My first words in the Assembly

29 November 2012

Below is my inaugural speech that I gave in the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday (26 November). It was a privilege to have so many friends, family and supporters in the gallery to see me give my first speech. Thank you again to everyone for your generous support and help in getting me into the Assembly, I am very proud to be your representative.

Thank you Madam Speaker, firstly I would like to acknowledge that I am speaking today on the land of the traditional custodians, the Ngunnawal people and I pay my respects to their elders past, present and future. As well I would like to acknowledge and extend my respect to any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people who are here today.

I would like to thank the Assembly for the opportunity to speak today Madam Speaker and to thank the people of Ginninderra in Belconnen and West Gungahlin who have granted me the honour of representing them in the ACT Legislative Assembly. It is a challenge that I am proud to accept.

Before I begin I would like to thank all of the offices and staff of the legislative assembly for assisting in my transition into the assembly. Your help, patience and good humour has been greatly appreciated, and I look forward to working with you all over the next few years.

Thank you also to Sue and Anna for helping me get settled in.

I want to acknowledge and thank all of my union colleagues, my fellow Labor party members and my friends, all of whom have given me strength and confidence. I also thank them for sharing this occasion with me. I thank my children Archer and Sienna, whom I hope, with the family friendly workplace that the legislative assembly has become, will only be affected in positive ways by their mother’s choice to enter politics. I promise you both we will have that trip away real soon.

There are some individuals who have made an impact on my life that I would like to mention:

Lyndal Ryan, Branch Secretary of United Voice for all of your leadership, your vision and mateship over the last 17 years thankyou my sister in arms.

Thank you to all the branches of united voice across the country and to particuly the ACT United Voice branch its Executive, Council, members and Officials for sharing your stories with me and allowing me to be a part of your lives.

My campaign team Matt, Osmond, Libby, Ben, Courtney, Jared and of course Michael…thank you all for the personal sacrifices each of you made in participating in my campaign. Thankyou

My wonderful team of dedicated volunteer community organisers both from the ACT and those who travelled interstate to join our campaign - together we visited thousands of homes, made hundreds of phone calls and held meet and greets all over the electorate. We made history and we really did put our community first. Thank you.

Thank you to my friends for allowing me to continue to be part of yours and your families’ lives I am lucky to have such wonderful people who play such an important part of mine and my families.

Thank you to Robina, Graham and Doug for being here today it means a lot to me that you are here.

To my family, for putting up with my occasional campaign meltdown moments, for being my mates and your continued honesty about whether I am being embarrassing or cool. Thank you and I’ll try not to be too much of a dag.

And finally thanks to my basketball team for continuing to allow me to take the court each week.

Madam speaker I would also like to thank the union movement in Canberra for their support throughout my campaign, and I would especially like to thank the members and organisers of the CPSU, the CFMEU and the TWU who contributed a lot of their personal time to campaign with me. The union movement in Canberra is a vibrant and fundamental part of our city, encouraging working people to have a voice in their workplaces, in their government and in their community. I am a proud union member and I encourage all Canberrans to be active in their union.

I’ve lived my whole life in the electorate of Ginninderra where I currently live in Dunlop with Archer and Sienna and our dog Elkie.

I grew up in the suburb of Holt and I attended my local schools Holt Primary and Ginninderra High and completed my formal education at Hawker College.  I loved growing up in this part of Canberra, exploring Ginninderra creek with my brother Clinton and my sister Donna, and riding horses through what is now West Macgregor and Dunlop.

Many of you will know my father Wayne Berry who represented the seat of Ginninderra for 20 years until his retirement in 2009. Dad was a union official with the Fire Fighters Union in the 70s before becoming a member of the Legislative Assembly. 

Growing up with a father as a fire-fighter meant that in our home we were especially conscious of fire safety.  Dad would often come home after his shifts where he had experienced the death or injury of a person in our community as a result of faulty plugs or electric blankets. As kids we found it all a bit annoying but we didn’t know what he and all fire fighters experienced during their work day.

My memories of dad and the firies were all positive ones – the annual firies family picnic was a particular highlight for us kids as we got older in our teenage years we were, of course, enormously embarrassed to see our dad on TV when he became the union secretary. Little did we know then of the almost nightly appearances he would make as an MLA. We soon got used to that.

My mum stayed home while we were in primary school until she etched out a career for herself as an Occupational Health and Safety Officer. Mum studied while working full time and being the wife of an MLA. Mum is the only one in our family who holds higher than a territory education. We are all very proud of what she achieved as a mum with 3 young children who worked full time and studied part time to gain her degree all while making sure we all got fed and clothed and kept the house clean and making dad look good at official functions all with very little help from us kids. She is here today making sure that my chair and desk is ergonomically set just so the rest of you know you might want to straighten up.

My parents gave me and my brother and sister a great foundation on which to build our lives, instilling in us the values of justice, fairness, hard work and respect and, dare I say, a healthy scepticism of authority. These are values which we carry with us throughout our lives. I particularly wish to thank my parents for the tireless work that they did helping me to look after Archer and Sienna and all their work in the campaign; standing on stalls, visiting voters, leafleting houses and of course, Dad’s amazing work looking after my placards and signs. Thanks mum and dad.

Growing up in a Labor household, it wasn’t too surprising to end up working in the Labor movement, for United Voice, and putting my values into practice.

My work with people engaged in the range of industries covered by United Voice has brought me face to face with the disadvantage and vulnerability faced by Canberrans in these occupations.  Canberra on the surface looks like the epitome of a middle class paradise with our high wages, high levels of education and wonderful material wealth. What most Canberrans do not get to see, however, are the people doing it tough; people like our cleaners and aged care workers, our security workers and early childhood educators, our bar workers and kitchen staff. They are some of the hardest working members of our community and yet they are some of the lowest paid and least secure in their employment.

Working in a small union branch means you have to work closely with your members and I have learnt so much from the members of United Voice over the past 17 years. There is nothing more inspiring than seeing a group of people come together and win great advancements in their livelihoods. When we ran the Clean Start campaign – the campaign for a living wage and decent conditions in the cleaning industry – we brought together people from across the country and the world, some with little English and many with very little education. This campaign empowered these people, mainly women, and gave them the skills to fight for dignity in their work. Chris Wagland one of  the great United voice delegates and now Vice President of the branch said when she got involved in Clean Start that “she had been cleaning for 20 years and now as a 40 year old woman she didn't feel like she had to apologise when she asked for fair wages”.

My last campaign with United Voice was leading the Big Steps campaign for professional recognition and professional wages. Early childhood educators play a vitally important role in the development of our children; these are the first people who parents entrust the care of their children with, they are responsible for helping children to learn to play with others, to interact in new environments and to build their characters that will last with them for the rest of their lives. You would think that these people with such responsibility would be rewarded with the professional wages that they deserve yet, throughout the campaign, I met educators who could only afford to live in garages, who had to work multiple jobs in order to make ends meet and even could not afford to have their own children in care.

 I know that the campaign is not yet over and I can’t wait for the day that early childhood educators get the recognition that they deserve.

In the Big Steps campaign I worked closely with a woman who inspired me to take this next step and enter politics.  Di Terrance has been working with children in the early childhood sector for over 20 years Di and the team at Spence Children’s Cottage provided the love and care and education for both of my own children and I will forever be grateful that my children had access to such high quality care and education. Our relationship with the Cottage family has continued and we will always consider them part of our family.

The people who work in the industries that United Voice represent are the working foundations of our City, they are the people who I had the privilege to work with over the past 17 years and I will continue to represent them in this government.

Obviously, Madame Speaker, my work and experiences at United Voice informed my decision to run for the Legislative Assembly, but it was also my desire to bring a local voice from my community to government. My team and I visited thousands of homes during the campaign having wonderful conversations about the state of politics in the City and the country, how we need to improve Internet access in Dunlop, How important our recreational parks and playgrounds are to our community and how we can continue to build on our great health and education systems. It is a funny experience to put yourself out there in your community and to ask them to vote for you, but I believe that there is nothing more democratic than the act of connecting with your community, building a relationship with them and empowering them by involving them in the activities of government.

I strongly believe that consultation is more than inviting submissions after a course of action has been decided.  It must be genuine – it must form the part of the initiative not something tacked on at the end. 

Madame Speaker, I am the newest Labor member in this Assembly and I recognise all of those Labor members who came before me. It is a privilege to represent Australia’s oldest continuing political party in the ACT. Labor has been active in Canberra since the 1930s, and, since self government, Labor has a proud history of making Canberra the fair, progressive and prosperous place that it is. Achievements such as the decriminalisation of abortion, the first Human Rights Act in Australia, portable long service leave and our nation-leading commitments to cutting emissions and investing in renewable energy show that ACT Labor remains the voice for progressive and working people in Canberra.

Whether it’s helping working people understand that they have strength in their collective actions or working with a community to help them solve their problems, I strongly believe in the power of community organising to have a positive impact in on people’s lives in the best practices of the Labor tradition and I intend on bringing this philosophy with me as I embark on this term.

Thank you