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Thursday, 18 November 2004
Page: 30

Ms KATE ELLIS (10:56 AM) —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am honoured by the opportunity to stand here today as the member for Adelaide and make my first speech. I would like to thank the people of Adelaide for the faith that they have placed in me and I give them my firm commitment that I will work hard for them, listen to their views and do all in my power to give them the strong voice that they deserve in this parliament.

From the outset I would like to acknowledge the former member for Adelaide, Trish Worth. Trish and I are obviously from opposite sides of politics, and we certainly shared some spirited debates throughout the campaign. But I would like to acknowledge and thank her for both her contribution to the people of Adelaide over the past 11 years and her helpful and gracious handover. Trish Worth was highly respected by many, both here in the parliament and in the electorate. I wish her all the very best in her future endeavours.

I would also like to acknowledge the contributions made by my fellow South Australians the former members for Bonython and Kingston. Martyn Evans and David Cox both made valuable contributions in their respective electorates, in this parliament and within the Australian Labor Party. Knowing both of these men, I have little doubt that they will continue to play a positive role in the Australian community in whatever avenues they choose to pursue.

It is a huge honour and responsibility to represent a constituency in the national parliament. I stand here particularly proud to be representing the electorate of Adelaide. Adelaide is a wonderful and diverse electorate, covering the city centre, some of our most affluent suburbs and some of the areas where many families are struggling the most. As a result of these dynamics, I stand here today representing a wonderfully diverse community who have a wide range of opinions on many issues. I am humbled by the opportunity to be their representative in this House.

I would like to make clear what I see as my role within this parliament. Some seem under the impression that, as the youngest woman to be elected to this House, it is my principal role to speak for the under 30s. I am afraid that these people may be disappointed. I have no intention of claiming to be the voice of youth. Instead, I intend to represent all those within the seat of Adelaide, regardless of their age, their race, their gender or their wealth. It is clear to me that people of my generation are facing a range of new challenges which this parliament needs to recognise and address in its decision making. I hope that my experiences with these emerging issues will enable me to add something to our debate and to our understandings. Also, I strongly believe in the importance of this parliament being compiled of a broad range of members that bring with them vast experiences and backgrounds.

The issues which I would like to speak on today are those which drew me to the Australian Labor Party, those which I believe that this parliament must address and those which encouraged my decision to stand for election. Whilst I will try to not give my entire life story, as my views on these issues have largely been formed by personal experience I hope you will excuse my indulgence in straying occasionally from the subject.

I have always been influenced by my wonderful family and the values that they instilled in me. While I did not recognise it at the time—and, I am sure, nor did they—it was these values which later led me to join the Labor Party. I would like to thank my family for both teaching me these lessons and giving me their unending support. For this I would particularly like to thank my remarkable mother, Ros, and my big brother, Matt, and acknowledge their presence, along with my mother's husband, Barry, in the gallery today.

I would also like to acknowledge my late father, Chris Ellis. My father was an especially strong role model for me and he taught me many valuable lessons which I will always hold dear. It was he who taught me that everybody deserves a fair go. He emphasised that rather than complaining too much about the hand that you had been dealt in life there was far more value in working hard to overcome adversity. I particularly remember an occasion when my father found himself unemployed with little prospect of getting a job suiting his qualifications. He did not complain; he did not give up or sit back and wait for his fortunes to change. Instead, he took a job working nights in a factory and worked weekends in a nearby supermarket. There is nothing particularly unique about this story but the lessons it taught me are clear.

I was reminded of this spirit during the election campaign when I had the good fortune to meet a young man in my electorate called Anthony. Anthony works seven days a week running a small business and spends his nights doing shifts in a factory. He does not lead a life of extravagance but does this to get by, to put food on the table and to pay the bills. Anthony did not ask for any assistance, any handouts or any sympathy but he was hopeful of a Labor victory because he felt neglected and forgotten by the current government. There are many folk such as Anthony within my electorate. They may not complain with the loudest voices or protest in the streets but they are hardworking Australians who are bearing the brunt of the transition towards a complete user-pays society. These are the Australians who are hurt most by decreased bulk-billing rates, which restrict their access to and the availability of doctors. These are the Australians who are hurt most by soaring education costs, which increasingly place higher education out of their children's reach. And these are the very Australians who did not benefit one cent from the government's budget tax cuts.

I am well aware that the people of Adelaide voted for me because they recognised a need for a Labor government. While I share their deep disappointment that we did not deliver a victory, I do pledge to be a strong voice in continuing to fight on these issues and ideals.

I am clear on the need for a healthy economy to ensure that the Australian people have access to the services and opportunities which they deserve. Before entering this parliament, I worked for the South Australian Deputy Premier and Treasurer, Kevin Foley. In my view, the performance of the South Australian economy and the state Labor government is an ideal example of how Labor governments can responsibly run an economy. They have successfully turned around our state's economic fortunes with the delivery of budget surpluses, solid economic growth and record levels of employment, while delivering increased services in the areas of health, education and law and order. This hard work has not been overlooked, with both major international ratings agencies, Moody's and Standard and Poor's, recently awarding the state a AAA credit rating. Of particular significance, I feel, is the manner in which they have achieved this. I reject the notion put forward by the federal government that we must strengthen our economy by making workers cheaper to hire and easier to sack. I would instead argue that our future economic growth lies in job creation; in creating a business climate that encourages private investment and entrepreneurship.

I also believe that the future of the River Murray is a vital issue which this parliament must address. We must address this now while we still have a chance. I had the good fortune to spend much of my childhood growing up alongside the river's banks in Mannum in country South Australia. Like most South Australians, I have long recognised the importance of this mighty river. However, one should not need to live on the riverside or even in the state of the river's mouth to recognise the urgency of the plight of the Murray. The continued neglect of this river is a huge and urgent environmental issue facing us now. But it is also far more than this. If we fail to address this serious issue, the death of the Murray will be both environmentally and economically disastrous.

The overall estimated annual costs salinity has on infrastructure, our agriculture and environment are substantial. Declining river water quality, loss of productive land, damage to roads and buildings, damage to conservation reserves and vegetation and an increased risk of flooding are all dire consequences we face should we fail to appropriately address this problem. I urge this government to have the will and the courage to sensibly address this pressing issue and not engage in politicking and buck-passing with our state governments. I urge this parliament to pursue our economic development responsibly and to address the River Murray's plight urgently, but I would also like today to speak on some issues which may not be as tangible and may not seem as significant in the short term but that I believe are of critical importance.

I am here today because I believe in the political process. I believe that politics and the parliamentary process have the power to change people's lives for the better. However, in order for this to be true we must respect and maintain the integrity of our political system. Many have noted the level of cynicism towards politics within the Australian community. I have encountered this on countless occasions within my electorate. People have repeatedly expressed despondency that they do not feel any faith in the parliament's decisions or indeed have any confidence in the accuracy of the information they are given by their political leaders. This issue is frightening. Our democratic ideals are reliant on an honest and open relationship with the constituency. Further to this, I believe that we must make an active effort to build and respect this relationship. I plan to concentrate on getting amongst the people of Adelaide, seeking out their views and engaging them within the system. The Australian people deserve to have faith in us.

To be honest, I never dreamt that I would one day be standing in this place delivering my first speech. It was never an early ambition of mine to be a politician. What set me on my journey and what brings me here today is the feeling that this government is taking something more valuable than I am willing to give. I have always been and remain today a very proud Australian. I feel truly blessed to be living in the greatest country in the world. It has always struck me that, while citizens in so many countries abroad bask in national identities which have been forged over hundreds of years, our nation's narrative is in its early stages and many of its chapters are yet to be written. This is an exciting opportunity for all of us, as well as being a heavy responsibility.

I believe that the federal government has a role to play in setting the nation's long-term direction and providing a vision for us to work towards. I have the highest respect for our war veterans and the sacrifices that they have made for us all. At a time when our nation was in its infancy, Australian men and women displayed the characteristics of mateship, courage and a deep regard for each other. They did not realise this at the time but they went a long way in shaping our nation's identity, an identity that Australians are proud to embrace today. We must continue to build on this legacy and energetically pursue a fairer, stronger and more united nation.

It was a great privilege for me to attend a Remembrance Day service last Thursday at the Enfield RSL. I witnessed war veterans and children from the Enfield and Gepps Cross primary schools observing together a moment in our history and hoping together for a peaceful future. I believe we must aspire to a peaceful future which is built on unity and egalitarianism. We must ensure that all Australians share in our prosperity and access our opportunities. I believe we must prioritise reconciliation with our indigenous community, embrace the diversity of our multicultural society and place confidence in our nation to be a strong and independent republic.

Whilst our visions may differ slightly, a long-term direction and pursuit of these ideals is worth fighting for, and ultimately I believe it is only the Labor Party that will put up this fight. For Labor supporters who are demoralised at present, I remind them of the words of a great Labor icon Ben Chifley who, in 1951, three days prior to his death, stated:

You have to be quite clear about what you believe in, whether popular or unpopular, and you have to fight for it ... if I think a thing is worth fighting for, no matter what the penalty may be, I will fight for the right, and truth and justice will always prevail.

Our goal is indeed worthy, and it is an honour to have the opportunity to pursue it here.

Each member of this parliament would have no doubt travelled vastly different paths to arrive here and set different goals to achieve. One thing that we all have in common is that we did not make it here alone. I am well aware that I would not be here today were it not for the support and encouragement of many. I would like to take the opportunity to thank just a few of those to whom I owe so much. I would like to begin by thanking a man whom I greatly respect and who joins us today in the gallery. The day that I started my first job as a checkout operator at the age of 15 I joined my first union, the South Australian SDA. Little did I know the major role and influence that its secretary, Don Farrell, would have on my life. Don has always fought hard for the interests of his members to get the very best for them in conditions and wages. I thank Don today, not just for his support of my candidacy and my campaign—though certainly for that also—but also for the inspiration, leadership and example that he sets. Similarly, I would like to express my gratitude to Alex Gallagher for his support of me and his service to many of my electors through the Transport Workers Union.

I owe so very much to the hardworking team who tirelessly worked on my campaign. The Labor Party is blessed to have so many volunteers who sacrifice large amounts of their personal time to pursue our common dreams. To the hundreds who volunteered on my campaign I express my heartfelt gratitude. I am not going to name them all. In particular I thank my campaign committee, led by my wonderfully talented campaign director, Nick Champion, who also joins us today. I thank Nick for the professional and effective manner in which he juggled his many responsibilities in the campaign and, whilst I may not have exactly thought it at the time, I thank him now for being such a slavedriver. Nick is a true asset to our party and our community, and I will return the favour and look forward to supporting him in his future endeavours. I would also like to thank Nimfa, Andrew, Brad, Sevi, Lindsay, Tim and Bob for their hard work and Cathie King for her long-term support and friendship.

I received invaluable support from members of the South Australian parliamentary Labor Party. I thank them all—especially those within my electorate. In particular, I thank Premier Mike Rann, Tom Koutsantonis, Michael Atkinson, Kevin Foley and John Rau for their support. I am also grateful for the support provided by Senators Kirk, Buckland and Bolkus and would especially like to acknowledge the role of our South Australian Senator-elect, Annette Hurley. I also thank the Leader of the Opposition, the shadow ministry and the ALP National Secretariat for their tireless work and invaluable support during the campaign.

I thank my family and my core group of friends, who are like a second family to me. I thank them for the support that they give and the friendship that I cherish. In particular, I pay tribute to Andrea and Stephen, who continually amaze me with their warmth, generosity and support.

On many occasions over recent months I have been accused of being young and idealistic. To this, I plead guilty as charged. My only hope is that one day I will be old and idealistic and be able to look back on my time in this place and think that, through hard work for the people of Adelaide, I managed to make a contribution that went some way towards seeing a long-term vision for our nation become closer to a reality.