Inaugural Speech



I start by acknowledging that we today meet on the land of the Gadigal people. I acknowledge that this land was never ceded and we remain the only Commonwealth nation to have never signed a treaty with our First Nations people. While my electorate of Leppington is new, I acknowledge that the land itself has been occupied for tens of thousands of years by the Dharug and Dharawal people. I was born at the former King George V Memorial Hospital for Mothers and Babies in Camperdown, a public hospital. I grew up in public housing estates and went to public schools. I spent my formative teenage years in 1990s Bonnyrigg, when the area was plagued by the heroin epidemic. Drug dealing was open and omnipresent. Overdoses, stabbings and robberies were an everyday fact of life. I saw best friends, classmates and neighbours succumb to drugs and crime. Some of the brightest, funniest and most talented kids I knew growing up are now dead or have fought lifelong battles with addiction and the justice system.


I knuckled down in those final two years and was rewarded with not just a university offer but the coveted Funniest Person Award at the year 12 formal. I was the first person in my family to go to university—then known as the University of Western, Macarthur, now known as Western Sydney University. After graduating with a Bachelor of International Studies, the plan was to teach English in China for a semester or two and perhaps land a job at the immigration department or in foreign affairs. Unfortunately, the SARS outbreak put pause to all that. To supplement my time and income, I took up a two-week gig temping in the mailroom at Colonial First State located at Level 21, 52 Martin Place—an address that this House would recognise as the new home of the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

That fortnight ended up turning into a decade in the financial services industry, including eight years at Link Group. I learnt the ins and outs of the managed funds and superannuation industry in a series of roles across operations, product management and IT. Following one too many Friday nights sleeping under my desk to ensure a regulatory update hit its unmovable deadline, I decided a change of industry might be in order. That took me back to my alma mater, Western Sydney University, working in IT strategy and partnerships. It was there that I found what I had been missing in the private sector: work with a greater social purpose. I was working to ensure an academic's potentially world-changing research was not sitting exclusively on a dusty old PC under their desk, working with the data nerds to increase retention rates for disadvantaged students, and experimenting with cutting‑edge gadgets to improve learning and research outcomes.

I have since had the privilege to work in industries, sit on boards and be elected to roles with a strong social purpose. It is richly rewarding and fulfilling work, as everyone in this Chamber well knows. Some particular standouts have been my time as a director of the Western Sydney Migrant Resource Centre and at Settlement Services International, where I helped members of our community from migrant and refugee backgrounds. While we rightly pat ourselves on the back for being the most successful multicultural nation on earth, we have too often sold ourselves short on the benefits of migration. My community is full of doctors, engineers and other professionals whose qualifications are not recognised in this country. Instead, they find themselves on the fringes of the gig economy, in dangerous, insecure and often non-unionised work just to make ends meet. If we pride ourselves on being a multicultural community—as we should—that means providing the same support and opportunities to people who have chosen to make Australia their home as those who were lucky enough to be born here.

That belief has only been strengthened in my six years as a councillor on Liverpool City Council—one of the most multicultural in the country. As the cliche goes, local government is the closest level of government to the people. What that means in practice is that there is a greater ability to pull the various pieces of the puzzle together to get results. While not as often on as grand a scale as the other two levels of government, the change you effect is no less important to the people impacted—little wins, little connections and little stories. The little wins include the thanks from a local butcher for resolving the interruption caused by traffic works from nearby subdivisions. The little connections include the Saturday morning phone call from opposing sides trying to settle a clash in a cricket booking. The little stories include discouraging a local resident from filling the illegally parked utes blocking her driveway with alpaca droppings. Each of these true stories shares a common thread: The swift encroachment of a sprawling Sydney on what were once the semi-rural fringes. That has arisen from poor planning and inadequate services and infrastructure that fail to keep up with rapid population growth.

All too often councils are expected to clean up the resulting mess. It is a sector which is increasingly unable to do so due to flawed reforms, cost shifting and having its powers progressively stripped away. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time on Liverpool City Council and as treasurer of Local Government NSW. I have learnt a lot, achieved some things that I am immensely proud of and made some great connections along the way. Several of those connections were with colleagues who I am very pleased to see have joined me here among the class of 2023. As a councillor, former chair of a local not-for-profit and now a member of Parliament, you get a unique insight into the challenges your community faces.

The immense impact of COVID-19 is still being acutely felt by my community, despite the testing centres and vaccination clinics now moving on. The community still feels the impact of the lockdowns, the presence of the military, the poor treatment by sections of the media and political class and, of course, the illness and death. While COVID pushed our health system to breaking point, the system was already struggling to cope before the first positive case was ever recorded. A parliamentary inquiry into health services in the south-west Sydney growth region, established before the pandemic in early 2020, described things this way:

… more must be done, and without delay to address the historical under-funding of health services in South-West Sydney. Some three years later, the statistics from the last available quarter are damning: South-western Sydney has the largest elective surgery waiting list in the State and the second highest number of people leaving the emergency department before receiving or completing treatment. I am proud to be part of a government that will address that crisis by adding 600 new beds across south-western and Western Sydney, investing $115 million into Fairfield Hospital and implementing safe staffing levels—critical investment that will take the pressure off Campbelltown and Liverpool hospitals. We will also act on one of the recommendations from that 2020 inquiry by starting the process to build a new public hospital at the aerotropolis.

Airports are once-in-a-century pieces of transformative infrastructure, and the Western Sydney Aerotropolis provides a unique chance to fix many of the issues that affect Leppington and the greater west. It can act as a catalyst to ensure that our region finally gets its fair share. But good-quality links into the airport need to be there on day one. One of those links, Fifteenth Avenue, the major east-west arterial road through Austral, is still a two-lane council road that is in terrible condition, with no kerb or gutter. William Freame, a visitor to the area, described the road as absolutely the worst in the country in 1904. Sadly, not much has changed. The road is a carpark during each morning and afternoon peak. Thanks to the election of the Minns Labor Government, Fifteenth Avenue will finally relinquish the title Mr Freame awarded it some 119 years ago. We have committed $50 million to upgrade the road as well as $305 million for a rapid bus service to Western Sydney airport, which will travel, in part, along Fifteenth Avenue.

Local high schools, TAFEs and universities need to be in place if we are to provide effective employment and educational pathways to the airport. Future generations from Leppington must have access to the jobs of tomorrow in industries such as aeronautics, advanced manufacturing and logistics. Unfortunately, those pathways are currently out of reach. Despite booming populations in the suburbs of Austral, Leppington and Denham Court, the area does not have a single public high school. Worse still, land parcels earmarked for future public schools were sold off under the previous Government.

Many local public schools in my electorate are overcrowded and in desperate need of upgrading, and students regularly go whole terms without a permanent teacher. We have a skills crisis because a once-proud TAFE system has been gutted. This Government will build a new public high school in Leppington in its first term. We will undertake upgrades at local schools, including spending $4 million on Eagle Vale High School, converting it into a much-needed specialist sports school. We will establish domestic manufacturing centres of excellence to rebuild the TAFE system and our State's domestic manufacturing capability. For too long, Leppington has been taken for granted, another neglected corner of someone else's electorate. Fringe no longer, we now have our own electorate and member of Parliament. I intend to not waste that opportunity.

My life is marked by a series of people who saw more in me than I did in myself: former teachers, professors, bosses, board directors, mates, colleagues and family members. Thank you for the chats, words of encouragement and for occasionally pulling me aside, telling me to pull my head in and not to waste my potential—especially you, Mum and Dad. In contrast to my education, my mum and dad both dropped out of school early, mum in year 9 and dad in year 8, to become what he likes to call a floor-covering installation mechanic—a carpet layer. Dad would later leave the world of floor-covering installation in his late 20s to become a NSW Police Force officer and go on to serve the force for close to 30 years.

On reflection, dad's desire to serve the people of New South Wales had an early impact on me, as did his love for the mighty South Sydney Rabbitohs. While dad and I support the Bunnies, mum and my brother, John, are St George fans. Attendance at the Charity Shield was, for a long time, an annual family tradition going right back to when games were played at the hallowed ground of Redfern Oval. Given what is happening tonight, go the Blues.

Mum, aptly named "Gayle", is fiercely opinionated and prone to sudden outbursts of frank, passionate and occasionally constructive feedback. She is also the kindest and most loving and generous person I have ever known. Despite not having much when we were growing up, she was always the first to lend a hand to a neighbour, friend or family member doing it tougher than we were. While I certainly know Mum's passion has rubbed off on me, I hope some of that selflessness and altruism has too. They are not able to make it tonight due to dad's dementia, but I know they are immensely proud of their boy, often embarrassingly so. Now a father of two amazing children, I get it—sort of. At the heart of it was a want for their son to do better than they had. And I am glad because through their hard work and sacrifice they got to see me make history as the first ever member for Leppington.

A person is, of course, as much a product of environment as of genetics. In the mid‑1980s, our family moved to the Bonnyrigg public housing estate. I attended Tarlington and Bonnyrigg primary schools and then Bonnyrigg High School. My core group of friends from my teens are still my mates to this day, several of them helping out on the campaign. Thank you, Team Bonno—2177 represent. Are gang signs unparliamentary behaviour? Thankfully, they have little interest in politics and keep me grounded by providing a welcome respite from the circus.

One of those friends is now my wife, Christy. As she likes to remind people, primarily because of how cheesy I find it, yes, we are high school sweethearts. Our friendship started because she was into R'n'B and I was a hip-hop head. We would swap magazines and albums and share our opinions on what we liked and what we were listening to. I was a Nas and Wu-Tang kind of guy; she was more of a Mary J. Blige and Boyz II Men type. My parents were born here and are from primarily Anglo-Celtic backgrounds; her parents came here as refugees from Vietnam in the late 1970s. I am loud and opinionated; she is much more measured in her feedback—usually "the look" will do it. There is also a noticeable height difference, and I am right‑handed while she is a lefty. That said, we have the important things in common: our values and our love of food.

We have made it work for 26 years, 18 of those in marriage. Along the way we have had two beautiful children, Nia and Evan. Thankfully, they have inherited the best of both of us: They are smart, mature and have their heads screwed on straight. There have been no trips to the deputy principal's office as yet. As everyone in this Chamber knows, politics takes an immense toll on our families. Christy, Nia and Evan, thank you for supporting my crazy foray into politics and being there through all the ups and downs.

To the former member for Liverpool, Paul Lynch: From your initial chat when I first joined the party, to your support in the preselection and to our more recent chats to help me find my feet in this place, thank you for your instrumental support. Paul's impact on our area is such that I like to tell people that he needed two members of Parliament to replace him: me and the new member for Liverpool.

I thank Anne Stanley, the member for Werriwa, especially for the opportunity to serve as your chief of staff for four years, including two during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you, Wendy Waller, who as mayor in my first term on Liverpool City Council was an ever-reliable source of advice, support and mentorship. I thank my fellow Labor colleagues from Liverpool Council: Ali Karnib, Geoff Shelton, Betty Green and, of course, one half of the terrible two—Charishma Kaliyanda.

Charishma and I were elected at the same time, then to Liverpool City Council and now to State Parliament. Elected office is a unique and—let us be honest—very odd experience. It makes the wild ride that much easier when someone on that learning curve shares with you many of the same values, experiences and aspirations for the community. Thank you to the rank-and-file branch members of the Australian Labor Party who supported me on my journey. A special mention goes to Slobodan Lazovic, who was the first person to get in my ear about a potential run for council. Huge thanks go to the Leppington campaign team—girl boss Shannen Potter and Liam Thorne—ably assisted by my wife, Christy, and Rayan Calimlim. You should all be immensely proud of what we have achieved over the past six months or so.

Thank you to James Callow and the team at the head office for all of your support. Mark Buttigieg, to whom I award the title "MVP Duty MLC", put in countless hours on the campaign trail, both behind the scenes and on the doors to help get me elected. Thank you. The same goes for his colleagues from the other place, Cameron Murphy and Anthony D'Adam. Lynda Voltz, the member for Auburn, thank you for your assistance in accompanying me along the many streets of Leppington and the sometimes dark and opaque alleyways of the NSW ALP. To my neighbouring MPs, Greg Warren in Campbelltown, Anoulack Chanthivong in Macquarie Fields and the Federal member for Macarthur, Dr Mike Freelander, thank you for the support you provided and sent my way.

Thank you, Chris Minns, Prue Car and the entire frontbench team, for the many visits to Leppington and your constant support. I am also forever grateful to the army of volunteers whose names may not be as recognisable but no less gave up their time to stand on train stations and in shopping centres, knock on doors, make phone calls and help out on election day. Among them are Mohan, Priscilla, Syed, Tchai, Nick, Sharon, Sandie, Lachlan, Matt, Vinod, Adisen, Chris, Alia, Caro, Deb, Noel, Shafique, Jayesh, Cian, Jobbo, Laith and Jimmy. Thank you to Dr Amad Mtasher, Dr Ali Sarfraz and Hany Gayed for your wise counsel and the many important introductions. To that formidable army in red T-shirts and flannelettes, Young Labor Left: Thank you.

I also thank the union movement for their incredible support, in particular the CFMEU, Unions NSW and the Essential Workers Deserve Better campaign team. I give a special shout-out to the Fire Brigade Employees Union and NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association, whose members gave up their precious time to speak with voters in Leppington and tell their personal stories of what it meant to be an essential worker under the previous Government. You stood up, you made your voices heard, and you made a difference. Last but not least, thank you, Leppington—the people, businesses, associations and organisations, the sporting clubs, the churches, mosques, temples and gurudwaras. You have entrusted me with an immense privilege: to work with you as your representative and advocate as we build the amazing community of Leppington together.

When this House first met on 22 May 1856 it was said to mark the beginning of representative democracy in New South Wales. It was, however, far from a truly representative body. Only men over 21 who met a property or income qualification could vote. To stand for election, you first had to qualify as a voter, but public servants, active military officers and ministers of religion were among those excluded. The American judge William H. Hastie is quoted as saying:

Democracy is a process, not a static condition. It is becoming, rather than being.

In the spirit of that quote, this State and this Parliament, both the eldest in the country, have made huge strides in becoming more genuinely democratic, meritocratic and representative. There is still more work to do to make sure that our parliaments, our boardrooms and our corridors of power look, sound and think like my family, my neighbours and my mates. However, the fact that a working-class kid with a story like mine can stand here today shows we are making progress. And it is not by accident. I am standing here today as an example of what effective public policy can do. For many, however, especially in my part of the world, that opportunity has slipped further and further out of reach.

After decades of policies that put profit over people, individualism over community and a decade or so of conservative Federal and State governments, we are working harder and longer, but we are falling further behind. Corporations are reaping record profits, but the wealth has not trickled down to the people of Leppington. I want to do my bit while in this place to even the ledger and to ensure that good government and access to opportunity is not just restored, but considerably furthered—for the people of Leppington and all of New South Wales.

Members and officers of the House stood and applauded.

When governments get it wrong, through either intention or apathy, they can fail entire generations. When governments work well, they ensure that, with a bit of opportunity and some hard work, you are able to fulfil your potential—regardless of your background, circumstances or structural barriers. I believe that governments can and should be a force for good. They should provide an opportunity for our best and brightest to get ahead. I count myself amongst those that have benefited from that ideal. That said, it did take a while for me to get going. I was far from a model student throughout most of high school. By the end of year 10, following a couple of suspensions and prolonged bouts of afternoon detention, the deputy principal invited my parents to school for a chat. He asked whether I was intending to do my HSC. I said yes and he responded with, "Not at this school." I am happy to report that I did in fact finish my HSC at Bonnyrigg High School. He left about a term later, to go to another school. So 1-nil.