June 15, 2012  |  Inaugural Speech

Inaugural Speech

It is a great honour and privilege to stand here today representing the electorate of Niddrie and the people of Melbourne’s north-west. As  this is  my first  speech as  a parliamentarian  I  wish to  acknowledge the traditional owners  of  the land upon which Parliament House stands and the land now covered by my electorate: the people of  the Kulin nation. I pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

I begin with a true  story.  The  three-masted  ship  Coromandel arrived at Port Phillip  on  10  July  1840,  delivering  80 women,  64 men  and 2  children  to Australia. One of the men aboard that ship was Michael Carroll, a young labourer from Tipperary, Ireland. Michael had left his home country at the  tender age of 24,  escaping  the  oncoming potato  famine  which would  claim  approximately 1 million lives, with a further 1 million people migrating from Ireland.

Michael stepped  onto our  shores with  hopes and  dreams of a better future. He ventured to East Brighton, where he worked as a labourer for a market  gardener. He  married Mary Joyce at St Francis’ Church in  Melbourne,  and  together  they would have  13  children;  however, five died as infants. Michael and Mary lived out the rest of their lives in East  Brighton, rearing their children and making the most of the opportunity provided by the new colony of Victoria.

The reason I tell this story is to illustrate  the power of opportunity: that  a descendant of a labourer from Tipperary, Ireland, can  now  stand  before you in this  special place, this great chamber of history and achievement, due  to  the opportunity  provided by  a young nation to a young Irishman more than 170 years ago.

Just as opportunity drew my ancestor Michael Carroll to our  shores, it was also opportunity that drew my parents, Greg  and  Kay Carroll, to Airport West, where they  built  the  family home in 1974, a year  before  I  was born and two years before the electorate of Niddrie  was created in 1976. As the name suggests, the suburb of Airport  West  lies  adjacent  to  and  west of Essendon Airport, once Melbourne’s  busiest  airport.  Domestic  and   international  operations   were transferred from Essendon  Airport to nearby  Tullamarine a few years  before my parents  bought their block,  but  not before  such  luminaries  as Sir  Charles Kingsford-Smith, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, President Lyndon Baines Johnson and the Beatles had all used its services in front of large welcoming crowds.

In  addition to  building their  family home, Mum and Dad also started their own small business, G. B. K. Electrics — the initials stand for Greg, Ben and Kay.

After purchasing a utility vehicle for $250, Dad was  soon offering his services as  an  electrician to other young couples and families building  new  homes  in Airport West. As G. B. K. Electrics grew, so did our family.  I was fortunate to be joined by  a  younger brother, Jake, and  sister, Kate, who are  here  in the chamber with us today.

Raising a  family and  establishing a  small business  at the  same time is hard work. Mum and Dad  succeeded  at both. When I  was  growing up, dinner time  was characterised by Dad  putting the telephone off the hook so the family could sit down  and have a meal together without interruption. Mum and Dad instilled in me the importance of  family and the value  of hard work. When I  reached the legal working age of 14 and 9 months I  went to the local Kmart  store in Airport West to apply for a part-time job.  I soon found myself working on the cash registers as a checkout chick, which was hard work, especially at Christmas time.

I spent eight years at Kmart in Airport West, which greatly  assisted me  during my college and university years.  At  one  stage  all  three Carroll kids were working part  time at the local Airport  West store. At this time  I also joined the union covering  the  retail  sector  –  that is, the Shop, Distributive and Allied  Employees’ Association – and got a good understanding of the importance of  unions in helping working people. On occasion I  was  fortunate  to  receive assistance from the union for my school textbooks.

I  was  fortunate  to  attend  good local  schools  in  the Niddrie  electorate, including St Christopher’s  Primary  School in  Airport  West and  St  Bernard’s College in Essendon. St Bernard’s vision statement is  to ‘Achieve excellence by learning and  doing’. I hope to  continue to be guided by  these principles as a member of Parliament.  St Bernard’s provided  an environment in  which  students were  encouraged  to  strive  for  excellence  in  their  studies and to grow as individuals. Community leaders would often visit the college.

I was fortunate to be part  of a class spoken to by the late Jim Stynes, OAM. To this day I can still recall Jim’s motivational speech emphasising the importance of making a difference and seizing the opportunities that lay  ahead. On another occasion  a newly  elected Nationals  member, a young Peter Ryan, who is now the Deputy Premier, came to speak to my politics  class. I  can remember  that class too and the enthusiasm with which the young parliamentarian spoke. I hope not to cause offence to the Deputy Premier, but as an old boy of St  Bernard’s College, I expect from now on it is only the  local  Labor member who is  invited  to  speak  to  the  students  studying politics.

Most of all St Bernard’s instilled in me an appreciation of how fortunate I was. I recall visits to St Vincent’s Boys’ Home in South Melbourne and assisting soup vans in the  city  on  cold nights, providing much-needed meals to the homeless. These experiences teach you something you  could  never  learn in a classroom — the intrinsic worth of every individual. Over recent years I have tried to  keep up my  end of the bargain  by  working as a volunteer  solicitor  at the Tuesday night drop-in clinic run by  the North Melbourne Legal  Service, providing legal assistance to some of our most disadvantaged and marginalised people.

In 1993 I was in my final year at St Bernard’s College and was thinking about my own future, fully aware that the  baton of  opportunity had  been passed down to me.

I had  been  raised  in a caring  home  in a connected  community  and  given an education that  opened  doors  to tertiary  qualifications.  I  was on  my  way, assisted by foundations laid by others.

Around this time I also remember watching with interest a young 46-year-old Bill Clinton  being sworn  in as  the 42nd  President of  the United  States.  In his inaugural address President Clinton committed to providing  ‘more opportunity to all’. My  mother,  who is here today, is a native  of  the United States who was born in Texas and migrated to Australia with her family as a young child. Partly due to my  mum’s genealogy,  I have  always been  an avid  follower of  American politics.

I  will tell another story. As a proud  member of  the North  Melbourne Football Club I  would regularly  talk to  Simon Crean, the federal member for Hotham and North Melbourne’s long-serving no. 1 ticket-holder, at family days.

Simon  had offered to show me  around Canberra if ever I was there. I had read a lot  about Bill Clinton and had come to  admire  him. I was thrilled when it was announced  that he would  visit Australia following  his 1996 election  victory. However, he was not coming to Melbourne, and my best chance to see  him would be in Canberra. So, by myself,  I took a train and bus trip to Canberra and checked into accommodation  at  the  Australian National  University.  With next  to  no advance warning, I advised Simon Crean’s office that I was in Canberra and would very much like to take  him up on that offer of  a tour of Parliament House.  It just  so  happened that President Clinton and his wife Hillary  would   also  be touring  Parliament House that same day. To Simon’s credit I  did get  that tour and was fortunate enough to shake President Clinton’s hand on his way to address a joint sitting of the federal Parliament.

In his speech President Clinton echoed  his  call for ‘more opportunity to all’. He said:

  … we now have a chance, greater than any generation of people who ever lived  before  us, to give more and more people  the  opportunity  to  realise  their  God-given potential, to live their own dreams, not someone else’s plan.

I subsequently wrote an  article for the  La  Trobe University politics  society magazine on my trip to Canberra and  sent a copy of it to Simon Crean as well as thanking him for his generosity. He wrote back  saying, ‘Being a member of North as  well as the ALP is a pretty good combination’. I have  been a member of both for over 15 years, and they have provided me with  immense enjoyment, friendship and opportunity.

Since joining the Niddrie branch of the Labor Party in 1996, I have seized every opportunity that has  come my way. I  have  had the honour of  working  for both state and federal Labor governments.

However,  it is  now that  I have  been bestowed  with  my  greatest  honour  — representing the electorate  of  Niddrie, the community  I  was raised  in,  the people  I am one of. As the fourth  member  for Niddrie, I have set myself clear priorities. Any conversation about opportunity must include education, the  most fundamental building block to success. Niddrie  is blessed with a  great network of schools; however, some are in  urgent need  of attention.  It is difficult to inspire  students on the  relevance and importance of  education when the school around them is  falling  down.  My  immediate  task is the implementation of the Essendon Keilor College master plan.

I also want to be a champion  for the environment in Niddrie.  The electorate is straddled by the famous Maribyrnong River  at one  end and  Brimbank Park at the other,  which is home to more than 150 Aboriginal archaeological artefacts, some of which are over 30  000 years old. In fact it was an environmental issue which gave me my first real experience of people power in Niddrie.

The former  Kennett government had wanted  to fill the  disused  Niddrie quarry, which had ceased  operations in 1976, with  contaminated waste. The site covered some  47  hectares and  contained a  crater up  to 40  metres  deep.  The  local community fought the proposal every  step of  the way  and, despite a setback in the  Supreme Court of  Victoria, kept fighting. People  power eventually won the day, with the Kennett government abandoning its plans. The former Niddrie quarry site is  now a living  neighbourhood  with the old  crater  beautified, creating Niddrie Lake. The site is a testament  to the  local community,  who fought  for five long  years to  secure  it  as  a community  asset for  the enjoyment  of future generations. As  the member for Niddrie, I will strive  to work  every day  with that sort of passion and dedication.

Today  I have  outlined the  life of  opportunity that has brought me here. This would not have been possible without the support of many.  First and  foremost I thank my local  branch  members,  many of whom have witnessed my 16-year journey from Young Labor to becoming the state member. I  hope to do them proud. I thank former Premier Steve Bracks for his support and for  helping out  in the  recent by-election.  I  thank  Labor  leader Daniel  Andrews  for  his  leadership  and contribution from beginning to end during the  recent campaign. To all my caucus colleagues who volunteered their time in the by-election: a big thankyou.

To the members  for neighbouring electorates,  the  member for  Keilor,  Natalie Hutchins, the member  for  Essendon, Justin Madden,  and  the member for  Pascoe Vale,  Christine  Campbell,  as well  as  the former member  for  Essendon, Judy Maddigan, who  is here with us today: thank you for your support in recent times and  times past. To my  predecessor,  Rob Hulls: I thank  you  for your 16 years service to the people of Niddrie and for your contribution as Deputy Premier and Attorney-General in making Victoria a fairer and more compassionate state.

I thank Senator Stephen  Conroy for  his support  and for  providing me with the opportunity  to work on Australia’s largest and  most  important  infrastructure project,  the national broadband network. I thank my  local federal member, Bill Shorten, whose leadership in  the  disability  sector  I  intend  to follow as a strong advocate for the local Western Autistic School in Niddrie.

I thank  Cesar Melhem of the Australian Workers’ Union for his  support and  for the  passion with  which he  represents his  members, many  of whom live  in the electorate  of Niddrie and work in the local  aviation  industry.  I  thank  the hundreds  of  ALP  members  and   supporters  who  assisted  me  in  the  recent by-election, particularly Daniel Gerrard, Ella  George and Chris  Piper, who led and organised the  campaign. I  also wish  to put  on record the contribution of Young  Labor, whose members worked tirelessly and energetically  throughout  the campaign. The Victorian Labor movement has a bright and strong future.  I  thank my family,  my partner  and my friends for their support, and I acknowledge them in the gallery today.

Finally I pledge my  commitment to the people of  Niddrie and thank them for the opportunity  and  responsibility  they  have  bestowed upon  me.  I conclude  by thanking the house for the courtesy extended to me here today.

Thank you.