Thank you, Mr Speaker. I stand here incredibly humbled by the people of Higgins who have chosen me as their representative in this federal parliament. I've always been fascinated by handwritten letters. They capture a fleeting moment in time—like a dragonfly in amber—an arrested moment for future generations to reflect on and marvel over. When I was seven, my school, Albury Public School, asked each children to write a letter for a millennial time capsule to celebrate the school's 150 years of existence. Twenty-five years later, my brother Tim and I travelled back to our childhood town, Albury, on the banks of the mighty Murray River, to retrieve those letters. To our surprise a further four letters dropped from our family's time capsule: one addressed to each of my three siblings and me. They were letters from mum, who had died of lung cancer at age 58, and they were like a voice from the grave. Even now the hairs on my arm rise when I think of those letters to our future selves.
Mum knew us as only a mother can. She knew our little foibles, and, being from country stock of many generations, she didn't hold back. She was always someone who called a spade a bloody shovel. She told me I'd go far if I could just get hold of my emotions; that I shouldn't worry about my brother Andrew teasing me and that he would grow out of it—he has; and that I loved my little sister Penny and she would be my lifelong best friend—she is. Like all mothers, she had dreams and aspirations for all of us. I was to be a teacher. She wasn't to know I would become a university professor. She worried about how my generation would juggle work-life balance. She could already recognise the warm winds of change for the place of women in the world.
But it was my eldest brother Tim's letter that was the most difficult to read. Mum and dad didn't know what lay ahead for Tim. They couldn't yet see the struggles with mental health and the development of schizophrenia that would consume Tim and our family for decades—a cruel and unrelenting illness that, but for a minor difference in a brain receptor, any one of us could have had. Tim, you've lived a life of grace and dignity. I know it hasn't been easy, and never once have you used it as an excuse. You remind me every day of the humility of life and that we cannot take our health for granted.
I am proud to be part of a new government that has made a significant commitment to mental health and, in particular, to youth and Indigenous mental health. Too many young lives are lost prematurely, including my beautiful cousin Matthew at only 25 years of age. Words like 'widow' and 'orphan' describe our losses but no word in the English language describes the loss of a child. We should never give up hope to prevent these tragedies.
While mum kept my feet firmly on the ground, dad lifted my aspirations to follow in his footsteps as a doctor. Dad loved his patients and his patients loved him. I know, because they told me so, whether it was the nurses at my work experience at the Albury Base Hospital or when many of them unexpectedly turned up to the church for our wedding or at his funeral in Melbourne. When Dad developed Alzheimer's he knew what lay ahead. It was heartbreaking to watch as this gentle man who had cared for so many with this disease was himself tortured by it. But throughout his slow and unrelenting deterioration he never once complained. In the last year before his death he lost the faculty of speech, but he had two words left: 'thank you'. Dad's gratitude for the family and life he was given was boundless—and even Alzheimer's could not defeat it. He taught me that no matter what you are dealt there is always someone in greater need. And he lived by example. For both mum and dad, actions spoke louder than words.
It was only much later that I realised we were raised by Liberal values. In Albury a town where Menzies laid the foundations for the Liberal Party, years later my parents lay the foundations for our family. We were brought up to understand reward for effort, to have a strong belief in ourselves and in Australia, and that financial prudence is as important in the home as it is for the country.
I came to Higgins as a teenager and I've grown and changed with this vibrant inner-city electorate ever since. I'm not just for Higgins; I'm of Higgins, and it has shaped who I am. I remember when I first arrived in Melbourne. I felt so excited by the opportunities a big city could offer. I loved the hustle and the bustle, but most of all, as a self-conscious teenager, I loved the anonymity of the place. I felt that I could be who I wanted to be, not what was expected by others. But as I've grown older I've realised that Higgins is filled to the brim with interconnected and vibrant microcommunities; communities around culture, country of origin, sports, education, social support networks—too many to name—and, of course, the vibrant culture of food and fashion that stretches from Chapel Street to Chadstone. We are home to a thriving LGBTI community, and I'm proud to be a member of the first LBGTI branch in Victoria, Liberal Pride.
Higgins is home to the full social spectrum. Younger than most electorates, we have a high proportion of university students. They worry about finding jobs in an ever increasingly competitive market and the cost of renting. Many have given up on the Australian dream of owning a home. Aspiring families juggle bills and constant work-life pressures. They worry about caring for their ageing parents. They want a positive future for their kids. They want politicians to get on with the job of delivering for Australia so they can get on with the job of delivering for their families. I'm here to represent you all, but Higgins is not just aspirational for itself. We care about our sense of self as a country. We care about Australia's intergenerational responsibilities, international responsibilities and role in the global order.
Higgins is a proud of its previous members of parliament and its record of federal leadership. It was Harold Holt, the first member for Higgins, who dismantled the White Australia policy and rejected racism. It was Holt who successfully passed the 1967 referendum for our Indigenous people. It was John Gorton as member for Higgins who established the first Department of the Environment and moved to end the criminalisation of homosexuality. It was Peter Costello as member for Higgins who repaired the budget, introduced the GST and set up Australia for the 21st century. It was Kelly O'Dwyer as member for Higgins who proved that a working mother could sit at the cabinet table. She set us on the road to superannuation reform and improved productivity through increased female participation and a reduced gender pay gap. I pledge today: as member for Higgins, I will continue this proud Liberal record of achievement. Personal responsibility, individual opportunity unfettered by government, mutual obligation, reward for effort, lower taxes and higher incentives, free trade and, above all, strong economic management—these are the hallmarks of a strong Liberal government.
I bring to this place a lifetime of opportunity that I hope will serve my community and my country well. I've been a paediatrician at the Royal Children's Hospital, serving the families of Victoria in their times of need. I've helped them make some of the most difficult decisions of their lives, ones that can affect the future of their child profoundly. The decisions paediatricians make cascade through the lives of others. But, more than caring for people, I've always wanted to prevent problems, not just wait with the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff for the problems to arrive. I want to send resources to the top of the cliff so that we can keep people healthy and safe from the precipice. As a result, I've now worked as a medical researcher for more than 25 years. It is no secret that Australia has produced some of the best medical research on the planet. Our unique blend of Aussie character, of seeking opportunity but being resourceful by making do with what we have, can be seen equally in the corridors of our research institutes and universities as in the outback of our sunburnt country. Like our farmers dealing with the unrelenting drought, our researchers are resilient because they've had to deal with constant setbacks. Despite 75 per cent of national medical research projects considered fundable, only 13 per cent actually receive grants. Who knows what loss of productivity results from these unfunded and untranslated ideas generated in our own backyard.
But for all the thrills of discovery and translation that research has provided, the biggest professional joy for me has been to enable others and their ideas, including as Population Health Theme Director at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute. It's been an enormous privilege to be on the board of the only hospital in Higgins, Cabrini, and to serve as Chairman of Melbourne Girls Grammar, a school that my grandmother came to from Rutherglen 100 years ago in 1920, and which four generations of my family have attended. These roles taught me that building our human capital is the most important aspect of a good society. Empowering individuals through education and ensuring their health ensures our society itself is healthy and prosperous. More than that, the health of our institutions is central to the health of a good society.
That is why I have put my hand up for public office. The decisions we make in this place affect each and every one of us each and every day. I wish to contribute to the good and wise collective decision-making that is our parliament. I want to champion the ideas that will make a real difference to the lives of those I serve. I want to champion Australia and its place in the world. I am here as a sensible, practical voice with a passion to serve the people who have put their faith in me to represent them.
Being born in Australia is luck, but you also make your own luck. Australia makes its own luck through a stable democracy, strong institutions, a strong economy, responsibly utilising our resources—both natural and human—and maintaining productive friendships with our international neighbours; this is 'Brand Australia'. And these are the central tenets that will always exist no matter which political party is on this side of the chamber. How these are addressed is what marks a successful government.
Immigration is central to our economic prosperity. I want to ensure that those who seek a better life in our country are warmly welcomed and made at home, that they are given the same opportunities as all Australians to aspire to a better life.
Climate change is real and affects us all. There is now a major and inevitable transition occurring in our energy sector to a clean and sustainable energy future. It is not just an environmental imperative to act, it's an economic one. We need to be open to new possibilities to reduce emissions to hasten that future and use our Australian pragmatism to lead the world in sustainable energy. I believe that the Australian public is ready for a mature conversation on new technologies, such as hydrogen, and even alternative energy sources, such as nuclear, which will only move forward with bipartisan support.
As a scientist I will champion scientific solutions for the challenges we face. Science is a contest of ideas, just like politics, and in both cases we are the servants of the taxpayer. Disagreement is part of being a scientist, as it is for politics. As our Prime Minister is apt to say, we don't need to disagree less as a parliament, we just need to disagree better.
We do well when we think of others but, even more, we do better when we enable others. A robust education that provides resilient learners is the best way to create opportunity. Our education system needs to continue to respond to the increased challenges of the 21st century. Work is rapidly automating and digitalising; it is changing faster than ever. But learning doesn't stop when you finish school, or TAFE or university, and we need to support a system of continuous learning. As our third-highest export, our higher education system needs support and investment to capitalise on its excellence. I will fight to defend academic freedoms.
We should be ambitious for our healthcare system. It is one of the best in the world. It is a unique and effective blend of public and private, where the private sector provides innovation and the public sector provides a safety net for all. Technology enables improved access for patients remotely and we need to explore healthcare systems that are better decentralised and more efficient—not just in our regions but in our cities too.
As our population inevitably ages, so too will the burden of the lifestyle diseases of the 21st century: diabetes, obesity, asthma, allergies and heart disease. With an ageing population, costs will rise while the tax base to support those costs will narrow. Our healthcare dollar needs to work harder. Most importantly, we need to incentivise preventative healthcare solutions rather than costly reactive ones. We need a strong economy to deliver the new wonder drugs that our scientists are now delivering to us at lightning speed.
A strong country is one that is at peace with its past. We still have more to do ensure our First People have the same opportunities for a safe, healthy and prosperous life, but I believe constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians is an important next step on that road to a stronger future for all Australians. My time in the Northern Territory looking at the high rates of mortality among newborns in our Indigenous population shocked me. It mirrored what I had seen in Kenya, yet here we are in Australia, a First World country.
I grew up through the Thatcher years, when we as women felt the glass ceiling of possibility was finally shattered. At school, we were told we could do anything but not the practicalities of how to do it if we wanted to juggle a family. As the oldest of Generation X, I know many of us have privately struggled with having it all, but we were also lucky the digital revolution helped us to forge the way on part-time, flexitime and working from home.
One of our greatest opportunities for increased economic growth and productivity lies in increasing the engagement of women in the workforce. This will be achieved by answering tough questions relating to child care and responsibilities. True equality starts in the home. Our children need more than child care; they need universal quality early-life education to give them the best start in life. To me, that's non-negotiable. My cousin Margaret Bondfield was the first female member of cabinet in the UK parliament almost 100 years ago. In those days, women like our party's co-founder Dame Elizabeth Couchman had to choose between public life and having a family. The legacy of these women is left to us to champion. Some women choose not to have a family. For others, the choice is made for them. We should never judge.
To the people of Higgins: I promise to serve you to the best of my ability. My intentions will always be honourable. Politics is the complex art of balancing the needs of many voices but just on a very big scale. I am deeply grateful to the Liberal Party, from the support of the parliamentarians and secretariat to the more than 800 volunteers that gave up their time to help hold Higgins. Thank you. Our opponents threw everything including the kitchen sink at us, and they expected to win. My campaign team was incredible. After campaigning for 19 months in Prahran at the Victorian state election with an unsuccessful outcome, every single one of them got behind me just a couple of months later to do it all in Higgins. If that's not resilience, I don't know what is.
It is here that I want to personally thank the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. The victory you delivered is one for the history books. Along with our party's deputy leader, my friend and electorate neighbour Josh Frydenberg, you have delivered a strong, united and stable leadership.
To my family and friends, so many of you here sharing this day with me: there are too many of you to thank individually, but thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for believing in me and for your wise counsel over that essential cup of tea—Melbourne breakfast, of course.
Mum always said that women marry their father. I used to scoff at such silliness, but after 30 years of an extraordinary partnership with my husband, Malcolm, I realise he has a lot in common with Dad. Both are gentlemen, thoughtful and considered, and deeply committed to family. But what attracted me most to you, Malcolm, is your ironclad sense of what is right and wrong. You are always someone who will choose what is right over what is popular. This is the core of who you are, and your wise counsel will be more valuable than ever in this next phase of my career.
But children are my greatest joy. How good are kids! As Enid Lyons said in her maiden speech as the first female MP in the Australian parliament, when people began to think less of large families, it became 'a matter of courage, even of hardihood, to have a family of more than two or three'. Certainly, Malcolm and I took the Howard-Costello baby bonus initiative a bit too literally: we had one to replace each of us, one for the country and even one for the Liberal Party! Kids—Monty, Jemima, Arabella, Archie—I am not going to publicly embarrass you by telling you how much I love you. Know that what I do in this place, I am doing for you and your generation, and for those who follow. I don't know how long I have in this place or, indeed, on this planet, but I've always stood up for a better future, and I'm not stopping now.
But my final thanks are to my mother. I didn't always have an easy relationship with my mum. She had a difficult childhood and she carried a lot of unresolved anger. She taught me grit and determination because, as she said, she came from good peasant stock—although our friends think she came from wine aristocracy, as the sister of the great Mick Morris, of six generations of Rutherglen winemaker fame. I know it was mum's deepest sadness she didn't get to meet any of her grandchildren. I'd always thought she was gone, but, as I've written this speech, I realise she's here now: beside me, guiding me. As my uncle Mick said when he rang me after the election: 'Your mum would be proud of you, Kate.' I thank the House for its indulgence.