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Tuesday, 27 September 2022
Page: 1666

Dr CHARLTON (Parramatta) (16:46): I acknowledge the First Nations people here today as well as the traditional owners of the land on which we meet. I thank our First Nations brothers and sisters for showing us that the pathway of truth, treaty and voice will lead to a more unified future for all Australians. And I acknowledge the presence of the so many people who have travelled to Canberra to be here today. Some of my oldest friends are in the gallery. Some of you have been looking out for me since I was three feet tall, and it means a lot to me that you are here today, up there in the gallery, still looking out for me.

High in my thoughts are all the members of the Parramatta Labor Party who are here in the gallery: my predecessor, Julie Owens, who gave nearly two decades of service to the Parramatta community and set a high standard that I aspire to emulate; and councillors from Parramatta and Cumberland councils. Thank you for being here. Most important, I acknowledge all of the Parramatta branch members, volunteers and supporters. I am deeply grateful to you. You welcomed me. You doorknocked. You street-stalled and phone-banked for me. I am here, standing in this chamber, because of you. And I assure you that I will work hard every day to repay your trust.

I want to point out my mother and father and parents-in-law; and my brother, Kim, and his family. Like any child, I don't know the half of what my parents did for us kids, but I always felt happy and secure around them. Kim and I could not have asked for a more supportive and loving family.

I also want to acknowledge my friends and former colleagues from AlphaBeta. I'm so proud of the business we built together, starting from humble beginnings with two employees in my attic and growing to more than 70 people across five offices. I learned so much about building teams and managing change along the journey with you.

Most importantly, I want to acknowledge my talented and beautiful wife, Phoebe. I always feel so lucky to be with you. We've shared a raft through life's rapids and had a lot of fun along the journey. With typical generosity, you encouraged me to take this leap into politics, and, while it's a great honour to be here to make a contribution to our nation, it's a great honour to be your husband. The most difficult thing about my new job is being away from you and our three gorgeous children, Angus, Ruth and Ingrid. I want you to know that I miss you so much when I'm away.

I also acknowledge my friends and colleagues in the Labor movement. I joined the Labor Party nearly 20 years ago. I joined the Labor Party because I was inspired by the core ideals of social justice, by the notion that we should be judged as a society by the way we treat our most vulnerable citizens and by the simple principle that every kid deserves the best chance. But I also joined because of the people I met in Labor, from the senior politicians to the union officials, to the staffers and the branch members young and old. I didn't agree with everything each one of them believed, but I knew that their beliefs came from a good place—a place of optimism and compassion, a place that I wanted to be.

And 20 years later, I'm still just as inspired by the ideals and the people in the Labor movement. Looking around this chamber, I recognise so many colleagues who spent the last decade of opposition building a vision for Australia's future that inspired not just me but the whole nation. As new members, we come to this place recognising the debt that we owe to experienced legislators and officials who've come before us, and knowing how much we have to learn from them.

Thank you in particular to the members for McMahon, Greenway, Watson, Blaxland, Rankin, Fraser, Sydney, Moreton, Fenner, Chifley, Hotham and Kingsford Smith for their advice and support. To these I add the state members for Rockdale, Granville, Auburn; the leader of New South Wales Labor, Chris Minns; Senator Tim Ayres; Lisa Lake; Kate Pounder; the awesome New South Wales ALP secretaries, Bob Nanva, Dom Ofner and George Simon. I also acknowledge the support I receive from unions, in particular Dan Walton, Mel Gatfield and David Dobson. I'm grateful to my campaign team: Liam Rankine, James Callow, Ange Humphries, Gail McDade, Lachlan Harris, Amit Singh, Damian Kassabgi, Rebecca Colbrook, Matt Connolly, Riz Chowdhury, Harish Velji and Aisha Amjad. To you and all the branch members and all the volunteers, I say a heartfelt thank you.

I also owe a great debt to former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd both for the opportunities he gave me and for inspiring me as I watched him use his intellect and energy to make Australia and the world a better place. Thank you to Bob Easton, former chairman of Accenture, for showing me that the most important quality of any leader is humility and empathy. And, finally, thank you to my new team: Launa, Eleanor, Maryam, Kai and Paul. It is an honour to work with such talented and committed people.

Now, I come to this place as a proud representative of Parramatta. In case you hadn't noticed, Parramatta today is a city full of excitement. It's not just the success of the mighty Eels. Parramatta is blossoming as the geographic heart of Greater Sydney, and the gateway to the new Western Sydney powerhouse of growth. Parramatta is the most dynamic and fastest-growing CBD in Australia, with a million square metres of prime office space already laid down and a million more to be built in the next five years. Nine university campuses have flocked to Parramatta to take advantage of the extraordinary pool of talent across Western Sydney, and dozens of companies have moved to Parramatta to be part of its stellar growth. My message to businesses across our state is simple: if you are not in Parramatta, you are missing out on the future of Sydney.

Parramatta is also a place of culture and heritage. Its foundations were said 30,000 years ago by the Burramattagal clan of the Dharug people on land rich in meaning and resources, where the fresh water of the Darling Mills and Toongabbie creeks meets the salt water of the Parramatta River. After Sydney, Parramatta is the second oldest city in Australia. But, as any proud Parramatta resident will point out, much of what we commonly take to be the history of Sydney is in fact the history of Parramatta. Old Government House, James Ruse's Experiment Farm, John and Elizabeth Macarthur's merino sheep holding, the Female Factory, the Girls Home were all in Parramatta. Parramatta is the site of Australia's first permanent church building, the first brewery and the first licenced pub. Much of the rich history of Australia is in Parramatta waiting to be acknowledged, protected and celebrated.

The most remarkable feature of Parramatta is its people. The city has been built by successive waves of newcomers seeking a better life for themselves and their families, whether it's the strong Lebanese community around Harris Park; or the Greek community raising a new church on the banks of the Parramatta River; or the Chinese and Koreans who've moved to Carlingford; or the Indians and Sri Lankans in Wentworthville, Westmead and the jewel of business and culture that is Little India; or the Muslims, Afghanis, Hazaras and other communities now growing their presence. These communities are the true genius of Parramatta—a place that attracts people to come here for a better life for themselves and, in doing so, creates a better city for everyone. Parramatta is a great city, an aspirational city, and it's my intention to help its citizens make it a global city.

I've spent my life as an economist and business owner, building stronger economies and stronger communities. And I'm standing in this chamber because I believe in the power of government to make a difference in people's lives. I've been fortunate to work as an economist around the world and witness how politics shapes the success and the failure of nations. In the United Kingdom, I worked at the London school of economics on ideas to drive productivity and growth. In New York, at the United Nations Development Programme, I studied the factors that keep millions of people around the world in desperate poverty. I worked with Joseph Stiglitz to show how fair trade agreements can build countries up but unfair deals can perpetuate inequality and stifle opportunity. And, after six years working in different countries, I thought more and more about Australia—how remarkable our national story is; how lucky we are. Australia isn't perfect, but our journey to become one of the most prosperous nations in the world, full of promise and opportunity, is an extraordinary achievement; many countries have not been so successful. And Australia's success is not an accident. It's the product of good management, tough decisions and strong institutions.

And I'm proud of Labor's contribution to Australia's economic journey. Labor governments opened up Australia's economy in the eighties and nineties. We kept our country out of recession in the 2000s. And now the question we have to ask ourselves is: what is next for Australia? How do we keep the arc of Australian prosperity rising? How high can we aspire? The answer starts with acknowledging that, despite the remarkable success of the Australian project, there is much more to do and there are many people who've been left out of our national prosperity.

At the Rheem factory in Parramatta recently, I met Rebecca. Rebecca is a generous, warm-hearted person. She's been at Rheem for 20 years. She works hard. She's devoted to her family. She contributes to the community as the secretary of the local Baptist church. She volunteers on the weekends to feed the homeless. I thought about all this woman has contributed to our country. She is everything any of us would want in a neighbour, a workmate or a friend. But, as a nation, we have to ask: are we supporting Rebecca as well as she is supporting us?

Over the last 10 years, Australia has lost sight of the fact that good economic policy is fundamentally about people. What is the point of a strong economy if most workers have zero wages growth for a decade? What is the point of near full employment if millions of people are in insecure work? What is the point of rising education levels if hundreds of thousands of migrants find themselves in jobs that don't even use their qualifications? What is the point of rising incomes if the gender pay gap is getting worse, not better?

When my dad worked at that same Rheem factory as a young engineer in the 1970s and eighties, Parramatta's manufacturing industry produced good local jobs—jobs that could give families security and opportunity. I'm in parliament today because I'm committed to making sure that the people who work hard for Australia are rewarded and the people who need caring for are not left behind. Every day of my working life to date has been about this, whether it was fighting against unfair trade deals, supporting unions in their wage cases before the Industrial Relations Commission or advocating for small businesses during the global financial crisis and the pandemic.

I'm also in parliament today because I believe that we have a job to do—to remake the Australian economy and set it up for another generation of prosperity. I believe that the next wave of prosperity requires us to harness the new technologies that are transforming our homes and workplaces. Most of us have smartphones in our pockets that contain more computing power than the Apollo spaceship that landed on the moon. Every day the world generates more new data than all the information in every Australian library combined.

These technologies create new opportunities for progressive governments. Imagine a progressive health system that uses new data to make an early diagnosis before a child gets chronically sick. Imagine a progressive school system that uses technology to track the students who might be struggling and give them a little extra help before they fall behind. If we harness new technologies they might give us the tools to address social injustice before it ruins lives, before it creates insoluble inequities.

Just as the Hawke and Keating governments set Australia up for prosperity by managing our transition to the global economy in the 1980s and 1990s so we now have an opportunity to set up the next generation of prosperity by managing the transition to the digital economy. This work has already started. Under the economic leadership of my friend the Treasurer and his strong economic team this government is facing into our economic challenges and bringing Australians together to solve them. Under the leadership of the Minister for Industry and Science and the Minister for Climate Change and Energy this government is backing Australia's success in the industries of the future. Under the leadership of the Minister for Home Affairs, the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs and the Minister for Education this government is recognising the immense contribution that new migrants make to Australia and ensuring that they fully participate in our economy.

As this is the last first speech of the 47th Parliament I want to finish with some words to my fellow new members—the incoming class of 2022. It is an honour to be among you. You are individually so impressive, and collectively so representative. Your first speeches have been beautiful statements of vision and hope. I share your optimism for the possibilities of Australia's future. I share your determination to use every second of this opportunity to make a difference.

Like me, many of you grew up in the 1980s and 1990s. Our grandparents had lived through the horror of the Second World War and our parents had lived through the anxiety of the Cold War, but as we reached adulthood in the late 1990s the world seemed relatively peaceful. Democracy was on the march. Global poverty was in retreat. I remember at university our political science professors ventured to predict that we were experiencing what Francis Fukuyama called 'the end of history' in which every country would adopt democracy and freedom.

Our generation came of age in this sunlit optimism of the new century, but now, a few decades later, we arrive in politics at a darker moment. In many nations liberal democracy is in retreat. Autocrats, tyrants and despots are on the march. Putin, Erdogan, Bolsonaro and Trump—it's as if the shadows of the 20th century are coming back to haunt us once more.

Australia's democracy doesn't harbour such autocrats, but it is evident that faith in our democracy is down and belief in the power of politics is falling. Maybe, like me, you've experienced this firsthand—knocking on a constituent's door expecting to engage in another lively conversation about policies and ideas only to find the blank look of dissolution from an unenrolled young person or, very occasionally, to be shouted down by an angry conspiracy theorist. It's our overriding responsibility to fight against disillusionment and to build faith in government.

I want to thank the Prime Minister and all of my colleagues for what they have already done to restore faith in our politics—by putting forward an integrity commission, by ending the pork barrelling, by leading through unity rather than division, and by proving that, yes, our democracy is strong enough to tackle our biggest challenges, like climate change. This is the leadership that will build faith in our politics. These actions are the antidote to disillusionment and the bulwark against encroaching autocracy.

Finally, as the class of 22 our job is to take this forward. As John F Kennedy said to our parents' generation: 'In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger.' Our generation is one of them. We have to rise to the moment.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Buchh olz ): I thank the honourable member for Parramatta for his contribution. A member's first speech in this House is a memorable occasion.

Debate adjourned.