Strathfield MP Jodi McKay's inaugural parliamentary speech

Mr Deputy Speaker

 

I am pleased you are in the Chair for my address. You’ve been a friend and wise counsel since my early days in this house.

 

I rise today with a unique privilege – of someone who has been given a second chance to make a difference in this great State.

 

Not since the earliest days of this Parliament has someone generally had the opportunity of representing more than one geographically separate electorate.

 

Although Henry Parkes, the longest serving Premier of NSW will take some beating, in his 40 year membership of this House, he served as Member for:

Sydney, Cumberland (North Riding) East Sydney, Kiama, Mudgee, Canterbury, St Leonards, Argyle (Goulburn), And, Tenterfield

 

I guess it gave Henry a perspective few could match. His record is not one I intend on challenging.

 

I rise today as the Member for Strathfield in this, the 56th Parliament, and as the former Member for Newcastle in the 54th Parliament.

 

For that reason, I do not give an inaugural address tonight. For those reading this speech in years to come, then I also refer you to my inaugural address in 2007 - an important prologue to this address.

 

In modern times, the idea of representing two geographically separate electorates is unique.

 

But my story is unique. How this happened, I will come to later.

 

But first, I want to talk about my community - a diverse and dynamic place in the Inner West of Sydney and an area celebrated for its multiculturalism.

 

Strathfield in many ways is a microcosm of Sydney, and a snapshot of our future. Nearly half the community was born in non English speaking countries, and more than ten percent of my electorate are not fluent in English.

 

While our area is home to many cultures, we particularly celebrate those in our community with Chinese, Indian, Korean, and Sri Lankan backgrounds.

 

It is also a young electorate, along with our fine schools, both public and private, we have one of the highest proportions of 15 to 24 year olds in NSW.

 

Strathfield’s many faces; its youth, the rich tapestry of cultures, its peoples, and their history, all make it a fantastic place to live, work, study and play.

 

You only have to walk down Burwood Road, or stroll through Strathfield town centre, or wander around Homebush West, to get a sense of the buzz, the excitement, and the wonderful diversity of my electorate.

 

More and more people want to live in our area and as such, we face growing pains. The Homebush and North Strathfield areas in particular will experience significant growth over the next fifteen to twenty years, and unless that growth is planned with supporting infrastructure and public transport, then there will be an unfair burden born by communities in my electorate.

 

We need to ensure population growth is fairly spread across metropolitan Sydney and there are the schools, hospitals, playgrounds and parks to support any increase in population.

 

The urban renewal of Parramatta road will change my community. This is the most significant urban renewal project in the Inner West in the last one hundred years, but to date, there has been little consultation with my community. The government wants us to take almost half of the 60,000 extra dwellings proposed yet they haven’t asked us what we think.

 

One of the key principles that has driven me as an MP – past, present and future – is the need to face people and talk to them.

 

There will be difficult conversations. Politics and policy are never easy.

 

But society prospers when we have conversations – they are the building blocks of our community.

 

Mr Deputy Speaker

 

Labor won the seat of Strathfield because we had those conversations- we door knocked 14,000 houses and made more than 30,000 phone calls into the electorate in just four months.

 

We asked people what was important to them and they told us.

 

Like others in this place, I heard loud and clear the great disillusionment people have with politics in this state.

 

What has wracked NSW politics over the last eight years or more has been symbolised in the rash of ICAC inquiries into the affairs of this State –  a veritable conga line of politicians and their hangers on have been paraded before the community.

 

And they have done the community a great disservice.

 

It is a collective betrayal – not just of the community, but of the rule of law, of democracy itself. 

 

And for that – both sides of the political fence were to blame.

 

Labor for allowing a cancerous growth that saw power as an ends rather the means.

 

And for parts of the Coalition for arrogantly presuming that they were beyond certain laws.

 

The fact my story  - of standing up and saying ‘no’ - resonated is a reflection of the state in which NSW politics has found itself. 

 

I have been lauded as someone who actually did the right thing.

 

Yet an overwhelming majority of members of this parliament, past and current, have done, and continue to do the right thing.

 

I believe we need to bond around that common sense of the common good.

 

We may disagree with the means, we may argue over the ends – but ultimately we all should be here to do our best to improve public life and work tirelessly for the community.

In that spirit, I acknowledge the presence of government and cross bench MPs. I also thank the Premier for being here. You and I entered this house in 2007 and became friends with a bond to clean up politics in NSW. Of course at that stage we were referring to the behaviour in the house, we had no idea what lay before both of us. As I was discovering the treachery and willful misconduct that occurred in Newcastle, the same inquiries were elevating you to Premier.   The irony of that is not lost on me.

 

I won't forget you were one of the first people to call me when I lost that terrible election……so, thankyou……However, I'm back and I'm part of a great team led you Luke Foley. So, it's game on, Premier. 
 

Which brings me to why I am here.

 

I have lived in Ashfield for four years. My husband has lived there for 16 years. I moved here after losing the 2011 election; an election I now know was manipulated.

 

In my inaugural address in this place in 2007, I spoke of the Newcastle campaign as the most difficult seat battle in living memory in the Labor Party. Of course, I had no idea what awaited me in 2011.

 

What happened during the lead-up to that election has been well document by the Independent Commission Against Corruption and the media, and I don’t intend to go into the details of Operation Spicer and its aftermath.

 

What I will say is that even in the lead up to my second appearance in August, I was still in my mind a former politician, albeit one now faced with the truth of what happened at the end of her term.

 

At that stage, there was no suggestion, or inclination in my mind, that I would be returning to politics. My husband was even making plans and booking hotels for our perpetually-postponed honeymoon for early 2015.

 

But something happened when I walked out of that second hearing and for the first time and I knew I could not sit back and make comment on what was wrong, I had to give it another go.

 

My feelings are best summed up in a quote from the ponderous Dr Seuss from the Lorax

 

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is

going to get better. It's not”

 

My desire to play a role in restoring trust in NSW politics… of having another opportunity to represent and defend the weakest in our community…of putting into practice my principles of social justice… and to contribute to Labor forming government…convinced me to again seek the support of my community to represent them in the NSW Parliament. 

 

As someone who has seen the worst of politics, I want to try to bring out the best of politics’ potential - to work with others to restore faith and confidence in the political system.

 

That is why one of my key priorities is to work with the local community, reach out to those normally over looked or ignored, and try to foster a positive co-operative spirit.

 

There are many challenges facing us – in the bush, the regions, and the cities.

 

But without engaging the people, we are doomed from the start.

 

And I believe this engagement should begin by respecting the views of young people.

 

Mr Deputy Speaker,

 

One of the biggest disappointments during the campaign was the general disinterest and lack of engagement of young women in their twenties.

 

Yet, you peruse social media platforms and they are ablaze with ideas, views and commentary.

 

Young people, male and female, have the largest stake in the future of the community.

 

And many of my youngest volunteers think and feel that way.

 

I had a number of young people, still at school, helping out my campaign.

 

They had that spark of social justice and wanted to help the Labor cause.

 

The one thing they could not do was vote.

 

I think that is a failing of our system, and it is why I will be seeking to have this parliament lead debate on changing the legal age of voting in NSW to 16 years of age. The idea is not new, but we have never had a real conversation with the community nor young people on this issue in NSW. And, we should.

 

I see allowing 16 and 17 year olds the opportunity to have a say is simply the ongoing extension of democracy in our community. If we want them engaged, then let’s see what they say.

 

In the mid 19th century it was enfranchisement for all white men – wresting political power away from the landed gentry.

 

At the turn of the 20th century it was the hard fought campaign for women.

 

And it is a national tragedy that it took until the 1960s to finally allow Aboriginal people to vote.

 

And finally – in 1973 the Whitlam Government lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.

 

These young people I speak about – Rose Cox, Ibrahim Taha, Sarah-Jane Yagky, Anna Callaghan and Emma Ross - are here this evening. They gave their all during the campaign – door knocking, leaflet dropping, and phone calling. Each had a personal motivation for their involvement.

 

Yet we have a law that prevents them from having a say in the outcome of an election.

 

I’d like to tell you Rose’s story.

 

Rose is a Year 10 student at Strathfield Girls High School who, along with Sarah, approached me at Strathfield Station to sign her petition for a new school hall. Her argument was strong and her passion palpable and of course in the lead-up to the election Labor committed $4 million to upgrade the hall.

 

One of my tasks will be to secure the same commitment from the government.  Rose and Sarah will make sure of that.

 

Rose is the primary carer of her mum, Caroline who has Multiple Sclerosis. She is on the NSW Carers Advisory Council, a young care leader for Young Carers NSW, the Sydney Inner West Volunteer of the Year and the first youth ambassador for the Australian Kookaburra Kids Foundation.

 

One of the first official letters I received in my new role was from Rose, asking that she undertake work experience in my office in November. Rose is intelligent and informed yet she does not have the right to choose who represents her in government.

 

The fact that these young people are unable to have an immediate say – on the future of education and TAFE, on the environment, on health services, and public transport, I believe does us a disservice, so I will seek, in the first instance, to have the joint standing committee on electoral matters consider lowering the age, even on a voluntary basis to 16 years. I see the committee leading engagement with the community, especially young people.

 

Mr Deputy Speaker,

 

Four years ago, Labor was wiped off the electoral map, and Strathfield suffered one of the largest swings in the State.

 

The idea that Labor could regain the seat, after a redistribution that favoured the Liberals, was to many, inconceivable.

 

But I was fortunate to have an army of true believers who worked indefatigably to ensure our return; some were members of the Labor Party and some were not. Some had never before voted Labor.

 

What we had in common was a belief that politics could and should be better.  Many are here this evening.

 

What buoyed my spirits daily was the involvement of young people like Jennifer Light, James Hammerton, Sarah Enderby, Sravya Abennini, Jason Cranson, Michael Murdocca, Lachlan Forster, Georgia Valis, Monica Tanika, Kieran Ash, Jessica Darke and Fahad Ali, Yang Yu, Tracy Tang, Tom Hore, Tom Morrison, Leo Solomon and Gavin Sellars.

 

I also pay tribute to one of the most incisive and clever young men I have ever met – my campaign director, Dom Ofner. Dom is a wonderful asset for the Party, and someone who unites head office with a genuine love and passion for the Labor cause – not just winning elections – but ensuring that we stay on the right course towards that Light on the Hill.

 

I also recognise Jamie Clements. Jamie directed that difficult 2011 Newcastle campaign. Thank you Jamie for allowing me to make this right.

 

Mr Deputy Speaker

 

I want to thank the branch members, many of whom are here today, who accepted me and supported me. I won’t name you all, but I know and you know who you are. I do however want to thank the “old timers”- those have stuck with Labor through the bad and the good times. In particular, Bill Thompson, Clyde Livingston, Jon Breen, Vel Maverica and Mr Lam.

 

Thank you also to former Federal member, Mary Easson- you are definitely not an ‘older timer’, but you are the unofficial matriarch of Labor in Strathfield.

 

I would like to thank my branch – the Ashfield branch – one of the best branches one could ever hope for.

 

It is a welcoming, engaging branch – who initially gave me the hope and courage to stand for Strathfield. In particular, I’d like to thank Mark Drury, Jo Carlisle, and Rory O’Connell for their support over the last 6 months.

 

I want to thank the sub continent friends of Labor, in particular Aruna Chandrala and her ever patient and supportive husband, Vishi. And, the newly formed Korean Friends of Labor.

 

I also want to acknowledge Elagupillai (ela-gup-ill-eye) Vijayaratnam (vijay-ar-at-nam), known by all us as "Vijay", a gentle and kind man who has long supported the Labor cause and continues to be a strong advocate for the Tamil community.

 

And, finally I bring to the house’s attention a group of volunteer diehards – “Jodi tragics” some have called them – who had faith in me and what I was about.

 

Jill Biddington, Kym Ralley, Corinne Gaston, Kate McLear, Jacqui Thorburn and Kevin Bolton.

 

This campaign reinvigorated the Labor Party in our area and our ranks are swelling.

 

To repay their trust, their faith it what we were trying to do, will continue to strengthen my arm and steady my resolve as I carry out my duties over the coming years.

 

Mr Deputy speaker,

 

It became clear over the course of the campaign that the last thing the Liberals wanted was me back in this chamber.

 

I think Strathfield was robo-called to the point of surrender…

 

Hi I’m Mike Baird…. Hello, this is John Howard…

 

I am surprised they didn’t try to summon the spirit of Billy McMahon!

 

I genuinely thought that I was fighting the heroes of the Liberal Party, past and present, rather than the local Liberal candidate.

 

Yet for all there automated bombardments, we had real people, real locals, talking and arguing for our vision for Strathfield and the State.

 

For the many that volunteered their time – I am forever grateful.

 

Finally – I’d like to thank two people in particular – the Fenns of Ashfield.

 

I want to thank my husband, Stephen. He is the smartest person I know and he supports me, not just by accepting that I will never cook a meal, but by putting me first each and every day.

 

He likes to fight Tories and he sees them as a pernicious force in society. I like to make peace and I try to see the best in every person. Together we make a great team. 

 

And finally, and importantly, I want to thank Madeleine, my 14 year old step-daughter. Since she was a small, politics has been a part of her life. My arrival simply put that into overdrive. One of the rays of sunshine during my four years out of politics was that we were able to bond and truly get to know one another. Madeleine is a remarkable young lady - patient and giving, and I am so fortunate to have her in my life.  

 

Mr Deputy speaker,

 

It is an honour to rise this evening as the newly elected Member for Strathfield.

 

It is a privilege to represent people – in any forum but no more so than in Parliament.

 

And we should all dwell on that fact each day.

 

A vote is a precious part of our democratic life.

 

Blind to wealth, privilege or situation, it is a right built on freedom, strengthened by egality, and a symbol of our common purpose in defending and enriching our democratic nation.

 

The vote reflects the battles of ages past. It is an arbiter of our present state of play, as well as a reflection of our hopes and ambitions.

 

It is a contract between Parliament and the people that should never be weakened, attacked or abrogated.

I am someone who has seen the best and worst of politics – and someone who has been given a second chance to play a positive role in the oldest Parliament in our nation.

 

Today I commit myself to seeking to ensure that we all do our best to lift our game and strengthen our collective resolve in making politics, and politicians more worthy and respectable in the eyes of the people.

 

This requires courage, boldness and a practical honesty with the people in having the conversations that need to be had when we face the many challenges confronting this State, the First State, in the 21st century.

 

I sincerely thank the people of Strathfield for giving me that opportunity.

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