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Inaugural speech of Gordon Ramsay MLA

By Charlotte Harper 13 December 2016

Labor MLA Gordon Ramsay with Federal ALP MP Andrew Leigh. Photo: Charlotte Harper

The full text of Labor MLA for Ginninderra Gordon Ramsay’s maiden speech to the ACT Legislative Assembly follows. You can also see video of Mr Ramsay’s speech via our archived Facebook live coverage.

Madam Speaker, As I commence in this place, I am mindful of the heritage and history of this land and its peoples. I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land – the Ngunnawal people.

I pay my respects to their elders past and present, and I acknowledge their care and custodianship of this land for many millenia.

I acknowledge and express my profound thanks for the way that they have built and nurtured community here. I acknowledge the presence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this place today
and commit myself to ongoing acts of reconciliation with our nation’s first peoples.

There is an ancient saying – that we see the world not as it is, but as we are.

This wisdom encourages us to reflect on and to own both who we are and how it is that we have come to see the world as we do.

So, just as I am very aware of the traditional owners of this land and the people who have gone before me in this place I am very mindful of and thankful for my own background.

I know that the family security and stability in which I was raised is itself a great privilege. My father was a pharmacist in the days when the local pharmacist was truly a key role in the community. He was someone who knew and clearly valued people and their lives, as well as their health concerns.

My mother was an economic statistician with the Reserve Bank in the days when a female could only be promoted if she could type at a certain speed – notwithstanding that her position did not require typing.

Her determination not to allow that archaic and discriminatory system to overcome her, not only guaranteed her career, but when combined with her generosity and dedication to her family meant that those skills were often used for the benefit of her children’s education.

Both died too young and we are all the worse off for their passing. I honour them today.

I am also mindful of the circumstances in profession and vocation that have led me to this place today.

I am just old enough to be the tail end of the free tertiary education introduced by the Whitlam Government:
an education, that after brief stints as an Ugg Boot salesperson and a Market research interviewer, took me into my first real career, as a solicitor in Sydney.

When I left that legal career for ordination in the Uniting Church, many didn’t understand it. In fact, when told I was entering the ministry, one of the partners in the firm asked “which one”.

But that step has not only given me the privilege over the past 23 years of hearing and engaging with the depths of people’s lived experiences, it has also created a path of pursuing social justice, inclusion and welcome, and of paying most regard to those who are vulnerable and marginalised.

They are the values which have shaped me. They have formed my actions for decades. To the commentator who recently said of me that “as a person of faith and with his background, we can assume he is conservative”,
I would simply point out that my track record of advocacy and action may well suggest otherwise.

People of faith, whether Christian or one of the many other faiths in our community, just like people who do not profess a faith, cannot be assumed all to think in one particular or uniform way.

Assumptions made of people may reveal more about the assumer than about the subject of the assumption.

For indeed, we see the world not as it is, but as we are.

Madam Speaker, my most recent change, moving from the last 20 years within the Church and community organisations to a time of public service in this place may not be a common move, but nor is it unheard of.

I pay my respects to and note the precedent of former Deputy PM Brian Howe, with whom I share a common vocational background and whose work in the area of social and housing reform stands as a benchmark for our ongoing work here in the ACT.

I would be very happy to make anything like the transition that Brian did.

I return to the ancient saying, we see the world not as it is, but as we are.

In that saying, I not only sense a call to an awareness of myself, but also an invitation to look differently.

I sense in it a responsibility when it comes to considering the way that I exercise any power which I hold.

I am very aware of the position and privilege that I have as one of 25 people sitting in this Assembly and as only the 72nd person elected to this Assembly in the history of self-government and of the additional privilege and responsibility that comes with my appointment to the ministry.

And so, drawing on the wisdom of the saying, I am very aware that the perspectives, the stories and the lived experiences of people in this community are not the same as mine.

I am aware from my previous work in the community in Belconnen, and particularly in West Belconnen, that there are too many here who do it quite tough.

I remember when I arrived in Canberra in 1997 that a wise and experienced Canberran said to me: “You may have heard that Canberra doesn’t have poverty. The reality is that we do, but we hide it better than most places.”

The unfortunate reality is that rather than simply seeing the world as we are, all too often we simply do not see the world as it is at all.

Madam Speaker, I arrived in 1997 as Canberra hit one of its most difficult times. There had been a change in Federal Government, and there had been a significant rise in unemployment, a fall in house prices, and an obvious flattening in the mood of the community.

This deep strike at the way in which the quality of life in this city was sustained gave me the setting, the invitation and the responsibility to see the world not so much through my eyes, but through the eyes of others among whom I lived and worked.

I have said before and continue to affirm that I have been shaped and changed by the stories and the lived experiences of people who have shared their lives with me over these 20 years.

It is a perspective that I have sought hard to maintain and a perspective that has driven me towards seeking election to this Assembly. It is a perspective that I hold strongly as I have now been given the honour of working for the people of Ginninderra in this place and an honour which I take very seriously and am dedicated to live up to.

For in the last 20 years I have had the privilege of working with some of the most courageous people.

I still remember the young single mother who came to receive some assistance through the Xmas appeal and apologised for being a day late for her appointment but indicated that she had given birth the previous day and was determined to access the assistance. For without it her family would not be celebrating.

I still remember the work around 10 years ago to establish a Muslim Women’s Playgroup because they had been clearly identified as the most socially isolated group of people in our community.

I still remember the experiences of the young man who, for several weeks, lived out of his car with his young children because his promised employment had evaporated and he could not afford the rental bond on the property he had arranged.

And more broadly than individual people, I value the privilege of working in areas of advocacy, awareness and education such as Anti Poverty Week, and of grounded policy reform in the Community Inclusion Board, Targeted Assistance Strategy and the Better Services Taskforce.

And so while I have learnt that we each may see the world differently, I have also become increasingly convinced that it is the responsibility of those of us who hold and exercise power in a civilised and compassionate society, to ensure that we are seeing, and hearing from the perspective of others in this community and not just our own perspective.

And so Madam Speaker, I offer a third view on that saying – we see the world not as it is, but as we are.

It may well be that I cannot fully see the world the way that others do, but here today I again commit myself to continue to look, and look harder.

For I am convinced that it is our responsibility here to ensure that the perspectives of those who may not otherwise be seen are seen.

It is our responsibility here to ensure that the wisdom of those who may not otherwise be heard is heard.

For however long I have the privilege of sitting in this Assembly I will remain dedicated to that task.

Madam Speaker, I am also deeply aware that I have not reached this point by my own efforts. And so it is right that I express my gratitude to those who helped so greatly in me reaching this point.

To my encouragers and mentors – Jon Stanhope, Katy Gallagher and Andrew Leigh – for the nudges, cajoles and pushes – along with the support.

To the Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, Deputy Chief Yvette Berry and my many ACT Labor colleagues who have welcomed me and worked with me, in our joint efforts to build a strong progressive team.

Extremely importantly, to the people of Kippax and Belconnen community who have opened and shared their lives with me over the past 20 years.

You have helped make me who I am.

To the team of 166 people from all ages and all walks of life who volunteered their time and their skills in a long, cold and wet campaign this year.

To my campaign manager, Chief of Staff and friend Brooke Thomas for her regular and at times relentless efforts in keeping me working and to task.

And of course, to my family – Lyndelle, Joel (who graduates at the ANU this afternoon) and Justine,
whose support and encouragement have been the foundation for me throughout our wonderful years together, including in a year of profound and at times difficult change for each of us individually as well as a family.

I have no doubt that we will look back in years to come and mention 2016 with a sigh and a wry smile.

Madam Speaker, throughout this year I have regularly repeated, 3 simple ideas: We are a strong society when everyone belongs, everyone is valued, everyone participates.

The degree to which I can assist us as a city in moving towards the full achievement of these ideals is the standard by which I hope to be judged.

Pictured above, Mr Ramsay with his Federal Labor colleague Andrew Leigh, Member for Fenner, after this morning’s inaugural speeches.

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