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My first speech to the Senate

Thank you, President. I begin this evening by acknowledging that we are meeting on the sovereign and unceded lands of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples. I also wish to acknowledge the Bailai, Gurang, Gooreng Gooreng and Taribelang Bunda peoples, who are the traditional custodians of the land on which I live and work in Central Queensland.

The consequences of invasion and colonisation are still being felt throughout this country, and we must always remember that we are standing on stolen lands, and centre First Nations justice in all of the work that we do in this place. I hope that this is a Parliament that will make significant steps toward addressing the centuries of injustice against First Nations people.

I am humbled and honoured to be the one hundredth senator elected to Queensland and only the third Greens senator to represent our state.

I have been an activist for most of my life. My first act of civil disobedience took place in Year 9 at Tully SHS. For six weeks I stood at the back of our classroom, refusing to participate in Mothercraft lessons unless the boys were required to do it too! In the years that followed, Mothercraft became Parentcraft, and I like to think my small act of protest played a part in that.

I was born in Brisbane, but I’ve lived and worked right across our state. I spent my school years living in Far North Queensland in the small town of Cardwell. Mum’s side of the family hailed from the north. My grandmother was born in Innisfail and my grandfather was one of the sons in Lawson & Sons, which owned sawmills in Tully, Tolga and Mareeba. I loved growing up in Cardwell. Weekends and school holidays were spent on the beach building cubby houses in the trees overlooking Hinchinbrook Island, hanging out down at the jetty, or riding our bikes along the many trails in the local forest. Later on I became a competitive swimmer and so I spent most of my time outside of school in the local pool or travelling to carnivals across North Queensland. 

I met my husband, Darin, at university. Like me he was studying Human Movement, having previously qualified as a fitter on the railways in New Zealand. After going out for about three weeks he proposed, and we got married over the summer break. We put ourselves through university by working together in a cocktail bar on the Gold Coast and teaching learn-to-swim at Jindalee. In our second year of university, despite student protests, the government introduced the Higher Education Contribution Scheme. Our first daughter, Erin, was born in our final year.

I began my teaching career at Kenmore SHS. Erin was ten months old and I was pregnant with our second child. I took 10 weeks off in the middle of my probationary year, returning to work when Tara was only 6 weeks old. I will always be grateful for the help and support my Mum gave us in our first year of teaching. Absent universal free childcare, it’s unlikely we could have afforded for me to go back to work without my Mum’s help. 1993 was also the year I attended my first teachers’ strike, joining 10,000 public school teachers across the state to push back against the Goss government’s proposed cuts to state education funding.

At the end of our first year of teaching, Darin and I were given a required transfer to Gladstone. It wasn’t easy to begin with. We moved house three times in the first 6 months and we had difficulty finding appropriate childcare, but eventually we settled in and we made it work. Our time in Gladstone coincided with the most extensive campaign in the history of the Queensland Teachers’ Union, to defeat the introduction of a new school-based management model for Queensland education entitled “Leading Schools”.

After six years in Gladstone, Darin and I accepted a transfer to Bamaga. Living and working on country with the communities of Cape York and the Torres Strait brought us face to face with the effects of colonisation and systemic racism on First Nations peoples; and I came to fully appreciate the profound impacts that government policy and decision-making can have on people’s lives. 

It was after living on Cape York that I decided to study law. I wanted to better understand how the law and government worked so I could be more effective in helping to bring about systemic change. At that time, we were living and working in Bundaberg. I took leave from my job at Bundaberg SHS and worked as a relief teacher during the day and went to university at night. 

In 2007 I started working at a law firm in Brisbane. I loved studying law but what I learnt from practising law was that I really loved teaching and so, in 2012, I returned to the classroom.

Since returning to teaching, I’ve become increasingly distressed by the growing inequalities in our education system. While public school teachers are forever being asked to do more with less, private schools receive ever-increasing funding. Over the past ten years, government funding for private schools in Australia has increased at nearly five times the rate of public school funding. It’s projected that, until the end of the decade, private schools will be funded over 100% of their Schooling Resource Standard, whilst public schools won’t even be funded to 91%. As education economist Adam Rorris has pointed out, the School Resource Standard is not an aspirational standard of school funding .. [it] is the minimum amount of funding required to have students reach the minimum achievement benchmarks. 

When governments fail to reach this funding level, they fail the students of this country. Students like Lachlan, Judy, Hannah, Noreen, Maiella, Brittany, Haylee and Jake who made teaching my last Legal Studies class an absolute joy and who will be graduating from Gladstone High this year. Every Australian student deserves a world class education, and public money should be for public schools.

Over the past decade, I’ve also witnessed the growing inequalities in our communities. As teachers, we meet everyone. We meet the student who comes to school hungry because their parents’ JobSeeker payment isn’t enough to live on. We meet the family at risk of homelessness because the landlord’s put the rent up and they can no longer afford to live there, or there simply aren’t enough homes to rent. We meet kids who can’t get their homework done in the evenings because their parents literally can’t afford to keep the lights on. We meet the mother who is desperately trying to protect herself and her children from a violent partner. And we meet the child who is at risk of suicide but is unable to access appropriate mental health services.

In the months before Senator Larissa Waters delivered her first speech, back in 2011, 75% of our home state of Queensland was impacted by flooding. Thirty-three people lost their lives and 5,900 people were evacuated from 3,600 homes. 

Now, 11 years later, I deliver my first speech only months removed from yet another climate catastrophe. Earlier this year a year’s worth of rain fell in a week across 23 Queensland local government areas. In three days alone, Brisbane received 80 per cent of its annual rainfall. 13 people died and thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed. Driving into the suburb of Goodna to help out after the water had receded is something I’ll never forget. It looked like a war zone, with homes damaged up to their roofs and families’ ruined possessions piled high in the street. 

Climate change is causing more frequent and more severe natural disasters.  The cost to the economy of natural disasters will reach $39 billion per year by 2050, and Queensland will bear the brunt, accounting for nearly 40% of the growing national cost. This is a cost that should be borne by the coal and gas corporations that have caused the climate crisis, not by those suffering its effects.

Our window to avoid catastrophe is closing. Our future depends on urgent and decisive action to respond to the climate crisis. That means no new coal and gas.

There are some in this place who would have you believe that the people of regional Queensland don’t want to see meaningful action on climate change. Well, that’s nonsense. 

Before the election, the Australian Conservation Foundation conducted Australia’s biggest climate poll. It found that nearly two thirds of the people in the electorate of Flynn, which encompasses my home town of Gladstone, believe that climate action will produce economic benefits. The results were similar in the seats of Capricornia, Dawson and Maranoa. 

Workers in regional Queensland know that the world is moving away from fossil fuels and that a transition to renewable energy is inevitable. What they want to know is what comes next and how they will be supported through the transition.

As a unionist, I’ve spent almost 30 years advocating for the rights of workers. I am committed to ensuring that, as we make the transition to a renewable energy economy, no worker is left behind, and our regional communities can benefit from the massive opportunities that come with investment in renewable energy generation and manufacturing. As the only Senator based in Gladstone, I will be working closely with my community, as well as others around the country, to ensure that there is a plan for high quality infrastructure, high quality services and high quality jobs as we transition to a net-zero emissions economy.

When Larissa delivered her first speech, in August 2011, I was sitting up there in the visitors’ gallery. I appreciated the enormous significance of Queensland having its first ever elected Greens representative and I wanted to bear witness to such an important moment in the history of our party. I couldn’t have imagined back then that 11 years later I would be making my own first speech in this place. That I am doing so today is testament to the hard work of so many party members and supporters. 

I want to thank our 35 lower house and senate ticket candidates, most of whom campaigned to promote the Greens’ vision and lift our senate vote with no expectation of winning themselves.

To Danielle Mutton; Bernard Lakey; Ian Mazlin; Stephen Bates; Mick Jones; Paula Creen; Vinnie Batten; Sally Spain; Sue Etheridge; Renay Wells; Paul Bambrick; Jordan Hall; Max Chandler-Mather; Mickey Berry; Scott Humphreys; Andrew McLean; Jennifer Cox; Phillip Musumeci; Melissa Stevens; Earl Snijders; Ellisa Parker; Scott Turner; April Broadbent; Claire Garton; Asha Worsteling; Will Simon; Neil Cotter; Elizabeth Watson-Brown; Craig Armstrong; Nicole Thompson; Ben Pennings; Anna Sri; Alyce Nelligen; Navdeep Singh; and Rebecca Hayley... this is your victory.

To Larissa, this senate seat was only winnable because of the amazing work you have done for over a decade. You and I are the pointy end of 30 years of political history in Queensland, of which you have played such an important part. Thank you for everything you have done over the years. I’ll never forget how proud I was to be in the senate chamber when you made your first speech and I am so pleased and proud that I now get to do this with you.

To Asia, Katinka, Emily, Kirsten, Guy, Sean, Emerald, Lyle, Imogen, Mark, Nikita, Marty, Josie, Izzy, Simon, Sam, Elle-Leigh, David, Marianna and Will - thank you for being the best senate campaign support team I could have asked for. 

To Jane, Erin and Tammy and all our Gladstone volunteers, thank you for making this the biggest Greens campaign we’ve ever had in Gladstone. 

To my dear friend Kitty Carra, thank you for keeping the whole show on the road and giving me either a confidence boost or a stern talking to when I needed it.

Over the past 12 years I’ve benefited from the mentorship, counsel and friendship of so many people in our party. The list is too long to include here, but you know who you are. Please know that I wouldn’t be here without you.

To my family. Dad, thank you for the countless times you drove me to the airport at 4:30am on a Monday morning so I could be home in time for school after a weekend of campaigning. I think Mum would be impressed with our efforts.

To Erin and Tara, I am incredibly proud of the strong women you have become and I hope you’re proud of me too.

To Billy and Esther, you are the lights of my life - I’m sorry Ma Ma won’t be able to visit you quite as often as I'd like to for the next little while.

And to Darin - thank you for riding the roller coaster with me over the past 32 years. I love you.

This election, the Greens vote grew nationwide and Australian voters returned more Greens parliamentarians than ever before. Across Queensland there was a surge in support for the Greens, which saw us win seats from both Liberal and Labor.

Australians are choosing a future in which we place people before profit. They want to see Medicare extended, so that it doesn’t stop at your teeth or your brain. They want to see safe, secure housing treated as a human right rather than a scheme for extracting profit from desperate people. And they want to see a climate that is safe to live in - which means no more coal and gas, and a rapid transition to cheap, reliable, and publicly owned renewable energy.

We have an enormous responsibility as parliamentarians to represent the people who put us here.

Representation is a form of service. We serve the people of our electorates. We are servants.

We are not the Australian people’s masters, they are ours.

The major parties have forgotten this. If the major parties served the people, we’d be talking about how to get to 75% emissions reduction by 2030, not whether we should.

If the major parties served the people, we’d be increasing taxes on mega corporations and the super rich, and ensuring that no Australian should have to choose between eating or buying clothes; between paying the rent or filling up their car to get to work; between violence and homelessness.

The federal election was a wake up call to every single parliamentarian and corporate lobbyist strutting the halls of this building. People are scared and people are angry. They have had enough of a status quo that delivers record corporate profits while everyone else suffers, and they are willing and able to tear it down.

I represent Queensland. I represent the people of a state that is suffering the effects of catastrophic global heating more than most. A state where more than 50,000 people languish on the social housing waiting list, some for more than a decade. A state where one in eight people live in poverty.

I am a servant of the people of Queensland, and I will be judged by the people of Queensland if I fail to serve them and fight for them with the dedication and seriousness they deserve.  

I’m up for the challenge. Let’s get to work.

Thank you.

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