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6 Times Politicians Did Some Good In 2016

Shining light on domestic violence, mental health, and helping others.

Politicians get a bad rap sometimes. We hear stories about their big pay packets and pensions, only sitting in parliament for a few dozen days a year, getting in trouble for taking advantage of their entitlements and generally just mucking around and wasting time.

This year saw a lot of political drama -- the spiteful U.S. election, a long and bitter federal election campaign here, the return of One Nation and their anti-Muslim rhetoric, in-fighting in the government -- but we also saw some great stories emerge as our politicians used their podium for good. Here are a few of our favourites:

Liberal MP Julian Leeser Opens Up About Father's Suicide In Powerful Maiden Speech

When new Liberal MP for Berowra, Julian Leeser, took the floor in the House of Representatives for his maiden speech, he wasn't exactly on everyone's radars. He was due to speak just minutes after Pauline Hanson's return speech, and on the back of several landmark maiden speeches in the parliament's opening weeks -- Derryn Hinch, One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts, Linda Burney being sung to her seat by Wiradjuri women -- Leeser's speech was not previously marked as a highlight.

That quickly changed on Wednesday night, social media lighting up as political watchers implored followers to tune in to watch the slim man in the rimless glasses speak from the heart about his father's suicide, and mental health generally.

"Suicide -- they say -- is a victimless crime, but they never count the loved ones left behind," Leeser said.

"Treating depression as a medical issue is not working. Rather, we need to rebuild caring communities where people know and notice the signs and acknowledge the people around them."

Speaking to The Huffington Post Australia later, Leeser said he hoped his speech could help start new conversations about mental health.

"In my electorate over the last eight years, over 100 people have taken their own lives. Despite all the goodwill in relation to mental health policy and a lot of government funding put in here, the figures don't seem to improve," he said.

"I wanted to put on the public record my own experiences with suicide. I lost my father when he took his own life 20 years ago, and I wanted people to know they're not alone and that there are people in this parliament who are going to focus on this issue and focus on reducing the number of people who die by suicide every year."

Emma Husar's Passionate Domestic Violence Speech

Fellow new MP Emma Husar, the Labor member for Lindsay, also shared some deeply personal stories from her past in hopes of encouraging people to seek help. She spoke, through tears, about years of domestic abuse -- first from her father, then at later points in her life.

"We know many women return home time and time again, even when their lives are massively disrupted along with their children's. And I hope the blame that was launched at my mum during the 90s for not leaving is no longer a part of the solution around domestic violence -- and the questions of why she doesn't just leave, quit being asked," Husar said.

"I hope that today I have lent my voice, and my story, and my passion for advocating for change to the choir of the White Ribbon movement to stand up, speak out and to act."

Susan Lamb calls for marriage equality

Yet another new MP wasted no time in making her mark on the parliament, with new Longman member Susan Lamb making an impassioned call for marriage equality.

In October, she addressed the parliament and spoke about her family, her sons, and her anger that same-sex couples were still not permitted to marry in Australia.

"Those of us who are parents understand the innate instinct to fight against the unfair treatment of our children," she said, fighting tears.

"I carry a sense of disillusionment that our laws treat the love of one son inferior to that of his brothers ... I stand in solidarity with my son and the LGBTI community."

Trent Zimmerman gets honest about the issues young LGBTI people face

Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman became the first openly gay member of the House of Representatives when he took his seat last year, replacing Joe Hockey in North Sydney after the former treasurer's abrupt retirement. In March, Zimmerman made his maiden speech and spoke openly about his sexuality, the issues he has faced in life and politics, and his hope for same-sex marriage to become a reality.

In what could have been seen as a not-so-subtle reminder of the value of programs such as Safe Schools, Zimmerman outlined the difficulties young LGBTQ people still face in modern Australia.

"Young gay men and women are more likely to suffer depression and other mental health issues. They are more likely to be bullied at school. More are likely to attempt to take their own lives and, tragically, some will succeed. Coming out remains hard for many people, and believe me, I know what that is like," he said.

When Victoria apologised for charging gay people for being gay

Times have changed. Years ago, people in Victoria could be charged for having homosexual sex. In May, the state's premier Daniel Andrews announced that those criminal charges would be expunged from the record.

"We apologise for the laws we passed, the standards we set and the lives we ruined," he said.

"These unjust laws amounted to nothing less than state-sanctioned homophobia."

"This Parliament is to be formally held to account for designing a cult of hatred. And those who faced its sanction are to be formally recognised for their relentless pursuit of freedom."

Tony Windsor high-fived a dog

He might not have succeeded in knocking off Barnaby Joyce in New England, but former MP Tony Windsor has this fine memento of his 2016 election campaign:


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