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Thursday, 4 April 2019
Page: 14828


Ms McGOWAN (Indi) (11:51): On indulgence: hello, everybody, and thank you for coming. Six years ago, when I rose to make my first speech, the gallery was full. My community was engaged, supportive and present. Today, as I rise to make my last speech, it's much the same. Back then, I quoted Margaret Mead: 'Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.' And how true that is. To the people of Indi in this parliament, thank you for enabling us to be the change we want to see. There is so much more to do. Beginning with the end in mind, my call to action is: our work is not yet done—don't get mad, get elected!

Just a short summary: since that first speech, what have I done? I've delivered 525 speeches and 15 private members' bills, asked 74 questions without notice, moved 35 motions and made 18 amendments to legislation. Over 4,600 schoolchildren from my electorate have come to this place, 225 volunteers and four ANIP interns have worked in my office and, on average, 15,000 constituents a year have sought help, support and advice from the Indi office. Community members, more than I possibly could count, have offered support and advice and have shared their wisdom, and I have grown in confidence and courage.

At the beginning, after agreeing to stand as a candidate, I was so nervous, worried and anxious. Then we won by a magic 439 votes, and I was really nervous, worried and very anxious! But I was determined to deliver. I really did want to prove that my community had done a good thing and the right thing in backing me. It was deeply personal. There had been a fierce competition for me to get here and to stay here. It required enormous emotional courage, strategy, skill, and a huge community effort. The expectations were enormous and heavy, and I took the responsibility of truly representing my community very seriously. So I am so proud to stand here today and say we have survived the ordeal and have hopefully set a benchmark in the process.

My community has grown in confidence and courage, and we have delivered. I use that pronoun 'we' very deliberately. We have delivered confidence in democracy. We have delivered engagement in democracy. We've delivered better governance. We've delivered pride in community. And our voice has been heard. To the major parties, to my colleagues here, I have a short message: Independents do get things done. And every time any one of you says the opposite, the people of rural and regional Australia will remember these words: 'Tony, Independents deliver. Marginal seats matter. Just look at what happened in Indi. We have one-third of the vote. Let's use it.'

Today our community's more confident, and this is important for investment, for jobs and for regional growth. Confidence is important for our young people and our families who, in ever-increasing numbers, are making the decision to return home to north-east Victoria. Engagement across all levels of the community has grown, with more and more people stepping up to leadership positions. I'm delighted that the community, and especially our young people, are now more engaged. They are signing up, turning up, and speaking up in far greater numbers. This active participation in democracy is paying dividends in our community. Right across the electorate, things are also getting done and we have significant investment: over $235 million for the North East Rail Line; 52 mobile phone towers; numerous regional infrastructure projects; the regional deal for Albury-Wodonga; Wodonga Junction Plan; Tallangatta redevelopment; Wangaratta Aquatic Centre; Alpine landscapes; the controversial Wangaratta Hospital, $20 million—and a special thank you goes to Dan Andrews and the Victorian government for coming to the party on that one; infrastructure jobs in Benalla; Mansfield Stadium; the heavy truck bypass; Kinglake Streetscape; Corryong Memorial Hall and Pool, and many, many more other things.

But to my work in this place: the commitment I gave was to strive for good governance, and I think it is evidenced in the parliamentary work we have been involved in and which I mentioned briefly at the start of my speech. I'm particularly proud of the efforts in changing the rules for vulnerable witnesses and the rules governing gender dysphoria. Other highlights include the private member's legislation for the National Integrity Commission, and a code of conduct for all members of the parliament, recognising that our community expects more of us, its elected representatives. I was so proud to work with Griffith University, Transparency International Australia and the Accountability Round Table to introduce that legislation. A Senate committee is due to report on those bills tomorrow, and today in Melbourne, Transparency International released an assessment of Australia's national integrity systems. I call on all sides, everybody, to give the required resources to do this well. It's unfinished business.

A private member's bill for an office for regional Australia made sense. Working with the member for Mayo for a minister for young people made sense. Representing my communities on refugees made sense. Giving my support for the refugee medivac bill was the right thing to do—but it's unfinished business. I'm proud of the inquiry into regional development and decentralisation, and I note Senator McKenzie is in the House. I'm looking forward to that report, Senator. I am also proud of the inquiry into regional higher education, and I note that the minister for higher education is in the House. I'm looking forward to that report, Minister.

Mr Tehan: So am I, Cathy.

Ms McGOWAN: Yes, the work is unfinished. On climate change, we haven't been able to do as much as we wanted in this space, but we did manage to save the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, ARENA, and we did manage to save the Clean Energy Finance Corporation—that infrastructure that was so important and was going to be done away with. But climate change and its mitigation remain serious issues in my electorate, and I know in Indi it's going to be a climate change election.

So many bits of this work had been seconded by my colleagues on the crossbench, so a special call-out to the member for Mayo, Rebekha Sharkie; to the member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie; and to the member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt—and occasionally Bob Katter, the member for Kennedy, has also seconded my amendments. I'll come back to the opposition a little bit later because you haven't done so much seconding!

An opposition member interjecting

Ms McGOWAN: Yes, there's a hierarchy! In my first speech, I committed to making a public statement in this place to recognise and acknowledge past mistreatment of our Indigenous community, and I'm proud to say that I did it in my first year, in my first term. I also committed to improving public transport infrastructure and access to telecommunications and health services and I worked to reduce the red tape that hinders the growth of business in our cross-border regions. There has been significant progress in all those areas. I committed to bringing the voices of the community of Indi to Canberra, and what greater example of success have we got than in the gallery today? I committed to a vision for a prosperous and caring community where businesses grow, agriculture flourishes and everyone can reach their potential. We have made great progress.

Now I turn my words to comments of acknowledgement, honouring and thanks. Clearly, words are inadequate for some things that we know are so deep and lasting. You know who you are and you know what you've done. To my colleagues in this parliament, members and your staff: I do appreciate the warmth of the welcome that you extended to me when I first arrived. It was beyond all expectations. I have received your friendship and professional support and I want to say thank you very, very much. Everybody in this House has added value to the work that we have done. I want to make a special mention of the many ministers, some here today, who have visited Indi. We have noticed and we appreciate it. Thank you. To all the other wonderful people—the staff and the ones who make this place function, too many to name—I want to say thank you for making our jobs here so much easier. I can't name you all, but you're there.

And now to my special friends on the crossbench: we have all worked together—long nights, big days—and together we've reflected the diversity of Australia. We've worked with great respect and generosity together. Talking to the crossbench and of the crossbench, I want to make a special call-out to the people of Australia to pay attention to these extraordinary people and the work done here. Thank you. Clearly, our work is not yet done. In giving you my blessing: may you grow and multiply; may you all win your seats with increased margins; and may you continue to be the voice of reason, the voice of the marginalised and the voice of the forgotten.

To my staff past and present, many of whom are here today and, I have to say, looking resplendent: I acknowledge your dedication, your persistence, your tolerance, your loyalty, your tact, your diplomacy and your courage. You have been my and Indi's arms, legs, eyes, ears, heart and soul. We thank you very, very much.

At this stage, can my family please raise their hands. To my family: it is a truism to say I need you and I'm better because of you. Thanks to each and every one of you for your personal support, the phone calls and the debriefs on the long drive home from Canberra after a huge week. Can the niblings raise their hands. I thank them for their special help and advice, particularly during the marriage equality debate. I really appreciated your wisdom. Thank you for turning up today, because I know you have travelled great distances.

I turn to the communities of Indi, those here today and those listening to the broadcast. You heard the call and you rallied. We could do better. A huge thank you to you. Your belief, your trust and your courage have made this crazy, brave experiment possible. Thank you so much.

Thank you to the media. In particular, I would like to give a shout-out to the media of rural and regional Australia, particularly in my electorate of Indi. Without fail, you turned up. Those post-parliamentary Friday pressers in Wodonga have become such an important part of our routine. We had regular catch-ups, and your desire for accuracy continues to make Indi a much, much better place.

Now let me turn to the future. The community took a huge risk in voting for me not once but twice. However, today it feels less risky to vote for an Independent and more like a sane, sensible alternative for the one-third of the population who live outside the metropolitan areas and for those who live in metropolitan areas. I say to the people of Indi: we have called the government to account and we, all of us, need to continue to hold the next government to account. It is important that parliament join the dots on regional and rural Australia. Regional communities are ready to work with government and the government needs to take the time to listen to us. That's why, through the Regions at the Ready report, I have been advocating for a new approach to regional policy, strategic planning and a strengthening regional Australia development network. We need a white paper on regional Australia, one that is developed with communities and with regional Australia.

I make a special shout-out now to the young people of regional Australia. It was the young people of my electorate who got me here. They nagged, they plodded and they harassed me. But they also saw the potential. They dragged me into the digital age of social media and they provided me with the constant inspiration to be my best self. I say to the young people of regional Australia, to the young people of Australia, on behalf of this parliament: we love you. We want you to be part of our democracy. We want you to be part of what we do here. And, sadly, you're not here in any way, shape or form in the numbers we need you. We know you've got wonderful lives. We know you do creative, innovative and amazing things. But we want to see you in government. My call to the young people of rural and regional Australia, of all Australia, is: don't get mad; get elected. For every organisation in Indi, I say: look at your leadership. Where are the young people? Are you passing on the baton?

Talking of getting elected, I extend an invitation post this speech to all of us to attend the launch of my sister Ruth's book. It's called Get Elected and it is a step-by-step campaign guide to winning public office. It is at one o'clock at Queen's Terrace. It's a great gift to extended family and friends who complain. You can just say, 'Don't get mad; get elected—here's the book!' There is a special discount for Indi people, I think—Ruth, is that right?

For me, it is time for the succession plan to be implemented. I am really looking forward to Sunday when Helen Haines launches her campaign in Wodonga to be the new Independent candidate for Indi. I wish her well. Helen is a nurse. We love nurses. Helen is a midwife, and we know they deliver! Helen has a PhD in public health, and we know how much we need good input into public health. She is an exemplary candidate and I ask my colleagues here to extend to her the same warmth and collegiality you have given to me, assuming she wins. Helen is the change we want to see. Respectful, engaged and clear in her motivation, she is a community grassroots candidate—we say we are different horses but from the same stable.

And now to the end. The single and most important lesson for me is that political and community engagement is to be part of a team—it is to turn up, to sign up for a job and to speak up, to put your hand out to others and give them a leg up. In closing, I have run one leg of this relay, and the independent banner carries a precious legacy for our future. And I'm not going away; I'm merely taking a step back as I pass the baton on and allowing others to step forward. I leave you with this quote from the back of the toilet door at Mittagundi: 'The future is not some place we are going to but one we are creating. The paths to it are not found but made, and the making of these pathways changes both the maker and the destination.' Thank you.