Thursday, 1 December 2016
Statements on Indulgence
I rise on behalf of the government to bid farewell to the parliament for another year. As the parliamentary year—and, indeed, 2016—draws to a close, it is important that we come together to look back on what has been another remarkable year for our most remarkable country. The level of discourse between our political parties can be vigorous, fierce and, at times, confronting, but the fact that we can put aside our partisan differences to celebrate the year that was is one of the great features of our democracy. Australians are always most inspired—and perhaps surprised—at those moments of bipartisanship in this House. It is when we are at our best.
There was no clearer expression of the strength of our democracy than this year's election. Over eight weeks political parties and candidates of every size and persuasion presented their vision for Australia to the people. 'Mr Harbourside Mansion' was surely the epithet of the campaign. Of course, Bill desperately wanted the title for himself, but like all good socialists he wanted a harbourside mansion paid for by the taxpayer. The campaign was hard fought, but while our political battles can be bruising, we resolve our differences by casting and counting votes, not with guns and violence. I know we all take great pride in the way the Australian people peacefully choose their government. I want to thank the electors of Wentworth for re-electing me this year. It is an honour to represent them for a fifth term, and I am determined to repay their faith in me as their local member and as Australia's Prime Minister.
When I reflect on the parliamentary year, I am filled with optimism. In their wisdom the Australian people elected a parliament that requires us to work together, to talk, to compromise. The decision is proving to be a very workable one. The 45th Parliament is making and passing good legislation for the benefit of all. Since the election we have passed 38 bills, including those that took us to the double-dissolution election: the Australian Building and Construction Commission restoration bill and the registered organisations commission legislation. So, the parliament is doing the job that the Australian people asked us to do.
Internationally, 2016 delivered both change and, in some parts of the world, a depressing lack of change. We have been appalled by the ongoing conflict in Syria and Iraq and the atrocities which continue to be committed by those enslaved by the dark, tyrannical vision of Daesh. We have witnessed with horror the terrorist attacks in Nice and Orlando, and suicide bombings in many countries—Turkey, Pakistan and Iraq, among many others. It has made us all the more grateful that we are such a harmonious society with people of all faiths, cultures and backgrounds living together in peace. Looking around the world, we know how rare it is, and we must never take it for granted. Australia's strengths are our freedom, our diversity and our security. Those attributes are not mutually exclusive; rather, they are mutually reinforcing. This is not to say that we do not face challenges; regrettably, we do. That is why we continue to reform our national security laws, provide our agencies with the powers they need, and secure our border, just as we nurture and celebrate the diversity that gives us strength and unity.
This year saw elections in other countries too, with both Britain's decision to leave the European Union and the election of Donald Trump in the United States leaving pollsters and pundits red-faced. The forces at play and the political systems in those countries are very different to ours, but we must always be aware of what the public expects from its government, from its parliament, from its leaders. Many people are anxious about change or feel that their leaders are not listening, and we should not dismiss their concerns. Across the globe, economies have struggled with sluggish growth and the inevitable challenges associated with technological disruption and the transition from the old to the new. We are at a time in human history where the pace and scale of change is without precedent. Good leaders explain how change can improve lives, consult as they work to minimise the adverse consequences of change, and implement policies that take advantage of the opportunities that change brings, while ensuring that the most vulnerable in our society are not left behind. The focus of all of our attention—and it is the keen focus of my government—is on strong but inclusive growth. Fairness and inclusion are key features of our national economic plan.
Everything we do in this place is designed to secure the future of Australians, and we must never forget that. Travelling our great nation has allowed me to meet many of the people we represent. Their insights and stories tell us so much more than the statistics show. In Tasmania I met with Josef Chromy, a hero of the wine and food business, a great Tasmanian who, at 76 years of age, instead of slowing down, is employing more Tasmanians and exporting more wine to Japan and now China, thanks to our big free trade agreements.
In Western Australia I met young people who will be able to get a foothold in the labour market through our PaTH program. Lee Doherty was there to explain to the kids what a difference it made to his career as a carpenter finding a company like Colgan Industries who were prepared to give him a go and then to hire him.
In South Australia I heard about a very happy dad who said that our focus on innovation and our massive investment in the defence industry meant that his son, a young maths and science whiz-kid, will now have the opportunity to get a great job in Adelaide. He will not have to move somewhere else, as his father had always assumed. We are going to build the most sophisticated machines, the most sophisticated ships and submarines, in the world, right on that young engineer's doorstep.
In Canberra eight-year-old Ayesha helped me spread the word about the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which is going to help give kids like her the best start in life.
It has been a privilege to meet so many people—tens of thousands of everyday Australians, all around the country—who shared with me their hopes, aspirations and challenges. It makes me so proud, as I know it makes all honourable members proud, to see the way we rally together. We are an egalitarian nation who will each other to succeed, who feel deeply the pain of a friend or neighbour when they are struck by violence or tragedy. So many people shared their stories with me so that I could be a better leader, and each one stays with me.
Domestic violence survivor Ann O'Neill told me about the night her estranged husband destroyed her world when he murdered their two children. Incredibly, she has risen from this unthinkable crime, showing courageous advocacy so that others may be spared her pain. That was one of so many stories I heard that galvanised me still further to rid this nation of domestic violence, of violence against women and children. As we know, while not all disrespect of women leads to violence against women, that surely is where all violence against women begins.
At the Teal Ribbon breakfast in Parliament House, Anne-Maree Mulders spoke so bravely about her diagnosis of ovarian cancer and how, still numb with shock, she pulled out a red texta and an envelope and started scribbling down the doctor's words, words that would change her life and that of her family. As a parent, my heart broke as she spoke of her fear of leaving her boys. But, through our research into cancer, we are hoping to beat this disease and others like it so mums like Anne-Maree can grow old, as we all hope to do with our children and grandchildren.
Young carers Jayden and Sandy, from Western Sydney, told of the heavy burden of each raising their siblings and looking after their mums while trying to finish high school and being a breadwinner. These amazing people, not much more than children really, received $3,000 Young Carers Bursary Program scholarships. They are truly heroes of our community.
Serge Oreshkin, whose son Victor died in the MH17 tragedy, I met by chance on the street, and we embraced. I could feel his pain. He asked us not to forget Victor or the 38 Australians we lost in that shocking attack. Serge, we remember Victor and all the victims and their families, and we continue to work with our international partners on the next steps to secure the prosecution of those who fired that missile.
No two days have been the same. One day we are in the House debating legislation; the next I am at the Birdsville Hotel, on the edge of the Simpson Desert, chatting to locals alongside a wall of well-worn Akubras, with great company, cold beer and a curried camel pie.
Representing our nation overseas gave me the chance to meet Australians having a go around the world, like Nick and Andy Stone, whose new cafe is booming, bringing decent coffee to all New Yorkers. More recently, in Lima, I met former constituents of mine Greg and Chad, whose company, Chimu, now employs 70 people and is the market leader in Latin American and Antarctic travel experiences.
Of course, there is always plenty of advice about how you can do your job better, some of it from unexpected quarters. A young boy I met in Ceduna was full bottle on our tax system and told me we were taxing his father too much. Never let it be said that I do not take advice. In October, we delivered a tax cut to middle-income Australian taxpayers.
I got a hug and this friendship bracelet from Lulu Demetriou, a young patient at Sydney's Children's Hospital recently. She is one of a number of kids there who face extraordinary challenges—she is in remission from cancer—and who we are determined to help, with our commitment, which we announced there, of another $20 million to the Zero Childhood Cancer initiative. I have been brought to tears a few times in this job, and I admit there were some more that day. I am wearing Lulu's bracelet, and it reminds me, if I ever need reminding, that what we do here is about the future of our nation, about the future of people like Lulu, our children and grandchildren.
Some of my most memorable experiences in 2016 have been with Indigenous Australians—bright-eyed Indigenous students at the Melbourne Indigenous Transition School; AFL Cape York House in Cairns; the Fregon school in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands; the Sydney community of La Perouse demonstrating the resilience of Indigenous people; the long walk with Michael Long to the MCG to recognise the importance of reconciliation; and of course the Kenbi land settlement, which finally recognised what Larrakia people have always known, that those lands were always Larrakia land.
This year we have made some progress on our journey towards constitutional recognition of our First Australians. There are now five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in the parliament, and I want to thank them all, as I know the Leader of the Opposition does, for their wisdom and support. We are committed, the Leader of the Opposition and I, to this important change to our nation's founding document.
Every year, we urge each other to be kinder and gentler in this place. I do not mind being labelled idealistic for hoping that we will be in 2017, but perhaps a more realistic goal is to vow to speak more plainly and with more candour to the Australian people. They are wearied of the political games, the sense that politicians say one thing and could easily mean another and that our promises are throwaway lines with the shelf life of a carton of milk. The Oxford dictionary has declared 'post-truth' its international word of the year, but let us do all we can to ensure post-truth politics has no place in Australia. If we promise to be bound by our words, we will be much more careful in choosing them.
It is important at this time of year that we pay tribute to the extraordinary Australian Defence Force men and women, especially those who are overseas serving our country with pride and with honour. They defend our freedom and our values and they keep us safe here at home. I was honoured this year to visit our troops bravely and professionally serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many will not be at home with their families this Christmas. We remember them especially at this time of year, but we are always grateful. For their sacrifice, we honour them.
In the Centenary of Anzac we know that the best way to honour the diggers of 1916 is by supporting the service men and women, the veterans and the families of 2016. We are doing so with new mental health services, action to prevent suicide, and the Prime Minister's Veterans' Employment Initiative that will ensure Australian businesses and the public sector better recognise and take up the remarkable and unique experiences and attributes of our veterans. I acknowledge the bipartisan support that has had. Richard Marles was present at the launch at Kirribilli House and has undertaken to continue to support it when he, in due course, becomes Prime Minister!
We also thank everyone who continues working through the Christmas break. It is important to acknowledge the efforts of the nurses, doctors and all of those in our fire, police, ambulance and other emergency services. We are the land of droughts, fires and flooding rains, and an Australian summer is a time when those emergency service workers, most of them volunteers, will be standing between us and our homes and the worst that nature can fling at us.
Of course, we in the parliament are very grateful to those who work so hard behind the scenes. They often arrive before dawn has broken and many are also the last to leave. They are the enablers of our democracy. In particular I acknowledge the hard work of the Clerk David Elder; the Deputy Clerk Claressa Surtees; the Serjeant-at-Arms James Catchpole; the parliamentary security guards, who have been busier than normal over the last 24 hours; and all of the attendants. I acknowledge the work of the House Table Office, of Catherine Cornish, Richard Selth, Glenn Worthington and their staff, and of the House Parliamentary Liaison Office, of Anne Dowd, Tim Moore and Suzanne de Smet. I also thank all of those who look after us in the dining room and at Aussies—and, of course, we should not forget those who come here late at night and keep the parliament clean.
I thank the Chief Government Whip, Nola Marino; the deputy whips; you, Mr Speaker; your Deputy Speaker; the Second Deputy Speaker; and the Speaker's panel. I thank David Belgrove, Anne O'Connor and Sue Clamour from the legislative team of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, who support the parliamentary business committee, and Peter Quiggin and his staff from the Office of Parliamentary Counsel.
It would be remiss of me not to thank the members of the fourth estate, the esteemed members of the parliamentary press gallery. While we may not always agree—indeed, we rarely do—a free press is as vital a part of our democracy as the work we do.
We can also now remember and honour former serving members we have farewelled this past year. Some we wished well in their retirement and some we bowed our final farewell to. Seven former members died in the year, including former Speaker Bob Halverson, Allan Rocher, former minister Rex Patterson, Bob Charles, JohnSiddonsand Bruce Goodluck. We also farewelled many MPs and senators, those who retired or were defeated. They have all served Australia well. I particularly note Warren Truss, former Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Nationals; Philip Ruddock, the Father of the House; and the former trade minister Andrew Robb, who set us up with those three enormous free trade deals during his time.
I want to thank all of my team in the coalition. In particular I want to thank the Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce; the Foreign Minister and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, Julie Bishop; the Deputy Leader of the Nationals, Senator Fiona Nash; and, of course, the Leader of the House, the indefatigable and ever good-natured Christopher Pyne. Barnaby and I are so lucky to work with such a dedicated and energetic team. I thank my staff and all of the staff of serving MPs and senators. You make all of us look good, or at least better than we probably deserve to look, and your hard work does not go unnoticed by us. I thank my close protection team from the Australian Federal Police. I know they enjoy public transport as much as I do!
Above all, I want to thank Lucy and my family for their support. They are: my daughter, Daisy; James; our third grandchild who arrived in August, little Alice, a sister for Jack; my son, Alex; and his wife, Yvonne—they are bringing their daughter, Isla, to stay in Sydney over the holidays so that we are all together for Christmas. We may need to get another baby seat for the car. I will put that on my to-do list for when parliament rises. There is nothing better than kids around at Christmas.
I extend my gratitude to the families of all parliamentarians. We are the volunteers, but our families are the conscripts and we could not do this job without the support and love of our families. I urge all honourable members each time over the summer break someone asks them to set the table, to do the dishes, to play yet another round of backyard cricket, to mind the kids while the other half heads out for the night or to spend the day with the grandkids—to ensure their ongoing availability to serve in this place—to comply and to do so with a very big smile.
On that final piece of advice, I wish everyone a very enjoyable break. Bill, on behalf of Lucy and my family I wish you, Chloe and your family a very merry Christmas. May it contain all the excitement that you all can handle, but also some rest. I suspect 2017 could be even more exciting than 2016.
I wish the Australian people, who we represent here and who are uppermost in the minds of all we do, a very happy Christmas, safe and family-filled holidays and a 2017 filled with peace and love—love for our families and friends and, above all, for those who are lonely, isolated or brought low by poverty or illness. Whether we are of any or no faith, this is the Christmas season. The message Jesus brought was one of unconditional love. We will be at our very best when we reach out without judging, as the member for Sydney and I have often done at Graham Long's Wayside Chapel, to those who most need, especially at this time, our love and our generosity.