Skip navigation

Inaugural Speech - Learning through community and equality

25th May 2023.

The SPEAKER: Before I call the member for Wollondilly, I warmly welcome all who are here in the public gallery to watch her inaugural speech. They include family, friends and Mr Laurie Ferguson, former Federal member for Reid.

Mrs JUDY HANNAN (Wollondilly) (14:32): Can I say what a joy it is to be introduced in this House as an Independent member by an Independent Speaker, surrounded by noisy political parties on both the left and the right and with so many Independents in our very considered and influential crossbench. Many inaugural speeches claim for a hope of big political opportunities and careers to come and a desire for the ministry. From my perspective, and the people I represent in Wollondilly, there are no personal aspirations to get in the way of what is most important and what we can achieve along the way. I am ready to take on the challenge and bring all of my life experiences and learnings to the Parliament. The late and great Dr Seuss once wrote, "The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." Lifelong learning is what motivates me to defeat the challenges for myself and to help others.

The start of my journey in many ways began with my mother, who was always helping someone in the community. She was one of the first Queen's Guides in Western Sydney. When I was seven, she enrolled me as a Brownie. To this day I remember the promise I made on receiving my badge. It went like this, "I promise to do my best, to do my duty to my God and my Queen, to help other people every day, especially those at home." I learnt that a promise is something you make for life and that home means community. It was a promise not made lightly and a promise I hope to continue to fulfil for my community.

I was raised in Western Sydney with a very mixed background: Chinese, Spanish, Scottish and English grandparents. It is a diverse gene pool. With a mixed and eclectic family, I learnt that diverse heritage was something to be very proud of. As a child, I thought our family were very rich but, as the years went on, I learnt the family was simply rich in experience, love and joy. We made party hats from newspaper and kites from broken school rulers that we used to let go of and chase for what seemed like miles. My father was an exceptional sportsman. He made basketball hoops and high jumps for me. He ran kilometres with me to help me prepare for cross‑country races. I am not sure about pinching the top of your nose to forget you have a stitch, but anyway.

My father's most incredible effort was that every morning he sat outside freezing while I clocked up many laps at Granville pool. My claim to fame was swimming in the next heat of the 100 metres freestyle just after Shane Gould broke the world record. That was a hard act to follow, but I always tried to do my best. I learnt that someone is always faster than you. I still enjoy swimming, but I shined most when I played hockey. The grass fields I played on were rough and very different to the astroturf that we have these days. When the ball was headed to the sideline and it seemed useless to chase, I kept on going because often there was a bump in the grass that would hold the ball up. Seeing as everyone else had given up, I used to take that advantage and often scored. Some say I was stubborn, but I had already learnt never to give up, no matter how long it seems to take, and others began to learn that they should not underestimate my determination.

My parents also taught me that humour is important. My parents had an engineering business where they would sometimes raise large bales of metal on a platform using a big metal pole. One day my father slipped and the bar hit his head, splitting it open. My mother drove him quickly to the hospital, but she could not find a parking space. She let him out of the car in the ambulance bay at Auburn Hospital and went to find a car spot. Inside my father stumbled to the counter and told the staff as a joke that his wife had hit him over the head. As she entered the hospital and faced the glares of the nurses, she learnt—and, believe me, later on he learnt—that jokes can cause problems if they are inappropriate. I dread to think what might have happened if he had actually died!

I learnt education was a privilege. My mother was very frustrated by being denied the opportunity of tertiary education, because women were taught to go to work, get a husband and have children. When she had three daughters, she ensured we were all given the opportunity. I attended Parramatta High School and went to the University of New South Wales. I remember on enrolment day someone looking over my shoulder and reading my address. They said, "Granville? How did you get here?" I learnt you should never judge anyone by their appearance or where they come from.

I studied and became an optometrist. While many of my fellow students opened optometry practices in fancy inner city locations, I always looked closer to home for those that I could help. For many years I looked after the eyes of my childhood community of Granville, Lidcombe and Guildford. In fact, quite a few members of this place or their families have had their eyes tested by me at one time or another. I recognise Laurie Ferguson, the former member for Reid. I know somebody said he was their Laurie Ferguson, but I say he is my Laurie Ferguson. I was always ringing Laurie's staff to get some problem sorted out for a constituent. He was one of the hardest working members I have ever known. At work I applied my Brownie promise in helping those, especially those at home. During those years as an optometrist, I was often covered by my friends Sam Chu and Andrew McKinnon, some of the optometry association and my staff while sadly having several miscarriages and a stillbirth along the way. I learnt that some things in life stay with you forever.

Besides achieving qualifications in mediation and hypnotherapy, completing a Master of Business Administration and obtaining a private investigator licence, I have worked as an optometrist my whole career. I finished my optometry life as the chair of the Optometry Board of Australia, where we were working on getting better health outcomes, especially for rural, remote and Indigenous populations. With that and many other times in my life as a councillor, I learnt that bureaucracy takes way too long. It was in the Lidcombe practice that my political life began, although I think there is as much politics in the P&C and the local dog club.

I had a call from my mother's solicitor, Wayne Merton—who many of you will remember—saying they were looking for a candidate for the Auburn by-election. I said no, of course, as any sensible person would do. I had been the Chamber of Commerce president and was well known in the area by my maiden name. Encouraged by a patient I was seeing at the time, I finally agreed, even though by then I lived in Wollondilly. I learnt to take an opportunity and never stay in my comfort zone. I also learnt that you could win a preselection in two days, even if you are not a member of a party, if no-one else wants to stand in that electorate.

As it was an incredibly safe seat, I was highly unlikely to be elected—although it was one of the biggest swings against the Carr Government. During that election campaign I became friends with many members in this place, including Kerry Chikarovski, who was the Opposition leader, and others in both government and opposition. Former Premiers and members helped me in their much younger years. I learnt a hell of a lot! I would also learn later that, despite friendships and effort, others can disrupt and steer their own agenda for personal political gain.

After the Auburn by-election, when the lovely Barbara Perry became the member, I realised that you could get attention for the plight of the community. I thought it would be amazing to get the same attention for my home area, so I decided to run for Wollondilly Shire Council in 2004. My first council election was at a time when only Independents ran for Wollondilly Shire Council. There were no parties or teams—just a list of five names. I stood in North Ward, and I had the honour of being elected. It is an honour I have continued to hold to this day, after being re-elected many times over.

But it was not smooth sailing in 2004. The day I was elected to council was also the day I was informed by my very glum-looking GP that I had adenocarcinoma and they did not know where the primary cancer was. I actually cannot remember my first two years on council, as I had many rounds of chemo, radiation and surgery. Once, when I was feeling sorry for myself in the radiation clinic, a very pale young child with no hair, sitting in a wheelchair, dressed in a hospital gown, asked me if I was okay. I told myself to buck up; I had nothing to complain about. I learnt someone is always worse off than you.

During this time there was a drug called Herceptin that took my chances of survival from fifty-fifty to 95:5. The problem was the cost, which was $3,300 every three weeks for an entire year. Coincidentally, that is close to the same amount as the political donation cap during New South Wales elections. Even though I felt extremely unwell, I worked hard to afford it—but how could I sit next to another woman who could not? I learnt about the unfairness of financial inequity, but also the fruits of advocacy. With loads of help, I managed to get the drug PBS listed. I got my last treatment for free, but others who followed would get their entire treatment covered. I also volunteered to have my reconstruction surgery on TV, unknowingly sharing the screen with Sarah Jane fromBig Brother having a breast reduction. I did this to encourage others to check themselves and act; to do my duty and fulfil the pledge I took when I was seven years old.

I have enjoyed—mostly—the years spent on Wollondilly council as mayor and councillor, often being the sole female in all levels of government locally. With this, I have learnt to have a very thick skin. In many ways, Wollondilly and Wingecarribee have always had strong Independent voices, both with mayors and local councillors. There have been many strong personalities among long-time councillors, like my friend, Emeritus Mayor Michael Banasik, and often political opponent, Col Mitchell. They were all unique and colourful. Phil Costa, as an Independent councillor who was selected in the final term of the former Labor Government, was really suited to either the benches of the Government or the Opposition. As he and I have learnt, with local politics, the political parties can often get in the way.

I thank all the councillors I have worked with over the years. I give a huge thankyou to Councillor Bev Spearpoint, who pulls up the boys' club when the bullying starts. Yes, sadly, it still occurs. Thanks to my many running mates and friends around the council table, including Robert Khan; Noel Lowry; Matt Gould; Di Lange; Michael Beshara; Simon Landow; the late Terry Atkins; the late Shane Read; and Benn Banasik, who was once my political adversary, now my friend and political adviser. I am not sure if it was a promise or a threat that he made to chain himself to me all those years ago, to protect some sort of area. I was pleased to serve as a councillor with many of you and to campaign with many of you for all those council elections. I value your friendship more than anything.

As an Independent councillor for close to 20 years, I have learnt it is tough to do it on your own. By accepting help from my community and others, you can level the playing field with the parties. I have learnt the value of building a movement and the real power of my community. To this end, I thank the donors and helpers for the 2023 election campaign who asked nothing in return. Some were Greens, some were conservative, and many were just believers in workers' rights. Firefighters campaigned strongly, along with the nurses and teachers who bust themselves every day for the benefit of us all. There were many good friends, and some people who just wanted to make a difference.

During the State election campaign, I met others who also stood and were passionate about their communities. Many of them are women, and many have been tagged as a group called "the Teals". The parties like to tag anyone who is not a member of a major party in this way. They use this tag in the media to diminish the passion you have for your area and your electorate. While women's rights have improved, we have a long way to go. The women who have been successful in getting into this place have learnt to deal with a structure and system often limiting what we can do and achieve. I am not just pointing this out to women. Critically, every member needs to learn from this.

Just last week, on being invited to turn the sod on the Performing Arts Centre in Wollondilly—which I got the funding for when I was mayor—I learnt that the builders assumed the member of Parliament must have been one of the men. Sadly, even in the lift in Parliament this Tuesday, I was asked by another member who I worked for. I am unable to understand how sticking up for gender equity, looking after our environment and, most importantly, integrity, is something to be snarled at. Perhaps it is that the major political parties feel the threat of someone with authenticity and passion. Some of those women were close to being in this place, including Jacquie Scrobie, Karen Freyer, Joeline Hackman, Victoria Davidson, Helen Conway and Elizabeth Farrelly. To these independent, strong women, I say, "Do not give up." I have learnt how New South Wales has missed out on your skills and intelligence. I look forward to a day when you are all here so that Parliament can also learn what fantastic representation you can bring.

I live in "God's country", as my friend Ally Dench calls it. Wollondilly is full of birdlife: kingfishers, cockatoos and lyrebirds. If I talk to you on the phone while at home, you can hear the bellbirds "ringing", or my guinea fowl "good-lucking". They seem to have adopted me as their unwilling leader. They come running when they hear my car arrive home or if they spot me through the window of a morning. It was with much shock that, on arriving in my parliamentary office a week or two ago, I noticed there was a painting of a guinea fowl on the wall. Coincidence? Probably, but maybe it is a sign I was meant to be here. There are goannas that steal my chook eggs, and wombats, kangaroos and koalas. A few years ago, I delivered a petition with over 13,000 signatures to save our chlamydia-free koalas. I was so disheartened when the Chamber talked about it for less than five minutes—mind you, not as disappointed as I have been with the clearing of the remaining habitat since. I learnt Parliament does not always recognise what the community values.

With changing climates, Wollondilly has suffered numerous floods and fires in the past couple of years. It is one of the most naturally beautiful places in New South Wales but is also one of the most neglected by everyone except land bankers and developers. We need to protect our unique lifestyle and our farmers, who supply much of the food for Sydney. We can have some development, but we also need the infrastructure to match. We are larger than the entire Sydney metropolitan area, and we only have one very small, underfunded hospital, two public high schools, no tertiary education provision, and a major town connected by a one-lane bridge and a hole in the wall. I might add that a bypass was promised for over 30 years. There is also an almost non-existent, badly timed public transport system.

As a Minister said to me a couple of hours ago, "You stand to gain a lot here because you've got nothing at the moment." There are families living in Coles and Woolworths car parks because of the shortage of housing and the rising cost of living. I invite all members to a forum in my electorate in July to bring together stakeholders to find solutions. Let us remember that Wollondilly, my electorate, is 95 kilometres from one end at Warragamba to the other at Burradoo. It encompasses both the Wollondilly and Wingecarribee council areas. Everything requires long travel times on our massively crumbling road network, whether it is going to school, to hospital or to work. I have learnt that you can have huge developments, but the promised infrastructure does not necessarily follow. It is time that developers and government learn that you cannot treat a community like this. In many ways, my election shows that my community has had enough.

My electorate is made up of many small villages and towns, and they are all very different. It is the land of the Dharawal and Gandangara people, whom I acknowledge today. One of our young Indigenous ladies is here with us today. It is also home to Sydney's water supply. Thank goodness the irreplaceable Indigenous heritage areas and the endangered flora and fauna are hopefully now out of danger with the threat by the former Government to raise the dam wall extinguished. I have learnt how lucky I am to live in Wollondilly. There is the new airport on our northern border, and landowners have had nonsensical impositions placed on their rights that need to be reviewed. You can now build a house with 10 bedrooms on acreage but not two houses with two bedrooms. We have had privately owned land locked up and used as offsets by government for the new aerotropolis city. It is not right.

In other parts of the electorate, we have had rezonings for thousands of houses being made overnight in secrecy and with no community consultation. I have learnt that action needs to be taken to stop this, and account must be taken of the environment. The cost to live there, the long travel times to get to work, the lack of necessary health services for our aging population—particularly in the southern end of the electorate—the unfulfilled promises of infrastructure and the loss of agricultural land are but a few of the issues in my electorate. One time while I was advocating for this, I was attacked on radio by Alan Jones. I invited him out to my electorate, but I insisted that he catch public transport out there. Surprisingly, I never heard from him again. I learnt that you can call out an empty threat, and I had the honour of joining the likes of Jacinda Ardern and other prominent women that Alan Jones has targeted.

The Wollondilly electorate has been taken for granted by both major parties—by one because they think they own it and by the other because they say it is too hard to win. Funds and grants should not be divided on the criteria of a fight to win a seat. The electorate did not get anywhere near a fair share of the funding from WestInvest or the Black Summer bushfires funding. Funds went to electorates that were not affected or already had amazing facilities. The criteria used against us is that if funding is for metropolitan areas, we are called rural; if it is for rural areas, we are called metropolitan.

We have seniors unable to get the $250 travel allowance in areas that are over 50 kilometres from any public transport. I have learnt, and I hope the parties have learnt, that there is no such thing as a safe seat. I need to do my best and do my duty. I thank many people, some of whom are here today and some are not. Some have been friends for years and some only more recently. The Bates, the Booths and the Bjorklunds—I am sure you will see your names mentioned in public acclamations I make in Parliament as most of you continue to do selfless community work for Wollondilly.

I have some special thankyous to make. I thank the whole campaign team, ably led by the amazing Di Mills and her partner in crime, Louise Edgecombe, who is the best graphic designer and now the manager of my office. Without those two ladies, I would not be here today. Over 200 local people worked tirelessly on the campaign, and they are Team Judy. I thank each and every one of you. I give a special thankyou to the beautiful couple of Jan and Royce Wilson. You are family to me. I thank the Whites, the Barretts, Keith, Virginia, Alex, Brett, Frank, Graham, Ally and Sandra. I give a special shout‑out to Sue and John, who were kicked out of their home for 40 years for no other reason than political revenge. I feel like I am Miss Helen inRomper Room looking through the glass. The list goes on and on.

I cannot name everyone because it would take forever, and I would definitely forget someone. It is not Judy Hannan's seat but rather the community of Wollondilly's seat. Thanks to you all, I am privileged and honoured to represent you. I acknowledge the previous members for Wollondilly—Phil Costa, Jai Rowell and Nathaniel Smith—and thank them for their service to the community. I also commend the other candidates in the election. There was Angus Braiden, who had just turned 18; Jason Webster; Rebecca Thompson; and Lldiko Haag. You all represent a part of the community, and I look forward to your input over the next four years. As I have learnt as a councillor, even with different opinions we can all get along for the benefit of others.

I thank my family. I thank my sisters, Deborah and Lynette, and their families. I apologise for pinching the soft drink and not returning your shorts. We were jokingly told by our parents that we needed to elope the night before we turned 21 to save Mum and Dad money on birthdays and weddings. To my sisters, you both rock. To my forgiving children, who have had an interesting upbringing, I am so proud of all of you. Going to school in the multicultural area of Granville while living on a small farm in Wollondilly built a lot of character for my children. Their teachers and the other students were always stunned by their excuses for running late, such as, "The cow had bloat and it had to be relieved by sticking a knife in it." I still remember the children sitting about two metres away from a pet cow that was giving birth and asking them what they thought. One of them replied, "Why did it go up there?"

I adore my children: Alicia, who is unable to be here because she has got COVID, and Glenn, my son‑in‑law, who was recently naturalised by the other orange candidate, the member for Wakehurst; Lachlan and Amelia; and my son Morgan, who is doing his PhD in Italy because he is so disillusioned by the Department of Planning and Environment in New South Wales. I have also learnt that life throws you hurdles when you least expect it. I give a special mention to Lachlan and Amelia, as they have given me the most delightful identical twin grandsons, Arthur and Oscar. Arthur is undergoing treatment for leukemia, and they have sat by his bed with devotion for hours. Those two little boys are such a delight for all of us. I love you all dearly. You are all wonderful human beings who will fight for anyone who is in trouble or being put down. I remember a politician pulling me in close and slamming a kiss straight on my mouth, just to embarrass me. My adult son—the one who is in Italy—responded back to him by pulling him in by the hand and whacking a kiss on his mouth. The look on the pollie's face was priceless.

My husband, Neil, who calls himself "the handbag", has stood by me and thrown himself into whatever support I have needed—I know you have learnt that your wife is a bit crazy but very stubborn—even when we agreed there would be no more politics and my friend Noel Lowry said, "Just one more shot!" We have had our ups and downs, but mostly ups. We have had some wonderful adventures to many countries. I am still trying to explain to people why, when I got elected, you left the country. I love you and thank you with all my heart. No‑one else can share the absolute pride we have in our wonderful children. Neil, your parents were the best in-laws one could hope for; their support was wonderful. Even with the missing pet snake, your mother believed you could do no wrong. That was until she realised she was in the house it went missing in. As both of my parents passed away at very young ages, through their loss and my own illness, I have learnt that every day is precious and can be taken away in a blink.

While I did not have to wait as long for this job as King Charles III waited for his time, it still feels like it took a lifetime to come to this Parliament. Who would have ever thought! I keep my Brownie promise. I am obviously persistent, and I keep on learning. People will laugh about me quoting Dr Seuss, but there is a lot of good stuff in those books. Dr Seuss wroteThe Lorax over 50 years ago, chronicling the plight of a community and the environment. According to the words of the Lorax, "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." I thank my community of the Wollondilly and the Southern Highlands for allowing me to care.

Members and officers of the House stood and applauded.

The SPEAKER: I thank the member for Wollondilly for her inaugural speech. I will now take a moment for the gallery and the Chamber to settle. Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you enjoy some time with the member for Wollondilly after this.