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.