First Speech: Sharon Claydon MP

Member for Newcastle, New South Wales

19 November 2013

Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle) (17:06): Thank you Madam Speaker. I want to begin my first speech in the Australian parliament by acknowledging the traditional owners, the Ngambri and Ngunnawal people, on whose country we meet, and pay my respects to their elders past and present and to their future leaders. I thank them for their ongoing custodianship of this land—it is their traditional knowledge systems and beliefs that have nurtured and will continue to nurture these lands and waters for millennia.

I also want to acknowledge the traditional owners of my home town, Newcastle, and the wider electorate—the Awabakal, Worimi and Wonnarua peoples. Your histories are testament to your strength and resilience and should be better known.

As a nation, we are uniquely grounded in the rich and complex cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This is one of the oldest living cultures in the world, a central—and sometimes confronting—part of our Australian identity and a significant component of how we present ourselves to the world. We have much to celebrate in partnership with Australia's first peoples, but we also have much to learn.

I stand here today as the proudly elected member for Newcastle. It is an honour and a privilege to be elected to represent the people of Newcastle in this 44th Australian parliament. I am grateful for the confidence and trust that my fellow Novocastrians have placed in me to be their voice in the national parliament. I take very seriously the responsibility that this entails and pledge to do my utmost to ensure that your voices, hopes and aspirations are heard.

Newcastle occupies a unique place in the Australian parliament and the history of the Australian Labor Party. Since its creation as a federation seat in 1901, Newcastle has only ever returned Labor members of parliament. And Newcastle is the only federation seat in the Australian parliament to have been held continuously by one political party. Even more remarkable perhaps is the fact that I am only the sixth person to have been elected to this position in 112 years. David Watkins; his son, David Oliver Watkins; Charlie Jones; Allan Morris; and Sharon Grierson have all proudly represented Newcastle and the Labor Party before.

This history speaks volumes about Newcastle's long association with industry and work, our place as an important economic, social and cultural hub, the Newcastle spirit and our dogged commitment to equality and fairness in pursuit of a shared vision for our future. And it is testament to Labor's steadfast commitment to investing in people, jobs and innovation. That is Labor's way of ensuring that the benefits of economic growth are being shared across our community.

I am proud to be part of a strong Labor tradition that recognises the active role of government in the pursuit of equality, social justice and a progressive reform agenda. As an elected member of this parliament, I commit to being a strong opposition, holding this new government to account, and to wholly devoting myself to the return of a Labor government.

I wish to make particular note of our first and most recent members for Newcastle, whose actions exemplify the spirit and strength of our community. David Watkins, a member of the first Commonwealth parliament and a representative for 34 years, was a miner before entering politics and was an active member of a number of art and musical societies. One of his great marks while in politics was at a royal commission on coalmining regulation, with his evidence resulting in improved mine safety and ventilation. While our history is deeply connected with the mining industry, we have always fought for the health and safety of workers.

And, secondly, our most recent representative, my friend and mentor Sharon Grierson, proudly served the people of Newcastle for the last 12 years. She was first elected in 2001 and was the first woman to represent the federal seat of Newcastle. Throughout her tenure, Sharon was a staunch advocate for her fellow Novocastrians. Her integrity, passion and commitment to Newcastle were unquestionable. We remain indebted for her vision of Newcastle as centre of excellence for clean energy research and innovation and thank the former Labor government for investing in our future.

The dedication and work of my five predecessors has forged the modern-day electorate that I now represent. Newcastle is very much my home town. I am a fifth-generation Novocastrian. Newcastle has always been a priority for me, and it has always been a priority for Labor governments. While I was campaigning, people would often ask me why I was putting my hand up for this job. The answer was simple: because my decision making has always been guided by strong personal commitment to three core Labor values—equality, social justice and democracy. Labor had a vision for Newcastle, and I knew it was a vision worth fighting for.

There are many aspects of my personal story that come to bear on my work in this parliament. My love of anthropology and the study of human culture, society and difference is just one, but it is one that has had a profound impact on my life. For almost a decade I lived and worked in remote Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, immersing myself in a very different political and social reality. Always taking a hands-on approach, much of my early work in the Kimberley focused on the large cattle stations that were the major source of employment for Aboriginal people and enabled them to maintain close links to their traditional country. I worked variously as a domestic, a gardener, a stock-camp cook and a jillaroo alongside the Aboriginal stockmen and women to better understand this important part of Aboriginal life in the Kimberley.

My passion and commitment to social justice also led me to work with a community based disability service, where I helped establish a network of residential group homes, setting up independent living skills programs, and developed policy to assist the organisation at a time of rapid change and growth.

Finally, my role as an elected Newcastle city councillor and my work for the former members for Newcastle provide me with a solid background in community service, advocacy and representation, skills that I hope will serve me well in this new role.

My fellow citizens of Newcastle are proud and passionate people. We wear our heart on our sleeve, stand up for what is just, fiercely defend our rights and have proven to be incredibly agile and resilient when faced with adversity. Our stubborn resolve has been exhibited throughout our city's history. We always find a way to continue on and, moreover, prosper when faced with hardship. Living and working in Newcastle has not always been easy, but we always find ways to adapt. We renew. We transform. We innovate. We thrive.

The pillars that support our community are the envy of cities around the world. Our university, port, industry, beaches, sporting teams and research institutes are all world class. The University of Newcastle is ranked in the top three per cent of universities in the world and outranks many of its larger Australian counterparts. It is a national leader in the provision of opportunities for students from all walks of life, and it has a proud reputation of supporting students not just to gain entry but to flourish in their field of study.

This month I celebrated 30 years of the Wollotuka Institute at the university, a centre focused on fostering and developing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander study and employment. The Wollotuka Institute has overseen the graduation of 1,130 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, with more than 800 students currently enrolled and a further 322 listing the University of Newcastle as their first choice for admission in 2014. The University of Newcastle enrols more Indigenous students than any other university in Australia.

Almost half of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors in Australia graduated from the university's medical program, with 51 more enrolled in the current entry program. And the university employs more Indigenous staff members than any other university in Australia, with more than double the industry average. The University of Newcastle is the leader of Indigenous tertiary education in Australia.

The university also serves as a central hub for ground-breaking research and is home to a number of Australia's pre-eminent research institutes, including the Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources, which is in the final stages of building a new facility funded by Labor. The collaborative centre is advancing research in clean energy production, energy efficiency and the minimisation of carbon emissions, producing real, viable benefits to business, the community and the economy. Their research is making a difference.

Another leading facility in the region is the CSIRO Energy Centre, a state-of-the-art research facility specialising in renewable energy and low-emission fossil fuel research. The CSIRO centre leads the Future Grid Cluster project, identifying low-cost pathways for the integration of renewable energy sources and technologies into Australia's electricity grid.

CSIRO and the university are also key contributors to the Smart Grid, Smart City project. Smart Grid, Smart City tested a range of smart grid technologies, gathering information about the benefits and costs of implementing these technologies in an Australian setting. The major analysis and findings from the project are due to be released in early 2014.

Clean energy research plays a critical role in our nation's commitment to the environment. Job cuts to CSIRO, a lack of direction without a dedicated science minister or a reduction in research funding will have far-reaching and ongoing impacts both to our economy and the environment.

The Hunter Medical Research Institute is another Newcastle-based world-class research centre. HMRI was built with more than $48 million of funding from the Labor government and is home to 400 of the country's leading researchers, who are making medical breakthroughs that are advancing science and transforming lives. Newcastle-led, Labor funded: this research is making a difference.

In the spirit of innovation and new enterprise, Newcastle is forging new ground. A number of organisations and collectives are firmly embracing and fostering innovative digital economy solutions. The annual Newcastle DiG Festival brings together leading minds to create a centre of innovative expertise and entrepreneurial excellence. Slingshot, a high-tech accelerator, that in its own words is 'where tenacious entrepreneurs turn killer ideas into remarkable companies', provides seed funding, a dynamic co-working space and mentoring programs that enable entrepreneurs to build companies that solve problems on a global scale.

Then there is the notorious Lunaticks Society of Newcastle, named in honour of the Lunar Society of Birmingham, who met to debate new thinking during the industrial revolution of the 18th century. Now, modern-day 'Lunaticks' gather to discuss the digital revolution, with social media enthusiasts, app developers and entrepreneurs replacing the philosophers and industrialists of yesteryear. These digital leaders are taking up opportunities that promise to propel Australia into the digital world, a digital world that is, of course, reliant on first-class digital infrastructure.

I am a passionate supporter of urban renewal. The internationally-lauded Renew Newcastle program, brain-child of innovator Marcus Westbury and driven on the ground by Marni Jackson, recently expanded to become Renew Australia. The renew movement is a low-budget, not-for-profit urban renewal scheme that brokers access to vacant buildings for artists and aspiring young businesses to make a start and exhibit their wares. Renew Adelaide, Renew Townsville, Made in Geelong and Pop Up Parramatta have already spawned from this model, and Renew Leichhardt recently established their own program.

Newcastle has a rich history in the arts and is home to the largest number of artists per capita in Australia. So it is no surprise that when BHP closed its doors in 1999, we commemorated this significant event through the arts. Our tradesmen replaced their tools of trade for tools of the arts to mark this historic milestone.

I would like to acknowledge one particular individual who brings the arts, science and innovation together in a remarkable way. Wayne Stuart's unique pianos incorporate more keys and an extra pedal than the standard 19th century design to create a new voice that fully exploits the frequency range of an acoustic piano. Wayne's trademark instrument and ingenuity truly exemplify the innovative spirit of Novacastrians—pushing limits, breaking new ground. Newcastle is a city where great things happen.

Our national teams, the Newcastle Knights and the Jets, provide year-round sporting entertainment, and we are regularly visited by major music and theatre acts. Later this month we will host more than 2,000 athletes at the inaugural Special Olympics Asia Pacific Games, and in 2015 we will be a proud host city for the AFC Asian Cup.

Visitors also come to Newcastle to enjoy the splendour of our art gallery, home to a significant collection of works and travelling exhibitions. The permanent collection includes one of Australia's finest corpora of Japanese ceramics, a near-complete collection of Joseph Lycett's work, and the recently-donated Brett Whiteley sculpture, Black Totem II, one of just two giant sculptures Whiteley produced. Our gallery is key to the development of cultural tourism in our region.

Those who visit our city often stay for good. It is little wonder that Newcastle is now the fourth ranked city in the Property Council of Australia's liveability rankings and the leading regional city. And this liveability ranking is supported by the Hunter Valley Research Foundation's Wellbeing Watch. In Newcastle our overall wellbeing continues to improve and it is with considerable pride that I note much of this improvement has taken place during the last six years of federal Labor government. Key indicators that have influenced wellbeing in Newcastle include an increase in undergraduate degree holders, increased employment and significantly increased household income.

Newcastle is a city that continues to evolve, and I am here to push our cause. Under a Labor government, Newcastle was to benefit from a much-needed infrastructure project: the duplication of the Tourle Street Bridge to ease traffic congestion between the city and our airport and major industrial areas. Under the new government there is no guarantee this development will happen. The federal Labor government's contribution of $52 million was fully funded in the 2013-14 federal budget under the Nation Building Program. If Prime Minister Abbott wants to be remembered as the 'infrastructure Prime Minister', I expect this funding will be released, as budgeted for, so the project can proceed without issue.

Not only is my electorate of Newcastle in danger of losing infrastructure funding; we are set to lose our greatest public asset to private hands. The New South Wales Liberal government plans to cut the steady income stream generated by our port, the port of Newcastle, by hawking it off to the highest bidder. Just last year, the port reaped profits of around $22 million. It is envisaged that the sell-off, the 99-year lease of the world's busiest coal terminal, will bring in upwards of $700 million, of which the state government plans to generously invest less than half—just $340 million—in the Newcastle area, regardless of the actual sale price! That's right—less than half. Our assets are being stripped, our revenue stream is being removed and we are meant to be happy to receive the crumbs left under the table.

The port of Newcastle does not need to be sold, it needs investment to diversify. The addition of a container terminal or a passenger cruise ship terminal could bring new revenue to the port while keeping it in the public's hands. Surely the value of the port will appreciate over the next hundred years and, with increased revenue and diversification, jobs will follow.

The Newcastle of today is a city of opportunity. We are a city of innovation. A city that punches well above its weight in education, science, the arts and the digital economy. A city that is willing to try new things.

Finally, Madam Speaker, a vote of thanks. I stand here today because of the support of the Australian Labor Party—the oldest and greatest political party—and the trade union movement. In particular, I want to acknowledge the support of my own union, the CPSU, alongside the tremendous efforts of United Voice, the CFMEU, the AWU, the SDA, the MUA and the formidable MUA Veterans, the New South Wales Nurses and Midwives' Association and the Newcastle Trades Hall Council. Together we will always defend the rights of Australian workers to decent wages and conditions, to fairness and safety in the workplace, and provide a voice for the most vulnerable of workers in our community.

To the men and women of the Australian Labor Party, and Newcastle Labor in particular: I thank you for the trust you have instilled in me to be your representative. The success of the Newcastle Labor campaign grew from the grassroots up and the strength came from the many hundreds of dedicated Labor members, volunteers and supporters on the ground. While I cannot hope to name them all today, special mention must go to my campaign team, including Mitch Wilson, Phil Ireland, Amy Smith, John Graham, Mark Boyd, Kim Hall, Fiona Ross, Simonne Pengelly, Matt Murray, Donovan Harris, Nick Rippon, Paul O'Grady, Ted Bassingthwaighte, Victoria Phillis, Ross Coates, James Cameron, James Marshall, Barbara Whitcher, Deb Wood, Hugh Arjonilla, Bradley Burns, Steven Moore, Tegan Cone, Wayne Forbes and the incredible team of Young Labor activists who worked tirelessly on my campaign. Your endless enthusiasm, good humour and high spirits, even on the longest days, made it enjoyable, so thank you.

I also want to pay tribute to my New South Wales Labor members of parliament, Sonia Hornery, Clayton Barr and Lynda Voltz, and the Newcastle Labor councillors, Stephanie Posniak, Tim Crakanthorp, Nuatali Nelmes and Jason Dunn. Your friendship and support is much appreciated.

But my final thanks go to my parents, Kevin and Cath, who are here today. Your unconditional love and support keeps my world turning. You have instilled in me strong and abiding commitment to social justice, community service and rugby league, for which I am truly grateful.

In closing, I also pay tribute to the many extraordinary women in my life: my two grandmothers, who loved and nurtured me; my mother, who taught me the value of hard work and independence; my sister, Christine, and my three nieces, Rebecca, Tegan and Abby, who keep me smiling; my aunts and cousins, who are always there; the Bunuba women of Fitzroy Crossing, who taught me to look at my world with fresh eyes; my women friends, both old and new, who keep me strong; and all the women community activists who just keep giving. Collectively, you have shaped who I am today—although you can rest assured that I take full responsibility for all faults—and I sincerely thank you for being part of my life. Together, we will make a difference.

There is much work to be done. I look forward to an Australia with our own head of state, constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians, marriage equality and real action on climate change—just for starters. Thank you.

Back to top

Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Add | Email Print
Back to top