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Wednesday, 20 February 2008
Page: 849

Mr PERRETT (10:22 AM) —Firstly, Mr Speaker, may I congratulate you on your new position. You showed kindness to me on the first occasion that we met, and I am hopeful that this kindness will continue should the need arise—although that is very unlikely! I stand here beneath our radiant Southern Cross in this magnificent people’s building, below our coat of arms, very aware that I am a long way from the banks of the beautiful Balonne River. Nevertheless, I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land where I was born, the traditional owners of the Moreton electorate where I live and the traditional owners of the land here on which I stand. I thank them all for their continuing stewardship and was heartened last week to be welcomed here by Matilda House and her people. I also acknowledge the eight previous members who have represented the Federation seat of Moreton: James Wilkinson, Hugh Sinclair, Arnold Wienholt, Jos Francis, Jim Killen, Don Cameron, Garrie Gibson—who is up there in the chamber—and Gary Hardgrave. I especially appreciated the phone calls and good wishes from Don Cameron and Garrie Gibson. Unfortunately, one of Moreton’s most magnificent former members died last year, leaving giant shoes. Sir James Killen once declared in an exchange with Gough Whitlam—and with your indulgence I will quote—that he ‘swam bare-arsed in the Condamine with Aboriginals’. So I thought I should inform the House that I too have completed this feat. But, out of respect for my Murri friends from St George, I will not name anyone.

When I grew up out west, it was not alongside members of the stolen generation. However, way too many of my Indigenous friends belong to a lost generation. It is very sad that not all of my Murri mates are around today to see where I have ended up. Brian, Greg, Frank, David—too many names, too many young lives lost and too many tears. There are way too many. I still see your faces and hear your songs. However, today is not about sad words. Too many sad words make a sad, sad song. Instead, I am cheered by the commitment made by Kevin Rudd and Jenny Macklin here last week after saying sorry to the stolen generations. Surely that was one of the greatest days in this parliament. I thank them both for the commitment to providing hope with dignity for so many Indigenous people. For way too long, I personally felt there was a void at the heart of Australia. It may have been a spiritual void or a moral void—I am not sure—but the ‘67 referendum and the Mabo decision both went some way to erasing the horrible fabrication that was terra nullius. Paul Keating’s Native Title Act was a further lurch towards making wrongs right. Let us hope that the legacy of this the 42nd Parliament will be the re-commencement of the journey towards healing, changing Indigenous lives and erasing that void.

When I grew up in St George, politicians were blokes in tweed jackets who sporadically flitted into town, unveiled plaques and made long speeches at school assemblies. Today I see politicians from a different side. Now my Premier is a progressive woman called Anna who has probably never owned a tweed jacket and my Prime Minister is a nice, bright bloke called Kevin. His Queenslander is just down the road from mine but I hear he now has a nice house here in Canberra. I got into politics originally because that great visionary Paul Keating left this chamber. Do not get me wrong; it is not that I thought there was not room for the two of us. It is just that I was pretty happy with the world in the nineties while Mr Keating was my Prime Minister and Wayne Goss was my Premier. Once these two noble gentlemen were gone, I decided it was time to be more fair dinkum. Actions speak louder than whingeing, so I joined one of Australia’s greatest and proudest community organisations, the Australian Labor Party. Once I joined Labor, I was delighted to meet a few politicians, such as the current member for Brisbane, and quickly realised they were a lot like me. In fact, when I look at the earlier careers of most members in this chamber they are usually former teachers, solicitors, union officials, farmers or policy advisers or they are from the private sector. Because I have done every single one of those jobs, I am optimistic that my skills will help the good people of Moreton.

Mr Speaker, as you might recall from your visit in 2004, my electorate is a majestic place. For the benefit of the chamber, I will detail some of its features. Moreton is close to the thriving heart of Brisbane but not too close. We are blessed with the peaceful Brisbane River to the north, the rugged beauty of Karawatha Forest to the south and the lungs of Oxley Creek to the west, and in the middle there is Toohey Forest and Griffith University. In addition to that seat of progressive learning, Moreton is also blessed with three other state-of-the-art training facilities, fantastic schools and great hospitals. Moreton has some of Australia’s major roads and train lines and is the engine room of manufacturing in Queensland. Unfortunately, this creates some local issues but I am committed to easing the congestion squeeze. I will not be passing the buck, unless it is only briefly back to the Leader of the House for discussion. I want to sort out the sound barriers on Riawena Road, the Acacia Ridge Elizabeth Street overpass, the Kessels and Mains Road intersection and the Toohey Road bike path. These are my first traffic priorities and I will work with the local and state governments to achieve real results, irrespective of their political flavour.

Moreton is not all about business. It also has the best multicultural food in Australia. We have something to tickle your taste buds—whether it is the African restaurants of Moorooka, the Asian cuisine of Sunnybank or the Halal food of just about anywhere in Moreton. I especially acknowledge the representatives from the Chinese community who have flown down here to see me today: Ni hao ni hao, Lewis, Kenny and Jack. Xie xie xie xie ni. The Chinese diaspora is committed, like so many other groups in Moreton, to a harmonious, multicultural Australian society. Just like the wonderfully warm Islamic people, like Moreton’s varied churches and community and environmental groups, they are dedicated to understanding and tolerance. This is what makes Moreton the best place in the world to live or to visit. Contrary to earlier misguided statements, I do not see an exhausted community. Instead, I see suburbs full of people who are committed to getting on with and helping their neighbours. I do not believe in any form of racism. I do not believe in any form of discrimination or segregation. The Australian sense of the fair go is alive and well and living on the south side of Brisbane and I will work hard to make sure that unfair, racist accusations are never, ever again given oxygen in my neighbourhood.

I stand here as somebody of Irish, French and Italian heritage, representing an electorate where one in three voters was born overseas. I wish to remind all Australians that the price of harmony is hard work. Each and every one of us must be eternally vigilant when it comes to community relations. We must knock on all our neighbours’ doors and offer a helping hand. We must build understanding, trust and friendship, irrespective of race, religion, age or political beliefs.

I now wish to thank some of the people who helped get me here. Firstly, to my mother, the indomitable Peggy Perrett: your courage, stoicism, love of literature, telling yarns, travel and having good times with your friends inspired me as a child and guides me still as an adult—thank you, Mum; I am proud to stand here as your son. I also acknowledge my indefatigable father, Brian Perrett, and each and every one of my siblings—and, because my mum was a good Catholic girl, this will take a bit of time. Firstly, to David and Claire Perrett: David surely never thought 20 years ago when he helped erect this house of the people that his little brother would get to stand here in awe of the exquisite skill and craftsmanship. Next, to Debbie and Philip Bolin: thanks for all those years of babysitting, support and employment. My many years of labouring on your farm certainly made me study hard at university. I thank Malcolm Perrett, who is deceased, who is watching down from way up above the flagpole with my uncle Straw Morrissy, my partner’s father, Stanley Scoines, and my grandfather TJ Morrissy. Coincidentally, for the information of the members for Robertson and Solomon, my grandfather comes from Deuchar, an outer suburb of Allora. My great uncle’s name, James Alphonsus Morrissy, is on the Allora war memorial because he lost his life at Ypres. Surely, there is nothing more moving than standing at the Menin Gate and seeing all those young names.

Thanks to my brother Mark and to Karyn Perrett for teaching me to appreciate nature, and especially to Mark for his laughter and strength; to Simon Perrett, who is in the gallery, and Michael Threlfo, for their sterling work on my election campaigns and godfather duties; to Kerry and Peter Shearer for their friendship, love and, most importantly, babysitting; to Timothy Perrett, my younger brother, for showing me horribly through his tragic workplace accident and the deaths of his two fellow workers the importance of health and safety on worksites—everybody in this chamber must recognise the important role our unions play in saving lives every single day all around Australia; to Nick Perrett and Tony, for making me laugh and never for one minute thinking that I am the best; and, lastly, to Megan, the last Perrett in the Perrett family but definitely not the least, one of the most generous people I have ever met, the best electrician in Queensland—without offending the member for Deakin; I did say Queensland—and a godmother par excellence.

I also wish to go on the record and thank some very good friends: Peter Brown; Michael Watson; my teachers in St George, Linda Walsh and Anne Reilly; Erin Brady, John Carozza and all the Gophers; Judi Locke; David O’Sullivan; Roy Nott; David Dall’Antonio; Karen Campbell; Dean Sullivan; Annie Ballard; Chris Holt; Thomas Pedersen; Noel Niddrie, who is here in the gallery; Dene Crocker, also in the gallery; Peter Shaw, up in the gallery; and Greg Rudd. I also acknowledge my mentors: in education, Gary McLennan, Graham Bruce, Debbie Colquhoun, Joe Ryan, Dell Jones and Brother Terence Heinrich; in law, Michael Quinn; and in mining, Stephen Robertson, Geoff Wilson and Michael Roche—thank you all for your guidance.

I also proudly acknowledge my godchildren—Tricia Bolin; August Sullivan; Alexander Crocker, who is also up in the gallery; Charlotte Nott; and Erin Shearer—and hope that my spiritual guidance will always pass muster, especially on the floor of the chamber.

I willingly thank all my friends and comrades in the union movement and the ALP. As a so-called union thug, I gladly acknowledge the crucial role the labour movement played in my election night success. So many decent, talented, hardworking, honourable people worked incredible hours. To quote from that great Western philosopher from the 1980s, ‘I love youse all’—that is Western Sydney, of course.

I am especially thankful to Russell Carr and the AMIEU for their support and advice, the LHMU, the ETU, the RTBUA, the AMWU and my old union, QIEU. To Andrew and Trish Ramsay, Ken and Robin Boyne and all of the Your Rights at Work team—thank you, thank you, thank you and thank you again. I acknowledge my previous campaign managers: Jo Justo and Karen Struthers; and my 2007 campaign director Roslyn McLennan, aka Wonder Woman—Ros, you are an absolute legend. Unfortunately, my campaign directors seem to keep having babies—this has got nothing to do with me—so it might make it hard for me to recruit somebody for the ‘Kevin11’ campaign, but I will worry about that later. One thing is certain, the future of Labor is in safe hands whenever women of this calibre take leadership roles.

Thank you to the rest of the Moreton team: David Forde, the most passionate Irishman in Australia, which is saying something; Terry Wood from the ALP; the rest of the ALP team, Dallas Elvery, Brad Hayes, the irrepressible Kate Perry; and Braedan Hogan; all of the union and Labor Party members; family and friends; community leaders like Faisal Hatia, Father John Scarriott and Mustafa Ally; the elected representatives at the state level, Karen Struthers, Stephen Robertson, Anna Bligh, Phil Reeves, Simon Finn, Ronan Lee, Judy Spence and Gary Fenlon; Steve Griffiths, Helen Abrahams, Gail Macpherson and Kevin Bianci from the Brisbane City Council; and also to Craig Emerson, Tony Burke, Joseph Ludwig and Claire Moore from the federal parliament. These people all worked to restore fairness in the workplace and install me in this chamber, where the people are the boss. I especially remind the other side of the House of this fact: the people of Australia are our bosses and they spoke very loudly and very clearly.

It was truly humbling to see the incredible work that my branch members and union volunteers did throughout Moreton. And why did they do this? They worked tirelessly simply because they believed in a fair and decent Australia. I promise solemnly right here and right now to serve all of Moreton diligently and honestly. I will work to ensure that the Australian fair go is not forgone—never again, not in Moreton, not on my watch, not on our watch.

I finish my thanks and acknowledgements with the two most important people in my life—with all due respect to you, Mr Speaker, and to the whip! I see they have been consigned to the soundproof chamber up above. The first person is only two years old but already my greatest inspiration—Stanley Che Scoines Perrett, known to his friends as Stan. Stan, as you read this speech, please accept my heart-wrenching apology for all of the nights and days of your life that I missed because of my commitment to the people of Moreton and the great Commonwealth of Australia.

Secondly, I thank my best friend, who also happens to be one of the funniest and brightest people I have ever met, and the most beautiful woman in the world—my partner, my wife, my love, my life: Lea Scoines. I give you all my love and the assurance that I will miss you every single night that I am away. I will walk the line. They say that behind every successful man stands a very surprised woman. Lea, thank you for always hiding your look of surprise.

So how did I get here? Well, I have answered that question by listing some of the people who helped me over the last 42 years to arrive here in the 42nd Parliament as one of 42 new MPs. It has been said that the Ultimate Answer to the Great Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42. Mr Speaker, as I am now 42 it is time for me to ask existentially and practically: why am I here? The answer: I’m from Moreton and I’m here to help. How? Firstly, I wish to bring some poetry and literature back to this chamber and throughout Moreton. They say that if you want to avoid offence at a dinner party you should avoid discussing politics and religion. I taught in Catholic schools for eight years and was a union organiser in Christian schools for five years, and I met some of the most decent people I have ever encountered on this planet. I quickly found out that it is not what people profess to believe but what they do that counts. Back to religion and politics: I tell you, if you really want to put some people offside, it is not politics or religion that does it; all you have to do is recite a bit of poetry. Mr Speaker, I give you fair notice that it is my intention to bring some more poetry and literature back into this chamber. To paraphrase Les Murray, Australians need more absolutely ordinary rainbows.

Secondly, I will continue to assist Moreton’s very healthy multicultural community in projects such as the African business initiatives, a Chinese war memorial and a south-side multicultural community centre.

Thirdly, I will assist groups like the Kyabra Community Association to stamp out homelessness. One of the saddest things I had to do when I became a candidate was to resign from the board of the Kyabra Community Association. On a recent tour of a homeless shelter in the Prime Minister’s electorate, it broke my heart to see the small lockers that people used to store all that they had amassed in their life.

My host, Jeff, said that often people did not even bother coming back to collect all their stuff, to collect all of their life. I know that I will not be comforted on my deathbed by anything I have amassed. Instead, the achievement I want to stack beside me is the times I helped ease the pain and strain of those doing it tough on our streets.

The white light has come on, so the last item on my agenda is all about timing. It came to me when the Member for Forde and I rushed over to attend an Organ Donor Awareness function last Thursday. Some people are wearing these wrist bands. When we got there we were told by Anne Cahill Lambert that we were too late. Anne stood there with her oxygen machine and told us that it was all over—too late. For me, the presentation I had missed was not life or death, but organ donation is life and death for Anne. During the 2007 election campaign it was also too late for my friend Debbie Duddridge. Debbie had been waiting on a set of lungs for more than two years but on 29 October last year it became too late. How many other Debbies are out there? How many Annes? Waiting, hoping, that it will not be too late. Australia’s rate of organ donation is shameful. We need to work with our doctors to change this, but you too can help. Have you signed an organ donation form? If not, why not? Have you clearly told your loved ones that you would love your body to keep on working long after you are gone? If not, why not? If your religion prevents you, perhaps you need to have another talk with your God. Whether you are watching, listening to or reading this speech, the question you need to ask yourself is: why not? Please commit today to doing somebody else a favour after you are gone. Caring is doing. If you don’t do, you really don’t care.