Inaugural speech

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Ms SPENCE (Yuroke) — Thank you, Speaker, and congratulations to both you and the Deputy Speaker for your roles in this 58th Parliament of Victoria.
I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the people of the Kulin nation, and I pay respect to elders past and present. I also acknowledge and pay respect to the traditional owners of the land in the district of Yuroke, the Gunung Willam Balluk people.

Most importantly I would like to thank the people of Yuroke, who have given me the great privilege of representing our community in this Parliament.
To my family — my husband, Kosmos; my son, Adam; my parents, Nola and David; my sister, Veronica; and my good friend Lorena — thank you for your ongoing support, for putting up with my far too often absences and for encouraging me to pursue my goals.

To my Labor family and friends, in particular the members of the Gladstone Meadows and the Craigieburn ALP branches, thank you for all the support and assistance you have given to me over many years, culminating in handing out how to vote material on 29 November and, in many cases, getting the first dose of sunburn for the season.

The number of people who spent hours at pre poll places, assisted at street stalls, hosted pictures on their properties and helped out on election day is very humbling, and I greatly appreciate every minute they each put into my campaign.

I would like to acknowledge the ALP state secretary, Noah Carroll, and all the staff at ALP state office. They are a great team at Docklands, who have all worked to achieve this election victory, and I thank them for all that they do.

As a proud unionist I acknowledge and thank the union movement and the team at Victorian Trades Hall for their outstanding campaign efforts.

And of course a heartfelt thankyou to those who worked closest on my campaign. To my campaign manager, Paul Caruso, and to Jamie Byron and Casey Nunn, thank you also for your ongoing friendship and support.

Those who were involved in my campaign will also know that there are two others that must be acknowledged — the stars of the show — Marvin and Minx, my two black cats. These two taught me more about social media than you will find in any article or book — that is, no matter how witty or profound you may think your last post was, a picture of a cat in a box or, better still, two cats in a box will always get more likes.

To the new member for Sunbury, my friend and quiz buddy, thank you for making me laugh along the way. I am glad that we have shared this journey together, and I am so proud of you.
I am particularly pleased that of the 14 new government members in this Legislative Assembly, eight are women, bringing the number of female members of the government in this place to over 44 per cent. I am also thrilled to see the appointment of nine great women to the cabinet. This is a terrific outcome, and I acknowledge the important role that EMILY’s List has played in promoting, supporting and encouraging more women to participate in our political processes.

I also congratulate all the members who have been re elected. You set the standard for those of us who have been elected for the first time, and I know that we will be looking to you for guidance and support and to learn from you so that we can do our best in our new roles.

For me, one person who has given me much guidance and support is my predecessor, Liz Beattie, who I thank very much. Liz was the first member for Yuroke and served as a member of this place from 1999. Liz has been a great source of support for me both prior to and throughout the election campaign, and she continues to be my sounding board and a great source of knowledge, and I appreciate her sound advice.

During her valedictory statement Liz very generously said that the now member for Sunbury, Cr Casey Nunn, and I were her greatest achievements. As her former staff, we are all aware of the many, many achievements that Liz is too modest to mention, and we know how well respected Liz is both in this place and in our communities.

I know that we consider Liz our valued mentor and friend and someone who has encouraged us to pursue our goals. I also know that we will all strive to build on the work that she has done over the past 15 years, and for me personally I am acutely aware of how high she has set the bar.

To all the newly elected members, I congratulate all of you, and no doubt we all share the same mix of excitement, anxiousness and a burning desire to do our best for our wonderful state. Whilst as new members we will all embark on this journey together, we differ greatly as individuals as to the path that led us to this place. And it is not always a straightforward path that we have taken.

For me, like the Leader of the Opposition, I grew up in an average suburban home in Montmorency, but I am sure that our life events leading here are strikingly different. Growing up in Montmorency was great. We lived in a court surrounded by other families and where the sound of a basketball being bounced outside signalled that all the kids should head out for a game or to muck around until dinner at six. I was very fortunate. We lived in a modest three bedroom house, where Dad made sure that we did not go without.
I went to a terrific school in Eltham High School, where I was encouraged to learn as an individual. I know that this school is in good hands with my friend the new member for Eltham. I thank and acknowledge my year 12 politics teacher, Brendan Monigatti, who no doubt planted the seeds for a lifelong interest in politics and in the importance of participating in our political processes.
But like so many, I also know what it is like to struggle with adversity. As a single parent I faced the daily struggle of being a low income earner, and I understand the pressures that many families experience constantly. I know too well about the flow on effects to the household when all the utility bills arrive within days of each other and there is simply no way to pay them all by the due dates. I know too well about the struggle to provide a school uniform and the effect that the loss of a jumper can have on an already strained budget. And I know too well about the frustration of wanting to provide every opportunity for my child but living a reality where simply providing the basics is a constant challenge.

I also knew that the best way to improve my future prospects was through education, so what started as an arts degree quickly became a law degree. With that came a whole range of additional pressures, and so many times I questioned if I would be able to see it through.

During this time, through my experiences and the experiences of others whom I came to meet, the extent of disadvantage in society became apparent. Be it our youth, unemployed, homeless, disabled, aged or members of the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) community, the barriers faced by far too many became a motivating factor for me to achieve change. It became obvious to me that the provision of access does not necessarily provide equality or equity. For instance, an issue I constantly faced was that although I could access a university degree, I could not afford the books, and although there was a great range of subjects that were on offer there was no child care available at corresponding times. And although rental assistance was provided, affordable housing was simply not available in many areas. The list of such examples is far too long, and we should be mindful of this and always make decisions which seek to provide equitable outcomes.

During these years I was immensely grateful for the support given to me from my family and friends, and I was very fortunate in that I had both. However, many people in similar circumstances do not, and in those cases there is a great network of volunteers at a variety of organisations that do what they can to assist people in need. I have seen firsthand the difference these volunteers make to people’s lives, and they should never be taken for granted.

It was through my experiences and struggles that a desire within me grew to provide a helping hand and a voice to those in need and to do what I could to provide a fair go to those who were doing it tough. That is what I have sought to do. I found that working as an electorate officer was a great way to be of practical assistance to those in need. I thank all those MPs who gave me the opportunity to work for them and to learn from them, including Sue Mackay, Graeme Sturges and Michelle O’Byrne in Tasmania, and later, Maria Vamvakinou, Steve Herbert and of course Liz Beattie. Working for these members of Parliament reinforced to me the value of standing up for those in need and seeking change in society whereby people’s lives are improved and those who need our assistance are not left behind.

When I was finally admitted as a lawyer in the Supreme Court I signed up as a volunteer solicitor at the Broadmeadows Community Legal Service so I could provide my time to help those who could not otherwise access legal advice. As any volunteer will tell you, this was extremely rewarding. I was then elected in 2008 as a councillor with Hume City Council, representing the Aitken ward, which had very similar boundaries to the electorate of Yuroke. During this term on council I served as deputy mayor and then as mayor. I was proud to be elected to represent my community in local government, and I am now honoured to represent my community in state Parliament.

I am so proud to be a member of a Labor government whose values first and foremost are to provide a fair go to all and to represent and provide opportunities for all, regardless of their income level, their age or their place of birth. It is with this great pride that I acknowledge and congratulate the Premier on his historic victory, and I look forward to working with him to fulfil the Andrews Labor government’s vision for the future of Victoria. I am particularly thrilled and excited about the education initiatives of this government. For these I thank and congratulate the Minister for Education, both because of my personal passion for education and because, based on my personal experience, I know that these initiatives will greatly benefit the residents of Yuroke.

Yuroke is a very young community, with the second highest proportion of children aged 5 to 14. The schools are currently under pressure, with very high enrolment numbers for prep classes. I am very pleased that this Labor government has committed to an additional school in north west Craigieburn to alleviate some of this pressure, and I look forward to the full suite of education initiatives being rolled out. I know that these initiatives will provide a welcome relief for many families — the establishment of breakfast clubs so that students do not have to get by on an empty stomach; health care for secondary school students; assistance with the costs of camps, sports and excursions; funding of scholarships for mentors for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds; assistance with uniforms and glasses; and, of course, rescuing TAFE so students of all ages have options for further education.

I know that many families in Yuroke will appreciate assistance with the cost of education, and I am proud to be a member of a Labor government that is committed to providing the kind of support that seeks to achieve equity for students to be able to participate fully rather than just providing access to an education where you are then left on your own to try and get by.
I look forward to working with the community to implement the vision of this government, as well as fulfilling my vision for the future of Yuroke. As it is a growth area, I want to see Yuroke continue to develop as a community where, no matter where you come from or what you come with, there is a place for you — a community where there are housing choices, be it for first home buyers, second or third home buyers, renters, retirees or those who need emergency or ongoing housing assistance; a community where families have a choice of quality education, be it government or private, with pathways to university or TAFE; and a community where employment opportunities are real and not a rarity.

I want Yuroke to continue to be a community of choice for new families, for them to identify our community as a preferred place to live. There is no doubt that this is already true for many of our longstanding and newly arrived community members. Yuroke is home to over 63 000 people from over 160 countries speaking over 120 languages. Regardless of where these families have come from or what they came with, they were welcomed, and for those whose journey here has been one of trauma, they are supported in a place they can now call home.

The path that led me here has provided me with inspiration, resilience, knowledge, empathy, courage and determination. These traits I will use to improve people’s lives across our great state, in particular the people of Yuroke. I am very happy to be backed up in that role by the very capable Ryan Moore and Justin Barbour as my electorate officers and by Shannon Farley as the whip’s assistant. As I said earlier, I am acutely aware of how high the first member for Yuroke has set the bar by which I will be judged. I look forward to the challenges ahead and to serving as the second member for Yuroke.