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My First Speech in Parliament

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Ellen Sandell
State MP for Melbourne
12 February 2015

Thank you Mr Speaker, y felicitaciones y buena suerte en su nuevo papel.

I start by acknowledging and paying my respects to the elders of the Kulin nation.

I do this because long before this Parliament was built, the areas around this site were traditional Kulin meeting places. Sovereignty of this land was never ceded, and we still have much to do to right the wrongs that were done to Aboriginal people here in Victoria.

I am incredibly proud to stand here, together with my colleague Sam Hibbins, and be the first Greens MP in the lower house of Victorian Parliament.

I am especially proud to represent the people of Melbourne, because we share an incredible city.

You only have to hear the shouts at the Queen Vic market, wander through Melbourne’s iconic laneways, catch a game at the G or my own spiritual home at Punt Road, or jump on a tram through the inner suburbs to see why this city has been named the world’s most liveable.

You can barely turn a corner and not see a café serving the best food and coffee in the world. Melbourne is so famed for its coffee culture that I’m not entirely sure I would have been elected if anyone had found out I only drink tea.

Melbourne is unique.

People would probably guess that it's one of the youngest electorates in the state and home to tens of thousands of students, but a lesser known fact is that it has the second highest number of public housing residents.

Over half of the residents in my electorate were born overseas and have made Melbourne their home.

But lucky for me, as an MP I get to hear about more than just the statistics. I am entrusted with the stories that are woven together to make our city great, but that also shed light upon some of the challenges we face.

Stories like Andrea’s. Andrea had her home in Parkville acquired to make way for the disastrous East West toll road. But rather than just caring about her own backyard, she told me she voted Green because she wanted better public transport for everyone, not more congestion and pollution.

Stories like Muna's. Muna is from Carlton, she lives with her husband and four children in a tiny two-bedroom public housing flat. Muna has been waiting for a transfer to a bigger place for over 5 years and has almost given up hope.

I’ve seen first-hand places like The Venny – an adventure playground in Kensington for kids who have nowhere else to go. The Venny lost its Federal funding last year but the fundraising efforts of the local residents helped to keep it open.

I’ve heard from people like Jane, who has voted for the old parties for over 50 years, but in the lead up to the election sent me an email saying “we oldies don’t like the ostrich approach to climate change. We are thinking of our legacy”.

I am proud to be representing these people, and sharing their stories, in the Victorian Parliament and I will do everything in my power to champion the issues that affect their lives. Because while Melbourne is a great place – we know it can be so much better.

Instead of building toll roads that we know will just get clogged up with more congestion, why couldn't we have a 21st century public transport network, like in Berlin or Hong Kong, where trains come so often you don’t even need to look at a timetable.

Instead of building concrete skyscrapers with window-less, one-bedroom apartments, why couldn’t we have affordable, energy-efficient housing that borrows from the best design principles and also celebrates our rich heritage? 

Instead of losing our best medical researchers to Sydney - or our best solar engineers to China – why couldn’t we be the research, renewables and innovation capital of the world?

The answer is, of course, that we can. But only if we have Governments that are brave enough to think about the long-term, not just the next election.
I’m driven by this vision for a world-class, innovative and exciting Melbourne, but experiences from my own life have also led me to this point.

Although I’ve been a proud Melburnian for well over a decade now, I had the privilege to be born in Alice Springs and to grow up in Mildura.

Our playgrounds were fruit blocks, the banks of the mighty Murray, and the sand dunes and salt plains of the Mallee parks.

It’s a place that truly embraces the value of fresh, local food and strong community.

But before I knew what it was called, I was seeing the impact of climate change everywhere. It became clear that what had started as a long drought, was becoming the new normal. Growing up, I saw growers losing crops, more and more people unable to cope with consecutive days above 45 degrees, and bushfires taking on a new, terrifying intensity.

My dad worked in National Parks and fire management.

Almost every year on my birthday, which was right at the start of the fire season, dad, with guilt in his voice, would tell me that he had to go away to fight fires in the Mallee.
I vividly remember the day in February 2009, turning on the radio to hear the unbelievable news that nearly 200 people were feared dead on Black Saturday, and how dad immediately jumped in the car to cut the family holiday short and volunteer on the fire effort.

I was so proud when he won a fire service medal to recognise his years of service to Victoria's community.

Although, we were all a little embarrassed when his protective fire gear went up in flames when he accidentally burned down our shed

Dad couldn’t be here today to see me give this speech because he died from that horrible disease melanoma during the campaign – but in his last letter to me and my family he wrote that the most important thing in life is to contribute to your community.

I will always remember his contribution to his community – through the rowing and footy clubs, through being the youngest person by about 30 years at the local Red Cross, and especially in his tireless work protecting our precious natural environment, and his despair that our politicians weren’t doing enough of the same.

It was also my mum Patsy who instilled in me a deep sense of community service. Despite having a career and three kids, she gives of herself generously, and lives by the principle that bad things happen when good people do nothing.

Despite the poorer educational outcomes suffered by most kids in rural Victoria I was lucky to have parents and teachers pushed me to have bigger goals than I otherwise would have had, and I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship to study at the University of Melbourne, even though it took a 200km bus ride followed by a 400km train ride to get there.

At uni I learnt about the science of climate change, the phenomenon I had witnessed throughout my childhood.

I always wanted to be a scientist, and I started my career in science, but what I learned was that science was already telling us we are in a climate emergency which would affect Victoria a great deal, and what was actually needed was better government policies to protect us from this crisis.

But time after time – during my stint in the Department of Premier and Cabinet and as CEO of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition - I saw big business and vested interests win out over the science.
I know that climate change is a global problem, and one state can't solve it alone, but that doesn’t absolve us here in Victoria of our responsibilities.

For it’s our state government that decides whether we shut the dirtiest power stations in the world, which are long overdue for closure.

It’s our state government who decides if we keep giving taxpayer dollars to the logging of our native forests rather than protecting them as the carbon stores and the rich habitat that they are.

Ultimately, almost every decision we make in this place can either prop up the status quo, or help us transition to a more sustainable world.

You know we're being left behind when even that group of rabid socialist environmentalists, the Rockerfeller Family, pull their assets out of oil and coal and invest in renewables.

 Let’s not be the state left holding the reins of a horse-and-cart while the rest of the world drives past us in an electric sports car.

I feel incredibly lucky to live amongst the people of Melbourne, because they have had the courage to put their votes where their values are, and elected a party that stands for doing something about this important issue.

A party that believe when we say “for those who come across the sea, we’ve boundless plains to share” we actually mean it.

The Greens are a party who believe that Government should be a way to organise our society so that together our whole is greater than our parts,

so we can provide opportunity for everyone - not just the wealthy few – and who believe that this right should also extend to future generations.

The Greens are a party that embrace the best of liberalism - believing in the rights of an individual to marry who they want, a woman's right to choose and the right to die with dignity, while also believing in the best of collectivism - that if we all chip in we can provide good quality healthcare and education for everyone, that workers rights are more important than the rights of a few to amass billions for themselves, and that we are stronger when we live in a community.

It is incredibly exciting that the Greens are now representing Melbourne at a State, Federal and local level for the very first time.

We just have to elect a Green Lord Mayor and we can all sleep well at night.

Lots of people voted Greens for the first time at the state level on November 29th.

Thank you.

By voting Greens you have already made a difference

You have stopped a disastrous toll road.

You have put important issues like climate change, the Great Forest National Park, integrity in politics, and fairness and equality on the agenda when the old parties wanted to sweep them under the carpet.

I wouldn’t be standing here today if it wasn’t for the remarkable efforts of a large number of people.

Thanks to our hundreds of volunteers, led by the incredible women Nina O’Connor, Claire Harman, India Prior and Jess Beames.

Our volunteers came to the campaign for 100s of different reasons. Whether it was Apsara, a TAFE teacher who saw disadvantaged young people missing out because of the old parties cuts, Roger, a CBD resident who was sick of seeing our parkland gobbled up for low-quality developments, or Nejat who wanted a fairer deal for public housing residents.

Their diversity of age and background prove that the Greens are no longer just the party of the environmentalist, or the young idealist, but of all those who believe in a fair society and a clean economy.

To those incredible people who stopped the EW toll road, within the Greens and within the broader community, as I ride my bike through royal park in the morning morning I am so grateful for what you have protected.

To Mukhtar, Nejat, Tabby and Fahriya and all the volunteers from the African community, thank you for your hard work. I look forward to supporting your community like they supported me.

To all our donors. We didn't take any corporate money on this campaign but together you were more powerful than the gambling industry or the big developers. This is how politics should be and together Sam and I will be calling for reform to political donations. 

To all the current and former elected Greens: but especially to my current colleagues in Victorian parliament, Cathy, Rohan, Janet Rice, and Richard di Natale, Christine Milne, Sarah Hanson-Young and Bob Brown -- thanks for your support, guidance and advice.

A special thanks to Adam Bandt and his team, it is a privilege to represent Melbourne alongside you. 

Lastly to my family and friends. This last year has not been an easy one and your love and support has meant the world to me. 

To dad – I wish you were here. Thanks for your good humour and calm strength, I hope you would be proud that a Mallee girl has ended up the Member for Melbourne.

To mum, Tom and Thea, my wonderful partner Lloyd, the Davies family, Nanna and all the Derricks and the Sandells (especially my grandparents Arthur and Rylice who are no longer with us but whose passion for fair education and nature led them to vote Green long before most people even knew who the Greens were) and my friends. Thank you.

With the election of Greens to this place for the first time, Victorians have told us they want a higher standard from politics and our politicians.

It is a privilege to sit in this place, not a career path or an entitlement.

We can choose to squander our time here and aim for power above all else, or we can use it to get things done.

I want to end by making a commitment to the people of Melbourne, based on three values I believe are important for all of us to uphold in this Parliament.

The first is future-thinking. I commit that when making decisions, I will consider not just the immediate consequences, but whether my great-grandchildren will thank me for the decisions I make.

The second is evidence-based policy. I promise that I will keep an open mind, and change my mind according to the facts presented to me. My science background has taught me to value evidence over knee-jerk reactions or blind ideology, and I wish all of us in this place would do the same.

And lastly, I implore us all in this place to show courage.

May we be brave enough to recognise we all have a responsibility to tackle the big issues, no matter which position we sit in, or how hard it may seem.

And may we have the courage to not back down under pressure from short-termism or vested interests.

May we be guided by the words of Martin Luther King Jnr

“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”

Today I commit to bravely acting on the big issues, and listening to and representing the people of Melbourne, and I thank them for this opportunity to serve them in this Parliament.

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Ellen Sandell
State MP for Melbourne
12 February 2015




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