Australia’s newest federal MP Dr Kerryn Phelps has reflected in her first parliamentary speech on becoming an “accidental” LGBTIQ activist after marrying her partner in 1998.
Dr Phelps, who won the byelection in the Sydney seat of Wentworth in October, was sworn in to applause on Monday as the federal parliament resumed for the last two sitting weeks of the year.
The newly-minted Independent MP told parliament she met her partner, Jackie Stricker-Phelps, in 1997 after the end of her first marriage four years earlier.
“The following year we married in a religious ceremony in New York,” she said.
“On our return from the US, we were ‘outed’ by a Sunday tabloid newspaper.
“That word ‘outed’ seems almost quaint and anachronistic now, but back then it was used as a feared and dangerous weapon.
“We could have chosen to hide, to wait for it to blow over, but that is not something in either of our DNA.
“We resolutely began our long battle for marriage equality. We sacrificed our personal privacy, and Jackie her teaching career, for the cause.
“We became accidental activists.”
Dr Phelps is the first Jewish woman to enter the federal parliament and the first woman to be elected to the seat of Wentworth in its 117-year history.
She was a high-profile campaigner for same-sex marriage over many years and was involved in the “yes” campaign during the postal survey last year.
Dr Phelps said she draw on her experience as a GP to bring a “human-centric” approach to her new job as parliamentarian.
“I have been a general practitioner in my electorate for almost 20 years. I have had the privilege of seeing it from a profoundly human perspective,” she said.
“A career in general practice grounds you in reality like no other profession possibly can.
“It is a career that deals with life and death and all that lies between. It is a career where what really matters in this world is presented to you every single day.”
She said her policy priorities in parliament would be refugees, indigenous Australians, climate change, and establishing a national integrity commission.
Phelps called for a “compassionate compromise” for refugee children and their families on Nauru.
“Australia’s treatment of asylum-seekers is a source of shame and sorrow for me and for many thousands of my medical colleagues and other Australians,” she said.
“This cruel treatment of asylum-seekers asking Australia for help, to return to my earlier theme, ignores the human experience at the heart of the policy of offshore processing and indefinite confinement on Manus Island and Nauru.”