Saffin delivers stirring maiden speech, advocating for Lismore

Newly-installed Lismore MP Janelle Saffin at her swearing-in ceremony in Sydney last week. Photo by Andy Baker.

Newly-installed Lismore MP Janelle Saffin at her swearing-in ceremony in Sydney last week. Photo by Andy Baker.

It wasn't her first maiden speech (in fact her third, after stints in the federal Upper House and as the former member for Page) but Janelle Saffin's first in the NSW House of Parliament as she was sworn in last week to officially represent the seat of Lismore.

Ms Saffin said she stood ready to support house speaker Jonathan O'Dea, also newly-appointed, in his goal to 'change the culture of this place'. She labelled her first question time the previous day as unedifying.

"We had grown-ups denigrating each other and their parties. We were not sent here by our communities to do that."


As the member for Lismore she said her job is to ensure that she does everything she can to improve the lives of all residents across the electorate, which includes Tenterfield, Kyogle, Lismore, Murwillumbah and parts of Tweed Valley.

"I shall continue my practice of working closely with the local councils and all local MPs to get the best outcomes for the electorate. To do this, I have a duty to work with government but to hold it to account to deliver. As a member of the Opposition, I have a duty to work to better policies and programs that best serve my community and all regional and rural residents of NSW.

"I am here because I am proudly an activist, not a career politician. As MPs we get invited into people's lives in the most emotional, intimate ways. Our obligation then is to tread lightly in their lives and take their trust in us to advocate not so lightly for them, and to do so as fearlessly as we can."

She said her constituents need TAFE places and teachers available to teach the courses, and to have schools that are permanent and with air conditioning and renewables.

"People need shelter and housing. I cannot fathom why we do not have a department of housing and why we do not just build public housing. We build it, we rent it, we upkeep it and it pays for itself.

"We need to have disability advocacy, action on climate change, more police to be engaged with the community not just arrest people. Treating people kindly goes a long way."

She said the difference between her electorate and other electorates where Independents or the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party won seats from The Nationals was that the Nationals were not responding to the needs of the electorate, whether it be action for dairy farmers, fair prices for farmers, fresh food or proper telecommunications.

"Another example is the failure to spend the promised Restart NSW funds in the regions. Only 10 per cent instead of the promised 30 per cent in the years 2015 to 2016, but never on-target over five cycles."

She said the Nationals have lost their way and are unable to properly represent the changing needs and challenges of modern society.

"Maintaining the status quo no longer works. Keep tradition, by all means, but to cling to the relics of coal and just add water to address our problems of extreme weather events, hotter temperatures -- climate change, as our scientists call it, including the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology -- and water insecurity and scarcity is to fail current and future generations.

"I want to make things better for my grandson, and all our children and grandchildren."

She said the government can lead the way on alternative energy and must convert its power base to renewables and car fleet to electric vehicles.

"We need to work with stakeholders to revitalise our CBDs to create jobs. We need a clean environment. We need a regional jobs plan with targets for local jobs, local skills, local industry. We need regional integrated transport plans and timetables for action."

She said she has a long list for the minister for Customer Service, which she would like to see renamed to minister for Public Service to better reflect the type of transaction and interaction.

She addressed the challenge of crystal methamphetamine (ice) usage in her electorate, applauding the Legislative Council committee inquiry into the provision of drug rehabilitation services in regional, rural and remote NSW to which many people in Lismore and Tenterfield tendered submissions. She said the committee came up with some well-researched evidence and recommendations.

"As those in the know say we cannot arrest our way out of this problem, yet we try.

"We fight the war on drugs, yet it boils down to a fight with addicts, young users and people like those in my electorate who are taking cannabis for medical reasons.

"We need to take these issues seriously as we sip our shiraz and chardonnay, the drugs of choice for us older ones. We also have a problem with young people being criminalised for taking their drug of choice, cannabis."

She said MPs have three key roles: they are constituency, parliamentary and party, in that order.

"I cannot hope to say all that needs to be said today, but I treat this speech as the start of a conversation about improving the lives of the people of the Lismore electorate and making a difference.

"To be a good MP one needs the passion of an activist, the skill of an advocate and the disposition of a diplomat. Fortunately, I have all three, have used them to great effect and will use them to great effect through this place to make a difference in the lives of people in the Lismore electorate."