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Thursday, 2 December 2004
Page: 19


Ms OWENS (10:15 AM) —It is with gratitude to the people of Parramatta that I rise today as their newly elected representative in the federal parliament. Parramatta is a Federation seat in the geographic centre of Sydney that is home to around 140,000 people, thousands of businesses in Western Sydney's major CBD and over 3,000 community groups working in their own time for the good of others.

When children learn about early settlement, much of what they learn about happened right there in Parramatta. True, when the First Fleet arrived, they initially set up down on the harbour. But they quickly realised it was not as good as it looked and they could not farm there. So, just a few short weeks later, like so many others, they were already heading west, rowing up the Parramatta River, looking for a better spot. And they found one, at a place that to the English eye looked like parkland.

That spot, where the salt water meets the fresh water and eels were a plentiful food supply for the locals, served as a meeting area for the local Indigenous tribes. The locals had burnt the land to create space for the large gatherings that took place there. The Barramatugal clan of the Darug nation called the spot Burramatta, meaning `where the eels play'. Australia's first Government House was built on that local Indigenous meeting place and still stands there today in its original grounds.

Burramatta was a meeting place before white settlement, and Parramatta still is—a meeting place for the growing western suburbs of Sydney, for business through a thriving CBD, for industry, for arts and culture at the Riverside Theatres and the new Roxy, for sporting events at the Rosehill Racecourse, for shopping and for food. But nowadays, of course, when you want to watch the Eels play, you do not go to the river, you go to Parramatta Stadium.

There are some 59,000 homes in the Parramatta electorate and during the campaign I doorknocked just over half of them, near enough to 30,000 homes. When I move from Ermington to Carlingford, from Mays Hill to Winston Hills, I am overwhelmed by the feeling of industry from the people and of suburbs filled with possibilities. For me, my neighbourhood is the engine room of Sydney, where the work of living is done—people getting on with building their lives, in most cases not seeking wealth or fame or power, just a life well lived: security, dignity, control over their own lives, healthy children with bright futures, owning a home, securing their retirement, just getting on with it.

As the new member for Parramatta, people ask me what I want to achieve: what is my vision for Parramatta? But, at the heart of it, it is not about me; it is about them—the thousands of people, the vision of local business and the chamber of commerce, the concerns of bush care groups in Winston Hills, the dreams of the arts industry, the needs of local community organisations that work with the disadvantaged, and the families, each with dreams of their own.

One of my early teachers told me that true leaders make those around them more powerful and, if really effective, will eventually make themselves redundant. That is an odd idea perhaps for a politician who faces the electorate every three years, but I have lived by that rule. Throughout my career I have been more about empowerment than power and, even in the most senior positions, more of a servant than a boss.

I have worked across a range of functions in the creative sector—production manager for a large opera company producing large-scale productions of Aida, La Boheme, Madame Butterfly; several years at the Australia Council developing policy and managing grants programs; several years running my own business; and seven years managing a national small business association—yet it is the time that I spent as a musician that people most often ask about, even though I gave my last professional performance when I was 30. It is probably a fair question, though, because the 20 years that I spent developing my craft as a classical pianist have influenced my thought processes and attitudes to work more than any other part of my life.

I am a musician by trade. I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Music) from the Queensland Conservatorium. But I was really born a musician. My father is one, as was my grandmother, who started giving me lessons when I was three years old. I could read music before I could read English—it is my first language. I could play anything by ear even then. I practised every day; my mother tells me she never had to tell me to do it. In fact, I remember that when the piano was in the lounge room with the television I used to annoy my family by practising in the ads until, in a desperate move, they moved the piano to my bedroom. Then I did not watch television at all.

When I performed, of course it was all about the music, but the training, the practice, the preparation is actually all about self. The necessary discipline, integrity, work ethic and control of ego are developed as personal philosophies and honed as skills over at least 20 years of pre-professional training. I wonder sometimes about the fit between that part of my life and my future, and I wonder about how I might be changed by the experiences and pressures of this place.

Always one to hold myself accountable, I am going to put on the record just one of the philosophies that has underpinned my life to date and still does. I had the privilege, while at the Conservatorium, of studying piano with Nancy Weir, one of Australia's greatest pianists and teachers. Over four years she taught me many things about technique, about hands and minds and how they work together. But mostly she taught me about standards, about excellence, about commitment and about the character, integrity and sacrifice that the highest standards require. She taught me that the more difficult the task, the more we stretch the edges, the better we become, the fewer people understand our achievements and the more we are alone. And, if you finally achieve perfection in even one task, when you do what no-one else has done, you do so on your own. While great achievements sometimes bring fame, they rarely bring understanding. Through my time with Nancy, I learnt to value the work, the result, above the recognition. In this world which is increasingly dominated by spin, I hope I can continue to do that.

From 20 years on the business side of the arts sector, across opera, theatre, television, and classical and rock music, I have developed a profound respect for creativity, a love of curiosity and pure research, ideas, things of the mind and people who take a hard path—who try something new, who dissent, who question and who criticise. I bring to my life in politics respect for a range of views and a history of making space for those who think differently from me.

Unlike many of my colleagues on both sides of this House, I come to the world of politics, not from it. I do not even come from a political family. In fact, I am the first person in my family to join a political party, and I think my immediate family are swinging voters. I say `think' because we do not discuss politics very much. It was Gough Whitlam who first woke me up to government, when I was 14 years old. My attraction to the Labor Party then was not initially about social justice or equity, as important as they are to me now. For me, Gough Whitlam spoke the language of growth—of personal and community growth, of valuing and supporting our creative community, of respecting ideas and intellect, of providing opportunities for women, of recognising the potential in us all, of multiculturalism and of engagement with the different regions of the world. It was a government of inclusion that spoke the language of the possible and that revelled in the differences between us.

For many like me in the creative sector, Gough Whitlam pulled back the shades and opened the windows. He let in the light and the air. I learnt from him how powerful it is to feel valued and accepted for your contribution, how strong an act it is when a government recognises and encourages a group, particularly one who is already disadvantaged, already with less personal status. I learnt from Gough Whitlam that governments lead not just in what they do but in national character. What happens in this House influences whether we see the worst in each other or the potential, whether we value and encourage or punish those who are struggling. The Labor Party for me is the party of hope.

My commitment to social justice came a few years later when I left my state high school of Everton Park to study full time at the Queensland Conservatorium. My father was in the Army and we lived in an army suburb in Brisbane. My high school served a working-class and housing-commission area, and I saw bright, intelligent boys and girls who had everything in them that they needed to do well but were held back and down by family circumstances not of their own making.

The Conservatorium was a different world. Entry standards were very high, and you needed a reasonable level of wealth for private teaching and to buy a good instrument to get in there in the first place. I got there because a number of people who believed in me taught me for less than the going rate. But I was the only state school educated person there. My new friends from lives of relative comfort had no understanding at all that they had travelled an easier path and that, for many others, there was no path. I see that same level of incomprehension in the attitudes and policies of my colleagues on the other side of this House.

It is fair to say that in my professional life I have spent over 25 years working with people to develop their dreams. My most recent job as the CEO of the Association of Independent Record Labels was one of the more desirable positions around. I picked up the association in its early years when it had 20 members and worked initially on a percentage basis to grow it into the peak national body that now represents over 95 per cent of the independent recording industry. Its 400 members range from the smallest, self-released artists to the biggest companies that represent artists such as silverchair, AC/DC, Savage Garden, Vanessa Amorosi, James Morrison and, of course, the Wiggles. Several of the smaller companies, like Figoro Music in Winston Hills, are based in my electorate.

Working with AIR gave me the very rare opportunity to work on the development of an industry, together with a board of small business leaders under the chairmanship of David Williams, founder and owner of Australia's largest independent label, Shock Records. We developed export markets throughout the world, with over 200 small businesses attending the major trade fairs in Europe over the seven years with us. Over half of those did their first international deals on those trips.

Before joining AIR, I had a business of my own producing international festivals and conferences and consulting for television and theatre. I have a passion for small business not just because I ran one or because I represented around 400 of them but because I like the people, the attitude and the challenges of it. And I do not believe you can really `get' small business if you have not been one. The daily task of bringing in the money and being the place where the buck really does stop, the fragility of it, the small margins and even the volatility draw me to the risk takers that start and operate their own businesses.

For me, small business policy is a local issue and is about much more then competition and price. I see local business as contributing to the fabric and culture of our local community—whether it is the local shop down at Yates Avenue, Dundas that provides a meeting place for people to interact; the movie theatre, coffee shop or skating rink that hold the memories of important moments of our lives; a business that provides years of work for locals, with all the social networks that follow; or a company that grows to be a local icon, an international household name or even an industrial tourist attraction. We as a community need a flourishing local small business sector to keep us connected. The prosperity of the small business sector in my electorate is a community issue as much as it is an economic one.

From decades working with dreamers, I know my country as one of the great creative nations of the world. Whether in scientific research, invention or film, we punch above our weight. Whatever the reason, we compete with the best on a fraction of the resources. Our elite thinkers and creators are as remarkable as our elite athletes but far less known or appreciated. What a lost opportunity the last decade has been. We once aspired to be the clever country, yet since 1996 the government has ignored the need to innovate and to explore. With a 20 per cent decrease in funding for R&D, we are allowing the work done under the Keating and Hawke governments to be eroded. We have an innate ability to grow our businesses and our economy on the strengths of our minds. We need a government that is willing to invest in building the intellectual and creative capital of this country and that is prepared to foster our talent for innovation.

It is, of course, not just businesses that innovate. Our community sector is also creative in its problem solving, and we need a government that is prepared to take a flexible approach to supporting the solutions of the community for the community. Nowhere is that more true than in Parramatta.

The Parramatta region sits within one of the most significant heritage precincts in the country. The history of our early settlement is there: our first Government House, the first female convict factory, the first girls orphanage, the old King's School, the Lancer Barracks—which is the oldest barracks still in operation—and Elizabeth Macarthur's farm. All of these are within walking distance of the Parramatta River and an easy walk from the wharf where the River Cat drops its passengers from Circular Quay. Yet Parramatta earns less than one per cent of its GDP from tourism related industries, considerably less than the Sydney-wide average. We are a community overdue for tourism development. The assets are there, as are the hotels, which are full during the business week but empty on the weekends. With proper support there is significant room in Parramatta for both business growth and jobs growth.

One of the great strengths of Parramatta is its rich cultural diversity. Our multicultural society is something to be treasured. Parramatta is home to large Chinese, Indian, Arabic, Korean and Tamil communities, among others, and these communities have added to the economic and social capital of our region. In recent years I have noticed a change in the language governments use in relation to multiculturalism, a trend towards the use of the word `tolerance', or `tolerating difference'. For me, tolerance is the bare minimum. Tolerance is the level you set for the most racist elements in our society to lift them to the barest acceptable level. For the majority of open-minded, decent Australians, a celebration of diversity is the benchmark.

This would not be a Labor first speech if it did not acknowledge the trade union movement. I know that most people think of unions and industrial relations as being about work. But for me the movement's greatest achievements for workers have been about home. There has been a lot of talk lately by this government about balance between work and family life, but it is the trade union movement that has been the strongest advocate for balance for decades. It argued for the 40-hour working week, for two consecutive days off, for breaks, for paid holidays, for sick leave and for carer's leave, so that workers could separate work and family. It argued for some degree of advance notice on rostering so that families could plan their time together. It argued for conditions that allowed workers to return home from work in a fit condition to spend quality time with their families. In the industrial relations debate over the next year we must remember that, in the context of increasing casualisation of the work force, for workers, and particularly women, industrial relations is about finding a work context that allows for balance between what we give to our jobs and what we give to our families.

I would like to thank the local Labor Party branches and the Parramatta Federal Electorate Council for their work during the campaign. It has been a difficult time for the party since we lost the seat of Parramatta in 1996. For those who have maintained their determination to win this seat back for Labor during this period, I hope that we can continue to work together to strengthen support for Labor in our community. I would also like to acknowledge the contribution of former Labor members for Parramatta Paul Elliott and John Brown. Their time serving the people of Parramatta is still remembered fondly and valued by many in our community. I would also like to thank and acknowledge the support of the Labor councillors on Parramatta City, Holroyd and Baulkham Hills councils.

With my election as the federal member for Parramatta, Labor women have achieved a unique quinella in the Parramatta area, with Julia Finn as Lord Mayor of Parramatta, Maureen Walsh as Deputy Lord Mayor, Pam Allan as the state member for Wentworthville and Tanya Gadiel as the state member for Parramatta. I would like to thank these fine Labor women for their help and support during the campaign. I would also like to thank Barbara Perry, state member for Auburn, and Virginia Judge, state member for Strathfield, for their assistance doorknocking with me and the other valuable advice and support they gave me during the campaign. My very special thanks go to the member for Reid for his advice, encouragement and support.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the trade union movement. Australian democracy is stronger because of the role played by unions in the political process. I would particularly like to thank Andrew Ferguson and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union; Annie Owens and the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union; Derek Belan and the National Union of Workers; Geoff Dereck and the Financial Sector Union; and Anthony McLaughlin and the National Tertiary Education Union, for their support during the campaign.

Thanks also to my friends who did not see me for a year—thanks for still being there—and to Tony Ryan, Carol Chan, Paul Barber, Matthew Jenna and Mathew Ferguson, my own A-Team, who doorknocked with me six to eight hours a day for much of the campaign. Thanks to Mathew Ferguson's mum, who sent Mathew over with single-serve packs of lasagne and pumpkin soup to keep me alive; Stuart Woodward, who got up early enough to meet me at the train station at six o'clock in the morning four out of five mornings a week for up to eight months; Lynda Voltz and Sarah Longhurst, who cleaned my house, dropped off my dry-cleaning and turned up from time to time and made me eat lunch; Joan Kirner, who is in the gallery today; and EMILY's List, who supported me through this campaign and my first two campaigns. Thanks to my family and friends, who worried that I would be hurt—I am much tougher than you think. To the Board of AIR, including David Williams of Shock Records, David Vodicka of Rubber Records, David Lawrence of Roadshow Music, Clive Hodson of ABC Music, Philip Mortlock of Origin Music and Andrew Walker of Head Records; and to all the members of AIR that I worked with over the last seven years—thanks for putting up with a largely absent CEO for many months early in the campaign, and thanks for all the fish.

Thank you to Michael Gadiel, Jack Sumner, David Voltz, Melissa Collins, Antony Dale, Lisa Lake, Mal Tulloch, Anthony D'Adam, Robert Grieve, Omar Jamal, Jennifer Glass, Ejaz Khan, Debbie May, Pam Smith, Pierre Esbar, The Hon. Henry Tsang, MLC, Jim Hannah and NSW Young Labor—I would not have done it without you. Thanks to the campaign baby, otherwise known as Sam Livingston, who spent six of his first 12 months in the campaign office—I am sorry, Sam, but you will always be campaign baby to me—and to Kelly Livingston, my amazing campaign director, who kept everyone in the campaign team, including me, on target and well and truly led the push to securing Parramatta.

There are two people in the gallery today who had the greatest influence on my life, and they are my mum and my dad. My mum would disagree. She thinks I was born me and she just stood aside, but that is not true: some of it is definitely her fault! My parents raised me well, and I know what a difference it makes to be well raised. My parents are wise, good people. My mother is one of the most honest people you will ever meet anywhere. I remember that when I was a kid on the way home from the shopping centre she would discover she had received too much change, maybe only 50c, and we would drive all the way back to the shop to give it back. Even now she still does that. They worry about me being in this place, but they have instilled in me, by their example, a set of values that will not easily be put aside.

Finally, to the people of Parramatta—both those who voted for me and those who did not—thank you for giving me this wonderful opportunity to represent you. I will not let you down.


Mr Ruddock —On indulgence, may I congratulate the members for Parramatta and Richmond on their first speeches.

Debate (on motion by Mr Ruddock) adjourned.