Old World to New
When the last streamer snapped and the ship slipped the mother country’s embrace Bridie and Eddie McGuire, Sr, began a journey for the generations. Like wave upon wave of post-war migrants, my parents had the imagination to dream of a better future for our family and the courage to cross the world to pursue it —beyond the rancour of the march and the nightmare of the dark, where all the dogs of Europe bark.
When we arrived in Broadmeadows in 1958 it was a raw fringe at the end of the line. The systemic failure of governments to deliver the necessary infrastructure to build a community meant there were so few pavements between our home and the railway station that Mum left her muddy shoes on the platform, standing alongside those of other job seekers. Dad joked there were so many Scottish thistles he could never be homesick.
I stand here today because of the values of my family, the faith of the Australian Labor Party and the humbling support of the people of Broadmeadows. Not only did they nurture me but they elected me as, historically, the first person raised in Broadmeadows to represent this proud community in the Victorian Parliament.
Before fate there is family. My father was born during the war to end all wars. At 14 he led the pit pony in a coal mine two miles below his hometown of Hamilton to keep the Great Depression’s wolves from the door. As a Scottish soldier at the Battle of Britain he fired .303 rounds into a blitzkrieg that blocked the sky, he helped the shell shocked survive the mayhem, yet he spoke nothing of war. Growing up in Ireland, Bridie Brennan was taken out of school at 14 to become a farmer and surrogate mother to her younger siblings.
Four years later she joined the Irish diaspora.
Dad never failed to remind our family that Broadmeadows was a ‘dream come true’ — the opportunity for regular work, a home of one’s own, the sun on your back, even with snow white skin in a sunburnt country. Mum called our concrete housing commission home the answer to a prayer, even though it had to be hosed down in summer before you could sleep. My parents are intelligent people denied formal education and greater opportunities in life. Mum taught my sisters, Evelyn and Brigette, my brother, Eddie, and me to read before we went to school, then she worked on assembly lines to give us a better education, the key to opportunity. Dad dug ditches. Their encouragement, work ethic and commitment inspired me to win an academic scholarship to the Christian Brothers College St Kilda.
Melbourne’s Fault Line
The daily train ride to school was an education in itself. It crossed Melbourne’s socioeconomic fault line. The smell from the Nabisco factory in Broadmeadows was replaced at Newmarket by the smell of fear from the slaughter yards. Saw-toothed factories for tallow and hides etched the skyline. Station after station provided fresh insight into how the world turns. Country men and women in moleskins and tweeds poured out at one station; at the next stop the pinstripes and briefcases hustled into the metropolis. Then the train rattled towards Richmond where Greek and Italian factory workers donned hair nets and read romance comics. Crossing the Yarra was a revelation. The Royal Botanic Gardens rolled down to the vice-regal residence where the fluttering flag signalled the Governor was home.
A cadetship at the afternoon Herald trumped a place at the Australian National University. Journalism is one of life’s great educators. It can make you a master of the third degree and offers a PhD in people and power — if you stay awake and sober long enough. Journalism provided the revelation that led me to become a Member of Parliament. As a young political reporter, one of my early assignments was to interview the head of the Premier’s department on his retirement three decades ago. I asked Major-General Ken Green the rudimentary questions about the biggest successes during his long and distinguished career. Then I pressed him to disclose the biggest failure. The leading mandarin in Victoria confessed that the greatest failure in a generation of government was ‘Broadmeadows’. I was so gobsmacked I could not tell him Broadmeadows was where I lived and had grown up with my family.
He explained that Sir Henry Bolte’s admirable ambition was to turn Victoria into a manufacturing engine room — a classic jobs and growth strategy. The Premier’s department attracted the major corporations and the housing commission built row upon row of pastel coloured homes for the workforce — each new wave of migrant families and the poor, who were ‘decanted’ from inner city slums. The failure was the lack of coordination — even within one tier of government — to deliver the basic infrastructure most suburbs had taken for granted long after Melbourne had evolved into one of the world’s most livable cities.
The failure was also one of political will. Half a century after it was established the suburb of Broadmeadows still did not have a public library. Marginalised and isolated, the roaring boys burnt the last train to Broady. The state’s response was to build a bigger police station and a grander court house. It addressed symptoms, not causes. Twelve years ago, when the Kennett government was in power, the council covering most of the electorate of Broadmeadows, the City of Hume, invited me to be the founding chairman of its Safe City Taskforce.
My creative response to the failures of the past was to pioneer the Global Learning Village, a model for smarter, healthier, better connected and sustainable communities. It provided the coordination that had been lacking in the past to deliver social infrastructure by successfully brokering partnerships between the three tiers of government, business, the community, the philanthropic sector and the academy.
The first library in Broadmeadows was opened eight years ago in the Hume Global Learning Centre, and already membership has climbed above the state average. This community hub also features preschool and bilingual story times and reading classes; homework mentoring on computers; skills, training and lifelong learning for jobs. It attracted sponsorship from the Age and the Ford Motor Company. A maternal and child-care centre in Meadow Heights followed, the Visy Cares Learning Centre, and a new town centre for Craigieburn is on the way.
More than 800 organisations, from neighbourhood houses to sandstone universities, are now connected to the Hume Global Learning Village after the council championed the cause. The Global Learning Village model has attracted world leaders in information and communications technology Microsoft, Intel and Cisco Systems to establish the Ideas Lab to harness new technology for teaching and learning. There are two in the world — London and Broadmeadows. The Global Learning Village defines practical idealism. It invests in attitude, education and opportunity — the attributes that largely determine where everyone ends up in life.
The first politician I took the concept to was John Brumby when he was shadow Treasurer and the member of the Legislative Assembly for Broadmeadows. With Labor in power, Treasurer Brumby and Premier Steve Bracks backed this innovative strategy to help connect the disconnected. When he rose to become Premier, John Brumby delivered the social infrastructure denied to Broadmeadows for half a century and established its foundations for the future. Landmark projects ranged from the schools regeneration program and a 21st century model for public-private-social housing to the extension of the railway line to Meadow Heights and Roxburgh Park, where car parks are full by 7.00 a.m. as the current generation begins its journey.
Broadmeadows matters because it symbolises hope. It is an emblem for that diminishing Australian value — a fair go for all. Broadmeadows has evolved into virtually the United Nations in one neighbourhood. In recent times parents from 140 countries have crossed the world with children in their arms and hopes in their hearts searching for a better life, as my family did before them. Only the accents, not the aspirations, have changed. Broadmeadows is the iconic flashpoint for crucial challenges confronting Australia, including multiculturalism and the demise of local manufacturing. Politically it is our noble obligation to help build cohesive communities. Dividing cultures through the chain reaction of race, taxes and welfare is perilous.
Labor delivered the infrastructure that had been denied for so long, but the muscle jobs in Broadmeadows that helped to underwrite Victoria’s prosperity are disappearing, largely due to globalisation. When the United States sinks into recession and the Ford Motor Company suffers a downturn, blue collar workers in Broadmeadows lose their livelihoods. Unemployment is currently at 15 per cent, three times the national average. Broadmeadows remains one of the most disadvantaged areas in Australia and has reached a defining point for the values of Victoria. The response required is beyond regret, the news cycle and elections. We must look forward with a vision for the future. My call is to place Broadmeadows above partisanship; the cause is too great and the people deserve to have their courage and their labour honoured.
The proposal is to deliver an Australian first, a multiversity for Broadmeadows. Now is the time for a coordinated strategy for innovation and the next evolution in the use of technology. We need to tailor the emerging education technology to develop lifelong learning, training and smarter jobs for those emerging from disadvantage. A multiversity would train local people for local jobs by offering courses from a range of universities and TAFEs and providing a coordinated pathway for jobs. It would also raise aspirations in an area with one of the lowest participation rates in tertiary education. It would be coordinated across the three tiers of government and link universities, TAFE colleges and the community with local employers, unions and industry groups. The multiversity is the next evolution of the Global Learning Village, which has already won bipartisan support.
This offer is made in good faith to address cultural, generational and systemic disadvantage. My argument is that it is not only the right thing to do to invest in the capital of Melbourne’s north, one of the state’s economic drivers, it is also the smart thing to do. Establishing a multiversity in Broadmeadows should be an imperative. It would provide a template for other disadvantaged communities, especially those in Nationals electorates.
The safest held Labor and Nationals seats suffer the greatest long-term disadvantage because the immutable laws of power, politics and money dictate that resources are gifted to marginal seats ahead of those with greater need. That is why Broadmeadows is a test of the values of Victoria. It was established to become a model community. If we want Victoria to be a model state, this is the least we should do.
Each year I will report on the efforts of everyone involved to expand the Global Learning Village and establish a multiversity. This will create ideas, forge innovation and build partnerships internationally that can be applied locally. The report will be released in the lead-up to Australia Day so we can celebrate progress as we consider what a ‘fair go’ means in contemporary Australia. The aim is to deliver practical reforms that link lifelong learning to jobs and opportunity.
I have enjoyed a privileged life — not financially but in the terms that count more: the unconditional love and affection of my parents; a close-knit family; wonderful children, Tess, James and Matthew; and great friends. The ALP has provided an honour beyond expectation to represent my heartland. I will always be indebted.
The Liberal Party conceded Broadmeadows in this by-election. It must not neglect it in government. Politics can be a winner-takes-all game, but the people of Broadmeadows must never again be relegated to the status of the truly ‘forgotten people’. This is the opportunity for all of us to stick up for communities too often left behind. It is our noble obligation. Our legacy for the next generation must be, as always, the ‘light on the hill’.