Address-in-reply – Jane Garrett’s Inaugural Speech

Ms GARRETT (Brunswick) — Thank you, Deputy Speaker, and congratulations on your appointment. I also congratulate the Premier and his cabinet, and the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow cabinet, on their appointments. To my fellow new members on both sides of the house: well done.

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we stand, the people of the Kulin nation, and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

It is an extraordinary honour to be standing here today in this house as the newly elected member for Brunswick. The seat of Brunswick in many ways is home to and reflects the essential foundations upon which Melbourne was built, and I believe it captures some of the best our community has to offer. It is a place of great multicultural diversity where the contributions of generations of migrant families from across the globe have helped create a fascinating and dynamic area.

It has a proud and distinct industrial history as a place where a wide array of goods has been produced and where workers have fought hard for better terms and conditions of employment for themselves and their families.

It is a community in which activism flourishes, where generations have been committed to making progressive values a reality — to welcome refugees, to stand against discrimination, to fight for freedom of speech and to deliver social justice.

It is a place that has been at the forefront of respect for our environment, leading the way on sustainability at the local level and on changing the way we live. It is a rapidly growing community with a diverse range of people flocking to the area, including families with small children, students, artists, young professionals and musicians. It is where my family comes from.

Six generations of Garretts have lived in Brunswick, commencing with my great-great-grandmother, Sarah Garrett, well over a century ago. Through these generations my forebears have run small businesses, raised their children, been elders in the churches and cared for their community. During the depression my great-grandparents opened their home to strangers in need, a home that my great-grandfather built in Whitby Street, West Brunswick. A builder by trade, he ran a business on Melville Road — Ralph Garrett and Sons — that my grandfather, Jack, took over and expanded.

My great-grandmother, Mabel, ran a tailoring shop on Sydney Road, just opposite the Brunswick Baptist Church where my father was minister during my childhood. My maternal grandparents, Ern and Dulcie Routley, settled in Pascoe Vale South after moving from country Victoria where they raised my mum, who was head prefect at the then Coburg High School.

It is against the backdrop of that history and within this community that my ideas and values have been shaped. My father is a theologian and a man of the cloth, and my mother was a passionate English teacher who worked in public education for her entire career. My sister, Catherine, and I were raised in this inner city community in a home teeming with visitors where our parents held social justice group meetings every fortnight, and we were regulars on the public demonstration circuit.

It was sometimes a bit hard to explain to other kids in the playground why they could not come around on a particular weekend, because we were having the social justice Christmas party that day, or what the big yellow sticker on our old family car, which said ‘Uranium mining, no thanks’, meant.

The particular values that become part of the fabric of your being through how you were raised and what you may embrace or reject are many. For my part the most important value I believe I was given, and which forms the basis for all I strive to do, is respect: respect for the dignity and worth of others, respect for rights, respect for the legitimate and universal aspirations of people to reach their full potential and to provide for themselves and their families.

I want to invoke the biblical ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’.

I want to invoke the modern day blockbuster comment ‘I see you’, which is a powerful line in the film Avatar that the characters use in the context of saying that they see each other as they really are, beyond the prejudices or constraints that come from social constructs, class or cultural divide. Time and again people suffering disadvantage, either systemic or sudden, talk about the pain of being invisible to the community, of being ignored or forgotten or dismissed; it is literally a feeling that the world sees through you.

One of the strongest memories I have from my childhood is eating dinner with my family at a regular weekly night out at Papa Gino’s on Lygon Street. I was about 10 and chatting away when the waitress served our meals, and I completely ignored her. My dad touched my arm — I can still see his face now being as grave as he had ever looked — and said, ‘Jane, you were very dismissive of that person. You must never ever behave like that. You must look people in the eye and thank them for the work they do’. Again, I see you.

Of course to properly see someone you must also hear them. You must listen to them to understand their story, their journey, and appreciate their aspirations for the future. I believe that if you see and if you hear, you are compelled to acknowledge injustice and inequality where it exists, and it is here that you must also act.

It is not fair or right that people should be discarded, discriminated against or made to feel invisible. It is not fair or right that people should be left behind, trapped in cycles of poverty or exploited and used. It is not fair or right that people should go to work uncertain of their job security, their health and safety on site or their capacity to provide for their kids. Respect is to see, respect is to hear, and respect is to act.

The great mentors of my life in my opinion have held at their core the importance of respect, from Justice Alan Boulton, who took me on straight out of university and showed me the world, to Steve Bracks, for whom I had the privilege of working for several years, to Sharan Burrow, from whom I learnt so much, and to Andrew Grech, managing director of Slater and Gordon, who was my boss for six years. These are people who have achieved great things and done so because they wanted to make a difference to people’s lives, to improve their working standards, to care for the vulnerable, to create a strong economy that shares its fortunes more broadly, to give people just compensation when they are injured, and they did that while treating those around them, regardless of their status or position, with respect and care.

For me it is respect that is at the heart of the Labor Party tradition and values — a tradition that was borne out of working men and women standing up for a fair deal, for recognition of work done, for the right to earn a decent wage, come home safe and have a say in their futures. It is a tradition borne out of people insisting that all sections of our community, regardless of wealth, ethnicity, gender or sexuality should be encouraged to make the most of their lives, rise above their circumstances, have a first-class education, access to the best public health system and the capacity to shine. It comes from people who do not accept the status quo but who question and challenge and fight for a more equitable and just and inclusive society.

I have strived to pursue these goals throughout my working life. I have worked since I was 15 in a range of roles that kids do every day that teach you the importance of a good boss, award wages and active unions.

Throughout my career as an industrial relations and discrimination lawyer, a senior adviser to the Bracks government and a local councillor and mayor, I have sought to stand up for people, to give a voice to those who have been disenfranchised, to push for good public policy that is guided by fairness of outcome, courage of conviction and generosity of spirit.

The commitment to these values has brought me here as the representative for the community from which my forebears and I were raised. This diverse and rapidly changing area has many different needs and aspirations. I will fight to ensure that Brunswick receives the services it needs to flourish, including in education, child care, health and transport, and that the many commitments that were made by Labor are realised in this term.

I will be working closely with the community to continue and expand the extraordinary outcomes this area has already achieved in sustainability and environmental progress.

I will be working closely with community groups to find solutions to the very real pressures we face with respect to the livability of inner urban areas, I will be vigorously pursuing innovative ways to protect and enhance the vibrant artistic culture that has developed in the inner north, and I will be working hard to represent the progressive values of the Brunswick electorate as a member of Parliament and a member of a strong opposition within the ALP and in a future Labor government.

There are many people to whom I owe a great deal of gratitude and are the reason I am standing here today. The recently retired member for Brunswick, Carlo Carli, with passion and skill represented the people of this area for 17 years. I congratulate him on his work and his legacy, and on behalf of the community wish him well in the next phase of his life. I thank him and Siobhan for the invaluable support they gave me throughout the Brunswick campaign over the last 18 months. This campaign was hard fought and it was intense.

It taught me many things; perhaps most importantly it was not to take a single vote for granted or ever forget how and why I am in this place. Hundreds of dedicated ALP branch members and volunteers worked tirelessly to make this campaign a success. I thank them all and acknowledge, in particular, the efforts of Dean Rizzetti, Chris Anderson, Khaled Chakli, David Clement, Bill Kneebone, Danny Michell, Sarah Broadbent, Sean Nilan, Rima Tawil and Sonia Ahmad, many of whom are here today. It is this group of people that now forms the basis of our team in Brunswick, and I am delighted that so many outstanding people are working with me in both volunteer and paid capacities.

To my parliamentary colleagues, and in particular the inner city members, Richard Wynne, Bronwyn Pike and Fiona Richardson: no finer proponents of the Labor tradition are to be found.

To those people I have worked with and learnt so much from on my political journey: I acknowledge and thank in particular Steve and Terry Bracks, John Brumby and Rosemary McKenzie, Rob Hulls and Carolyn Burnside, John Thwaites and Melanie Eagle, Sharon McCrohan, Tim Pallas and Ben Hubbard. I make special mention of Andrew Giles who has been a very significant support to me for in excess of a decade, and I thank him.

To the team at Slater and Gordon: what a law firm! I am very proud of the work that is done there and the calibre of people who are so committed to fighting for justice.

To my colleagues and comrades in the union movement, in particular those at the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, the plumbers union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union, the Australian Nursing Federation, the Australian Services Union, the United Firefighters Union, the Police Association, the Transport Workers Union and the Rail, Tram and Bus Union: your work changes lives and it changes society.

I also acknowledge and thank the many people who I worked with at the City of Yarra — the councillors, staff and residents — and note in particular the exceptional CEO, Andi Diamond. To our extraordinary group of friends, some of whom are here — Adam and Nina, Mary and Christian, Nick and Felicity, and Christine and Matt — I say thanks.

Finally, and most importantly, is my family.

To my father, Graeme: you have been the single biggest influence on my life, and you are an outstanding individual. To my dear sister, Catherine — and to your family, Cameron, Tom and Harry: you are a true lifetime friend. My beautiful mother, Pam Garrett, who we lost so cruelly to ovarian cancer in September 2009, would be so proud today. In so many ways the reason I have chosen this path is because of what she taught me and how she lived her life. She walked the walk. Thanks, Mum. My husband, James, is the perfect person for me to be journeying this life with. Thank you for being here. To my daughters, Molly and Sasha: you are gorgeous, spirited, creative and loving and an endless source of joy.

We in this house are charged with a great responsibility: to speak for our communities and to work towards a prosperous and just Victoria. I commit that I will discharge this responsibility with all the energy and capacity available to me. More broadly, I will be striving to ensure in the work that I do in this place that more people more often can rest their heads at night under safe roofs and say to themselves, ‘The world saw us today, it heard what we had to say and it was grateful for the contribution we made’.

(Hansard – 8 Feb 2011)

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