First Speech: Hon Matt Thistlethwaite MP

Member for Kingsford Smith, New South Wales

13 November 2013

 Mr THISTLETHWAITE (Kingsford Smith) (16:46): Madam Speaker, I am pleased to follow in your footsteps and deliver my second first speech in the parliament. I acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people and pay my respects to their elders. I also acknowledge the Bidgigal and Gadigal people who are the traditional owners of the land in Kingsford Smith and pay my respects to their elders.

I thank the people of Kingsford Smith for their trust and confidence in bestowing upon me the wonderful honour of representing our community in our nation's parliament. I represent a special part of our country. Kingsford Smith is home to natural beauty, such as the magic beaches from Clovelly to La Perouse and the historic Botany Bay. Our community boasts some of our nation's most important institutions: the National Institute of Dramatic Art; the University of New South Wales, of which I am a proud alumnus; the Prince of Wales Hospital, the Royal Women's Hospital and the Sydney Children's Hospital; Sydney Airport; and Royal Randwick Racecourse. Our area was the original home of Sydney's postwar settlement from both world wars and our people are enriched by the work of many wonderful community organisations.

But the most striking feature of our community is not our natural beauty; it is not our institutions—it is our people. Kingsford Smith is well known for its incredible sense of community. Our people look after each other and we care for our community. This is evident in the fact that very few people ever leave Kingsford Smith once they settle there. Consequently, there is a wonderful family lineage that goes back centuries. I am in the fourth generation of my family to have grown up and lived in the area and I am very proud of my ancestry in our community. I grew up surfing the challenging waves of Maroubra Beach. I have taken on that ocean since I was five years old. My father spent his life surfing at Maroubra as did his father before him. I feel a special connection with that surging body of water and its sands. Three generations within an area, a heritage, creates a deep relationship and a sense of belonging.

I have friends whose family connection with that area dates back 7,000 years. For many millennia our Aboriginal forebears have lived in, related to and tamed those waters and that area. This is not a characteristic unique to our community. Throughout most of Australia the connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people dates back thousands of years, with evidence that Aboriginal culture may be the oldest continuing culture in the world. In human nature, time matters. We celebrate the longevity of centenarians. A 50-year marriage is a special bond. Significant time in a community earns a person the right to call themselves local. Time illustrates connection, belonging and experience. For up to 40,000 years Indigenous Australians have inhabited this land, respecting it, learning from it and nurturing it. The way we live today derives from the lessons and subtle hints our colonial forebears took from our original inhabitants. It is believed that 'Maroubra' is an Aboriginal word for place of thunder—a wise reference to the crashing waves of the beach that bears that name and a rather sensible warning of the perils for the inexperienced who may venture there.

Our nation's Constitution is a symbol of our people and our land. Yet it makes no reference to those who have had the longest, strongest relationship with our continent. It makes no mention of their contribution to the nation that we have built together—and it should. Our nation's defining document should reference the existence, and contribution, of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait forebears because in our culture, in our society, in our nation embodied in that Constitution, time matters, relationships matter and who we are is related to their connection with this land. It is important that we, as parliamentarians, lead the discussion about the importance of recognising in our Constitution the contribution of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander forebears to building the nation that we are today and the wonderful community that I call home in Kingsford Smith. We must amend our Constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

In 1788 a remarkable event occurred at the southern tip of our community. After sailing into Botany Bay days earlier and deciding that the water supply was insufficient, Captain Arthur Phillip headed out of the bay to sail north in search of an appropriate place to establish a new colony. As he left Botany Bay another flotilla was entering, that of the French navy commanded by Jean-Francois de Galaup La Perouse. How extraordinary that the naval representatives of two of the world's most advanced societies should meet on the other side of the globe, at the same time, in Botany Bay!

That area of our community where La Perouse came ashore—and, importantly, where his expedition was last seen alive—is now named in his honour. Whilst the expedition was camped on those shores a French naval priest, Father Receveur, passed away and became the first scientist, importantly the first Catholic, and the first priest to be buried on Australian soil. His grave is marked by a monument and is a symbol of the connection between the French people and our community. That is further demonstrated by the presence of the Lycee Condorcet French school in Maroubra and the very absorbing La Perouse Museum, which I am proud to be the patron of.

As Sydney began to industrialise, the very assiduous English and Irish migrants began to settle to the south and east of Sydney. They travelled south to establish new cities. Struggletown became known as Randwick, and was the first local government municipality to be established after the City of Sydney. It was followed closely by the municipality of Botany Bay.

The new settlers worked hard to quickly establish businesses and an airfield at Mascot, and tramlines to the seaside. Their contribution to the area and their heritage is important, and is still evident in social and sporting groups—best illustrated by the Irish green colours of the mighty Randwick Rugby Union Club, which has produced many wallabies.

I live in a street called Menin Road in Matraville—so named because of Australia's contribution to the World War I battle of Menin Road Ridge in Flanders. Much of the suburb in which I now live was built to house the veterans of the Great War upon their return. So, too, the south of Maroubra was built to accommodate those returning from World War II. It offered them a place to call home. Proudly the streets and parks of these suburbs bear the names of historic places of battle, and are a tribute to partnerships with our allies.

Post-war our community, like Australia, was enriched by waves of European migrants. In particular, the Greek and Italian communities are great contributors to our area. In the 1980s Chinese students at the University of New South Wales and their families settled in the area and enlivened Kensington and Kingsford. The Indonesian consulate is located right on the top of the biggest hill in Maroubra and represents the bond between our nations and our peoples. Many Indonesian people live in our area. In recent decades migrants from the Subcontinent—in particular the Bangladeshi community—and the Assyrian communities have made our area their home. These are people who value education, and their children relish the opportunity of learning and are diligent students.

I grew up in a family that valued and encouraged community activism and volunteering. My grandfather Ralph Thistlethwaite was the postmaster at Mascot and a life member of the South Sydney Rabbitohs Rugby League football club. Every Sunday you would find him on the gates volunteering his time at Redfern oval. 'Always vote Labor and always support the Rabbitohs,' was his simple message to me. Whilst the Rabbitohs often test my patience, I can proudly say that I have never deviated from that wise advice.

My father Bruce has been an active member of Maroubra Surf Lifesaving Club for decades, and when I turned 13 years old he took me down to join the surf club. I remain an active member to this day and am honoured to have been elected the president of one of Australia's oldest and proudest surf clubs and to have held that position in the club's centenary year in 2006.

Through surf lifesaving I have had the privilege of working with some great community activists—people who volunteer almost every hour outside of work and family to serve our community, and who regularly risk their own lives to save others. I am also fortunate to be a long-term member of my local Police Citizens Youth Club. The PCYC is a great organisation that mentors young people, provides new learning and vocational opportunities and assists kids who fall on tough times.

Our community is also blessed with some special social welfare organisations such as the Kooloora Community Centre, the Deli Women and Children's Centre in Eastlakes, Eastern Respite and Recreation, The Shack Youth Services, South East Neighbourhood Centre and our wonderful Rotarians, Lions Clubs, RSLs, Vinnies, Salvos and church groups. My interest in politics derived from my work in community organisations, and I see my role as a member of parliament as an extension of that work. I thank and pay tribute to all of the volunteers in our community who commit their spare time to helping others and making our community such a wonderful place to live.

Madam Speaker, 2013 marks the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Maroubra Junction Public School, of which I am a former student, and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart College in Kensington. Both are fine educational institutions and play a significant role in our community. I was fortunate to be educated at high school by the Marist Brothers in Pagewood, and value the role that my high school education played in developing my beliefs and values. The greatest gift our generation of decisionmakers can give our kids is a quality education. Education unlocks our abilities. It overcomes disadvantage. It creates opportunity.

As a wealthy nation our people have the right to expect a first-class education system from early childhood right through to university. In recent years our nation has identified deficiencies in the funding of our schools. Those deficiencies are inhibiting our children's abilities and personal opportunities, and are putting a brake on productivity. Historically, our federal schools funding model created unfair outcomes. Two high schools in my community—one public, one private—with almost identical student numbers and teachers and with similar courses, receive vastly different allocations of federal funding. There is no apparent logic to the funding differences, just historical inertia.

I am concerned that there is a risk that our public education system, particularly at a high school level, is being drained of opportunity. In my community we are seeing some public high schools losing students. Whilst the population grows we are seeing the numbers dwindle in certain public high schools. We are seeing teachers put under more pressure. I am hearing parents say they avoid enrolling their kids in some public schools because of the schools' reputations in the community. This is deeply concerning. The hallmark of a nation's progress as a people, a society and an economy is in the strength of public education. Strong public education equals civility. Strong public education drives productivity. Strong public education unleashes creativity and builds stronger communities. We must not allow our public education system to be a second-class system with inferior learning options for students. We must invest in public education.

For years Labor in government investigated the problems with funding of our schools and developed a new model to rectify historical deficiencies. It is based on years of consultation with students, teachers, parents and experts, and with research that is thoroughly based. It is a fairer funding model that delivers additional funding where it is needed to struggling students and to schools where students are disadvantaged. The new model will produce better students, create more opportunity and strengthen our economy. I implore the new government to continue to implement and to fully fund Labor's Better Schools Plan to ensure a better future for our kids and our nation. If delivered, this will be a wonderful legacy for this parliament, for our children and for our future. I pay tribute to my predecessor Peter Garrett for his commitment and drive to develop and deliver a new funding model for our nation's schools and for his hard work as the member for Kingsford Smith.

Australia is a mature nation. We enjoy high living standards and we have built a diverse economy. We have a unique culture and our own identity. But our nation's defining document, our Constitution, does not reflect this. The Australia of today is not the Australia of Sir Edmund Barton and Alfred Deakin. For a Constitution to remain relevant it must evolve. It must reflect growth and maturity. Ours does not. Having a foreign monarch as our head of state does not reflect who we are. We are proud, independent Australians capable of determining our own destiny.

I despair that my daughters or any other Australian child cannot one day aspire to be our nation's head of state. As a nation we must ask ourselves one simple question: is an Australian capable of performing the duties of our nation's head of state? If the answer to that question is yes—and indeed it is—then we should get on with the job of rectifying those deficiencies and amending our Constitution to make that a reality.

As a parliament and a nation we must again begin to discuss our identity and our constitutional arrangements, and I pledge to do my best in this place to highlight this issue and campaign for change. I hope that during my time in this place we see our nation fully recognise our maturity and become a republic. I want to issue a challenge to the young people of Australia to embrace and drive this campaign, to agitate for discussion, to seek to change attitudes and to drive change and campaign for recognition of our identity.

It is a humbling experience to have been elected to represent the community that I love and cherish and have lived in for my entire life. My election was very much a team effort and I was privileged to have the support of hardworking and passionate volunteers who believed in our campaign and the issues we stood for. I thank each and every member of my campaign team, in particular Leigh Heaney, Nick Moncrieff Hill, Trent Murray, BJ Jafari, Jess Winnall, Jacquie Henfrey, Kate Minter, Steve Novak, Phil Kessey, Krystal Validakis, Noel DeSouza, Simon Zhou, Sheikh Raman, John Procopiatis, Riley Campbell, Ruth Soto, Daniel Wiezman and Salim Barber.

I give a special thanks to our local state members of parliament, Michael Daley and Ron Hoenig, who were a great support and worked hard for the Labor cause. I owe deep, deep gratitude to the members of the Labor Party in Kingsford Smith whose hard work and commitment to equality and justice is an inspiration and a privilege to represent. I thank the New South Wales union movement ably led by Mark Lennon at Unions NSW.

To my parents, Lorraine and Bruce, I thank you for your love and unconditional support of me throughout my life and for planting the seed of education and community activism. I thank my sister, Amanda Doonan, and her husband, Tom, and my brother, Chris, and his partner, Roy. Thank you for your lifetime of support, advice and hard work during the election campaign. I thank my very big family of in-laws, the Casamentos, for their support, in particular Joe and Lis who are incredible people and wonderful community activists.

Election campaigns are tough on candidates, but they are even tougher on families. I am blessed with the enduring support, patience and wise advice of my beautiful wife, Rachel, who I love and respect. My election is testament to our partnership. My beautiful daughters, Amelie and Scarlett, remind me every day how proud I am to be your dad and how lucky we are to have you. I hope to make you proud of my work here.

I also thank the officers of the House of Representatives for their assistance in my transition from the Senate, and whose commitment to our democracy is admirable. It is a privilege to serve in our nation's parliament and advance our great democracy. We are people that value peace, equality and stable government. I look forward to working with my colleagues to make our democracy even stronger and our communities better places to live.

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