New DLP MP, Dr Rachel Carling-Jenkins, delivered her Inaugural Speech to the Victorian Parliament on Thursday, 12 February. Rachel was elected to the Legislative Council (upper house) for the Western Metropolitan Region in the 2014 Victorian State Election.
The complete speech is as follows:
Dr CARLING-JENKINS (Western Metropolitan) — First, I acknowledge and thank, in the tradition established by the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) in this house, all those heroic Australians who over the last century have risked or even given their lives in the defence of this country.
I also acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting. I pay my respects to their elders, past and present, and the elders from other communities who may be present here today.
I wish to acknowledge God, who, to paraphrase the psalmist, will be my guide until the end.
Thank you for this opportunity to address the chamber. It is a privilege to stand here today, to represent the people of Western Metropolitan Region as the sole representative of the Democratic Labour Party in the 58th Parliament and to be the first woman to represent the DLP in any Parliament in Australia.
If you will humour me for just a moment I would like to travel back in time, back to 18th century England, where the economy was supplemented by slaves who were traded, oppressed, and mistreated. Travel now into the halls of the parliament of this era: where one man stands against the slave trade and the laws protecting it. Against the tide of pressure, one man stands up for what he believes in, despite opposition and bouts of poor health. William Wilberforce, after 20 years of campaigning, petitioning and lobbying, brings about the abolition of slavery. He battled. He fought. He argued the whole way. Sometimes he had small victories; many times he had setbacks. Wilberforce stood as a non-conformist, not afraid to be a lone voice when necessary.
Now we come back to the present — today, in this place. I am no William Wilberforce, but he inspires me to value conviction over comfort, tenacity over temporary gain and devotion over indifference. We now look back at slavery and are appalled at the treatment slaves received and horrified at the very idea that one person could own another. In the decades to come, I pray that we will look back at this era, appalled at the babies we killed and horrified at the very idea that we would enslave women in prostitution.
Like Wilberforce, I am a non-conformist. I am not a bystander; I refuse to be a bystander. Under my watch there will not be silence on these issues. And so I stand here today and for the next four years as a voice for the vulnerable, a voice for the enslaved and a voice for the voiceless. It is at this time, if you will permit me a time of indulgence, President, that I would like to share a little of my story to explain what led me to this point.
This may come as a surprise to you as you get to know me, but I was a very challenging child. I talked too much, I was far too opinionated and I was very loud. I was, for a while, a tomboy. I wanted to be a mechanic at eight years old. A highlight of this period of my life was when I went to work with my dad, a train driver at the time, and he let me believe that I had stopped the train.
I received a great many benefits, besides train driving, from growing up in a working-class home. My parents, Stan and Francy Carling, taught me to value God. Mum would brush my unruly hair and take me off to Sunday school where a line from one of my favourite songs was: ‘This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine’. Mum and Dad also instilled in me the value of education and a love for music, both of which I carry to this day.
I wish to acknowledge my older sister. I have never known anyone so patient, kind, talented and beautiful as my sister, Sonya. She was no doubt strengthened by living with a challenging younger sibling. I must also acknowledge my beautiful son, Terry, a very resilient and strong-willed young man, of whom I am exceedingly proud. I look forward to seeing your future unfold. And I acknowledge my husband, Gary, a very tolerant man, who has put up with having a wife devoted to causes. Thanks for your support, for your humour and for walking the dog.
It is because of my family that I stand before each of you today, excited and awed by the task before me. It is also because of my journey, a journey which has included many rough patches: a debilitating car accident, major health scares, years of single motherhood and of course the school drop-offs, pick-ups and supermarket tantrums. It is a journey which has also had a lot of highlights.
I have completed a PhD and presented throughout the world at international conferences, contributing to the fields of disability, dementia and social movements. I have studied and applied best practice principles in welfare here in Victoria, had a book published and had the privilege of working with many amazing people and organisations. This journey I speak of has led me to this time, this place and this point where passion wells inside me.
My desire to contribute to a society which has as its core aim the human flourishing of all its members led me to join and run as a candidate for the DLP — a party which stands for the twin pillars of human dignity and the common good. It is human dignity and the common good which I will pursue here in this place where I will tell the stories of the people I represent — people I will fight for and people I care about.
I care about and will be a voice fighting for Sam, who has Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease, but he cannot find appropriate care and support within the current service system. I care about and will be a voice fighting for Lin, traded to work in a brothel in inner city Melbourne, trapped and unable to find her way home. I care about and will be a voice fighting for the yet unnamed baby girl whose future hangs in the balance while her vulnerable mother feels cultural and familial pressure to end the life of her child simply because she is a girl. I care about and will be a voice fighting for Joe, an elderly man near the end of his life, depressed after the death of his wife, isolated from his children due to the tyranny of distance and struggling to make ends meet.
I commit to advocating for solutions; adoption of best practice principles in disability and aged care; an inquiry into a system of regulation to reduce the incidence of sex trafficking in Victoria; awareness raising about the incidence of gender-selective abortions; and the expansion of support services, including palliative care, to ensure their availability to all Victorians.
I, and my party, consider every human being to be of equal worth. We do not determine whether a human being is worthy of our protection based on their age, their identity, judgements of capacity or capability, or even on their citizenship. Every person has a right to live, whether they are in a prison cell in Indonesia, on a boat in the Timor Sea or in a hospital ward for people who are terminally ill. Every person has a right to self-determination, whether they are working on a factory floor, living with mental illness or struggling to pay their bills. Every child has the same right to protection and opportunities, whether they are born into wealth or poverty.
I refuse to believe that we can determine that one human being has a greater right to live or to be protected simply because they are healthier, more intelligent, richer or better able to survive without the help and support of others. I will be a voice for their right to life, protection and self-determination.
I believe that every person is created for relationship. We share a common humanity which transcends boundaries such as gender, race, generations or various other identities which we use to define ourselves or which others use to define us. A society is only as strong as its relationships, from the relationships within its smallest social unit, such as the family and neighbourhood, to relationships with and between workers and employers, governments and corporations, families and governments, and beyond. I will be a voice for healthy relationships.
I will also defend families who have experienced disruption. I care about and commit to being a voice for families who are burdened by the financial, social and emotional issues which come from problem gambling, a problem which has invaded our regions and our suburbs with the expansion of poker machines into clubs and pubs, where responsible limits, proven to deter problem gambling, have not been adopted or enforced.
I care about and commit to being a voice for families who are torn apart by domestic violence, a tragedy where much has been achieved in recent decades, including mandatory reporting by health and education professionals; a breakdown, at least in part, in the culture of silence; and an expansion of services. But more needs to be done to accommodate all people — men, women and children — who experience and are vulnerable to domestic violence.
I care about and commit to being a voice for families who need flexible schooling options, protection from the rising costs of living and accessibility to sports and cultural activities, which are carrying an ever-increasing price tag. It is important that families are genuinely supported in their role of providing for their own. I support the traditional family as an ideal which we should uphold, support and aspire to. Families are still the most basic social unit, a structure which must be protected and must be respected.
I believe in freedoms: freedom from exploitation, freedom to practise religion or to choose not to practise religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom to act according to our beliefs and our conscience. All Victorians deserve to live lives free from fear and persecution. All such freedoms come with privilege and responsibility. Freedoms must be protected, and some must be restored.
A truly free society does not exploit some members for the temporary pleasure of others. Pornography, and the fast-growing sex industry, is a scourge on our society that sells exploitation, breeds violence and disrupts equality of relationships. As such, and in the interests of protecting our community, it must be further restricted. A truly free society enables people to have access to treatment for depression and to palliative care services, which offer true dignity to people who are suffering, before debating assisted suicide, which has time and again been shown to pressure vulnerable people into feeling that this is their only option. A truly free society does not politicise health care and reduce medical practitioners to the status of state apparatchiks, but respects the integrity and conscience of medical and healthcare professionals.
While I am, as you may be able to tell by now, a social justice campaigner, I am able to back up my proposed reforms with sound economic management principles. This is important, because the ability to provide services to the people of Victoria depends on a strong economy. It is time to review how we do business in this state. It is time to revise our economic strategies and the relationships between employers and employees to bring about a paradigm that will work for the future. This revitalisation needs to be based on the cooperation of government, industry and workers — a cooperative system aimed at creating common goals with tangible benefits for all stakeholders. The time has come to move forward to a cooperative rather than adversarial system of employee relations.
This is not a utopian ideal; it is already a reality in many parts of the world. If we go to Spain, generally regarded as an economic basket case, there is one corporation in the Basque region that has defied the trends. Mondragon now has 250 cooperatives which form the Mondragon Corporation and employ 80 000 people. It has its own bank, welfare system and university. Despite its success in Spain as well as in areas such as Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region and of course Germany, which showcases quality manufacturing on a larger scale, the idea has not gained traction in Australia, but the time has come to think outside the economic box. It is not a matter of capital versus labour. It is about a third way, with government, business and employees working towards a common good: economic prosperity for all. I will be a voice for such prosperity here in Victoria.
One of the most important assets of any society is its infrastructure, and infrastructure is an issue which has been at the fore of political debate in Victoria. Everyone in this chamber would agree on the need for improved infrastructure. Underinvestment in roads and public transport is a constant concern, not just in my electorate of Western Metropolitan Region but throughout the state. Improving our infrastructure requires long-term investment and funding. This is why the DLP supports the establishment of a state development bank to build the ongoing capital we desperately need for long-term infrastructure projects and for regional development. Not only would this relieve budgetary restraints but the bank’s positive development and stabilising effect on the Victorian economy could be significant. I will be a voice for independence in decision-making and genuine development, both of which would be delivered by a state development bank model.
Over the last few decades successive governments have sought to alleviate their economic woes by taking short-term, quick-fix approaches, with public utilities and assets being sold off for temporary gains. The usual arguments for selling off an asset owned by the Victorian people are that efficiency will improve, costs will be lowered and the economy will generally benefit. These arguments fall flat in the face of lowering service standards, higher prices and increasing job losses. Money that once flowed from Victorian pockets through these publicly owned utilities into state revenue and was then used to grow and prosper our state, contributing to the construction and maintenance of schools, hospitals, roads and so on, now flows out of Victoria, often out of Australia and into the pockets of overseas shareholders and the grateful treasuries of overseas economies.
Is it these private corporations, then, that are the problem? Are the overseas profiting shareholders our nemesis? Do growing foreign economies threaten our future development and economic survival? No. Our problems, our enemies and the threats to our economic survival and future development are not the fault of overseas corporate despots or expansionist foreign economies. Our problems are closer to home and are of our own creation. Instead of basing our decisions on the common good, we have been distracted by quick-fix approaches. Short-sightedness and self-interest have been our downfall.
In a similar way the family farm, once a prized, valued commodity, has been sold off. Foreign ownership of our agricultural land is, again, a quick fix, but it is far too permanent. It is an issue which my colleague James Purcell addressed on Tuesday night. If we continue to do this, I will despair of what we are leaving for our children and grandchildren to inherit.
I represent a labour party in this place. As a labour party we believe that society benefits most when the three pillars of families, workers and community are put first. Every decision made by this state and this nation, every trade deal made, every project commenced, every inch of our farmland sowed, every ounce of our natural resources used and every cent expended from the public purse must ultimately have the good of our families, our workers and our communities as the primary focus or they are done in vain.
I acknowledge that in the past decades there has been progress in Victoria. Civil rights movements stood up as a single voice and have impacted on the way Indigenous people are treated, women’s movements fought at times as a single voice and have influenced the role of women in the workplace, and people with disabilities have had their voices heard and are no longer routinely institutionalised. We have, however, so much further to go. Economic rationalism and global capitalism have risen and the age of terror is upon us, which both horrifies and should unite us. Meanwhile the synagogues in Melbourne are guarded for fear of attack, glass ceilings still exist for many women and many people with disabilities continue to live on the margins of society, prevented from full participation and inclusion.
I will bring the value of, and the diversity within, life to the forefront of our minds while I am in this place. I will make the three pillars of family, worker and community the primary focus of my decision-making.
I will be a voice for human dignity and the common good. I am only one person, and the DLP is only a small party, but it is a determined one. During my four years here I hope to hold this government to account, just as I would any government. I am not here to get the DLP or myself re-elected, something I am sure many of you do not see as a major concern either. Every time I speak or raise a question in this place I want to make sure that everyone knows I do so with the ultimate good of families, workers and community in mind, especially the families, workers and communities of Western Metropolitan Region. That is my goal. This is the job I have been elected to do, even if I have to battle, fight and argue as a lone voice the whole way.
But I did not get elected alone. I wish to thank the people who supported my election and added their voices and efforts to ensure that at least one voice on the issues they care about was represented in this place. First, I thank my state executive team, significantly Michael Murphy, my biggest supporter during the campaign, and also Vince Stefano, Clara Geoghegan, Pat Shea and Michael Deverala, who all played a role. I thank DLP members throughout the country who have spoken loud and clear, such as Paul Funnell, Michael Byrne, Daniel Hanna, John Quinn and Rosemary Lorrimar, as well as countless others. I thank them for their support. I thank members closer to home who want their voices heard for the sake of others, particularly my running mate, Michael Freeman, and all those who stood on booths for me. I thank my staff — who jokingly wanted me to use the adjective ‘superb’ in front of their names — John McBride, Steve Campbell and Vince Stefano, for all their support during my campaign and for lending their voices to this cause.
I thank Vickie Janson and her team at Australian Christians and Pastor Daniel Nalliah and his team at Rise Up Australia for their alliance and for their support. I wish each of them held a seat in this Parliament with me, and I promise to hold true to our shared values. I thank people who shared the vision of electing representatives with the right values and who spoke loud and clear to make it happen, people like Rabbi Shimon Cowen, Gabrielle Walsh and Terri Kelleher. I will do my best to honour these values while I am in this place.
I thank the strategists and the parties with whom I did preference deals, including Glenn Druery, for making introductions to many parties, and Andrew Ronalds from the Liberal Party. I enjoyed our exchanges and I appreciated your advice. I thank each person for using their voice and being a part of my journey to this place — this place where I will be a voice for the vulnerable, a voice for the enslaved and a voice for the voiceless; this place where I will continue the work started by Peter Kavanagh in the 56th Parliament in advocating for sound economic management and on social justice issues.
Now, just as I gained inspiration from the historical figure of William Wilberforce, I wish to pay one more visit to the past, to one of the greatest known warriors for those who could not stand and fight for themselves — Martin Luther King Jr. Of course his dreams have been immortalised, but it is what he said about silence that really struck me. He said that our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. If you like things packaged in a safe, familiar, predictable way, then I apologise in advance. That is not me. If you enjoy your comfort zone and hope to sit here comfortably for the next four years, then again I apologise. I will not stand silent on issues that matter.
I thank you for your time today, and today I make this commitment. I will not be silent about the things that matter, even if I have to be a single, lone voice. And whether secretly, or openly, many people sitting in this chamber today and many sitting in the other place will be glad that I have.