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Maiden Speech (2015)

The SPEAKER: I draw members' attention to this being the member for Fisher's maiden speech, and I ask members to extend the customary courtesies to the member. The Chair will, as is also customary, give much latitude to the relevance of her comments to the motion. The member for Fisher.

Ms COOK (Fisher) (11:19): I move:

That the following Address in Reply to His Excellency's opening speech be adopted:

May it please Your Excellency—

1. We, the members of the House of Assembly, express our thanks for the speech with which Your Excellency was pleased to open parliament.

2. We assure Your Excellency that we will give our best attention to the matters placed before us.

3. We earnestly join in Your Excellency's desire for our deliberations to serve the advancement of the welfare of South Australia and all its people.

I am honoured to have the opportunity today to move this adoption of the Address in Reply. I begin by thanking Your Excellency for attending parliament yesterday and for the address to which we all listened in the other place. I also thank the distinguished Kaurna elder and friend of many Lewis O'Brien for his Welcome to Country yesterday. I acknowledge that we meet here today on the traditional lands of the Kaurna people and I acknowledge and respect their relationship with this land. I also acknowledge my fellow members on both sides of the house.

I feel so privileged to be given the opportunity to deliver this opening Address in Reply and I deliver it on behalf of all ordinary Australians who have an extraordinary story. I am only one of many ordinary Australians who live every day with positivity and commitment to their community despite circumstances that could have pushed them to lie passive and give in.

During the by-election campaign there was a story in The Advertiser which described Fisher as 'middle South Australia'. The first paragraph reads:

If Fisher were a person, she would be married with two children and live in a three-bedroom house with two cars parked in the driveway.

Yes, that's me. This article goes on to say that latest census data shows a distinct resemblance between Fisher and the state population as a whole. Fisher's work patterns are consistent with many experiences of many South Australians, with 56 per cent of people working full time and one-third part time, mostly in whitecollar professions. The community is largely less engaged in political rhetoric and more interested in getting to Saturday's junior sport's match on time and finding a way to meet the mortgage payment. This is something I relate to.

We are a migrant family, and I am a first generation Aussie. My mum and dad came to Australia in the mid-1960s as English migrants. My dad always had a fascination with Australia as a country and he knew it would be a place of wide open spaces, fresh air and quarter-acre blocks. Everyone would have a job and there would be growth and excitement. While Mum was not entirely happy about moving to a completely new and unknown country—that is an understatement—and reminded Dad of this regularly, she was a loving and committed wife and mother and brought her kids on this journey. She knew her children would have a better future in this country and grow up to be happy and healthy. She also wanted another child and saw this as a great opportunity.

When they arrived in 1966, Dad fell in love with a brand new three-bedroom, double-brick home on a large block of land in Morphett Vale. He saw this as a much better option than the foreshore at Brighton which would have cost him the same price as the Morphett Vale home but it would have seen his cars rust. You could argue that this may not have been a sound financial investment but, having lived in that same postcode of 5162 all my life, it is a decision that has profoundly shaped me, I believe, in a good way.

My family settled in to their new home. My dad got a job and in 1969 I was the very lucky child chosen to join that family. It was a great childhood. My siblings, Julie and Martin, being nine and 12 years older than me, and my parents being a little older and very patient, saw me with plenty of love and lots of opportunities. I am very lucky. My father passed away two years ago, but something he taught me and my siblings from a very young age was that if you commit to something, you are in it for the long haul. We are a very committed family. My mother still lives in that same family home that we grew up in.

During my younger years, I attended Flaxmill Primary School and later went on to secondary school at Mitcham Girls High School. My brother and sister attended local state high schools and might have tested the rules a bit before I became a teenager. Mum and Dad decided an all girls school would be best for me. I travelled a long way out of my local area for high school which allowed me to be exposed to a whole range of activities and meet a diverse group of people and teachers who instilled in me a desire to reach for the stars. While I did not initially get the academic results I wanted, learning the value of dedication and hard work is a good result, I would argue.

In high school I was always very active on school committees, I tried and played every sport possible, and I drove my teachers wild because I tended to get involved in other people's issues. One particularly passionate school counsellor, Mrs Kutcher, saw the value of putting those who did not always focus into roles of leadership.

My friend and I were given the opportunity to submit a written piece to attend a United Nations Youth Conference, which was being held in Perth that year. Our piece focused on the use of beautiful Australian quotes. Mine was about Australia being the lucky country. My feelings about this wonderful country have not changed since I was in high school, and one very special thing that I learnt from that conference was: 'it's only a small drop but it's all the little drops that fill the bucket'—translated to much later in life with the Sammy D Foundation, when we used that phrase on our collection boxes. It shows that a small effort can translate into so much more.

Flaxmill Primary School in Morphett Vale sits in an area of high disadvantage, according to the Socio-Economic Index for Areas. It also has a large number of extremely vulnerable children, according to the Australian Early Development Census. I believe I may be the first member of parliament to have attended either Flaxmill Primary School or Mitcham Girls High School. If that is the case, I feel extremely honoured, and I will wear that badge proudly and publicly with the hope that students from those schools will see that anything is possible if you believe in yourself.

My nursing career really started as a volunteer with St John Cadets when I was 11. I had many role models in the St John's brigade who helped me to decide that nursing and working in health care was something that I needed to do, because I really cared for other people. I got enormous satisfaction out of volunteering every weekend, sometimes in multiple locations on any one day. This early volunteering has really stuck with me, and it has given me great empathy and understanding for our volunteers, especially those in the emergency services. Our volunteers do not want to be nor should their roles be politicised. Our volunteers are what makes our country what it is. We have one of the highest levels of volunteering in the world, and I will do everything I can to support them.

I trained as a registered nurse at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in our wonderful public health system. I also went on to both study and teach nursing at Flinders University. My father again taught me the value of union culture, and I proudly became a union member, joining the ANF (now ANMF) on my first day of work as a nurse. I became a worksite representative at a young age during a time of change and uncertainty in brain injury services, which was at that time based at Julia Farr Services. I was active and vocal, with a determination to make sure staff had a voice and opportunity to participate in the change process. Melissa Bailey and Lee Thomas are two women whose industrial tenacity, consistency and determination to ensure a fair go and a voice for all has left their mark on my life.

Following a meeting with the then minister for health, Dean Brown, I was asked to participate in a project as a project officer in a nursing services review being undertaken by the then known health department. This project became part of the move from the Fullarton site to the Hampstead Centre for brain injury services. Things have changed since that time. Now we see an incredible opportunity again to align rehabilitation services in a new way, to our acute care centres as part of Transforming Health.

In October last year, the Minister for Health (Hon. Jack Snelling) released a discussion paper detailing the need to transform the South Australian healthcare system. That paper has certainly generated some robust discussion amongst many of my former colleagues in health, as well as community members. Since then, a summit was held and attended by health professionals, consumers and other stakeholders who play a role in our health system, and subsequently a proposals paper was released last week.

The world around us is constantly changing, evolving as new discoveries are made and technology becomes more advanced. Our health system needs to move in step with this change, otherwise we will be left behind and the burden on our health system will become even greater.

While services may move and sites may be decommissioned, it is important to remember that it is the staff and their skills on which the culture of our health system is built. I would strongly encourage anyone who has something to say on the proposals made in the paper to submit their feedback through the Transforming Health consultation process, which ends on 27 February. I would also urge anyone who is making public comment from a position of influence to think very carefully about how they frame their argument. There is nothing to be gained by creating unnecessary panic among our most vulnerable citizens, if for political gain.

I have been fortunate to do many different things in my nursing career, and if I have learnt anything from nursing and what happened to my beautiful son Sam it is that life really is too short to compromise your integrity for short-term gain. Life is too short for regrets and far too short to not take advantage of opportunities and challenges that present.

Sam was born in 1990. Neil and I were just really a couple of crazy young adults who knew how to have fun and we made it our mission to enjoy life. We had a great connection to our community through sport, a fabulous family growing around us, with young nephews and nieces, as well as Neil's beautiful five-year-old daughter, Sheree. We gave everything we could to our children and shared their dreams. Sam, like us, loved sport. He was cheeky and loyal and perfect.

On 3 May 2008, Sam played a fantastic game of football for his beloved South Adelaide Panthers. I am so glad I arranged to leave work early that day and saw him play. They won for the first time in over six months. Sam went out that night. He was 17½, 194 centimetres tall and 95 kilograms. He and three other friends shared the cost of a carton of beer and were dropped off at a friend's birthday party. This was the home of a good family. They loved their children. They cared about our children. They did not deserve this to happen at their home. Young people need guidance. What seems obvious to us as adults is not always clear to young people. Alcohol, drugs and other influences lead to bad decisions.

A group of uninvited youths, known to most at the party but not part of the same friendship group, arrived and managed to get in to the party. Alcohol, drugs and other influences lead to arguments, to fights, to conflict. Sam did not talk to these people. Sam did not know these people. After the party was shut down, Sam was swept up in a fight out in the street. He did not know what happened. He did not see it coming. He could not defend himself. One punch killed our son.

On 4 May 2008, our family and our community learnt that bad things happen to good people. Sam was our world and was loved by everyone who knew him. He was fiercely loyal to his friends and family and would stick up for the underdog—don't know where he got that from—and this is why 1,700 people attended his funeral. We knew we could not let his death be for nothing and that there was a serious problem in the community that needed attention. This is how the Sammy D Foundation was born.

My journey since losing my son has been almost impossible to endure. It is a daily battle where your feet are too heavy to lift and your heart is too empty to go on. The constant reminders of what you no longer have and the thought that to look forward would mean to leave our son behind makes even the most mundane tasks sometimes seem impossible. Neil, Sheree and I have never had the opportunity to deliver a victim impact statement. We were left without anyone to blame and without anyone to pay for what had happened. What we realised was that no amount of anger, no amount of blame and no punishment would ever bring back our Sam.

The Sammy D Foundation stems from the most traumatic and heartbreaking event in mine and Neil's life, and in the lives of our family and friends. The journey with the foundation has shown us what strength, resilience and a positive community can achieve. Over the past six years, the foundation has shared Sam's story with 40,000 primary and secondary school students across South Australia and the Northern Territory, empowering young people with the skills they need to make safe and informed life choices and developing a culture where young people are inspired to reach their potential. While the foundation will always hold a special place in my heart, I now embark on this new adventure in which I will bring the same enthusiasm, passion and dedication to the people of Fisher.

If I could briefly touch on our roles with regard to the budget and economy, we all understand the budget is not a bottomless pit and we all understand the need to tighten the belt, but I think we also need to recognise that although we need tough economic change, we also cannot starve our communities of opportunity by pulling our belts too tightly. We need to be investing in our communities, creating jobs, growth and excitement in our city. Life exists outside the economy.

We should be equally determined to improve our society. This parliament should also be concerned with the development of good citizens, instead of a narrow pursuit of profit and productivity. My vision of community is built from the ground up, through sound policy that ensures world-class education, health care, social supports, access to employment, all wrapped up in sound environmental policy. This is a strong community which attracts investment and grows.

By holding all the hands that I have held through nursing and seeing many terrible things since we started the foundation, many concerning child protection, I have realised that there are so many disadvantaged people, the underdogs and battlers, who need a voice. That is where nurses, teachers and community workers do an amazing job. They help those people find their voice. Our job as politicians is to be the best advocates for those people who are helping and being helped, and to do that in a professional and responsible way, with integrity and honesty.

We have to set an example to the public. I am going to look people in the eye and say, 'This is what I'll do,' and know that I will follow through on that commitment. I stand here today as the member for Fisher, a community I am honoured, grateful and proud to be a part of and especially proud to represent in parliament.

I would like to pay tribute to the efforts of my predecessor, Bob Such. Bob was a hardworking, honourable and courageous man. He showed compassion and empathy to the people of Fisher and fought hard for them in this house over many years. He was respected and loved by the community because he was willing to listen. He was willing to be their voice and he was truly connected to them. This legacy is an inspiration to me and I will stop at nothing to be a local member who is as connected and committed as Bob was to the Fisher community.

Community connection is so important in this world of leadership and advocacy in which I now find myself. Truly connected and committed community people, who make sense to the rest of their community by speaking their language and also have lived experiences that contribute so much, can help to shape policy and legislation and formulate direction for government. It is the participation of these community members that is essential. Connected community people must be encouraged to participate in parliament. They must not be scared of or put off by others who have lost their connection or their relevance.

It should never be that someone is too scared to put themselves forward as a community advocate because of their journey which inspired them to commit to public life and their connection with things that they love so much. It must not be that they then feel those things which they must leave behind are at risk because of their desire to put up their hand and expose themselves to the community and to the scrutiny of people who oppose them.

This is why today, before my fellow members and on the record, I am announcing that I have stood down from my role as a board member of the Sammy D Foundation, something that is forever close to my heart and that I will always have a spiritual connection with. The foundation is my son. The foundation is our son. It will always be this and I will not allow it to ever be used as political ammunition against me. The good that it has done for tens of thousands of South Australians must never be threatened in any way. This work will continue under the guidance of an amazing team of volunteers who dedicate thousands of hours to ensure that South Australia is a strong and safe place to raise our families.

My past has been a journey to where I am now. I have taken the elevator to the bigger picture, to this privileged role I now hold. I have often been frustrated watching the to-ing and fro-ing of politics. The behaviour often witnessed by the public in this house does nothing for the reputation of people in public office. The public wants leaders, the public elects people they believe will represent them in a true and respectful manner. To paraphrase the Premier, 'Civility is not a quaint notion.'

There is no higher honour than representing your community in this house. I will be a proud and honest representative. I will not go backwards in my standing when I step onto this stage. Politics needs to progress ideas through the debate of great minds. Politics is a collective opportunity to move forward.

We cannot give up the fight, either, for gender equality. While we have come a long way since Muriel Matters, we still find terrible inequities in pay and conditions for women in the workplace. I have recently spent time with many groundbreakers who have paved the way for women in politics, and I would like to pay tribute to just some of them: Molly Byrne, member for Barossa, the first Labor woman elected to the House of Assembly; Anne Levy, the first and only woman to be President of the Legislative Council; Carolyn Pickles, who was elected to the South Australian Legislative Council in 1985, the first woman elected to a major political party in any chamber; and Rosemary Crowley, a South Australian senator who held a range of portfolios in the federal government during the 1990s, the first Labor woman from South Australia to be elected to the Senate. Thank you.

I had hundreds of volunteers supporting the campaign for Fisher. I could not have done this without every one of you; you are all an inspiration. When I felt the pain of hundreds of hours of walking—and showed it as well—there was always someone beside me, just doing it because they believed in me, just doing it because they wanted Fisher to be in safe hands. While I am reticent to name individuals for fear of forgetting a name, I really must single out just a few.

The amazing Young Labor team. You are, without doubt, one of the most dedicated groups of young people I have ever met. You are a campaigning machine. From this group I am so lucky to have Sam and Emily, combined with the incredible Poor Charles, now to be my right hand. You are all incredible.

Rhiannon, you worked almost 24 hours a day in pulling together all the volunteers to make sure that no stone was left unturned. You are an amazing young woman who is destined for greatness in your career.

My parliamentary colleagues, who gave up time, endured blisters and pain while doorknocking (some not in this house), messaging, talking and supporting. Your collective political wisdom has helped to get me to this point, and my determination and positivity is intact. Together we can continue to drive this state and achieve great outcomes.

My campaign team, you are all amazing. Your belief, and the trust you showed in me, assisting me to deliver myself to Fisher in a way that is truly reflective of me. Cameron, Jesse, Amy, Emmanuel, Reggie and Steve, you have all got me to this point. We connected.

Labor's heart, the leaders of our union movement: Peter Malinauskas, Dave Grey, Cheyne Rich, Joe Szakacs and David DiTroia. Your belief in me will be rewarded over and over again.

Bronwyn, Sarah and Jane, our message to the community was strong. The positivity and thought was always there. Thank you for being there for me.

My community. You told that you wanted honesty. You backed me based on my commitment to work tirelessly for you and always put you first. Your letters of support were humbling. Thank you.

The amazing Penny Wong and Amanda Rishworth, who have been great sources of advice and a wealth of knowledge. I aspire to your incredible standards.

Katrine. You have an unwavering determination to make sure that life is as fair as it possibly can be. Your story is one that talks to this, and is one that I am so absolutely inspired by. You are my friend and my mentor. 'No words, lady; just wine.'

Sheree, Ty and Sid, my children. Sheree, you are a mother to the boys when I cannot be there. You are the most beautiful soul and I love you. Since you were two you have been the pink in my world. Ty, you are so brave and so very special. You have been through so much. I hope you now feel that you are home with us. You do not know yet, but your story is your power, and your journey will be an inspiration. You are a very big part of why I feel strong enough to do this. I am so proud to call you my son. Sid is our joy. He has made me lift my feet again, and he is the beat in my heart.

Poor Neil. You put up with me when others would sprint out the door. You sit and listen while a million world-changing plans come pouring out of my mouth at a rate of knots, and you gently question if I am overdoing it—usually to be ignored. You are my calming influence, and I do listen to you even if I say that I am ignoring you. You are more than my husband, you are my best friend.

Politics is now, it is immediate, and we in this house have the power to truly affect people's lives. To stand in this house with you all is a great honour, and I am looking forward to being part of some robust discussions and decision-making. Thank you.

Honourable members: Hear, hear!


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