House debates

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Statement by the Speaker

McClelland, Ms Robyn: Retirement

3:11 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to inform the House of the retirement tomorrow of Robyn McClelland, the Clerk Assistant (Committees), after a career spanning four decades in the Commonwealth Public Service. It is a pleasure to make these remarks today while Robyn is present here, in the chamber where she has worked as Clerk or Deputy Clerk, and there at the table, for 18 years.

In the 25 years Robyn has been with the Department of the House of Representatives, she has worked with 11 speakers, seven prime ministers, and four clerks. She has worked in all the Clerk Assistant roles and as the Serjeant-at-Arms. Throughout this time, Robyn has worked with diligence and professionalism in the best traditions of parliamentary service.

The ability to draw on Robyn's expertise on practice and procedure has been of enormous value to me as a member of the House, as a committee chair, and of course, more recently, as Speaker. Her advice is always delivered quietly—which is sometimes difficult to hear, in this chamber—but forthrightly. Last week I was pleased to join the Clerk at a well-attended departmental function marking Robyn's retirement—a great demonstration of the incredibly high regard in which she is held by all her colleagues.

By any measure, Robyn's career has been one of exceptional achievement and service to members of this parliament. I trust all honourable members will join me in thanking Robyn for her many fine years of service, and to wish her, and her husband, Sam, who is in the Speaker's Gallery today, and their family, every happiness in her retirement.

3:13 pm

Photo of Malcolm TurnbullMalcolm Turnbull (Wentworth, Liberal Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Speaker, the Leader of the House will have more to say, as is the custom, but I just want to say, on behalf the government—and I am sure this is a unity ticket: Robyn, thank you so much. Twenty-five years sustaining our democracy—a remarkable service. Australia is stronger for it, and we are all better for your wisdom. Thank you.

3:14 pm

Photo of Bill ShortenBill Shorten (Maribyrnong, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

The Manager of Opposition Business will make longer remarks. I would just like to make this observation on behalf of Labor. You started your career in the Public Service as an administrative trainee some time ago. You have served this parliament. And, when people look at the conduct of this parliament, they quite often are not as happy with what they see, but what they do not see is that, to the extent that this parliament operates and operates well on many occasions, it is done upon the efforts of you and all your colleagues.

Some people here know you very well and others know you less well, but all would be aware that you are a modest person and that you also believe that much of what you have done is, in a large part, due to all of your colleagues. I think that you are like many modest people: you do not seek praise and you do not seek flowers and recognition, and, like all modest people who are remarkably professional and excellent, you probably do not realise how much you are loved and respected by the people for whom you work. There is a lot often said about our public servants, but I tell you what, Robyn: you are a great public servant. Thank you very much.

3:15 pm

Photo of Christopher PyneChristopher Pyne (Sturt, Liberal Party, Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the government, and as Leader of the House, I would like to add my own personal remarks of thanks to Robyn McClelland. I would like to associate myself with the remarks made by the Speaker. Mr Speaker, as you, the Manager of Opposition Business in the House and I, as Leader of the House, know, we rely very heavily on the clerks and the deputy clerks on a daily basis when this House is sitting to keep the parliament operating in the way that it does so professionally and expertly.

Around the world, the Australian parliament is regarded as a model for democracies of how to conduct parliament and how to allow it to exist successfully. Representatives of many countries come to see this parliament in operation, to meet with the clerks and the deputy clerks and to understand our processes. A large part of that reputation is built on the work of the Clerk, the Deputy Clerk and other people who assist. Robyn McClelland has been doing it for 18 years at the table. She has seen a great deal in that time, as has the Clerk, David Elder. I have been here that entire time. I have to say that Robyn McClelland is an absolute pleasure to deal with and always has been. She is very professional and, as the Leader of the Opposition said, very modest. She is a great public servant and a great supporter of this parliament. I have always been very grateful for your objective, unbiased advice whether I have been in the opposition or whether I have been in the government—that is another feature of our parliament. We will miss Robyn, and I think David will particularly miss Robyn as well. You will be very hard to replace. Thank you very much for your service.

3:17 pm

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with great sadness that we see Robyn leave the parliament. When I arrived in 2004, it was Robyn who gave a whole series of presentations at our induction. I remember asking a question that the answer was not known to. Three days later, a detailed paper arrived that Robyn had prepared for me explaining exactly what the circumstances would be. That question went to the counting of the ballot for Speaker. It has turned out that I have never had the opportunity to invoke the advice that I was given!

Of all the sections of the Public Service and of all the different sections of our own parties, it is interesting to note that the clerks probably have the best-quality information, and they have never leaked against anyone. It is an extraordinary thing. Contestable for all of us—and it is contested every day in the parliament—is how well we serve the people we are answerable to, but there is no question at all about the way the clerks serve the parliament. Robyn has been an extraordinary example of that. The moments that each of us have loved most and loved least in this parliament have all been based on clerks' advice. Robyn, we wish you and Sam well. Do not underestimate the extent to which we are filled with gratitude. We wish you well but we will feel the loss.

3:18 pm

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (New England, National Party, Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

Robyn, I know there is one thing you hate, and that is debates that go on for too long—especially when one speaker is repeating precisely what the previous speaker just said. My iteration in this is to once more thank you for your service to our nation. You have served the nation in many forms for four decades. That is commendable and it is a life well lived. No doubt you have an abundance of life in front of you that you can now spend with your husband. Good luck, old trout—I am sure you will fare better than us!

3:19 pm

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

I add my congratulations and my respect to Robyn McClelland on what is a remarkable 40 years of service to the public sector, beginning at the Australian National Audit Office, the National Library and the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal before you arrived here back in 1991. You have been serving at the table here for some 18 years, and in that time you have shown expertise and, indeed, a great deal of character.

My colleagues have spoken about the advice that the clerks give to people. What is also the case is that you often receive requests from both sides about the same thing. You often have to keep in confidence an inquiry about whether a particular motion or position taken in the parliament would be in order and provide assistance to make sure that it is in order, and then give advice to the other side on how they might undo the first lot of advice! You do so in a way that has the total respect of everyone that you have worked with. The other thing about being at the table here is that you work under pressure. Quite often in the heat of battle, it is the people at the table who have to stay calm, make sure that practice is complied with and give advice to the Speaker or whoever is in the chair. You have always been professional, clear and calm in that advice—unlike, it must be said, the rest of us, who can only aspire to that objective. You have been a pleasure to work with. I wish you, Sam and your family well. As a former Leader of the House, as a former Manager of Opposition Business, as a member of parliament but also as someone who runs into you around the building, you always have a smile, a 'hello' and a cheer, and a professional approach to your work and diligence here. You will be missed by all of us. I wish you well.