First Speech: Terri Butler MP

Member for Griffith, Queensland

27 February 2014

Ms BUTLER (Griffith) (09:59): Madam Speaker, I acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, the custodians of the land on which we meet. I pay my respects to elders past and present. I am honoured today to come into this chamber as the elected representative for the people of Griffith, on Brisbane's south side, so I also pay my respects to the first nations people of that land, the Ugarapul, Yuggera, Jagera and Turrbal peoples.

The south side of Brisbane has a rich Indigenous history and is home to a number of Indigenous organisations. I thank those organisations for their work in preserving cultural heritage and reconnecting members of the stolen generation with their families. I remember the sorry felt across the nation when the Bringing them home report was published in 1997.

Paul Keating had previously acknowledged past wrongs in his 1992 Redfern address, but in the late 1990s the then Liberal-National government was unwilling to follow his lead. Apology was sorely needed but it took a Labor Prime Minister, my predecessor as the member for Griffith, Kevin Rudd, to give that apology on behalf of the nation. Like many others, I was proud that our Labor Prime Minister was doing something so needed, something that the former Prime Minister had obstinately refused to do.

I pay tribute to Kevin for making the apology and for so many other actions that served the national interest. I thank him for ratifying the Kyoto protocol. I thank him for guiding our nation through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. In my capacity as his former constituent, I pay tribute to Kevin for being a great representative of our community.

I am honoured that the people of Griffith have elected me. I know there is much work to be done to make our local suburbs and our nation a better place for all. Griffith is on Brisbane's south side and it spans the area from West End through to Cannon Hill on the eastern boundary and south to Camp Hill, Holland Park and Annerley. It is a collection of diverse communities and it is an area that has changed rapidly over the last 30 years. These changes have brought challenges, like the challenge of making every school a great school.

We are a young electorate with lots of families with little kids, just like mine. Parents in Griffith should not have to worry about moving into the catchment of a particular school. All of our schools should have the resources they need to be great schools. They should not have to worry about how to afford uniforms and other necessities. I have listened to parents who greatly appreciated the Labor government's schoolkids bonus—help that members opposite want to remove.

In Griffith we also face the challenge of managing and maintaining livability. We must always aim for balance and make sure that development is sustainable and appropriate. Our homes are affected by pollution: noise and dust. These and other issues are part of the familiar urban tension between livability and progress. Griffith faces the challenge of keeping up with need for public transport infrastructure, including a workable river crossing that serves the interests of people across the electorate, and providing safe passage for our many cyclists. We face the challenge of keeping up with demand for affordable, accessible child care that meets the needs of children for quality early learning and of parents for workforce participation. There are many more challenges in making sure that the services, infrastructure and support that locals, their families and small businesses need are available now and in the future.

People across our nation, in our cities and outside them, face similar challenges to those of Brisbane south siders. It is our responsibility to help our communities meet those challenges. We must be guided by values and by a strong vision for the future. It is the responsibility of this parliament and of the government to take positive action for the betterment of this nation and its people.

Whenever I hear people trying to undermine confidence in the positive role of government in creating a better Australia I know they are from the same ilk as those who lined up to oppose almost every single one of the nation-building reforms that have contributed to Australia's prosperity. If we have been taught anything by our successes, by proud Labor legacies, it is that you cannot cut your way to a better Australia; you must act.

Those of us in this place must listen and we must lead. Labor leads. In government Labor always builds our nation. In opposition we always seek to act in our nation's best interests, guided by the achievements of our past. It took Labor to introduce the age pension and Labor to introduce the largest increase to that pension in 100 years. Medicare is a proud Labor achievement. No other party would have created it. It is a defining achievement of our social democracy.

As has been so clear recently, conservatives are always inclined to attack universal health care. They do so by attempting to convince Australians that we cannot afford it, but Australians are not fooled. We do not want a US-style health system that serves corporate interests ahead of people's interests. We do not want a US-style health system that makes access to health care contingent on money, not need. We have a significant economy in world terms that spends a proportion of its GDP on health care that is nigh on the OECD average. We can afford universal health care.

Australia's superannuation system is another great Labor achievement for working people. Conservatives would have had you believe that our nation could not afford superannuation, that it was a racket. But Labor executed the labour movement's great vision for retirement savings and our nation is reaping the benefits. We are a party that delivers nation-building economic reforms like those of Hawke and Keating that led to Australia's 22 years of uninterrupted economic growth. All of those great achievements and others like them make me proud of Labor's history.

Labor's values like fairness, diversity, opportunity, individual and community responsibility, inclusion, unionism, equity, dignity for people without power and a fair day's pay for a fair day's work are my values. They are the values my parents taught me and they are the values that mattered to me when I joined the workforce. As a university student I worked. Some of my jobs were not glamorous, but I am proud of all of them. I stood at a checkout. I worked in my student union. I temped at an engineering firm. I worked in an aluminium factory, which is still my only job so far that has required a hard hat. As a student I also worked for the Australian Services Union assisting and empowering white-collar employees, mostly women. I am proud of those jobs.

I am also proud that when I finished my undergraduate studies I went straight into private practice and engaged in the business of the law. I helped community organisations, unions and individual workers. I helped people when they were in times of great personal strife, worried about how they could provide for their family if they were sacked, worried about their reputation and worried about their future employment prospects. That sort of work makes you an advocate for people and it makes you passionate about fairness at work—a fundamental Labor concern. It is because my values are Labor values that I am so proud to be standing here as a Labor representative for Griffith.

My election increased the number of Queensland women who are current members of this House to five. That is five of 30 Queenslanders. That fact, together with the dearth of female representation in this nation's cabinet, reminds us that there is still a lot to be done to advance the status of women. Throughout my life I have supported moves to do so, including supporting Labor's targets for female candidates, supporting autonomy when it comes to reproductive health and lately sitting on the board of that great organisation the YWCA in Queensland. I am proud of my work to support women, and I will never stop thinking about what needs to be done for the benefit of all Australians, now and in the future, and about the sort of country we should strive to be.

Australia should be a nation that takes pride in equality. Great inequality divides people and deprives us of shared experiences. Great inequality leads to unrest, to resentment, to distrust and to violence. Rewards should be real but not limitless. Wages, benefits and pensions should be sufficient not just to avoid poverty but to afford dignity. Equality helps promote national unity. We should be a unified nation that takes pride in its multi-ethnicity and its multiculturalism. We should strive for equality as our society changes. I hope, among other things, that by the time I leave this place the members opposite will have been given a free vote on the question of marriage equality. And I hope that Australians in loving same-sex couples will be able to marry. I will do what I can to bring about that change.

Australia should be a compassionate nation. Where there is conflict in the world, people will need help. And while there is poverty, sickness and powerlessness in the world people will need help. We must open our hearts and refuse to allow fear to prevent us from showing humanity and compassion. Let us remember Ben Chifley's words about the Labor movement.

I try to think of the Labour movement, not as putting an extra sixpence into somebody’s pocket, or making somebody Prime Minister or Premier, but as a movement bringing something better to the people, better standards of living, greater happiness to the mass of the people. We have a great objective—the light on the hill—which we aim to reach by working the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand.

I say let us provide aid, our helping hand across the world, because it is needed, not to serve other purposes. Let us not be parsimonious in the face of great suffering, and let us treat all people as ends in themselves, not as means to an end.

Australia should be a nation that respects science, rigour and expertise, and knowledge, skills, experience and evidence, because in elevating and celebrating these things lies Australia's future—our ability to compete and to cooperate. We owe it to every Australian to fund scientific research not just when it is perceived to have immediate financial benefit, because the nature of scientific research is that we do not know what it will lead to; we do not know what innovations will occur in the future with scientific research. Developing products from scientific research can lead to job creation—something so important to us on this side of this House, including in our manufacturing sector of the future, but only if we support research and encourage researchers to build their prototypes and their production lines in Australia. And, more broadly, we must promote science and reason. We must resist anti-intellectualism.

Let us not allow prejudices masquerading as instincts to determine how we act or the decisions that we make. And let us find ways to speak with nuance, goodwill and respect. Polarisation, separating people and ideas into goodies and baddies, does not help us find solutions to the challenges that we face. In grappling with our most thorny problems, let us deliberately and resolutely maintain optimism that a solution can be found. As Hazel Hawke once said:

It is very important that we look at what we CAN do, rather than what is impossible to do.

Let us not unthinkingly impute malicious intent to those with whom we disagree. Let us display generosity of spirit and, importantly, sincerity. Let us not encourage or legitimise cynicism. Accepting the proposition that every idea and every political party is the same and that no-one in public life can be trusted leads to powerlessness and, in turn, to disenfranchisement for the people that we represent.

Australia should be a courageous nation. We can move towards a future where our Constitution derives its authority not from a foreign monarch but from the will of the people. We need not fear such a change, because it is within our capacity to build a stable Australian republic that is consistent with our traditions and our national identity. We can lead by example when it comes to engaging with the world. We are, as I have said, a significant economy and a nation that has long engaged internationally, including now through a seat on the UN Security Council.

Courage in global engagement is a Labor tradition, the sort of courage that led Gough Whitlam to first formally engage with China as our nation's Prime Minister, to the disparagement of the opposition at the time. Courage that has brought about change. There are global challenges that must be faced: our changing climate; conflict, persecution and our moral obligation to those affected; and population growth and demands on natural resources globally. A modern nation like ours should not make excuses when it comes to doing our fair share to meet those challenges. We should not claim that other countries' failures, real or perceived, to do everything they can, are a justification for us not to act. We should lead. We do not have the luxury of being a bystander.

Let us be a nation that actively seeks to contribute to global prosperity, peace and equality. Labor stands for building prosperity. Like all Labor people, I believe Australia should be a prosperous nation. We want Australia to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that will come in the Asian century, including in relation to the emerging and growing middle classes in China and India.

Our pathway to future prosperity is built on the foundations of education and training. Education is not just a private benefit but also a public good that enriches our whole society, and that is a concept that Labor has always understood. Like many people who are around my age, and like many other members of this House, I was the first in my family to go to university. I do not come from blue bloodstock. My great-grandparents had to work for everything they ever got. Roy was a shearer, married to Lily May in Barcaldine. Ernest migrated from the UK as a small child, and with Kathleen's support built an impressive career, becoming Ravenshoe’s first postmaster. George Philip and his second wife, Daisy, lived in a tent during the Great Depression, raising three boys. Before that, GP had served as a mechanic in the Great War. And, finally, my great-grandmother Lucy left London and took her girls back to Yorkshire to keep them safe during the Second World War. Arthur was a prisoner of war. When peace came, they moved to Australia as £10 Poms looking for a better life.

My grandparents made comfortable lives. Hector was a grocer; Leila was a tailor—a talented one. She is a proud and strong woman who has always been a loving grandmother and is now a great-grandmother. Phil started out on the railway, but then he and Doreen went into small business—first with a newsagency and then with a successful plan-printing business. They gave their daughters opportunities to see firsthand what hard work looked like, to work in small business themselves. Phil is proud of me today. Doreen passed away last year, and the last time I heard her speak was to brag to her nurse that I was a lawyer.

My dad worked for Australia Post before joining my mum in the small business that she established. They have had career changes. My dad now works in a public hospital in Brisbane; my mum works in a city law firm. They are hardworking, sharply intelligent people. They did everything they could to make sure my sister and I had every possible educational opportunity—opportunities that they did not have. So, unlike them, I got to do senior years of school and I got to go to university. As a consequence, I have had the benefit of a broader education—physics, chemistry and information technology in senior schooling, humanities and laws at university and instrumental music throughout.

The reason I had those opportunities, and all of the opportunities I have had since, is that Labor had, in government, given effect to its belief in the value of education for everyone. In contrast, our new state Liberal-National government has closed schools, attempted to sell off school ovals in Griffith and moved to defund the great state schools instrumental project, Fanfare. It is clear that only Labor genuinely wants to make sure every child can get the best education possible. Labor fundamentally altered this nation by making university education available to people of ordinary means. It did so during the Second World War when it administered financial assistance to students. Advocating in 1944 for the assistance to continue into peacetime, Minister Dedman said:

No Labour government would wish to see the scheme lapse and allow the position to revert to the pre-war state of affairs, where family income largely determined who should receive university education.

It is a belief we have long held. In the 1970s Labor devoted real resources and public policy attention to education for all, and in the 1980s and 1990s Labor actively worked to increase representation in higher education of kids from the lowest quartile by socioeconomic status—working-class kids—because that is what Labor does. Only Labor demonstrate a real commitment to vocational training, demonstrated by record funding and access to trade training centres for all, which the new government is cutting.

But there is much more to be done. Let's improve the way that schools are funded. As Julia Gillard said, announcing Labor's National Plan for School Improvement: 'We have to aim higher for every child in every school.' Let's keep working towards equity in participation in higher education. Let's make sure young and mature people have access to vocational training. When we identify skills shortages, let's not just treat the symptom but also the cause. Australian firms' investment in training is investment in our future. Let's build managerial and leadership capacity in Australian firms. As someone who undertook executive education, I am a strong believer in its place in building Australian managers' and leaders' capacity to improve their businesses and encourage innovation. Innovation and education are crucial to building a stronger economy and a stronger middle class in Australia. Labor has laid the economic and social policy foundations that make our country a great place to live, to work and to raise a family. That is the sort of country that Australia should be.

I express my sincere gratitude to the following people, without whom Labor would not have won the Griffith by-election: Jackie Trad and Angus Sutherland; George Wright and his team, especially Jessie and Seb; Anthony Chisholm and Evan Moorhead and their team, and their counterparts interstate; Jade Thompson, Charlie Campbell and Matt Sellars; Councillor Helen Abrahams; Councillor Shayne Sutton; Senator Claire Moore; Joe Kelly and Matthew Campbell, and Pat Purcell; Kate Duncan and Kat White; and the many shadow ministers and Labor caucus members from across Australia—and especially my Queensland colleagues—as well as the many current and former state parliamentarians and local government councillors who were so generous and supportive.

I particularly want to mention Anthony Albanese, who came to Brisbane on more than one occasion despite other pressing priorities in his life at the time. I thank Queensland and national unions; Maurice Blackburn lawyers; the extraordinary and committed staff in the Leader of the Opposition's office; and their counterparts throughout Labor's shadow ministerial offices. Of course, to all of the many Labor supporters—members, branch leaders, FEC delegates, union representatives and members, Young Labor members, people within the community who have never formally joined Labor but nonetheless supported our campaign who are too numerous to name: there were hundreds of you and I thank you for your time, your effort, your resources and dedication.

As Ben Chifley said:

… the job of getting the things the people of the country want comes from the roots of the Labour movement—the people who support it.

You work:

… not hoping for any advantage from the movement, not hoping for any personal gain, but because you believe in a movement that has been built up to bring better conditions to the people.

To Tanya Plibersek and especially to Bill Shorten: thank you for your generosity, your support, your encouragement, your advice and, most of all, your leadership. Bill chose to give the Griffith by-election his full support knowing how difficult it would be for us to win. Bill's words and, more importantly, his actions demonstrate his leadership capacity and work ethic. I am extremely grateful to Bill. As I have said before, no candidate could have asked any more from a leader.

Finally, to my family: it is possible to be effective in this place only with a strong foundation of love and support at home. I thank my parents, Allison and Larry Butler, and my parents-in-law, Graham and Marguerite Spence, for all of the love and support they have given me. To Lisa, Brad, Jesse and Bailey Gould; Jason and Claire Spence; my aunts Linda, Susan, Gail and Karin; and all of the members of my family who have been part of the fabric of my life: I am grateful to you. To my husband, Troy: thank you. Your belief in me has been unwavering and your love and support an anchor. To my daughter, April, and my son, Isaac: I look forward to your hugs and kisses when I come home and I look forward to a time in the not too distant future when you will understand how important your love is to me.

I express again my humble gratitude to the people of Griffith, my community. I will aim to ensure that you find me a hardworking, diligent member who understands the pressures on families and who is always mindful of the future. Thank you.

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