First Speech In Parliament

On Wednesday the 7th May I gave my first speech to Parliament. Below is a copy of my speech from Hansard. 

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Before I call the member for Kaurna, I remind the house that this is the member's first speech and I ask that members accord him the customary courtesies for the occasion.

Mr PICTON (Kaurna) (16:53): Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. I congratulate you on your election; it is a fine choice for this chamber to make. I also congratulate the Speaker on his election to high office; I note his particular reluctance in taking up the role. I commend His Excellency on a fantastic speech yesterday, setting out the ambitious agenda of this fourth-term Labor government. Of course, I congratulate the Premier on his tremendous and historic victory in the March election.

We all bring to this place the products of our experience and our values. For my part, one of the great influences on my life is that I have been fortunate enough to grow up in a family full of teachers. My mother, uncle, aunt, late grandmother and more have been teachers. That is many Christmas dinners discussing public versus private, class sizes, teaching methodology, good and bad parents, but also some inspiring stories about how lives have been turned around. For my whole life, it has instilled in me the value of education, its transformative abilities for young people, how it really can change lives and fortunes, and also valuing the important role that teachers perform in our state.

No child born in this state deserves to live the rest of their life in poverty. Each child has the potential to make huge contributions to our community, but realistically the circumstances a child is raised in—their family income, family health and location—determine so much about the rest of their lives. What can change that pre-set path is a good education. Giving that child from Aldinga, Davoren Park or Whyalla inspiring, committed teachers can help children have opportunities and reach their potential.

So, this means we need schools in Seaford, Aldinga and everywhere across the state that are as good as Burnside and North Adelaide. It means there needs to be more support for schools to cater for special needs children. The area that I represent in this parliament is a young, growing part of Adelaide, with children from many different backgrounds. My passion in public life is to have the government support them so that they can have the same opportunities as if they lived anywhere else in this state or in the country.

For my own part, I was lucky enough to be taught at some very good public schools with some excellent teachers who kindled my interest in the world, in learning, and of course in a bit of argument at times. But the truth is that the public schools I attended were ones where the best teachers flocked to try and get in, and where there were not as many disadvantaged students needing more attention, such as guardians of the state and people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

I am therefore proud to be a member of this Labor government that is embarking upon a major reform program for our schools, ensuring every classroom has the resources it needs to achieve socially just outcomes and to prepare students for the jobs and challenges of tomorrow. Time and time again we have seen it is only the Labor Party that can be relied on to provide education where a bank balance is not the main requirement.

In fact, it was education policy that brought me into the fold of the Labor Party. Sixteen years ago, John Howard had just won re-election, and on top of cutting health and bringing in a more regressive tax system, his program was to dramatically cut funding to universities and to allow entry on the basis of who has the richer parents rather than who has the best ability. I could not then and I still cannot see why a student with bad marks but rich pockets could jump the queue for law or medicine degrees over a student with higher marks but without a wealthy family. That is what made me join the Labor Party, which I have continued in until today.

When I went to university to study law, I was then proud to join campaigns for better services on campus, particularly for students with limited means. I was proud to have contributed to the student union at Flinders University, which despite its name is actually not the campaigning arm but runs services like employment services and welfare services, which were vital for so many students in the southern suburbs.

Quality universities, quality TAFEs and quality trades training are very much needed so that young people and older people who are retraining can get access to new skills for new jobs. Over the course of the election campaign, I have met a number of people in my electorate who are facing unemployment or underemployment. Without doubt, it causes a huge burden for those families. The connections between unemployment and diminishing physical and mental health are very well-known. On this side of the house, we will always understand the importance of a well-paying job to the self-worth of an individual and the devastation of not having one. We will always do everything we can to fight for South Australian jobs and to support the people who are looking for jobs.

When I previously worked in the South Australian government in 2008, we faced the unfortunate situation of the Mitsubishi closure at Tonsley. As well as ensuring we supported the workers and the suppliers impacted, the government faced a choice: did we let the market take its course (and the site would very likely become a big warehouse with few jobs) or did the government take action, buy the site and help transform it into more jobs in the south? Of course, we chose the latter path. We went to Mitsubishi in Tokyo to persuade them to sell it to the government and now we have new training and new jobs moving into that site. It means more jobs for the southern suburbs, close to where people live. It is just one example of the fact that I am proud to be a member of a party that will stand by workers and stand by their jobs.

South Australia is not the biggest, not the richest, not the oldest state, so what do we want for ourselves in the future? In my view we should not be aiming to be the best at everything, but we can be the best at what we do and, most importantly, we need to continue to have the best lifestyle of anywhere in the world. That is what I will be aiming for as long as I have the privilege to serve in this place.

We should not look upon other states with jealousy but we should take the best ideas from the whole world. The unique feature of South Australia, and particularly Adelaide, is its size and location. We have a capital large enough to compete with the rest of the world but it is small enough to be easy to live in. We are located close enough to the larger eastern states but with enough space that we live surrounded by some of the best wineries and beaches and national parks that you could wish to find.

Historically our city's base has been built on a huge number of manufacturing jobs. Many people question where our jobs and growth will come from with manufacturing facing problems with cheaper labour from other countries. Despite the troubles that manufacturing has faced over the last 20 or 30 years, other sectors—and particularly service sectors—are growing continuously in this state.

Industries such as education, health, finance, tourism and technology are growing and, despite what some people may think, these are actually services we can export to other states and other countries, not to mention the huge opportunities ahead for South Australia in agribusiness, mining services and advanced manufacturing. There is a lot of growth to be optimistic about as long as business, the government and the community work together.

One part of that is to encourage more wealthy South Australians to invest in our local entrepreneurship, unlocking capital available for the next generation's prosperity. I join this long-term and successful government as a new MP and as a younger member of parliament. I think I am the third-youngest in the current parliament. I therefore hope (subject to the views of my electors) to serve this state and parliament for some time to come—although I am sure people opposite will have different views about that.

My drive is to use my time here focusing on not just the urgent and immediate but also the long-term and important opportunities and challenges for the future. First and foremost of our future challenges as a state is how we will manage the growing number of older South Australians. Over past decades we have had hundreds and thousands of baby boomers in the workforce, paying taxes, raising families and contributing to the care of others. In future years these hardworking South Australians will understandably retire, despite the best wishes of the federal Treasurer, leaving the workforce.

For instance, many doctors and nurses will retire from our public hospitals and they are going to be replaced with many more patients. Health is at risk of gobbling up the entire state budget within decades, and South Australia's population profile is such that we will face this challenge before most other states. In my view, we need to face this issue seriously and positively across all areas of government. We need to redefine the way that we think about ageing and the contribution that older people can make to our society. We will need to grow our population of younger people so that there is less of a gap in the working population, and we also need to forge new, diversified arrangements with Canberra to address the chronic vertical fiscal imbalance caused by our current reliance on one tax which is at the whim of consumer sentiment.

If we do this well South Australia can become a centre of excellence in meeting the challenge of an ageing population. What we must not do is embark upon a major program of austerity measures, as Tony Abbott's government has under way in Canberra. This population change is not an excuse for the same small government arguments conservatives have trotted out for a century: lower benefits, lower wages and cuts in services.

I come to this parliament as an advocate for health services and particularly for preventive health services. Despite enjoying my studies in law at university I have spent most of the past decades working in health policy, both in government and recently as an associate director at Deloitte Access Economics. I have appreciated the opportunity to work with many committed people who dedicate their lives to improving people's health—doctors, nurses, academics, managers and allied health professionals.

I will always be a supporter of sensible, preventive health measures. We spend billions of dollars a year on the world's best hospital care, with constantly changing; new drugs; technology and interventions available. However, many of the most common and expensive calls on the health system are preventable—and prevention is much cheaper. I have spent a number of years working on tobacco policy, encouraging more people to stop smoking cigarettes, which are the nation's leading killer.

I am very glad my grandmother Ruth is here today. She regularly smoked for most of her life. In fact, when my father was a boy, he would insert matchsticks into her cigarettes to get them to explode to try to get her to quit that way. Unfortunately, that did not work, but I am happy to say that my grandmother has kicked the addiction through a lot of guts and determination over recent years. I think that anybody who can do that is an inspiration, and I congratulate her.

Working for Nicola Roxon, I was privileged to be part of the team that took on big tobacco companies and introduced plain packaging—a great Labor reform and the first in the world. We were the first place to fully eliminate advertising for tobacco products. It is the only legal product for sale that has no safe way to use it, so why should there be advertising for it?

The big tobacco companies fought us all the way with massive public advertising campaigns. When I served as chief of staff to Nicola, who was attorney-general, the tobacco companies took us all the way to the High Court with their huge legal budget, and we won. In this place, I will continue the fight against smoking and keep pushing for a better healthcare system—a system Labor built and Labor will defend.

One of the most important lessons of my career thus far has been that many great achievements do not come without significant opposition at times, often from vested interests protecting their own patch against the interests of the vast majority. Both in working on plain packaging but also on the new Royal Adelaide proposal for my predecessor—the previous member for Kaurna John Hill, whom we are privileged to see here today—I was lucky to work on projects and with politicians that truly left a mark.

Our new hospital that is being built right now on North Terrace helps us to secure the future of health care in this state, but to go ahead with such an ambitious project took a lot of guts and caused a lot of short-term political pain. John saw the problems of the future ahead and the case for change, and pursued what has now become the biggest project our city has ever seen, which will significantly improve health care for our state. This is the hospital that Premier Weatherill will open in two years' time, and it will stand as a truly Labor achievement. There is not one ounce of bipartisan support from the opposition for this hospital, so it will always be known as Labor's hospital.

The lesson I have taken away is that, while there are some times when it is important to reach consensus or compromise, there are some policies, ideas and programs that are worth fighting for in their original, unblemished form. We are not here to be bureaucrats. It is often healthy to debate and pursue unequivocally matters that benefit the vast majority of people rather than seek solutions to keep vested interests quiet.

Some of my former federal colleagues and a fair few of my constituents, while supportive of my endeavours, are not quite sold on the future of state parliaments. So, why did I put my hand up to be here? The reason is that I believe state governments have a much greater ability to connect with people's lives. In Canberra, the vastness and complexity of the task makes it almost impossible to have hands-on knowledge of individual services, let alone the issues faced by different communities across our large country—apologies to the member for Kingston and the member for Blaxland here today.

Here in Adelaide, I have seen that daily services are not abstract concepts. In a state the size of South Australia, ministers can have a connection with the communities they represent. You get to know the hospitals, the schools and the roads. The other benefit is that state government truly runs services, not just manages a series of contracts with service providers and other governments. That significantly increases the opportunity for committed ministers to achieve reform that not only works on paper but works on the ground.

South Australia can also be the breeding ground for social and government reforms that can lead the nation and our world. As we well know, South Australia has led the reform of democratic processes, including being the second place in the world to bring the franchise to women—something we should all be proud of. Almost 120 years on from that achievement, I hope we can continue to update and progress our institutions.

Another benefit of state governments is having electorates small enough that you can genuinely get involved and get to know the community quite well. I am honoured to represent in this parliament the electorate of Kaurna, comprising suburbs across 20 kilometres of Adelaide's southern coastline. While I am sure all members in this house will argue strongly that their electorate is the greatest, the people who live in my electorate know that you are all having us on. In fact, we often see members of this house coming down to enjoy their holidays in my electorate, in the suburbs that we live in like Port Willunga, Aldinga, Port Noarlunga and Moana.

The people of Kaurna are a unique mix of long-time residents, surfers, new families in their first-ever home, empty nesters escaping the rat race, people doing it tough in community housing and people flocking from the cold of the UK to the warmth of our stunning beaches. What were once paddocks around Seaford and Aldinga are now established suburbs. I have really enjoyed getting to know many residents who have worked hard to build a better community.

I have met people like Toff and Cara West who were inspired to turn a disused general store in Aldinga into a buzzing local bakery; Rosa Garrett who started a small cupcake business to buy the go-kart that her son desperately wants; Steve McInnes whose hard work has revived the Port Noarlunga RSL into a thriving community centre not just for veterans; Leanne Kutsbach who could not find a good online resource for parents in her area, so she worked for years to start her own in a new NGO. There are so many more: surf lifesavers, CFS, SES and other volunteers.

Given both the growth of my area and the distance from the central business district, connections to the city, both physical and online, are vital. To give an idea of the scale, Aldinga Beach is a massive 40 kilometres as the crow flies from where we stand—the same or greater distance as Gawler is in the opposite direction. The consequence of successive governments establishing housing so far from the city is that we must continue to invest in the infrastructure to support the quality of life for the people who live there. The soon-to-be opened Southern Expressway duplication is a practical but also a symbolic change for the south.

The short-sighted one-way expressway built by the previous Liberal government continues to be seen as a laughing stock for Adelaide, interstate and internationally. It was also a signal to the south that the government only ever viewed it as a commuter area. It did not entertain the possibility that people from the city would want to work in the south or that tourists would travel to beaches or McLaren Vale. It was a signal to people in the south that they were only good enough for half a road, with no capacity built in for a future expansion. It was the worst in public policy. Within months, the Premier will open the new road with more opportunities for jobs and tourism in the south and more time for people to spend with their families, and not commuting.

The Seaford rail line is another great achievement of state and federal Labor. It is now open with two new stations, our first electric trains in South Australia and limited stop services starting next month for which I commend the current and previous transport ministers. The new infrastructure, with final works having just been completed, will soon become the benchmark for a higher standard of public transport in this city.

Public transport is vital for the future of our state, allowing huge movements of people that we need to make in and out of the city as our city grows and our roads become busier and busier. There are further works that this government has planned that will improve the lives of people in my electorate. These include new ambulance stations at Seaford and Noarlunga, an upgrade to Noarlunga Hospital, faster services on the Seaford line and a new dog park in either Seaford or Aldinga.

The significance is not lost on me that I represent the electorate named Kaurna, named of course after the traditional owners of the land that we stand on. The land of my electorate is also home to many traditional Kaurna sites. Without doubt, the European settlement of South Australia has been absolutely devastating for Aboriginal people and many thousands of lives have been ruined from the decisions taken by our predecessors in this chamber. For as long as I am here I hope to contribute to rebuilding that damage, assisting in the painstaking task of rebuilding what was so systematically damaged.

Being elected to parliament is a tremendous honour and privilege and only happens with the support of a great number of people. The very least I can do is honour some of those people in this chamber today. My parents—Michael and Fiona—have given me the best possible foundation in life, particularly a life in public service. I inherited dad's unbridled loyalty to the cause of our party and perhaps his ability to stage a good argument. From Mum I have inherited her good sense of social justice and her belief in the power of committed people to transform lives and communities. Thank you for sacrificing so much for your children. We never wanted for anything.

I am certainly proud of my father who is now the mayor of Mitcham and my mother who is completing a doctorate in education. I am also lucky to have the love and support of my sister, Johanna, and my brother, Timothy. I daresay I will not be the last of the Pictons to serve in this place one day. I thank my grandmother Ruth, who I mentioned earlier and who is here today, and also my late grandmother Denise who was one of my family's teachers that I mentioned earlier—an inspiring lifetime learner, always encouraging her grandchildren to discover more about the world. I think she would have been very excited today.

I thank my fiancée, Connie, for so very much but in particular for letting me disrupt our lives a fair bit so I could pursue this goal. I promise I will now turn some attention to our upcoming wedding preparations.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I hope so!

Mr Pederick: Just a little bit!

Mr PICTON: Just a little bit.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: He didn't say how much!

Mr PICTON: She has it all under control.

An honourable member interjecting:

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: You cynic!

Mr PICTON: While my family tree stretches very far back in Australia to Clare in the 1890s or New South Wales at the start of that colony, Connie's family is a story of post-war migration—forging small businesses and building new lives for families. SA has always been made more rich by the people who come to our state with commitment and drive. I thank you, Connie, for welcoming me into your family—and Sam as well, who is here—I have enjoyed a better understanding of your culture and traditions that Connie and I will then pass on to our children one day.

Of course, I thank my predecessor as the member for Kaurna, John Hill (who is here today) for his very strong support, and his wife Andrea. I also thank Nicola Roxon who is my previous boss, who could not be here today. More wise, supporting and passionate leaders you would be hard pressed to find. But whenever I face a dilemma on what path to take in this new job, I will be able to think, 'What would John or Nicola have done?' and I know that that will lead me on the right path. I wish you both the best in your retirement from parliament but of course, I know, not from your working life.

I would particularly like to thank Amanda Rishworth, the very hard-working member for Kingston. She is an exemplar local MP and she has strongly supported me over the course of this campaign. It is a credit to her that dozens of people said to us over the course of the election, 'Look, I think you're a good bloke and I'm sure you will do a good job, but I'm just not sure—I think you'll have a tough chance up against that Amanda woman.' So, thank you, Amanda, for your support over the years and particularly in the campaign.

I would also like to thank many of the friends and supporters who have helped me to get here: Peter Malinauskas, Don and Nimfa Farrell (who are here today), Alex Dighton, Brer Adams, Xanthe Kleinig, Owen Torpy, Laura Ryan, Nick Champion, Sonia Romeo, Liam O'Brien, Carla De Campo, Danielle Galessi, Sophie Green, Joel Catchlove, Sam Rodgers, Catherine Hockley, Tony Sherbon, Adrian O'Dea, Sean Berg (who is here today), Luke and Renee Toy, Nadia Clancy, Dominic Stefanson (who is here today), Katana Smith and many others. And also many members of this house, including the Premier, the Treasurer, the Deputy Premier, Transport Minister, Social Housing Minister, Health Minister, and the members for Little Para, Taylor, Elder and Reynell, just to name a few.

I also thank my supporters locally in the Kaurna electorate for all their hard work, in particular my steadfast campaign manager Emmanuel Cusack who ran a well-crafted and sophisticated campaign. I thank you very much. I also thank my campaign team which happily included so many of my friends: Matt Clemow, Michael Bezuidenhout, Stephanie Ghellar, Gemma Paech, Matthew Walton, Aaron Hill, Melissa Westbrook, Anika Wells, Finn McCarthy, Jesse Northfield, Necia Pascale, Matt Di Caterina, Josh Hage, Deb Pow, Eileen Baldwin, Graham Knill, Frank Busitill, Tim Ryan, Christine Duke, Lorna Clarke, and the hundred-odd other people who helped out in the community in a whole bunch of ways—whether it be from letterboxing, to phone calls, or moral support—many of whom had never campaigned in an election before.

We ran a strong campaign that included doorknocking thousands, phoning thousands and countless letterboxing, as well as holding dozens of street corner and shopping centre meetings across the electorate. I think it was a tremendous honour and privilege to have done that and to meet so many thousands of people.

Above all, I thank the people of Kaurna for your support. I look forward to working hard for both my electorate and the people of South Australia, both helping the state to rise to opportunities and to meet our challenges. I hope to be a passionate advocate for our state, and to stand up for people without the wealth and privilege to have a voice for themselves. And, of course, I aim to meet the expectations of those who have put so much faith in me. Thank you.

Honourable members: Hear, hear!

Do you like this post?
Sign in with Facebook, Twitter or email.