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.
Thank you, Prime Minister, for that address. Mr Speaker, thank you for the service you and the others who occupy that chair give this parliament, and I include in that list the redoubtable member for McEwen. You have all well and truly earned a break. Perhaps only honourable members with experience as primary school teachers or in riot control could understand what you go through every day between 2 pm and 3.10. I want to thank the Prime Minister for his good wishes and to extend the very best from Chloe and I to Lucy and your family this Christmas.
I wanted to take this opportunity to reveal a national secret. Behind closed doors, we actually get on quite well—at least, I have to say, I thought so till I saw the PM's outing this morning, but I am sure we will resume felicitations as soon as parliament stands! In fact, I recall one meeting when the Prime Minister actually asked me if there was some way we could be nicer about each other in public. I said, 'We could swap jobs'—I thought I was pretty agile, really! I did discover there is a limit to Malcolm's commitment to innovation. The Prime Minister and I actually have more in common than people realise. We are both married to brilliant women. We have both battled the member for Warringah. We have both grown up wanting to help run the AWU and join the Labor Party!
In this place, in the battle of ideas, even in the fiercest fighting it is only ever words that are exchanged. So, this summer, we will no doubt pause and think of those who face real dangers and place themselves in harm's way in Australia's name. We acknowledge our troops serving in the Middle East and their families back here, who also serve; and our emergency services personnel, fighting fires and floods and preventing crime and saving lives. For their sake, and ours, I hope they have a quiet Christmas. Then, of course, there are many who will serve us this Christmas who do not wear a uniform. I think of the Australians who will not spend Christmas at home but will instead be up early or working through the night this holiday season, indeed relying upon penalty rates to provide for their families. Our nation runs on the efforts of all of these modest heroes.
Mr Speaker, 2016 brought us triumph and tragedy, joy and sadness, and the Prime Minister has spoken about some of these most movingly. I recall on the Great Ocean Road the families and volunteers alike who had to leave their tables set with Christmas lunch to either flee the fires or fight them. In Western Australia, there were the children from Yarloop Primary School, who started their year with an evacuation when lightning strikes began a blaze that claimed two lives and many homes. In the face of fire or when the floodwaters hit the Hunter or the Territory, Australians responded with kindness in another's trouble and courage in their own.
On the world stage, we celebrated our Olympians and Paralympians in Rio, and the record-setting Oscar success of the rebooted Mad Max. We mourned for the LGBTI people murdered in Orlando because of who they are and who they loved. We stood in solidarity with other nations that have felt the toll of terrorism and we have rededicated ourselves to meeting these challenges here at home. We have farewelled irreplaceable characters: Max Walker from the very wide world of sport—
My friend Mr Broadbent—I acknowledge him. And there was, of course, my very good friend Bob Ellis, whose words will live long after him, who passed. Of course, from the beaches of the shire to the streets of Footscray, we cheered the underdog and enjoyed the fairytale football story.
Nobody in this chamber needs to be told how hard this job is on our families. There are those Saturday night goodbyes, trying to help with the homework from the other side of the country, the netball games, the plays and the concerts you miss, the re-immersion you do when you return from these long parliamentary sittings and the re-acquaintance with your family. None of our partners or our children asked for a spouse or a parent in public life, but they live with it—they live with us—and we could not do it without them. To Chloe, Rupert, Georgette and Clementine, thank you for your love, your support and your patience. I cannot wait for our Christmas together.
From my family to the Labor family, I am lucky and proud to serve in a caucus of all the talents—and I am pleased that there are many more of you here to thank this year than last! In particular, I want to acknowledge my leadership group. My outstanding deputy leader—Tanya, you know how much I value your counsel, your support and your leadership. Thank you. There is our leadership team in the Senate, starting with the formidable Penny Wong, light-years ahead of her opposite number and light-years ahead of whoever replaces him, whenever that happens. There is the always calm Don Farrell, who has been such a welcome return to the parliament. And I must acknowledge the one-of-a-kind Stephen Conroy, who can be very proud of the 20 years he served our party, this parliament and our country. I want to thank our shadow Treasurer, who has ensured that our party leads the policy debate and sets the agenda, particularly on housing affordability but on many other fronts. Then there is the member for Watson, who carries the day for Labor in this chamber—whether or not the government turn up or go home! There is the member for Jagajaga, who knows more about social policy than any think tank or Liberal frontbench in this country. There is the chief whip, Chris Hayes, and our deputy whips keeping order.
For all of us—my talented shadow ministers and backbenchers—we are here in the service of a movement as well as a cause. To every member of our great party, from National Secretary Noah Carroll and his predecessor, George Wright, to the tens of thousands of true believers who made calls and handed out on election day, I say thank you.
In 2017, our people deserve a parliament capable of rising above narrow, self-seeking sectional interests. In 2017, Australians deserve a parliament capable of raising the standard of living and opportunity for all Australians. For a country built on the ideal of a fair go, the stubborn, persistent presence of inequality in our prosperous society is a national wrong.
It is a challenge to us next year in this parliament to use our parliament more intelligently to elevate politics, to make this a more pluralist, more democratic, more representative place, to include more people who are too often left out, ignored, dispossessed or forgotten. I speak of the First Australians and I speak of many more. I speak of the survivors of violence. I speak of farmers doing it hard on the land. I speak of people trapped by insecure work. I speak of women denied genuine equal treatment. I speak of Australians living with disability or Australians living in poverty not being able to have an equal share of the Australian dream. Marginalising our fellow Australians only weakens our society. We can never condone the complacency that another Australian's misfortune is someone else's responsibility. Our duty next year is to gather Australians in to leave no-one behind. Those who would make fairness too difficult make the splintering of our society too easy.
I say to our brothers and sisters in the trade union movement: on this side of the House we know the effort you make to improve the lives of working people. We know the battles that you undertake to lift the living standards of ordinary Australians. We will never accept the calumny and the ignorance which says that somehow unions do not have a place in our society and that their work is not important. Fringe groups and fads may come and go, but solidarity is forever.
Speaking of unshakeable loyalty, I want to thank the press gallery. In our long travels together this year, I often missed the news and could not read the clips. I discovered that the less I saw of your work the more I enjoyed your company. I want to give a special shout out to the snappers and the camos who, while their colleagues snoozed and boozed, ran alongside me in the tropical Townsville heat and the chilly Canberra dawns. In fact, they often sprinted ahead of me while carrying cameras—which was quite demoralising!
Speaking of my running buddies, I want to thank all the members of the AFP who work to keep us safe, especially the detail who served with me on this year's campaign trail. Their professionalism is second only to their sense of humour. I also thank the members of 34 Squadron who carried us safely around the country with such unfailing courtesy and kindness, particularly to my family. On the ground we count on our COMCAR drivers. I want to thank the COMCAR drivers across Australia, but I would like to give a special shout out to my drivers in Melbourne, Steve Smith and Peter Taylor, who are so patient with all the jokes, questions and noises. They are also very good at putting up with my kids and, more significantly, my staff.
On a sitting day this building is crowded with visitors, from the tourists and schoolchildren in the galleries above to all of us who crowd the coffee queue. But it is the permanent residents of this building who allow us to do our job: the clerks and chamber attendants—and I acknowledge Luch, amongst others; the Hansard reporters; the drafting and tabling officers, whose quiet diligence ensures that the only disruptions in this place are the ones we cause ourselves. To Dom and the team at Aussies—the most powerful unsung monopoly in Australia!—thank you for keeping us fed and fuelled. To everyone in security, 2020, broadcast, catering and the gym, thank you for your service. Of course, I want to thank the Parliament House cleaners, particularly the cheerful souls Maria and Joy, who give me that last bit of crucial insight before question time each day.
Having thanked the people who clean up the mess, I want to turn to those who cause it—my staff. None of us in this place could survive without the people who work for us. In case any of us are in any doubt about that, they tell us every day. My electorate office and my personal staff work incredibly hard. They make a lot of sacrifices almost always without recognition. I am very grateful to work with so many people who I can laugh with at the end of the day.
I have one final reflection, though, Mr Speaker. On 30 October this year, in a moment of unthinkable horror, a Brisbane bus driver was set on fire and killed while still behind the wheel. As the flames spread the fire trapped 11 of his passengers in the back of the bus, unable to access the front door. The smoke was getting thicker, panic was setting in; imaginable, really. But a Brisbane cab driver who just happened to pull over for a haircut came to their aid. Selflessly, heroically, behaving in a manner in which we all hope we would do but we wonder if we could, he ran towards the burning bus, kicking in the rear door and helping 11 frightened people to safety. That cabbie's name was Aguek Nyok. Just over 10 years ago he came to Australia as a refugee from South Sudan. When he saw the flames that afternoon he ran towards the smoke and the screams. He did not stop to ask where the people on the bus were born. He did not pause to question the god that they were praying to for rescue. He saw his fellow human beings in mortal danger and he saved their lives.
Aguek was born 13,000 kilometres from where we sit. But on that day he showed us all the spirit of Australia—the spirit of courage and compassion, the sense of community we revere. How lucky were we that that refugee came to Australia. How lucky were those 11 people this Christmas, and their families, to have Christmas together because of that refugee. The ideals and qualities that inspire us in this place he demonstrated in the service to the Australian people.
In 2017, let us all be guided once again by those great Australian values. Let us strive to prove worthy of the people, to prove worthy of the country, to prove worthy of the privilege we have to serve. Let us strive to prove worthy of the people who call Australia home.
Merry Christmas, everyone. I thank the House.