KALAMUNDA MLA Matthew Hughes has used his maiden speech in State Parliament to share details of his poor upbringing in a council housing estate in Lancashire in post-war Britain.
“For most of my childhood, our family of three girls and four boys depended on our mother as a sole parent,” he said.
“Little money came in each week and I have a distinct recollection as a five-year-old of hiding under the stairs having to be very quiet as the rent man knocked and needed to be avoided.
“But we coped and were no different from many families who struggled at that time.”
Mr Hughes, a long-serving principal at John Septimus Roe Anglican Community School, said without the influence of his headmaster at Egerton Park Secondary Modern School, his life story would have been different.
“This headmaster recognised our disadvantage and used his energy to enable his pupils to see a range of possibilities for their futures,” he said.
“It was his passion that helped shape my view of the world.
“He gave me options denied to my older siblings and I knew I wanted to be a teacher like him.”
Mr Hughes migrated to Australia in 1979 and he immediately started teaching.
“My first school was the Foothills School in Guildford, which was established at the behest of families in the area who found their children not readily catered for by the local schools,” he said.
“Some were very bright but oddly eccentric, some had degrees of intellectual and/or physical disability and some were simply badly behaved. I started as an English teacher, but by the end of 1979 there had been a steady turnover of staff and I was approached to see whether I would take on the role of acting co-ordinator. I ended up staying for nearly 11 years.”
Mr Hughes said he became politically aware as a teenager.
“It was the 1964 UK election and Harold Wilson’s emphasis on increasing opportunity within society, particularly through change and expansion within the education system, crystallised for me the role governments could, should and must have in driving social change,” he said.
“It was then that (British) Labour values resonated with me. It was my light on my hill.
“I saw, as a 14-year-old, that it had been the expansion of the welfare state under the immediate post- war Labour government that had radically altered the prospects for the poor, including mine.
“The Labour Party was the party of progressive politics, dedicated to the common good and alleviating disadvantage arising from inequality of opportunity.”
Mr Hughes said 53 years later, he had no reason to change that view.
“The expanded welfare state in the immediate post- war years enabled me to embark on a free degree at the University of Leicester despite my mother’s lack of means,” he said.
“What was true of my experience in the UK had been true of my experience in Australia.
“It is the labour movement, the trade unions and the Labor Party that provide the engine room and agency for progressive change for the betterment of the common good.
“Labor is the architect of Medicare, the superannuation guarantee scheme, the Gonski funding reforms of our schools and, most recently, the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
“Social justice is at the core of Labor’s values. It is in our party’s DNA.”
HILLS NEEDS DROVE LABOR SWING: HUGHES
On the subject of what went wrong with the Liberal Party’s landslide election defeat in March, Mr Hughes said there were plenty of reasons voters turned their backs on the party.
“The WA Labor victory in seats such as Kalamunda cannot be simply attributed to ‘it was time’, or that the Liberal Government had held office since 2008, nor that it was tired and in disarray,” he said.
“Its approach was increasingly arrogant and distant and it had a recorded a litany of broken promises.
“Many traditional Liberal voters in Kalamunda told me they were tired of being taken for granted, they were tired of a lack of action to tackle a range of issues in the electorate and they were tired of what they saw as the government’s gross mismanagement of the state’s finances.”
Mr Hughes said the local issues that were left untouched by the WA Liberal Party were numerous.
“They include the lack of available high-needs aged care and the need to ensure that our fellow citizens who benefit from the NDIS are not disadvantaged by the WA NDIS agreement,” he said.
“Asbestos-contaminated sites litter the electorate and there are concerns from parents about the requirement for the rigorous management of asbestos in older school buildings.
“Other local issues include police response times and crime prevention, clarity about services at Kalamunda Hospital, the need for a comprehensive Hills and rural fire strategy, the poor state of the fabric of many of our public schools and the metropolitan region scheme processes used for determining scheme amendments, including the role of local government, environmental conservation, urbanisation and the proposed — believe it from its title — green growth plan.
“There is much to keep me busy for the next four years.”