First Speech: Ms Susan Lamb MP

Member for Longman, Queensland

10 October 2016

 


Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I begin my first speech by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, and I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. I also acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands of the Longman electorate, the Gubbi Gubbi people. I would particularly like to take pay tribute to one elder in our community, Dr Eve Fesl. Dr Eve was the first Indigenous Australian to graduate with a PhD from an Australian university. She is an extraordinary woman and her commitment to her people, her land and her community inspires everyone she meets.

I am truly humbled to stand here today in our nation's parliament as the member for Longman. At the outset, I want to acknowledge the members who have represented our community before my election: Mal Brough, Jon Sullivan and Wyatt Roy. Wyatt should be acknowledged for demonstrating that age is no barrier to contributing to public life. While it is fair to say that I do not share the same values or aspirations as all of my predecessors, I have started to understand the personal sacrifices that members make to serve their community, so I thank them for their service.

Longman owes its name to Irene Longman, the first woman elected to the Queensland parliament, in 1929. I am proud to stand here today as part of a new group of inspiring female Labor parliamentarians. It is especially noteworthy that the 45th parliament includes among these women the first Indigenous woman elected to the House of Representatives, the member for Barton, and the first female parliamentarian with Islamic faith, the member for Cowan.

Yet while we celebrate, we cannot be complacent. I am conscious that as I speak of progress it has taken 20 years for Longman to have its first female representative. Women are still significantly underrepresented in our institutions of power and, unfortunately, overrepresented in lower paid industries. Yes, we may have come a long way since women fought for and won the right to vote, but there is still so much yet to achieve.

I believe that my election to this House demonstrates more about our society and our country than about me as a person. It demonstrates that an investment in social services, such as health, welfare and education, often empowers those who are in most need of help. It has taught me that governments can play a positive role in changing the lives of everyday Australians.

When governments treat people with compassion, when we work hard and treat others with fairness, together we can effect change. I have stood by these values my entire life and they will guide my time as a member of parliament. It is an Australian virtue that when someone is down, when they are going through a tough time, we rally around them and pick them up. I know this because, like many Australians, I have not travelled the easiest of roads. It is fair to say that I once probably would have fitted the description of one of Joe Hockey's supposed leaners, although I did drive a car.

My family story starts in the member for Kennedy's backyard, in the mining town of Mount Isa. Following the Second World War, my father and grandmother came to Queensland from Scotland looking for a better life. While it was not exactly the Scottish Highlands, my grandmother and her new husband worked hard and sent my father to boarding school. Early in my childhood, my grandmother instilled in me a love of learning. I spent many weekends in her kitchen measuring ingredients and learning to cook. She taught me how to play cards and she taught me about the origins of the music that she always had playing in the background. On reflection, I realise now that my grandmother knew the importance of learning, with education being the key to my future wellbeing. She used such simple lessons to illustrate this point, lessons that have shaped who I am today.

In modern times, education remains the key to a future filled with opportunity and every chance of success. Quality education today remains the key for our children, their children and their children's children. We all learn throughout our lives, but our early years involve some of the most formative lessons. This is why children, regardless of their postcodes or catchment areas, must have access to quality education. The process of learning and acquiring new skills throughout our lives is transformative, and no-one should be denied this experience. It was this love of learning that inspired me to be a teacher aide at Dakabin State School. There is nothing more satisfying in this world than to share the infectious love of learning with our children, who have now grown into wonderful adults.

Long before my days as a teacher aide my father raised me and my family in Mackay. My father, when he was a sugar cane tester, and my stepmother Maureen worked in a number of sugar mills in North Queensland, including Pleystowe and Plane Creek Mill. My dad, as so many Australians do, worked really hard to provide for us. But, while we are lucky country, sometimes you cannot help but have ill health. For years I watched my father suffer the debilitating disease of arthritis. Every day I remember seeing him head to work in pain. I would put his shoes on and take them off every day just to give his hands a break. Then, in the 1980s, dad was injured whilst working at the Plane Creek Mill, so the family picked up and moved to Bundaberg to buy a small family business. Dad continued working and providing for his family. Eventually, though, after dad's pain became too demanding, he stopped working. The circumstances that followed that time were incredibly difficult for our family.

On this side of the House, we know a healthcare system that forces someone to choose between poverty and working while in chronic pain is not care, it is inhumane. We understand this. We also understand the importance of Medicare. We created it, and we will always fight any threat to its existence. Access to quality health care should never be contingent on a person's income. It is a right; it is not a luxury.

Following my school days in Bundaberg, I headed to Brisbane where I soon understood what it was like to become a parent. In 1990 I gave birth to my eldest son, Chris. I was a teenage mum. My feelings at that time were somewhat comparable to what I experienced the first time I walked into this place—I was incredibly nervous, I was more than a little overwhelmed and I had a great sense of responsibility on my shoulders. I remember coming home from hospital. I put Chris on the bed and I thought to myself, 'What now?' His future was dependent on me, and I am really proud to say that we got through those tough times. Today my husband, Rolly, and I have four wonderful young men we call our sons: Chris, Kyle, Jack and George, all of whom are here today in the gallery.

I previously referred to the sacrifices that parliamentarians make to serve their community and this most definitely extends to my friends and family. These relationships keep us grounded and sustain us through the hardest of times. Yet these are the people who will be most impacted by my time in parliament. To my good friends Troy and Anne, Mark and Mel, and Lenore and Andrew: thank you for keeping me grounded and for being there when I needed you most.

From the outset I realised my possible election to this House would impact on my family. In writing a letter to each of my children I explained I was likely to miss some football games, not be there as often to help them so much with homework and frequently repeat the same questions, most relating to technology. As my staff know well, technology and I have a very difficult relationship. What I also told my boys was that parliament provided me with an opportunity to help create a better future for them and for others like them. Boys, I want you to know this purpose. The possibility of shaping your futures and the future of others is what drives me. I will always honour those commitments I made to you, although you might indulge me if I make a few minor changes.

Chris, please keep sending me text messages. I love them, but equally consider that sending late-night messages to ask if I am still awake causes stress and anxiety, so more detail will go a long way. Kyle, our agreement to reserve 30 minutes of uninterrupted time, seven days a week from 6 am to 6.30 am is heartwarming; however, I would appreciate you telling me in advance if you do not need to talk. I really love you, but I would really love an extra 30 minutes of sleep if you do not need to talk. George, yes, I promise that Nutri-Grain will continue to be on the weekly shopping list. I will also make sure it is placed somewhere where you can visibly see it because I just cannot help you look for it at 5 am when I am in Canberra. Jack, my temperature gauge and my compass when I am uncertain about things, you never ask for anything but that is special in and of itself. Please never stop challenging my views and never stop reminding me of the grey in what is often my very black-and-white world.

Those of us who are parents understand the innate instinct to fight against unfair treatment of our children. Today, while I stand here incredibly proud to be a member of parliament, I carry a sense of disillusionment that our laws treat the love of one son as inferior to that of his brothers. Discrimination against vulnerable minorities should never be a point of national debate; its mere existence should be the cause for immediate action. For me this matter is deeply personal, but the issue affects many Australians, so I will take this opportunity to read into the public record that, regardless of the outcome, the holding of a plebiscite is deeply offensive to LGBTI Australians and it is deeply insulting to those who love them. I will always be a person who stands against discrimination in all its permutations. In doing so, I stand in solidarity with my son and the LGBTI community.

I am sure many members in this place claim that their electorate is the most beautiful and unique of all 150 electorates, but that is because they have not been to Longman yet. Aspirational people and young families are now calling Longman home, just like I did nearly 30 years ago. They are coming to live and work. They are coming to grow their small businesses, to study, to raise their families and, of course, to retire.

From the pristine Pumicestone Passage and the beaches of Bribie to the bush of Belthorpe and the parklands of Burpengary we are really lucky to call Longman home. Nestled in the Moreton Bay region, we are a community of communities, each town with individual characteristics and different aspirations. Like any region, we face challenges that cannot be resolved in the short term. We have a problem with youth unemployment, which is why the delivery of the university project in Petrie is so important to the future of Longman youth. Even more concerning is that we own the unwanted statistic of having one of the highest suicide rates in the country. We must act immediately to confront this problem because this is not just a saddening statistic; these numbers represent people's lives. Both government and community have a responsibility to act.

I do not underestimate the challenge of tackling mental health issues, but with unity of purpose and our strong sense of community we must confront this issue. Together we must work in partnership with community groups, like those in my electorate such as Caboolture Community Action and RiSE, a community organisation focused on helping victims of family violence, to reach out to those in distress when they are in need and to work cooperatively and with commitment on preventative measures. Inaction is not an option.

The delivery of key government services and infrastructure is an important issue to many Longman locals and the communities we all live in. As a growing and expanding region we deserve our fair share of infrastructure, such as a 21st century NBN. That is the type of innovation Longman needs.

Labor understands and knows that cutting essential services for people, robbing them of their dignity to live and work, is not what leads to prosperity. What leads to prosperity—or, at least, its realistic pursuit—is secure employment, the stable delivery of key government services and infrastructure that enables Australians to build a future for themselves and their families. As the electorate of Longman is so well aware, unemployment and insecure employment are significant issues. The right for all employees to be treated fairly in the workplace is of profound importance. Too many hardworking people had their rights at work attacked in 2007. And then, again, in 2012, in my home state of Queensland, thousands of hardworking public servants lost their jobs at the hands of a conservative government.

Even today we see businesses—like Carlton & United Breweries—trying to undermine the dignity of workers in a shameful way. While many businesses and conservative governments continue to attack the workplace rights of Australians, there will always be a place for the union movement. This leads to fairness in the workplace. The need to enshrine and protect workplace rights is what led me from being a teacher aide and union delegate to a national coordinator of the Big Steps campaign.

Unions remain just as relevant today as they were when they fought for annual leave, when they fought for eight-hour working days, for superannuation and for penalty rates—although, on that last matter, the fight is not over yet. Without the union movement, many of our basic workplace rights to which workers are entitled would not exist. Too many see these rights as a privilege or an inconvenience, and they are not.

I particularly want to thank my union, United Voice, and the branch leadership, especially Gary Bullock Sharron Caddie, for its support and friendship. Our union represents thousands of the lowest paid workers in this country, in industries often dominated by women. We understand, for example, that early childhood educators are not babysitters. They are the educators of the social and economic future of our country. They are educating our children, and I will continue to fight alongside these workers for the professional recognition they deserve. That is why I was really proud that the first function I attended as a newly elected member was at an early childhood service.

It is important to acknowledge that my election to this parliament was a collective effort. We ran a grassroots campaign inspired and empowered by branch members and volunteers. We worked hard, united, and it is fair to say there was nothing left in the tank at the end of each night. It is probably equally fair to say that I may not be on everyone's Christmas card list this year, but not one of them complained—at least not to my face—and their efforts inspired me to work harder, and often to the detriment of maintaining some basic levels of nutrition. I will always remember one night, in particular, towards the end of the campaign. I was too tired to even think about cooking dinner. That evening dinner consisted of one small tin of baked beans—unheated—while I was sitting on the kitchen floor. I cried. I ate cold baked beans. But I remained inspired by you all. So thank you to my campaign team, and I thank each and every one of them.

There are too many to name individually but I would like mention just a few. Aunty Theresa Butler is one of them. I will never forget aunty's daily message to me: 'Susan, I will be here early in the morning, before the Liberals, with my five Susan signs.' To my friend Michael Clifford: thank you for your guidance and support, even before I became a candidate. Thank you also to EMILY's List, the QCU, the ETU, the Meaties and the many other members of the Longman campaign team: Mick McKewon—I could not have asked for a better campaign husband—Trevor Lewis and Anja, Paddy Keys-McPherson, Dan Clancy, Eddie Fraser, Shelly Holzheimer and Wendy Ennor, Mark Ryan, Rick and Cheryl Williams, the Gonski family of Hayley Nizic and Paula Nunan, Deb Jury and Saroja, Rene Cooper and Ken Haywood and our adopted friend from Melbourne, Dylan DecIan Leach.

To Taylor Bunnag, I thank you for being more than a campaign manager. On more than one occasion you have been my counsellor, my adviser and my confidante. To say thank you simply does not go far enough to express my gratitude for your past and what I know will be future support. And I promise you, Taylor, the next time I call you it will have nothing to do with a polling booth!

I also want to thank our state and federal parliamentarians who lent their support, particularly Murray Watt, Clare Moore and Chris Ketter. And then there is the member for Grayndler, Albo. As parliamentarians from Queensland know, he hails from the wrong side of the border. But, in his defence, he is as passionate as I am about the Rabbitohs so I am willing to look past his home state on this occasion. I also know him to be a man of courage and optimism.These attributes were demonstrated when, despite the need for an eight per cent swing, he predicted that Longman would return to the Labor Party. Fortunately, he turned out to be right. So thank you, Albo.

Finally, to my staff. Not all of you worked on my campaign but we all have previously worked together. We share the same values and the same commitment to fairness. I thank you in advance for the long hours you will work, your patience with my technological ineptitude—apparently you tweet, you do not send twitters; I am learning—and the patience your partners and families will undoubtedly show when I call you on the weekend or send text messages at 5 am.

In closing, I want to reflect upon the current state of political discourse in Australia. To me it has become apparent that public figures, including certain parliamentarians, are using hate and vilification for political gain. These figures would have us believe that diversity is dangerous and that difference is something to fear. The politics of fear have never been more pronounced and we must stand together, united, against those who seek to normalise prejudice.

I am immensely proud to be standing here today. I place on the record that I will advocate relentlessly for the people of Longman, I will stand against prejudice and discrimination, and I hope that in my role as the member for Longman, if nothing else before my time is done here, I can give people in my community hope and optimism for the times ahead. Longman is a proud community. Sometimes we do it tough, yes. Sometimes we need a hand, yes. But as all Queenslanders do, we work hard and we never ever give up.

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