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Tuesday, 6 September 2022
Page: 806

Senator PAYMAN (Western Australia) (17:23): I rise to present my first speech—finally! I begin with the universal Islamic greeting of Assalaamu Alaykum, which translates to: may peace be upon you all.

I acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri elders and knowledge holders who have paved the way for those here now, those following proudly in their footsteps and those yet to come as custodians and owners of country. I would also like to acknowledge Whadjuk country as my home base where I live, care for and maintain continuing reciprocal relationships with all who share this land. Sovereignty has never been ceded. These always were and always will be Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lands.

I recognise the resilience and strength of all First Nations people of Australia and appreciate their knowledge sharing and stories, which influence the lives of many new Australians like me. It is time to recognise a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament as a significant and practical reform to get long overdue outcomes for First Nations people. I am so proud to be part of an Albanese Labor government who will implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart, emphasising our support for voice, for truth and for treaty.

I congratulate you, President, on your election as the second female President of the Senate and the first Labor woman to hold your position. Your incredible sense of justice and fairness will make you perfect for the role. I wish you every success.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank my late father, Abdul Wakil, whose selfless sacrifices will never be forgotten and whose advice about hard work, perseverance and integrity I will hold on to as pearls of wisdom.

To my mother, Shogufa: your unconditional love has given me the strength to get through my toughest moments. Thank you for always supporting me and trusting my ambitious journey.

To my three amazing siblings, thank you for making life that extra bit bearable. Horush, you have made me so proud of all your achievements as a mother, a wife, a make-up artist and a soon-to-be pharmacist. Salman, I love your sense of humour and enjoy our spontaneous kitchen-counter philosophical discussions. Sina—who is preparing, like so many young Australians, to sit the final year 12 exams—your wisdom is beyond your years and I know you have a bright future ahead of you. I wish Sina and all the year 12 students out there sitting their final exams the best of luck!

For me, there's no such thing as a first speech without dedicating a section to my incredible mentors and support network. I would not be here without you.

The WA Labor Party office team, former State Secretary Tim Picton and current State Secretary Ellie Whitaker—thank you all for your efforts in supporting my campaign.

Jacob Stokes—congratulations on running the best Senate campaign Australia has ever seen, with a great deal of strategic direction and management. Thank you for putting up with my highs and lows on the campaign trail.

Dom Rose—I know you couldn't be with us today, but thank you for being an older brother who saw potential behind my crazy ideas and supported me through my breakdowns, and of course introduced me to the Dockers!

Carolyn Smith—thank you for your generosity, guidance and goodwill.

The Honourable Pierre Yang MLC—thank you for giving me the opportunity to prove myself and for taking me under your wing of guidance on this political journey.

Terry Healy MLA—thank you for the contagious energy and interest you brought to my campaign, always full of amazing ideas and inspiration.

Janine Freeman—thank you for the long chats and for providing me with a platform to speak my mind.

I want to extend my appreciation to every federal WA Labor colleague who supported my campaign and encouraged me to keep striving. I wish I had time to name you all.

I'm also grateful to my dear friends and my state Labor colleagues present here in the gallery, who travelled from WA and across the country to be with me today.

I am thrilled to have a wonderful team in Lena Hee, Alex Tilenni and Rose Lockhart, who have helped me adjust to this new role. I look forward to the awesome things we will achieve together as a team in the years to come.

A final thankyou to my beautiful home state of Western Australia for putting your trust in me and the Labor government. We will work hard for you and with you every day.

President, and fellow senators: I stand before you tonight as a young woman, as a Western Australian, as a Muslim devout to her faith, proud of her heritage and grateful to this beautiful country.

It is a country that offers so much to so many. People travel from all parts of the world in the hope of calling Australia home. My family and I also had that hope.

On a cold winter evening, 8,852 kilometres away from Perth, I was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1995 as the first child of a young couple thrilled at the prospect of what the future held for their little bundle of joy.

That excitement did not last longer than a year, followed by the collapse of Afghanistan at the hands of the Taliban.

With no hope in sight, my parents had to make the tough decision of fleeing to Pakistan with my newborn sister and me. Resettling was difficult, but not as difficult as what my mother was about to urge my father to consider—to migrate to Australia.

In 1999 my late father risked his life and left his family behind to traverse the Indian Ocean for 11 days and 11 nights on a small boat in stormy weather, in the hope of finding safety and security for his wife, two daughters and a son on his way.

Anxiety and ways of doubt flooded my mother's thoughts as she waited and waited for any news of my father arriving safely in Australia.

Four months later, we finally received the good news, and from there on for four years my father worked around the clock as a kitchen hand, a security guard and a taxi driver while learning English as a second language and saving up enough money to sponsor my mother, my two siblings and me.

In 2003, we were finally reunited with my father and settled in the northern suburbs of Perth to begin our new life together. As we adjusted and adapted, I witnessed the struggles my parents went through to put food on the table, to pay for our education and to provide a roof over our heads. As it does for many hardworking Australians, this came as second nature to my parents, who just wanted the best future for their children.

From discrimination and abuse to job insecurity and low wages, my father endured those hardships without complaining or seeking compensation, and when my youngest brother started kindergarten, that's when my mother embarked on a journey to start her own small business, a driving school to empower other women.

Despite the unfamiliarity of the venture, my mother strived to alleviate the financial burden on my father to make ends meet.

You see, my parents always encouraged us—encouraged my siblings and me—to aspire to greatness, to study hard, get a secure job and be a respectable member of society, to always stay true to your roots and to stay humble, to praise God and be grateful for his bounties, to be generous with our wealth and time towards those who are less fortunate.

However, life took a bitter turn when my father was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in 2017. He went through 11 months of intense chemotherapy, bone marrow transplant and endless cycles of medications, but his health continued depleting. My once fit, independent and healthy father became frail and weak and required assistance to move around.

Despite this, my father was still the strongest man I have ever known. Losing him at the age of 47 was the most difficult reality of life I've had to face.

He may have passed on, but his memories and teachings will forever remain, like 'little drops make a mighty ocean', or 'there is no substitute for hard work', or 'learn good manners from those who don't have them', or 'seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave'.

Life is short and very unpredictable, so we cannot take even a moment for granted. I have realised that in order to live a productive and impactful life and contribute towards my father's legacy I must seize every opportunity that comes my way. Carpe diem! That is easier said than done, though. Life has its own way of throwing figurative punches. The onus is on us to see every challenge as an opportunity, as a chance to grow, as a lesson to learn and as a part of life.

When my attempts to study medicine were not successful, I took my late father's advice to pursue pharmacy, with the perception that the medical field was the only way to serve humanity. Cruising in my own world of endeavours, I stumbled upon my first experience of being made to feel like the 'other' at a university tutorial, when a young man ridiculed my hijab. You see, I never felt different growing up. Perth felt like home from the get-go because home is where the heart is and my heart was with my family, so I didn't feel different or strange. I felt like any other Aussie kid growing up in the northern suburbs of Perth, catching public transport to university and hoping to become a productive member of society.

But comments like, 'Go back to where you came from,' or inferences to extremism, forced me to feel like I didn't belong. So I started volunteering in the hopes that, being part of the change, if I was seen to be spreading goodness in society, then perhaps then I would be accepted as an equal member of this nation. I joined the Edmund Rice Centre and became involved in youth leadership through the guidance of Joe Moniodis. I joined the WA Police Muslim Community Advisory Group as the youth representative. I served as the President of the University of Western Australia's Muslim Students Association for two years and worked hard to have an active presence on university grounds to break down those barriers of the unknown.

Through my community work, I met the Hon. Pierre Yang MLC, upper house member for North Metropolitan Region in WA. That is where my journey in the Labor Party began. I finally found a space where I felt seen, appreciated and like I belonged. I made friends with people who shared the same core values. I remember my father always encouraging me to vote Labor—not because he was very well versed in Australian politics, but he had a firm belief that Labor cared for the working-class people and ensured the wellbeing of everyone on the economic spectrum.

It was Labor who established Medicare so that people like my father had access to the best treatments and medication without the financial burden being on the families to bear. It was Labor who abolished the White Australia policy to acknowledge, respect and celebrate the diversity of our growing multicultural society, so families like mine don't feel ostracised. It was Labor who pioneered superannuation and fought for workers' rights, ensuring everyone was afforded a fair day's pay, so hardworking Australians like my father weren't taken advantage of. And it is Labor who advocates strongly for education at all levels to be accessible to each and every Australian, to have the same opportunities to start life on the front foot.

It was a proud moment when I finally joined the Labor Party as a member, and from there on my experience as a union organiser at the United Workers Union solidified my Labor values and motivated me to spend every day fighting for fairness, justice and equality. I realised that my father was not alone in receiving poor treatment at work, so I strived to give the voiceless a platform to share their concerns and help to shape the policy that impacted their lives. Thousands of vulnerable workers in industries ranging from aged care, disability care and early childhood education to enrolled nurses and paramedics, to hospitality workers are all being underpaid and overworked and find themselves in very poor working conditions with little to no annual or sick leave. I knew they deserved better, and I wanted to be part of fighting the good fight for them.

After years of volunteering and dedicating myself to the movement, I finally felt my calling. This was going to be my way of serving humanity in my own community.

In 2021 I was asked to run for the Senate, and after many conversations with my former boss, Dom Rose, and the United Workers Union Secretary, Carolyn Smith, I decided to go for it. I wanted to be a representative for all Western Australians, including First Nations people and our cultural minority groups, who remain unrecognised for their contributions.

We needed our ideas and concerns to be considered. We needed a government that cared and listened. We needed a Labor government to restore that justice and clean up the mess created by almost a decade of poor decisions and policies from the previous government.

So, as the daughter of a refugee who came to this land with dreams of a safe and better future, I gave myself that audacity to challenge the system and to see how far I would go, to see how much ground I could break, to see how much change I could initiate.

I knew it wouldn't be an easy fight winning the third Labor Senate spot in WA; 1984 was the last time it was ours. But I gave it my best shot anyway and worked hard on the election of an Albanese Labor government. It was only when the numbers started creeping in and the seat was in contention that I felt the responsibility weighing on my shoulders.

I am honoured to have been elected as a Senator for Western Australia. And here we are today, as I give my first speech, celebrating 108 days since the election of a new Labor government, focusing on a better future for all.

Australians elected representatives who are focused on tackling the spiralling cost of living, and we will make health care, child care and housing more affordable. Australians showed us their appetite for a parliament that reflects our society, because you can't be what you can't see. Australians chose a government that values integrity, transparency, equality and fairness for all.

I am proud to say that the 47th Parliament, under the leadership of our Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, will focus on closing that gap, bringing the nation together and ending the politics of division. What a proud moment for Australia! What a proud moment to put hand on heart and call oneself Australian!

This parliament is finally starting to reflect the nation envisaged by the current Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Wong, in her first speech:

I seek a nation that is truly one nation, one in which all Australians can share regardless of race or gender, or other attribute, and regardless of where they live, and where difference is not a basis for exclusion.

I am small in stature, but my potential is limited only by how far my determination will take me. I am here to see that what matters to ordinary Australians is what matters to our politicians.

As a Labor senator for WA, I want to continue standing up for my beautiful home state as your voice and representative in Canberra, and I promise to never take you for granted. I want to work towards better representation in our federal and state parliaments by engaging with women, people of colour, people of faith and all walks of life to take up the opportunity, because if I could make it, so can you.

I want to ensure that young people are acknowledged and considered when decisions about their futures are being made. Inspired by James Charlton’s book, 'Nothing about us without us' will be a slogan that I will embrace when advocating for accessible housing, education and employment opportunities for Australian youth.

I want to eradicate stigmas around mental health and make professional help more accessible. As someone who suffered from grief, anxiety and depression after my father’s passing, I appreciate the importance of maintaining my emotional and mental state.

I do not know what it will take to end homelessness, but I want it gone. In a progressive First World country, we must aim to remove poverty and homelessness from our streets and ensure that everyone has access to basic human needs.

I want to see people in jobs with dignity, having quality time to spend with their families, being able to give their children a good education and to be respected members and citizens of a country that appreciates their contributions and respects their uniqueness. I want to give this opportunity my best shot by staying hungry and humble, because not many 27-year-olds can say that they have the honour and privilege of serving our nation as a senator. It is so important to acknowledge that privilege because only then will we appreciate our purpose, responsibilities and duties to the people who elected us here, to this parliament, hoping for a better future.

Hope is an amazing thing. Hope can help you endure work in a foreign land with a foreign language so that you can save up enough money to sponsor your family. Hope can make you work multiple jobs and endless hours, all with a smile, knowing that you are building a better life for your kids.

There are many immigrants who turn to this great country of ours in hope of finding a better place to call home, to raise a family, to start a life. They bring with them their talents, skills, phenomenal work ethics and their families in hope for a better tomorrow. They add to our diversity, to our society, to our culture, to our cuisine and, of course, to our economy.

Whilst at times and even in this very chamber xenophobia has raised its ugly head, fearmongering and divisive sentiments have been shared about our immigrant population, the simple truth remains that as a nation, we need a humanistic and optimistic approach, a policy which will help solve many of our skills shortages, grow our economy and strengthen our diversity and link to the world.

I am a proud daughter of an immigrant and there are millions more like me. In fact, this great nation of ours was built on immigration. The service of my ancestors, the Afghan cameleers, allowed us to navigate the plains of this land. They were pioneers and I, too, will be a pioneer and walk in their footsteps to serve our nation as they did.

As a nation, we have the potential, we have the drive and we definitely have the appetite to support, grow and nurture the future leaders to come. So let us quit the bigotry, racism and discrimination. Australia is way beyond that.

Let us not settle on multiculturalism being just a brand we associate with or take pride in as a nation but rather fully embrace it by caring for one another, by accepting each other for who we are and what we can become, and by ensuring all voices are heard at the table.

It is time to love, care and respect one another. It is time to unite, not break away and divide. It is time to use our diversity as our strength and seek wisdom in our differences because we all know, beneath it all, we all belong to the human race.

I will finish by sharing the poem 'Bani Adam' by Saadi Shirazi, which translates as 'Children of Adam', a truly timeless piece that my late father would always recite to me in Dari.

Senator Payman then spoke in Dari

It translates to:

Human beings are members of a whole

In creation of one essence and soul

If one member is afflicted with pain

Other members uneasy will remain

If you have no sympathy for human pain

The name of human you cannot retain

I thank the Senate.