Title FIRST SPEECH
Database Senate Hansard
Date 11-08-2015
Source Senate
Parl No. 44
Page 4978
Party LP
Status Final
Speaker Lindgren, Sen Joanna
Context FIRST SPEECH
System Id chamber/hansards/48015b9d-e70e-42c7-892d-e6ade12a500c/0128


FIRST SPEECH


Senator LINDGREN (Queensland) (17:05): I pay my respects to the elders past, present and emerging of the Ngambri and Ngunnawal peoples, upon whose land we meet today. As a senator for Queensland in this chamber, the states' house, I recognise the elders of all the Indigenous clans of Queensland. In particular, I acknowledge the Mununjali and Jagera clans, with whom I identify and have a family connection. The Mununjali are part of the Yugambeh language group that encompasses the area from south of the Logan River to the Tweed River, while the Jagera area covers south of the Brisbane River to the foot of the Toowoomba Range and then south towards Warwick.

It is my dream that in the years to come many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will follow the same path as others before me have done and that one day this path will be seen as quite normal and even expected for my people. Many here have kindly spoken the name of Senator Neville Bonner and of his contribution to the Senate and to Australia. When I speak his name, I use the term `Uncle'. Notwithstanding his historic contribution here as the first Indigenous Australian to become a member of the parliament of Australia, I can speak of a man I knew as my grandfather's respected brother.

One of my earliest memories of Uncle Neville is of him campaigning for re-election using a loud hailer, a far cry from the sophisticated campaigning of today. Uncle Neville in his first speech said, 'First and foremost I am an Australian citizen.' This too is how I see myself in the Senate. Uncle Neville sat in the old Parliament House, and I now sit in the new Parliament House, which to me signifies that he was a person for his time, so now I am for mine. I am not here to continue his work, because that has been done by others since he left the Senate in 1983. I am here to do the work of today.

There are many I would like to thank today who have been pivotal in my journey to the Senate. First, I would like to thank my husband, Peter Anderson-Barr. Peter has served our country as both a current sworn police officer and a warrant officer in the Australian Army Reserve. Peter, you are my best friend and my biggest supporter.

I would also like to thank my parents, John and Gloria Lindgren. Mum and Dad worked hard to ensure my sister and I received a sound education, and to quote them, 'Do one better than we did!' Mum and Dad understood the value of education because they did not complete school. Between them, they have only completed 14 years of schooling, but they worked hard to buy their own home and to ensure we never missed out on the important things. I could not have asked for better, more supportive parents.

To my sister, Kerry-Lee, and her husband, Bruce: thanks for keeping me grounded and ensuring I remember my roots. I would also like to acknowledge the role of my grandmother Beatrice Lindgren, who passed away eight years ago. I carry her legacy of strength and kindness. I would also like to thank my friends Stephen and Tarnya Smith and their family. You believed in me and encouraged me to pursue my goals—how truly humbling.

Importantly, I would like to thank the Liberal National Party, its executive members and its grassroots members. They include the president, Bruce McIver, former senator Ron Boswell, Jon Janetzki, Tamara Foong, Justin Lynch, David Hutchinson, Tony Watt, Matt Constance, Imelda Sporaljevic, my Toowoomba friends, Jonathon Krause MP, Scott Buchholz MP, Greg Birkbeck, Liz and Barry Dittman, Juanita Gibson, David and Gloria Brennan, Ian Rickuss MP, Ann Rickuss and the women of the LNP. Without your enduring support, my journey might not have brought me to this occasion, in this place, at this time.

I grew up in the suburb of Inala, a low socioeconomic suburb on the outskirts of Brisbane. It was first formed in 1946, by a group of returned servicemen who wanted affordable housing. Although the co-op did not proceed with the building of houses, the state government did, and Inala came into being. It was a suburb where returned servicemen lived alongside Indigenous Australians who had moved off the missions into town after now-discredited restrictions were removed, to where displaced persons and assisted migrants moved after leaving the migrant hostels. It is still a place where refugees and migrants find community. Many have commented on the suburb in a negative light, yet it has produced many professionals in the legal and medical field, two state premiers, a major general and now a senator.

Growing up in Inala was simply magical. I enjoyed going to school with students who were first-generation Australians. I loved that the last names of these migrant families sounded exotic and that every family was different. The fact that I was one of a handful of Indigenous students did not matter. We were all different in our own ways, yet those differences seemed normal. Most importantly of all, it was these differences that convinced me that there was a whole big world out there to be explored. We are, all of us, scripted by our past, so growing up in Inala has forged the Jo you see standing before you, a person who is tolerant, fair, patient and considerate. It is for this reason that I became an educator.

So how does a girl from a working-class family and suburb go on to become a senator? Quite simply, with a sound education. Education is the key to unlocking individual potential and success. My parents understood this and they instilled this as part of our family values. Study hard, work hard and life will reveal its rewards. My school experience was not always a pleasant one, so, when I became a high school teacher in 1991, I vowed I would never embrace the model of teacher who would make students scared to come to class. Gone are the days of corporal punishment in schools, where the standard response to someone not understanding the curriculum was 'six of the best'. Despite this kind of tough love, I had some wonderful teachers.

One such teacher was a Catholic sister from Brigidine College called Sister Patricia Whitby. She inspired us and acknowledged that the 'spunk', as she called it, was worth embracing and not for holding back. Sister Patricia saw a spark in the girls of Year 8 Gold and never discouraged our voice. She embodied Brigidine College's motto of Fortiter et Suaviter, Strength with Kindness. This motto underpins the type of person I am. As a teacher, I strove to inspire students not to settle for mediocrity but to challenge people's perceptions of them, to show strength with kindness. My classroom pedagogy fostered a culture of respect—respect for learning, respect for others and respect for themselves.

As an educator with 25 years experience, if I have learned anything then it is this: one size does not fit all. This aphorism applies to most things in life, including politics, and as a politician I know the old wisdom that some of the decisions I will participate in will not please everyone. For the most part, know that any decision in which I partake will be guided by what my party and I believe is in the best interests of Australia according to our values and principles. I will do my best, I will remain true to my word and I will dedicate my energies to what my party and I hold dearly. I am here to contribute to Australia reaching its full potential and staying on the path of being the best place in the world to live. Each of us in this place owes this to our wide brown land of Australia and to all who call it home.

One of the greatest motivations for schools to succeed is for them to ensure that, at the end of any schooling experience, hope is ignited—hope for employment and hope for their graduates to achieve their goals. But education is not a stand-alone issue; it is intrinsically linked to employment and development. Education appears pointless if there are no jobs for school leavers. One of the main purposes of education is to prepare youth for their place in society, and I believe that place is enriched by meaningful employment. Additionally, education must be relevant to the needs of employers. This is not to say that there is no room for social learning, but ultimately education must be geared for when someone leaves school, as the achievement of many important dreams and hopes will depend on their earning capabilities.

Having been a classroom teacher for 25 years in some very disadvantaged areas, I speak from firsthand experience when I say that I have seen students simply not care about education because they feel they have limited prospects. They assign their futures to welfare and an endless list of work programs or the acceptance of low-paying jobs without the hope of advancement. Governments and business are the ones capable of placing an abundant future in front of them, while education prepares them for that future.

Equally, I have seen those students who have been raised on a sense of entitlement, thereby denying them the crucial resilience that robs them of what many of us value—namely, starting at the bottom and working our way to the top. I have seen awards given out for merely attending school, and every child gets a prize just because 'you participated'. If we transferred this attitude to employment, we would see bonuses given out for merely turning up to work. This thinking needs to stop. How often do we hear the catch phrase 'a fair day's pay for a fair day's work', when perhaps we should be saying 'a fair day's work for a fair day's pay'?

What is the point of a sound education? Education is not just for one group but for all Australians. Education must not abandon those who fall behind, and education means inclusion. Inclusion will bring social acceptance and social learning.

My transition from education to politics was a slow transition. I was not one who aspired to be a career politician. Becoming actively involved in politics did not really happen until I was 36 years of age. One of the most important groups of people who assisted me was the LNP grassroots members who embrace many of the same values as me. When my friends first heard I was interested in the Senate, they quietly went about contacting their friends in the party to gain support. In fact, this Senate journey started on the day of the recent NSW election, when a group of us travelled to Byron Bay to assist a National Party candidate. At the end of the day over a wine and pizza, I was encouraged to consider the Senate.

I can proudly say I was encouraged by grassroots members, supported by grassroots members and voted for by grassroots members of the LNP. Mine is the party where anyone who is good enough can succeed. With humility, I declare that my preselection as an LNP senator was completely transparent, fair and very competitive. You only have to read the media reports prior to preselection to confirm this.

As a newly sworn senator, I feel deep humility and privilege to be the 574th senator. I find it sobering to reflect on Machiavelli's The Prince from the 16th century: 'It is not titles that honour us, but we that honour titles'—or perhaps the pithier Russian proverb 'rooster today, feather duster tomorrow'. There will be no crowing from me.

One of life's enduring lessons is this: to surround yourself with those on the same mission as you. The ugly alternative is not to remain true to one's self. From my campaign team to the coalition team here in Canberra, I will remain resilient and steadfast by surrounding myself with those on the missions that align with mine.

Allied with my Aboriginal background, I also identify with other strong-willed warrior cultures. I have Irish, Scottish and Swedish heritage too, and all have been known to enjoy a good stoush. As I have this heritage and grew up in the straightforward suburb of Inala, you now have a girl in the Senate who can hold her own. More than one person has learnt that, while you can take the girl out of Inala, you can't take Inala out of the girl.

This warrior spirit is reflected in my immediate and extended families and even in my own service in the Australian Army Reserve. My family members have served in the armed forces from World War One up until Afghanistan. This included some great-uncles who, despite Curtin banning Indigenous enlistment in World War Two, still managed to enlist and fight. They have been the unnoticed soldier, sailor or airman who simply did their job without seeking glory. One of my extended family members embodies this service-to-country ethos, and this person is my Uncle Les Lindgren. Uncle Les and all his five sons have served in the Australian Army, with four of the five sons serving in combat zones in our more recent deployments. This typifies the Anzac spirit that we honour.

It is said that it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a whole family to sustain a warrior. Therefore let's not forget the spouses and family members of our Defence personnel. Without them holding the fort, our service men and women would not be able to serve their country so selflessly.

What then is our duty to those who are prepared to put themselves in harm's way and sometimes make the ultimate sacrifice for us and because of us? The answer lies not in feathering our own privileged nests or building another wagon for the gravy train. We are called to honour our serving men and women by protecting all that they hold dear at home, while they defend all that we hold dear: freedom, democracy and the rule of law—our whole way of life as a people. We need to keep our side of the bargain.

This issue drives my passion as a senator for ensuring that our Defence Force is well resourced and well managed and that families are supported and they are well looked after during and following their gallant service to this nation. I scorn any cynical use of this fundamental issue for a political football simply to get one's media profile elevated or for more 'likes' on a Facebook page. It is personal for this girl from Inala. Joining the armed services was one of the proudest days of my life. Loyalty based on respect is a most important personal ethic that has guided me throughout my career.

My extended family includes police officers, firefighters, ambulance officers, teachers and nurses and those who serve the community without thanks and sometimes under direct attack. We must not forget the men and women who have devoted their lives to the service of others. It is these men and women who are often so easily overlooked or ignored.

Mr President and honourable senators, how will our children's children read the history of decisions that we will carry in this chamber at this time in our national journey? Will they cringe then as we now cringe at the wrong treatment of sections of our society in the past? Will we do and say things now with the best intentions, only to be found later to be simply wrong? Better to be found wrong for the right reasons than piously right for the wrong reasons.

There are two challenging moral questions before us and our Australian brothers and sisters even today. The first challenge is constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians and ensuring that every Australian will be overwhelmingly for it. Why do some here appear to fear the proposed constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians?

In 1895 South Australia made laws which said that all adults could vote, including all women and therefore all Indigenous women. They were right then and they are right now. The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1949 gave Aboriginal persons the right to vote in federal elections if they were able to vote in their state elections or if they had served in the Defence Force. It was not until the Commonwealth electoral amendment act 1983 that voting became compulsory for Aboriginal persons as it was for other Australians.

In the Australian referendum of 27 May 1967, voters were asked to approve, together, changes to both of the provisions in which Aboriginal people were mentioned in the Constitution. The amendments were overwhelmingly endorsed, winning 90.77 per cent of votes cast and being carried in all six states.

One wrong result of the two right constitutional amendments in 1967 was that Indigenous Australians ceased to be mentioned at all in our national Constitution. Surely this is a wrong that needs to be righted. And so to today's right proposal that forms a national conversation. It is not to disadvantage any person, yet it will serve two purposes: first, to recognise Indigenous occupation of this land prior to the modern nation of Australia; and, second, to ensure that Indigenous Australian history does not disappear into the rich blend of cultures that have arrived in the past 227 years.

So what did Peter Dodds-McCormick mean by 'we' when he penned our National Anthem 140 years ago:

For those who've come across the seas

We've boundless plains to share.

Perhaps he is now wrong for the right reasons. Every nation has its own story, and Australia's Indigenous people are a part of our nation's story. We have been part of the development of this nation. We have been there at every step. We, like all Australians, are custodians of our ancient culture and history. We have a duty to see history live. It is the right thing to do. Aboriginal people gift the modern nation of Australia 80,000 years of history in return for a few lines in the Constitution that they long to call 'our' Constitution. Being the oldest continuing culture in human history, it is right for it finally to become a formal part of our Australian collective history.

My home state of Queensland, along with other states including New South Wales and Victoria, already has Indigenous recognition. In Queensland that occurred in 2001 with little fanfare, and it did not create a separate class of citizens, nor did anyone lose anything or gain by it.

Mr President and honourable senators, the second challenge presented to this place is the gender imbalance in politics. Yes, women are under-represented in politics, and yes, we need to analyse and research the trends and issues as to why women are not in politics, but at what point do we need to stop talking and start acting?

For me as a newly appointed female senator, the action starts now. It is my obligation to ensure that I encourage, cultivate and engage good women for politics. It is about neither social justice nor gender but about ensuring women have voices in political decisions. This difficulty with closing the gender gap in politics is the very point that should galvanise women to pursue the political arena. How many women in this room said when they were children that they wanted to be Prime Minister? Just asking a woman if she would consider a career in politics could be the first simple step.

In Queensland, our Liberal National Party women's branches support, nurture and train women who aspire to be in political office. The task of securing equal representation in politics is no doubt a difficult one, but one worth pursuing if we are to have a diverse and dynamic parliament worthy of this great nation of ours.

I conclude now, Mr President, noting that, as it is for you, so it is for me with whatever time I am privileged to contribute as a senator in this august chamber. I intend to make every moment of it count. I am deeply invested in this country which my custodial forebears nurtured for at least 80,000 years. I am quite overwhelmed by the sense of the history stretching behind you and me in this place and by the humble pride in being privileged to be part of shaping the future that lies uncharted before us.

It is in this chamber in the 'eternal now' that we choose to make a difference for all Australians. Though we might choose different paths to Advance Australia Fair, some right, some wrong, I believe that every single one of us seeks that bigger, better, greater Australia.