I would like to congratulate you on your newly appointed position within the Legislative Council.
I would also like to congratulate all those in this chamber on your elected positions and I look forward to building relationships and working with you all over the next four years.
I stand here today as a member of the Legislative Council and representative of Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party, and I do so with courage, pride and a strong desire to successfully contribute in forging strong, fair and lasting initiatives for the betterment of our state and all who reside within its borders.
Courage I believe, comes from strength and trusting that you can overcome adversity and fear. There have been times in my life when I have experienced adversity and fear to such an extent it became completely debilitating. I am truly thankful I have been blessed with the strength & determination to overcome such adversity.
Pride comes from fact that I have been given this unique gift through our democratic process of being able to stand before you here today, and the next four years. It is a humbling and surreal feeling to be standing in this chamber today representing the people of my electorate of Northern Victoria, knowing that my journey is to advocate on behalf of their needs, to represent them with service over ambition and integrity over expediency to ensure their voices are heard within this 59th Parliament.
The desire to make a positive difference to people’s lives has always been a priority for me, whether that involved simply being kind to a stranger to enhance their day or working on a campaign which demanded long hours of research, travel, time and energy.
My heart has always wanted to give more.
The catalyst for this overwhelming passion came from the tragic death of Daniel Morcombe. His name still brings a tear to my eyes. When Daniel was abducted in December 2003, later to be identified as murdered by Peter Brett Cowan in 2011, I wondered in bewilderment how a family goes on to function day to day whilst bearing such sorrow. Their resilience, strength and courage has always been inspirational and motivational to me, whilst also tarnished with extreme sadness and grief.
It was this tragedy & many other horrendous, and largely preventable deaths within Victoria since that day which has provided me the drive and determination to act on that need and longing to advocate for victims, particularly those who have lost loved ones at the hands of violent and sexual recidivist offenders.
Three years ago I co-foundered the campaign #ENOUGHISENOUGH which came to fruition out of incredibly tragic circumstances in my hometown of Wangaratta. The campaign provided me the opportunity to meet Bruce and Denise Morcombe and Senator Hinch who have been incredibly supportive of the goals our campaign was attempting to achieve.
Through the course of meetings with Ministers and members of Parliament, I became increasingly interested in the workings of politics and held a new appreciation for policy making processes, and the deep complexities of political issues. I was also greatly disturbed by some of the outcomes of our justice system and the overwhelming realisation that victims and their families had to fight constantly, long after losing a loved one just to receive the support they required and deserved.
I am passionate about my community; safety being an extremely high priority. It is said that it takes a village to raise a child, I believe that early intervention to support children and families is a key element to achieving a strong sense of connectedness and community spirit. Sadly these days we have to a certain degree lost our villages to support our neighbours and community
It is the #ENOUGHISENOUGH campaign which inspired me to dream of becoming a part of this political landscape to continue to support change and contribute to creating a state which provides opportunities, growth both social and economic and safe communities for all.
Most of all I am here to be the voice for those who no longer have a voice to speak. I am here to seek solace and solidarity for communities who have experienced trauma and grief. To assist and enhance organisations who support the vulnerable, and to learn from my constituents about their needs to develop and sustain healthy viable communities.
I would like to tell you now a little about my humble beginnings. I cannot claim political pedigree, nor corporate collaboration. My roots are of the land, growing up in a small rural community to a farming family. I have experienced the hardships of droughts, testing not only our farmers, but our wider communities. I watched my parents struggle to make ends meet, working hard to ensure they could provide food on the table each day. These times growing up were a struggle, particularly for my parents, one which I only truly came to appreciate as an adult.
I have worked in the harsh environment of Western Australia’s mines, being no stranger to long hours and hard work. A rewarding experience where I worked with people who embody the very spirit of this country, hard work for a fair days pay, and the great ideal of Aussie mateship and sense of humor.
Once my mining days were completed I launched a business in Western Australia, importing genuine Native American artifacts, artwork and jewellery. I became interested in the Native American way of life, travelling to Reservations throughout the United States doing business directly with native artisans, in turn supporting their own industry. Learning about their history and culture was inspiring, fulfilling and provided me with knowledge and great admiration for these incredibly artistic resilient people and their culture.
In more recent times, I moved to the picturesque surrounds of North East Victoria, where I now live with my daughter and husband. I am constantly discovering the beauty, diversity and opportunities which this state has to offer.
Prior to becoming elected, I worked full time in a Senior Practitioner role for a local not for profit homelessness organisation, helping vulnerable youth and their families in our community. As well as full time work, and supporting my family, I studied part time, gaining qualifications in the areas of youth work, mental health, and finally my Diploma. Whilst not the final achievement I wish to settle for, it will do for now, whilst I immerse myself in the political surrounds of this chamber.
Working with young people and their families to overcome adversity, reduce absenteeism at school, overcome drug and alcohol issues and gaining mental health support, were just some of the daily tasks required working in the youth homelessness sector. This opportunity provided me with the knowledge and understanding of the importance of early intervention and primary prevention strategies. The Royal Commission into mental health will hopefully provide recommendations to increase support strategies, one would hope this will also identify ways in which to decrease waiting times for those who suffer mental illness to seek the counselling and Psychiatric appointments and care which they require prior to experiencing acute episodes of being unwell.
I have provided support to families over the past 5 years by implementing initiatives to increase community connectedness, community safety, providing opportunities for our youth particularly those in the social justice arena and evaluating each programs effectiveness. Working from a Collective impact approach is paramount when implementing initiatives whether large or small as it provides objectives, measurable outcomes and alternative approaches to addressing issues. A framework I will utilise and adapt to the needs of my constituents.
I am also dedicated to support much needed funding to assist our child maternal health sector with the resources they require to help prevent post- natal depression, provide increased numbers of outreach staff to work with families closely to ensure attachment and bonding is monitored, encouraged and prioritised.
Family and domestic violence within our society is completely unacceptable and it is a high priority for me to work with the relevant stakeholders, community members and government to reduce and eliminate this horrific abuse. We must stand our ground when we say No to violence and those responsible perpetrating this heinous crime, must be held accountable.
Early intervention and primary prevention are extremely important to ensure our children are monitored from birth and that families who may be vulnerable are supported early on to prevent disconnect and create responsive assistance as opposed to reactive measures.
Working with the Department of Health and Human Services I observed first- hand how under resourced they are to encompass the needs of every family which requires positive parenting support and other urgent interventions to keep children safe from harm. This was also noted throughout my electorate on the campaign trail.
My electorate of Northern Victoria covers an area of over 100,000 square kms. Its character is as diverse in nature as it is in size.
Northern Victoria stretches from the South Australian border, taking in a myriad of tiny wheat belt townships in the harsh, hot dry plains of the western districts. It follows the meanderings of the mighty Murray River, picking up the iconic towns of Mildura and Echuca, all the way to the greener climbs of Wodonga & Corryong, before heading up into the magnificent Alpine region.
There it takes in the mountain resorts of Hotham, Falls Creek, Bulla and Buffalo. The region then heads across Mansfield, Kinglake and Whittlesea, then skirts the rapidly growing metropolitan fringes as far as South Morang.
From there it winds up to the beautiful area of the Macedon Ranges encompassing the tourist areas of Daylesford and Woodend, and back into the north west of the state. Here, it is back into the dry flat plains around Wycheproof and Hopetoun, then into the Big Desert area and Murrayville, near the south Australian border. A massive area to be sure, but full of incredibly unique landscapes, only surpassed by the wonderful people who populate this vast area.
An enormous amount of produce is garnered from this northern region of Victoria. Fruit and vegetables from the irrigated food bowl towns of Mildura and Shepparton, wheat and sheep from the western districts, cattle from the southern and northern districts. Timber from the Murray Darling plains and the forested areas of the north east.
Tourism too, plays a huge part in the economic and social prosperity of this region. The winter season of the regions ski fields in 2018 saw nearly 1 million visitors through the gates of the resorts. Of course many, many more flock to the region year round to enjoy the pleasures of such things as diverse as the historic gold towns of Beechworth and Bendigo, the Murray river towns of Swan Hill and Echuca, once bustling with river trade hauling goods the length and breadth of the river by mighty paddle steamers, which, once common place, now only a few survive to ferry tourists leisurely upon the waters of this most picturesque of rivers.
In between there is a myriad of possibilities for visitors, other rivers and lakes to satisfy the most avid of anglers and water skiers. If that’s not your thing, then perhaps a visit to Ned Kelly country in Glenrowan, or a hike in the high country of which Banjo Patterson himself penned a few lyrics which you may be familiar with. Of course the region offers some of the most outstanding wineries in the country, with cuisine sourced from the finest local produce to go with your favourite tipple.
This region however, diverse and beautiful as it is, like other parts of the state, is not without its fair share of problems to overcome and adversity to contend with. Fire, flood and drought are a constant companion in country life, and although they can be devastating, we soldier on, we push through and we help each other, as this is the wonderful character of the Australian psyche. My thoughts go out to all in this wonderful country currently experiencing floods, drought and fire at this time.
From Mildura to South Morang and everywhere in between, the issues identified whilst travelling were not dissimilar throughout the region ranging from: mental health, crime, drug addiction, the continual disagreement regarding the required interventions and responses for the Murray Darling Basin and lack of G.P’s in small towns to name a few.
The lack of resources available to provide much needed outreach services particularly in regards to mental health, and our veterans, was a constant topic of conversation.
Our veterans often having to rely on volunteers to gain necessary support to keep them connected to their community and stabilise their mental health.
Staff to patient ratios within nursing homes was a common theme throughout most of Northern Victoria with a highlight on the sad stories of abuse and neglect.
Social media is a wonderful tool and a necessity to enable communication in our vast land, but, there is nothing better than being face to face with people particularly those living in rural communities. Travelling around my electorate of the northern region was no easy task, it is a six hour drive just from my home town of Wangaratta to Mildura. With stops in between to speak to locals it took us two days to reach that destination.
Pre-election, on the campaign trail, I tried to visit as many places as I could. None of this would have been possible without the unconditional support and assistance from my amazing husband Jarrod Toomer, My daughter Lila Toomer and my devoted crew Karen Jones, Dot Fox and her daughter Cheeky Cheeks. Without these people I would not be standing here today. I sincerely thank them for their love, long hours campaigning and their commitment to helping me become elected. Through 35 degree heat, cold wet blustery days, from 7 in the morning to 7 at night they were there to work and help in any way they could.
Karen celebrated her 70th birthday at a polling booth in Wangaratta, her dedication to help was so pragmatic she refused to have the day off.
To all my volunteers I thank you sincerely.
I have expressed to you all here today, my passion, experience, journey on the campaign trail and why I feel compelled to advocate for not only my constituents, but all who are exposed to vulnerability and adversity at some stage in their lives.
I thank you all for listening and I look forward to what the next four years may bring both inside the walls of this chamber, within Parliament house and at the coalface of my electorate and this beautiful state of Victoria.