The first Parliamentary speeches of new MPs bring deep insights into their stories and motivations, as well as highlighting important issues affecting the health and wellbeing of diverse communities.
Croakey editor Cate Carrigan reports below, in the second of two articles examining new MPs’ first speeches that may be of use/interest for Croakey readers.
Cate Carrigan writes:
Increased spending on infrastructure in remote communities in central and northern Australia is an important investment in Australia’s national security, as well as being critical for securing social justice.
That was one of the key messages that Marion Scrymgour, the newly elected member for the vast Northern Territory seat of Lingiari, brought to Federal Parliament in her first speech.
With her husband David, daughter Cherisse and grandchildren watching on, Scrymgour began her speech in Tiwi and used her Tiwi name, Mangaliliwayu, later saying she wanted the language to be recorded in Hansard forever.
For Scrymgour, who has cultural links to the Tiwi Islands and Central Australia, the story of her own father – an Anmatjere man taken away from his family as a child under Commonwealth Government law – weighed heavily on her mind as she spoke.
“My family history reflects the impact of past government legislation and policies on people whose displacement and resulting disorientation left them with little else but a sense that, if nothing else, they were proper Territorians,” she said.
Scrymgour homed in on one issue in particular, the lifting of an alcohol ban in town camps in the NT, describing it as a “bogus or gammon” change to the rules that was endangering the lives of women and children.
Bans bought in under the Howard Government’s NT Intervention ended in July with the Northern Territory Government then introducing an ‘opt-in’ system for communities wanting to keep restrictions in place.
Scrymgour, who worked in the NT healthcare system and is a long-time community advocate, likened pulling the pin on the measures “without any protection, sanctuary or plan for the vulnerable women and children” to taking forces out of Afghanistan without an escape plan for those left behind.
“The horse has now bolted,” she said, adding that the new Labor Government wasn’t in a position to reinstate the expired laws, nor should it.
Scrymgour attacked commentators who justified the removal of the restrictions as self-determination. “It’s not self-determination for an Aboriginal family member – usually, but not always, female – to be assaulted in or near their home environment by the drinker, after intoxication turns to anger and erupts in violence.”
“And it is certainly not self-determination for an Aboriginal child to be constantly exposed to alcohol abuse in the home and to the violence which results from it.”
Calling for a joint plan between the NT and Federal Governments to protect the innocent victims being “swamped by waves of violence”, Scrymgour was “heartened .. (by) conversations with the Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians and the Northern Territory Chief Minister”.
“(The plan) needs to be comprehensive…. (and) include a separately resourced and supported voice at the table for women in particular, victims of domestic violence,” she said.
Concerns about the changes to NT alcohol laws in May, have also been raised by the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the NT (AMSANT), North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA), Northern Territory Council of Social Service (NTCOSS), Danila Dilba Health Service (DDHS), Central Australian Aboriginal Congress (CAAC), Alcohol and Association of Alcohol and Other Drug Agencies NT (AADANT), NT Police Association and the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition (PAAC).
A former Labor Deputy Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Scrymgour was a facilitator on the Uluru Statement from the Heart and said the complexity and diversity of Aboriginal communities and culture must inform the establishment and operation of a Voice to Parliament.
She spoke of the many issues affecting Aboriginal people in the Territory: housing, roads, the fallout from the NT Intervention; and “unfinished business” in respecting and resourcing homelands and bringing back a fully funded genuine jobs program, such as the old Community Development Program (CDP).
About 40 percent of the population in her electorate are First Nations people.
Calling for increased and long-term investment in remote communities, Scrymgour said: “Investing in overcoming the infrastructure deficits in central and northern Australia is not just a down payment on securing social justice; it is an investment in our national security”.
She argued it would counter the narrative that Australia “is an artificial colonial construct which subjugates its Aboriginal people”, does the bidding of the US and is sparsely settled away from the coastline.
Instead, such investment would present a different narrative – one which demonstrates support and resourcing for remote communities and emphasises success stories and reasons for optimism.
“Change happens at the speed of trust”, Kate Chaney told parliament in her maiden speech after becoming one of six so-called teal independents to be swept into office in 2022 on a wave of community support for stronger action on climate change.
The new Member for Curtin spoke of feeling “like vomiting” when first asked to run for the safe Liberal seat. “There were so many reasons not to do it: my three kids, the lifestyle of a Western Australian federal politician and the inevitable public scrutiny and attack,” she said.
But Chaney, the niece of former Liberal Minister Fred Chaney, said the community didn’t feel represented anymore. And so – with the support of her husband Bill and three children, George, Fred and Olive and the Curtin Independent group of volunteers – she decided to put up her hand.
“Change happens at the speed of trust. Trust grew rapidly, and, in four months, we achieved the improbable. Nearly 900 volunteers and 500 donors brought their diverse skills and enthusiasm to grassroots politics,” she said.
Most of these supporters – 16 of whom watched from the gallery alongside her husband and children – had no political experience: there was a surgeon who folded t-shirts, a retired teacher riding her campaign bike around the electorate, a physio knocking on doors and hundreds of others delivering flyers.
“Just thinking about this community, which didn’t exist at Christmas time and is now so rich with goodwill and optimism, brings me close to tears,” she said.
Chaney said the community cared about climate action, returning integrity to politics, economic reform to meet the challenges of the future and support for an inclusive, compassionate society.
With a nod to a stable, nurturing upbringing with many opportunities and advantages, Chaney said it was “difficult to know the best way to respond to the unfairness of your own privilege” other than to use it to work for change.
Chaney’s career in law, strategy, management, and community services had prepared her for what she hoped to achieve in the House: solving complex problems, addressing the deep disadvantage felt by some and building support systems to reduce those disadvantages.
The challenges we face today require an even longer-term view than the seven generations of my family in Australia, she said. “We need to learn from the perspectives of our First Nations people, such as my friends Carol Innes and Colleen Hayward, Noongar elders who carry the local histories of not a mere seven generations but thousands.”
Chaney said First Nations peoples’ sense of the long term brings knowledge of the delicate balance with natural resources, and that western cultures’ belief in the “inevitability and inherent rightness of ‘progress’” could see humanity becoming the engineers of its own extinction.
People’s ability to cooperate on a common goal was critical to tackling climate change and while the Federal Government’s climate bill was a good start, we need to go further, said Chaney.
“The opportunity is huge – Western Australia should be leading the world in renewable energy.”
The community of Curtin also wanted to look our history in the eye and rewrite the future of our relationship with First Nations peoples, she explained.
“The First Nations Voice to Parliament will not address the urgent issues facing remote communities, but it will give us a chance to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma.”
There also needed to be a cultural change in politics. “Politicians must be able to change their minds when new evidence arises, without being accused of flip-flopping …. (or) being considered weak…. (they) can’t be paralysed into inaction by fear of unpopularity or criticism.”
Chaney spoke of her “very wise” Uncle Fred and his advice to take heed of the words of Australian judge Hal Wootten that every man and woman can “give the world little nudges” that can affect where the world goes.
“I will apply little nudges” consistent with my values and the values of my community in Curtin, by voting with my conscience, being constructive, collaborative and optimistic and speaking truth to power when needed, she said.
Greeting Parliament with the Islamic peace offering: “Assalaamu Alaykum”, 26-year-old Western Australian Labor Senator Fatima Payman used her first speech to tell of her family’s journey to Australia, her gratitude to her new home and her desire to make a difference
“As the daughter of a refugee who came to this land with dreams of a safe and better future, I gave myself that audacity to challenge the system … to see how much ground I could break, to see how much change I could initiate,” said Payman.
Before a gallery packed with her mother and three siblings, supporters and members of Canberra’s Muslim community, Payman said she might be “small in stature” but that her potential is limited only by how far her determination will take her.
“I want to work towards better representation in our federal and state parliaments by engaging with women, people of colour, people of faith and all walks of life to take up the opportunity, because if I could make it, so can you.”
Payman would ensure young people get a voice, work to eradicate stigmas around mental health and improve access to treatments, tackle homelessness and poverty and see people “in jobs with dignity” and children getting a good education.
“I want to give this opportunity my best shot by staying hungry and humble, because not many 27-year-olds can say that they have the honour and privilege of serving our nation as a senator,” she said.
It was also time to recognise “a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament as a significant and practical reform to get long overdue outcomes for First Nations people”.
Describing herself as a devout Muslim who is proud of her Afghan heritage, Payman told of her family’s flight from Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover in 1996.
“In 1999 my late father risked his life and left his family behind to traverse the Indian Ocean for 11 days and 11 nights on a small boat in stormy weather, in the hope of finding safety and security for his wife, two daughters and a son on his way.”
Payman spoke of her father’s eventual safe arrival and of his “working around the clock as a kitchen hand, a security guard and a taxi driver” to earn the money to sponsor the family.
Life in the northern suburbs of Perth wasn’t easy. “I witnessed the struggles my parents went through to put food on the table, to pay for our education and to provide a roof over our heads”, she said.
Her father was subject to discrimination, abuse, job insecurity and low wages but endured “those hardships without complaining or seeking compensation”, she said.
Once her youngest brother started school, her mother started her own small driving school business to empower other women.
In 2017, her father was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia and his death 11 months later at the age of 47 “was the most difficult reality of life I’ve had to face,” said Payman.
“I have realised that in order to live a productive and impactful life and contribute towards my father’s legacy I must seize every opportunity that comes my way.”
Inspired by her late father’s advice, Payman turned to pharmacy after an unsuccessful attempt at studying medicine, and it was at university where she first felt like “the other” after a young men ridiculed her hijab.
Comments like ‘go back to where you came from’ drove Payman to volunteering – in youth leadership and the WA Police Muslim Advisory group – in the hopes that “if I was seen to be spreading goodness in society, then perhaps then I would be accepted as an equal member of this nation”.
This work led her to the Labor Party, the party which had established universal healthcare through Medicare, abolished the White Australia Policy, and fought for workers’ rights – which became a space where she “felt seen, appreciated and like [I] belonged”.
Payman realised it wasn’t just her father who was treated poorly at work but vulnerable workers in industries ranging from aged care, disability care and early childhood education to enrolled nurses and paramedics, and hospitality workers.
“After years of volunteering and dedicating myself to the movement, I finally felt my calling. This was going to be my way of serving humanity in my own community,” she said.
As the daughter of immigrants, Payman said many came to Australia in hope of a better life and brought with them “talents, skills, phenomenal work ethics”, adding to the diversity, culture, cuisine and economy of the nation.
Stop the hypocrisy
The “deep hypocrisy” in the way governments pledge support for the rights of First Nations people but failed to implement meaningful change has been called out by the Greens member for the Brisbane seat of Griffith.
In his first speech to parliament, Max Chandler-Mather questioned the sincerity of such support when many recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody were yet to be implemented, and when coal and gas mines were allowed to open up against the express wishes of Traditional Owners.
“Politicians make decisions that destroy First Nations land and then write laws that allow their corporate donors to rob their wealth and put it in the hands of people like Gina Rinehart,” said Chandler-Mather, as his parents Kim and Tim, and partner Joanna watched from the gallery.
One of three Greens to win inner Brisbane seats in 2022, Chandler-Mather said it was “abundantly clear” that billionaires and big corporations ran parliament and that it sometimes felt that 89 per cent of (parliament) represented their interests.
Chandler-Mather said Australia’s richest 200 people had over half a trillion dollars’ worth of wealth, the nation’s “nurses, teachers and doctors are viciously overworked just to make up for the chronic underfunding of our public hospitals and schools”.
Taking aim at inequity, Chandler-Mather said that amid a housing affordability crisis – where nearly one million people were waiting for social housing, homeless or suffering rental stress – the big four banks recorded billions of dollars in after-tax profit.
While a majority of MPs supported spending $224 billion giving every politician and billionaire an extra $9,000 a year in the form of the stage 3 tax cuts, they rejected as “too expensive” calls to include dental care in Medicare, raise JobSeeker or scrap student debt.
Chandler-Mather said the major parties, the media and various public and private institutions worked to stifle debate on change.
“The [Brisbane] floods of this year were a harsh, brutal and unjust symbol of the consequences of a political system stacked in favour of fossil fuel corporations,” he said.
“This apparent one-in-500-year event occurred just 10 years after another one-in-100-year flood was an alarming demonstration of the corporate and political grip on climate change.”
The slow response from emergency services and governments (local, state and federal) was a consequence of decades of cuts and underfunding, said Chandler-Mather, adding that the disproportionate impacts on low-income and middle-income renters and homeowners showed climate change will worsen inequality.
“The most insulting lie ….. when it comes to climate change, is that Australia needs to expand coal and gas mining to protect workers,“ he said.
The reality, according to Chandler-Mather, is that over the next decade coal and gas corporations will “export hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of dollars of our wealth” – money that could finance publicly owned manufacturing, renewable energy, and new industries in regional centres.
Paying tribute to his supporters, Chandler-Mather said that over 14 months, more than 1,000 Greens volunteers knocked on almost 90,000 doors, hand-delivered hundreds of thousands of letters and flyers and gave up countless days to fight for something greater than themselves.
It was acting collectively as a community that ultimately built power, he said. “If we want to take on the power of billionaires and big corporations, then we must build a party and a movement that is capable of improving people’s lives outside the cycle of electoral politics.”
Chandler-Mather had hope for those who felt powerless, saying his victory in Griffith proved the political and media experts wrong and everyday people right: the cleaners, paramedics, nurses, students, tradies, retirees, refugees.
“And if our political establishment thinks that this is our movement at our biggest, that somehow this is the best that we can do, then, oh boy, do they have another think coming! We really are just getting started.”
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