These are the people I want to work with.
As Bobby Sands said, everyone has their own particular part to play. No part is too great or too small, no one is too old or too young to do something.
So to all the community groups and not-for-profits caring for people and planet, I am here for you. To those people who want to reset housing affordability, create green jobs, and shift our thinking to truly value care work, I am here for you. To all the Canberrans who believe we are stronger together and that all of us should have the opportunity and support to live a full and meaningful life, I am here for you. Because together, we will create the future we dream of.
A few last thank you’s, because there should always be space for more gratitude in this world. To Women’s Electoral Lobby, to the community sector organisations I have worked for over the years, and to the activist networks I have been part of, thank you for everything you have taught me and please keep telling me where there is work for me to do to make sure nobody is left behind.
Thank you to Eva Cox for reminding me that if I really want to make change, I can’t always be a good girl. Thank you to Canberra’s roller derby community for helping me find my voice and own my space. And where I found out that if I’m learning new things and pushing myself, I will stack it every now and then, but the scars will be worth it for those moments when I’m flying.
I look forward to the next four years working with and for our Canberra community, to make sure we take care of people and planet.