Madam Speaker, Werte, Palya, good afternoon and welcome.
Brothers, sisters, fellow Territorians, I offer and pay my respects to the traditional owners, past, present and into the future who, as our first Australians, remain our nation’s rightful custodians and owners.
I pay tribute to the land, the culture, the sea and the deep connection we all have to this place, our home, the Northern Territory.
As I begin my maiden speech today, I offer a deep thanks to Phillip Miller, Creed Joseph Mungkulljarra, Shirlene Campbell and my aunty, Barbara Shaw, for the cultural blessings in our first languages and words of encouragement also providing me a safe passage into this Chamber.
I stand here today humbled by the task before me, grateful for the trust the people of Namatjira has bestowed and mindful of the sacrifices made by our ancestors and elders.
I am Chanston James Paech.
I am the son of a proud Aboriginal woman and a man who was a proud product of multiculturalism, a German immigrant.
I was born in Alice Springs, our nation’s heart and I have grown up in this place.
I have come to understand that Central Australia is like no other.
I have learnt how we are all linked and connected in this place, how Central Australia is a strong place of strong people.
I have grown to understand and know that this is my place; it is a part of who I am.
I am a part of its uniqueness; I am a part of Central Australia—the smell of rain when it hits the hot desert dirt; the endless stars in our enormous skies; the dusty fun of camping out along the Finke Desert Race; watching the mad cowboys at bush races and rodeos like Harts Range and Santa Teresa; or laying in your swag, watching the coals glow in midnight campfires.
These are our experiences; this is our home, and it is a place where everyone feels that special and unique connection to this ancient land.
I am a descendent of the Arrernte and Gurindji peoples, whose lands span from Central Australia to the Victoria River regions.
A man whose family is somewhat similar to that of a dotted canvas, where no two dots are quite the same; whose heritage is seen as strength, not weakness; a man whose family has never discouraged people because of their beliefs.
Although time never stops, we must never forget our past.
We must not forget the contributions of those who have laid the foundations for our future today.
I pay respects to the founding pioneers of Central Australia, in particular my great-uncle, Walter Smith, and the many Afghan cameleers who have played a vital and positive role in shaping our community’s social fabric.
We have lived, and continue to live, harmoniously together, as one in our community.
Like my family, I intend to weave the pages of history for Central Australia as a progressive politician who fought for positive change for the people of Central Australia and the Northern Territory.
Throughout my life I have been surrounded by people from all walks of life, who have grown with me, inspired me and, most importantly, have taught me the meaning of life and how to overcome hard times.
But no one has inspired me more than grandmother, Barbara Ross, a proud Centralian Aboriginal woman, the daughter of Ada Wade and granddaughter of Topsy Smith.
My grandmother may not have been a profiled or controversial figure, but to me she was everything: the keeper of my stories; the linkage to my culture; my first political contact; a proud Labor unionist.
As a child growing up, I was encouraged by my mothers, fathers, aunties and uncles to dream big, never resist, never denying my imagination the opportunity to create a vision.
Like my childhood I still dream today, I dream that our people, the people from Namatjira will have the same opportunity as people living right across this land.
That dream is becoming a reality; it is starting with me standing here in front of you all today.
It is one of the reasons why I put my hand up to join the Australian Labor Party, to ensure that people living in regional and remote areas in the Northern territory have a strong voice in this chamber, a voice that will advocate for its people, a voice that will reflect its people.
10 years ago something special happened, 10 years ago on my 18th birthday I was given a membership form to join a family with compassion, empathy and commitment.
That family was the Australian Labor Party: a party with a long standing commitment to the disadvantaged of our community, who has stood with Aboriginal people in the hardest of times, when rights have been under attack and living conditions have gone backwards.
I took that card and joined, I have never looked back.
Sure, there are times when I have struggled, when I have questioned why? But I have never been alone, I have always been supported, mentored and encouraged to bloom.
I want every person in the Northern territory to bloom, to unlock their full potential, to be the people they want to be.
I believe the community has a strong and real voice and we deserve to have our voice heard.
In a nutshell, I believe in Central Australia and by working together we create a strong future.
I want things to change, and change for the better.
I do not want to just sit and hope things change.
I do not want to just talk about changing things.
I want to be a part of a team that will change.
I want to make sure all Territorians can be part of making this change happen.
Change in our communities, so our people are not waiting months to have a broken toilet fixed.
Change in the way we develop the bush so we realise its economic potential and support its development by properly resourcing roads and transport links so that cattle can get to markets, families can get to town and home again, and visitors can get out and see our great regions.
Change in how we empower our people, acknowledging the importance of community whilst improving services and access to economic development, health care and employment, change in how policies and laws are developed so that race-based policies are a thing for the history books.
Of course, this is something that cannot be done alone.
It takes a community to make change, and we must do it together.
I am proud and confident to be part of a government that will deliver much needed reform to housing, health and education.
To ensure these foundations continue the path for my people to self-determination.
This does not mean hand-balling the issues, we must work with our people to build the capacity to take on the challenges ahead.
I believe the Northern Territory is at a critical crossroads; our future, the future of the Northern Territory, rests on a large degree of decisions that we will debate, discuss and decide in this Chamber.
That is why I want to make sure that the voice of Territorians is represented fully in this Chamber and that all sides of each story are told, and heard with respect and dignity.
I will always put the concerns of Territorians first and I will always listen, even when I may have an opposing view.
As I entered this assembly today as a new politician, It is fitting to say that politics is in my blood.
I am no stranger to politics.
In 2012 I was elected by the people of Alice Springs to serve as an Alice Springs town councillor; a role I was extremely proud of; a role I did without fear or favour and a role I am eternally grateful for.
From an early age I have been exposed to politics at all levels, from local government to Territory and federal arenas, to the grass roots politics of the community controlled sectors; in my community known as ‘black politics’.
The process was each year the family would gather around the dining table to discuss the upcoming elections for the community controlled organisations, the policies being put forward and the vision people had for my people.
I am privileged to have been given the opportunity to observe, participate and shape the future for my people.
My community is a community willing to take on the challenges; willing to defy the odds; challenge the basic of ideas.
A community who, given back the local control and decision making, will make a difference and will shape the future in the best way we know possible: our way.
Of course, every campaign or journey’s path to success comes at a price that some accept and others refuse.
I am one of those who will refuse to accept behaviours that cause harm, offence or humiliate our people.
This Chamber will always be a place for members to explore the wonders of diversity, to represent interest groups and participate in robust discussions.
But I will never allow or tolerate discrimination, homophobia or hate speech in this Assembly.
Namatjira is an electorate so big, so beautiful, so diverse, whose desire to achieve equality continues and an electorate whose diversity is celebrated, not discouraged.
From each corner of the electorate comes a special form of strength.
From the remote communities comes a resilience and a deep spiritual connection to this ancient land and from the rural residents a desire to protect our natural resources, the environment and protect our precious lifestyle.
That means keeping the rural area rural.
Our town campers bring the passion, creativity and experiences of community life to our towns.
They bring a special spiritual energy.
The tourism townships throughout Namatjira give light into the diversity of our global brothers and sisters.
I stand here smiling still at the opportunity to represent the Territory’s most vibrant and diverse electorate, smiling at the memories and images I have instilled in my mind by the people of Namatjira.
It is my role – and everyone else on this side of the Assembly as Labor members – to articulate the positive vision for a better Territory, to fight for it and reform it.
I will do everything in my power to defend Territorians’ interests against the self-interest of others.
In part, that means I will stand by those people struggling with local issues to protect the rural areas of Alice Springs, deliver much-needed housing reform and ensure this government delivers a progressive agenda for all Territorians.
Everywhere we look there is work to be done.
The Territory’s economy calls for action and change and we must act, not only to create Territory jobs but to restore a future for our next generation – our up-and-coming leaders, our children, our family, our friends.
I look forward to the day when this country will recognise my rights as equal rights, when I too can marry in my country, on my country, as a recognised first Australian.
Until then I will stand proud with my Labor colleagues across our vast lands to ensure that all Territorians have equality and that we reach a time when our first Australians are constitutionally recognised.
Until then, I will stand part of a team that will build houses and roads and protect the environment, and will build a future that’s bright for all Territorians.
Cynics may question how and when, they may yell and scream, but I will not surrender my passion and commitment for Territorians and our future.
I entered this Chamber on a positive and excited note, and I will I finish my speech in the same tone.
I am a Centralian man.
I am the nation’s first openly gay Indigenous parliamentarian.
I am eternally proud of who I am and where I come from.
I own it and wear it with pride.
I am young, I am gay, I am black; a true-blue Territorian.
I am a proud face of the diversity and future of the great Australian Labor Party.
I want to thank members of the Australian Labor Party, and particularly those of Central Australia.
I offer the deepest of thanks to previous Labor senators: Nova Peris and Trish Crossin.
I acknowledge the member for Lingiari, Warren Snowden, and his contribution.
I offer thanks to my life’s mentors, who have guided me throughout my journey here today: the former member for Stuart the Honourable Karl Hampton; former federal member for Port Adelaide, the Honourable Mark Butler; and federal senator for the Northern Territory, Malarndirri McCarthy, for their mentorship, guidance and sound advice.
I thank Pat Turner, Eileen Hoosan, Walter Shaw, Michael Liddle and Owen Cole for developing, guiding and negotiating me through our Aboriginal politics - a tough apprenticeship for anyone.
I thank John Adams, Mandy Taylor, Emma Ringer, Sally Langton, Raelene Wilson, also known as La-La, Phillip Alice, David Doolan, James Ricciardone, Theresa Nipper, David Halliday, Joseph Scales and Jade Kudrenko, for always being strong and encouraging supporters and friends.
You mean the world to me.
These are just some of the people who have a special place in my heart.
They are some of the people who have taught me the compassionate, committed and progressive values that have enabled me to achieve so much in my life so far.
I offer the deepest thanks, appreciation, respect and love to one of my cultural mothers, my aunty—the previous Member for Namatjira, Alison Anderson.
Her generosity, cooperation, commitment and love to our people has shown throughout her time in this Assembly.
It is with the greatest respect and excitement that I move forward and continue to ensure that the people of Namatjira are well represented in this place, as their new member.
I also pay homage to another dear friend of mine, Mr Neil Bell, the former Member for Macdonnell—now known as the seat of Namatjira—a man whose commitment, passion and love for our people remains firm in the hearts of our people.
The language of friendship is not in words but in meanings.
Mr Bell means the world to my people.
I acknowledge all my family and friends here today: my mother, Cheryl Schembri; my aunties, Eileen Hoosan and Jodie Lally—in the gallery today.
I thank them for believing in me from an early age and making the time to see me deliver my first speech in this Assembly.
I offer the greatest thanks to all my friends, family and supporters, particularly those in Namatjira.
Thank you to all the people who beeped and waved to me each night on the roadside with my team.
Your support and encouragement was overwhelming and it great assisted during the hard times.
Last, but certainly not least, I offer thanks, support and commitment to the unions of the Northern Territory.
Unions are not narrow, nor are they self-interested groups.
They have fought for justice and democracy.
Unions, I thank you.
I thank the CFMEU, a progressive union, for their guidance and encouragement during the election campaign.
It is a dream of mine that on my last day, during my last speech ever in this Chamber, I will be able to stand proud and talk about the positive difference I have made for the people of Namatjira, and the greater Territory.
By then my wish will be simple and my job will be done.
Until then, I remain committed to the people of Namatjira and the Northern Territory to ensure the voices of all Territorians are recognised and heard, and treated with dignity and respect in this Chamber.