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Tuesday, 13 November 2018
Page: 8048


Senator STEELE-JOHN (Western Australia) (20:54): It is pretty incredible to think that today marks a full year since we began this journey together, after I was catapulted into this place completely by accident. I call this a journey for one simple reason: it is. It has been a year of incredible highs but also very challenging lows. This time last year, this place passed marriage equality legislation. So many had made their voices heard for so long and demanded an end to that discrimination. They had fought and finally they won. The repercussions of that damaging postal plebiscite are still being felt, as the faux religious freedom debate flounders on.

I've had to battle some pretty entrenched views about disability, including views directed at me. It has been a slow and painful process watching the kinds of changes to accessibility and inclusion happen that should have happened from the very beginning in this building, the people's house. At times it has taken a personal toll, such as the ongoing failure of the government to address the violence, abuse and neglect that disabled people in institutional and residential settings endure. That sorry saga was a stark reminder that so many politicians are, for political convenience, still willing to sacrifice the opportunity to see justice done. This culture was no more evident than in that dark carnival of self-interested stupidity that saw Scott Morrison installed as PM earlier this year.

One year in, and I believe now more than I ever have that politics is not and should not be about self-interest and power, perks and pensions, jobs for the boys and cash-for-access dinners, corporate donations to fund the next election campaign to maintain power, and hedging bets by playing off one disadvantaged group of people against another for the sake of a few votes; politics should be about creating a future for all of us. I have been lucky enough in this last year to meet so many people, hear so many stories and see parts of WA that I never thought I would see. Again and again people have told me how disappointed they feel with politics and how sick they are of being shut out of the system simply because of their age, their postcode or how much money they make.

A year ago I decided to crowdsource my first speech through Facebook by inviting folks to share what they would like to see changed in our community. We had an overwhelming response and I was so proud to bring the voices, needs and lived experiences of people into the Senate. It is a tradition that I proudly continue tonight. So, without further ado, I would like to introduce you to Kellie—and I can promise members of the government that this was, in fact, personal—who said:

The very people you ignore will be the ones who vote you out. You are paid BY US to REPRESENT US. Get to it, or get packing.

I would also like to introduce you to Ben, who contributed on Facebook:

Before we can rationally address ANY issue, we need to shine a light into the working heart of our government. We need a Federal ICAC and we need to sever the financial ties to politics from the powerful and wealthy.

As part of the inquiry into lowering the voting age, young people have told me over and over again about their hopes for the future, their frustrations with the present and their deep desire to be heard. And so many disabled people have reached out and simply asked me, in relation to the NDIS, 'Why is it that I have to fight the system that was created to support me?' These comments speak to the deeply held frustration and feeling that the way politics is done in this country is not good enough. And it is not good enough. We do deserve better.

It is not good enough that, on any given night, there are 9,000 people in WA, a large number of them in communities like mine in Rockingham, who are sleeping rough on the streets. Twenty-five per cent of them are between the ages of 12 and 26. It is not good enough that young people in this country cannot find work or are forced into insecure work. It is not good enough that the price of education is going up while the quality of the education that you get at uni or TAFE is going down. It is not good enough that to be a disabled person in Australia is still to be subject to abuse and discrimination, to struggle to find work and go to school with everyone else and to constantly have to fight for the support and recognition you need to live a good life. And it is not good enough that our precious natural places are being destroyed and the safety of every human being on this planet is being put at risk to satisfy the greed of the fossil fuel industry.

But if there is one thing that this year has taught me, it is that there is hope. There is a better way. Despite the frustration and the disappointment, there is still enough optimism left in our communities. Together, there is hope. There is hope that we can change the direction we are heading in, and it is only the hope of people united that has ever created change. The last year has shown me that our community is diverse. We are different. We have different abilities and different passions, but, when we come together, we can achieve great things. We can stop the influence of corporations and lobbyists on our politics. We can invest money in services that we all need to live a good life. We can throw our arms open to the world and embrace those who come across the sea. We can travel the roads of truth, justice and healing with our First Nations peoples and we can create a movement for change. Thank you all for sharing this last year with me. We've got a lot more to accomplish together. Our journey is just beginning, and, as we head into the federal election campaign, I am so excited to see what comes next. Thank you.