First Speech

Ms WELLS (Lilley) (16:24): As we stand on this ground and take our seats in this chamber, we must be forever mindful that we are being carried on the shoulders of 1,600 generations of Indigenous people. Scientists and artists and parents and children have been here for millennia. Our First Nations people are the world's oldest astronomers. Their connection between land and sky and people allowed them to navigate and predict the patterns of seasons, weather, flora and fauna. Both Indigenous knowledge and modern Western science strive to understand how our world works. Both our First Nations and our nation's scientists value collaboration in a shared pursuit of higher knowledge. So, then, do these Australians signpost our way forward as we take our seats in this new parliament, connecting land, sky and people with evidence and hope. I have high hopes. Our future needs hope. Australians need hope, and we who are standing in this parliament need to bring hope now.

I am grateful to be here and for this opportunity. I want to thank the Lilley campaign team, particularly those who lived and died by the count in that warehouse in Zillmere. I want to thank my colleagues who have given me their time and their guidance: the members for Maribyrnong and Sydney, my good friend the member for Rankin, and the member for Grayndler—who, in his own words mused during the election campaign, 'If he'd spent any more time in Lilley, he would have had to enrol there.'

I want to thank the people for Lilley for the trust they have placed in me. I am here for you all, from the Greens voter in Stafford, to the One Nation voter in Deagon and everyone else—however you cast your vote in May. I am grateful that you have given me three years to prove myself to you and to win over the 49.35 per cent two-party-preferred voters who didn't quite vote for me last time.

I am here for the people of Lilley who grew up in St Vincent's orphanage in Nudgee, a significant number of whom are still dealing with the effects of the abuse they suffered there. I am here for Alexina, who lives there now, and for Denae, who works there, with the site now converted to Mercy Community aged care—part of a recent, nation-leading trial for geriatrician led services specialised for acutely unwell age-care residents.

I am here for the people in Lilley who have been in the electorate long enough to remember when the Shorncliffe Pier bathing sheds were used by the Sandgate Ladies Life Saving Club, the first women's lifesaving club in Queensland. And I am here for the people who arrived just in time to see Tidelands—the first all-Australian Netflix series filmed in Shorncliffe last year.

So, what do I bring to this place? Yes, my CV includes a law degree and, yes, I have worked here before in the ministerial wing, and the election campaign made it very clear to me what a gift those things are to any opponent wanting to portray someone as the Labor candidate from central casting. But I am not here to be anyone's stereotype. I am here to be me. I was born while this building was being constructed. 2019 is the first year in which we have more Australians born after 1980 than before, and more millennials in the workforce than baby boomers and gen Xers combined, and yet we form only 10 per cent of this parliament. Millennials will be left dealing with the consequences of the choices this parliament makes. More millennials need a seat at the table. This table—or near this table.

Previous generations have grown up with world wars, the Depression and the threat of nuclear war. Millennials have grown up with our own keen sense that the apocalypse is always possible. We are the generation of 9/11, of school shootings and of the global financial crisis. We are the generation that has not brought about, but that is witnessing, a growing extinction event as species after species disappear forever at a rate unprecedented in human history.

Earlier this year, while we were gearing up to fight the election, Australia became the first country to lose a mammal to climate change. It has been lost and that loss has changed nothing. It was news until it stopped being news just hours later. In the near future, the North Pole will cease to be covered with ice in summer; it will be a dark ocean absorbing heat instead of a vast sea of white ice reflecting it. It will be time to colour in the top of the globe. Two things distinguish humans from other mammals. Our imagination and our capacity to render the planet the unlivable. The first can either remedy the second or enable it—that's up to us. Let's choose to find the collective will to use our imaginations for the betterment of the place we live in, a place with ice at the poles and fish in the seas and rivers, a place where people wake up each day thinking that they are valued and that they have prospects, a place where people can wake up feeling safe and that they are likely to receive a reasonable return for any work that day might bring.

Our imaginations, if we let them, take us into the future and allow us to build it. Our imaginations, if we let them, take us into the lives and shoes and hearts of others and lead us to make decisions for their good and for the common good. Or, we can choose not to imagine. We can live in the moment, and in our own moment, and to our own short-term advantage. We can shut out the cries for help; we can shut out the evidence that calls for change. I am here because I want to live a better life than that.

Many big debates aren't right versus left; they're short term versus long term. We cannot prioritise one at the expense of the other, even at a time when a new cycle—the electoral cycle—and the bills coming in all draw us to short-term-ism. It must never be beyond us to get the long term right, too.

I am here to be a good member of my community, to be a good parent and, as Jonas Salk said, to be a good ancestor. I am here because nothing has more power to make or dismantle this nation's future than this House. The work this House does shapes lives now and long into the future. This parliament has at times done great things. Our very first parliament in its second year passed the bill that made Australia the first independent country to give women a vote in national elections. The 26th Parliament brought about the referendum that righted the wrong of Indigenous noncitizenship. The Hawke and Keating years are well remembered for bringing us economic reforms that have increased long-term national prosperity and for bringing universal health care in the form of Medicare—an extraordinary achievement that has made our health system among the best in the world.

More recently still, in the 42nd and 43rd parliaments my predecessor as the member for Lilley, Wayne Swan, in his role as Treasurer, took Australia through the global financial crisis as the only developed nation not to experience a recession. While the rest of the developed world went under that juggernaut, policy decisions made in this place pulled Australia out of the way. Too little credit is given for that. You don't think twice about the train that doesn't run you over and simply passes by.

But there is, of course, more work to do. In my time in the private sector as a workers comp lawyer I assisted and represented people who had been injured at work. This reinforced something that I already knew to be true: not everyone who has a go gets a go. Life is not that simple or that reliably benevolent. We are not as good as we should be at fighting disadvantage sensibly and collaboratively and with regard to the evidence of what works and what does not. We also are not great at making space for people who don't fit.

When I was at school and my friends and I used to play handball by the tuckshop, there were four squares, and they were labelled Ace, King, Queen and Joker. But one of my friends didn't like any of those. She wanted to be in a square for Ninja Turtles. We wouldn't let her, and she wandered off. She didn't play; she opted out. We need to be a parliament and a community that does more for our Ninja Turtles, that values difference and includes it.

We should be measured by how we treat those who don't fit the squares, those without advantage, those not enfranchised, those who don't understand the paperwork, those who are shut out by the system, those who cast their votes reluctantly or not at all. We need to be here at least as much for the people who have stopped believing in this parliament as we are for those who still do believe. We need to convince them that this place is relevant to them, has their interests at heart and will about accordingly. And we need to do that by actually being relevant to them, having their interests at heart and acting accordingly.

You all know that I had to wait a little longer to book my ticket here than most of you did. In the recent election I did not step into a safe seat and see it stay safe on my watch. In the days after the election, when the count was close and nothing was decided, many people reached out to me saying how tough that must be. But I had three little girls of Lilley giving me a sense of perspective. Skye gave me perspective. At four, Skye is trapped in her own body, born with a one-of-a-kind genetic condition that renders her mentally astute but unable to sit, stand, walk or crawl on her own. When Skye's family was told that she would need a walking frame, they were told to wait for the NDIS to source one. Eighteen months later, and in the last weeks of the campaign, Skye's mum, Vanessa, hit the final hurdles of that process. When the news reached me, it took one phone call to get Skye the approval for the walking frame she needed. I want to be part of a parliament that does better by Skye and that goes after the unknowns of pregnancy, stillbirth and child and maternal health.

Sasha gave me perspective. Six days after the election, as the count continued, I attended the Kalinga Park Sorry Day ceremony. I didn't meet Sasha but I met her parents. Somewhere, Sasha is 40 now but still a baby girl to them, as she was taken from them in infancy, and they have not found her since. Sasha is a member of the stolen generations, and I want to be part of a parliament that does better by Sasha and that continues the work of the Rudd government to own up to and addresses wrong, that closes the gap and that enables an Indigenous voice to parliament on Indigenous terms.

Celeste gave me perspective. She's my daughter. Celeste was two when Australians voted and she did not care about the election, but I cared about the world that I want for her. In 2016, 20 weeks into my pregnancy with Celeste, I became ill. I was diagnosed with a serious autoimmune disease at 26 weeks and, with Celeste on board, all the good drugs weren't an option. Celeste was born three weeks early and underweight, and as I lay there with her in one arm and an IV in the other, finally giving me the treatment I needed, I saw coverage of the women's marches in America that had happened a few days before. For many of the marching women, those marches were their first political act. Until then, they had thought that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats and decency would prevail. In my hospital bed in Brisbane, I felt like one of them. Like them, to borrow from Martin Luther King, who borrowed from Theodore Parker, I had assumed that the arc of the moral universe would always continue to bend towards justice, and in that moment I worried that I was wrong. I resolved then not to take that arc for granted anymore.

We cannot leave the future to fend for itself. I want to be part of a parliament that prioritises the making of a better world for Celeste; for the young people in all of those lives; for their children who have not yet been born; for their grandchildren who have not yet been contemplated; and for their descendants who, in the centuries ahead, will live on this land and gather in this place and do their own work, making the future. I believe in them, just as I believe in us and all that we can yet achieve in this place.

I realise that the future is not just a vision of something imprecisely better than the present. Like the present, it too will be made of an uncountable number of complex and interlocking details. Let's make our differences in detail a healthy contest of ideas, of reason and evidence designed to take us to robust solutions. To take the lead of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we can strive to disagree without being disagreeable. We should model the way for Australians to debate complex issues. We will not serve them well if we win the 6 pm skirmish but we fail to win the era.

Like all of us, I cannot be here without support, and I am so grateful for the chance to honour my wolf pack: Best Friends Club and the Northside Massive—many of whom are here today. To all the little wolf cubs, Harriet and Alby and Archie and Ivy and Charlie and Anna and Rafi and Sebby and Abigail and Gwenny and Margot and Macsen and Arianwen and our littlest cub Maxwell: just like Moana, one day you are going to look around and realise happiness is right where you are. May this be the first but not the last time that your impact gives you cause to appear in the Australian Hansard.

I want to thank my husband, Finn, and my daughter, Celeste, for what they do for me every day. There's a Banjo Paterson poem that makes me think of them:

For the locks may bleach, and the cheeks of peach

May be reft of their golden hue;

But, my own sweetheart, I shall love you still,

Just as long as your eyes are blue.

Celeste, you are a reminder every day of how much the future matters and of how much love matters. Finn, you make sacrifices to allow me to be here, because you live your values. When I stand up for more women in leadership I know you stand beside me, even if you're standing at a change table in Chermside and I am standing in the parliament near this table. It is because we both know we will live in a better world when women are freer to lead, men are freer to embrace parenting and all are freer to take turns and share.

For those of us given the opportunity to parent, it is a chance to meet the future face to face. Turning our girls into strong women with the freedom to act and to choose and to be makes all of us better. Turning our boys into great men is a journey of a million steps too. Every person who reads a young boy a book with a female protagonist or makes a teenage boy do his own washing or teaches a young man that it is structurally harder for his female counterpart to progress is doing their part for our collective hope that together we can forge a fairer community of the future.

I want to thank my parents, Deb and Kent, whose unending love and support rendered me to be the questioning, questing and determined person I am. I want to thank my blood brothers, Adam and Kym, and my brothers in arms, Mitchell and Jared. I hope everything I put you through feels worthwhile! I can never repay you all for what you've done for me.

I want to thank my most indefatigable local branch member, Wayne Swan; my most loyal local constituent, Anthony Chisholm; Julie-Ann Campbell; Mark Bellaver; Steve Baker; Chris Gazenbeek; Gary O'Halloran and polling booth 'hander-outer-er', Peter Biagini—all great enablers on my journey here, all of whom encouraged me to see myself as a fitting successor to Wayne's local legacy. For mum, dad and Wayne, all fans of 'the Boss', I will now invoke Bruce Springsteen, whose version of the song High Hopes Finn and I played as the recessional at our wedding.

I want to finish today as we did then and as I mean to continue: with high hopes. There have been 1,600 generations that have come before us in this country, and it is up to us to prepare it for generations ahead. It is up to us to prepare it now, to take action now and to set the course now, because we can't leave this work undone for some unborn others to pick up and fix, and because now is the only moment we have. We don't have time to squander or to sacrifice to pettiness. I am determined to be a good ancestor, but I only have now to be one. We all only have now. But here in this place we have the privilege of shaping the now that will decide the long future. Now is the cornerstone the future is built on. Now is when we craft the world we want for our descendants. Let's do it with high hopes. I thank the House.