Dean HarrisMy Story

I was born in 1968 in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia — the eldest of three boys – and grew up in a modest fibro-asbestos house, with one outdoor toilet and no air-conditioning. Looking back, it wasn’t a lot. But what I remember is how hard my parents worked to provide for us — to ensure we had the best possible opportunity to live a meaningful and rewarding life.

My father was a miner, and my mother a receptionist and administrator — while somehow still managing to corral three over-active boys! They brought us up to work hard, to care for each other, and to look out for others at the same time. We were taught the importance of community. And how fundamental it was to treat everyone with dignity, respect and kindness.

At seventeen, I left the Goldfields for Perth to complete a Bachelor of Science at the University of Western Australia — the first person from my family to attend university (thanks mostly to my parents, and in small part to Gough Whitlam having made tertiary education possible for people like me). Three years later, holding a degree and having learnt enough to make my way in the world, I left university without a student debt of any kind.

My first permanent job was in Canberra, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics. There I learnt the critical importance of good, accurate information — that it’s the only way to measure and understand the needs of Australian people, and the only real basis from which to develop public policy.

My salary was as unimpressive as you might imagine for a recent graduate, but even so, back then I could still make a deposit on a house — at the age of twenty-three. And while it was an unremarkable three-bedroom brick and tile affair in the outer suburbs of Canberra, all I can think now is how impossible that seems for twenty-three-year-olds today — especially in Warringah.

I left the public service and made a natural transition into market research — event

ually moving to Sydney in 1995. I continued working with both public and private sector organisations, building a reputation for using data, analysis and evidence to guide quality decision-making.

By the start of the new millennium, I’d become the Managing Director of a small market research firm, and, drawing on my now considerable experience and applying the leadership principles that had been modelled to me, I grew that business into one of the largest independently-owned Australian firms in its industry.

The secret of that success? Investing in people. I believe now as I did then that the key to business success is giving employees meaning and purpose, rewarding them fairly, and ensuring they share in business success. In fact, in every company I’ve been a major part of, our competitive advantage has come directly from looking after employees, and providing them with the opportunity to learn, develop and grow.

 

The most significant event of my life came twenty years ago — when I became a father for the first time. Australia was a very different place in 1998, and I don’t think any of us could have imagined the kind of changes that would take place in the next twenty years. I certainly didn’t – and as I think back to the opportunities I got in life, it saddens me to see just how much tougher my children have it now.

 

That’s why I got into politics and became a member of the Labor party. To stand up and do what I can to reverse that slide, and put us back on track. To work to overcome some of the challenges we face, and that we risk leaving to our kids. To be a force for the public good, while ensuring we maintain a strong economy. And above all, to play a role in returning decency to our political debate – so that all Australians can have faith that their interests, and those of the next generation of Australians, are being represented.