OPINION by Rachel Carling-JenkinsNews Weekly
A voice for the vulnerable, the enslaved and the voiceless
, March 14, 2015
The Victorian state election of November 29, 2014, saw Dr Rachel Carling-Jenkins win a seat for the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) in the state parliament’s upper house, the Legislative Council. She delivered her inaugural speech to the Victorian parliament on Thursday, February 12, part of which is reproduced here in News Weekly.
Dr Rachel Carling-Jenkins,
It is a privilege to stand here today, to represent the people of Western Metropolitan Region as the sole representative of the Democratic Labour Party in the 58th Parliament and to be the first woman to represent the DLP in any Parliament in Australia.
If you will humour me for just a moment, I would like to travel back in time, back to 18th-century England, where the economy was supplemented by slaves who were traded, oppressed and mistreated. Travel now into the House of Commons of that era, where one man stands against the slave trade and the laws protecting it.
Against the tide of pressure, one man stands up for what he believes in, despite opposition and bouts of poor health. William Wilberforce, after 20 years of campaigning, petitioning and lobbying, brings about the abolition of slavery. He battled. He fought. He argued the whole way. Sometimes he had small victories; many times he had setbacks. Wilberforce stood as a non-conformist, not afraid to be a lone voice when necessary.
Now we come back to the present — today, in this place. I am no William Wilberforce, but he inspires me to value conviction over comfort, tenacity over temporary gain and devotion over indifference. We now look back at slavery and are appalled at the treatment slaves received and horrified at the very idea that one person could own another. In the decades to come, I pray that we will look back at this era, appalled at the babies we killed and horrified at the very idea that we would enslave women in prostitution.
Like Wilberforce, I am a non-conformist. I am not a bystander; I refuse to be a bystander. Under my watch there will not be silence on these issues. And so I stand here today and for the next four years as a voice for the vulnerable, a voice for the enslaved and a voice for the voiceless.
I received a great many benefits from growing up in a working-class home. My parents, Stan and Francy Carling, taught me to value God. Mum would brush my unruly hair and take me off to Sunday school where a line from one of my favourite songs was: “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine”.
It is because of my family that I stand before each of you today, excited and awed by the task before me. It is also because of my journey, a journey which has included many rough patches: a debilitating car accident, major health scares, years of single motherhood and of course the school drop-offs, pick-ups and supermarket tantrums. It is a journey which has also had a lot of highlights.
I have completed a PhD and presented throughout the world at international conferences, contributing to the fields of disability, dementia and social movements. I have studied and applied best-practice principles in welfare here in Victoria, had a book published and had the privilege of working with many amazing people and organisations. This journey I speak of has led me to this time, this place and this point where passion wells inside me.
My desire to contribute to a society which has as its core aim the human flourishing of all its members led me to join and run as a candidate for the DLP — a party which stands for the twin pillars of human dignity and the common good.
I care about and will be a voice fighting for Sam, who has Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease, but he cannot find appropriate care and support within the current service system. I care about and will be a voice fighting for Lin, traded to work in a brothel in inner city Melbourne, trapped and unable to find her way home. I care about and will be a voice fighting for the yet unnamed baby girl whose future hangs in the balance while her vulnerable mother feels cultural and familial pressure to end the life of her child simply because she is a girl.
I care about and will be a voice fighting for Joe, an elderly man near the end of his life, depressed after the death of his wife, isolated from his children due to the tyranny of distance and struggling to make ends meet.
I, and my party, consider every human being to be of equal worth. Every person has a right to live, whether they are in a prison cell in Indonesia, on a boat in the Timor Sea or in a hospital ward for people who are terminally ill. Every person has a right to self-determination, whether they are working on a factory floor, living with mental illness or struggling to pay their bills. Every child has the same right to protection and opportunities, whether they are born into wealth or poverty.
I believe that every person is created for relationship. A society is only as strong as its relationships, from the relationships within its smallest social unit, such as the family and neighbourhood, to relationships with and between workers and employers, governments and corporations, families and governments, and beyond. I will be a voice for healthy relationships.
I will also defend families who have experienced disruption. I care about and commit to being a voice for families who are burdened by the financial, social and emotional issues which come from problem gambling, a problem which has invaded our regions and our suburbs with the expansion of poker machines into clubs and pubs, where responsible limits, proven to deter problem gambling, have not been adopted or enforced.
I care about and commit to being a voice for families who are torn apart by domestic violence, a tragedy where much has been achieved in recent decades, including mandatory reporting by health and education professionals; a breakdown, at least in part, in the culture of silence; and an expansion of services.
I care about and commit to being a voice for families who need flexible schooling options, protection from the rising costs of living and accessibility to sports and cultural activities, which are carrying an ever-increasing price tag.
I believe in freedoms: freedom from exploitation, freedom to practise religion or to choose not to practise religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom to act according to our beliefs and our conscience. All such freedoms come with privilege and responsibility. Freedoms must be protected, and some must be restored.
A truly free society does not exploit some members for the temporary pleasure of others. Pornography and the fast-growing sex industry are a scourge on our society that sells exploitation, breeds violence and disrupts equality of relationships. As such, and in the interests of protecting our community, it must be further restricted.
A truly free society enables people to have access to treatment for depression and to palliative care services, which offer true dignity to people who are suffering, before debating assisted suicide, which has time and again been shown to pressure vulnerable people into feeling that this is their only option.
A truly free society does not politicise health care and reduce medical practitioners to the status of state apparatchiks, but respects the integrity and conscience of medical and healthcare professionals.
While I am, as you may be able to tell by now, a social justice campaigner, I am able to back up my proposed reforms with sound economic management principles. This is important, because the ability to provide services to the people of Victoria depends on a strong economy.
The time has come to move forward to a cooperative rather than adversarial system of employee relations. This is not a utopian ideal; it is already a reality in many parts of the world.
If we go to Spain, generally regarded as an economic basket case, there is one corporation in the Basque region that has defied the trends. Mondragon now has 250 cooperatives which form the Mondragon Corporation and employ 80,000 people. It has its own bank, welfare system and university.
Despite its success in Spain as well as in areas such as Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region and of course Germany, which showcases quality manufacturing on a larger scale, the idea has not gained traction in Australia, but the time has come to think outside the economic box. It is not a matter of capital versus labour. It is about a third way, with government, business and employees working towards a common good: economic prosperity for all.
One of the most important assets of any society is its infrastructure. Improving our infrastructure requires long-term investment and funding. This is why the DLP supports the establishment of a state development bank to build the ongoing capital we desperately need for long-term infrastructure projects and for regional development. Not only would this relieve budgetary restraints but the bank’s positive development and stabilising effect on the Victorian economy could be significant.
Over the last few decades successive governments have sought to alleviate their economic woes by taking short-term, quick-fix approaches, with public utilities and assets being sold off for temporary gains. The usual arguments for selling off an asset owned by the Victorian people are that efficiency will improve, costs will be lowered and the economy will generally benefit. These arguments fall flat in the face of lowering service standards, higher prices and increasing job losses. Money that once flowed from Victorian pockets through these publicly-owned utilities into state revenue and was then used to grow and prosper our state, contributing to the construction and maintenance of schools, hospitals, roads and so on, now flows out of Victoria, often out of Australia and into the pockets of overseas shareholders and the grateful treasuries of overseas economies.
Is it these private corporations, then, that are the problem? Are the overseas profiting shareholders our nemesis? Do growing foreign economies threaten our future development and economic survival? No. Our problems, our enemies and the threats to our economic survival and future development are not the fault of overseas corporate despots or expansionist foreign economies. Our problems are closer to home and are of our own creation. Instead of basing our decisions on the common good, we have been distracted by quick-fix approaches. Short-sightedness and self-interest have been our downfall.
In a similar way the family farm, once a prized, valued commodity, has been sold off. Foreign ownership of our agricultural land is, again, a quick fix, but it is far too permanent.
I represent a labour party in this place. As a labour party we believe that society benefits most when the three pillars of families, workers and community are put first. Every decision made by this state and this nation, every trade deal made, every project commenced, every inch of our farmland sowed, every ounce of our natural resources used and every cent expended from the public purse must ultimately have the good of our families, our workers and our communities as the primary focus or they are done in vain.
Dr Rachel Carling-Jenkins was elected DLP member of Victoria’s Legislative Council for the Western Metropolitan Region on November 29, 2014. The full version of her inaugural speech, delivered on February 12, 2015, is available at: