Johnathan Davis - Inaugural Speech to the ACT Legislative Assembly

2020-12-03

 

Madam Speaker, I seek leave of the Assembly to give my inaugural speech.

I'd like to begin by acknowledging that we stand on the stolen lands of the Ngunnawal people. I pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging. I’d also like to acknowledge any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people who join us today.

It is the greatest honour of my life to stand before you as only the 82nd person elected to this place. Coincidently, it was 82 votes that made the difference in my election in what turned out to be a much closer contest than many had anticipated. 82 has become my new lucky number.

I am extremely proud to be representing the people of Brindabella for the ACT Greens. My community is often one lauded as the ‘conservative’ part of Canberra. A part of Canberra that doesn’t get the Greens and that the Greens don’t get. To say I’m delighted that the election result has proved otherwise is an understatement. We took a very deliberate approach to this election – to offer every Canberran a Green candidate they could vote for, a Green candidate that could win. For more than 12 years and 4 election campaigns, I have passionately pounded the pavement of Tuggeranong promoting the ACT Greens and that slow burn has paid off. Greens voters and people who share Greens values have always lived in Tuggeranong and now finally those people have a seat at the table. I look forward to four years of service to my community informed by Greens values.

My contribution to the Assembly will be stem from my deeply held belief that social and economic inequality is the most significant political issue we face. The gap between the haves and the have nots has never been wider. The fact that there are people in our city who own multiple homes while so many people do not have a home at all is unacceptable.  That is not to say that property investors are bad people. I have worked with and for property investors for more than a decade and I genuinely understand and empathise with people finding ways to secure their economic future and the economic future of their families. The housing crisis is not one fixed through shaming and guilting people who have used government policy like negative gearing to improve their position. This is actually about government taking the leadership to remove systemic advantage and treat housing as a fundamental human right.

Now, I’m a loud guy. A ‘heart on his sleeve’ kind of guy. A guy with a big personality. That may lead many to be confident that they already know me. But there is a lot many wouldn’t know about me. I’m someone who grew up in public housing and struggled with my education in my primary years. I was one of those kids we often talk about in education policy who ‘fell through the cracks’. I’m a person who helped raise their siblings and provide care to someone close to me who struggled with drug dependency. I’m someone who in their lifetime has found themself homeless and I know what it feels like to have experienced sexual assault. There’s a lot more to me and indeed to anyone us than we often give each other credit for. I am the sum of my diverse experiences, and those experiences inform my values.

The prominent Greek statesman Pericles once said, “Just because you do not take an interest in politics, doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you”. In 2006, politics took an interest in me. I was a student at the former Kambah High when the then Stanhope Labor majority government proposed the closure of 39 ACT public schools, including Kambah High. From that position it became almost impossible for me to ever see the Labor Party as a party motivated by the same values as me. I couldn’t fathom how a political party that my parents voted for, a party I was raised to believe was the champion of the working class and of public institutions could make such a bad decision that so disproportionately affected people who needed their support.

You may ask yourself why would a 15-year-old care so deeply that his school stay open? Surely most 15-year olds can’t wait to get out of school? For me, my school community was the first place I ever felt truly safe, truly seen, and truly supported and celebrated for my full humanity. The idea that that could be taken away from me was deeply personal. Throughout the course of the school closures campaign, I learnt of all the ways such a terrible policy impacted so many young people and their families. This experience brought to life for me the feminist saying, “The personal is political”. To this day it has inspired me to be this Assembly’s strongest and most passionate advocate for an accessible, equitable and secular public education system. I will be a voice for every public-school student, every public-school educator and every parent who makes the choice to send their child to a great ACT Public School. My vision is for a public-school system that is the envy of the world and the choice of every Canberra family.

I left school before completing year 12 not because I don’t value education – far from it. I left school before completing year 12 because my life’s experiences to that point led me to desperately seek economic security. Security which working-class and lower middle-class people are always seeking. The so-called ‘poor man's mentality’ led me straight into the workforce to avoid the debt that currently comes with higher education and precludes a significant number of our community from these opportunities. I got by through school taking up a range of part time jobs. I worked late night at the Hyperdome cleaning out the cinnamon donut machine at Donut King, I’ve worked in retail and a hospitality, I’ve even delivered pizza.

I got into real estate because it was an industry tailor-made for my skill sets: a hard worker who loves working with people, someone who loves to be of service combined with a competitive nature to win and succeed. When I entered the real estate industry I was just 16 years old, was experiencing homelessness and was living off Newstart – I saw little prospect for myself in school that wouldn’t trap me in a cycle of poverty – real estate gave me an opportunity to break through and support not only myself by support myself and the people I care about in a real and meaningful way.

You can never have too much money when you’re raised working class: I can empathise with the mindset of being one paycheck, one hard decision away from the kind of poverty that leads to every subsequent decision being made from fear.

Politics took a further interest in me a few years later when I first came out openly as gay. While I am a product of a much more socially progressive and open-minded generation, there were at that time and still today barriers in the way of my full equality and the full equality of those I know and love.

I was acutely aware of the discrimination and prejudice that I may face in my later years when I came out to my dad who said: “I love you, but I am just so worried for you” - now it bears noting at this point that my dad is my best friend and joins us in the gallery today - but the genuine fear and concern he felt for how different my life would be and for my welfare was yet another poignant reminder that reinforced my progressive social values.

The idea that an innate part of who I am, something that I could not and would not change, was going to make my life harder or more difficult was at first so confusing and grew to be infuriating. Over time that experience helped broaden my perspective to appreciate how many other people battle a more difficult world simply because of the things that make them unique. 

That’s why, for so long as I am in this place, the things that make you different and special will not only be acknowledged but they will be celebrated. Not only will they be recognised, but they will also be legislatively and politically supported.

To that end I would like to offer a personal thank you to the Chief Minister. Chief Minister, your leadership in advocating for the rights of sexuality and gender diverse Canberrans has had a profound impact on me. Your leadership and courage both personally and politically make it so much easier for me, a proud gay man, to stand up in this place. You’ve made our city better not only for me, but for people like us. There is so much more work to be done to ensure full equality for the diversity of people in our rainbow family. I offer myself sincerely and genuinely to assist in that effort.

All these things explain a story of me and who I am – these things inform my values, but they will not entirely define my work or my contribution to this place.

I believe that the unregulated excesses of capitalism have reinforced the privilege of individuals and corporations who are able to collect and hoard great wealth at the expense of everyday people and our planet. What we are building through our global green movement is a strong political response to global economic and wealth inequality propped up by the active destruction of our planet.

Obscene wealth and inequality are almost always acquired at the expense of our environment. The desire for inordinate wealth is the single biggest contributing factor to the climate crisis we are facing with a small percent of our society consuming and hoarding well beyond their needs, to the detriment of us all.

I want to make sure that the Greens share our just and equitable vision with the tradie with cert 4, the single mother living in public housing, the person who took a risk in small business, and the pensioner trying to maintain their independence. I want these people to know that the Greens are the party for them. People like my dad. My dad is someone who by his own admission is a Labor voter. He is a Labor voter because he is a proud working-class man. The kind of man who leaves for work before the sun rises and doesn’t get home until after the sun sets. The kind of man who needs to ‘warm up’ his loud V8 engine in the garage at 5am, much to the frustration of his neighbours.

I am someone who takes my work seriously, I am someone who takes the people I work for seriously, but I am rarely someone to take myself too seriously. I am by nature a jokester, the class clown, the funny man. Now seems the best time to apologise in advance to Madam speaker and to warn my fellow class clows that there is a new sheriff in town.

Through humility, humour and hard work, I want to achieve meaningful change for the 70,424 people that I now work for. I believe by breaking down this perception that politics and this place are separate to the community, by humbling ourselves to our constituents and by being genuine and authentic in our interactions with them, we can demonstrate a more collaborative way of doing politics.

While I am incredibly proud of my membership of the ACT Greens, I don’t pretend that we, or that I as an individual, come to this place with the answers to every problem. I genuinely look forward to working with all my colleagues across the political spectrum so that we can find common ground and solutions that place our community’s interests front and centre. In particular, I would like to extend a genuine offer to you Madam speaker and to our fellow Brindabella colleagues: Mr Parton, Ms Lawder, Mr Gentleman. I believe ours is the best community in Canberra (although I accept, I am a little bit biased) I especially look forward to working with you to ensure the best representation for our community and that the people of Tuggeranong are most effectively represented in this place.

It is in that vein that through you Madam Speaker, I would like to encourage all of you to join me for an informal ‘Brindabella Caucus’ in this, the 10th assembly. A non-partisan effort that all five is us can make to meet regularly and discuss issues of concern to our constituents. I’m happy to facilitate the first meeting. We can have it at Brew Bar on Anketell Street and I’ll even shout lunch.

Though I stand proudly today as the 82nd person elected to this place it is not my first time in this building, in fact, the by-product of my campaign against the school closure of 2006 was a period of work with then liberal MLAs, Brendan Smyth and Steve Pratt. Suffice to say the development of my political values and ideology has not seen me as an advocate for the Liberal cause, however through my work with Mr Pratt and Mr Smyth I developed a great appreciation for the awesome impact of the work of this place and the impact our work can have on everyday people in our communities. They demonstrated to me at a young age a model of parliamentarianism for which I am very grateful.

However, what I learnt through that experience was that the Liberal Party did not reflect my values, yet I had a yearning to contribute to public policy and politics. In my time here, I did get to bare witness firsthand the hard work of the late ACT Greens Member for Molonglo Dr Deb Foskey and her team. They inspired me to take another look at the Greens. I say another look on purpose because the Greens were often referred to in my home rather disparagingly as an intellectual inner-city elite “latte sippers’ my Dad would say. A party that didn’t and couldn’t represent me or my values. The work of the late Dr Deb Foskey and her team showed me that that was not true. In fact, it was often only the Greens who were ever really standing up for working-class people and people living in poverty. Another core reason for my ever-developing interest in the Greens at that time was the dinner time conversations in my family that were, to be kind, disparaging towards politics and the political class. Of all the many expressions my Dad has used over the years, many of which members present will come to hear from me use often over the next 4 years, is to quote “follow the money”. When following the money, it shocked me to learn the mega amounts of cash donated often by profitable corporate interests and the wealthy elite that swirls through the two old parties. I could not understand why these people and these businesses would give so much to these two political parties and then I spend some time working in small business, even owning and operating my own small business and I learnt that no business person makes an investment without expecting a return. That begged the obvious question: what was it exactly that these big corporations and wealthy elite were getting out of the two old parties? Of the many things that make me incredibly proud to be a member of the ACT Greens it is that our policies, and our work in this place, and other similar places, are always motivated by the needs of the community, informed by evidence and the hopes and aspirations of our active membership. Fellow members, I promise that even on days when you disagree with me, know that everything I say in this place is motivated by my values, by the active and informed membership of the ACT Greens, by the constituents of Brindabella and never by the insidious and toxic influence of donations from people or businesses that would seek to influence my work.

To end, I couldn’t be here today without the hard work and admirable commitment to the cause of the Brindabeliever Greens team. Thank you to my fellow candidates Laura Nuttall and Sue Ellerman. Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of even a short interaction with Sue will have heard the phrase ‘Look after yourself’. Sue, I thank you for all the times you’ve looked after me over the years and your commitment to looking after people and looking after the planet. You’ve been a faithful servant of the Greens for a long time. Our party is stronger, and our city is better for your contribution. Of all the words that could be used to describe Laura Nuttall, the simplest is ‘Good’. It was remarked often by candidates and volunteers from the other parties throughout the election campaign how lucky we were to have Laura on our team. Her genuine enthusiasm, earnest attitude and unquestionable commitment to the cause is inspiring and I’ve no doubt it inspired many to place their trust in the Greens at this election.

To all the Brindabeliever Greens, thank you. ‘Grassroots Democracy’ is more than a tagline – it’s genuinely how we Greens get things done. Hours of hard work by volunteers who want to secure a fairer, cleaner, safer and more just world. An honourable mention must go to the core team: Pascale, Julie, Jordan, Matthew, Erin, Hannah, Marcia, Elizabeth, Aidan, Jana and Carolyn. Thank you to our Campaign Manager Clancy, his right-hand man Adam and our Party Director Adele. Thank you to the party Co-Convenors Jo and Denby for their leadership. Thank you to all members of the Election Campaign Team. Thank you to each and every member of the ACT Greens for placing their trust in me and preselecting me as a candidate for the fourth time. Thank you to Shane Rattenbury for your leadership of our party, your support through this campaign and your guidance as I navigate the weird yet wonderful complexities of this new world I inhabit. Thank you to some of my dearest friends – while there are too many to mention I’d like to particularly thank Ashleigh Maloney and Douglas Robinson. I hope that each of my fellow members have friends as good as Ash and Doug. They will keep you level on the hard days, celebrate the good days and take you down a notch when you’re getting a little too full of yourself. Thank you to the 5,985 voters of Tuggeranong who gave their number 1 vote to the ACT Greens. You chose to vote Green when those in the media and those who commentate on elections wrote off our campaign and said we couldn’t win. You backed us. You stood up for your values at the ballot box and now I have the humbling privilege to make good on your trust over the next four years. And especially, thank you to my Dad, Tom Davis, the greatest man I’ve ever met. Members, I can’t wait to get to work.