Michael Pettersson – Inaugral Speech
DELIVERED ON 15 DECEMBER 2016 TO THE ACT LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY BY MICHAEL PETTERSSON.
Thank you Madam Speaker, it is an immense privilege to be here today, standing alongside side all of you who have been chosen to represent our communities.
I would like to start by speaking about my own community, the electorate of Yerrabi.
In many ways, Yerrabi represents both what is old and new about Canberra. My own suburb of Crace, and suburbs like Casey and Forde were still under construction at the last election, and with their development have come new families and new stories.
By the time of the next election, we’ll have the addition of more new suburbs like Throsby and Moncrief. The growth that we have seen in this region is some of the fastest in all of Australia – a timely reminder that this is a great community that people want to live in.
But of course, Gungahlin has been around much longer than that. Ngunnawal and Palmerston were built over 20 years ago.
The Belconnen suburbs of Yerrabi like Kaleen, Evatt and Giralang were established in the 1970s. And this is just their recent history. Australia’s first peoples have lived in the Yerrabi area for thousands of years. Just near my home in Crace is Percival Hill. It’s a difficult climb, but when you reach the top there’s an amazing view of the Gungahlin area.
On this hill, and on land like Mulligans Flat, the first Australians held their gatherings. The Ngunnawal people have an ancient connection to this land that must always be honoured.
And for that, I would like to pay my respects to the traditional owners of this land, and to their elders past, present and future.
I extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here today.
I am fortunate to be joined today by my mother Susan and my father Ross. My mother was raised in the outer Sydney suburb of Asquith by her mother Jean, a local tram conductor, and her father Harry, a Sydney tram driver. You might say a passion for light rail has been in my family awhile now. Susan, like her mother, excelled at school, but lacked the financial support to finish her studies.
Looking for new opportunities she moved to Canberra, finding work in the public service, as a nurse, and later, teaching occupational health and safety at CIT. Her ongoing instruction on the dangers faced by workers, and the struggles that scarred her loved ones in the Great Depression, has forever shaped my beliefs.
My father Ross was born in Canberra, son to Wallace, a career pilot for the Australian Air Force, and Marjorie, a parliamentary typist. Ross, a forever curious man, grew up in Canberra when it was a much smaller town. He graduated from CIT, an institution which has long served as an educational pathway for the working class.
For a time in his youth he travelled widely, servicing Australia’s lighthouses for the Maritime Safety Authority.
He is to this day a selfless man, always willing to give of himself. He has inspired me through his service and his dedication to local community groups. My parents are ultimately why I stand here today. I thank them both for their love and support.
My brother David, who is also here today, has always been an incredible source of guidance to me.
He has and will always be my biggest believer. I owe him my eternal gratitude. The newest member of the Pettersson family is here as well, David’s fiancée Rachel. We are blessed to welcome you into our small family and I want to thank you for your support.
My own story is shorter.
I was born in Old Canberra Hospital in May 1991. I attended amazing schools that instilled in me an expectation that hard work and study would lead to achievement. These schools gave me a sound education that would see me pursue studies at the Australian National University, studying politics and mathematics.
Before my election to the Assembly, I worked as an Industrial Officer for the CFMEU, assisting workers to be fairly compensated for their work.
I have been elected to represent all of Yerrabi, but I do feel a sense of responsibility to also be a voice for young people. That voice often goes unheard in our nation’s parliaments.
Many times during the election campaign, I was approached by young people who were keen to see a young person representing their interests in the Assembly.
My generation faces challenges more pressing than our forbears.
We are the first generation in over a century that will be worse off than our parents. We are being expected to pay more and more for our education, while our job opportunities are less and less.
In the current job market, there are four times as many job seekers as there are jobs. Gone are the days of permanent full time work as the norm. This reality is not unique to our city or even to Australia – it is a world-wide problem.
Advances in technology and global trade have brought great benefits to some, but they have left, and will continue to leave many behind. Government must act, and government must prioritise securing local jobs.
I believe access to quality and affordable education is a right for all Australians.
It is more important now than ever before.
The educational institutions – institutions that underpinned many of the opportunities enjoyed by previous generations – now face constant attack.
State governments across Australia have slashed funding to TAFE, while gifting money to for-profit providers. Some of these operations do little but trade in the exploitation of students.
Similarly for our universities, the threat of fee deregulation represents a move towards a corporate model of education. This undermines the core tenets of our higher education system - access, quality and affordability. This corporate system will increase inequality and limit the opportunities of young Australians to better their own and their family’s lives. Even more sinister are attacks on student benefits and allowances. The most significant barrier to education is the cost of supporting oneself through study. Welfare benefits make sure that students from all backgrounds can get an education. An attack on those payments is an attack on social mobility.
When my generation leaves formal education, things rarely improve in the workplace. The modern Australian workplace is increasingly casual and insecure. Wage theft is all too common.
The share of people working part-time jobs has doubled in the last 30 years, with roughly one-third of people now working part-time. Casual employees with no access to leave entitlements now make up one quarter of our workforce. And people previously in full-time, secure work are increasingly pressured to become independent contractors, taking away their rights to sick leave, redundancy and superannuation. These problems affect people of all ages, but they especially affect young people
Casual employment is draining.
It is being on call all the time, it is a life with no sick leave, it is an irregular income, and of most concern; it is a workplace where it is harder to say no.
Casual employment should be a choice, not a way of life. This is how far too many people are living, and it is a disgrace. The secure full time job that many generations have taken for granted is a pipe dream for too many. You know there's a problem when my friends think I have a more secure job than them. These people aren’t just retail and hospitality workers who have long suffered from casualisation. They’re construction workers, teachers, nurses and public servants. For those that have gained employment, they are a part of a new workforce that cannot expect growing wages. Wage growth is at record low levels. Cost of living continues to rise. The Australian way of life is being eroded and we stand here its witness.
My generation is the renting generation. Many of us will never own a home, or if we do, it will be because of the help of our parents.
Three decades ago the average home was worth 5 times the average salary. Today the average home is 10 times the average salary.
This is unsustainable and unfair.
Housing shouldn’t be a financial instrument, but a human right.
The ownership of housing cannot be seen as a route to prosperity.
Housing affordability has been a problem for some time now. Speaking of the importance of housing in his maiden speech, Andrew Barr got to the heart of the matter, saying:
‘The provision of secure, affordable and appropriate housing is central to community wellbeing. The recent huge increases in housing prices have created severe problems’.
Those words still ring true today.
I hope this Assembly will act and advocate for affordable housing even if others remain silent and idle.
I have described a negative outlook for young people today, but I am also optimistic for the future. If you want to be involved in politics, especially on the left-side of politics, it’s hard to not be an optimist.
And in Canberra we have much to be optimistic about. This city represents what’s great about Australia. We have less inequality than the rest of Australia. Our citizens are better educated and healthier.
They give more to charities, they’re more likely to be involved in sporting groups and they’re more likely to be involved in their community. These things don’t happen by accident.
They happen because Labor Governments make them a priority.
This government has much to be proud of in addressing the problems I outlined earlier.
On housing affordability, the Labor Government’s tax reform to remove stamp duty has improved housing affordability. It has also dampened the speculative investment in housing that we have seen in Sydney and Melbourne. A lot of governments talk a big game when it comes to tax reform: few follow through.
I’m proud to have joined a team that is prepared to make the right decision even when it is not the easy decision. We must not lose this courage.
The Government has also taken steps to ensure that Canberrans will have a secure job. Many in this chamber have spoken about the benefits of light rail to Canberra. Light rail is the cornerstone of a 21st century public transport network for our city. I share this vision, but I want to focus on the other benefits of light rail. This project points the way to a fairer economy that the 21st century demands.
Light rail brings jobs. Not just any jobs. Light rail will bring secure, long term jobs. Jobs with good pay and jobs with good benefits.
The construction industry has experienced casualisation more than most but the light rail project guarantees long-term secure work for thousands of Canberrans. And it’s not just light rail.
This Government has taken more steps than any other to diversify and grow the ACT economy.
A strong and growing economy is a fundamental ingredient to the supply of good jobs.
We’re still a public service town. But we’re also an education town. We’re increasingly becoming a town that people want to visit. Canberra will always be affected by public service job cuts, but they now hit us less severely than they once did. This Government has achieved much in its life.
But the work of governing is never done.
The work of Labor Governments, especially, is never done. So what more should we be doing? First, I think we need to do something very simple. We need to listen more. Not just this government, but all governments. People feel increasingly isolated from their government and from their communities. This is a problem generally, but it is especially a problem for Labor. For Labor to be successful, we need people to have faith in our system. We need people to have faith in government’s ability to address society’s problems.
I believe fundamentally that government is a force for good. But it is not about what I believe; it’s about what our community believes.
My campaign was based on that simple idea.
If you want to understand the problems people face in our community - you should listen to them. And if you want people to support you and your ideas - you should talk to them.
In closing I wish to thank a few more people.
Josh - your dedication was unquestionable.
Patrick - You understood what this campaign was about when many could not.
Luke - your enthusiasm inspired me to keep going.
Sam - you were unwavering and tireless.
To my colleagues in the CFMEU who understood the challenges I faced and provided many laughs along the way.
To Dean and Jason, for believing.
Particularly, to Zach, you had faith when many did not
To my good friend, Michael - for enduring alongside me.
To the countless individuals that contributed to the campaign, I want to say thank you.
There are too many to list here today but I hope you have seen my appreciation in some way and I will never forget what you have done.
My campaign was never about me.
It was the culmination of a group of passionate people who believed that making politics local and personal again, is what would deliver ACT Labor a record setting fifth term.
They did it, not for the history books, but for a progressive government that will fight for those in the community who cannot fight for themselves.
Finally, I wish to thank the people of Yerrabi for placing their faith in me. I won’t let you down.