10 October 2016
Watch Matt's Speech
Mr KEOGH (Burt) (15:18): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I would like to start by acknowledging and paying my respects to the Aboriginal custodians and first people of the land on which we gather here in our nation's parliament—the Ngunawal people—and to their elders, both past and present. I would also like to acknowledge the Whadjuk people of the Noongar nation in south-west Australia—the custodians and first people of the area that includes the federal division of Burt—and pay my respects to their elders, both past and present. Burt includes several significant sites for Noongar people, including Gargangara, north of Armadale; Goolamrup, now known as the suburb of Kelmscott; and Dyarlgaroo, the Canning River.
I have the pleasure and honour of being able to say that I am the first ever representative of the division of Burt to sit in the House of Representatives. Indeed, it is tremendous honour to be able to come to our nation's capital to represent the area in which I grew up, the home of my family for three generations: the beautiful south-eastern suburbs of Perth. Not only is Burt a new seat, but it is also unique for being named not after one person but after three members of the same family: Archibald Burt, Western Australia's first Chief Justice; Septimus Burt, a colonial Attorney-General; and Sir Francis Burt, WA Chief Justice and later Governor.
Burt includes my family's home town of Kelmscott, settled in 1830 and only the fourth European settlement in what is now Western Australia. As anyone who has campaigned with me knows, I would be quite happy to go on and on and on about the history of the areas of Burt, but I will save you all from that now. Burt takes in much of the cities of Armadale and Gosnells, as well as part of the city of Canning. Its reaches include Armadale, Brookdale, Camillo, Canning Vale, Champion Lakes, Forrestdale, Gosnells, Harrisdale, Haynes, Hilbert, Huntingdale, Langford, Mount Nasura, Piara Waters, Seville Grove, Southern River, Thornlie and Wongong. And in relation to Thornlie, I would like to acknowledge the students of Thornlie Christian College, who I met with earlier today, and some of whom join us now in the gallery.
Burt is home to a number of mining FIFO workers and to many people working for or running small businesses involved in the construction industry, as well as growing numbers in retail and hospitality. Burt is also home to one of only two Olympic-standard international rowing courses in the country, at Champion Lakes—a fantastic joint state and federal Labor initiative. Like the outer suburbs of many Australian cities, the suburbs of Burt have been overlooked for infrastructure and community investment for many years by Liberal state and federal governments, and suffer high unemployment. This is why I have campaigned so hard for the duplication of Armadale Road and for a new Armadale Road bridge; for MetroNet and the extension of the Thornlie rail line through Canning Vale to Cockburn Central; for replacing the Denny Avenue level crossing in Kelmscott; for a 24/7 police station in Armadale; for better funding for community services; for investment in our schools; for securing and creating jobs; and for protecting Medicare. But our problems should not define us, and I would also like to see the natural beauty of our south-eastern suburbs and hills capitalised on for local jobs and amenity. We should be the Swan Valley of the south. I hope, by my election, that I can work to stop us being ignored and to deliver on what our community so badly needs.
Of course, as a new seat, Burt has been carved out of existing seats, taking one suburb from Swan in the north and roughly a third coming from each of Tangney in the west, Hasluck in the east and Canning in the south. As such, I would like to record in this place my respects for the late Don Randall and my condolences to his family. I would also like to acknowledge Don's predecessor and one of my early mentors, the late Jane Gerick. I learnt a great deal from Jane and was blessed to have her brother Alan volunteer on my campaigns. And no mention of Canning would be complete without also acknowledging the former state member for Armadale, my long-time friend, an inspiration to true believers across Western Australia, the former member for Perth, Alannah MacTiernan, who also joins us in the gallery today.
Canning is of particular significance to me, having been not only the federal seat in which I grew up but also the seat I ran for in the by-election in September 2015. While most remember the Canning by-election as bringing an end to the Abbott prime ministership, a large part of that election was actually fought on the government's broken promises, such as its cuts to the Gonski funding model for school education. My mum's mother, Rita, had been prevented by her parents from studying beyond junior certificate. She always disagreed with this, and so she was very strong in her view that her children—all daughters—should be given every opportunity to pursue further study. Her strong view of the importance of education has permeated through our entire family and may explain why my mum and two of my siblings are now teachers.
My mum's father, Peter, grew up in the WA wheat belt town of Bolgart, where his father farmed and where our family still farms sheep and grains. My great grandfather, Luke Travers, was the local secretary of the Wheat and Wool Growers Union for some 13 years and ran as Labor's alas unsuccessful candidate in the state seat of Irwin-Moore in 1949. My grandfather was also the first lawyer in the Armadale-Gosnells area—on occasion taking payment in boxes of fruit from local orchardists. He also supported new migrants to the area, including from Poland following the Second World War and refugees from Vietnam. It is this generosity and recognition of ourselves in others that I believe finds expression in our national anthem when it says we have 'boundless plains to share'—especially with those that need our help most. Multiculturalism is where everyone is invited to continue to celebrate their cultures underpinned by a respect for traditional Australian values, and a broader culture of freedom and respect. It has given us our unique Australian culture and diversity, for which was are all better off.
Losing my grandparents over the course of the campaign, Peter on Anzac Day and Rita in the early morning after the election, was terribly sad. Pete made sure during the by-election that everyone in their nursing home knew who I was. I know that they will be proud watching all this from heaven. I owe them a great deal.
As social workers, my parents worked in prisons, hospitals, policy and child protection. Mum and Dad were always involved in our community, whether it was the parents' and friends' association, school board, playgroup, toy library, a community child care centre or the babysitting club. There was always a busy bee to join, a kids sports event to drive to or a committee meeting to attend.
I am very proud to have been able to follow my grandfather's and mother's footsteps into a career in the law, servicing our local families and businesses with their real world problems and concerns. I started out as a clerk and later as the bookkeeper before graduating law school. Not only did I learn a great deal about people and the law but also about running a small family business.
Subsequently, I worked as a federal prosecutor at the Office of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, specialising in commercial crime, such as insider trading and market manipulation as well as breaches of directors' duties. In this role, I worked closely with ASIC as well as the Australian Crime Commission and, on occasion, the AFP and Customs. Most recently, I have worked as a commercial litigator at an international law firm, specialising in corporate crime and investigations, financial services regulation, anti-bribery and corruption and infrastructure access. Now maybe my excitement at being appointed to the House Standing Committee on Economics and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services might make a bit more sense!
My interest in the legal profession did not stop at the practice of the law; it also extended to the support of practitioners and law reform—in particular in my work with the young lawyers committees of both the Law Society of Western Australia and of the Law Council of Australia, providing training to our newest lawyers, improving collegiality and supporting the mental health of lawyers. I am also proud that, during my term as President of the Law Society and as a director of the Law Council of Australia, I have been part of both organisations adopting the diversity and equality charter, as well as continuing to press for better funding for access to justice and closing the Indigenous justice gap. These are two issues about which I am particularly passionate and I hope to be able to improve through my time in the parliament. Because not only is justice delayed justice denied, but justice that is unaffordable is no justice at all.
The more people are unable to afford to access our justice system, to correct injustices and obtain legal remedies, the more nefarious members of our society can take advantage of others, infringe their rights and undermine their financial security, by operating with effective impunity because those they wrong cannot bring justice to bear.
Similarly, the strength of a nation can be judged by the way it treats its prisoners and the greatness of a nation judged by the way it treats its most vulnerable. Alas, as graphically demonstrated recently, when it comes to Indigenous incarceration we are neither a strong nation nor a great one. This is something that we can and must do something about, because I have come here—and I am sure we all have—to ensure that Australia is indeed a great and strong nation.
Through the Law Society I was also involved in the Law Access pro bono referral scheme and in establishing that scheme as a standalone service, serving as its inaugural chairperson. I am happy to see that this is service receiving increasing support from the legal profession.
In addition, I am a strong believer in human rights and also the Australian concept of a fair go. In my view, so long as the parliament retains its sovereign legitimacy by always and regularly being democratically elected, it is the parliament that must act as the bulwark against the tyranny of the majority. It should not abdicate that power and responsibility to the potential for the majority to inflict tyranny on minorities. As a matter of principle, therefore, this House and the parliament should vote and decide on the introduction of marriage equality in this country.
Working as a local lawyer, I became involved with Starick Services, which ran two local refuges for women and children fleeing domestic violence as well as a number of outreach and counselling services. I joined the board of Starick and eventually became its chairperson. More recently, through serving on the management committee of StreetLaw Centre WA—a specialist community legal centre servicing the homeless and those at risk of homelessness—I have had to grapple with the frontline effects of the government's badly managed and drastic cuts to community legal centre funding. Large cuts without transparency or communication of the scope of funding until the very last minute undermine the capacity of our community organisations to provide their desperately needed services. It is my firsthand experience and exposure to this, as well as seeing the impacts of such cuts and uncertainty on service staff and on the people that rely on these community services, that has in part lead me to this place.
During the election campaign I met a young single mother living in Thornlie. One of the issues she raised with me was her experience of trying to make ends meet, in particular paying for child care for her children while she worked part time and studied engineering. She had left her husband after a long period of escalating domestic violence and was putting in an extraordinary effort because she knew that this was how to give her and her children a better life. Unfortunately, because of the cost of child care she has had to abandon her engineering studies and is now undertaking a different course externally online, as this gives her the flexibility to be able to study from home and also look after her children without the need for expensive child care. While the new course is not engineering, it will give her a better opportunity at a career, increased income and provide a better life for her family.
I relay this story because it demonstrates that we must ensure that child care is affordable, accessible and not a barrier to work or study, otherwise we could end up locking people and their families into poverty and preventing them from being able to get ahead, with ongoing negative consequences for them and their children. Of course, we must ensure that the cost does not leave tertiary education as a privilege for only a wealthy few.
We must also ensure that we have adequate, available and fully supported domestic violence services and adequately funded legal assistance and community education. We should also support victims of domestic violence by ensuring provision of personal leave as a safety net as they access help in protecting themselves and their families, which can often be an overwhelming experience and, unfortunately, often far too complex.
My life's experiences are why I believe that all of us here should consider the position from behind John Rawls's 'veil of ignorance' as we undertake our work. It means understanding the difference between treating everyone equally and treating people equitably. For instance, during my time at Mazenod College, as well as learning much about Catholic social justice from the oblates of Mary Immaculate, I got to see it in practice, including when I visited a number of their missions in Indonesia. Over there I got to see true poverty combined with great generosity and community spirit, as well as some great community-building and enhancing projects.
We should help people not just because it seems like the right thing to do. We help people because, in recognising ourselves in every other human, we see that not everybody has the same background, upbringing, wealth or health and, therefore, to treat everyone equally—to treat them all the same—will result in inequity. But if we provide more assistance to those who need it, so that people, no matter their background, do then have a real and actual equality of opportunity, then we are acting equitably.
I also believe that our common wealth should be for our common good. This is not to say that we should not operate within a liberal capitalist economic structure but rather that we need to recognise that the good of society, where people are better off as a community, is a higher priority than an academically pure market. A practical example of this is the WA domestic gas reservation policy and a national interest test on gas developments nationally, as is increasing investment in renewable energy—not only as an environmental policy but as a driver of jobs in research and development, manufacturing, construction and installation, as well as in the industries that can grow from a low-cost energy environment into the future.
We need to ensure that the gap between the rich and the poor is reducing, not increasing. This does not mean to say our standards of living should stagnate or fall but rather that the standards of living of the worst off in our society should—indeed, must—rise faster than those who are already the most well-off. This requires government to facilitate growth, not for growth's sake but for what it means for improving lives, and it requires us to do more to economically empower those least empowered.
Indeed, where the good of society as a whole is compromised by the operation of the market, this should be regarded as market failure, thereby necessitating the intervention of the state to ensure not only that our economy operates for the betterment of our society as a whole but that no individual or group is left behind, because any system in which social relationships are determined entirely by economic factors is contrary to the nature of the human person.
We cannot rely on trickle-down economics or big tax cuts for business. This simply does not work. It does mean having an effective and efficient transfer payment system but also requires that we build better, more resilient communities.
We must also seize upon our present unique opportunity of record low interest rates and low inflation to address the growing unemployment hidden by the headline figures and the capacity constraints impeding economic growth by investing in the physical infrastructure and education that our nation desperately needs to improve its prosperity for future generations, no matter their beliefs, background, geography, demography or disadvantage. If we do not, then we are certain to move inexorably towards the destabilised and dangerous position that Disraeli described as 'two nations': that of the privileged and that of the poor.
Indeed, new threats to workers and living standards continue to emerge. As a parliament we must always keep abreast of the consequences of technological advancement. We are presently seeing a reorganisation of our workforce through its Uberfication. While it provides agility and convenience for some, it can also come at a cost to secure employment and workplace safety as well as undermining the minimum wage, which has kept our people, communities and economy strong. To this we must remain ever vigilant.
Critical to this is the continued work of the Australian labour movement. I cut my labour movement teeth at the CDPP Perth office as their union delegate for the CPSU. I was also part of the national negotiating team for our enterprise agreement. From my experiences over this time, under both Liberal and Labor governments, I enhanced my understanding of the Public Service generally and the great work that our unions do in representing their members.
I am concerned by the number of people who feel disenfranchised and disengaged with Australian political life today. This has been reflected in ever-decreasing voter turnout as well as expressions, through the ballot box and other forums, of sentiments akin to those expressed recently by Brexiters and Tea Partiers. I do not condemn them, though I may have strong disagreement with them. We must, in my view, acknowledge what gives rise to their fears and concerns and speak to these, through the values and compassion I have spoken about here today, or risk fracturing our society more when we should be bringing it together. By not only speaking to but acting consistently with the values I have outlined, as well as clearly articulating and explaining their imperative and rationale, we can as a nation come back together with a greater belief in our parliamentary democracy and what we can achieve together. To be clear, I do not mean that we pander to or compromise on what I believe to be the fundamental promise of the Australian fair go for everyone who wishes to join us. I mean that we must actively engage in reminding each other why we cherish it, and act consistently with it.
I must, of course, congratulate our leader, Bill Shorten, and his deputy, Tanya Plibersek, for the tremendous campaign they led. While we had fallen just short, the voice of the Australian people was heard loudly, and I know that Bill's great work, as well as the Labor team around him, has placed us in a commanding position for the next election, whenever that may come.
There are far too many people to mention by name that deserve my thanks for assisting in both the Canning by-election and the Burt campaigns—people that believed that 'Yes, we Canning' and in 'Building a Better Burt'. I am humbled to see so many, even, of them here today. I will record here, though, my debt of thanks to the members of our local branches in Armadale, Kelmscott, Gosnells, Thornlie and Southern River; the national secretariat and the crew at WA head office, as well as party members across WA and the nation; the local federal and state MPs and their teams, as well as many former MPs for the area; the many members of the Shadow Ministry and federal parliamentary Labor teams past and present; the mighty Australian Workers Union, Scooter, Pricey and Mike; the TWU, SDA, CPSU, CEPU and the CFMEU; the Beers in Burt crew; the gang, YBC, NDA and YLC—some of you are here today; I am sure most of you are somewhat bewildered that, for all of my talking it up, this day has actually finally arrived. To my former colleagues at HSF: a candidate could not have asked for a more supportive and accommodative workplace. Thanks to family and friends; our fabulous committed, reliable and dedicated local Young Labor and Young Labor Unity field volunteers; and, of course, my campaign team, both formal and informal, in particular Harry Burrows, who runs field like a boss, and Matt Dixon, who I really could go on and on about, but it is safe to say he became an extended member of our family—and I must thank Rebeka for letting us have you for so long.
Mum and Dad, Helen and Colin, are here today. You gave so much. Also, happy birthday for yesterday, Mum. Many will tell you that there is no better way to convert the voter than direct interaction with the candidate. These people have not seen my parents at a train station early in the morning, sporting their red Keogh's Mum and Keogh's Dad beanies, with mum telling everyone that they have to vote for her son standing over at the other end of the platform. I am the eldest of five children. Vincent, John, Jacqui and Luke, are a campaign team in themselves, and all are in the gallery today. Thank you all for all of your help whenever you were called upon. I am acutely aware that my achievements would not have been possible without the love and support, at every turn, of my parents. They provided that which no government can: the unconditional love and support of parents. Mum and dad have sacrificed a lot to always put our family and us kids first, and I think the proof is in the pudding. I cannot comment on me, but I think the rest of us turned out pretty all right.
Annabel, the love of my life, my best mate, my partner of 11 years, has put up with a lot being married to me, a lot of which has been putting up with not having me, either as a litigation widow while I was at work preparing cases and attending various Law Society and other organisation committee meetings or events, or being married to a candidate in two elections within a year. To top it all off, while I was out doorknocking, Annabel was out arranging a pram, a cot and everything else that our first child, due any time from the election day, needed. Thank you, my love, for all of your support, counsel and ideas; for keeping me grounded, allowing me to follow this dream; and for all that is yet to come. I know that my doing this means sacrifices for you in our family, and I could not do it without you.
I have been told that an advantage of having kids upon being elected is that they grow up not knowing anything different. So, young Nicholas, while I know that, like many WA FIFO dads, I will be away a lot, when you are around I will work to make sure that what you come to regard as being normal is not in any way a disadvantage. If I get my time here right, I hope that, when I get to spend more time together with you, you will be proud of your dad.
In conclusion, let me say that I am honoured and privileged to be here as the representative of the people of Burt and as a member of the Labor Party. I will, of course, strive valiantly, with enthusiasm and devotion, in my work in the arena—in the chamber, on committees and on the ground—to build a better Burt and a better Australia.