Yo, there’s a new MLC in da house, and she’s from Forster.
The Hon. Courtney Houssos (nee Roche), 32, is currently the youngest Labor member of the NSW legislative council, and delivered her first parliamentary speech in the state’s upper house earlier this month.
Born in Forster to Jane and Brett Roche, she is the eldest of four children and spoke fondly of a childhood spent in the area.
“It was a typical childhood: school, plenty of sport (hockey in winter, touch football in summer), tennis and dancing all year round. I was a cricket tragic... and I always loved to read. I would read anything I could lay my hands on,” she said in her maiden speech.
She admits that though the seat of Myall Lakes has been a national party seat since its inception in 1988, it still came as a shock when she found out in her teens that despite a distant Labor ancestry, her family were staunch national party voters.
“They brought me up with a set of values which I think aligned more with Labor than with the conservative forces,” she said from her office in Sydney.
“The defining moment was when I was 16 and I decided that the Labor party was the one for me.”
Crediting family debates around the dinner table as a countervailing force on her opinions, Ms Houssos is grateful for the ‘big’ education she received at the then named Forster High School, in particular from teachers Veronica Amato (now Tuncurry Campus’ principal) and Michael Jenkins which led her to where she is today.
“I was taught how think critically, and not just accept what I was told, but to go away and do my own research to make up my mind.”
She said there is no doubt that education had a transformative effect on her life and from a school captaincy at Foster Public School, and the National Youth Parliament in 1999, her future in public speaking and policy making appears to have been set from an early age.
She went on to study a bachelor of arts in international relations and politics from the University of NSW where she met her husband George Houssos. Goaded into protesting against John Howard’s university fees reform she then became a member of the student representative council.
“I felt that higher education was being pushed further and further out of the reach of rural students including myself,” she said.
In the student guild she realised she could turn her passion for policies into a job.
Straight out of Young Labor she went on to be elected as the first female country organiser in a role that took her all over NSW, from protests at Grafton jail’s closure or marching to support Your Rights at Work in Queanbeyan and Dubbo.
“I have travelled literally hundreds of thousands of kilometres throughout country New South Wales,” she said.
Now juggling motherhood and family life with work, she is concerned about jobs, healthcare, connectivity in regional areas and flexible workplaces.
“This role is not just about speaking up, but remembering why you’re speaking up.”
“It’s all about daring to dream,” she said.