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Wednesday, 29 September 2010
Page: 216

Ms ROWLAND (5:20 PM) —In 1952, a 20-year-old man working as a junior clerk in Sydney spotted a recruitment notice for managerial positions in one of two locations in the South Pacific. Seeking a new challenge, he based his decision as to which of these two locations he would choose, the then Territory of Papua and New Guinea or Fiji, on the toss of a coin: heads, off to New Guinea or, tails, to Fiji. As the saying goes, tails never fails. So it was within weeks of that toss that he was strapped into the seat of a flying boat rising above the magnificent Sydney Harbour, bound for Suva.

Within two years he married the most eligible young lady in the city, a woman of impeccable character from a very well known family, a descendant from the royal island of Bau, the home of the great chiefs. For several years this couple adventured to far-flung islands across the Pacific. They had two children. Then they made a decision. Those people were my parents, and their decision was to surrender their idyllic life and settle in Australia in order to give their two children, named Tony and Lyn, the best opportunities for their own futures and do the same for my brother John and me, who would be born in Australia many years later.

I pay tribute to my dad, Frank Rowland, and affirm my deepest respect for the Wildin family of my mother. I also honour my husband’s family, the Chaayas, who, as Christian Lebanese, fled Beirut and the impending civil war, coming to Australia in the early 1970s. My mother-in-law, Sue, was pregnant with the baby whom I would eventually marry.

The story of my family parallels those of so many others in the electorate of Greenway. I acknowledge the diversity of ethnicities, religions and life experiences which comprise the people of Greenway, whom I represent in this House today with great humility and determination. The election campaign in Greenway confirmed for me some beliefs that I have always considered self-evident. Above all, irrespective of one’s country of birth, or suburb of origin, every parent essentially holds the same desire: that their children should have a life better than they themselves had. The starting point for this is that parents demand the best educational opportunities for their children. As someone who was born in Blacktown and whose parents selflessly pursued that goal for me, I have always believed in education as the great enabler. It is the key to fulfilling employment, economic opportunity, the joy of teamwork and collegiality.

Education drives a virtuous cycle, with the capacity to overcome the misery of intergenerational unemployment, poverty and crime. It is from this that my belief in the Labor Party and the labour movement stems—an overarching policy objective that your postcode should not dictate your future and an obligation to generate ideas and live a life which promotes equality of opportunity. In my 20 years as a local Labor activist, this has always been my guiding objective. And so I commit to the people of Greenway that I will be a passionate advocate for the best educational infrastructure and resources for all our schools. I will strive to maximise access to trades training and higher education to achieve a society where we all benefit from the learnings of children and adults alike.

Of course I would not be in a position to make this commitment without first being elected by the people of Greenway. I sincerely thank you for the privilege of representing you. I am acutely aware of the challenges we face as communities within a community. We have a wide range of people and place, of both well-established suburbs and those at the urban fringe—from the old southerly suburbs like Lalor Park, Pendle Hill and Toongabbie, to the middle band of newer suburbs in Glenwood, Quakers Hill and Acacia Gardens, to the acreages of Riverstone and Schofields in the north—those same pastures are of course in a state of immense change as they are transformed into new suburbs such as Stanhope Gardens, The Ponds and Kellyville Ridge, where one can stand in the street and literally see the edge of metropolitan Sydney under construction.

I would not be standing here today without the incredible personal sacrifice and commitment to the cause of Labor demonstrated by so many individuals and organisations. I firstly thank my husband, Michael, who has backed me in everything I have done from the first day we met over 18 years ago. Michael worked tirelessly throughout the campaign. He maintained calm and gave me quality support no matter what the pressure. So much was this the case that Michael was independently dubbed ‘model spouse of candidate’. Michael, you are the love of my life.

I thank every one of the local ALP branch members and other volunteers who worked for months on the campaign. I thank the campaign director of the Greenway federal electorate council, Brian Thomas, and his wife Judy. Brian, a retired professional truck driver, offered some of the most insightful observations I have ever heard about why he and so many others were prepared to do so much for my candidacy with no expectation of personal reward. He said:

It’s because when you help elect a local Labor representative you’re actually doing yourself a favour.

That is the great thing about true Labor people. To the New South Wales ALP state organiser, Brendan Cavanagh, thank you for assembling the most professional and dedicated group of staff any candidate could ask for and for driving such a gruelling campaign schedule. To Patrick Cook and Dominic Ofner, I want you to know that nothing you did ever went either unnoticed by me or without my thanks, including the freezing cold mornings at our countless train station appearances and your perpetual sleep deprivation. A special thank you also to the scores of Young Labor volunteers who helped on the campaign. As a former Young Labor activist, I appreciate your generous support and I embrace my responsibility to encourage regeneration in our great movement.

Growing up in Greenway, I personally witnessed the power of education to effect change. My husband grew up in a public housing area of Mount Druitt. Like many people from diverse ethnic backgrounds who live in Greenway, he could not speak English when he started school. He attended the local public school in Shalvey until year 12. Thanks to his personal determination, supportive family and dedicated teachers, he was accepted into the University of Sydney and he earned first-class honours in economics and law. Today he is a partner at the leading law firm of Corrs Chambers Westgarth. I know there are scores of young people in Western Sydney today who have the same, if not greater, capacity to succeed. But even now we too often leave the prospects of young people to chance—the chance that they may be taken under the wing of a supportive teacher at a formative time in their life, the possibility that their family can afford all the educational resources they need.

In today’s labour market, a global market, we cannot let luck determine the educational and career prospects of our children. I believe these things because I was taught the importance of both hard work and earning my own good fortune by giving back to the community around me. My education at St Bernadette’s Lalor Park and later at Our Lady of Mercy College Parramatta taught me to be an agent of change. My teachers encouraged me to be a woman of action as well as opinion, a lesson which has guided my life.

My first job was in Greenway as a 15-year-old checkout operator in a supermarket in Blacktown, working to support myself through school and later through university. That was the lot of many of my friends at the time and it is still the case today—the well-trodden path of working and studying. Over the eight years that I scanned groceries, packed shelves and was eventually promoted to the cash office, I came to appreciate the rewards of what was often hard manual labour. My first shift was in early 1987 and I earned just under $30. I spent nearly every cent of that first pay packet on the latest Bon Jovi album. To this day I know every word of its every song.

My university studies subsequently took me into the law. During my 10 years as a lawyer at Gilbert and Tobin in Sydney I specialised in telecommunications regulation, competition, privacy and broadcasting laws. I was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to work with senior partners who are recognised as world leaders in their fields. I worked with some of the largest companies in Australia and the world. This exposed me to the realities and the challenges of the corporate environment.

There is a long list of colleagues from this time whom I want to thank, individuals such as Gina Cass-Gottlieb, Catherine Dermody, Angus Henderson, Peter Leonard, Ara Margossian, Rob Nicholls and Peter Waters, who taught me the substantive legal and technical expertise I needed and life skills like resilience, collaboration and problem solving.

I am also grateful to Gilbert and Tobin for giving me the opportunity to work on projects around the world that nurtured my personal belief in the power of information technology to deliver just social outcomes. These included designing the regulatory environment for the high-speed broadband network in Malaysia; improving telecommunications access in remote areas of Cambodia; working in Ramallah to help establish an independent regulator and promote investment in the sector; universal service delivery in rural Sri Lanka; and infrastructure development for underserved regions of China.

It is therefore with a degree of practical expertise and responsiveness to the residents of west and north-west Sydney that I embrace the development of Australia’s National Broadband Network. Labor’s NBN plan will transform the way in which people communicate and work, enhance living standards, create better access to education and health services and deliver real choice, consistent with the role of Labor governments as catalysts for economic and social change. As a former telco regulatory lawyer, I need to emphasise the importance of the NBN as a piece of fundamental infrastructure reform—something that is often overlooked in the public debate.

Let us be clear: the wholesale only, open access infrastructure of the NBN will transform the very structure of the telco sector. By separating the network layer from the services layer, the NBN will facilitate effective competition and choice for all Australians, regardless of where they live or work. It will do this by treating the network—the ducts, the poles, the fibre cables and the electronics that constitute the NBN—as it should be: a national piece of utility infrastructure. One only needs to look at the continued growth of fixed bandwidth—a rate of 20 to 30 percent each year—to realise that Australia’s existing telco infrastructure will shortly pass its use-by date.

In 10 or 20 years our children will look back on the current debate about the NBN and will be shocked by the short-sightedness of some of the views expressed about the NBN today, particularly the commentary that is fixated on the download path: the false assumption that the NBN is merely a matter of faster emails or web-surfing. The reality is the NBN is not about the download. It is all about the upload. It is about a whole new category of enhanced services and applications that can only be achieved on a high-speed broadband platform that requires speeds only fibre technology can give—services and applications that have not even been invented yet. We have a glimpse today of what some of those applications will be, and they are positive. In the area of health, they include online medical consultations, remote diagnosis of electronic medical images and in-home monitoring of elderly people and sufferers of chronic disease.

The need for a nation to invest in a truly national broadband network is no longer the exception; it is the rule. Other countries, both within our region and beyond, understand the importance of high-speed broadband for economic growth. They understand the technical limitations of copper and wireless networks and the critical role of national government in making high-speed broadband a reality. These are not countries which adopted the adage of Sir William Preece, the chief engineer of the British Post Office, who in 1876 reportedly said:

The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.

This is why I commit to the residents of Greenway that I will be a strong advocate to deliver the NBN, particularly in Riverstone and its surrounding areas as the site of the first metro Sydney rollout.

On the same day that I was declared the member for Greenway a few weeks ago, I was fortunate to attend the official opening of two school infrastructure projects in my electorate, both constructed under Building the Education Revolution, at Holy Cross Primary in Glenwood and at St John’s Primary in Riverstone. In his remarks at each of these openings, Bishop Anthony Fisher commented on the importance of the highest quality educational infrastructure and resources for the future of our children. For these same reasons, I believe the NBN to be critical to the development of future generations of highly educated and inclusive citizens.

Some of those opposite have vowed to wage a campaign to destroy the NBN. I say here today: I vow that I will destroy that campaign. One of the reasons I am driven to support the NBN is that I support investing in young people. There is a special obligation here. With over eight per cent of its population under the age of five, Greenway is effectively Australia’s nursery.

I also support the investments in our young people made by many non-government organisations, including Barnardos Australia. As respite carers for a young girl through Barnardos, Michael and I learnt how sadly frequent it is the case that we as a society fail children. As a volunteer duty solicitor for female victims of domestic violence over many years, as part of my commitment to pro bono work, I have also witnessed how adults fail each other and too often it is children who suffer the most.

The past few months have also taught me about the suffering of families in Greenway who have a child with a learning or development disorder. Until I encountered these families on the campaign trail, I did not fully appreciate the meaning of the term ‘special needs child’. I remember especially one mother in Quakers Hill, who ran down the street to catch up with me while I was doorknocking. She passionately wanted me to know what it means to love and care for a child whose emotions will switch from placid to violent without warning. I could do only one thing: I listened. I found myself doing far more listening in this campaign than I had ever done in my life. I thank that particular lady and the scores of other local residents over the past months who have patiently educated me in understanding their children’s special needs and their desire for them to have a rewarding life.

I know that it is not possible to respond or connect with people unless you are genuine. I can assure the people of Greenway that I will continue to be accessible, genuine and active during this parliamentary term. I am not someone you will just see at election time. Indeed, I found the experience of putting myself forward for public life to be personally gratifying. I was constantly running into old school friends, former teachers and my childhood netball coach, not to mention the people who saw me out and about so often that we would end up greeting one another like friends.

I was also touched over the past few months to receive so many good wishes from people who knew my mother, Marie. These well wishes came from complete strangers to me whom Mum had befriended during her life, as well as her fellow helpers on the St Bernadette’s tuckshop roster. I was 11 years old when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Six years of countless drugs, chemotherapy, radiation and the most unimaginable pain followed, but her survival could be prolonged no further and she died shortly after my 17th birthday.

The Cancer Institute New South Wales notes that breast cancer remains the most prevalent form of the disease in our community, with nearly 50,000 survivors now in New South Wales. Although mortality rates declined in the decade from 1997 by 14 per cent, it is still a significant public health challenge. There remain dramatic regional variations in the relative survival rates for cancer sufferers. Statistically, Western Sydney does not fare well in the likelihood of death from cancer after diagnosis. On behalf of the survivors, their families and those who have lost, I make a special commitment to supporting cancer research, particularly to address the disparity between geographic outcomes.

It has been said that this election campaign in Greenway was not one of five weeks or nine months but rather 20 years. I want to thank my family and some of my long-time friends for being with me on that journey: David Tierney, the ‘man in the hat’, for his considered and thoughtful advice; Milton Dick for being my touchstone; Mark McLeay, who continued his commitment despite the arrival of his new baby, Xavier, in the middle of the campaign; Leo Kelly, with whom I served as a councillor and his Deputy Mayor on Blacktown City Council, and his wife, Janet; my in-laws—Sue, Sam, Myrna, Sandra and Charlie—for all their hard work and especially their good humour; the late Sylvia Whilesmith, the legendary Labor matriarch of Western Sydney; the Hon. Amanda Fazio, President of the New South Wales Legislative Council, for her mentorship; the Hon. Nathan Rees, the member for Toongabbie, who devoted so much of his personal time to the campaign; and my friend the member for Chifley. It is my pleasure that we are here together, and I know we will be an effective team to serve the people of Western Sydney. Ultimately, I thank the people of Greenway for the chance to represent them.  You have given me an extraordinary opportunity to do the things that I have always believed in.

My belief in education, my belief in family, in community and in work, my determination to pursue social justice and equality in all areas of human endeavour where I might be privileged to make a difference, my practical commitment to Labor ideals, my working life clearly defining my support for Labor in our education and NBN policies—those who commit to any of these imperatives with half-baked solutions will be judged harshly indeed. I will not be one of them. With this opportunity comes responsibility. Today I have committed to a series of actions as Greenway’s representative in the federal parliament. I expect to be judged by the people of Greenway on how I perform against those commitments. I intend to live up to that responsibility with civility, with dedication and, most of all, with compassion.