As Australia’s most diverse federal parliament opened, new members introduced themselves and set out priorities
The 47th parliament is the most diverse ever, including a record number of women, 11 First Nations representatives and a lower house crossbench of 16 independent or minor party MPs.
But before any of the new MPs can speak on important bills or other parliamentary business, the first order of business is a speech to introduce yourself and set out priorities.
Here are the highlights from the maiden speeches of the opening week of the 47th parliament.
Campaign themes of climate, integrity and women featured heavily in the first speeches of new independent MPs – often held together by the idea that local representation trumps party politics in delivering for constituents.
The MP for Goldstein, Zoe Daniel, said her father’s experience as a state Labor candidate in Tasmania “put [her] off party politics for life”, describing it as “a murky mess of factionalism and dark political tactics”.
Wearing purple and white, the colours of suffragists like Vida Goldstein after whom her electorate is named, Daniel noted that Goldstein had rejected party politics, describing it in the early 20th century as “a system that is entirely out of date … [and] a cumbersome, unbusinesslike method of running the country”.
Daniel, a former ABC reporter, spoke about her personal experience of “climate-related disasters” including “the scenes in Tacloban [in the Philippines], flattened by a storm surge that destroyed 90% of the city … bodies in the streets, cars in trees, giant boats atop buildings … and, amid the rubble, the shattered lives of residents”.
This, she said, was “a turning point for me, a realisation of the impact climate change and its increasingly unmanageable weather events would have on communities”.
Sign up to receive an email with the top stories from Guardian Australia every morning
The MP for North Sydney, Kylea Tink, said it was “notable” that “nowhere in [the constitution] was there any use of the word ‘party’”.
Tink called for more compassion towards refugees:
.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}We have already heard much talk about the extraordinary gift that is Australia’s multicultural reality and of the courage it takes to run with your family from imminent threat. I would challenge us as a parliament to strive to truly do better in the area of human rights. True refugees deserve our compassion, not our disdain.”
The MP for Kooyong, Monique Ryan, was gracious to her predecessor, the former treasurer Josh Frydenberg, describing him as a “well-respected member of this place”.
But she also delivered a sensational backhander about the choice the electors of Kooyong made:
.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}Kooyong has always been a seat held by conservative politicians – since it was formed in 1944, the Liberal party has always held Kooyong. The last time an incumbent lost his seat in Kooyong was 1922 – proof positive, Mr Speaker, that not all once-in-a-century events are bad.”
The MP for Curtin, Kate Chaney, whose grandfather was a member of the Menzies government and whose uncle, Fred Chaney, was deputy to Malcolm Fraser, said she “never felt a pull towards either political party, feeling stranded in the middle”.
Chaney said:
.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}But I feel a pull when I read the words of Menzies who said he looked forward to … ‘a better distribution of wealth, to a keener sense of social justice and social responsibility’. I wonder if that might have been a party I would have been willing to join.
On Tuesday the first government MPs to give speeches were Sally Sitou, the member for Reid in Sydney’s inner west, and Zaneta Mascarenhas, the member for Swan in inner south Perth.
Sitou, a Chinese-Lao-Australian, praised the multicultural makeup of parliament and sent a message to young Australians:
.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}You are not defined by your postcode, the school you went to, or where your parents came from. In this country, you are defined by the content of your character and what you want to do for others – where the potential and promise of our nation is only limited by our imagination.”
Mascarenhas noted her “Australian story would not be possible” if not for a Labor government:
.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}When my parents went to the embassy in Kenya they said to my dad, ‘you have the right skills but you’re the wrong colour’. This is because the White Australia policy was still in place. My parents came to Australia after Gough Whitlam dismantled the last parts of the White Australia policy. This story taught me two things – politics is personal … and that politics can transform lives.”
Labor’s Fatima Payman, a daughter of a refugee born in Afghanistan, spoke about being the first hijab-wearing Muslim senator.
.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}A hundred years ago, let alone 10 years ago, would this parliament have been as accepting? A hundred years ago, let alone 10 years ago, would this parliament accept a woman choosing a hijab to be elected? I will have more to say about this in my first speech in September, but, for those who choose to advise me about what I should wear or judge my competency based on my external experience, know that the hijab is my choice. I want young girls who decide to wear the hijab to do it with pride and to do it with the knowledge that they have the right to wear it. I won’t judge someone wearing boardies and flip-flops across the street. I don’t expect people to judge me for wearing my scarf.
The MPs also had a message on climate.
Sitou argued “it is time to be audacious dreamers and imagine a better way”. “Surely we cannot say to my son and his generation that what we are doing to address climate change is enough.”
Mascarenhas, an engineer who helped major corporations decarbonise, warned that while some in the resource sector were doing the right thing “this is not uniform”.
“Smart companies are looking at their climate risks and opportunities over the next three decades,” she said. “This includes looking at value chains and scope 3 emissions. For us to achieve our goal of well below 2C of warming, we need all sectors of the economy to pull their weight.”
The Country Liberal senator Jacinta Price, who described herself as “an empowered Warlpiri Celtic Australian woman”, spoke about the many “acts of symbolism” extended to demonstrate “we are not racist but are overwhelmingly in support of Aboriginal Australia”, from the reconciliation walk across the Sydney harbour bridge to the welcome to country.
Price said:
.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}I personally have had more than my fill of being symbolically recognised. It has become a racial stereotype that we Australians of Indigenous heritage should belong to and support the Labor party. It was an exchange with the former leader of the Labor party Bill Hayden, who conveyed this very stereotype, that compelled Neville Bonner to confirm his membership within the Liberal party of Australia. Bonner had been handing out how-to-vote cards for a Liberal friend when Hayden exclaimed, ‘What are you doing handing out those how-to-vote cards? We do more for you bloody Aborigines than those bastards do.’ ‘Well,’ Bonner thought, ‘how dare someone come up to me and presume that, because I’m black, I should support a particular party!’
It is the same attitude we hear with platitudes of motherhood statements from our now prime minister, who suggests, without any evidence whatsoever, that a voice to parliament bestowed upon us through the virtuous act of symbolic gesture by this government is what is going to empower us. This government has yet to demonstrate how this proposed voice will deliver practical outcomes and unite, rather than drive a wedge further between, Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia. And no, prime minister, we don’t need another handout, as you have described the Uluru statement to be. No, we Indigenous Australians have not come to agreement on this statement, as you have also claimed. It would be far more dignifying if we were recognised and respected as individuals in our own right who are not simply defined by our racial heritage but by the content of our character.
Price noted the 47th parliament contained 11 Indigenous representatives, arguing that a voice to parliament amounted to asking “the Australian people to disregard our elected voices and vote yes to apply a constitutionally enshrined advisory body without any detail of what that might in fact entail”.
The Greens MP for Brisbane, Stephen Bates, wore a rainbow ibis brooch and spoke about the importance of LGBTQ+ representation.
Bates paused several times to compose himself as he spoke about his years as a closeted teenager.
Bates said:
.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}I spent much of my teenage years knowing I was gay and doing everything I could to hide it. I told myself I would force myself to get married to a woman, have kids and live in the suburbs. Because that is what I had to do. I was lucky enough to have a very supportive family to come out to but I spent years hiding myself because I could not see anyone in my world that was openly gay. I made a promise to myself once I came out. That if I ever found myself in a public role that I would be open and proud of who I am – hence the rainbow gear. That I would BE that person that I never saw growing up because if I can even help one person out there then this life will have all been worth it.
I was lucky enough during the campaign to have received an email from a mother who told me that after receiving a letter from me in her mailbox – that just happened to mention my partner Scott’s name – her 14-year-old son wanted to donate some of his pocket money to our campaign. When she asked him why, he said he had read the letter and wanted me to win. If you cannot see it, you cannot be it. It is not enough to wave a rainbow flag when it is politically convenient, our community deserves tangible legislation that protects us from discrimination, and empowers us to be who we are.”