New Greens MP Stephen Bates tears up during maiden speech to parliament
A new member of parliament has broken down in tears during his maiden speech in Canberra, and at times had to compose himself before he could continue.
“This is harder than I thought it would be,” said Stephen Bates, the newly minted member for Brisbane, as he addressed the House of Representatives for the first time.
He is one of 35 fresh faces in parliament following the election.
The 29-year-old, who was born in Britain and moved to Queensland with his family in the late 2000s, used his speech to talk about the “two pivotal moments that shaped who I am and my politics”.
Those were the perils of minimum wage jobs and his sexuality. It was the latter that led him to choke up.
Mr Bates said that when he was a teenager he knew he was gay but “did everything in my power to hide it”.
“I told myself (that) I would force myself to get married – to a woman – have kids and live in the suburbs. Because that is what you did – that is what you had to do.
“I was lucky enough to have a very supportive …” he said, before tailing off and wiping away tears.
“ … to have a very supportive family to come out to. But I spent years hiding myself because I could not see anyone in my world who was openly gay.
“This is harder than I thought it would be,” he told the chamber, as he laughed and continued to wipe his eyes. He took a moment to settle himself and thanked a fellow MP who brought him a glass of water.
“Once I came out (I said) that if I ever found myself in a public role, that I was going to be open and proud of who I am and that I would be that person that I never saw growing up,” Mr Bates continued.
“Because if I can help even one person out there then my life will have been worth it.”
At the election, Mr Bates beat sitting Liberal member Trevor Evans – who is also gay – to take the seat for the Greens. He was one of a surge of new Greens MPs which saw their numbers in the Reps go from just one to four.
He also used his speech to talk about the time he worked in the United States at a “globally renowned theme park” where he worked for $7.56 an hour. It was a wage that left him with little spare cash after bills, health insurance and rent.
“The immense power imbalance between us as workers and this giant company was staggering. I was a disposable pawn, and that was made very clear to me.”
He recounted finding a colleague crying as she was unable to pay both her rent and buy insulin.
“That was a choice. Life-saving medicine, or a roof over your head.
“It all hit me at once, this is not a society that puts people first. It values profit above all else. I could not allow that to happen back home.”
Mr Bates returned to Australia in 2014 and became a member of the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union.
He continued to work in retail until his election victory in May which propelled him to parliament.
Indeed, he said at the time that he still had to work a few more shifts at his job in Chermside shopping centre before he could focus on his new constituents.
“I still have to pay my rent,” he told the ABC.
“So I’m going to be at work Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.
“It’s going to be a very weird feeling”.