Gaelle Broad MP – Member for Northern Victoria Region
Gaelle BROAD (Northern Victoria) (15:16): I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we govern and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.
Sir Peter Cosgrove was once asked to define an Australian, and he said, ‘Anyone who feels a connection with this land, whether they have just arrived and intend to stay or their ancestry dates back 60,000 years.’ That connection with the land and its people reflects our strong Indigenous history, and it unites us here today.
I first came to this place as a parliamentary intern 28 years ago. I stood in the vestibule and read Proverbs 11:14 inscribed in the mosaic tiles on the floor: ‘Where no counsel is the people fall but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.’ And I am sincerely grateful to the people of Northern Victoria for electing me to this chamber to represent our region in Victoria’s 60th Parliament. I feel a very strong connection to Northern Victoria. It is a region that spans over 100,000 square kilometres and covers nearly half of the state. It stretches from Mildura to the snowfields down to the outskirts of Melbourne, from broadacre farms to busy shopping centres.
I grew up on a third-generation berry, fruit and flower farm in the stunning Yarra Valley, and I spent my school holidays picking, planting and packing. My grandparents lived just up the road, and whenever I dropped in Grandma Stone would make a strong pot of tea and share some family history. Her grandfather owned an agency of Cobb and Co coaches in New South Wales, but times changed with the introduction of motor vehicles, and without work they had to move and start again. Grandpa’s story was similar. His family owned a large clothing manufacturing business that closed during the Great Depression. They started with just a small parcel of land and learned how to farm. My grandparents met at a local dance, were happily married over 60 years and argued every single day.
Growing up in the Great Depression my grandparents knew hard times, and together with my parents they encouraged me to work hard, get a good education, love my family and make the most of every opportunity. When I was 17 I wanted to go on a cultural exchange program to Russia, and my family helped me raise the funds to go. We made chocolate-coated snowballs to sell at the local markets, and we hosted an old-time movie night at the local public hall. I lived with a host family, endured minus 28 degrees and received my VCE results by telegram. I experienced firsthand what life was like after a Communist regime. My host sister and her mum shared a one-bedroom flat, people queued to get eggs, there was no bread on the shelves and the black market was thriving. I learned that we live in the best country in the world and that our democracy is worth protecting.
I arrived home to a family wearing T-shirts at the airport that said ‘Welcome home, Gaelle’. They were my first campaign team, and they have supported me all the way. It is great to have my mum Annette, Aunty Sharyn and sisters Merryn and Laura here with me today.
I studied at Monash and went on to complete a graduate diploma in communications before undertaking a master of public policy at the University of Melbourne. I joined a local theatre group and presented a program on radio. Grandpa Budge enjoyed connecting with people around the world via ham radio, and he would tune in every week to provide feedback and count the number of ums. He was pleased that I chose to study politics and equally proud of the connection to his second cousin Sir Henry Bolte, a Liberal and still the longest serving Victorian Premier – for over 17 years.
In 1999 a referendum was held to decide if Australia should become a republic. I organised a public forum and invited speakers from both sides of the debate, including the late Governor of Victoria Sir Richard McGarvie. I used a timer that looked like a traffic light, gave the panel equal time to present their views and then opened the floor to questions. Over 400 people attended, eager to listen. As we approach the coming referendum, let us encourage respectful and informed public debate in politics as well as the media.
That same year I met a young man from Kerang. Grandma was quick to contact her friends in the region, and from all reports the Broads were a good family. As well as being tall, dark and handsome, Dale worked for World Vision. We shared the same values, and he enjoyed tennis as much as I did. I met his family and discovered their passion for football and politics and their strong connection with the local community. I am very grateful to Arthur, Heather, Robin, Deirdre and Amanda for their love and support and proud to be part of the Broad family tree. Dale and I were both working in Melbourne. On our way to Kerang we would drive through Bendigo, and I fell in love with the city in a forest. We moved to central Victoria 20 years ago and have never looked back.
With the discovery of gold in 1851, people came to Bendigo from all across the world. It is a place where George Lansell walked by foot to the goldfields, first starting as a candle maker before investing in mining. He worked hard, overcame setbacks, expanded his knowledge and became known as Australia’s quartz king and one of the wealthiest people in Australia. He built a stunning 40-room mansion in Bendigo called Fortuna, which still exists today, and he was known for his charitable endeavours and contributed much to the local community. After he returned to England, the people of Bendigo signed a petition asking him to come home.
Today Bendigo has grown into a regional city. Without any direct water supply, it still relies on a gravity-fed water channel built in the 1870s. Sacred Heart Cathedral dominates the skyline, a church designed in 1897 and finished nearly 100 years later. It is the home of Bendigo Bank, which started from humble beginnings and now employs over 7000 people.
Regional Victoria is a place of opportunity where people feel a strong connection to the land and to each other, a place where people come with nothing but determination and resilience and build not just a home for their family but a vibrant local community. At the Bendigo town hall on Australia Day it was great to see nearly 70 people become Australian citizens from over 20 countries, and they have chosen to live in regional Victoria. These personal stories have shaped our history, and they will continue to shape our future.
That connection with regional Victoria is why I chose the Nationals. It is a party with commonsense politics that balances social, environmental and economic interests and that values democracy, freedom and equal opportunity regardless of your background or postcode. It is a party with a long history and a bright future that now represents regional Victoria from border to border and has a majority of women in this Parliament based on merit and not quotas.
I am grateful to Nationals branch members across the state, including Daniel, Elaine, Lindsay, Emma and Bill, for their contributions to a great result and would especially like to acknowledge our local branch, including Murray and Nola, Jim and Cathy, Dan and Simon, and my friends Ellie and Michelle, for their support over many years.
It is an honour to be part of a strong Nationals team under the experienced leadership of Peter Walsh and to join Melina Bath and my colleagues in the other chamber. They all reflect the authenticity and heart that people want to see in politics. But this is not my first attempt at being elected. I have stood as a candidate before, and I remember being outside a supermarket when a man came up to me and said, ‘Gaelle, don’t do it. It’s not too late – don’t go into politics.’ Well, he is not alone. Politics is a dirty word. A friend of mine in business said, ‘I have no interest in politics, but I am glad you do.’ For me, politics is about connecting people and building community. It is about listening, researching, making informed decisions and having a vision for the future.
If you knew my parents, you would understand my motivation. I grew up with a mum and dad committed to serving the local community. My dad Clive Stone was a man of faith, hardworking, intelligent, compassionate and generous. He worked on a farm and earned a badge at the markets for 40 years of service. He was an expert in his field and inspired many to grow berries in their own backyards as the author of The Australian Berry Book. He used the funds from the sale of water to build an orphanage, and he travelled to India to help farmers install irrigation. And if he saw a pothole, he would take his tractor to fix it. Dad gave me the courage to stand, and I hope that my service will honour his legacy.
My mum shares that same commitment to serving others. Together they helped to start Mountain District Christian School. With just over 100 students from prep to year 10, I learned to connect with people of all ages and backgrounds, to care for the world we live in and to value people for who they are and not what they do. Mum worked as a teacher and continues to be actively involved in the local community with the Country Women’s Association and Quilts for Orphans, and I hope to bring some of her creativity and fun to this chamber.
My parents were married for 45 years, but like the Bendigo cathedral, which started as a vision that others saw built, some people plant a seed and may never see it grow. After past disappointments my friend Bec said, ‘It’s not if but when you get into politics.’ I held on to those words even after she passed away from cancer, just like my dad, several years ago.
My contribution in this place will be influenced by my experience outside of politics and the people I meet along the way: people like Alec, the 16-year-old I met as a mentor for disadvantaged youth, who was homeless and needed the support of local services to help him find his feet; people like Miriam, who called me on the day I was elected to tell me about her son, who started using marijuana at age 29. He stole money from her, and she learned to speak in code with friends when he lived in her home. Now at 36 he is in a psychiatric centre for the fourth time after suffering mental health breakdowns. And there is the couple I met from Karook, whose home, like many, was insured for everything except floods. They spent six weeks out of home, sold half their cattle and fed those remaining by hand. In Rochester, supermarkets, schools and nearly every home were flooded. The community have rallied together to continue the recovery efforts, and they need our support.
As a volunteer for different groups I have seen the benefits of working together to build community and I have learned that the more you contribute to your local community, the more you care about its future. As I look back at the experiences I have had in government, business and the media, I am grateful to those who have given me opportunities along the way: Murray Thompson, who served with integrity as the member for Sandringham in this Parliament for 26 years, who first gave me an opportunity as a parliamentary intern and later encouraged me to consider a future in politics; and former federal treasurer Peter Costello for the effective combination of good policymaking and strong leadership. I worked in his office when the GST was first introduced, and I remember it well because I was answering the phone calls. Jonathan Ridnell, a presenter on ABC radio for nearly 25 years, gave me the opportunity to sit behind the microphone and experience the responsibility and privilege of sharing people’s stories. I thank Victorian Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie for being a passionate advocate for regional Victoria and helping me see that what started as a farmers party now embraces all those who live and work in regional Victoria, and Carol Schwartz and the team at the Pathways to Politics Program for Women for sharing the tools and inspiring more women to stand.
In recent years I have been a manager in one of Australia’s largest regional banks, and I have learned from true professionals like Stephen Brown. I had the privilege of leading a great team and managing programs across regional Victoria. I am grateful for the opportunity to have helped people impacted by drought, bushfires, COVID and the recent floods and to better understand the challenges that regional communities face.
I am interested in state government because the policies that become law in this place impact our daily lives. During the pandemic government policies divided our state. People lost their jobs, families were unable to grieve together, businesses closed their doors and kids dropped out of school. People were led by fear, and to move forward we need hope. In this chamber we have a shared responsibility to uphold democracy, advocate for our regions, ensure accountability and transparency in government and contribute to informed public debate.
Regional Victoria is home to 25 per cent of our state’s population, but we only received 13 per cent of infrastructure spending in Labor’s last budget. Mildura, Swan Hill, Wodonga, Shepparton and Bendigo are growing, and we need significant investment in our roads, schools, hospitals and rail to help keep pace with population growth and provide the infrastructure that our region needs. We need greater equity in government funding to decentralise Victoria, to build a state of cities and not a city-state. We need to curb our spiralling state debt and reduce the cost-of-living pressures on families. We need better access to child care and mental health services, reduced surgery waiting lists and to make it easier for people to find a home.
Despite these challenges, regional Victoria keeps moving forward. There are job opportunities in health care, construction, retail, education and manufacturing, and if you move to regional Victoria, you will never look back. There are great local communities right across the region. I invite you to explore northern Victoria, from the beautiful Macedon Ranges to the mighty Murray, from the goldfields to the High Country.
We are looking forward to the Commonwealth Games in 2026, and our athletes are already in training. To represent our country at the highest level requires dedication, hard work and sacrifice, and we should apply that same effort in politics. But just like sport, it takes a team to perform at your best, and in this role I am very grateful for the support of my family and friends. I especially want to thank my husband Dale, who has been part of this journey from the start, and our three amazing kids Aaron, Lydia and Nathan. Watching you grow up has been the greatest joy of my life.
I wake up every day grateful for this opportunity and pray that my service in this Parliament will honour all those who have supported me and that my contribution, however short or long it may be, will benefit the people of the Northern Victoria for many years to come.
Sitting suspended 3:37 pm until 3:54 pm.