September 6: Parliament House, Melbourne

By Leaders Forum 2017 participant Liana Skewes

For our Leaders Forum group to spend a day at State Parliament after a visit to Federal Parliament earlier this year brought home how relevant and critical the State Government is to us locally.
More than it ever did standing in the halls of the building in Canberra, the ornate architecture of Spring Street felt like it belonged to us. It’s easy to see why.

Politicians in the room below us stood debating on places whose names we knew, streets we have travelled on, institutions we worked for. Their decisions would have immediate and visible impacts on us. It wasn’t just in the chamber that we could see the name of our city and region stamped like an artist’s signature. This gold leaf was dug from our goldfields, with blood, sweat and hope by people who spoke many languages, came from many places and lived many different experiences.
This grandeur, these walls, this incredible structure was funded by the wealth of our region. A wealth that has always been reflected as more than just gold; a wealth of culture from our indigenous people to our Chinese diggers.

In the halls are the paintings of the state Premiers that came from our city of rich culture.
Here is the signature of our own Alfred Deakin, Member for Ballarat, the man who championed Federation and the nation’s second Prime Minister. Here in the gardens outside the building is a statue of Ballarat poet Adam Lindsay Gordon. My city contributed to this. So did my bloodline. This building where Peter Lalor stood; where he eventually became Speaker of the House. The Peter Lalor that my great-great-great grandmother treated the bullet wound of when she found him bleeding and dying in the bushes by her house. And I’m one story, just one thread, in the story of this state.

Occasionally, those stories are commemorated with a statue or a portrait. For the most part, like mine, those stories aren’t visible when you look through the corridors, these stories are felt in the strong sense of ownership by contribution. This state is ours. We built it. We fought for it. We defined it. We still do. Which made it quite jarring to stand for a reverent reading of the Lord’s Prayer to open Parliament. In the past 10 years, Australians identifying ‘no religion’ grew from 19 per cent to 30 per cent. While the model of our government came from a Judeo-Christian society, the stones of this building, its very gold, came from the hearts, hopes and hands of people of all faiths, all languages, all backgrounds. To see so much of that history excluded from the honour of that daily ritual by the inclusion of only one story contradicted everything we experienced of the building and government being ours.

So it was poignant when Peter Lochert, secretary for the Department of Parliamentary Services, spoke to us about the challenge of preserving the history of the building, whilst keeping it functional and useful to the future needs of the state and the people who form it. Even when rewiring new electronics, they would have to sift through years of old wiring, long redundant but never removed and now slowing progress, priming the building to have value and relevance for us for another 150 years. I felt it a beautiful metaphor for assessing our practices as well, to ensure they are prepared for the future we have ahead of us, for the diverse leaders we will have to lead us and to ensure all of us that contribute to this state are recognised. What legacy are we leaving and is it relevant and empowering to the people we are leaving it for?