Jenny Leong responds to the Lieutenant-Governor's address in Parliament, on 11 May 2023:
Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (14:46): I contribute to debate on the address-in-reply to the speech delivered by Lieutenant-Governor the Hon. Andrew Bell. First and foremost I acknowledge that Lieutenant‑Governor the Hon. Andrew Bell acknowledged the contribution and the feelings of newly elected members. This is my first opportunity to welcome new members to the crazy place that is the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. I particularly acknowledge my Greens colleague the member for Balmain, Kobi Shetty. I recognise the very large shoes to fill of the former member for Balmain but hasten to add, having campaigned with Kobi as the candidate for Balmain over the past year or more, that she will effortlessly fill those shoes. I am very confident she will work hard for her community and that she is absolutely committed to being an effective member of this House.
It is important to recognise what I like to describe as a new world order in New South Wales, after 12 years of seeing the most vulnerable and desperate people in our community being left behind while big business, corporate profits, corporate interests, backroom deals and discussions with mates in stadium corporate boxes ruled the way our democracy functioned. I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minns Labor Government on the outcome of the election and add that it is a welcome change to see Labor members occupying the Government benches. I acknowledge the presence in the Chamber of the Minister for Women. I am very pleased about her appointment to that role.
We know that the Labor Government is a minority government. On the first day of formal business the Premier suggested that in many ways this House will be a place of much more robust, healthy and—hopefully—at times respectful debate. Perhaps that will not always be so, but maybe the idea of listening to different perspectives and views may actually come to this Chamber. Because the reality is that the harsh numbers sometimes do the talking, and there is a need to convince more people to get on board.
Another useful aspect of minority government in the context of what priorities the Labor Party took to the election and was elected for is the refocusing on communities and people. Minority governments can do a number of things. While sitting on the crossbench The Greens are absolutely committed to ensuring that we put the community at the heart of our democracy. The need for governments to negotiate and have conversations with crossbench members is a way of ensuring a diversity of community views and voices. The crossbench includes both the smallest electorate and largest electorates geographically: Newtown, in the inner city, which I represent; and Murray and Barwon. Because the crossbench represents inner-city communities and regional and remote communities, we have a broad spectrum and range of views on a number of issues. I note that the member for Wagga Wagga is also in the Chamber.
We feel that full political spectrum on a range of issues but, on the issue of listening to and representing our communities' concerns in this Chamber and making sure the Government is listening to those priorities, the crossbench shares many common values. In a lot of ways those values align with the priorities of the incoming Government, particularly the need to listen to, support and resource our teachers, nurses, midwives, paramedics, those engaged in frontline services and particularly those who are engaging with what has been a challenging time in New South Wales transport. I give a shout-out to the incredible folks who have been dealing with the crisis under former transport Ministers who were running the show as if it were their kingdom to manoeuvre and score political points in but were failing to get the trains running when they needed to. They were also privatising our bus network right under our noses.
Those former Ministers seemed to have forgotten that the concept of public transport is that we keep it in public hands. It is not public transport if we privatise it and it is run to make a profit instead of to deliver services to the community. I am happy to give credit where credit is due: to the new Minister for Transport. I caught the train in from Newtown this morning, and it ran very smoothly. It was the first time I had been on a train since this Parliament began. I congratulate the new Minister for Transport on doing a sensational job. I stopped catching the train when Minister Elliott was in the role because I thought he was such a disaster. I did not like to show him support—I am only joking; I like to catch public transport all the time.
While I am on the issue of transport, I will talk about the commitment the Minister for Transport and member for Summer Hill made to the upgrade to the Lewisham station, which is on the border of the electorates of Newtown and Summer Hill. That station is regularly the subject of memes. People draw fish and sharks in the flooded stairwell people must go through to get into the station. There is no accessibility at that station. Every time it rains, it floods, so people cannot get down the stairs without getting wet. It is outrageous. Our new regional members might think that the city gets everything, but we seriously need a lift at Lewisham station. I am pleased to say that the new Minister for Transport made that commitment during the election campaign, and I look forward to working with her soon to make sure that promise is delivered.
I was pleased that during the election we had a real recognition of renters and a commitment to making sure that they were prioritised. It was very much the renters' election. It is valuable to know that people are renting for longer and longer in our communities and that the rental crisis is significant and real. I acknowledge that this Government has prioritised rental reforms in the first sitting of Parliament. I welcome the portable bond scheme put in place. I have foreshadowed that we have concerns about the rent-bidding element, but we hope we can work constructively with the Government to deliver the reforms needed in the rental space to make sure that there is a commitment to ending all bidding as opposed to ending only secret bidding.
It is important to highlight that the cost-of-living crisis is putting financial stress on all members of our community, and that has huge impacts on the need to adequately fund mental health support, homelessness services, crisis accommodation, tenants' advice and advocacy services, and domestic violence services. We must recognise that helping the most vulnerable in our community to make sure that they are not left behind is a role for the Government. It is critical that we recognise that tinkering around the edges when it comes to addressing these reforms will not be enough.
We had 12 years of decimation under the Liberals and The Nationals. They put everything they could out to tender and consulted on everything they could—not by listening to the community, but by paying their wealthy consultant mates lots of money. They privatised everything they could and cut funding to every service that helped vulnerable people in our communities. So I urge the Minns Labor Government and all the incoming Ministers to recognise that they must be bold in reshaping the way in which we support vulnerable communities. Just making a small shift here or a small change there will not be enough to actually address the harm that has been done to communities over successive terms of Liberal-Nationals governments in this State.
We need a shift to the idea where people and communities are put first. That means that no-one should ever be turned away from a homelessness shelter in any of our electorates. It means that when a person rings up a sexual assault line, someone should always be on the other end of the line. It means that every time someone needs specialist care in one of our hospitals or public health facilities, they are responded to and supported. We must recognise that a budget surplus or a budget bottom line should never be the choice we take over and above making sure people in need in our community are looked after and cared for.
I acknowledge that there is a significant shift with the increase in diversity in representation in the Legislative Assembly. It is a welcome change to see in this Chamber. I acknowledge the incredible achievement of the New South Wales Labor Party, whose Cabinet, through a commitment to quotas and to developing and supporting women within their ranks, is 50 per cent women. But I would not be myself, the member for Newtown, if I did not take a minute to say that we have a long way to go. We have increased the diversity in the Chamber and the number of women in the Cabinet—that's bloody great. But, with all due respect, you might notice, Mr Speaker, that the Premier, the Opposition leader, the Leader of the House, the Manager of Opposition Business, the Government Whip, the Opposition Whip and the Deputy Opposition Whip and yourself are all men. It is time for women to step up. The men should not get to run this place. I urge all members to do—
Mr Stephen Kamper: Take my job.
Ms JENNY LEONG: I do not think anyone wants it. The member can have it. It is important for us, especially those of us who are strong feminists and unionists in our communities, to recognise that, while we campaign hard for equal pay for equal work and for the recognition of the importance of making sure that women have a seat at the table, it should extend to all aspects of our lives. We must also recognise that in this Parliament there is currently a massive gender pay gap because all of those positions are taken by men. The Greens raise that challenge so that we can address it in the future.
I conclude with the need to recognise our community's demand—the urgent voices and cries for help—for desperate action on a range of measures. We saw on the street outside this Chamber incredible actions of unions striking, demanding an end to the public sector wage cap, demanding ratios for our nurses and midwives, demanding that our public bus and train networks come back into public hands, demanding better pay and conditions for public sector workers, and demanding that our emergency frontline services' need for help be recognised.
We also saw First Nations people marching during the pandemic and beyond to demand justice. It is incumbent on all of us to recognise the ongoing struggle for First Nations justice. We need to commit to delivering it in this Parliament. It starts with treaty, but it must not end there. It is unacceptable for young First Nations children to be away from their families and loved ones tonight, incarcerated in New South Wales prisons. Prisons are no place for children. Children should not be away from their parents, from their kin or from their loved ones for one night, let alone for multiple nights, because the system has failed to provide them with the support they need early in life.
We need to recognise that the destruction happening to our environment and climate is real and that we cannot have environmental and climate justice without First Nations justice. We need to recognise that there is an intersection between all of these things and that the Parliament has the opportunity to address it. I welcome the chance to contribute to this address-in-reply debate, to congratulate the incoming Minns Labor Government on its election and to welcome all new members here. But I also say that this is an opportunity for us to take radical and drastic steps to change the direction of this State. The past 12 years have shown us that we are heading the wrong way. Our community, environment, climate and our many threatened species are crying out for us to act. It is not time to make incremental changes but to implement radical reforms that deliver on the promise we made to our communities and to keep them at the heart of everything we do.