Martha's Inaugural Speech

20 December 2022

Martha HAYLETT (Ripon) (17:19)

It is a privilege to stand here today shoulder to shoulder with my friends in the Labor Party and those across the aisle and on the crossbench in the 60th Parliament of Victoria.

I would like to begin by acknowledging those who came first to the lands that I live and work on and now represent, the Barengi Gadjin people, the Dja Dja Wurrung people, the Eastern Maar people and the Wadawurrung people. I pay my deepest respects to their elders past and present and the emerging leaders of the future. I would also like to extend that same respect to the Wurundjeri Woiwurrung people, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, to representatives of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, including co-chair Marcus Stewart, and to other First Nations people here today.

I stand here honoured and humbled to be the member for Ripon, and I stand here as a proud country Victorian. I grew up on a dirt road in central Victoria in an old miners cottage overlooking one of the sites of the 1850s gold rush. As a family we were Labor through and through, but there is also some blue in my blood. My grandfather John was a spud farmer in England. He was also the town mayor and president of the local Conservative club. My dad Robin had joined the club at age 15 simply to play snooker. But as he grew older he became more and more appalled at the views and values surrounding him, so on his 18th birthday he wrote a letter to the club president resigning his membership. His own father, as the president of the club, had to accept that letter, which made for a very awkward birthday dinner. Dad worked in the local sugar factory and petrol station to save up enough money to travel. He met my mum Heather in a youth hostel in Sydney. They fell in love, and the rest is history. Mum came from a very different home. She grew up in the working-class suburb of Oxley in Brisbane’s south-west. Her dad Ned was a goldminer raised in Ballarat who had driven my grandma Joyce up on his Harley-Davidson in the 1950s to chase the Queensland sun.

I come to this place filled with the love of my family – my parents Heather Holst and Robin Haylett, my sister Freda Haylett, my brother Joseph Haylett, my brothers-in-law Jon Jenkins and Shane Pacarada and my three nephews Leon, Eamon and Ronan Jenkins – and the love of my fiancé Sam Lynch and incredible in-laws Kieran Cumberlidge, Peter Lynch, Caitlin, Madeleine and Isabella Lynch. Thank you for giving me the strong foundations that have brought me here today and for teaching me the importance of the collective.

My family, like many, relied on our public healthcare system. When I was a little girl I had significant hearing difficulties. It often meant I missed what people were saying, especially if I was not facing them. In the classroom it meant I ended up in the naughty corner more than I deserved. As a family we did not have a lot, and without our public healthcare system my parents would not have been able to afford the operation to fix my hearing. But because of our healthcare system and our incredible healthcare workers I was able to have surgery, and when I did it changed my whole life for the better. It is why I am so proud the Andrews Labor government is fighting to protect and improve our healthcare system for families just like mine. It is also why I carry with me a deep determination to fight for those kids who are not given the same opportunities to learn and grow.

Growing up, my mum Heather worked in homelessness and family violence services for years. Women and children would arrive, fleeing violence, often with only the clothes on their backs. Even at a young age I would play with these kids and think about how unfair it was that they were sleeping in a car or on a friend’s couch – kids not so different from me and my brother or sister denied the right to a safe and secure place to call home. Those experiences lit a fire in my belly. It is the reason I went on to work in the housing sector, fighting to end homelessness and build more affordable housing across our state. And it is one of the driving reasons I am here today. I am so proud of this government’s commitment to improving tenants rights and building more than 12,000 new affordable homes, 25 per cent of them in rural and regional Victoria.

But there is always more to do. Access to affordable housing remains one of the biggest issues facing communities in Ripon. There are no rental vacancies in Ararat and St Arnaud. Kids are living in shipping containers around Wedderburn. Older residents have no supported housing options in Dunolly, and too many people are sleeping in tents around Maryborough. Our local industries want to grow, but they do not have the housing to home their workers. This issue must be addressed by building more public housing and affordable private rentals and introducing inclusionary zoning, planning provisions and more. If a first speech is a yardstick by which we might come to measure our contributions in public life, I want to use this opportunity to be very clear: I believe that every family, every Victorian, deserves the shelter, safety and security of a home, and every day I am in this place that is what I will be fighting for.

The Western Renewables Link is another significant and disruptive issue for my community. I want to take this opportunity to remove any doubt: I am not in the business of saying one thing in Smeaton before the election and another on Spring Street today. The project is a disgrace and must be fixed – not through grand statements or chucking money at the problem, but through hard work, genuine commitment and standing side by side with my community.

A feature of rural and regional Victoria has always been overcoming natural disasters. The droughts and fires of the past seemed a distant memory as our streets flooded in January this year and again in October. In the days following I watched in awe as SES and CFA volunteers worked tirelessly and while hundreds more turned out to sweep mud and sewage from scout halls and football-netball clubs. I saw, as we often do, the very best of our community in the very worst of circumstances. As the waters recede, the mud is cleared and the news crews head home, I will be there for them always. I know this government will be too, to rebuild what was lost better and stronger than before, because we know the rains will come again, just as we know that the droughts and fires will come too. We need to ensure our communities and our incredible volunteers have the backing they need to keep responding and that we build back stronger and better every time.

Now, there is a much longer list: investing in rural and regional transport, including the government’s commitment to making the V/Line fares truly fair. We need to ensure our roads are fixed and that we do more fulsome upgrades and less patch jobs. We must continue to support our farmers, their industries and their livelihoods, especially as they deal with the impacts of extreme weather on their harvests, and protect country Victoria’s much-loved pastimes, including camping, hunting, fishing and prospecting. We must boost access to mental health services and GPs in our rural communities, because still the further you are from Melbourne, the less likely you are to find care. And we must strengthen our support for veterans, because we owe it to those who fought and sacrificed their lives for our country. Now, a few lines in a first speech could never truly do justice to each of these issues, but please know that I will carry each of them with me every day in this place.

And now the necessary thankyous: my first and foremost thanks are to the people of Ripon themselves. As a former member, the Honourable Joe Helper, once said, ‘Ripon is the most fantastic group of people anybody has ever drawn an electoral boundary around.’ The boundaries have changed quite a bit since then, but his point still remains. From the sheep graziers of St Arnaud to the spud farmers of Newlyn, the manufacturing workers of Ararat to the printers of Maryborough and the over 100 communities in between, Ripon is home to some of the most decent, hardworking, kind and generous people you will ever meet. I know this from experience, having talked and listened to thousands of locals on their doorsteps, over the phone, over cuppas and at market stalls across our region. To the people of Ripon, whether you saw fit to give me your vote or not, I promise you I intend on being a member who listens, who cares and who is your local voice first and always.

I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the former member Louise Staley and thank her for her service to our community over the last eight years. That same acknowledgement extends to every single candidate who put their hand up to serve the people of Ripon at this election. We may not agree on everything, but I will always admire those who seek to make our community a better place.

The pursuit of gold has defined the many communities in Ripon since William Campbell first discovered it in Clunes back in 1850. That time in our history saw both triumph and tragedy, from the enormous wealth that famously branded Maryborough ‘a town attached to a train station’ –

Jacinta Allan interjected. 

Marha Haylett: it is beautiful – to the horrors of the 1882 Australasian mining disaster in Creswick, the worst of its kind in our history. The most famous legacy of the gold rush era was of course the Eureka rebellion. My predecessor remarked in her first speech that the lesson from this historical event was clear – that individuals should have the right to go about their business without excessive tax or red tape. Now, this may be indeed true, but I believe there is a far more profound lesson, a lesson that rings true across the dockyards, construction sites and bus depots, a lesson that has defined the growth in character of our state and country for the better and a lesson that was as relevant in the 1850s as it is today: when the workers are united they can never be defeated. Every day that I stand in this place I stand with workers and their representatives across Ripon and beyond. I want to thank the mighty union movement, in particular Mike McNess and Mem Suleyman from the Transport Workers Union, for their unwavering support. I congratulate them on their richly deserved re-election. I would also like to thank Elizabeth Doidge, Ian Fullerton and Paddy Farrelly from the CFMEU for their tireless efforts to support the Ripon campaign; Michael Donovan and Dean D’Angelo from the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association; and Cassia Drever-Smith, Ross Kenna and Brett Edgington from Ballarat Trades Hall, the second oldest in the world.

Now, none of us can claim to get here without the support of an army. At the heart of mine was my rock, my love, my fiancé Sam Lynch. He has been there with me every single step – during the tears, laughs and long days. Then there was Gabriella Dawson, a woman wise beyond her years and the best campaign manager in the business. Ours was a community campaign in the truest sense of the words. To the true believers of Ripon, many of whom are here today – the Ararat, Maryborough and Creswick-Clunes branches of the ALP: we turned Ripon red because of you. I stand on the shoulders of giants, including Hilary Hunt, Jeremy Harper, Jean Hart, Carole Hart, Thelma Herbertson, Bev Watkins, Alex Stoneman, Jenny Beales, John McDougall, Pat McAloon and Carmel Roads. Labor shines bright in Ripon because of you and the hundreds of local volunteers and supporters who turned up through it all.

To Daniel McGlone and Sarah De Santis, who ran powerful campaigns in 2014 and 2018 and came so close, your contribution to our movement will never be forgotten. To my core campaign team, who rose to every challenge: Lorraine O’Dal, the matriarch of Maryborough; Mark Karlovic, the steady hand, wise counsel and jack-of-all-trades; Craig Fletcher, who despite what you may have read in Crikey put up hundreds of yard signs far and wide; Craig Otte, the man with a van and a solution for every problem; Mitchell Kingston, the wonder kid from Queensland; Alice Jordan-Baird, who brightens every room she enters; Caley McPherson, who called every person I had ever met to make sure they helped out – she really did; Bassel Tallal, who always is and I am sure always will be just a phone call away to do whatever needs to be done; and to so many others, including Nicola Castleman, Cam Petrie, Jett Fogarty, Jeff Hoober, Jenny and Bruce Mackay, Ash Bright, Susan Crebbin, Brody Viney, Wendy Podger, John Stewart, David Reeves, Frank Kitchen, Maree and John Murphy, Mary and Ian Bruce, Lis and Peter Humphries, David Morgan, Lesley Nelson, Warwick Stagg, Millie Page, James McDonald and Steve Cusworth, thank you for your endless energy and commitment.

I would also like to thank those who were taken from us all too soon but who stood with me in spirit: the endlessly loyal former Senator Mehmet Tillem, to whom I owe so much, and the force of nature Clara Jordan-Baird, who would have been 34 today and whose presence I felt beside me on all those backroads. Happy birthday, my darling. We love you, we miss you always.

I would also like to pay tribute to the Deputy Premier Jacinta Allan. You wrote the book on ensuring rural and regional voices are heard in this place. You paved the way for country women like me to put their hand up for Parliament, and I will always remember how prepared you were to seemingly drop everything with a moment’s notice to help in any way you could.

I want to thank the Ballarat Labor family. To the federal member for Ballarat Catherine King, who took me under her wing and showed me the way, thank you, and to the member for Wendouree Juliana Addison, who gave me invaluable advice every single day; to the member for Eureka, who so generously introduced me to so many of the communities that were redistributed from her patch; to you, Speaker, for your friendship and support; to the member for Macedon Mary-Anne Thomas for cheering me on; and to the former member for Yan Yean Danielle Green for all the fun times.

To the sisterhood 2022 group – nine strong, incredible women that are all entering Parliament this year – thank you for keeping me laughing along the way. To the former Premier and the man who rebuilt regional Victoria Steve Bracks, former member for Ripon Joe Helper, member for Niddrie Ben Carroll, member for Lara Ella George, former Speaker in this place Judy Maddigan, former member for Southern Metropolitan Region Philip Dalidakis and former senator Stephen Conroy, thank you for your support and for keeping me on track. To Zoe Edwards, whose sage advice at the very beginning of this journey to just jump off the cliff and hope for the best is the reason I am here today, and to the federal member for Hawke Sam Rae, the size of whose heart is only matched by the height of his hair, thank you for everything.

To Chris Ford and your team at head office, Fordy, I thank you for the same reasons that all Labor members in this place thank you. You ran a brilliant campaign that has delivered Labor another four years in government, but I especially thank you for your loyalty, advice and friendship.

Finally, my thanks to the Premier and all cabinet ministers and members for the last eight years of bold and courageous leadership. It is a privilege to stand amongst your ranks. I look forward to four more years of getting on with it.

It will be the honour of my life to serve the people of Ripon in this place. It is why, as I close my opening remarks, it is to them that I make this promise: that I will not measure my success in this place by how many terms I serve or how high up the ladder I may climb; I will instead measure success by how strongly I amplify your voices and the voices of working people in rural and regional Victoria for your right to a safe and secure home, your access to quality health care and reliable transport, your safety and dignity at work and the opportunities that ensure your kids can reach their full potential. You have entrusted me with all of this and more. Rightfully it is a responsibility I take seriously, but I carry with me something much lighter too. I carry with me your unyielding optimism and aspiration, your deep belief in the power of community, your time-tested commitment in caring for one another and your willingness to back a young woman with an appetite for hard work. I will not let you down.