House debates

Thursday, 3 December 2015



9:35 am

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

on indulgence—I wish to make some remarks about the year we have just had. Today is the last day sitting day of the year. Of course, every year in this place feels like a momentous one, and particularly for those who take part in it. The end of year valedictories are a very good opportunity to thank those who work so hard behind the scenes and make this parliament work successfully as the centre of our great Australian democracy.

I should, however, observe at the outset that this has been a year in which there have been great challenges to our security both at home and abroad. It is about a year since the Martin Place siege, which shocked the nation and shocked the city of Sydney, where my wife and I and many other members live. It is only weeks ago that Curtis Cheng, the police worker, was murdered in Parramatta. And it is only a few weeks ago since the killings in Paris, followed by a similar terrorist attack in Bamako, with, of course, those following hard on the heels of terrorist attacks in Beirut and Ankara. It is a reminder of the vital importance for this government and every government of ensuring that our people are safe both at home and, so far as we are able to, abroad.

The battle against violent extremism, against terrorism, is one that all nations are now engaged in. In my recent travels to many summits, I have had the opportunity to discuss with many other leaders the way in which we can better work together to cooperate in a military sense. There is an important military dimension. The single most important objective in the battle against the violent extremism as practised by Daesh, or ISIL, is to defeat them in the field in Syria and Iraq. That has a military dimension and of course a political dimension. We have discussed both of those with our partners in the international coalition and, indeed, with other countries with an interest in the region, including, for example, the Russian Federation, and with leaders such as the Prime Minister of Israel only a few days ago.

So we are very keenly interested in securing a stronger commitment both on the military side and on the political side of this solution. But, as I discussed in the national security statement I made last week, it is a very complex environment and one where the limitations of military power have to be recognised, and the complexity of the political solution has to be recognised as well. On both fronts, there is good progress. The talks in Vienna show some promise.

Plainly, in terms of Syria in particular, the disenfranchised, alienated Sunni majority of the country needs to be reconciled in a new political settlement. Similarly, on the Iraq side of the border, the Sunni minority, which has felt left out by the majority Shiite government, has to be part of a new settlement, and the Prime Minister of Iraq is committed, he assures all of us, to achieving that. But this is an immensely complex area.

Australia is already making the second largest military contribution to the international coalition effort in that theatre. We are making a very substantial effort, and that is very much appreciated. However, the extent to which we are committed and the extent to which we have the support of the opposition in this regard—and I thank the opposition for their support—is in marked contrast to that in other countries. In the UK, even as we speak, Prime Minister David Cameron is seeking to secure the support of the House of Commons to enable his Air Force to operate against targets in Syria.

In summary, in the Syria-Iraq theatre we continue to provide a very substantial military contribution and we engage constructively with our allies to see how we can better deploy that. If there is a call on us to provide further resources or resources in a different way, we will consider that constructively. From the Australian government's point of view, we would like to see other like-minded countries making a larger contribution. Australia is making a very large contribution there, relative to others, given the size of our economy and our proximity to the conflict.

Closer to home, our security is in very good hands. Our police and our security agencies are the best in the world. They are providing the government with constant advice on this matter. Everything I say about security, about terrorism, about the battle against Islamist extremism and its various manifestations here is done in the light of that advice.

It is very important we ensure that we do not allow our enemies to divide us. That is what they seek to do. They seek to divide us and cause us to turn against, in this case, Muslim Australians. That is their objective. We know that, from a practical point of view, we are the most successful multicultural society in the world. Having just returned from Paris, we can see the challenges when you have, in France's case, a large Muslim minority where the levels of integration and harmonisation, if you like, have been well below those of Australia. The French face great challenges and they recognise that they do; they recognise that they have to make changes—but it will take a long time. We have a much stronger foundation upon which our security is built, but we have to maintain it.

At the heart of our security, yes, there is the hard edge, if you like: national security, strong laws, the laws that we have passed—and passed with the support of the opposition too, and again I thank them for that—as well as professional agencies, good intelligence and strong law enforcement. All of that is important. But at the heart of all of this is a culture of mutual respect and a sense that all Australians, regardless of their race, their cultural background, their ethnicity or their religion, have a common share in this great Australian project. That is the critical thing: to ensure that all of our citizens believe that they have a share in the great Australian project.

I have spoken about the national security challenges and I do so in a sombre sense, not least because, even as we have been sitting here in this parliament, a shocking crime has been committed in San Bernardino in California—a shooting

There is a shocking prevalence of violence around the world at the moment, and we recognise that our key objective is ensuring that these events are thwarted or prevented from happening in Australia and that, if they do, we respond to them quickly and effectively. The first duty of every government is the safety of the people.

While that background is sombre, one of the very noticeable features of this year has been a sense of optimism. Overwhelmingly, Australians understand that we are in a moment of transition in our economy. We are coming off the biggest terms-of-trade boom in our history and a mining investment boom, during which investment in new mines and infrastructure went above seven per cent of GDP. However, we can now see that there are more opportunities than ever in the global economy. We have signed three free trade agreements with Japan, Korea and China, the latter being the most extensive free trade deal ever negotiated by China with another country. The unprecedented market access China has offered to Australia puts all of our businesses at a very significant competitive advantage.

Later in the year, quite recently, we saw an historic agreement on the TPP—the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. The economies included in that agreement account for 40 per cent of global GDP. This year, services contributed around 80 per cent to our economic output, as you would expect in a developed economy, but they contributed only 20 per cent to our export performance. So, over time, with these new trade deals and the growing middle class in Asia, as big economies like a China move from being investment led to consumption led—a transition which many economists would say is inevitable, has been inevitable and has not actually happened for quite a long time but is now happening—that provides unprecedented opportunities for every Australian business that seeks to expand its horizons. Our government has an absolutely laser-like focus on jobs. We seek to drive stronger economic growth and more and better jobs. More than 300,000 jobs have been created over the past year. It is the fastest-growing calendar year for job creation since 2006.

I spoke earlier about national security in the context of terrorism and violent extremism. This has also been a year when we focused on security in a very personal way, with the focus on domestic violence. We as a nation have resolved that we are better than this. There can be no tolerance of violence against women and children. I want to acknowledge the work of the Australian of the Year Rosie Batty, who has been instrumental in putting this issue on the national agenda. In response, the government has unveiled a $100 million domestic violence package. It is simply not acceptable to regard domestic violence, somehow or other, as something else, a different kind of violence. Violence against women and children is unacceptable, whether it occurs in the home or in the street. We must not forget that, while disrespecting women does not always end in violence against women, all violence against women begins with disrespecting women. At the core of this is the importance of mutual respect. It is very important for all of us to recognise that we must ensure that our children, particularly our sons, are brought up to respect their mothers and their sisters.

This year we saw the passing of Don Randall. Don was one of the great characters of our parliament and he is sorely missed. His motto was, 'You talk, I listen,' and he really practised that. Every politician says, 'You talk, I listen.' Perhaps most of us do more talking and less listening than we should, but Don really meant it. He was completely authentic in his love of family, his love of his community, his service to his community but above all in being nothing other than himself. His wife Julie and their children, Tess and Elliott, will sorely miss him as we all will too.

In March, we farewelled former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. It is worth remembering, as we did in the motions and the debates in this House, his great contribution to Australian life and politics. He was—and this is particularly relevant in the current days—the first Australian politician to use the term 'multiculturalism'. He established the SBS and he welcomed the refugees from Vietnam. It is instructive that his contribution to public life was not merely here in the parliament. He was a young Prime Minister and he continued throughout his life to be an active participant in our big debates, including the republic debate, where we shared a common platform. His last tweet—he was a great latter-day devotee to social media—was on Chinese foreign policy.

We also farewelled Tom Uren, former finance minister Peter Walsh and, of course, our beloved and irascible former member for Hume Alby Schultz.

We could not function in this place without the many parliamentary staff who keep the show running smoothly. In particular, I want to acknowledge the hard work of the Clerk, David Elder; the Deputy Clerk, Claressa Surtees; the Serjeant-at-Arms, Bronwyn Notzon and all of the attendants; the House Table Office of Catherine Cornish, Richard Selth, Glenn Worthington, Sarah Fielder and their staff, the House parliamentary liaison office of Annette Cronin, Suzanne De Smet and Tim Moore. I also want to thank the government whip and deputy whips; you, Mr Speaker, your Deputy Speaker, Second Deputy Speaker and Speakers' panel. I also thank Anne Dowd, Anne O'Connor and Sue Klammer from the legislative team of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, who so ably support the parliamentary business committee; and Peter Quiggin and his staff from the Office of Parliamentary Counsel.

I would like to thank the Deputy Prime Minister for his support this year and my own deputy in the Liberal Party, the Foreign Minister. Having spent the past couple of weeks involved in many summits, I can just say that I have never had more respect, not just for the job she does but for the way she does it with minimal amounts of sleep. Of course, the end of the parliamentary year does not mean the end of the political year. All of our colleagues will be working hard through to Christmas on a range of policies. The Treasurer, the member for Cook, has already released some key planks of our economic platform, including reviews into the financial sector and competition framework. The Leader of the House, the member for Sturt and the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, will be presenting an innovation statement very shortly. I want to thank all of our staffers throughout our various offices who are the engine room of what we do as politicians. As I said last night, we could not do our job as members of parliament and senators without the staff and the support teams in each of our offices.

Finally, on the thanks, can I acknowledge, once again, the debt we all owe on our side of the parliament and I believe right across the parliament and the community to the great service of my predecessor as Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Party, Tony Abbott. He has been a great Prime Minister and I thank him for his service and I thank him for his support today as a member of our party.

In conclusion, I encourage everyone to have a joyful and restful Christmas and New Year's break. Spend time with your families and your loved ones. We will all come back, I believe, re-energised for, dare I say it, an exciting 2016. I am looking forward to a year of great opportunities.


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