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First Speech - David Shoebridge

Speeches in Parliament
David Shoebridge 2 Aug 2022

Tuesday 2 August 2022 from 5:30pm
[simultaneously interpreted into Auslan]

President, for more than 2,000 generations, First Nations peoples have lived in this land, raising their children in culture and on country according to law passed down through generations. There's wisdom and power in this history that this parliament refuses to acknowledge, but I acknowledge it here, and I recognise the long history of First Nations led resistance to violent dispossession and genocide.

This place is on Ngunnawal and Ngambri country. I was born on Dharug and Kuringgai land, and my family and I live on Gadigal country. And everywhere in between and across this extraordinary land is Aboriginal land. I look around this chamber and I see and respect the growing number of First Nations senators in this place, including my two powerful Greens colleagues, Lidia Thorpe and Dorinda Cox. I acknowledge that, for as much as time means anything to us as humans, this land always was and always will be Aboriginal land.

As Greens, we're here to do more than keep the bastards honest. Yes, we'll push this government further and faster on things that matter—on climate change, on integrity and on fairness. More than that, though, we're here to change the system—to make it represent the many and not just the few. You've told us what you care about, and we hear you. We're ready to make changes. We're ready to legalise cannabis. We're going to tax billionaires to deliver dental and mental health care into Medicare. And we'll fight to keep coal and gas in the ground.

Greens MPs and senators aren't sent here by a powerful few to serve their interests. We, in fact, come from a proud history of protest, resistance and grassroots activism. As a member of the New South Wales Greens, I owe a particular debt to the green bans movement of Jack Mundey and the BLF, which began in the 1970s. Jack saw earlier than most—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Shoebridge, just a moment, please. I would ask the gallery to hold their applause until the end.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: I think that's harsh, President, but I'll take it! Jack saw earlier than most how social and environmental struggles are inextricably linked. I stood with Jack on that last successful green ban he was involved with, to protect the beautiful Bondi Pavilion from destruction, and I learned from Jack. Judy, Jack's partner in life and activism, is here with us today. Working as a young lawyer, I also had the opportunity to act for building workers and the construction union—part of Jack's old union. I saw directly how collective union action was essential to face down the threats to individual workers, to protect conditions and to uphold safety standards.

In that work, I had my first taste of real-world politics. I acted for the union in the viciously anti-union Cole royal commission set up by John Howard, and I was also sent in to oppose the then state Labor government's push to strip back workers compensation rights, making it even harder for injured workers to live in dignity. In fact, it was in that political stoush that I first saw Greens in action in parliament. I saw Lee Rhiannon and one of her staff members, John Kaye, listen to the concerns of working people, understand the history and go in to bat for them when no-one else would. That was the early 2000s, and it was also a time of mass movements—mass movements against war, with hundreds of thousands of us marching for peace. As we marched all across this country this place ignored the calls for peace and, apart from Bob Brown and Kerry Nettle, barely ruffled a feather as Australia went off to another unjust war.

So, as a lifelong bushwalker, things were coming together for me: social and environmental justice, peace and political action. I joined the Greens, and look what that has done! In fact, it's remarkable to think that almost 20 years ago to the day, Kerry Nettle delivered her first speech in this parliament as the first-ever Greens Senator in New South Wales—thanks, Kerry, for all your work. And today, I enter the Senate as a Green in one of a record 16 Greens elected in this parliament. And I'm also part—

An incident having occurred in the gallery—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Shoebridge, everyone in this place needs respect the rules around the chamber and I would ask that applause be left until the end. Thank you, please continue.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: Thank you. I enter the Senate as a Green, and one of a record 16 elected Greens in this place. And I'm also part of a growing global Greens movement. That's a movement of solidarity that sees our challenges collectively and realises we all share this one planet, our only planet, and we'd better not stuff it up. So, yes, for all those conspiracy types from the fringe right: it's all true! We do think and act globally, and then we act locally. It's all true! We're all in on it. We all have plans to replace cars with trains, bikes and ferries; coal-fired power stations with wind farms and batteries; and private with public. And then, when we have you distracted, we're going to sneak up behind you, tax a few billionaires and then socialise medicine by whacking dental and mental into Medicare. It's just that, unlike others, we're conspiring in the open, and it's to save the planet, not to own it.

I've always found that the more I am among people struggling for change, the more inspired I am to get into places like this and fight for the future. I'm a believer in renewable power and my batteries are charged when I'm out amongst all of you, hearing your stories, gathering ideas and being directed by people's everyday struggles for decency and justice. I get this when I work with Don Craigie—Uncle Duck—seeking justice for his nephew's death on rail tracks south of Tamworth. I get it working with Grandmothers Against Removals, fighting for First Nations families. I get it when I stand alongside survivors of institutional abuse to demand and then deliver laws that bend towards justice. And I get it when I work alongside the Bowraville families as they take on a racist criminal justice system that discounts the murder of their children. Their struggles should be parliament's struggles and, as Greens, we'll make that happen.

It's when we stand together and we look out for each other that we can really change the world. It's when we see how much we have in common that we don't divide ourselves. We look across the globe; that's when we're strongest. And in our struggle for justice, it's inspiring to work with communities across this country that share our values. It's why I'm honoured to have members of the Kurdish community here, and I'm so thankful for their trust in the Greens and me. It's why I'm so thankful for the support from the Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities, and from all those across the Indian diaspora who are in the gallery and who share our values of tolerance, democracy and peace. Whether it's the struggle for Palestinian justice, or Kashmiri or Kurdish self-determination, we know that human rights need to be seen as global rights and very much the business of this parliament.

On this land, First Nations justice must be core to all that we do. Yes, that's heritage and culture but it's also taking action on incarceration, racist laws, economic empowerment and treaty. It means ending forced child removals. It means not locking up kids. It means truth and treaty, and land back. No party can claim to be in favour of reconciliation and First Nations justice while supposing mandatory sentencing laws, expending prisons, racist policing and child removals.

I've seen this happening firsthand during my work in the New South Wales parliament. Just this year, I've seen New South Wales Labor flip from supporting to opposing a Greens bill that would have prevented racist child removals and empowered First Nations children and communities, and they flipped after a 20-minute talkback radio spray from a right-wing shock jock. In that single backflip, broken politics stole thousands of futures. Those are the politics that keep jailing 10-year-old First Nations kids in Don Dale prison. Those are the politics that strip mine First Nations' land and ship the profits off to Switzerland or London or New York. These politics are deadly in all the wrong ways.

We can't solve those problems by listening to the Daily Telegraph or the Herald Sun. We'll solve them by listening to the likes of Aunty Hazel Collins and her daughter, Helen Eason, because it was Aunty Hazel who taught me the truth about First Nations child removals. Hazel taught me how FACS then DOCS then DCJ were taking babies from her country. She told me about First Nations mums in her town who still hide their kids when a white government car drives up. She taught me about the trauma to her family when their babies were stolen. And Helen, her daughter, has taught me about strength and resilience. After years of disrespect and struggle, Helen is now running her own healing centre, doing what the government wouldn't, and she's got her whole family around her. Helen and Hazel and the many other First Nations people I've had the privilege to work alongside have patiently taught me the strength, the power of the oldest continuous culture on this planet, who will never stop fighting for and protecting their families and their country, and that's a lesson this whole country needs.

Governments show us their priorities by who they shower with attention and cash, and who they make wait. And in this country young people, people on Centrelink, people with disability, First Nations peoples, people without a home are all being told to wait. They can wait, while a handful of mining and property billionaires are literally raking it in, and the next budget will see Labor and the coalition joining together to hand out over $200 billion in stage 3 tax cuts to the super wealthy—like they need it!

I see economic justice as essential human rights and justice work, and that means resisting the system that knows the price of everything but the value of nothing, the system that values forests only as woodchips, the system that accepts the state of your teeth as a marker of class, the system that takes homelessness and hunger as just a cost of doing business, the system that overfunds private schools and cheats public education, and the system that's literally devouring a planet and our future just for profit.

Yes, it's true that political decisions and loyalty are being bought by donations by big corporates and fossil fuel corporations, but it's also true that the loyalty of the political class in this country is with the billionaires. It's with the billionaires, with the self-importance of parliament, and it's not with the people. So let's change things. Let's see every billionaire as a policy failure, and, instead of firing them off to Mars, let's tax them back to Earth. Let's stop hearing how we can't afford a safe, quality home for everyone, how we can't afford free early childhood education, how we can't afford to lift people out of poverty, how we can't afford action on climate change. We can, we will and we must.

If we are to survive and thrive, then we don't have a choice. We need to keep coal and gas in the ground. This isn't a 43 per cent issue or a 75 per cent issue. The science is telling us that for Australia, with its globally-significant fossil fuel deposits, it's a 100 per cent issue. After the 2019-20 Black Summer fires, I travelled around my beautiful state of New South Wales. I met communities in deep shock, surrounded by ash-white and eerily silent forests. It's the silence that still gets me—just these dead forests stretching on and on. I saw towns sliced down the middle by fire. It was a window into our worst future. More recently, the window has cranked further open, as we've seen severe storms and floodwater inundate Brisbane, repeatedly swamp parts of my home town of Sydney and devastate—literally devastate—towns like Lismore.

This isn't normal. This isn't safe. If we get the politics right, it can be halted, and, over time, it can be reversed. But, if we get the politics wrong, this destruction is just the start. Now, that's one hell of a responsibility on all of us.

The truth is that we are in a climate and extinction crisis and that our laws just refuse to acknowledge it. Our laws will put people in jail for graffiti but not for destroying an ecosystem. That's literally cooked. Surely it's time to enact a new criminal offence of ecocide. Ecocide is the mass, widespread damage and destruction of ecosystems in nature. It is—or at least should be—criminal when it's done by corporations or politicians or governments intentionally or recklessly. So, instead of a short-lived Twitter backlash and a revolving door taking you from politics into a six-figure consultancy, if you gladhand a fossil fuel project that screws our collective future, you get 20 years in jail. That sounds more than fair to me. That's the kind of accountability I'd vote for, and I'd backdate it to today.

Saving the planet and delivering on fairness and transparency is surely going to require some serious renovation of this democracy. With the major parties' votes shrinking, a growing chorus of voters have elected Greens, Independents and minor-party MPs to this place. They did that because they want a new style of politics that's focused on them, the people, not on us. From my short observation, over the last few days, of this parliament, it still operates on a model of politics that is performative and combative. It's all about brand differentiation rather than about delivering real change. It doesn't have to be that way.

Talk of traditions and convention is already being used by government ministers as code for preventing us from making this place more real, more accessible and ultimately more useful. Conventions are also being used to maintain the government's domination of the agenda and time in this place, in the Senate, which is bizarre when you realise they only have 26 of 76 members. That's just over a third. It's an equation that makes no sense to me. I am hopeful that sometime, sooner rather than later, these numbers will be used to provide far greater scrutiny, transparency and accountability of the executive. Last time I checked, that's meant to be a core job of the Senate.

To my friends and mentors in politics, the first of which is John Kaye—we lost John in 2016. John was smarter, more principled, more hardworking than anyone else I've tried to keep up with. I chased him around the state parliament for about five years. I still miss him. Having John's partner, Lynne Joscelyn, with us now holds that link for me. Thanks for coming, Lynne.

I acknowledge, in the gallery, three former New South Wales elected Greens: Lee Rhiannon, Sylvia Hale and Michael Organ. Lee, I can't thank you enough for your friendship, kindness, generosity and support. Sylvia taught me about bravery in politics. I took her spot in the New South Wales parliament. I don't think I'll ever top Sylvia, who, a bit over a decade ago, asked the notorious New South Wales property developer Ron Medich in budget estimates if he had any involvement in the brutal murder of his business partner, Michael McGurk. We all wanted the question asked. I remember the united howls of outrage from Medich and from all the other MPs when Sylvia asked it. But Sylvia knew about the New South Wales development industry, and she knew she was right. We now have that answer, and Ron Medich is working his way through a 39-year prison sentence. So I hope I can be as brave as Sylvia and Lee in my work here. I also recognise Michael Organ as the first Greens member to win a seat in the House of Representatives. Michael, it must be lovely to look across this building and see four Greens—thanks to that 'Greenslide'—occupying the benches you first sat on. I also want to thank the team that ran an extraordinary federal election campaign in New South Wales: James Ryan, Kilty O'Brien, Lucy Small and Aish Cowgill, who worked closely with me on the Senate run, and all the statewide team. I owe special thanks to our amazing 47 lower house candidates. They worked for months on end making direct contact with people, persuading them, one by one, how different politics could be. I owe you all my place in parliament, and I hope to see a bunch of you join us here in three years time.

To my New South Wales parliamentary friends and colleagues from across the political spectrum, but especially to Abigail Boyd who is here tonight: thank you for your comradeship. To be honest, I have a bit of FOMO as I see my former committee, the Public Accountability Committee, slicing through the latest New South Wales 'parliamentary jobs for mates' scandal. But I also see how the structures we built together in the New South Wales parliament over the last 10 years are working to force accountability on an unwilling government. I can tell you, whatever else it is, New South Wales politics sure is a masterclass in scandal, corruption and abuse of power, lessons that will certainly come in useful here.

An incident having occurred in the gallery—

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: I think laughing's disorderly too! My thanks too to the unsung heroes of New South Wales politics and the now hundreds of Greens councillors I've worked with. Thanks for every tree you've saved and planted, for every park you've protected, for every solar panel you've installed, every meeting you've suffered through and every resident that you helped. As a recovering councillor myself, I see how that work underpins Greens politics and I thank you for it.

I also want to thank the many members of the Greens, especially those here today. Your trust keeps me going, and I can always count on you to keep me busy and to loudly call me out when I, inevitably, stuff things up. Thanks to the party, thanks to the members, thanks to the movement.

To my brother Michael, his wife, Margaret, and my nieces and nephew, Gabrielle, Leah and Dominic—all this travel to Canberra has one big silver lining—I'll be able to spend more time with all of you, and that's a genuine blessing. My mum's also in the chamber. Thanks, Mum. It means a lot to me. Dr Tsang, my father-in-law, my daughters' tireless Gung Gung, is also in the gallery—just as he's been everywhere else when we've needed him—and to Chi, who can't be here but is watching at home with Lester: thank you for your love, support and countless delicious dinners. You both help make our little Sydney family very, very special.

To my lifelong partner, Patricia, and my daughters, Jessica and Hannah: you keep all of this in perspective. I can't imagine life without you, and I love you all more than fits in any one speech. To my amazingly talented oldest daughter, Jess, who's stuck at Camp Woollahra doing her HSC trials: Jess, I'm sorry about the timing and I promise to make it up to you—and you will smash it. Han, my No. 1 youngest daughter: you are funny, bright, generous and talented. In short, you take after your mum.

Patricia, thank you for being here today and the years of support, love and grounding. I'm sorry there weren't more facts in this speech, but here's one big fact. You, Jess and Han are far more important to me than any of this, and when I'm working here, absent from you all, it's because of you and it's for you.

So now it's time to turn those shouts of joy and those whoops of delight that followed the election into action and make this place live up to the democratic promise—because we have a planet to save. So let's get started.

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