SPEECH (House of Representatives): Activism

16 February 2022

I rise to address the House about the importance of young activists and how our next generation of Australians are stepping up and making noise. I'm quoting the 2021 Australian of the Year, Grace Tame. She urged people to make noise when they see injustice, and she is so right. So many little girls and women have been taught to be quiet, polite and small. Throughout history and in living rooms across Australia and the world, girls have been told they should be seen and not heard. Women too often get told to smile by men who do not like what they have to say. It's a way of silencing them and asserting power. It's about reminding women to be pretty and non-threatening to men. That's why I'm so pleased to see Australian women in their 20s and 30s making noise, taking up space and shining a light on areas that have been kept dark and silent. That's what leadership looks like, and Grace Tame embodies this type of leadership. Over the past year, she has shared her gut-wrenching story of grooming and abuse. She's worked to secure improvements to our court system, she's called for important reforms and she's used her story to educate people. She's done it with profound strength and brutal courage. Every generation needs its Grace Tame, and hopefully there are many who advocate across different issues.

Activism runs deep in my electorate of Cooper. It always has, and I hope it always will. Cooper activists are in every street, cafe and classroom. We have activist organisations like the Aborigines Advancement League, which was forged to fight for the rights of Aboriginal people. Their iconic mural documents a history that needs everyone's attention and recognition. It's a visual reminder in my electorate of trauma and mistreatment and also of strength and leadership on land rights.

We have climate activists with solar panels on their roofs who teach their kids about the importance of recycling and reducing consumption. We have teenagers who write letters—a lot to me—and scrutinise the happenings of the United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow. There are activists who are working so hard to reduce emissions and get others to join the mission to address the climate change crisis. We have activists who've worked hard and fought for marriage equality and supported the decades-long fight for LGBTI rights. There are so many ways to be an activist. In 1976 two women were convicted of 'offensive behaviour' for holding hands on a tram in Melbourne. Then, decades later, women and lesbians protested by holding hands on Melbourne's trams. The world was very different. Thanks to so many activists we've come so far, but we still have a long way to go on so many issues.

A few weeks ago Dylan Alcott was announced as the 2022 Australian of the Year. This impressive man, who has so many achievements behind him, is another activist in my electorate. In 2017 he founded the Dylan Alcott Foundation, which gives scholarships and grants to Australians with a disability to overcome barriers to participate in sport and education. They offer mentoring to young people to help them see the sort of future that is clearly possible. He's also brought to life Ability Fest, a music festival that is accessible to people of all abilities. This man, Dylan Alcott, has set countless Australians on their way, after new doors were opened and new opportunities realised. I'm excited to watch 2022 and see him, as Australian of the Year, use his platform and the months ahead to be an activist for those of different abilities.

He's spoken of the importance of properly funding the NDIS to make sure people with a disability receive appropriate care, and I couldn't agree more. For many of us in Labor, the NDIS is one of the proudest legacies we've achieved, and the Morrison government has deliberately underspent NDIS budgets, which has seen Australians with a disability deprived of the funding that they're entitled to. He's spoken up about supporting people with a disability to work in paid employment. He's spoken of the life-changing power of employment and the confidence, freedom and autonomy it gives.

Each generation has had its protest movements, whether it's marching in the streets, holding up signs, chaining themselves to bars or buildings, supporting boycotts or burning bras. In my time I've learnt that activism is a marathon; it requires years and decades of persistence. But ultimately my message to the next generation is to maintain the rage.