Inaugural speech as Speaker of the Legislative Assembly

9th May 2023

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (11:04): As Speaker-elect, standing on the upper step of the Speaker's rostrum: Members, with your indulgence, before I take the chair I will deliver a few words. I happen to have something prepared. I first acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, the traditional custodians of this land on which we meet and I pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging. I wish to also acknowledge the Awabakal people, the traditional custodians of the land of the Lake Macquarie electorate and the greater region, and likewise pay my respects to their elders past, present and future.

I am so pleased that my wife, Lyn, along with my family, including my sons, Danny, Chris and Jesse, are here today, as are my staff who have supported me for many years—indeed, who have done the heavy lifting within the electorate office. No member would disagree that without our families and staff we could not achieve what we do for our communities. I thank Belinda, Jason—behind me—Kim, Alex, Debbie, Madeleine, Trudy and our much-loved, recently retired Dianne Sykes, who was with me for 15 years along the way.

As I stand here, it is close to 16 years to the minute since I stood at the table delivering my inaugural speech to the Fifty-Fourth Parliament. That was one week after I lost my father, Keith, and the day following his funeral. It is with regret that both he and my mother, Hazel, cannot be with my family today. They are ultimately the reason I am here now. I am, however, very pleased that my sister, Maureen, could be here with me. It is both an honour and a privilege to have been elected Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of the Fifty-Eighth Parliament, not just because of the valuable traditions and place it holds in the history of New South Wales but also because it reflects the trust you have placed in me to uphold those traditions and guide our debates while we grow our great State and confirm its place among the best, the most diverse, the most inclusive and the most respected in the country and in the Commonwealth.

It is also a privilege because this is an extremely notable day in the history of our Parliament. Premier, Deputy Premier, you both, along with your leadership team, have established a ministerial Cabinet as close to representative of our community that we have ever had in New South Wales, most notably in gender. For the first time, women make up half the Government's frontbench and for the first time we will have female Ministers for Police and Counter-terrorism, Energy, Natural Resources, Regional New South Wales, Transport and Finance. It marks a significant historical shift and one that I am sure every member of this Parliament is delighted to see. I congratulate Premier Minns on this significant milestone, and I congratulate those first female Ministers, many of whom represent regional electorates—and not too few of them in the Hunter.

In March 2019 Gladys Berejiklian became the first woman to lead her party to an election win as Premier. Just eight years ago we elected the first female Speaker of this House, the former member for South Coast, Shelley Hancock. Of course, the first female Premier of our State was Kristina Keneally. Along with those women, you are breaking new and historic ground. I feel very privileged to be part of the history you are making, and I wish you all well. While I have referenced the number of women now sitting on the Government front bench, the achievement of all the ministry should be acknowledged. I congratulate each and every one of you and wish you well.

I extend my thanks to the new Opposition Leader, Mark Speakman; the Leader of the Nationals, Dugald Saunders; and all of those on the Opposition benches, in particular those who were part of the previous government and who led us through the challenging and anxious years of the COVID pandemic. Being in opposition can no doubt be difficult—I have not experienced it, but I am told it is—but having an effective Opposition is a vital part of our system, and I wish you all well.

I also wish to acknowledge the new Leader of the House, the member for Heffron, Ron Hoenig, and the Manager of Opposition Business, the member for Wahroonga, Alister Henskens, both of whom I have enjoyed working with in the previous Parliament. I am confident that they will be a source of wisdom and wise counsel for members across this Parliament during this term. Neither side of the House could operate effectively without Whips. I look forward to working with the member for Monaro and member for Terrigal in their respective roles as Whips for the Government and Opposition. I also turn to another piece of history which is playing out today. There is a record number of crossbench members, with three Greens and nine Independents, representing nearly 13 per cent of the Legislative Assembly membership. I believe my friend and colleague the member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich, and I have shown in recent years that great progressive change can be achieved in this Chamber from the crossbench and, by its very nature, requires the ability to work with members across the Parliament. I look forward to more of this in the Fifty-Eighth Parliament.

My role will continue the work of previous Speakers. I would like to make special mention of the immediate former Speaker, Jonathan O'Dea, who diligently drove improvement in all aspects of parliamentary procedure, and leaves the role with the utmost regard and respect of those who served here during his term. I thank former Speaker Jonathan O'Dea and his chief of staff, Paul Blanch, for their assistance in this transition, even though it was all good guesswork, but I really do appreciate it. Thank you.

I welcome all the new members of the Parliament and congratulate you on your election. You no doubt have family and friends here today in the gallery, in the theatrette and at home, watching the live webcast of today's proceedings. They will be feeling immense pride in your achievement, and they should share this moment with you because, I imagine, they have contributed significantly to you being here. Your communities have entrusted you to represent their interests in this House. I recommend that you embrace the history and traditions and the protocols that are being played out around you today, as they are a part of a system which has served our State well for almost 170 years.

That brings me to my final but very important acknowledgement—the parliamentary executive team, Department of Parliamentary Services [DPS] staff, member support teams and other staff. Getting the Parliament to run as it does requires a monumental effort. As you can see in the halls around you, preparing for today's arrival of the Fifty-Eighth Parliament has had some added challenges. We are meeting in the oldest building in Sydney; it is finally getting the attention required and that has been well overdue. Within this building is an incredible team which has worked hard to prepare for your arrival. To the Clerk, Helen Minnican; the Deputy Clerk, Carly Maxwell; and their team, I thank you for your personal support of me and for the work that has gone into preparing for this new four-year term. Members can have confidence that they will have the best possible guidance from this highly experienced team. Similarly, I extend my sincerest gratitude to Mark Webb and the DPS team, who have been extremely busy over the past six months, not just in preparing for today but in guiding the restoration of this very Chamber and other parts of this grand and historic place while the rest of us were distracted by Christmas and an election.

The first Speaker of this House was Sir Daniel Cooper, back in 1856. He was, apparently, generally hounded by his colleagues and Opposition members for his attempts to be impartial. Of course, at the very least he was lucky to have kept his head, something not always guaranteed in earlier Westminster parliaments. Nevertheless, I come here as an Independent Speaker in the truest sense of the word. I will encourage robust debate. I will not tolerate disrespect or abuse of other members, the abuse of staff nor the abuse of privileges. That—I am sure all would agree—should be a foundational principle of members given the privilege to serve in this House. Of course, all members of this House have the ability to use parliamentary privilege, and I hasten to say that this should be used with utmost consideration and care. On the very day that I first became a member of this House Independent Speaker Torbay said:

… parliamentary privilege is for the public interest and not for the personal or political interest.

I agree. As Speaker I will do my best to be impartial and uphold the standing orders and precedent rulings. This is a Parliament for the people. We have traditions and standards to uphold, but we have also a duty to improve them and an obligation to apply contemporary standards to them. I make my own commitment to that aim, and I pledge to work across the Parliament to ensure that we can achieve the best possible results.

In my inaugural speech 16 years ago, I spoke about the many challenges that we as a Parliament face, the challenges that our State faces and the challenges that our communities face. We still have many challenges. Some are new, some are deeply entrenched and some, perhaps, not yet foreseen. We have economic and deep social challenges, including housing and cost-of-living pressures; we have environmental challenges with our climate and a transitioning energy industry; and we have educational challenges—to name a few. The people have entrusted all of us to meet those challenges, and you are now in a position, as am I, to do something about them. We must deliver on the trust that the people of our communities and this State have placed on us, and we must always make decisions that are in the best interests of the people that sent us here and the people of New South Wales. I thank Premier Minns sincerely and all members for entrusting me with this role. I commit to you that I shall do my best to live up to the honour and responsibility you have given me in electing me to serve as Speaker of the Fifty-Eighth Parliament. Thank you.

Members and officers of the House stood and applauded.

The Speaker (The Hon. Gregory Michael Piper) took the chair.

Website: Read Parliamentary Hansard here

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