GOVERNOR’S SPEECH Address-in-reply
Thank you, Speaker, and may I also congratulate you on your re-election to your important role in this place. I wish to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land on which we meet, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, and I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. I have many reasons to feel great pride in standing right here today, but ranking high among them is the fact that I am now a member of the first Australian government pushing actively towards treaty. I pledge to do all I can to further advance this great cause as a member of the Andrews Labor government.
I have just been given an important job, and the gravity of this job is perhaps best illustrated by the length of the job interview required to get it. The people of Mount Waverley have elected me to
represent them, and I am deeply humbled by this honour. The responsibility given to me is one which I take very seriously, and I will use everything I have to serve each and every one of my constituents. One of those is the previous member for Mount Waverley, Mr Michael Gidley. As one of his constituents for the last two terms, I thank Michael for his service.
I would also like to acknowledge and thank the Honourable Maxine Morand for her assistance and guidance during the last six months. Maxine held Mount Waverley from 2002 till 2010 and served as Minister for Children and Early Childhood Development and Minister for Women’s Affairs from 2007 to 2010. Her work to prevent violence against women and their children helped lay the foundations for this government’s historic Royal Commission into Family Violence and everything that is flowing from it. I would like to thank Maxine for her significant contribution not only to Mount Waverley but to the state of Victoria.
As a newcomer to the Labor Party, I was welcomed into the Waverley West branch, which is my branch, and it was there that I met Cyril Kennedy. If you do not know Cyril, then I will tell you—
A member: Everyone knows Cyril.
It is probably true. He will tell you what he thinks. Cyril was and is a man to be reckoned with. He was president of the free education movement, and for my one year of Goughbased free uni in 1997 I am very grateful. More importantly, he was the member for Waverley in the other place for 13 years. He was instrumental in the creation of what Mount Waverley now relies upon as the Monash Medical Centre, but he was also the first ancestral Indigenous representative in our Parliament. To Cyril and Jan Kennedy, I owe you both much. I would not be here without your support
Campaigns do not just happen because a candidate is preselected. They take a lot of hard work from a lot of dedicated and selfless people. That was certainly the case for me in Mount Waverley, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the members of the Waverley West and Glen Waverley branches of the Labor Party, in particular their respective presidents, John Mullahy and Simon Miller. I also thank the honourable member for Narre Warren North for launching a guy who nobody knew or expected to be around; the Honourable Anna Burke—thank you for coming; Michael Watson; David and Teresa Schulz; Bob and Ravelle Kirkwood; Christine Barcham; Anne Hyde; John Smith; Graham Bond;Chris Miller; Greg Male; David O’Neill; William and Maryanne Mullahy; David Mier; Mem Suleyman; Mark Dorrington; and Douglas Hastings.
To Shaun Leane, our new President in the other place, thanks for your friendship and support. He worked tirelessly for all our eastern candidates and seems to have collected quite a few new ones in this place. I must also thank the Transport Workers Union. John Berger and his members have relied on me to serve them in an IT capacity for almost two decades, and I thank them for their support and friendship over many years. There are many others, too numerous to name, who gave their time, their skills, their energy and their enthusiasm. I would not be here without any of you, and I give you my deepest gratitude.
So much of our politics stems from lived experience and from the people closest to us. I want to acknowledge and thank Rebecca Fregon, my partner for life. I would be so much less without you. I
love you, and I continually hope that you will put up with me. To my children—Sophie, Lindsay and Samuel—you get me up in the morning, even if you are not jumping on me, and I love you more than everything bar your mother.
So here I am, a product of my family, my home, my party and my community. It is those people and institutions that have given me so much and so enriched my life and now inform all of my goals as a member of this Parliament.
There are a few things that are fundamental to what I want our state to be. I represent an electorate that justifiably takes much pride in being known for excellence in public education. My mother was a teacher, my wife is a teacher and her mother was a much-loved teacher at our own Glen Waverley Secondary College. For us, government education is in the blood. I went to public schools, Kent Park Primary and then Fairhills High School, because my father believed that if you are bright enough and you work hard you will be fine. I want our public education system to be that system. I want our independent schools to be chosen because they provide something else aside from educational value, not because they provide better ATARs. I want our teachers to be recognised because they are teachers, not because there is some quality quotient that they have managed to tick off. In the words of my very intelligent wife, ‘No-one understands how hard a teacher works’. I do.
In my electorate government schools are something of a victim of their own success. In terms of funding and facilities, they are struggling to keep up with the high level of demand for enrolments that has come about because people move into our area to send their kids to these great schools. That is exactly why my wife and I moved there nine years ago. I know that even with all the money in the world we could still always do more for our schools, but I promise my constituents that for as long as I am here education will be my number one priority.
As important as these schools are in setting up our kids for life, they have become just as important at trying to teach them what is expected of them and us as good citizens in this community. We must not let up on our efforts to teach and show our children that family violence and violence against women are unacceptable. It is a scourge that must be eliminated from our community. On this matter alone I would be proud to join this government. To the Premier, ministers and members in the Parliament who brought about the royal commission and are acting on its findings, I thank you.
For me, though, the dramatically increased prominence of this effort has led me to ask myself, ‘Why do some people feel our work against family violence has established a movement against them?’. I do not understand. I do not understand how some people believe their personal sensitivities are more important than making sure no child experiences or witnesses abuse. So let me be clear: not all men are responsible for this violence and abuse—be it physical, emotional or financial—aimed at women and/or children, but all men are responsible for the attitudes, the words and the jokes that create these impulses in some men and lead them to act on them in abusive ways and sometimes lead them to act in the most horrific ways imaginable. It is not acceptable. It is not acceptable to me, it is not acceptable to this government and I do not hesitate to say that it should not be acceptable to anyone. It is time for us men to take responsibility, whether we commit these acts or not.
I encourage anyone who comes into contact with family violence in any way to please ask for help. Our job in this place is to provide that help and to provide services that help address this problem in our society, because it is the right thing to do. To those that are angry, aggrieved or bitter, I ask them not to be distracted from one core fact: whether you are a man, a woman or a child, you should not have to be subjected to violence and abuse.
This government’s family violence royal commission has already had huge ramifications. That is also my hope for this government’s next effort to address one of our seemingly intractable problems—how we deal with the issue of mental health. So much work has been done in recent years to reduce the stigma around mental illness, but we can do more, and this royal commission will tell us exactly what that is.
Like so many others, I grew up in a family that was affected by mental illness. My aunt, Barbara Macfarlane, a gifted and intelligent woman, suffered from bipolar and schizophrenia. Within our family there was no secrecy, no shame—only love, support and pragmatism. But I know what it was like for her to operate in a world where she did not find that warmth and understanding. Growing up at a time of a culture of shoosh, I can tell you that discussion, investigation and honesty will be so much better for so many people. I cannot imagine how life may have been different for those that went before us, but I can want the best possible outcomes for those who live with illness now.
We must talk to each other. We must be open about the difficult and the sensitive. We must be proud that our aunty lived with mental illness for decades and was a wonderful and productive part of our family and our community. We must look to a better understanding of difference.
There is so much in my family’s story that has brought me to this point and this place. To my mind, my family’s story is one of aspiration, and as far as I am concerned so is the Labor Party’s.
The Fregon family came here in 1852, during the gold rush, full of aspiration. They opened a public house in Omeo, which is a pretty clever thing to do in the middle of a gold rush.
Jump forward a century. One of my grandparents, Lindsay Fregon, a boilermaker by trade, drove trucks to Darwin during the Second World War and then went on to manage the brickworks in Oakleigh. My other grandfather, Arthur Brice, ran a shirt factory in the city. Yes, the city—back when we used to manufacture things in postcode 3000. No matter how hard the family toiled, the rag trade did not work out for Arthur. That is business. That is the downside of aspiration. It does not always work out.
I was raised in my father’s Ferntree Gully pharmacy, which he ran tirelessly for many decades. It was a cornerstone of the Ferntree Gully community, and he was always there, whether you needed advice, medicine, a chat or maybe a last-minute Mother’s Day perfume gift.
When my time came I also started my own business. Solving IT problems for the last 20 years has taught me how to listen, but you have to ask the right questions. It was in John Fregon’s chemist at the age of 4 where I was taught to stand behind the counter and say, ‘How can I help you?’. I brought that attitude to my own small business, and I bring it to this place now. And I bring it as a proud member of the Labor Party—the party of aspiration.
Labor supports equality of opportunity, for everyone. Hope and possibility, for everyone. And by providing a good safety net, we really do ensure that those things are for everyone.
We understand that all of us aspire to go to work and earn a wage that we can bring home to support our families. We aspire to get paid for the hours we do. We aspire to earn our entitlements. And we aspire to be respected through the dignity of work.
In this government we aspire to make wage theft a crime. We aspire to many things in many, many ways, and as shown in the last four years, we will deliver.
The Mount Waverley electorate is a stunning example of what can be achieved when aspiration and opportunity are brought together, and no more so than in its ethnic communities. I am fortunate to represent an electorate that enjoys huge cultural diversity, with over 50 per cent born elsewhere or having parents born elsewhere.
In Mount Waverley, one in four of us are of Chinese ancestry and speak a Chinese dialect at home. Residents with ties to India and Sri Lanka are also joining us in larger and larger numbers. Combined, they make up a very welcome 11 or 12 per cent of our electorate.
The vast majority of us, of course, are migrants or descended from migrants. Some, like me, are also descended from those who came from Britain in chains. Many more have come voluntarily, and whether they arrived two centuries or two weeks ago, their goals were anchored in aspiration. These migrants have contributed so much to our state. But whether we are from another country or another suburb, we believe in opportunity, we believe in community and we believe in a better future.
For most people, their contribution to a better Victoria starts and stays at the community level. Joining a kindergarten committee—as I did some years ago—is perhaps not a complete apprenticeship for politics, but it is about getting involved, giving back and trying to make things even better. I see mums and dads on committees like those, and the ones who join the school councils. I see the parents who go to watch their kids play sport and get involved in local clubs. I see people in retirement volunteering their time to help others. I see multicultural volunteers working in their respective communities. These are the people who make Mount Waverley, Victoria and Australia work as well as we do.
I would love to see more people get involved in politics. You do not have to run, but join a party and see if you can make a difference. I got interested in politics when I had kids and I realised it was not just about Bec and me anymore. The attitude I bring is one of we, not me. After all, it is the way I was brought up.
To my parents, John and Marcia Fregon, I am what you created. Every win and loss in your lives created this man, and I am so grateful. I can only hope my children are so lucky. By chance, my mother is celebrating her 75th birthday today. Over the years this day has created a special saying in our family which is used to stop debate before it gets to the point of argument. So today, Dad, I get to use it in this place: ‘That’s very interesting. Happy birthday, Mum’.
To my sister, Sarah, and her family: Sarah, it is your fault I am here. You have always believed in your big brother, probably more than I do.
Extended family and friends—so many and all so worthy. The Hastings clan, you could not have been more loving. To my good friends Mark and John, I owe you more than I can give.
Above all, I thank the people of the district of Mount Waverley. You have placed your trust in me, and I am more than aware of the enormity of this. I will spend the time given to me here to represent all of you to the best of my ability and to leave our community and our state better than I found them.
And so with tolerance, inclusion, compassion and empathy, I say to you all that we will never become more by dividing ourselves, but we will always be stronger by standing together. Thank you.