This speech was delivered on 06/09/22.
This is the strangest experience, being a senator—calling myself one, even.
It feels like I'm a kid playing dress-ups, like there's been a mistake. Any minute now, someone's going to come grab me and tell me I actually lost. I didn't grow up writing and rewriting my first speech in my head.
I grew up hanging out with my Nanna French, swimming at Gunns Plains or Spellmans Bridge, wearing knitted clothes, going for a barbecue and collecting firewood for winter. I was an average student. I struggled with maths, and truthfully, I still struggle with it. In high school, I was the chubby, geeky, weird kid. I liked hanging out in the library, going through books about the world outside of Tassie.
After school, I fell into the trap of bad perms, short skirts and high heels—go on, you know you all did! I worked on a farm, going out to the paddock, collecting the hay bales and throwing them onto a truck. It's not glamorous work, but a girl needs money. That Garfield-orange XD Falcon with a column gear shift wasn't going to pay for itself. You can buy one now for two grand; it's a collector's item.
Mum passed away 23 years ago, too young. All she wanted was time with the people she loved. She knew what it meant to struggle. I think we all do.
I hear politicians talk about it. The words that get used always sound foreign to me—phrases like 'putting bread on the table'. You don't work just so you can put bread on the table; you work because it gives you something else.
I'll tell you how I know that. I didn't go to university. I worked in paddocks, like I've said numerous times, factories and offices. I raised a family. They would judge me harshly sometimes, but that's okay.
I've been unemployed. In between, I worked for 15 years in employment services, helping the long-term unemployed back into work. This is what I saw.
When you first lose your job, people will ask you, 'What do you do for a living?' and you say your old job like you still do it. It's just out of habit. At least when it starts, it's habit. Then you're out of the job a little longer, and it's out of convenience. It's a white lie, but it's simpler, because it's what you'll be doing again in no time at all. Then a bit of time passes, and you realise that maybe you won't be. You start to say you're between jobs, which is like saying you're adrift, but land is in sight. You say it to reassure the person you're saying it to. But then a little while passes, and you're still saying you're between jobs. You end up saying it a few too many times to the same few people. You keep telling them land is in sight, but you never make it there. And it gets embarrassing, so they stop asking, and you know why they're not asking you anymore. You ask a kid what her dad does, and she'll tell you what his job is.
Tasmania has places where people grow up watching their parents be unemployed, and it breaks my heart. I've seen bright, funny, confident people get broken by a long stint out of work. They get humiliated by it. It's like coming last in a beauty contest every single day. It's a kind of trauma, and it's bloody hard to come back from. Decent people deserve decent work for decent pay. That's what I care about. When you're out of work you deserve help to get back on your feet. You deserve a lift up and respect for the strength it takes to lift yourself up off the floor. If you can't work, we should be working for you to make your life better.
Jacqui and I come from the same place. I started working for her in her Burnie office about eight years ago. I was terrified, cacking my daks. Two weeks in and I'm talking to a brand spanking new senator and—you've all met her. I didn't want to show how terrified I really was. The first thing she heard me say when I walked through her door was, 'Honey, I'm home!' I don't think I've really stopped that ever since. Her huffing and puffing up the hallway every morning is my wake-up call.
Working in a political office, you spend a lot of time helping people make sense of the rules. One thing that the job helped me appreciate is that, these rules are made by people. It seems obvious to say but when you're a member of the public and you're bumping up against them, you get told 'that's just the rules', and that's the end of the conversation. And when I started, that was my approach too. But when you do the job a while, you learn the rules enough to know when you can work around them. Sometimes you have to. Sometimes the rules are bloody dumb. Rules are set by people. They're not handed down from on high. If they don't work for people, people can change them. We can, right here, if we want to.
The other thing I saw working with Jacqui was just how rough it can be on the crossbench—don't get me wrong, it is quite comfy over here at the moment. People are passionate about issues but they're passionate on both sides, for and against, and that passion can be horrible when you're caught in the middle of it. Please don't be horrible to us here on the crossbench. When the crossbench is in the balance of power, it's because the parliament can't agree to anything. That's okay. That's normal. That's what we use politics for. But it gets ugly when we don't just disagree but we take it further. Half the country represented by half the parliament thinks the other half isn't just wrong but bad.
I've never heard someone put their hand up to run for politics because of their burning ambition to make Australia a worse place to be. Everyone here is here because they have an idea of what would make our country better. Those ideas clash with each other and that's alright. We have to start by agreeing that the person who holds the idea you disagree with isn't a bad person for not agreeing with you. I've never met a person who thinks their own views are immoral, not one. Everyone thinks their views are the right ones and the immoral ones are the people who disagree. That's a really toxic way to approach political debates. People who disagree aren't bad. They're not evil or less than human. They have a different view of what a good country looks like but that doesn't mean they're the devil incarnate. I want to disagree nicer.
With that in mind, I want to offer my respect and admiration for the person whose seat in this place I'm now perched. Former Senator Eric Abetz had a vision for what would make Tasmania an even better place to live and, for nearly three decades, he committed himself to making that vision a reality. It's not my vision, though, and I don't share his politics. I think he was wrong about what Tasmania needs, but he had an honestly held view that what he was fighting for was what's right for our state, and I admire him for that. It's what I want to do. I am just going to do it a bit differently.
My friends are a lot like me: they're very plain and simple. They're not classy but they're not nasty, and you'll never be left wondering what they are thinking. I like people who are straight with me and that's how I always try to be with them too. Most people are like that. Politicians don't seem to have the same reputation, and I am sorry about that, I really am. I campaigned on the idea that we want more regular people in politics. I still reckon we do. But we can't say we want it then get grumpy when we get it. That's the thing about normal people: they do normal people things. They laugh at inappropriate jokes—even though I can't tell a joke because I can never remember the punchline. They wear fat pants on the weekend—I have a few pairs. They'll try to say something clever and end up with their foot in their mouth. They get nervous talking to big crowds. They get self-conscious when there's a camera in their face—yes, that's you! They doubt themselves. Normal people change their minds about things. It's one of the things I like about Jacqui. She's not the Jacqui she was when she was elected the first time because she has not been afraid to learn.
I want to learn, and I want to change my mind. That's who I am. I change my mind about things all the time—be quiet, Tim! The reason I'm here is because I changed my mind about whether I wanted to be a politician. I like that about myself. I like being modest enough to say, 'I've learned more, and I was wrong.'
I don't want this job to change me. I don't want the normal to get drained out of me. But politics is the only place where, if you change your mind, you're punished. You're a 'flipper-flopper'. You can't be trusted. I'm telling you now: I will get things wrong. I will make calls on how I vote and then I'll live to regret them. I know that. I'm just hoping that I'm always open to learning how I got things wrong, and I'm hoping I won't be afraid to acknowledge it. Or, even if I am a little afraid, I do it anyway.
But everyone, from out on the streets to up in the Press Gallery, you've got to be prepared to cut us some slack. Politicians won't acknowledge they've got something wrong or acknowledge that they've changed their minds if you go after them. If you want politics to change, you've got a role to play too. If you've ever criticised a politician for flip-flopping or reversing their position on something or looking like a dork—I do that a lot—or feeling nervous about a media appearance—wait for it; that's happening soon—you're making it impossible for regular people to get involved in politics. Because you're marking them down for doing something regular people do.
I don't want to start acting like a politician. Please don't try and make me. I don't want to lose that part of me that gets awed by the building every time I walk through the marble hall. It's an amazing place to be. I want to show people that regular people can be good at this. I want people like me to look at me here and say, 'If she can do it, so can I.' Because you can. And you should.
I know the office of senator is a rental. It's a six-year lease, and if you're a good tenant your landlord might give you an extension. But it's never yours; it's always theirs. And if you forget that, they'll remind you.
I'm hoping I can look back years from now, when people ask me what it was like to be a senator, and I'm able to say good things. I hope people feel like they got value. Most of all, I want it to be something that's a source of pride for people: the ones who bent their backs to put me here. I want them to feel like they backed me to do good, and it paid off. I did good.
I don't want to seek out the limelight. I want to be able to give the limelight to the rest of us. I want to make it hard for the rest of Australia to ignore us. I want it to be impossible to focus anywhere else.
When they swear you in as senator, they give you a little pin to wear, instead of the tags everyone else has to wear. It's a little bit bougie. It's a way of saying, 'Look at you!' It's also to help the security guards know that you're somebody who needs to get somewhere in a hurry. They gave me a few. I guess they knew I'd lose them. I'm sorry if this is going to get me into trouble, but I gave them to a few people who helped make it possible for me to be here. But they didn't give me enough pins to give to everyone who got me here today.
So I want to give a shout-out to Sally. She volunteered during the election for two weeks straight. She was getting the bus for an hour to come and help us out. She's a cleaner. She doesn't make a lot of money. But she was baking me Anzac bickies at pre-poll in Launnie. Sally is the best kind of person.
Then there's Frannie. She's a pensioner who's survived domestic violence. She can't get in to see doctors and she can't afford basics that others might take for granted. She was there helping me out on pre-polls, and would bring Jacqui and me banana cake and coffee—with Kahlua icing, wasn't it? I know it was good!
Ron was our 'soup man'. He's a postie. He kept us warm with homemade soup, and he got extra brownie points for not forgetting the bread. Ron crashed his car on election night and totalled it, but he still managed to make it to our event—that's how keen he was to help.
And there's Brendan. Brendan spent six hours a day every day for two weeks helping us out on pre-poll. Brendan's got a disability, so he's not eligible to vote. But he wants to be involved. He didn't want to be ignored, and I'm so proud he turned up for us.
Wendi is one of our biggest supporters. She's the one you'd turn to when you need help with anything. She waved signs, dropped pamphlets in letterboxes, knocked on the doors of total strangers to talk about us, and handed out flyers on election day. She's doing all this while she's raising children on the autism spectrum and trying to find long-term housing.
There's Catherine, who made us a brilliant umbrella billboard. There's Bruce, who kept up a steady dose of Tim Tams. There's Robert, who helped us more with signs than any small-business owner has time to do. There's Daryl, who's put his hand up to do everything, so long as it didn't involve a computer.
I'd also like to give a shout-out to my patient and supportive family who backed me, stood up for me and gave me a healthy dose of reality, sometimes telling me to 'suck it up, buttercup', 'eat that concrete' and 'build a bridge'. There are my baby bears, Liam and Jackson, who have one of the loopiest mamas on the north-west coast of Tassie. There's Ree, my stunt double—thank you, you got me lots of votes. And there's Tai Tai and Kens—thank you so much for going out on pre-poll. There's brother Gary, dad and Valma—thanks for giving me permission to disappear from your lives for at least the next six years. And Timmay! Thanks for putting up with me on my bad temper days, my gaga days, and basically helping me to look like a normal person on a daily basis. And thanks for letting me buy a new puppy. I've already bought it.
My work family, old, current and new: you are legendary. You have given me the best advice along the way and, trust me, most of it stuck. You've also shown that brilliant and clever people want to work to mould politics but not necessarily for a major party. You chose us and I will be eternally grateful for that, for a very long time. I'm hoping we can do amazing things into the future.
Yes, I'm going for the tissue right now. Thanks, Senator Lambie. I appreciate that, girlfriend. As you can see, I didn't get here on my own. I didn't get here because of Jacqui. We got here together. And I love her to bits. Because we're a team. Jacqui, me, Catherine, Sally, Brendan, Ron, Wendi, Daryl and Fran. We're a team. We don't get union money. We don't get invited to business forums—I don't know why, Jacqui; why is that! We don't have billionaires cutting us cheques. We have our team. We have the rest of us. And the rest of us are tired.
We're always told there's no room in the budget to help us out. We've got to fund something else to make up some money, and we'll use that money to help us out. So we wait. We're polite. And we're at the back of the queue, and we're watching the queue getting longer, and we're not getting any closer to the front. We're never the next cab off the rank. We just wait. And we're sick of waiting. So we're cutting the queue. We're next. My friends, they're next. And in my six years, I want to make Sally's life better, Wendi's life better and Brendan's life better. They deserve better. They're why I'm here.
That's what I promise. To stick up for them. To stick up for us. For the rest of us. I can't promise I'll get everything you need. But I promise I'll give you everything I've got. Thank you so much for letting me be here and supporting me. Six years!