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I rise to speak on the Greens bill as well. From the outset, and I will address some of the comments that have been made during the course of the debate, I have got to say that one of the things that you get the privilege to do in this place is to speak from a position of experience—of lived experience in some respects.
I see Mr Barton in the chamber, and he talks passionately about the rideshare industry and the taxi industry. He has been there. He has lived that experience. He has been part of that community, and he continues to be. And I have got to say that in this space I do feel qualified.
There are many things that you do not feel qualified necessarily to speak on, because you may not have that lived experience, but that does not mean that you cannot have empathy for the circumstances in which you are debating, whatever the bill might be. In this space I do feel very qualified because, as I have said on many occasions in this place, I come from a public housing background—proudly so. You do not have to go too far to have a look over the horizon and see the towers that I grew up in before moving to further public housing in Reservoir and other parts of Melbourne. I know what it is like to have a parent who was seeking public housing for whatever reason that my mum needed to seek it, with five kids in tow. So I do feel qualified, and proudly so. I am not ashamed, not one bit, of any time that I have spent in a public housing estate. But what I will not accept in this place is anybody telling me, my mother or people from the communities that I lived in that there are certain parts of Melbourne that you cannot live in because you might have a different pair of shoes, you might have a different tag on your shirt—that you might not have enough money in your pocket, that you will be different.
I said when I first came into this place, in my first speech, that as a child in the Flemington flats I did not know I was different. I had no idea, because all of the kids and all of the people around me in my community were all the same. And no-one pointed to you and said, ‘Well, you’re different because of those shoes’—or that shirt or that bike or the footy or whatever it happened to be. We were different, but I realised—and I said this in the inaugural—that we were different when adults, adults outside of that community, told us we were different and treated us differently. That is when we knew, whether it was at school, whether it was on the sporting field, whatever environment it was, that we were different. And it was adults. It was not kids; it was adults, people who should know better, telling us that we did not fit in, that we did not belong, that we could not possibly be a part of this community—because we were different. Well, yes, we were, and the difference was varied and complex.
For some people in my community it was simply a matter of economics. For others it was domestic violence. For others it was mental health. It was a variety of reasons, because there is not one single definition that you can hang or label that you can put on people from the communities that I came from, because we were very diverse.
If you go to the public housing communities today, they are very different from the ones that I grew up in—very different. Today a lot of the residents are from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds—very different to the very white Melbourne and Australia that I grew up in in the early 1960s. It is very different, and to have people come into this place in 2022 and argue for segregation is bloody disgraceful. It is bloody disgraceful, and it is shameful. Ms Lovell in her contribution said we need to think about where we put these people, we need to think about where we put this housing.
Ms Lovell interjected.
Mr GEPP: Go back and read the transcript. If you want to know what you said, go back and read the transcript, because everybody in this place heard it loudly and clearly. Because those people are different. Yes, they are different. They do not wear the right shoes. ‘Oh, we don’t want the kids to be teased because they have got a Samsung phone instead of an iPhone. There is some point of difference, so it is far better that we put them over there and we train them in the way that we want to train them, and when we think they are ready, then we might integrate them’. Well, bollocks to that, because your position on the socio-economic ladder should never determine your participation in this society under any circumstances. Shame on you for suggesting that it should. Shame on you.
Ms Lovell: On a point of order, Acting President, the member is verballing me. It is not what I said. It is not what I intended to say in my contribution, and he is just verballing me. I know it is not a point of order, but I need to put on the record that that is not what I said or intended to be the tone.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Ms Patten): Thank you, Ms Lovell. It is not a point of order. Please continue, Mr Gepp.
Mr GEPP: Regardless of what you may have intended, what you said was very clear for everybody to see and everybody to hear.
Ms Lovell: On a point of order, Acting President, what I said is not the subject of the motion, and I would ask that you bring him back to the motion.
Mr GEPP: Further to the point of order, I am entitled to respond, Acting President, to previous contributions in the debate, and that is what I am doing.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Ms Patten): Thank you, Ms Lovell. Thank you, Mr Gepp. Yes, this is a bill around housing targets and human rights, so please continue.
Mr GEPP: Thank you. I was offended, as somebody who has lived in these communities, who is a product of these communities, who has been faced with the circumstance of not having a roof over one’s head for whatever reason, and there are thousands of people that go through these things. Ms Patten, during her contribution, talked about the variety of circumstances people find themselves in—and now we see that the single fastest growing cohort of homelessness is women over the age of 50—and the reasons why these people find themselves in those circumstances. What they require of us in this place is the best of us—to find the solutions, to work our backsides off and to find a variety of solutions tailored to their particular needs so that we can give them a hand up and ensure that society is wrapping many services around those people, regardless of the circumstances in which they find themselves. What they do not expect are debates in this place from the opposition about where you can and cannot place public housing, social housing or community housing simply because the residents might not fit in.
I was gobsmacked by that contribution. I was gobsmacked by that argument. I think it is a disgrace. I think the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Guy, needs to read the contribution in Hansard, and he needs to come out and denounce that contribution. He should also, frankly, call on the member to resign her position. I think it is a bloody disgrace that in 2022 anyone would walk into this place and argue for segregation—segregation based on your socio-economic position in our society. It is an absolute disgrace. It is a disgrace, and I will not tolerate it. It is offensive to the people that I lived with for much of the early part of my life, certainly through to early adulthood. It is offensive to those people. It is offensive to everybody who is in public housing today. It is offensive to everybody who is in social housing today, in community housing, those on waiting lists, those that need us in this place to put our heads together to come up with the solutions that enable them to have a decent standard of livability.
If you want to know what it is like, go and spend a week with these people, with my people. Go and spend a week with them. Understand what it is like. I cannot even imagine the challenges, the trials and tribulations that somebody like Dr Ratnam has had to put up with for most of her life simply because of the colour of her skin. I cannot imagine that. But I can imagine because, as a man who is about to turn 59 years of age, I still hear it today from people in the political system in this state and in this country—arguing for segregation based on socio-economic position in society. It is a bloody disgrace. You are a disgrace, and you ought to resign.
Ms Lovell: On a point of order, Acting President, what the member is arguing is absolutely ridiculous. That is not what I said. I am offended by his inference about me, and I ask him to withdraw.
Mr GEPP: Absolutely not.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Ms Patten): I would ask you, Mr Gepp, in the remaining 1½ minutes that you have, to come back to the bill.
Mr GEPP: Certainly. Acting President, I thank you for your guidance.
We have enormous challenges in this state around homelessness, around public housing. I am very proud of the work that the Andrews Labor government is doing in this space, but it does not end just because we are building $5.3 billion worth of housing. It does not end there. It does mean that we are pouring money into things like the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System and responding to all of those recommendations. It does mean that we are responding to the rise—doesn’t it just rip you apart when you read and hear about the next episode—in domestic violence. There is a whole heap of issues here that we are all grappling with. For the sake, please, of the communities that I have lived in and come from, let the best of us find the solutions so that women, like my mother of so many years ago with five kids in tow, needing a house can get a house.