Independent MP Kerryn Phelps called for the ‘human experience” to enter the heart of political decisions and declared that Australians have had “enough of the way party politics is being practised,” during her maiden speech in Parliament.
She spoke about the need to take urgent action on climate change, and to make a “compassionate compromise” in order to get kids and their families off Nauru.
In what you would think would be an unusual move for a Prime Minister who is now leading a minority government — in which Phelps’ support is necessary — Scott Morrison left the House before Phelps started talking.
PM Scott Morrison exits the House of Representatives as Dr Kerryn Phelps gets ready to deliver her first speech pic.twitter.com/fZsLkDgAuH
— Alex Ellinghausen (@ellinghausen) November 26, 2018
We’re hoping Morrison and others caught up on some of the highlights from the speech, because there were some good ones.
For one, Phelps declared that her win in Wentworth proves there is a place for the “sensible centre” in Australian politics, and also that Australians are fed up with what they are seeing in Parliament.
“The Australian people are saying they have had enough of the way party politics is being practised. They’ve had enough of the interests of the party taking precedence over the interests of the people.”
Phelps said Australia’s cruel treatment of asylum seekers “ignores the human experience at the heart of the policy of offshore processing.”
“No longer can we tolerate our government holding the lives of these children and their families to ransom to make a point about maritime arrivals,” she said.
“Yes, we need strong border protection. But it is not — and must not be — a choice between deaths at sea and indefinite offshore confinement.”
She said we must find a “compassionate compromise” in order to end the “mismatch” between what the majority of Australian people want.
Phelps also declared that the time is now to end the climate change policy paralysis.
“This is not about the numbers. It is about the people. We have to think about the human experience that will result from failure to take action. The imminent disappearance of island nations like Kiribati or Tuvalu, altered food supply, drought, floods, increases in water-borne and insect-borne diseases.
“The people most vulnerable to the effects of climate change will be children, the poor, the sick, the elderly.”
Phelps said Australia has an abundance of raw materials for renewable energy and that we are running out of excuses for failing to act. “What we do in this house, what we decide here, creates the world of our grandchildren. We all have a responsibility to them,” she said.
Phelps also shared how she has been a general practitioner in her electorate for almost two decades, and has “had the privilege of seeing it from a profoundly human perspective.”
“I have helped to deliver my constituents’ babies, guided them through cancer diagnosis and treatment, grieved with them for the loss of loved ones, helped them wrestle with depression, and celebrated their happy news.
“A career in general practice grounds you in reality like no other profession possibly can … it is a career that deals with life and death and all that lies between. It is a career where what really matters in this world is presented to you every single day.”
She said that she was trained to examine evidence and draw careful conclusions as a doctor, to diagnose the problem, develop management plans and know when to call in the expert specialists for advice.
“Every decision we make must address the fundamental question: what will this mean for this person’s human experience?
“This is the template for the human-centric approach I bring to the job of parliamentarian and member for Wentworth.”
“My philosophy was then, as it is now, that the human experience must be at the heart of the political decisions being made about health policy and health economics.”
Phelps also described why she became an activist for marriage equality, explaining how a tabloid paper “outed” her and her partner Jackie after they were married in a religious ceremony in New York.
“We could have chosen to hide, to wait for it to blow over, but that is not in either of our DNA. Instead, we resolutely began our long battle for marriage equality. We sacrificed our personal privacy, and Jackie her teaching career, for the cause. We became accidental activists.”
Phelps is the first Jewish woman in federal Parliament and first woman to represent the seat of Wentworth.