First Speech - Elizabeth Watson-Brown
Acknowledgement of Country
Thank you, speaker. I am Elizabeth Watson-Brown, proud Greens MP for Ryan. I come from Meanjin, Brisbane, the lands of the Jagera and Turrbal people, and acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri owners of this land.
I acknowledge the deep wounds to Australia’s first people, their lands and their culture.
I acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded.
I acknowledge the ancient Truth of the ancestors, and the shameful Truth of our history with Elders past. I sincerely undertake to seek Treaty with Elders present and vow to listen respectfully to the Voice of emerging Elders.
The heart of Ryan
My electorate of Ryan encompasses Brisbane’s west side. It extends from the inner suburbs that line Maiwar (the snaking Brisbane River) including Toowong (the bird call), Taringa (place of stones), and Indooroopilly (place of leeches). Ryan fans out to the southwest to the Pullen Pullen fighting grounds on the Moggill (water-dragon) peninsular. To the north-west Ryan extends past Enoggera (the corroboree) along the ancient walking tracks leading towards the Bora Grounds of Samford. At its heart is Mt Coot-tha, the Honey Mountain.
Today the electorate is a cross-section of contemporary Australia, from inner urban apartment living, through suburbs and outer acreages to farmland and major eucalypt forests. It has a mixed economy anchored by high level research at UQ, CSIRO and the Wesley Hospital, bustling commerce at Indooroopilly and Toowong, and the presence of the Enoggera Army Base.
Ryan is diverse. Ryan has areas of struggle, people the economy has left behind. Doorknocking, I met people, even with good secure jobs, who were facing eviction and homelessness because of the Government’s failure to seriously tackle skyrocketing house prices and rents.
As an ecology, Ryan provides a large, but increasingly precarious, habitat for native fauna. It is also becoming an increasingly vulnerable habitat for humans exposed to creek and riparian flooding, large areas of high bushfire hazard, and the rising risks of urban heat island impacts.
On a good day, however, the view from the lookout on Mt Coot-tha is spectacularly beautiful, what I see is a map of my life…holding key moments of my personal history and the places and people I love.
Deep desire for a better future
Growing up my family was not overtly political, but was centred on love of life, friends, each other. I am so sad that my Mum and Dad have not lived to share this day. It would have been another good excuse for a family party… Testament to Mum and Dad is the abiding closeness of we siblings… and my two loving sisters, Margie and Jane and other family members are here today, as they always are for me.
Also here as always is my husband of 44 years - patient, clever, kind, funny, supportive Peter, (Sorry Pete for upending the retirement plans.) We share a passion for architecture and for our two sons, Bill and Alex..both wonderful men too, with partners and families we love. Blessed!
As parents in this room know, children bring an extra dimension that grounds and enriches life…and a deep desire for a better future.
It was the arrival of my beautiful and innocent grandchildren that spurred me to more direct political action. No longer content to yell at the news, because ENOUGH of the cruelty, ENOUGH of the venality, right?
I joined the Greens and took to the streets of Ryan. I knocked on many thousands of doors, talking with and listening to my community about how best to shape our shared future. I was supported, uplifted, inspired by a tremendous tireless army of Greens volunteers and organisers, and mentored by my friend, Greens State Member for Maiwar, Michael Berkman, and the remarkable Greens team.
To that remarkable team… some of whom are here today, and others watching together from Ryan. Thank you!
My presence here is not the result of any one person, or even just one election campaign. It is the result of years, decades, of hard yakka from volunteers donating countless hours of work building their community, talking to their neighbours about Greens ideas, working to make change, showing how politics can be done differently.
My own politics was forged during my studies at the University of Queensland (in Ryan) in the 1970s. This was an exciting time of political change and cultural aspiration. Gough Whitlam’s liberation of access to education and an expansive vision for Australia was contrasted by Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s authoritarian state that set the police against we peaceful protesters for political, racial, and environmental justice.
We arrived at UQ in the month of the 1974 floods. Much of the campus had been under water. Our first project as fledgling architects was to go and document the flood damage to houses. Of course what we saw was huge damage to people, to lives. Heartbreaking. Salutary. Since then I have experienced two more ‘unprecedented’ major Brisbane River floods in Ryan.
Our architectural education was at an exciting time. The blandly International Style was giving way to community architecture, social housing, and heritage conservation. As a student and a graduate, I was fortunate to work alongside talented architectural designers, but very few women. In 1981, I was one of the few women to establish her own architectural practice. Without any models or obvious mentors, I first had to design how to do it …my way.
I was shocked when my bank refused to let me open a business account without my husband’s signature. My male colleagues remember the 1980s as a time of corporate indulgence and long, tax deductible business lunches… while I was shocked to find I could not deduct the child-caring costs that enabled my practice to exist. And I remain appalled that the cost and access to childcare remains a major impediment to equity of opportunity.
With determination and the support of my incredible staff and family, I’ve had a long and successful career in architecture. My practice, Elizabeth Watson-Brown Architects, grew over 21 years from one to twelve staff, before merging with a national architecture practice where I took on the role of design director.
Throughout this whole time, whether in my own projects or on government advisory panels, my design and life values have always been to prioritise the needs of people and their community, and the specifics of the environment and the place. As I’ve always said to my students and staff…what we are doing is important…we are building the infrastructure of the lives we share…we’d better do it well, responsively and responsibly.
I have worked across all scales from the small to the urban, but one early project of which I’m particularly proud, was designing the first purpose-built refuge in Queensland for women and children escaping domestic violence. At its heart, of course, was a nurturing sub-tropical garden.
I say all this to try to explain where I’m coming from. I haven’t followed a traditional path to politics; I didn’t study politics, I haven’t been a staffer for an MP, and I’ve come to it later in life than most. But it’s these values ¬– prioritising the needs of the community and the sustainability and amenity of life, of our climate and environment – that I bring to represent my Ryan community in this chamber.
Shared values & common sense
These values are shared by the people on Brisbane’s West Side. Over the last few years I have met so many good Ryanites…I have personally knocked on at least 10,000 doors, the volunteers far more, spent countless time at markets, at schools, with community groups, I truly love it and intend to continue!
And the key message that keeps coming from these conversations? The people of Ryan want their politicians to put the needs of the community, and the sustainability of our environment ahead of corporate interests and petty politicking.
Despite what has often been said about the Greens in the media and in this chamber, our ideas are really just common sense for most people.
A planned phase-out of coal and gas in favour of renewables and green manufacturing? That’s common sense for the people I’ve spoken to across Ryan.
Bringing dental into Medicare so no one has to skip the dentist because of cost? That’s common sense for the people I’ve spoken to across Ryan.
Making billionaires pay their fair share so we can afford the things to make sure everyone has the basics they need to live a good life? Again, common sense for the majority in Ryan.
Building enough public and affordable housing so everyone has a place to call home?
Neighbourhoods that are walkable, cyclable, and not being trampled by the interests of big developers or airport corporations?
Public transport that is cheap or even free, and that is fully accessible and genuinely integrated?
These are all common-sense values shared by the majority of people in Ryan, and I would suggest across the country.
If everyone genuinely listened to their communities, perhaps they’d realise this too.
But unfortunately, Instead of listening to everyday people, the major parties in this country over recent decades have increasingly listened to the interests of big corporations.
Why? Millions of dollars in donations flowing from big corporations to both the major political parties?
The revolving door between major political parties, big corporations, lobby groups, and government boards?
Or the now decades-long, bipartisan addiction to neoliberal economic thinking – which holds, despite all evidence to the contrary, that the private market is the best way to deliver everything, including essential services and infrastructure?
What I heard from the people of Ryan is that they were sick of that, they felt ignored and abandoned and they clearly wanted change. And I think the new complexion of this House reflects that.
Spokesperson for Transport, Cities & Infrastructure
And, as the Greens spokesperson for transport, cities and infrastructure in this parliament, I wanted to end by returning to the question of design and development.
Because in my career I’ve seen first-hand the problems caused by the belief that public infrastructure should be developed and owned by private corporations…this has a profoundly negative effect on our ability to deliver for everyday people and communities.
My experience of public-private partnerships or PPPs in the lingo, is that the private P is what undermines the benefit to the public. As do planning regulations favouring private developers profits.
So I’m here to say that public infrastructure should be in public hands, and that we need a public-led approach to the way we develop our cities.
This is particularly urgent in the context of the climate crisis, and the inequality crisis.
Australia’s cities house 85% of our population and generate the majority of our carbon pollution. Without exception they were established at places of great natural resources and beauty. Our reliance on private cars is rapidly obliterating these natural assets with unsustainable outward sprawl and inward traffic congestion and concrete chaos.
Our conditions should allow us all to harness the power of the sun and breezes to heat, cool, electrify and vegetate our cities; yet unthinking planning to this day treats energy as a throw-away resource.
On a social level, the diverse humanity of our cities is lost when only the rich can afford a roof over their heads, and when those who have been dealt hardships in life are moved on, out of sight.
The climate crisis, caused by the greed of coal, oil and gas industries, now continually tosses up unheard-of temperatures, floods, fires, droughts and heatwaves. Our buildings, our cites, should protect us from these attacks, but they only make them worse. Urban hardening multiplies flash-flooding effects, while devegetation accelerates urban heat island effects that amplify deadly heat-waves.
We must design our settlements to accommodate and nurture everyone, to resist natural hazards, and to allow us to flee safely when the catastrophe strikes.
In our last ‘unprecedented’ devastating flood, whole suburbs in Ryan were trapped. People with nowhere to go, and no help when they needed it most. We need to do better. Fast.
These are exceptional times, and we Greens are committed to ensuring that this House faces up to these unprecedented challenges and has the collective will to enact Climate Action Now – and that includes climate-proofing our cities and infrastructure. We must confront these serious issues together in this the 47th Parliament and not delay action.
Australia’s leading scientists, environmentalists, planners, designers and the community are keen to help. We need to invite them to the table.
Designing our future together
When asked if I’m ready for the rough and tumble of this House, I reply that I have worked more than forty years in a male-dominated profession where heated disputes over money, timing and outcome are not uncommon. I’ve spent a LOT of time on building sites.
My role in practice, however, has been one of collaboration not conflict, helping lead design teams, clients and builders towards creative solutions that benefit and endure.
My campaign tee-shirt featured the motto, ‘Designing our future together’ – and I’m determined to carry the spirit of collaboration into this chamber….to reflect and represent the interests, the needs, and the smarts of the people of Ryan.
Thank you Ryan, my home…for the faith and hope you have placed in me. I will work hard to honour it.
For a future for all of us.