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First Speech - Barbara Pocock

Speeches in Parliament
Barbara Pocock 3 Aug 2022

Wednesday 3 August 2022, 5:00pm

Hello everybody. It's wonderful to be here. I pay my respects to the Ngunawal and Ngambri people and their elders past and present, on whose land we meet. I pay my respects to all First Nations people in this place, and especially my fellow senators Dorinda and Lidia. I acknowledge that I and my forebears—immigrants, farmers, from Scotland and England—arrived in this country 184 years ago and occupied land which First Nations people had lived on for tens of thousands of years.

I grew up in the beautiful sandy paddocks, clay flats and scrub of Ngarkat country, 200 kilometres directly east of Adelaide, on a Mallee sheep and grain farm near Lameroo. I recognise the members of my family who shared childhoods on that farm, some of them here today and some of them watching at home. They're still farming that beautiful country. I owe a great debt to that community and especially to my own parents, Marie and Jim, whose ashes are laid in that sandy soil in Jane and Gary's regenerated scrub. I now live on the beautiful land of the Red Kangaroo Dreaming of the Adelaide Plains, long occupied by the Kaurna people. I pay my respects to the traditional custodians of all these lands. They never ceded sovereignty.

I was a lucky country kid who grew up in open paddocks. As a child I knew a lot more sheep and dogs than I did people. I had a great public primary education at Lameroo Area School, but that education was of its time. It did not include study of the history of my own place. At school and uni I studied the French, American, Russian, Chinese and industrial revolutions. I studied World War I, World War II, the Great Depression, the history of India, the unification of Italy, American slavery and, of course, the history of England. When my sister Jane and I went to name the big trees on our farm—and there weren't many; this was the Mallee—we chose names like 'the Queen Tree' and 'the King Tree'. We were raised on British history but we have a deep connection to country which continues to this day for all of us, a connection born of only a century of occupation and three generations. I am in awe of the kind of connection to country that exists for First Nations people from their custodianship over thousands of years and hundreds of generations. I did not know until very recently that, when we were both 11, my Greens Senate running mate, Uncle Major 'Moogy' Sumner, lived just 120 kilometres away and, while I was enjoying all the freedoms of farm life, his family were required to have a pass to travel by bus from Raukkan at the Coorong to Adelaide, where their movements were tightly constrained as they collected clothes and blankets. I acknowledge and thank Uncle Moogy and his Ngarrindjeri and Kaurna community—indeed, all South Australia's First Nations communities—for their great generosity in telling us of this painful and unequal history. It is never too late to understand the truth of our past.

This legacy is, of course, not behind us as we engage in an important new conversation about truth, treaty and voice. In my state, as I speak, First Nations people are in the Federal Court contesting a decision by the previous government, now being implemented by Labor, to build a nuclear waste dump on the land of the Barngarla people, near Kimba, without their consent—indeed, without the consent of most South Australians; they have yet to be consulted—a decision that compounds the awful history and intergenerational trauma of British nuclear testing at Maralinga, on country then actually occupied by First Nations people. To a person, the Barngarla people oppose this dump, and to a person their voices have not been heard.

We talk about voice, but we must listen to First Nations voices now and do no fresh harm by ignoring their wishes and their connection to country. We are not honestly facing the truth of our past if we fail to act respectfully now. We're a better country for telling the truth of our history and hearing the invitation at the heart of the Uluru statement, which I'm proud to say my party was early to support and which so many South Australians tell me so often that they passionately support: telling the truth; creating treaties; ensuring a First Nations Voice to our parliament's rooted in that truth.

On that Mallee farm of my childhood, at Lameroo, my parents' politics were a long way from mine. Marie and Jim probably wouldn't have voted for me. But, in our house, it was your responsibility to pay attention—to weigh the science as you planted a crop or bred a merino. My parents often said that people get the government they deserve. So pay attention.

When I was small—less than 10—I asked mum why everyone in South Australia didn't put all their money in the middle and share it out so that everyone had enough. That conversation sticks in my mind, I suspect, because my family were not natural socialists. I wanted to know what made some people rich and others poor. While it was said that hard work was the road to independence, I knew some poor people who were not bad and not lazy; they sat next to me at school and on the school bus.

Later, after leaving school and working for a couple of years on farms and in shearing sheds and going to secretarial school to learn typing and shorthand, I went to uni, still pursuing that question: what explains inequality? I enrolled in economics. I love the clarity and elegance of economic analysis. However, my economics training conveniently ignored questions of inequality, focusing instead on the more superficial question of distribution, where the market is the favoured tool of choice. This form of economics ignores the problems of market failure—things like the concentration of corporate power, the capture of political institutions, the reality of imperfect information and competition, the fact that many aspects of a good life are not measured in the dollar value of GDP, and the existence of all kinds of discrimination, not to mention the economy's impact on the environment and climate, seen as mere externalities to the main game: the economy.

We're now paying a big price for treating our environment and our climate as mere fuel for the economy. Such economics focuses on the world of production, beneath which lies a great iceberg of social reproduction—that is, the world of care. One of the great lies at the heart of economics is the pretence that economic production is not wholly dependent upon social reproduction. If there are no kids, and no carers, there's no economy. It's that simple. Too many of our mostly male leaders, including in this place, are, in Keynes's words, 'the slaves of some defunct economist' and have shaped economic policy upon that great lie: that our economy is not built on care, most of it done by women. How else can we explain the great inequities like the 22 per cent pay gap, the failure to meet the rise in women's workforce participation with free child care, or the price of job insecurity that working carers pay to get the flexibility they need?

So much public decision-making has occurred without the vital contribution of women and carers and without careful consideration of the ecological impact. We are overdue for a thorough renovation of the limitations of dominant, defunct economic theory and the worship of markets. Markets make good servants but bad masters. They deny care. The logic of the market—cost minimisation and profit maximisation—creates childcare deserts. It makes gender and racial discrimination profitable. It drives the greedy exploitation of new reserves of coal and gas, even as the science tells us that it will make our world unsafe.

My road through economics led me to a focus on fairness at work. What is fair pay? Why is a shearer paid so much less than my economics professor, Geoff Harcourt, who, as he pointed out, loved his job, didn't sweat, had a good back, had predictable pay and was safe at work? Why is a car park attendant paid more than a childcare worker? These questions loomed when I left the farm and all its security behind and arrived with my suitcase to work at the Reserve Bank in the early 1980s—and a shout-out to my old friends in the bank who made contact with me this week.

I met workers on much lower pay than mine who were doing much harder jobs. Sadly, the exploitation of women was everywhere. When I worked in the bank, I had a rubber stamp made that said, 'This exploits women'. I used it on pictures of 'bikini-clad women draped over photocopying machine' advertisements in the Australian Financial Review, which circulated around the international department in the early morning. This exploitation, now in different forms, is far from over, even in this building. It is a fact that is deeply shocking to people like me who wrote our first sexual harassment policies—in my case—40 years ago. When will it stop? It must.

I've spent much of my life studying how work affects men, women and children. I have lived the reality myself, as a working mother with two kids. Work can unwind inequality and give independence or it can reinforce and widen it. I have interviewed and surveyed thousands of Australians, and I carry some of those interviews in my heart: a father in the building industry interviewed on his phone in his shed about his long hours of work that had already cost him his marriage and now threatened his health; the kids of taxi drivers, mortgage brokers and fishermen—and, dare I say, also politicians—who love their dads but have given up on being close to them because they're away such a lot and who planned, they said, to raise their kids differently; the childcare workers puzzled and angry about what was asked of them even as they love their jobs; those in every occupation who have fought off or experienced assault, put-downs, unequal pay, sackings or discrimination because, well, they are women; those casuals and gig workers—too many of them now—who, without a parent, a partner or a pension as back-up, cannot make ends meet; a third of workers, now insecure, whose casual loading just gets them to a liveable income if they're lucky but does not stretch to a holiday or sick leave; the women who have learned to work every machine on their farm from spray seeder to computer, but whose husbands struggle to find, let alone use, the vacuum cleaner or the toilet brush; and the thousands of Australians who put together jobs with all kinds of caring work, ingeniously contorting themselves around outdated norms, in a country that once prided itself on being a working man's paradise—the first country to win an eight-hour day for building workers, through the collective efforts of unions, but one that didn't give workers a good lie-down when they had had a baby until 2011, when our very meagre—and it remains meagre in international comparison—paid parental leave scheme was born.

In the past 30 years, so many women have joined men in paid work. They've gained the independence of a pay packet. However, without the redistribution of housework and unpaid care, getting a job has too often meant the right to exhaustion, an epidemic of guilt and relentless work-life collision, so we need to fix the work and care regimes that we labour under in Australia. Those in ongoing work deserve secure work. They deserve to receive the legal wages and conditions our labour law promises them, without wage or time theft. They should be able to join, and be active in, a union without risking the sack. In smaller workplaces where enterprise bargaining is now impossible, they should be able to bargain on an industry basis so their wages and conditions stay up to date. And, just as all workers, including casuals, need access to paid domestic violence leave, all workers need access to paid sick leave.

Working carers need free, accessible, quality childcare. It is as essential to working life as the road that gets us to work. We need to repair our work and care system so that it's fit for purpose in the 21st century. That's why today we have established a Senate select committee for a national inquiry into our work and care system, which I will chair, to create an economy that is care inclusive and a system that narrows inequality rather than widens it.

So I've spent my life fighting for fairness at work and against inequality, and my hunger for that still burns very bright, but that is not the main reason that I'm here. I'm here because I made the mistake of reading the 2018 IPCC report and listening to the scientists studying climate change just as I was asked to think about running for parliament—bad combo. This is the greatest challenge of our time. My generation have had the great privilege of living on a safe planet. We now see every day that that is changing, and more quickly than predicted. Alongside a safe planet, I had free university education; affordable housing; and a decent, secure job, as you were just talking about, Jordan. A lot of my generation didn't, lots of women didn't, but I was one of the many lucky ones who had those four things. Very few of the young people in my life can now count on those four things. My generation had every advantage. Thirty years of continuous economic growth means our kids deserve the same. So I'm here so that I can look future generations in the eye and say I did everything I could.

We know the solutions on climate change, and we have the tools we need to implement them. Our Pacific neighbours are clear. The UN is clear. The science is clear. We must stop opening new coal and gas fields. We must act on climate change. We must put the future of our kids before the interests of a small group of fossil fuel profiteers, mostly foreign owned, paying too little tax, who are determined to wring their last fortunes out of its extraction while putting our future at risk. And we must restore confidence in our democracy by excluding fossil fuel money from politics and rooting out corruption. South Australians are clear in their instructions on this: get it done.

We are a wealthy country, we can do many things, and politics is about choice—choice between tax cuts for the rich and a visit to the dentist or free child care. The stage 3 tax cuts will cost $240 billion in their first 10 years and give $9,000 a year to those earning over $200,000, and nothing to those on minimum wage. They flow mostly to men and to older people. These cuts were wrong when they were crafted a few years ago, and I think Labor knew it. They are completely wrong now. It is wrong to implement them and at the same time tell people living on $46 a day that we can't help them put food in their fridge.

We've seen a massive shift to profits in this country over the past decade, while real wages have fallen. The election result and growth in the Greens vote are proof that you can go to an election and talk about taxing billionaires and the profits of big corporations, to fund a fairer world, and people will vote for it in their millions. It is wrong to talk the economics of inevitable austerity while suppressing wages, implementing tax cuts and refusing to tax the superprofits of industries like gas. We need a different conversation about economic justice and inequality. These are choices we can make, and I've been sent here by the voters of South Australia to stand for them.

I'm deeply honoured to be here representing the people of our state and as a Green. I love our state. It's a place of great beauty and of lively, robust, innovative democracy. I was sworn at only twice over the six months of our recent three elections! It shocks me! People in deep disagreement with me, on the hustings, were frank and funny but rarely mean. Many people out there know that the behaviours they see in this place—all that theatrical shouting and disrespect—are not acceptable in their jobs, in their homes, in their schools. I am shocked by the bullying—there is no other word for it—in question time in this place. To those of you at home: it is much worse in the flesh than on the telly. It has to stop. We need parliaments that are as good as our people. I will say, however, that I will stand up for my state. Being respectful does not mean being a pushover, and I'm glad to say I've had very good training in the shearing sheds and central banks of this country!

South Australians are practical people. They were clear in their instructions to me in giving me and the Greens their vote: 'Go there and make a difference. Carbon is putting our world at risk; act on that. Do the things that science tells us are essential. The price of inequality is clear; it breeds bad politics and vulnerability. Fight for a fairer world.'

Finally, I have some people to thank: so many Greens voters, volunteers, members, officeholders, candidates and staff. I salute you for your time, your sweat and for the great fun that we had: my Green's political running mate, Uncle Moogy Sumner, for your powerful politics and your hard work; Emma Pringle and the fabulous campaign team who smashed two elections—Emily, Lucy, Isaac, Nicola, Bonnie, Alicia and Bailey; my fellow candidates, Melanie, Jeremy, Katie, Emma, David, John, Patrick, Rosa, Beck, Tim, Greg and Rob Sims; thousands of volunteers, and I'll just mention Andrew, Di, Kay, Natalie, Mary and so many others—all our young Greens—I can't name you all, but I thank you so much. This is your victory.

To my South Australian political sister, Sarah Hanson-Young, and my wonderful supportive expanded party team, thank you. To my partner, Ian Campbell, with me for this interesting part of our lives, while living your own—thanks, Ian. I thank my kids, no longer kids, Jake and Indi, for all your advice and laughs. Don't worry, Jordie, it's not much further to go! So many unexpected turns in our lives for all of us, but we're writing them together. And to their families, India, Zan and Jordie. Thanks for arriving in your spectacular way, mid-campaign, Jordie and for making us smile, no matter what.

To John Wishart, past partner, now co-parent and grandparent, a hard working Greens leader and a long-term campaigner for justice—thank you, John. To my LGBTQI friends and family: I love you and I thank you for your courageous example of being fully the people you really are—strong, loved—especially to our trans mob and especially in the face of the recent campaign by elements of the Morrison government that attempted to whip up hatred and fear in the election for political gain. I'm so happy that that transphobic attack fell flat because Australians are better than that. And we have so much further to go. To the powerful women in my life: my blood sisters, Jane and Kay; Sue Outram; my bad mothers group—still bad; the sewers; my GG pals; and so many other dear friends and supporters. To my brother, Michael, and to Lisa and my extended family: fabulous nieces, nephews and grandies, in all our political diversity. It's not easy to be related to a public figure you don't always agree with but thanks for being in my family, where blood and love are so much thicker than politics.

To my beloved and ever-reliable 'friends-of-Barbara' group who keep me on track and would never miss a speech or a party, thank you. There are union friends over many decades; my sisters in the women's movement; all the extraordinary academics who give places like this the research and graduates we need—people like John Buchanan and Elizabeth Hill—and experts in places like the Australia Institute who build the social science we need for a better world. Thank you all, and especially Anna Chang, Evelyn Bennett, John McKinnon and my dear friends Richard, Dennis and Ben Oquist.

As Ian and I say quite often, life is short, let's have fun and lets change the world along the way. This is what I'm here to help do. South Australians voted in historic numbers for a politics of hope. People who grow up in the Mallee are extreme optimists. Those watching this will know that is true. They have to be, to be ready for drought, hard work, extreme heat and the many assaults that can arrive in that country that is beautiful, but demanding. I'm a proud child of the Mallee in these ways, and I want to offer hope to all the people who put me here to fight for our planet and for economic justice. We can do the things we need to do and, like a sturdy mallee bush, I'm here to thrive and fight to reward the hope that's been placed in me. Thank you.

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