Inaugural Speech

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JOHN MULLAHY (Glen Waverley) (17:26): Thank you, Speaker, and I congratulate you on your election.

It is an honour to rise in this place as the first Labor member for Glen Waverley – a community as diverse and strong as they come, a community I have the privilege of representing as a member of a progressive Andrews Labor government that is doing what matters for all Victorians. I acknowledge the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people as the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting and I pay my respects to their elders past and present, and I extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here today. Woi Wurrung land extends eastwards from here to the Glen Waverley district, where their land meets that of the Boon Wurrung people, who I would like to acknowledge as the traditional owners and continuing custodians of the southern end of my electorate.

The lands of all First Nations people were never ceded, but rather, violently dispossessed over the course of generations and governments. I recognise the trauma of this history, and I am proud to be part of an Andrews Labor government working together with Indigenous communities towards self-determination through the First Peoples’ Assembly and, ultimately, treaty. It is my sincere hope that 2023 also marks the year when the Australian community embraces a Voice to our federal Parliament, taking a leap towards the process of truth, treaty and voice outlined in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

It is an honour to represent the people of the Glen Waverley district – a true representation of a modern, inclusive Victoria. I say that not just as an ideal but as a description of reality. More than half of all residents in my electorate were born overseas and speak a language other than English at home. This multiculturalism and diversity is our strength. From Forest Hill and Vermont in the north to Wheelers Hill and Glen Waverley in the south, migrants from every corner of the world have come to our community for a better future. It is a concept I know well as the son of two proud Irish immigrants that arrived in this country in 1978, drawn to a land of opportunity, with quality education for their children, reliable medical care, significantly warmer – and drier – weather and a chance to start their own small business. Australia was all my parents could ask for and more.

In 1982 I was born in Baxter House, Geelong – go Cats! I remember my early childhood fondly. I was the middle of five children. We grew up within a tight-knit community of Irish migrant families – the Sharkeys, the Bradys and the O’Loughlins – around the suburbs of Geelong and Melbourne. Our social gatherings centred around our traditions, celebrating our music, dance and frequent discussions on Irish Republicanism and self-determination. Seeing the strength of our multicultural communities across the Glen Waverley district, I know the value and importance of keeping cultural traditions. The embrace of diversity through food, song and dance is by no means lost on me as we continue to back multiculturalism across this state.

My parents quickly established a thriving construction business specialising in concreting, formwork and steel reinforcement. It is with great pride that I see the contribution my father has made to Victorian infrastructure – the buildings, the bridges and iconic landmarks. Not dissimilarly to the thousands of workers currently delivering Victoria’s Big Build, my father worked on transport projects such as CityLink and the Western Ring Road. He helped build our healthcare facilities like Box Hill Hospital and Geelong hospital, and important centres of our arts and culture like the iconic Federation Square and the Geelong performing arts centre. My father’s business was a vocation dedicated to building a better Victoria, an attitude he instilled in me.

My mother worked hard to raise my brother, my three sisters and me. While supporting the family business and later a farm she taught me empathy and consideration of others. In 1985 she joined Interchange, an organisation that strives to make our community more inclusive for Victorians living with a disability. I gained a brother with spina bifida who used a wheelchair. He would regularly stay with us, and I learned about the access and healthcare challenges faced by people living with a disability. More importantly, we learned firsthand how compassion and community can help support them.

In 1995 we moved to Meredith, a country town where my parents built our home on a farm. After going to high school in both Ballarat and later Geelong, I moved to Melbourne to start a university degree, driven by a thirst for knowledge in science and business. For nearly 10 years I worked in our family’s construction business, and I learned about hard work, drive and determination, which led me to start my own small business. From a spare bedroom in the eastern suburbs a successful IT and telecommunications company was born. It was built on understanding the needs of others and finding solutions for those needs. While I learned so much from this venture, I also discovered my passion for helping people.

It was the federal opposition leader in 2012 that activated me and commenced my foray into politics. This supposed leader continually sowed the seeds of division through bigotry, misogyny and racism. Many evenings there were outbursts at the TV when the 7.30 program came on. One evening my partner Donna said, ‘Why don’t you do something about it?’ So I did. I joined the Waverley West Ashwood branch of the Victorian Labor Party. It was here that I found people with the same values of compassion and empathy and a rejection of the divisive conservatism that has no place in modern, progressive Victoria. The first people I met were Cyril Kennedy, a former member for Waverley district in the other place, and his wife Jan. I respected their values and their contribution to the Labor movement in the east. From day one they offered me guidance, building on my childhood conversations about Labor politics with my aunt and uncle Owen and Maureen Sharkey. Before long I was involved in local state and federal election campaigns, the first of which was Anna Burke’s 2013 Chisholm campaign, a grassroots campaign in eastern Melbourne, re-electing a terrific community-minded MP.

I remember warmly in 2016 a branch member and close friend asked me who was running for the Mount Waverley district at the 2018 state election, to which I answered, ‘You are’. And so the Mount Waverley campaign began. Run on the smell of an oily rag and not much else, we walked out thousands of flyers and had conversations with locals across the area, many of whom I now represent in the Glen Waverley district. The result was a little better than we expected, and it marked the beginning of an exciting new chapter. With that win came an important decision that I had to make: do I continue running my successful small business or change careers to serve the public? That decision is why I am here today. In fact it is four years ago to this very day that the then member for Mount Waverley gave his inaugural speech to this chamber. In reviewing the footage recently to prepare for my own inaugural speech you can see an anxious, fresh-faced electorate officer sitting in the background. Matt Fregon, member for Ashwood and Deputy Speaker, I am excited to be your colleague in this chamber, and I will try my best not to get kicked out. I would also like to wish your wonderful mother Marcia a happy birthday for today.

My time working in Matt’s office was a political apprenticeship for which I am deeply grateful. It taught me the value of serving our community during the most difficult of times and the importance of having strong Labor values of compassion and empathy. These are the reasons that I put my hand up to contest the election for the new district of Glen Waverley. We had our work cut out for us, just like any marginal seat campaign, and I could not have done it without a dedicated team of volunteers. We had a simple plan: to have as many genuine conversations with the community as possible. Our volunteers gave up their time – weeks of it – to have thousands of conversations with Glen Waverley constituents about what matters to them.

I would like to acknowledge former member for Forest Hill Neil Angus for his service to our local community. My thanks also extend to the other candidates and the Victorian Electoral Commission for their work to ensure a strong democratic process.

Now, I want to take this moment to thank my campaign team of over 100 volunteers, especially the members of the Glen Waverley ALP. While I cannot mention each and every one of you by name, your hard work and contribution is deeply appreciated. To my key team – Hannah Krasovec, Felix Hughes, James Gan, Dustin Kim, Adam Rae, Ishmohit Sabharwal, Shara Teo, Nate Truong, Liz De La Motte, Naiyu Wang, Nicky Luo, Tina Samardzija, Matt Price, Diana Doidge, David Coombs, Eve Zhang, Graeme Bond, Abhi Kumar and David McLennan – who all worked relentlessly to run an A-grade, professional campaign, I am forever indebted to you. And thanks to those who were able to render assistance even when they were busy on their own campaigns: Lisa Williams, Skye Griffiths, Tom Yakubowski, Drew Lindsay and the formidable Rachel Tian.

A big thankyou to the Monash Young Labor left for always turning up, especially to their leadership team, Noah Andrews and Grayson Lowe. Also thank you to Maya McGrath, Izzy Carmody, Aaron Sharkey, Harry Ketsakidis, Chloe Ward, Mitch Evans and Phil Dahn.

I would also like to thank the contribution of the Inn Group.

A personal thankyou to my good friend and comrade Michael Watson. I will always be your best man.

Thank you also to secretary Troy Gray and the team at the Electrical Trades Union, the Victorian Trades Hall Council and the mighty union movement. Your advocacy for working people across the state is critical to improving the lives of all Victorians.

To the members and ministers who supported me, I say thank you. In particular I would like to acknowledge the eastern bloc – the members for Ashwood, Bayswater, Box Hill, Eltham, Ivanhoe and Ringwood, plus Shaun Leane and Sonja Terpstra in the other place – for sharing their experiences as Labor MPs and campaigning in the east. I make a special mention of the former member for Ringwood Dustin Halse for his wise counsel.

To Minister D’Ambrosio and Minister Pallas, thank you for launching and supporting my campaign. To the Premier and the campaign chair, James Merlino: thank you for your leadership and hard work in delivering a monumental victory for our movement. I would like to extend this thanks to the team at campaign headquarters, including Chris Ford, Nicola Castleman, Cam Petrie and Bofeng Wu.

Most importantly, a thankyou to my family and friends for standing with me always. Often speeches in this chamber comment on how our families bear the brunt of our participation in politics, as I have recently been made aware. So to my partner Donna of 16 years and our daughter Orla, who are here, I say a heartfelt thankyou, and I love you.

I want to express the same thanks to my mum and dad, Sean and Marian, and my siblings William, Bridget, Maryanne and Christina. You have always been there with unconditional love and words of encouragement. In particular I would like to thank my brother William for pausing his life in Poland. He turned up on my doorstep, surprising me, ready to spend a month working on my campaign: ABC, 123, I am lucky to have you, brother. I want to extend my thanks to his family – Marysia, Kasia and Ronan – for supporting us.

I am proud to be part of politics that is compassionate and focused on doing what matters for Victorians. An issue close to me is the impact of gambling on our communities and its influence on our young Victorians. As a child, one of the first funerals I attended was for someone who took their own life, ruined by the scourge of gambling. When our young children today talk about the odds when discussing sport, we know we have a problem. I worry for the next generation if we do not take action, and I believe we can look towards other major policy reforms for guidance.

In particular I am proud to be a member of a Labor government that has led the way on bold policies to address family and domestic violence since coming to power in 2014. I lost a friend to domestic violence, and that trauma will last my lifetime. As a government, it takes courage to make serious and lasting policy changes. I am proud that we have implemented every single recommendation of Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence, transforming the lives of the most vulnerable in our community, and we are well on the way to doing the same with our mental health system too.

When I look forward to serving the Glen Waverley district over the coming years, I do so with eagerness, knowing my community is ground zero for some of the boldest projects and reforms in a generation. The Suburban Rail Loop will connect Glen Waverley to jobs, health care and educational opportunities across the state as well as to every rail line. The people of Glen Waverley have endorsed this project resoundingly – twice – and the Labor government is getting it done.

I am delighted with the revival of the State Electricity Commission, the boldest energy policy reform of a generation. For too long multinational companies have taken advantage of Victorians, and it is about time the government takes its rightful place as an agent for positive change. The conversations I have had while doorknocking back government-owned renewable energy to drive down power bills.

The rollout of free kinder across my community is a great Labor policy, good for our youngest Victorians, like my daughter, good for creating more equality for women and good for reducing the cost-of-living pressures. In 2018 the Andrews government led the way with a promise to deliver three-year-old kinder, and last year my daughter Orla experienced the benefits firsthand, as did my partner and I. Now we take the next step by making three- and four-year-old kinder free, because as a government we are not resting on our laurels: we are doing what matters for Victorian families.

As I look around this chamber I see common ground – a desire to do what is right for our communities and to shape a future that we can all be proud of for our home, Victoria. I take our collective responsibility to build a brighter future for the next generation seriously, and I truly believe that Victoria’s best days lie ahead. I will work hard every day for the people of the Glen Waverley district in doing what matters for all Victorians today and for the years to come.

Members applauded.

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