First Speech: Lisa Chesters MP

Member for Bendigo, Victoria

18 November 2013

Ms CHESTERS (Bendigo) (16:39): Thank you, Madam Speaker. I wish to congratulate you on your appointment as Speaker of the House of Representatives.

I would like to start today by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders both past and present. I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and pay my respects to the traditional owners of the lands within my electorate, the Dja Dja Wurrung people, and pay my respects to their elders both past and present.

I am the 16th person to be elected to represent the seat of Bendigo, a seat that has existed since Federation. I am also the first woman to be elected to represent the seat, so in this election we made some history. Being elected as a representative to the Federal Parliament is one of the highest honours that one can receive from their community. I am proud, honoured and excited to represent the people of Bendigo. Like many real locals, I love my part of the world and could not imagine wanting to live anywhere else.

Bendigo is made up of a diverse collection of small villages from Newstead to Newbridge; beautiful towns like Woodend, Castlemaine, Heathcote and Kyneton; and the regional city of Bendigo. It is a vibrant region with a proud history and exciting future. And yet despite their diversity and unique characters, the villages, towns and city have one thing in common—that is, community. Together as a community we strive to make our region a better place to live and to work: together we encourage our entrepreneurs; together we take care of our most vulnerable; together we can celebrate our achievements and face our difficulties.

Today, I am here to share not just some of my story but also the stories of the people and the communities I seek to represent. Let me start with the story of our local economy: its strength is its diversity. Businesses located in Bendigo and our surrounding communities work hard to become experts and innovators in their fields. Aided by the growth of Bendigo, our finance sector, led by the Bendigo Bank, continues to prosper. There are not too many postcodes around Australia that can boast a bank; the postcode for Bendigo, 3550, is one of them.

The Bendigo electorate is home to a growing number of arts professionals. With the right mix of commercial, public and community investment our cultural industry will continue to grow. My vision is for Bendigo and central Victoria to become a hothouse for the arts and a robust cultural economy.

Our education and health sectors continue to flourish, but also face many challenges. Bendigo aims to become a university city, something that I support and will work to achieve. Our Bendigo campus of the La Trobe University is thriving and quickly becoming a centre of excellence in the health and allied health fields. The only missing jewel in the crown is a school of medicine. A long-term vision for the Bendigo La Trobe campus is to one day have a medical school within its School of Rural Health—a vision I share.

Across the electorate there is a network of hospitals, GP superclinics, community health organisations and Medicare Locals working hard to keep our communities healthy. However, aging infrastructure and a highly competitive funding model means that funding is a growing challenge. I believe that funding for our community health centres and small regional hospitals needs to be reviewed and increased if we are to meet the primary health needs of our region going forward.

Local manufacturing is a good news story that I wish to share with the House. Not afraid of innovation, a number of Bendigo manufacturers such as the Australian Turntable Company, Industrial Conveying Australia, Keech Castings and Hoffman Engineering are world leaders in their fields exporting to countries all over the world. These manufacturers tell me it is not red tape that is holding back the growth of their businesses, but the ideologically driven policies of governments that are creating road blocks and hindering their growth.

Take the story of Hoffman Engineering, one of the world's largest manufacturers of gears and gear boxes. They are currently rebuilding wind turbines from Germany in order to improve their energy efficiency. These wind turbines are sent from Germany to Bendigo, rebuilt by Hoffman and then sent back to Germany. Why? Because Hoffman are the best in their field. If Hoffman wanted to supply the Victorian wind energy generation market, it would struggle because the state Liberal-National coalition government has effectively banned the construction of new wind farms in Victoria. The government is creating road blocks and stopping the expansion of industry, preventing job growth in regional Victoria. One can only wonder what the effect of today's discussions and debates in the House will have on the wind and solar energy projects in Central Victoria.

I mentioned earlier that I am the first woman to be elected to represent the seat of Bendigo in the federal parliament. Electing women is not something new to Bendigo folk. Jacinth Allan is the state member for Bendigo East, Maree Edwards is the state member for Bendigo West and Jo Duncan is the state member for Macedon. I am proud to be part of a Labor movement that values the contribution that men and women can make to public life by firstly preselecting and then working really hard to ensure that progressive candidates are elected.

In the first week of this parliament those on the other side suggested that they promote on merit, yet there is only one woman on their front bench and only a handful of their new members are women. Is the coalition suggesting then that there are only a few women with merit to preselect and appoint from within their party and caucus room? I find it hard to believe that this is the case. Perhaps some in this parliament are still wearing gendered lenses. From the parliament to the boardroom to our communities here and overseas, there is still a lot of work to be done to advance the status of women everywhere. I am a member of the Zonta Club of Bendigo whose members are actively working to do exactly this, locally and globally.

Allow me to share the story, with their permission, of our local Aboriginal people, the Dja Dja Wurrung people. Last Friday, in Bendigo's Rosalind Park, the state of Victoria returned the lands to the traditional owners, the Dja Dja Wurrung people. It was a powerful ceremony. As a handful of land was transferred from the Governor's hands to the Dja Dja Wurrung people, new relationship was formed. Finally, our community in Central Victoria had put right a moral wrong.

The Mado case allowed the federal government led by Paul Keating to put right a moral wrong. At the time Paul Keating said: 'We give the Indigenous people of Australia, at last, the standing they are owed as the original occupants of this continent.' Today, strong leadership is needed in this parliament to facilitate the constitutional recognition of our First Australians. After Mabo, native title and the Apology, it is now time for constitutional recognition. Without strong leadership, constitutional change will not happen, but it must. It is the next step on the journey towards reconciliation.

Madam Speaker, I also wish to share the story of the Chewton Monster Meeting. As you know, Chewton is part of the Bendigo electorate and has a place in our democratic history. In 1852 15,000 gold diggers gathered in protest over the gold licence. Diggers met under their new flag, a bundle of sticks tied together as a symbol of their united strength, a pick and a shovel—symbols of their labour—the scales of justice, and a kangaroo and an emu—two animals that cannot take a step backwards—as apt symbols of their new land.

This was the first such public protest in Australia and was the first step towards democracy. That is why I claim democracy started in Bendigo. Every year history enthusiasts and Chewton locals re-enact the Monster Meeting. Last year I played the role of Mr Potts who said: 'But remember that the union is strength, that though a single twig may be bent or broken a bundle of them tied together yields not nor breaks.' The union is strength. As early as 1852 workers in the Bendigo electorate acknowledged that their strength lied within the union.

I also share here the story of John Arthur, who was the third federal member for Bendigo. Prior to entering parliament John Arthur was a representative of the agricultural implement makers and union in the Harvester dispute before Justice Higgins in the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. In 1907 Justice Higgins handed down the Harvester judgement which provided the basis for setting the minimum wage in Australia until the 1990s. The legal requirement for the basic wage was it 'must be enough to support a wage earner and their family in reasonable and frugal comfort'.

There are some in this chamber and in the Senate who would say that what was good for working Australians in the early 1900s is not good for working Australians today. Some go as far as to say that people should have the option of working for less than the minimum wage if it means getting a job, but these people are wrong. In fact, today's minimum wage is too low and is forcing too many low-paid workers and their families into poverty. Before those on the other side scream, 'perhaps it's because these people are living beyond their means and are over-extended', let me share another story.

Jacki Petts is a full-time cleaner who works hard cleaning a shopping centre. Jacki does not live in the biggest house nor in the most expensive part of town. She is a modest and humble person who always likes to remind me of where my place is. By the time Jacki has paid her car, her mortgage and her bills there is very little left on which to live in modest comfort.

How fair has our society become if working people cannot afford to pay their bills? It is only reasonable that these hard-working people expect our economy to deliver them a living wage and a secure job that they can count on. But a secure job is fast becoming a dream for many workers.

I acknowledge Marie Angrilli, who is in the gallery today. Marie worked last night, is here today and will return home tonight to work her shift. I thank you Marie for making the effort to be here with me today. Marie's story is one of the best examples I have to highlight the unfairness of insecure work.

Marie and I first met in 2006. Granted, I had to visit her at her home. But catching Marie at home was a challenge. Marie works two part-time jobs to make a full-time job. She is up at 2.30 am to start work at 4 am. She finishes job 1 at 8 am and returns home. She leaves home for job 2 at 3 pm and starts work at 4 pm. It is finish by 8 pm and return home just after 9 pm, only to be up and do it all again at 2.30 am. Marie has not had a decent night's sleep in decades. This arrangement is not secure work that she or others can count on. Leadership and action is needed. Governments, industry, workers and their unions need to continue to come together to rebuild secure employment and jobs that we can count on.

I have dedicated most of my working life to standing up for working people and their families, initially by working for the union movement and now as a member of parliament. I am a proud United Voice member.

I come from a working-class family, with working-class values and a healthy respect for hard work. I am the daughter of Labor people. I fondly remember Paul Keating and Labor's 1993 'true believers' victory. That night in my family home was a bit like Christmas. There was joy and champagne.

No matter where we are in the world, in my family phone calls are received on birthdays, Christmas, Easter and election nights. Politics is integral to our lives.

Whilst Labor values were instilled at an early age, for most of my childhood my parents were self-employed. After struggling to pay a mortgage and support a young family, they took a chance and bought a small business. Like many other small business owners, they essentially bought themselves a job. Working long hours was just a fact of life. I spent many Saturdays and summer holidays helping my family until I got my first job—and excitement to work for somebody else.

This story is not uncommon in the Bendigo electorate where many small business owners are not small business owners by choice; they have bought themselves a job rather than face unemployment.

Today, the explosion in ABN workers and sole traders is further evidence of this. Cleaners, security guards, call centre workers, even our posties, are often told: 'If you want a job, get an ABN and we'll contract you.' So our low-paid employees of the past are quickly becoming our low-paid contractors of today, with no job security, work cover, superannuation or paid leave entitlements. I believe that it is the role of government to reduce the number of employees who are being forced to become contractors instead of working for a boss.

My family values education. I was the first in my family to enrol at university, followed by my two sisters and my mother. At the age of 43, my mother returned to study, completing her undergraduate degree, then her honours and then her PhD. Today she is an academic at the University of Canberra.

To me, she embodies the Labor passion for education and that it is an opportunity for life-long learning. Education is the key that opens the door to opportunity. Accessible to all, regardless of income, ethnicity and location, public education has served our nation well. We are a rich nation that can afford to educate all of our people. 'I give a Gonski' and will continue to advocate strongly for our public education system.

In conclusion, Madam Speaker, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge and thank the many people who have supported and encouraged me along the way. First to the Bendigo electorate office team of Shaun, Jacki, Elly, Fabian and Bill: thank you. Together, as a team, we will serve the people of our electorate well and will work hard to make a difference.

I would also like to take this opportunity to wish my immediate predecessor, Steve Gibbons, and his wife Dianne a long, happy and healthy retirement. I am sure that many hours will be spent restoring his one true love: his cars.

For many years I worked for a great team at United Voice, representing very proud and strong members. To Jess, Ben, Marie, Kath, Gabe, Ange and to the union executive and council members and all my mates: thank you for your friendship, encouragement and support.

To the other unions, the CFMEU, RTBU, NUW, ANMF, ASU, AWU, ETU and the AU, which pitched in and helped along the way: thank you.

To the troublemakers in the gallery: thank you. To all the volunteers, the Labor Party branch members and community members who door-knocked, letter-boxed, made phone calls, manned street and market stalls and ensured that I was their plus one at every community event: thank you.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge and thank my family who are here today: my mother Jenny; sisters Debra and Ange; and my partner Matt.

In conclusion, my union's name is also my motto: united voice. I say 'united'; you say 'voice.' Thank you.

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