I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet today, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people of this region. I acknowledge the Wurundjeri and Bunurong peoples of the Kulin nation, which is the place I've made my home for the past 35 years. I also acknowledge the Yorta Yorta people, the custodians of the land where I was born. I pay my respect to all First Nations people of this land and their elders past, present and emerging who have cared and still care for this land, sea, rivers and waterways for time immemorial, and I look forward to the time when the Uluru Statement from the Heart is implemented in full. Voice. Treaty. Truth.
I am here now in this chamber as the new member for Aston, the first woman to be elected in this seat's history and the second ever Labor representative for this seat. I acknowledge, with respect, the previous elected members for Aston and their good work in the community over the years: John Saunderson, the late Peter Nugent, Chris Pearce and Alan Tudge. I am proud to have been chosen by the electors of Aston, and I make the commitment to represent you to the best of my ability and listen to your concerns and ideas, whether you voted for me or not.
The electorate of Aston is named for a most remarkable woman: Matilda 'Tilly' Aston. Tilly Aston is one of the most important disability activists in Australia's history. Tilly was the youngest of eight children, born in 1873 with partial vision and losing her eyesight completely before she turned seven. She went on to become a teacher, a poet, a celebrated author and a fierce advocate for vision impaired people, setting up a braille library along the way. There are advocacy organisations that exist today because of Tilly Aston's tireless work. She faced much prejudice, but, like all amazing activists, she persisted. I hope to embody some of her spirit, courage and persistence and bring these qualities to my role as the member for the electorate named in her honour.
The electorate of Aston lies in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne, with the foothills of the beautiful Dandenong and Yarra Ranges at its very eastern reaches. Aston is home to a diverse range of people. The people I call friends and family, who live in suburbs like Ferntree Gully, Boronia, Wantirna, Bayswater, Knoxfield and Rowville, are among the hardest-working and most compassionate and goodhearted people I know. These are the CFA volunteers; the community organisation volunteers who help disadvantaged people in the community; and the sporting and theatre club volunteers who show up without fail to bring some excitement and life-affirming qualities to people's lives. They make a difference in people's lives every day.
I want to say to Patrina, Alan, Hugo and Stephen from Foothills Community Care as well as to Anne, Penny and Peter from Knox Infolink: the work you do means so much to people in the community. To Shan and others from the Sri Vakrathunda Vinayagar Hindu temple and community centre in The Basin as well as to Deepak and Atul from Shree Swaminarayan Hindu temple in Boronia, who've all been incredibly welcoming to me: thank you. Thank you also to William Wai and other members from the Knox Chinese Elderly Citizens Club, who've welcomed me so warmly into the fold.
I have met the most warm and welcoming people in the suburbs of Aston during both campaigns, not to mention during my first month as MP. On Anzac Day, following the dawn service at Boronia RSL, a lovely couple approached me. The woman, Penny, hugged me and said how she and her partner were so happy that there was now someone in federal parliament who they felt better represented them. As we talked about our family lives, I understood what they meant.
I was born in late June 1970 to a big Catholic family the Doyles in Echuca. The youngest and ninth child of Edmund 'Ted' and Mary. Ted and Mary were in their early 40s when I came along, a 'late in life baby' as the term was back then. My mum was from Melbourne, having been born in Coburg before moving around Melbourne's northern and eastern suburbs with her family before eventually settling in the small town of Elmore with her parents, Tom and Lil Duggan, and her younger sister, Lily, in 1947. It was there, not long after the move, that the pretty young Mary Duggan met a handsome young shearer, Ted Doyle, at a dance. They began a romance and were married in June 1951 and settled in Elmore for the first eight years of their married life.
The first five of their children were born here. Sadly, however, in early 1957 they lost their infant son at six months of age, Edmund Jr, No. 4 in the family, due to sudden infant death syndrome. The tragedy of this loss never left them. In 1959, my mum and dad moved their growing family to Echuca, when my dad got a new job as a farm machinery salesman, and the last four of us were born here. The eldest of my family, my sister Therese, had turned 18 earlier in the year that I was born and had already left home to take up her nursing career. A year later, Therese was married and had a baby of her own, my niece, Jo. Yes, I first became an aunty at scarcely a year old. When you're the youngest daughter of a large family, you will be a young aunty. Classic Irish Catholics, right? In September 1977, I became an aunty for the second time when another of my sisters, Carmel, who had married in 1976, became mum to her only child, Melanie, my niece. I vividly remember becoming an aunty that time. Melanie was placed in my arms by Carmel at Healesville Hospital, and I looked into her little face excitedly.
Tragically, both my sister Carmel and my niece Melanie are no longer with us, having both passed in 2009 and 2020 respectively. My family and I miss them both terribly. I am now guardian of my great-niece, 16-year-old Jamilah, Melanie's daughter and Carmel's granddaughter and I am so proud to be caring for her and to see the bright and talented young woman she's becoming. I'm so happy that she's here today.
In the early 1970s, my dad, Ted, lost his job and succumbed to depression and alcoholism and never returned to work. He always liked to drink, but his alcoholism wreaked havoc following this job loss. I was very young when this happened maybe two or three, so I don't remember a lot, but I do remember the sadness that set in and its impact on our family in the ensuing years. My dad was a complicated individual, and, whilst he had his fair share of demons, he was also a very good judge of character and had many funny sayings and told hilarious yarns. He loved the bush poets and good country music, like Johnny Cash, Slim Dusty and Marty Robbins, and, though he couldn't really hold a tune, he gave it a go anyway. It was our mum, Mary Sr, who taught us kids how to sing. She always had a very lovely singing voice, and we learned many songs, especially by the Seekers, from her while young. Family gatherings would often see a brother or two on guitar while the rest of us sang along and then had a barney about which song to sing next. It was a lot of fun.
In the early seventies, because of my dad's alcoholism and mental health issues, he had to apply for what they called back then the 'invalid pension', the married couple's one. Both payments had initially been paid directly to my dad and then the Whitlam government changed that, and Mum was very happy to be receiving her own cheque paid to her, not to Dad. This policy change had a profoundly positive effect on the way Mum handled household finances. She could now have a bit here and there for things that we needed. She saved a bit. My big brother Kevin, a huge Gough Whitlam fan, pointed out to me years later, when I was a teenager, how changes like these introduced by the Whitlam Labor government helped families like ours. This is what Labor governments do.
As a child growing up in public housing, like some other very senior people sitting in the House right now, I didn't always have some of the things that other kids at school took for granted. I understood from an early age that my family was not one with a lot of money. I went to both the local Catholic schools, where most families paid fees, but my family, like some others, were an exception to this rule. When I went on a school camp in grade 6 to a camp in The Basin, in my electorate, incidentally, it was through the generosity of the school's committee. Social justice was a concept I learned from a very early age from my Catholic schooling in Echuca. They lived by it. If there were kids in the school that came from struggling families, the school helped discreetly. There were nuns and teachers at both St Mary's Primary and St Joseph's College who were exceptional in imparting the tenets of social justice. These lessons have stayed with me.
Leaving school, I moved to Melbourne, where three of my older sisters, Carmel, Kathleen and Elizabeth, lived and worked with their own families in the outer eastern suburbs. I'd always visited their homes during the school holidays as a kid, so I knew the area very well. For the next decade or so, I moved around these suburbs, making many friends, especially during my time at Box Hill TAFE and while working as a casual at a Box Hill call centre.
In late 1995, when I was 25, living in a share house and working at that call centre, I found a lump in my right breast quite by accident. It was high up in my right breast, near the armpit. I thought, 'How strange,' and I made an appointment with my GP that morning. The GP said, 'It's probably nothing, but, look, we don't like letting these things go undiagnosed,' and, lucky for me, she sent me off for a mammogram and an ultrasound. The results stated that the lump was atypical, so the GP sent me to see a breast specialist, who did a fine needle aspiration. The next day the results confirmed I had breast cancer—at 25, with no family history.
I felt like someone had punched me: 'How can I have cancer? I'm too young. This can't be real.' I'd just returned from a three-month trip overseas to visit friends and cousins in the UK and Ireland and was desperately trying to save money up again. Plus my boyfriend of three years had just proposed to me, and we had started planning a wedding. It was an incredibly stressful and emotional time in my young life. I didn't know what the broader future held in terms of life and death, and, more immediately, I didn't know how I was going to pay my rent and bills, let alone save up for a wedding, if I couldn't work. I'd proudly supported myself financially since my first after-school job at 15. Cancer treatment meant being off work for at least two months while I recovered, and, as a casual worker, that meant zero pay.
Fortunately, I live in a country where there's Medicare, so I could get the many diagnostic tests and treatments that I needed, have a qualified surgeon cut the cancer out and cut out the lymph nodes to see if the cancer had spread, then have more tests, scans and x-rays et cetera, without having to pay a king's ransom. Following that, I could access the necessary welfare payments whilst recovering. Caring for the unwell through Medicare is what Labor governments do. There is a very good reason terms like 'social security' and 'welfare' exist. These are not dirty words. We need to remember what they mean and re-embrace them—for the security of society, for the welfare of people, to help people get back on their feet and ensure they're not left behind.
I had several jobs for the next 14 years of my working life including, yes, as a bit part actor on occasion, on Neighbours even. I believe Erinsborough was a part of Aston at one time! Maybe before the boundaries changed? I can't be sure; I'll have to check that. Anyway, for the majority of my career, I worked for the union movement: for a decade or so as a union organiser, then later at the ACTU, in a couple of different roles, and then back to organising again.
The job of an organiser is both rewarding and very challenging. You can find yourself doing all kinds of work for union members. You are their advocate, their negotiator, their researcher and, at times, their counsellor and confidante. I enjoyed my work as an organiser, and I still have many friendships with the great people I worked alongside, the delegates and the members. I learned valuable skills over these years terrific training for work as an MP.
From 2009 to 2021, I worked for the Australian Council of Trade Unions, as the marketing officer for the first 10 years and then as the partnerships manager for the last two. In my capacity as marketing officer, I promoted the member benefits side of union membership the added benefits that unifying as working people brings in terms of purchasing power. It was such a rewarding role. I met many union members around the country at delegates conferences, made many friends and, hopefully, helped to save union members thousands of dollars on life's essentials. My years at the ACTU were very special, and I cherish the ongoing friendships with the many good people I worked with there.
My most recent workplace, to whom I said goodbye in mid-February, was HESTA. I thank the good people there, who last year welcomed me on board with such warmth, a truly wonderful and supportive place to work, with such amazing people.
And now, as I said on the night of 1 April, I guess I'm the next member for Aston, ay? Thank you to some very special people—to both my campaign teams, last year and this year—and, in particular, to Pamela Anderson and James Gan in 2022 and Alfonso Silva and Jake Carns in 2023. Thank you so much for all your hard work and for pushing me when I needed it. We chipped away in 2022, and in 2023 we made it. It was through such enormous efforts on all your parts that we were able to achieve this incredible feat of history. To Chris Ford, Paul Erickson, Louise Magee and Josh Lloyd, I give my heartfelt thanks for the incredible support I received during the intense 2023 campaign. Thank you as well for the tremendous support shown to me from Senator Linda White, Julian Hill, Carina Garland, Michelle Ananda-Rajah, Ged Kearney, Cassandra Fernando and state MPs Jackson Taylor and Daniela De Martino as well as every MP who turned out to doorknock for me on that stinking hot day in mid-March. To the wonderful women of Emily's List, I also want to extend my thanks for the incredible support I received during both campaigns. And, of course, I give my thanks to the amazing volunteers who worked incredibly hard on both campaigns: Ken and Pat; Katie and her daughter Leah; Rudy; Russell; Jacqui; Lance; Sal; and Louise, just to name a few. My utmost thanks go to you all.
And there is the bloke who, just like me, grew up in public housing and grew up Catholic. I can't thank you enough for backing me all the way. In between the many national and international commitments that you had during February and March, you also managed to visit Aston four times and then hand out how-to-votes at Bayswater Primary on election day. And then come and say hello for a cuppa the following day! Thank you, Prime Minister. I am so proud to be part of the team that you lead.
Having my two children, Clancy and Lily, and my great niece, Jamilah, here today, I am so happy to see the adults they have become and are becoming. Watching them flourish as they embark on their own lives gives me such joy. They are compassionate, caring and loving humans, and I am so thankful for their support, love and patience, especially as I campaigned so hard in Aston. To my partner, Anthony, my most trusted advisor, I thank you as well. It appears true love really does travel on a gravel road.
I am also extremely grateful for the support I have received from my close friends and extended family members over the past few months. You are all my darlings. Thank you for the home-cooked meals, the chats and the love you have shown me. I want to thank my mum, Mary senior, too. She turns 93 next week, but because she has dementia and is an aged-care home now, she can't be here today. But I know she would have been so proud of me and would have loved to have witnessed all of this. She went through so much in her life, and I have her to thank for being there for me when I needed her.
Most importantly, to the wonderful people of Aston: I confessed at the start of my campaign in 2023 that I'm not a seasoned politician, and I still don't think of myself as a politician. I'm a regular type of a person who's lived the kind of life which mirrors that of many of my constituents. My backstory is one riddled with challenges. Families doing it tough in Aston, families like mine growing up, don't need a pat on the head and a pitying look. What we need is good policy and to be taken seriously. We are not a political football to be kicked around at election time. Those on the other side talk about opportunity while denying families like mine any assistance to grasp those opportunities. Labor governments understand this, and the one I am now part of is no different. No-one held back, no one left behind.
This brings me back to Penny and her partner, who both hugged me so warmly on that crisp Anzac Day morning at Boronia RSL. They told me they reckoned I am more representative of them because I've lived a life like they have. And that is at the heart of my role as a member of parliament, to represent all the people I now have the great honour of calling my constituents, to listen to them, to speak up for them and to deliver their share of the better future Labor is building for Australia.
My message to them is: I will always put you first, as your member for Aston.