Thank you, Mr Speaker, I rise to give my first speech to this 47th Parliament, representing the great electorate of Flinders. Like those who preceded me, my speech takes the form of a reply to the opening address by the Governor-General. And when His Excellency gave that address on 26 July in the other place, he did so on behalf of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.
Unlike most of my colleagues of the Class of 2022, I stand here at the dawn of the new Carolean era, in the early days of the reign of King Charles III.
As a Parliament, we have spent the last weeks reflecting on the second Elizabethan age, the only age, any of us here, has ever known. Queen Elizabeth’s reign was a time of great stability, constitutional fortitude and decency. She demonstrated a pure and enduring loyalty to her people, even in places which turned away from the monarchy during her reign.
Those of us who stand here, in this place, at this time, will have influence over the continued success or otherwise, of the Constitutional Monarchy of Australia, which has served us so well, for over a century.
One of the first to speak in the Carolean era, I am honoured to join the 1,240 Australians who have become a member of this House of Representatives.
But I feel I am by far the luckiest, for I come here with my pockets and socks filled with the sand, the sea-salt, the twigs, trees and rich soils of Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.
I come here with her grapes and green vegetables in my belly, the squeals of her soccer, netball, basketball, and footy teams in my ears, the endeavours of her small and family businesses, and her tradies, in my heart, and the breathtaking beauty of her hills, her beaches, her waters, in my eyes.
As those of you who have been fortunate enough to visit the electorate of Flinders will know, it is a remarkably special place.
I still have to pinch myself every time I drive from one end of it to the other.
As I do most days, from my office in Somerville, to my home in Sorrento – a place so good that my friend, the great Australian, Tina Arena – wrote a song about it.
I thank the good folk of Flinders for the remarkable privilege they have bestowed on me, the trust they have placed in me, in sharing their stories, their hopes, their fears, their needs, to preserve the remarkable quality of life in such a precious part of this great country.
Like so many in this place, I am the product of my parents. Or in my case, my parent: my mother, Ann Shanahan.
A cardio-thoracic surgeon, and later also simultaneously a practising lawyer, Mum brought me up on stories of politics and history, rather than fairy tales. On the weekends, as I accompanied her on her patient rounds, she would tell me the stories of the Russian Revolution and the rise of Nazi Germany.
She would talk to me of her political heroes: Margaret Thatcher, Robert Menzies, Malcolm Fraser and above all, John Howard, always John Howard, a man I would later come to know well, and now call a friend.
Yet, Mum’s leitmotif was borrowed from Fraser, “life wasn’t meant to be easy”, and when she said it to me, as she often would, she did not mean it in a cruel or miserly way. She meant it in a “you better get ready to work hard young lady, because it is in being useful to others that you will find life’s greatest satisfaction.”
Mum led by example, feared nothing and no one – and it is her values and work ethic which underpin my approach to this place.
Mum’s life wasn’t particularly easy, but her hard work meant my childhood relatively was. She grew up in Gippsland, completed high-school in Melbourne, and placed second in her medical degree to the man she married after graduation, whose name I proudly carry.
Between them, they won almost every scholarship and bursary on offer at the time, and undertook postgraduate study and practice in North America in a period of enormous political turmoil. And just as mum was about to start her thoracic training, she conceived me.
Finding herself in a career from which it was impossible to step-aside and retain one’s professional standing, she enticed the head nurse at the Royal Children’s Hospital to become my mothercraft-nurse, a profession long lost to the Australian vocabulary –but basically, someone employed to make sure I didn’t die while mum worked 12-hour days – a task, my mothercraft nurse Molly, performed to perfection.
I did not realise it then, but Mum and Molly were a formidable team in a changing time. It was only a decade or so ago, that I learned there had been a practice of removing newborns from single mothers, which continued in this country well into the 1980s.
Mum was technically married. But, from the word “go”, she was fiercely determined to raise me on her own, and that put us precariously close, (if only in her anxious imagination), to an ongoing practice of facilitated, encouraged, and in some cases, forced adoption of so-called “fatherless children”.
So, Molly was my second parent and with me every day until I turned four, whereupon she went on with her life. And despite all my efforts to find her, she only reappeared a few years ago, in the last stages of advanced melanoma, a cancer I too had developed, but survived, a few years earlier.
I spent hours with Molly in her final weeks, hearing the glorious stories of my 1970s upbringing, including the one experience I will laud over all others who come to this place and try to tell me they had a blessed childhood: You see, Molly took me to the ABBA concert at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in 1977.
But there was something else that reunion with Molly gave me: how proud she was of my Mum, and how thrilled she was to be part of a professional female super-duo, raising a largely unaware little girl.
One afternoon, Molly shared a shoebox of photos from my childhood that she had carried through her life for over 40 years. Flicking through them, I shrieked at one photo of me as a two-year-old: dressed in a hideous psychedelic orange and purple jump-suit, that looked a lot like a moving sleeping bag with some protruding feet.
“Your Mum made that for you!” Molly said.
When I quizzed her further, she added, “Didn’t you know, your Mum would get home from work at 8pm, bathe and put you to bed, and then start making your clothes?”
Finding Molly in the last months of her life gave me a whole new understanding of what it meant for my mother to raise me as a single parent, while ascending to the top of her career.
You will have noticed Mum, since Molly told me that story, I no longer chastise you for not knowing how to make fairy bread…
But the story of my parenting would not be complete without my other ‘parents’ on the other side of the world, where as a schoolgirl mum sent me in stonewash jeans and an impossibly new and unquestionably ridiculous Akubra hat to live with a family in rural France.
My French ‘parents’, Guy and Ginette Allard, profoundly socialist, school teachers in science, alpinists, scuba divers, cross-country skiers, cave explorers and overall planetary adventurers – gave me new eyes through which to see life.
With my French sister Cathèrine and brother Julien, they taught me what it means to be part of a family –training which came in handy when I landed in my own “instant” family – when Rodrigo, Estela, Rafael and Gabriel came into my life.
Guy and Ginette can’t be here with us today, but they are represented by my dear friend François Romanet, who recently walked up their cobbled driveway in their tiny village in Ardèche, to check in and tell them how much I miss them, and wish they could be here today.
Et pour ça, je te remercie de tout mon cœur mon cher ami, François.
In preparation for this moment, I looked back over previous maiden speeches, to see how the great men of Flinders who precede me approached their first words in this place. They all captured a moment in Australia’s history, and the spirit of the good folk of Flinders. And while it is unfair to summarise those contributions in a sentence or two, I will.
I was taken with Greg Hunt’s love letter for the people of Flinders with whom he grew up; Peter Reith’s plea for an easier life for those, whose industriousness, he saw as frustrated by unnecessary red tape; and Bob Chenowyth’s forecast of the Cold War cascading into nuclear conflict, and his fear of “the decaying and rotting corpses” across the “beautiful countryside” of Flinders.
Phillip Lynch, who came to this place in 1966, described his time as “an age of revolutionary change, rapid, radical and cumulative, in which the rate of change itself has accelerated faster than men had ever dreamed possible.”
I cannot help but see my generation of parliamentarians perched up above a similar precipice of accelerated change – for reasons I will go on to explain.
Like my predecessors, I am focused on the times in which we live.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown much of life in Flinders into chaos – our businesses are crying out for staff, our supply chains are frustrated, and our children have missed the better part of two years of their education. As in the city, many of our local businesses are in mutation, and no one knows what the workplace will look like when the pandemic-music finally stops.
I come to this place as a former industrial relations lawyer, and while I haven’t practised for a while – I do know that trying to shoehorn today’s workplaces into a 1983 framework, is not the approach we need now.
For some time, I have been watching a new Labor Government laud the ways of the past –facilitating heavy-handed union input into IR reform; even though that movement represents no more than 15 per cent of Australian workers today, as opposed to 50 per cent in the 80s.
The recent push to provide paid leave for casual staff at both State and Federal levels will weigh heavily on the shoulders of small business in my electorate, many of whom have been keeping their doors open by increasing the home mortgage and putting the family to work.
The reintroduction of pattern bargaining, or “multi-employer bargaining” as we’re now supposed to call it, suggests a rapid return to the industrial wars of my childhood – weeks and months of strikes, costing billions of dollars for business.
My Party’s own efforts to modernise the industrial relations system have failed in recent years. Our party room is now surprisingly short on IR lawyers and practitioners. But Australia’s business community, particularly its small business community, needs us to step up and fight for common sense, especially as concerns the digital economy.
The modern and rapidly evolving Australian economy requires a flexible workplace, and those who work in it highly value choice and independence.
In an excellent piece of work undertaken in 2019 by AlphaBeta, led at the time by my Classmate the Member for Parramatta, the need for regulatory freedom was highlit:
“Around 1.2 million Australians want more flexible work. Many of these people are juggling study, parenting or caring responsibilities. Others may have side-businesses, health constraints, second jobs or travel plans. All of these workers value flexibility; many could not work without it.”
AlphaBeta put it simply: the modern workforce wants more flexibility, not less.
And it is important to remember that this report was completed before the pandemic –which demonstrated to us all just how flexible and digitally-facilitated work can be.
Our current IR system is no longer fit for purpose, neither for the nature of modern work, nor for the way our current and future generations want to work. The increasingly digitally-native workforce want many careers, sometimes at the same time, to suit their ambitions for travel, hobbies, rest, wellness and family.
This Parliament should be concerned with ensuring minimum standards – a safety net – for such adaptable work, rather than trying to stifle it with heavy-handed prescription and the straightjacket of “one size fits all” pattern bargaining.
Our future workplaces will be manned by an increasingly digital generation.
As my much loved but overly interrogated step-children, Estela, Rafael and Gabriel will tell you – I am obsessed with the differences between their digital generation, which has grown up with a smart phone beside the stroller; and my generation, so imbued with deferred gratification – after all it was a seven-day wait between episodes of Countdown.
My kids’ generation is intrinsically digital – their social lives are lived online; their activities are scheduled online; their next shift at the local café is rostered and remunerated online; footy and rugby is watched online; their Friday dinner is delivered online, and their homework is communicated and corrected online.
Their access to information is limitless. The world’s knowledge sits at the edge of the keyboard in their back pocket. In physical terms, their digital life is one of relative safety. They are injured less, get drunk or smoke cigarettes less, and fall pregnant as teenagers less. And they are careful drivers, that is, if they ever get their drivers’ licence.
262 days of lockdown in metro-Melbourne, in which the Mornington Peninsula found itself bafflingly included, further embedded their generation’s relationship with screens, social media and other online content. Whatever system our households had in place to balance online time with offline time in the form of study, sport, sleep and social activity collapsed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
And worse still, the school system became the dealer of the digital drug, putting laptops and tablets into every lounge and bedroom.
This may seem a strange digression for someone who spent the last three years as a director of the NBN. However, I was the only parent of teenage children within the Board, and as such, I viewed the ‘product’ through fundamentally different eyes.
Like so many women of my age, my lockdown fantasy wasn’t a trip to Fiji, but a broadband service which prioritised the download speed to my work devices, and throttled the data pipe to my children’s devices, and their daily diet of youtube, Netflix, Disney+, snapchat, Instagram and TikTok.
We could not live without technology.
We will not progress without technology.
I could not give this speech without technology.
But increasingly, data shows us that today’s adolescence, 24/7 connected to devices; addled by algorithms and auto-play; is showing signs of stress and indeed, in some cases, distress.
Self-control difficulties, impulsivity, family conflict, sleep disturbance, inactivity, concentration impairment, and poor language development are often observed among those children whose technology use edges above the recommended few hours a day.
Of highest concern is the well documented epidemic of anxiety and depression in teenage girls, which we know correlates with high use of social media.
OECD analysis reveals the vast majority of boys and almost half of our girls ‘only read if they have to’. In 2018, nearly 40% of boys admitted ‘for me, reading is a waste of time.’
A study conducted by the University of Melbourne last year, found lockdown dislodged books in favour of devices, especially among teenage boys. So our reading and literacy results in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) next year, are likely to be worse, not better, despite record spending on education at Federal and State levels.
Everyone here should be concerned for a generation, which will one day take its place on these green leather benches, without having read The Lord of the Flies, 1984, If this is a Man, and To Kill a Mockingbird.
Outside this place, we should be even more concerned by a generation, a quarter of whom will be insufficiently literate to participate effectively and productively in life by 2030, according to LearningFirst.
We are charged with making public policy to suit the needs and capabilities of this deeply digital generation. We must ensure technology contributes to their fitness-for-life, not detracts from it. We must help parents who are parenting in digital darkness. We must help educators understand how to support children and adolescents as they engage with the ever-increasing array of highly stimulating devices and social platforms.
In this Parliament, I will work with technology companies, designers and educators, to ensure these tools and innovations can be applied to help young people become: productive and purposeful, independent and critical thinkers, and to lead contributive lives, sustaining and building the prosperous nation which we have the good fortune to call home.
On my journey to this spot, I have so many people to thank.
I have worked with many great Liberal minds in this place who have shown me ‘there is no limit to what a man can do, or where he can go, if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit’.
I thank those I have worked with in this place in another time, especially George Brandis, Andrew Robb and Brendan Nelson – from whom I have learnt so much about friendship and leadership.
I express my deep gratitude to those who have been a source of good judgement, guidance and inspiration over many years, to whom I owe so much: Mathias Cormann and Greg Hunt.
I thank my friends who serve, or have served, on the opposite side of this chamber, who have helped me to see and appreciate your priorities and your world view, and remained my friend, even though I steadfastly hope, for the sake of the nation, that you to lose all future elections.
I am grateful for the unrestrained good advice of Senator James Paterson, Senator Jane Hume, Tony Nutt, Andrew Hirst, Mark Textor, Justine Sywak, Simon Berger, Michael Kapel, Aldo Borgu and David Luff. I thank Deb Kwasnicki, Kate Fielding, Anna Campbell, Perry Sperling and Sue Robertson for their towering lioness wisdom, and golden friendship through life.
I am in awe of the best campaign team a candidate could ever have, led by the Great Georgie Silverwood, together with James Radford, Julia Doyle, Andrew Barrett, Kathy Casey, Marshall Grande, Jan Hazell and Tom Burgess. They were complemented by the technical expertise of David Kitchen, and the formidable fundraising team of Will Morgan and Lucy and Emma Nicholson.
To them, together with the members and supporters of the Liberal Party in Flinders, led by my friend Martin Dixon, I attribute much of our outcome achieving an improved margin against a ferocious tide.
I thank our donors, those who believe in us and our potential to shape this nation –from the most generous, to the person who gave me $5 – she was so furious my campaign car had been defaced with foul graffiti and thought it might help. It may not have covered the costs of cleaning the car, but by golly she made a huge deposit in my faith in humanity.
But above all, I say thank you to the most remarkable and brilliant man I know, Rodrigo Pintos-Lopez. A magnificent strategic mind, but more importantly, Rodrigo is my co-adventurer in life, my best friend above and below the water, and the person who has taught me to see my country, and my contribution to it, through different eyes. The person who, above everyone else, put me here, by knowing me better than I know myself, believing in me when I was exhausted, and standing beside me throughout it.
Te quiero Guapo, hasta el cielo.
I thank the House for its indulgence.