Inaugural Speech

It is with great honour that I stand here today, a proud representative of Tarneit and its people in Melbourne’s rapidly growing outer west, and it is a privilege to speak before this Parliament for the very first time.

I firstly would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging, and to the ongoing relationship that they and their families share with this beautiful land.

Congratulations, Premier, on your re-election, to the Speaker for his continued role, and to my honourable friends and colleagues. I know that together we will be working tirelessly over the next four years delivering to the Victorian people we now represent. I acknowledge the former member for Tarneit, Telmo Languiller. I would also like to make special mention of a former representative of Tarneit, who sits in this chamber now—my fellow westie—the honourable member for Werribee.

‘Tarneit’ is the Wathaurong word for the colour white. It is a language that was once spoken by 15 clans of the Wathaurong people, one of the five tribes encompassing the far-reaching Kulin nation of central Victoria. I share this now out of respect for a language now largely considered extinct and to acknowledge that there is much sorrow in the history of this land, a history that should never be forgotten as we look to the future.

The Tarneit I represent today is a reflection of the very beginning and the very best that is 21st century Melbourne and the shining success that is multiculturalism. Situated on the outer rim of our metropolis, Tarneit is an electorate abounding with the culture, language and food of tribes that originate from every corner of our world. We are a community with a massive bilingual population, where our people can say loudly and say proudly that they are Australian, and they say it in Hindi, in Urdu, in Filipino, in Arabic, in Dinka, in Gujarati, in Punjabi, in Mandarin and in English—and of course I could go on. We do this as your nurses, bus drivers, truck drivers, small business owners, construction workers, tradies, teachers, paramedics, aged-care workers, shop assistants, early childhood educators and more. Our children aspire to be the next doctors, engineers and scientists, to kick the winning goal on the last Saturday in September or to stand on stage before thousands of screaming fans. We are a community that aspires to do great things. We are changing the face of Victoria as we continue to lay the foundations of success for generations to come. More than half of the residents across Tarneit moved to Victoria and into the electorate within the last 10 years. Now home to over 96 000 people, we are young families and individuals striving for a brighter future, and families taking a chance, just like mine. We made the choice to pack up everything we had and we travelled across this country, while many others travelled from far-off lands. It is here that we came, settling down on the outskirts of Melbourne. We put down roots and sent our kids to local schools, and this is now where we call home.

I grew up in Kingscliff in northern New South Wales. I am the eldest daughter of Ray and Jenny Keys, who are sitting here in the gallery behind me today. My father is a milkman and Mum did what so many women do and gave up her career as a nurse to stay at home and raise her three children. She has worked in family day care and later as an early childhood educator. Mum most recently did a TAFE course in aged care. She now works as a carer for our elderly in a nursing home. While growing up, Mum focused on our education and schooling. Dad focused his attention toward providing his kids with an education in politics and in music. Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, Gram Parsons and Johnny Cash are just a few that provided a musical backdrop for debate and robust political discussions, discussions that resonate with me today. All those mealtime family debates prepared me well. I was not shy about putting forward my opinion and challenging others, particularly where politics was involved. I grew to be an individual that can hold their ground and argue passionately for their beliefs, while maintaining an openness to persuasion by sound reason and evidence.

For me it felt only natural to be in a courtroom on my feet mounting an argument. I always assumed I would end up studying and practising law, not being here in this place making it.

Like many students I left home at 18, to move to Brisbane and study law at the University of Queensland. My time at university taught me many things, but above all else it taught me to be a free and critical thinker and the importance of challenging the status quo. Commercial, contract and property law felt utterly soulless to me. I wanted to do more to stand up for people that needed a voice, to mount arguments for those in need and for issues that really did matter. For me at the time this meant the always complex issue of crime and criminal law.

Now, I am a true believer that one of the best attributes public school students derive from their education is resilience. I had no networks and no friends with connections in the legal world, but I did what public school students do: we knock on every door, we fail and we try again. Through determination I gained work experience with police prosecutions, I worked as a paralegal at the Department of Public Prosecutions, as a legal secretary at a Brisbane law firm and then finally as an associate with a district court judge, and all the while I continued to study.

As a judge’s associate I travelled the trial circuit across south-east Queensland and for the first time was able to really understand how the lack of opportunity can affect people’s lives. I saw what happens when someone misses out on an education for reasons out of their control, when they do not have family to support them and when they fall through the net of community support services. I saw the struggles faced by some of the most disadvantaged people in our community, individuals who our society had, for one reason or another, failed. My sense of social justice runs deep. You will never hear me use throwaway slogans talking about crime. I have listened to victim impact statements that have rocked me to the core; I have watched many, many people sentenced to prison; and I have taken statements from behind prison walls.

The year I graduated from university my ambition was set to take off with a future in law, but then life intervened, as it does. By chance or by fate it was also the year I met a young up-and-coming union official from the Transport Workers Union (TWU). Meeting Scott was the first and only time I have ever been lost for words. It was love at first sight, and it set my passion for social justice on a very different path. We quickly moved to Canberra together and set up a house, and our relationship continued to thrive on love and our shared passion for justice, politics and the union movement. I secured a graduate position with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and then took up a role at the Australian Energy Regulator. My passion for our energy future and that of our planet was inspired. Energy fascinated me. I have spent the last 13 years working across three states on all aspects of the energy sector.

This sector’s ability to tear down governments and incite political debate that reaches kitchen tables across our country does not surprise me. I have worked on policy and regulatory reform, on pricing and on compliance. I have witnessed 10 years of instability and our country’s inability to move forward. This failure inspired me to get more politically involved, and these experiences have played a big part in leading me here today.

A national consensus and an action plan in our energy sector are necessary for our future. I have never been one to sit on my hands when something needs doing, and I am proud of the Andrews Labor government’s commitment to getting things done. With a renewable energy target of 50 per cent by 2030 and a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050, the future is now. Under this government’s leadership Victoria is leading the way. In my experience, passion for renewable technology transcends socio-economic circumstance, and it fills me with the deepest pride to say that Tarneit has the highest uptake of this government’s Solar Homes package. My experience in an industry which revolves around long-term infrastructure planning has taught me that it is important to get it right.

The west is an extraordinary place to live, and that is why so many people are moving there and calling it home. In the outer west the Andrews Labor government rose to the challenge of building the much-needed infrastructure that was already so far behind. From train stations and roads to new schools, kinders and modern hospitals, so much was done in just four years, and we are not slowing down.

The City of Wyndham is now bigger than Greater Geelong, with about 95 babies born every single week. We need to keep building more kinders and schools to give our kids the best start in life. Tarneit needs more parking at its train stations and needs new stations to cope with its enormous and rapid growth. We need more buses to get commuters to and from these stations. Our roads are heavily congested because despite Tarneit train station being the second busiest outside Southern Cross, over 70 per cent of us drive to work.

The $1.8 billion western roads package that will upgrade and duplicate many roads across the Tarneit electorate will be life-changing for residents. The West Gate Tunnel will be life-changing for residents. The removal of the Old Geelong Road level crossing in Hoppers Crossing within the next four years will be life-changing for my electorate and for surrounding suburbs. For too long have we been trapped behind boom gates and in congestion.

Now, in finishing up I would like to give special thanks to the people that helped guide me here today. To secretary John Berger of the Transport Workers Union for the support he and his outstanding team have given me, for believing in me and for always fighting for justice, thank you. I will not let you down, comrades. To Mem Suleyman from the Transport Workers Union, your friendship, candour and good humour will always be welcome.
To the Honourable Adem Somyurek, in the other place, your unwavering support and guidance has been indispensable. Thank you. To the member for Kororoit in this place, for always supporting me and offering me your assistance to run a really strong campaign in Tarneit, thank you. To the member for Sydenham and to your larger than life late husband, Steve Hutchins, you have been with me on my journey here and into the TWU family since my wedding day many years ago. As a member of this house you are and always will be an inspiration for all women wanting to enter politics. Thank you.

To former Senator Trish Crossin, Mohammed Masood, Robert, Nathan, Brett, Sean, Maddie, Joseph, Ann and the hundreds of other volunteers who dedicated their time to the Tarneit campaign—there are just so many of you to name, but I have got a lot here in the gallery today, and you know who you are. Campaigns are a team effort, and elections are not won without the support of true believers, both in the candidate and in the party. Thank you.

To my mother and father, you raised me with the values that I embody today, and for that I say thank you. You were not surprised when I told you I was going to run for Parliament. Every parent knows their child like no other, and no doubt you always knew I would eventually find myself on this path, in this place.

To my children here in the gallery, Emily and Leo, watching you embrace so many other communities and new experiences and make so many new friends has been one of the greatest joys, and it is certainly one of the greatest things about multiculturalism. It is not always easy, and I love you guys. To my husband, Scott, there is so much I could say. You believed in me, my strength, determination and passion from the moment we met. Since then we have shared the highest highs and the lowest lows together. You never doubted that I would make it to this moment along the way. Your belief in me and the good work that I will do for the people of Tarneit and the people of Victoria is something that requires acknowledgement. I love you.
To my firstborn, Viviene, who is not sitting here in the gallery today but sits here inside of my heart, at the end of this month you would be 10 years old. Motherhood changes a woman. Learning to be a mother to you, a child I am unable to hold or kiss, has been the biggest challenge of my life. You have taught me that a mother’s love transcends this world. You have taught me that no matter how difficult things become, life keeps moving and I keep moving with it. But most of all, you have given me a deep sense of compassion, empathy and understanding for the thousands of other couples struggling to become parents. A former Prime Minister, the Honourable Paul Keating once said:

“There is a place for sadness and melancholy.”

We don’t want to be sparkling and happy all the time. You need the inner life, the inner sadness. It is what fills you out.
I understand that. I believe that.

Lastly, to the thousands of families across Tarneit, opportunities for our families will not be defined by postcode. I have always said we need and deserve a fighter, a voice that is fair and reasonable, that will represent all of us no matter the colour of our skin, our religious beliefs or the size of our bank account. You asked for a representative that your children can look up to and aspire to be. You asked for one that will unite our community in the outer west through the coming decades of tremendous growth with a steady hand and a courageous heart.

We are bred to be tough in the outer west. We are hardworking and we call it as it is. I asked to be your representative in this place, and you put your strength behind me, sending me here with a very clear mandate to get us moving. You have bestowed in me your own hopes and your dreams, sharing a vision for our future. Tarneit, my new family, I will not let you down. Thank you.