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French flavour to MPs’ first speeches

Not content with using just one language, two of federal parliament’s newest MPs have used French on the floor of the House of Representatives to explain their path into politics.

Labor’s Jerome Laxale from the Sydney electorate of Bennelong and Liberal Zoe McKenzie from the Victorian seat of Flinders gave their first speeches in parliament on Monday, both going bilingual in their respective addresses.

Mr Laxale, who described himself as Bennelong’s first MP from a non-English speaking background and with a “funny sounding name”, paid tribute to his family’s French and Mauritian backgrounds.

He said the country’s greatest strength lay in its multiculturalism.

“Australia has always been a destination that welcomes those who are seeking to unlock the hope and promise of this land,” he said in the speech.

“Australian multiculturalism is truly magical. The way we live alongside one another and respect each other is our defining characteristic as a young federation.”

Acknowledging Bennelong had been represented by more MPs named John than those from Labor, Mr Laxale said the electorate voted for the party in exceptional circumstances.

The seat was a key marginal battleground during the election, and the new MP said its marginal status took a toll on his family.

“The late nights, the way this job consumes the everyday and of course the unbelievable public scrutiny have all left scar tissue on my family,” he said.

“This is not the politics that I believe Australia values, and it is terrible that is what we’ve come to expect. I’ll do all I can in the decisions that I make to drag politics out of the gutter and into the real world.”

Meanwhile, Ms McKenzie used her speech to pay tribute to two family members, her mother, and mothercraft nurse Molly.

“I did not realise it then, but Mum and Molly were a formidable team in a changing time. It was only a decade or so ago, that I learned there had been a practice of removing newborns from single mothers,” she said.

“Mum led by example, feared nothing and no one – and it is her values and work ethic which underpin my approach to this place.”

She also worked French into the speech when talking about her other ‘parents’ when she lived with a family in rural France as a girl.

While the French family weren’t able to be in parliament to watch the speech, she did thank her friend Francois, who had been able to visit them recently.

“Et pour ca, je te remercie de tout mon coeur mon cher ami, Francois,” she said in her speech, or in English “and for that, I thank you with all my heart, my dear friend, Francois.”

As a former board member of the NBN, Ms McKenzie spoke of the impact technology was having on younger people, particularly in the wake of long COVID lockdowns and people learning from home.

“Whatever system our households had in place to balance online time with offline time in the form of study, sport, sleep and social activity collapsed during the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

“Worse still, the school system became the dealer of the digital drug, putting laptops and tablets into every lounge and bedroom.

“We are charged with making public policy to suit the needs and capabilities of this deeply digital generation. We must ensure technology contributes to their fitness-for-life, not detracts from it.”

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