• The Member for Cook, Cynthia Lui, acknowledges the Cape York Traditional Owners in the gallery as she gives her heartfelt maiden speech. (AAP)Source: AAP
Cynthia Lui, the first Torres Strait Islander person elected to any Australian parliament, has vowed to give a voice to the voiceless in her maiden speech to the Queensland Legislative Assembly.
Ella Archibald-Binge

16 Feb 2018 - 11:24 AM  UPDATED 16 Feb 2018 - 1:55 PM

As the Labor member for Cook stood to deliver her heartfelt speech, she had a traditional island mat tucked under one arm.

"For Torres Strait Islanders this mat signifies life’s journey from womb to tomb," Ms Lui told the chamber. 

"It is used for housing material, sleeping, conceiving, birthing, initiation, education, marriage, welcoming, meetings, transport, hunting, ceremonies, shelter and to our final journey. As I begin this new journey I will embrace the significance of what this mat represents as a place to sit down and create an open dialogue around various issues."

Ms Lui became the first Torres Strait Islander elected to an Australian parliament when she won the north Queensland electorate of Cook at the state election in November. She now sits alongside Leeanne Enoch, the first Aboriginal woman elected to Queensland parliament, and Stephen Andrew, the first South Sea Islander elected to state parliament. 

Speaking in front of Cape York Traditional Owners who sat in the gallery, the proud Iamalaig (Yam Islander) woman of the Kulkalgal nation began by acknowledging the achievements of her ancestors. 

Watch Cynthia Lui's maiden speech in full here

"Today I stand on the shoulders of giants," she said, her voice shaking with emotion.  

"I remember the 1936 maritime strike, the 23 August 1937 meeting of the Torres Strait Islander council, World War II, the 1967 referendum, 1970s ‘Border not change’ and the Mabo High Court decision. I honour nguzu muruygul, my ancestors, and nguzu buway, my Torres Strait heritage, as I accept this significant role in history to become the first Torres Strait Islander to enter any parliament in Australia."

Ms Lui went on to thank her parents, who continue to be her "biggest role models".

"Having a teacher for a mother and a politician for a father shaped my values from a very young age to stand up and to fight for people, to give voice to those who do not have a voice and to be a passionate advocate for regional and remote communities," she said.

'I was the child of my community... Now I consider myself the woman of Cook'

Born and raised on Yam Island, a remote community in the Torres Strait, Ms Lui told the parliament she came from "humble beginnings".

She spoke of her early schooling with "fibro walls set on bare concrete floors", and her childhood spent without electricity or running water in community housing that had "holes in the floor and leaks in the ceiling".

"I was not raised to see what I did not have nor question why I did not have certain things. My parents worked hard to make sure we had food on the table, shelter over our head and a bed to sleep in," she said.

"My strong cultural practice and traditions allowed me to grow into a person who stood firmly in her own identity... I was not raised to see the challenges my parents faced living in a remote community but, rather, I saw two people who worked hard to achieve a brighter future for their community.

"I was not just the child of my parents; I was the child of my community and Torres Strait. Now I consider myself the woman of Cook."

'I experienced the passing of many loved ones in my community... it felt like I failed' 

After leaving her home and family at age 11, Ms Lui began her first job as a trainee health worker - a position that she says started her journey into politics, after seeing both her grandparents die, her grandmother at only 65. 

"Unfortunately, I experienced the passing of many loved ones in my community and each time it felt like I failed," she said. 

"I choose to tell my story today because I want you to understand that people in regional and remote communities do not often get a choice and they accept what they are given and do not question why things happen the way they do. However, we, as members of this Legislative Assembly, do in the decisions we make." 

Ms Lui worked to achieve better health outcomes for her community, but felt powerless to solve the larger issues of employment, housing, education and high cost of living. "Frustrated and tired", she left Yam Island to work in the areas of child protection, family violence and homelessness, before moving into a political role, where she could "do so much more in my capacity to make a difference in people’s lives".

Ms Lui vowed to work with local governments to achieve positive change in employment, economic opportunities and climate change in her electorate of Cook, the state's fourth-largest electorate encompassing Cape York and the Torres Strait. 

In closing, she pledged to honour the words of her grandfather: ‘Do your best. Never give up.’