Speeches

GOVERNOR GENERAL’S SPEECH – ADDRESS-IN-REPLY - THURSDAY, 19 SEPTEMBER 2019

September 19, 2019

HANSARD

FEDERATION CHAMBER

PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA

THURSDAY, 19 SEPTEMBER 2019

GOVERNOR GENERAL’S SPEECH – ADDRESS-IN-REPLY

I know it's four months since the last election but I would like to take this opportunity to iterate today how fortunate I feel to be returned as the Member for Cowan, albeit on a very, very small margin. But I'm here nonetheless—just over the line! I'd like to use the next 20 minutes or so to reflect on three years as a first-term member of parliament and somebody who came from outside of the political system. I was very much an outsider. I remember when I went to my first question time, in my first week in this place. It was the first time I'd ever seen question time. I'd never watched a question time on television before. I probably should have done my homework, because then I would have known that there was no need for paper and pen to take notes!

Over the last three years there are a lot of things that I have learned in my time in this place. I'm not ashamed to admit that I have struggled at various times. I'm sure that many new members, and even some who have been in this place for some time, struggle with the same things that I did. That struggle was really about: how do we connect what we do in this place, which is often referred to as 'the Canberra bubble', to the lives of the people who we represent in our electorates, the people who walk into our offices, the people who come and meet us in shopping centres, the people who stop us in the pasta aisle of the shopping centre to speak to us about very deep and personal issues that are affecting their lives?

When I first entered this place, a very wise member of parliament who happens to sit on the other side of the chamber said to me, 'Anne, there are three roles for you here: there's the parliament and parliamentarian, there's the politician and there's the community person.' I really took that on board and thought, 'Okay, I guess my role is really how to connect those three together, particularly connecting the role of the parliamentarian coming into this place, speaking on bills, standing up in the House, attending committee meetings, meeting with stakeholders, meeting with lobbyists and meeting with interest groups to what happens in my electorate and to those very personal stories that people share with me in my electorate.'

So I've learned that what we do in this place does matter. But I've also learned that, just as importantly, what we don't do in this place matters. Sometimes, it's what we don't do and the priorities that we put aside, the things that we ignore, the things that don't get up or the things that we don't talk about, that matter more than the things that we do talk about.

There are about 51 schools in my electorate, and I've visited every single one of them. I make a point of visiting my schools at least once a year—every single one of them—and arranging meetings with the principals so that I can keep up with the issues for young people and families in my electorate. Cowan, like most outer-suburb electorates, is very diverse. I know that everybody who stands up here talks about the diversity of their electorates. Cowan, as I mentioned in my first speech, is a beautiful and wonderful mix of different demographics, including new and emerging communities, new developments, older suburbs and significant commercial and light industrial areas—but the schools are at the heart of all of those communities and bring them together.

In my last series of meetings with various schools, I was really surprised by a number of things that they were raising with me. In some of the most affluent suburbs in my electorate, the schools there are having to start breakfast clubs. They are having to start breakfast clubs because the impact of a sluggish economy, low wage growth and mortgage stress on people in my electorate is filtering through to the young people and the children.

All the school principals I spoke to mentioned a very disturbing trend. They told me that up to one in four young children—these are children in primary school, year 1 or year 2—have some form of mental health issue. As a consequence, the schools in my electorate are consistently having to spend their budgets on creating learning environments and ensuring that children are primed for a learning environment, as opposed to what they're constantly told to do, which is to teach reading, writing and arithmetic. They do, but, if the kids can't learn because their bellies aren't full, they've got learning difficulties, there are issues going on at home, they've got anxiety or they need speech therapy or occupational therapy, that responsibility often falls on the schools. The schools in my electorate are increasingly spending their budgets on mental health, on speechies and on occupational therapists. This is the impact of the funding cuts to public schools in my electorate—a direct impact of what we do or don't do here and how it affects the lives of people in Cowan.

Another thing that I want to talk about is the impact on the community. As I mentioned, many parts in Cowan are hugely affected by mortgage stress. The housing bubble in WA really burst a number of years ago. While housing prices are starting to recover very slowly, it is still the case that there are people with huge mortgages in parts of my electorate who are trapped in debt because they can't sell their homes and recoup the value of that mortgage, having bought or built their homes when housing prices were very high.

As a result of mortgage stress in my electorate, the wonderful food banks—the Wanneroo food bank and The Pantry in Wangara—in one month alone gave out 5,000 boxes of food. That is absolutely astounding, and, it tells me, anecdotally, that the tax cuts that this parliament passed are not flowing through where they are needed the most. They are not stimulating the economy. We have low wage growth, as I mentioned before. We have a sluggish economy, as I mentioned before. And, in spite of this promised land of tax cuts that would get everybody spending on big screen TVs and lift retail, we know—not just anecdotally but also by the figures—that discretionary spending, by both businesses and consumers, has not picked up with these tax cuts. Yet the government refuses to do its heavy lifting on monetary policy. Instead, we have a Reserve Bank lowering the interest rate to an all-time low of one per cent with an indication that it may be lowered even more. We know that in countries where interest rates have gone to zero or a negative percentage, that hasn't helped their economies either. In fact, it's had adverse impacts on their economies.

I worry about what we don't do here and how that's going to affect the people in my electorate who are suffering mortgage stress—the people in my electorate who walked into my office after they got their tax returns and said, 'Well, Anne, I've just spent it on paying off that electricity bill that I had,' or 'I just put it aside because I don't know if I'm going to be able to afford the next electricity bill.' People did not go out and spend their tax returns on retail. I am very sceptical when the Treasurer tells us that it's coming, that it's going to happen, that we will see that flow-on effect. If it hasn't happened now, I'm very sceptical about whether it's going to happen at all. So what are we doing? What's plan B? What's the government doing? What's plan B if the tax cuts don't stimulate the economy, and all indications so far are that they have not? All indications so far are that people are doing it hard—so hard that the food banks are giving out 5,000 boxes of food. So what is the plan? Where is the plan to lift the economy? Where is the plan to ensure the living standards of people in the electorate of Cowan? Where is the plan for the children? Where is the plan so that the schools don't have to put on breakfast clubs and the food banks don't have to run out of supplies, because there's so much demand?

Cowan also has a significant business community. Just a couple of days ago, I was in here speaking about the wonderful Wanneroo Business Association and the work they do bringing together businesses in the Cowan community. I talk to the business owners in Cowan and they're struggling to keep their doors open. There's the changing nature of work. There's the low retail spending, as I mentioned earlier. People just aren't out there spending money, and businesses are finding it harder and harder and harder. So what are the government doing? They're telling businesses to increase their research and development, even as they cut funding for research and development. They're telling businesses to, in effect, stick to their knitting and not partake in any kind of social discussions—completely ignoring that businesses, corporations and working environments are in themselves social environments.

I'd like to take the time—because I think it's really important that I stand here today—to speak about the government's proposed inquiry into the Family Court. For a government that likes to do a lot of wedging, it seems that they've been wedged by One Nation into agreeing to this inquiry with Pauline Hanson at the helm. I want to put on record how appalling Ms Hanson's comments with regard to women fabricating family violence complaints is. As a survivor of domestic violence, and as somebody who has dealt with the Family Court myself, I find it an out-of-touch and disgraceful comment to accuse women of making up family violence in the Family Court. What's even worse is this government capitulating to Pauline Hanson and calling an inquiry into it. Where is the inquiry on domestic violence that sees one woman a week dying? Where's that inquiry? Why are we silent on that? But they're going to speak up for Pauline Hanson accusing women of lying in the Family Court. They're going to do something for that? I just despair.

I just despair at where the government are heading when they capitulate and allow themselves to get wedged by Pauline Hanson and One Nation into this offensive inquiry into the Family Court based on her belief that women are fabricating family violence complaints. It's absolutely disgraceful. It affects people in Cowan; it affects people in my electorate. I have people coming in on a regular basis talking to me about their experiences with the Family Court. I have seen women who have been made homeless because of family and domestic violence. I am hugely honoured and hugely privileged to be a person who people can come and share their stories with and who people feel comfortable sharing their stories with. Sharing stories is such a powerful way of making connections with your electorate, with the people who you represent and with other human beings in your community.

In the time I have left I do want to raise other electorate issues, because these are the things that are the bread and butter of my electorate office. They're the things that people come in every day with. And one of them is the NBN. We are inundated—and that's no exaggeration—with complaints about the NBN from people who can't get it. One example is a constituent who came into my office asking for help to access the NBN. This constituent has three school-aged children and his ADSL is very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very slow. His street is connected to NBN, including his neighbours on both sides of the street—everyone else. But his particular residence, because of where it is located on the street, is on a different NBN site that runs from the street behind him. The providers are saying that his connection will now not be until January 2020. I imagine his children will have finished school. What is he to do until then? Mindful that his problem has been going on for some time, the NBN have told him that, if he wants to get access before then, he will have to use a wireless service. Fair enough. Unfortunately, he also lives in a wireless dead spot. So here we have a family of three children, who are all of school age and who all require the internet to do their homework and research. We know what families use the internet for. You use the internet to order a pizza. You use the internet to find information. Personally, I use the internet to diagnose myself when I'm not feeling so well—Dr Google gets a good run in my house.

We all have different needs. I do not recommend it; don't do that. We all have different needs from the internet, and it would be incredibly difficult in this day and age to live without it. NBN issues are one of the top three issues that we deal with in the electorate of Cowan, alongside visas and people on Newstart and on different forms of welfare.

I want to tell the beautiful story of Tracy and her daughter, Jane. They don't have much, but they're such a beautiful family. They don't have much at all. Tracy is on a disability pension. A few weeks ago I was doing a 'meet your member' in the car park of one of the local shopping centres. It was Jane's birthday, and the family, despite how much they are struggling, went to the shops and bought a small birthday cake. They came to me and said, 'We really want to celebrate Jane's birthday with you.' So we stood around, sang 'Happy Birthday' and blew out candles, and some very generous passers-by stopped and gave this young girl, who was turning nine, a small gift. It really shows the spirit of my community. Even though this family is really struggling, they wanted to spend their child's birthday with me and they went and bought a cake to celebrate their child's birthday with me. I'm glad to say that we were able to help her put on a real birthday party by connecting her with a wonderful organisation in the Cowan electorate that puts on birthday parties for families that can't afford to. But what does it say about our time? What does it say about the times we live in that we now have charities out there to put on birthdays for families that can't afford to put on birthdays for their kids? How did we come to this stage—that there is a need for these kinds of charities, especially in Cowan?

It's often said of this place that it's a privilege and honour to be here, and I agree. I see it; yes, great, it's a privilege. It's a privilege to be driven around in a Comcar. It's really fantastic—love it, yes, good. But, I tell you what, I feel most privileged and most honoured when I'm in my electorate. I feel most privileged and most honoured when people take the time to come and see me and when people take the time to share their stories with me. Even if they come in angry, yelling and screaming, I feel privileged to have those moments to sit down with them, hear their stories and hear about their lives. I'm really proud to continue to represent the people of Cowan.