Wednesday, 26 June 2013
Parliament House: 25th Anniversary
Given the matters that we have just been discussing it seems very mundane to be talking about our own accommodation, but I intend to do that in relation to the 25th anniversary of the new Parliament House, which was opened in 1988.
This House ought to be seen as an appropriate venue for the purpose of legislating. I often greet school parties visiting Canberra and I ask them about why we have a Parliament House. I ask them whether they have rules at their school and tell them that this is the place—it does not matter whether you call them pieces of legislation, statutes or bills—where the rules for Australia are made. I ask them: do you think it is an important place?
I remind them that in 1994 I attended the first democratic elections in South Africa. I had the opportunity of witnessing people who had been deprived of the opportunity to vote. When they had that first opportunity in 1994 I saw the queues. I visited Annangrove Public School the other day and asked the children whether their parents would stand in a queue all the way from Annangrove Road up to Old Northern Road and down to Rouse Hill. They look at me with surprise and said that they did not think their parents would wait in a queue all day.
Nevertheless, it seems to me a place that is fundamental to our democracy ought to be an appropriate place. More than 25 years ago I sat in the old chamber. I think it was recorded in the debate the other day that I am one of four who remain here who were familiar with the Old Parliament House. I always like to give Malcolm Fraser a bit of a clip. Malcolm Fraser never wanted the new Parliament House. One of the most fascinating party room discussions—there may be more fascinating party room discussions in this place today!—a long time ago was when Malcolm Fraser brought the parliamentary coalition together down in Old Parliament House to tell us of his plans for developing on the Senate and House of Representatives lawns two additional sets of offices on either side to accommodate the needs of members of parliament. It was a relatively short meeting because he got short shrift from the parliamentary party, which told him, even though he showed us some rather exotic plans, that they were not suitable. I think only two people spoke, and I was one of them. He then decided he was not on the winning side.
A competition was held. It was very interesting. A great deal of interest was taken in the fact that the principal architect, Giurgola, could not be here the other day. He is now an Australian citizen. At the time he belonged to an American architecture firm that tendered. I think he was Italian. They added a man by the name of the Thorp to the list of partners so that they would have an Australian connection. I do not care who came up with the design, quite frankly. I do not care whether it was an Australian or not. I think the design of this building is particularly unique.
I reminded the school children when they visit that this building on Capital Hill—and there was the argument about whether it should be on Capital Hill or down on the lake—was built with the hill removed so that the lawns could be grown over the top of the building and the people would be on top of the legislators. When you look at the plans—and I am sure they are somewhere; David Elder will be able to tell me who has them—of the other participants in the competition, some of them were like the buildings in Malaysia. They envisaged multistorey towers on Capital Hill. There was only one, in my view, that reflected something of the design of the Old Parliament House with two chambers on either side and the major facilities that we will all share in the middle. Down there it was King's Hall and up here it is the Great Hall and the Members' Hall. But, if you actually look at the old design that served us from 1927, I think it was, it was suitable for the purposes and for the time. The design was appropriate and has been reflected in the design of this parliament. But, if you ask me whether I would rather sit in the old house or this house, there is no question—I would rather sit in this house.
I will say a few things about the old place, because it puts things into perspective. There was a lot more camaraderie than is enjoyed here—because you were in closer proximity. There is perhaps a gender issue in this, but there was one place where people frequently saw each other—because there were no loos in the rooms—and that was the loo between the cabinet room and the back of the chamber, adjacent to the Speaker's office. People frequently saw each other at the urinal. The nature of the conversations which took place there was surprising. I do not think there would ever be a conversation like that up here.
My colleague in the chamber here was just bending his elbow—I am not sure why, but perhaps what he was referring to was that the Old Parliament House had a members bar. It did. I do not often disclose the fact that I am teetotal, but I can remember when Jim Killen saw me in there on one occasion. He asked, 'What is parliament's most famous Rechabite doing in here?' The bar was a very important place. The non-members bar was equally important. Here they constructed bars, but—if you are new and you do not know—they have been boarded up. They are now the bakery and the florist's room, I think. The bars are behind the boards on either side—the Senate bar and the House of Representatives bar were closed. There was a non-members bar. What is it now? It is now the childcare centre.
The way Parliament House works has changed. We have offices which are sufficiently commodious for people to work in. They are larger than members need for their staff, because they usually only have one staffer with them. Members' rooms are amazing. They have a waiting room, with a place for a staff member, and then three other desks for staff members. I think the accommodation for members is generous. In comparison to what existed in the old chamber, the accommodation is appropriate—but not necessary. In my judgement, the accommodation in this place which is woefully inadequate is the accommodation for ministers. I make that point very strongly.
It is occasionally commented that members are seen to be dozing in the chambers. I think someone even took a photograph of a member who may have put his head back momentarily. In Old Parliament House, nobody had a couch in their room to which they could go and quietly rest. The parliament would often sit until the early hours of the morning. I think the parliamentary catering staff have forgotten how to put on sausages for breakfast after the House has gone through until six or seven o'clock in the morning. That would test them up here. But, in the old chamber, if people needed to take a quiet moment, the only place they could go was, I think, the Parliamentary Library. I can remember seeing Billy Wentworth in there quite frequently.
I make these observations not in jest but because I believe this parliament building is appropriate for the democracy we all enjoy. I think it is important from that point of view. It enables people to do their job far more effectively than they were able to in the old chambers. There are other factors. Ministers now work from this place rather than offices elsewhere in Canberra; that has been a significant change.
For my own part, I was glad to be able to sit on the Joint Standing Committee on the New Parliament House for a time. I sat, interestingly enough, with the fathers of two present members of the House of Representatives, Harry Jenkins and Robert McClelland. Doug McClelland, who was President of the Senate, was a joint chairman, as was Dr Harry Jenkins Senior as Speaker of the House of Representatives. Tom Uren was a member. Labor may not want to remember Mal Colston and Georgie Georges, who was the only person I can remember who crossed the floor and never got held to account for it. I do not know what they do these days. There was Kathy Martin—later Kathy Sullivan—who was a senator at that time. Margaret Reid, latterly President, was a member, as was Kerry Sibraa, another President of the Senate. Other members besides me were the late Don Dobie; Ros Kelly; Bruce Lloyd, a National Party member from Victoria; Helen Mayer; and Leo McLeay, who also became Speaker. We took an interest in the future of this building. We saw it as being important and were committed to it. I can say from personal experience that it is appropriate that the parliament be accommodated in the way in which it is. I think the building is suitable for the purpose, and I think it is appropriate on its 25th anniversary that we commend those who brought it to fruition.
Burley Griffin's original plan for Capital Hill provided for a 'capitol' on the current location of Parliament House, with residences for the Governor-General on one side and the Prime Minister on the other. Parliament House was to be on a lower level, at the head of the government triangle on a site known as Camp Hill, in direct line with the axis running from the capitol to the summit of Mount Ainslie. The capitol building, atop the inner city's highest hill, Kurrajong—now Capital Hill—was to have been a ceremonial building, a pantheon that would commemorate the achievements of the Australian people. Instead of what Burley Griffin called 'the inevitable dome', the building would be capped by a stepped pinnacle or ziggurat. For Walter Burley Griffin, this form expressed 'the last word of all the longest lived civilisations'. However, it was not to be. In 1954, the Senate appointed a select committee to inquire into and report on the development of Canberra. The report recommended:
… the permanent Parliament House should not be constructed on Camp Hill where Griffin intended, but on Capital Hill on the site allotted to the "Capitol" …
It noted that Griffin himself had considered such an alternative. I have to confess that I am still quite partial to Burley Griffin's original design—to the notion that the highest place, the capitol, should be taken by a building that acknowledged the greatest of Australians.
With a ziggurat. But some eggs cannot be unscrambled, and here we are today. In April 1979, the NCDC announced an architectural competition for the design of what was then known as New Parliament House. The National Capital Development Commission consulted with the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, and the Parliament House Construction Authority issued a brief and competition documents. Key aspects of the brief included that Parliament House must be more than a functional building and should be a major national symbol in the spirit of Westminster or Washington's Capitol dome. It was important that the building reflect the significance of the national parliament, the executive government and the nation's political and social context. The extent to which the building asserted that significance was to be related to questions of its scale and monumentality. The building and the site treatment were to respond to qualities of the environment that were uniquely Australian—the Australian climate, landscape, vegetation and quality of light. The philosophy and its popular success, the brief said, would depend in part on the extent to which public access and involvement was encouraged by the design. Parliament House was not to appear remote or inaccessible. Access to the site and to the building was to be facilitated, and within the building connotations of a people's parliament and open government were best to be established if people could penetrate the building and observe its operation. Parliament has succeeded to the extent that one can walk over the top of the parliamentarians—a great design feature, I believe—though its structure is somewhat different from, say, the US Capitol where voters can walk to the offices of their elected representatives, going to see them directly without the security screening we have here.
On 26 June 1980, New York-based architectural company Mitchell, Giurgola & Thorp was announced as the winner of stage 2 of the Parliament House design competition. Interestingly, Romaldo Giurgola had initially been asked by Sir John Overall, the then head of the National Capital Development Commission, to be an assessor for the design competition for the new Parliament House. Giurgola wrote back stating:
I am honoured by such an offer, but I would rather enter the competition.
Aren't we lucky that he did? The winning architectural team, Romaldo Giurgola, Richard Thorp, Harold Guida, Rollin La France, Pamille Berg, Tim Halden-Brown, Peter Rolland, Peter Britz and Mervyn Dorrough, was responsible for the design, conception, siting and architecture as well as the interior design, furniture design, landscape and coordination of the art and craft program for Parliament House. Construction began in 1981 and the building was opened on 22 August 1988.
Romaldo Giurgola moved to Canberra to implement his design and lives here to this day. He brought a team of eight people from his New York office, and three others, as well as Romaldo Giurgola, stayed in Australia after the project's completion. It is a great contrast from the way in which the Sydney Opera House construction eventuated. It does make you think, if only Jorn Utzon had had Romaldo Giurgola's patience and his negotiating skills, how much more glorious the interiors of the Sydney Opera House would be today.
The assessors' report on the winning scheme noted its unpretentiousness and accessibility where, 'children will not only be able to climb on the building, but draw it easily too'. Speaking of children, I was pretty much a child when I first came here in 1988 to do work experience for the then member for Fraser, John Langmore. It was something of a coincidence to have done work experience for the member for Fraser given that at the time I was living in the electorate of the Father of the House, the member for Berowra. My father, who was a university academic, knew John Langmore and so it was with John that I spent two weeks in this building. I have never before, or since, gotten lost so many times inside a building. The key to this building, I believe, is to like the art. I did not like art in 1988, but I do today. A think art lovers have a far easier time navigating Parliament House than those who glide by ignoring the beautiful works on the walls.
To the successful architect, a matter of crucial importance was the relationship of the structure to individual Australians and whether people would feel comfortable approaching and entering the building. For the winning designers this was basic to their plan. As Romaldo Giurgola once said:
We felt if Australia’s new Parliament House was to speak honestly about its purpose, it could not be built on top of the hill as this would symbolise government imposed upon the people.
The magic relationship between geometry and land configurations of that plan, after that, often became the object that country often became the object of my architectural dreams. The brief for the design of the parliament compiled by the NCDC was possibly the best I had ever encountered in my professional career.
Another great tribute to the extraordinary public servants who helped build Canberra. Giurgola spoke of how he came to understand Australia by saying:
I plunged into Australian literature rather than into guides and travelogues. Patrick White, Miles Franklin, Henry Lawson and Les Murray became my real instructors, while the sonorous voice and accent of Richard Thorp, the Australian in our office, produced the right atmosphere.
I think it speaks well of Australia that we are in a city designed by a Chicagoan and in a building designed by a New Yorker, because Australia at its best engages with the rest of the world, taking the best ideas not just from within our continent, but around the globe. So it is with this extraordinary building—Parliament House. I wish it a happy 25th birthday and hope it will stand for longer than the 200 years for which it was originally built.
Australia has several iconic buildings. It has the Sydney Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the War Memorial and, of course, Gold Coast's Q1. They are just some of the iconic buildings and structures that come to mind. But perhaps the most iconic building that has come to represent our nation as a whole is the building in which we stand today, the new Parliament House. Although the Commonwealth parliament has sat since 1901, it was not until 1988 that the parliament was able to sit in this location. The opening of the first parliament in 1901 was in the Exhibition Building in Melbourne but from Federation up until 1927 the Commonwealth parliament sat in the Victorian Parliament House, while the state parliament sat in the Exhibition Building until the construction of a provisional parliament house. When that building, now known as Old Parliament House, was opened by the then Duke of York, later King George VI, no-one would have expected that it would house the parliament for 61 years.
As time progressed, Old Parliament House became cramped and could not cater for the 3,000 or so people working in it rather than the 300 it was planned for. In 1975 the parliament appointed the Joint Standing Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House to facilitate the construction of a new parliament building. The parliament approved construction on 28 August 1980 and the committee recommended that the new parliament house be opened by Australia's centenary of European settlement. So, ready on time, Her Majesty the Queen opened the new Parliament House on 9 May 1988, 61 years since her father had opened Old Parliament House, and the first sitting of the Commonwealth parliament in the new building took place on 22 August 1988.
Parliament House now occupies a floor area of 250,000 square metres with 4,500 rooms, and over 5,000 people work here during a parliamentary sitting, plus all the visitors that come throughout the year. Ninety per cent of the building is made of Australian materials and each part of the building's design has a meaning behind it. For instance, as many would know, the colours of the House of Representatives and the Senate reflect the respective colours of the House of Commons and the House of Lords in the United Kingdom; however the shade of green in the House of Representatives reflects the colours of eucalyptus and acacia trees while the red hue of the Senate reminds us of the rich soils and the redgums.
One of the great things about Parliament House is that much of it is open to the public, with Australians and other international visitors being able to come here and see the parliamentary system in action. I think there is many a schoolchild who remembers their trip to Parliament House and to Canberra, and I look forward to seeing many more come into this place and learn about our system of government, our democracy and what their part is in it.
I, like many of my colleagues, speak to many community groups and I have spoken with quite a lot during the last couple of years. We are often asked to speak and we are usually asked about anything other than politics. One of the things that I take the opportunity to speak about is this magnificent building, and I speak about it because I guess, as an engineer, I look at this building through engineering and construction eyes. But for the people that I speak to, they get to hear about a building that is so iconic, that is so important to this nation, and I try and remember as many statistics and as many different things as I possibly can about this building.
Often people come up to me after I have spoken about this building and congratulate me on giving such an interesting speech—and it will have been interesting because this building is interesting. It is fascinating. I talk to them about what it was like when I first walked into this building as a newly elected member of the House of Representatives—how there is so much whiteness, so much glass—and it is probably a little bit like the starship Enterprise, to be perfectly honest, where because of the nature of this parliament, when we come in we are here for the entire day and there is so much whiteness and there is so much glass here as well. I talk to them about standing on the ground floor of parliament directly under where the flag is, looking upwards and seeing the size of the flag from up so close, and how you are surrounded by so much beauty and structure in the building itself. I talk to them about a statistic that I am confident is correct, because I heard it on one of my trips around Parliament House with a guide—that is, there are about 23 kilometres of corridor in this building. I am sure that I, along with many others, have walked through many of those 23 kilometres of corridor.
When I first arrived in this place and found myself having to move from one part of the building to the other, I was confronted with what many other people here are confronted with and that is that the corridors are so similar. Even now, as you are moving, perhaps from a committee hearing back to your office, you can easily look up and wonder whether you are in the inner corridor, the outer corridor or on the first floor or the second floor because the corridors, particularly in the office part of the building, are so similar.
When I was finding it difficult to work out where I needed to be, as an engineer I acquainted myself with one of the many diagrams that are on the walls here so I could see a plan view of what Parliament House looked like. I have been very confident of finding my way around since looking at the plan view of it. It demonstrates the symmetry of this building. The building is exceptionally well laid out and, when you are conscious of what the layout of the building is, it is exceptionally easy to move quickly from one place to another. It is so symmetrical. It is a truly wonderful building. It is a landmark building and it is so important that we preserve it and respect it. Twenty-five years is a fantastic milestone. I am sure that there will be many more to come and I certainly join my colleagues in wishing the building a happy 25th birthday.
I was so pleased to see this motion of the 25th anniversary of the new Parliament House on the program of business this week because it meant that in this, my final week in the parliament, I could have the opportunity to pay tribute to this magnificent building, which has been one of my workplaces for the last 15 years and to, as it were, extend my valedictory speech to thank the many people, the staff of Parliament House, who have helped me do my job in this place for the five terms that I have served.
It has been fantastic to listen in to this morning's debate and to start back in the days of Old Parliament House, listening to the member for Berowra talking about serving on the committee that put some of the building blocks in place that led to the design and construction of this building. Also, to hear from the member for Fraser, who has such a strong connection as a member here in the ACT, about how this building was conceived and what it was hoped to embody and convey to the Australian people at the time of its design.
I can still remember coming to this building for the first time in 1989, maybe 1990. I was a university student at the time and came down to visit a mate, who was at ADFA. My first impression has stayed with me ever since and it is something that I always share with school groups or people who ask me about this building when I am back in my electorate. To me, what is so great about it is that it is so quintessentially Australian. It is grand enough to be our Parliament House, to be the nation's capital building—the nation's parliament. But it is not ostentatious, it is not flashy and it is not in any way over-the-top. This is a very Australian characteristic. I think embodied in Australia's Parliament House is that sense of Australians wanting it to be appropriate but not in any way flashy or ostentatious.
The member for Fraser talked about some of the design principles that the architects wanted to convey in the building. They have been very successful in creating a building that is impressive but not imposing. To have the building topped by that incredible Australian flag, that huge Australian flag, sends out a signal of who this building is for and what this building is for. When I see it from the air, or when parliament is sitting, I cross the lake to drive up to Parliament House on a Sunday afternoon the flagpole conveys very much the significance of this building, what this building is for and who owns it. When you get closer to the building itself, it is, as I say, impressive but not imposing. The building really invites people to gather at its front and then for them to participate within it—this is something very special.
But a building is only as good as the people inside it. I am just so fortunate to have been looked after by the staff of Parliament House for these many years. I will start with the people whom you first meet as a new MP, and they are the corridor attendants and those in the Serjeant's office. They are so friendly and helpful, and this has been the case for my entire 15 years here. Nothing is too much trouble for them. I tell you what: when you pick up the phone to the Serjeant's office, it does not matter how obscure your question is, they will have an answer and the patience to find a solution or to help you in some other way with what you are asking about. I really do appreciate all that they have helped me with over the years.
I am going through this list in no particular order but with who just popped into my head during this week. The starting point for me was when the attendants were looking after me in those very early days and making that sure that I felt at home in my office and that I could get to work straightaway as the member for Capricornia. I also want to thank the security guards for always being so courteous, so friendly and so professional. I have been to other parliaments around the world and have gone up to the security staff with a big smile and a hello, only to be met with stony-faced silence—so different from here. We are so lucky to have the security guards around Parliament House, keeping us safe and doing their job but also making everyone feel welcome and that this is their house. I cannot remember the number of times that I have had people from my electorate come here, looking a little bit lost, and a security guard has come up to them in the entrance hall and asked: 'How can we help you? Who do you want to see? Here's a phone. Let's get you sorted out.' This has always been my experience of our security guards in Parliament House. They are a great bunch.
Thank you to the clerks Bernard Wright and David Elder and to Marion Bartlett and all the other chamber staff who serve us so well. You literally make this place function and, in doing so, help us all to do our jobs and to present the best possible face of this parliament to the Australian public. I have really valued your experience and assistance over the years, especially in my time as a member of the Speaker's panel. The library staff do a terrific job as well. They are such an important but sometimes undervalued part of the democratic function of this place. Again, when you go to an overseas parliament or when overseas delegations come here they want to learn about our library—how it is structured and the role that it plays in our parliament in assisting members to be diligent in their decision-making processes in this place.
I want to thank the International and Community Relations Office, who have been extremely helpful over the years in many different ways—Onu and Paul for helping out with passports and visas, and Geoff, Raymond and Colin for always being there to answer my questions and to get things sorted out for international travel or hosting delegations here. Thanks too to the Comcar drivers, as well as Greg, Roger and Carol in the Transport Office. Some mornings you might not really want to come into this place, but the Comcar driver greets you with a friendly smile outside your accommodation and then there's a big cheery 'Hello, how are you going and welcome' from Greg. It is those little things that really do help you get through your days in this place.
One of the things that all of those of us who are retiring are most anxious about is how to survive in the outside world without 2020, those IT experts here in Parliament House, helping us to turn things on and off and to understand what this or that instruction means. Seriously, I do not know what I am going to do without them. They are always so patient with me—I am in my 40s and I do not know how to do all this stuff. They have been eternally patient and have never made me feel too much of an idiot when it comes to technology. The dining room staff, and especially Tim, always makes you feel like a million dollars when you go up there. I thank them for making the Members and Guests Dining Room a special place—I really like to take guests up there to experience not only the view, but also the atmosphere that has been created through the professionalism of Tim and his team.
I also want to thank Hansard for always interpreting those place names in my electorate correctly and keeping me out of trouble by getting people's names right and creating that perfect record of what goes on in here. As the Deputy Speaker would know, it is a great thing to be able to mention a school or a person's achievements and present them with a perfect Hansard record of it. I appreciate Hansard's assistance over the years. I also want to thank the Auspic team who always cooperate with photos in the chamber or passport photos. It is another one of those services that is easily taken for granted, but it has been great to have them on hand to help out with such things over the years.
The member for Berowra mentioned the childcare centre. My goodness, that was quite a long time coming and a big battle to get that facility, but who would question its value to the parliament these days? I am very fortunate to have my office directly above the childcare centre. What a wonderful thing it is to see those children out enjoying this beautiful building and its magnificent grounds as much as we do. It is wonderful for people working in this place to have their children close by and part of their world inside Parliament House.
I have had the great privilege of serving on some terrific committees, and the best ones have been the ones in this final term, including the Standing Committee on Regional Australia, so wonderfully served by Glen Worthington, Siobhan Leyne, Casey Mazzarella and Emily Costello. We have travelled all over Australia and even around the world. It has been great to do that with the member for Riverina, who is here in the chamber, and also with our chair, Tony Windsor, the member for New England. I would like to take this opportunity to wish Tony all the best in what will not be his retirement, but for his life after this place. I have also served as the chair of the Public Works Committee and that has been a fantastic experience, with the assistance of Anthony Overs, Alison Clegg and Fiona Gardner and my deputy chair the member for Mallee, who is also leaving this place after a very distinguished career.
I am going to say a quick thank you to staff at FCm Travel and their predecessors who, again, have always been very patient in helping me figure out travel, travel with children and the back and forth between here and Rockhampton. They have always been very quick to answer my inquiries and get me on my way so I thank them. I appreciate all the work of the gardening and cleaning staff. This is a magnificent building but, I tell you what, it would require a lot of upkeep. They keep it looking its best for us and for the Australians who want to come here and feel proud of this place.
Finally, I am going to talk about the Parliamentary Education Office. I had the great pleasure of working with Jason and Marisa in my electorate just in the week before I came back here for this final fortnight of sitting. They came around to a whole bunch of schools in my electorate to bring lessons about the work of the parliament to students. The Parliamentary Education Office and the work they do every day ensures that this building, this parliament and the work that goes on here can be understood and that those children who come here feel a connection to what we do. We hope they aspire to be part of this—to be part of our parliament—whether it is as a politician, a researcher or a staff member, or in some other form. It is the work of the Parliamentary Education Office in introducing students to the parliament and encouraging them to take an interest that will ensure this building, and the work of this building, continues to be held in high esteem in the future. Thank you very much to all the staff of the parliament who have made this such a special place to work. I look forward to returning in other capacities in the future and wish all of my continuing colleagues all the best as well.
Firstly, I commend the member for Capricornia for her fine speech and wish her well in her post-political life. As she mentioned, we have gone a long way together—around the world, indeed, to Canada and Mongolia and on our regional Australia trip. Certainly, her contribution to that fly-in fly-out inquiry was invaluable.
Speaking of invaluable, such has been the work of the former Attorney General, the member for Barton, whose seat is named after Edmund Barton, the first prime minister of this great country. Certainly, there is going to be a different political landscape in the building we are acknowledging today in this motion on the 25-year anniversary of this building. It is going to look totally different in the next parliament. We have the members for Capricornia and Barton both retiring. This morning we heard that the members for New England and Lyne are joining them in retirement. But while the faces will change, the building and its service to the nation will go on. Parliament House is a symbol of Australian democracy, home to the Australian parliament and the meeting place of the nation. It was originally the ground upon which the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people used to meet as well and we should acknowledge them in this motion.
On 9 May 1988, the building we are currently standing in—Australia's Parliament House—was officially opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, long may she reign, 10 years after the Fraser government decided a new building was required on Capital Hill. Old Parliament House, as it is now known, was opened in 1927 and was only ever intended to be a temporary building for the Australian parliament; however, the building was starting to become outgrown and by the 1980s there were 3,000 people working in a space originally designed for just 300. Old Parliament House served Australia well—for 61 long years. It is very much an iconic building.
The Fraser government announced a two-stage competition to become the designer of the new building, and the winner was New York based architectural firm Mitchell/Giurgola, with Italian architect Romaldo Giurgola on site for the construction process. Construction of this magnificent building began in 1981 and was intended to be completed by Australia Day 1988 to coincide with the 200th anniversary of European settlement in Australia. The construction was to cost Australia $220 million. However, neither the completion date nor the budgets were met. Her Majesty opened the building just over three months after the expected date—which is not too bad, given the size and scope of the building—and the building cost a total of A$1.1 billion, making it the most expensive building in the world at the time of its construction. But it is worth it. I think we would all agree that it has certainly been worth it. I know the member for Canberra agrees that it is worth it; it is probably in her electorate.
It is in her electorate. Ten thousand people took part in the construction of Parliament House, and the building is constructed almost entirely of Australian materials. The building is one of the largest in the southern hemisphere, measuring 300 metres long and 300 metres wide and covering a floor area of more than 250,000 square metres. We heard the member for McPherson say before that there are 25 kilometres of corridors, and that is an amazing statistic. The official opening date of 9 May was chosen to align with the anniversary of the opening of both the first federal parliament in Melbourne on 9 May 1901 by the Duke of Cornwall and York, later King George V, and the provisional parliament house in Canberra on 9 May in 1927 by the Duke of York, later King George VI and father to Queen Elizabeth II.
The building was designed to blend in with the local environment, and one million cubic metres of earth were removed so that the centre zone of Parliament House could be built into Capital Hill. This was then replaced with two curved walls and covered with grass to recreate the shape of the hill. Aside from returning the earth back to the environment, the reconstruction of the hill was also of symbolic purpose—and this is what the Prime Minister talked about the other day in her fine speech—in that it was meant for the public to be able to walk over the building and serve as a reminder to those who serve as members of parliament and senators that they are not above the public but that indeed the public are above politicians and have the right to hold us accountable.
As times have changed, security measures have needed to be increased and people can no longer walk over the top of the building, but the sentiment is still there and it is something that I think every person who serves in this parliament should always remember. We should also remember that, as we look out the front doors of Parliament House, the Australian War Memorial is off in the distance. That building, which is a fine centrepiece of Australian democracy as well, serves to remind us that men and women died so that we could live in peace and have freedom, free speech and a free democracy—and that is so very important.
Whilst not being able to walk over the building, the public can still gain access to the top of the building where they not only are treated to amazing views across Canberra, the member for Canberra's electorate but also get to see firsthand the 81-metre flagpole from which an Australian flag measuring almost the size of half a tennis court is flown. The flag is the pinnacle of Parliament House, and the flag and the flagpole are just as iconic an image as the parliamentary complex itself. May we long retain the flag we have now, because it is a great symbol.
The forecourt is the primary entrance to Parliament House and was designed to invite people into the building. The two walls which frame the entrance almost appear as two outstretched arms to welcome people in. The complex is then divided into the ministerial wing, the House of Representatives, the Senate and the entrance, which includes the magnificent Great Hall. The public can view a large area at the front of Parliament House, but for security reasons and to ensure efficient day-to-day running most of the building has restricted access.
If you enter from the forecourt and walk through the Great Hall you arrive in the Members' Hall, which is located outside the House of Representatives chamber. There is a water feature placed there so that anyone on the upper level, whilst being able to look down into the hall, is unable to hear conversations which may be taking place. That is sometimes important because there are a few conversations meant for private ears in this place that should stay just that—such as on a day like today when we have only a couple of sitting days left in parliament.
Each wing of the complex has its own distinct colouring system. The ministerial wing has blue carpet, and the House of Representatives and Senate have adopted the Westminster colouring of green and red respectively, but with a distinct Australian feel. The green of the House of Representatives is muted to align with the colourings of the eucalyptus leaves, and the red of the Senate is a softer shade to represent the red of the outback. People who have visited the Senate may have noticed that the emergency exit signs are red. In Australia, it is compulsory to have green emergency exit signs, and an act of parliament needed to be passed to allow the Senate to have red exit signs. These are the only exit signs in Australia which are not green. Isn't that interesting?
Parliament House is not only a Canberra icon, but it is also an Australian icon, with many Australian tourists visiting every year in addition to the numerous international visitors who leave the tourist hot spots of the big cities to come and see Australian democracy at work. I was speaking to a lady from America yesterday at the post office here, and she admired the building. I said, 'Your President, Barack Obama, when he visited here not that long ago, was also in absolute admiration of the size, the scope and the magnificence of Australian Parliament House.' It truly is something to be proud of.
Another large contingent who visit this building every year are Australian school students. I would imagine that we get more students visiting from my Riverina electorate, which is not very far west of here, than from any other electorate in Australia. We have more than 120 schools in my electorate. The kids just love it. They love the certificates they get, which I personally sign and which the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives also have signed. The kids love coming here.
I remember coming to the Old Parliament House—I do go back that far—and getting off the bus and being marshalled into lines. On the steps, Malcolm Fraser—yes, it was that long ago—was being interviewed. I thought that it would be a really cool thing to be interviewed on the steps of Parliament House, but let me tell you—many, many years on and having come to this place as a parliamentarian—sometimes it is not that cool to be interviewed on the steps of Parliament House. We have all had those 'gotcha' moments, when the media have asked you a question and you have answered it and you think that it might not come out as well as was intended. But the school students love coming to this place. You can see the eagerness in their brisk walk and the enthusiasm in their eyes when they are all going into the hospitality area.
To that end, I commend the hospitality people, because they do a fine job with the school students, and the school students are always very respectful. I love being able to meet with the students from my electorate and relay to them the importance and significance of this building and, indeed, of Australian democracy. I always get them to look out of the window at the War Memorial, which, as I mentioned before, is a poignant reminder to us all that we only sit here today because of the brave men and women of our country who have gone and fought. Sadly, more than 105,000 of them have died in combat.
I feel honoured and humbled to serve as the 14th member for Riverina. It is a Federation seat, and may it long continue to be a seat recognised by this parliament and all that it represents. I trust that this building will continue to see many more years and many more parliaments. I believe it will continue to serve us as a symbol of Australian democracy and the meeting place for our great nation.
Before I conclude, I would also like to pay tribute to the member for Hinkler, who I know is going to follow me in speaking, for his fine service. I know how proud he is to come to this place. There are not too many members who actually served in the Old Parliament House and are now serving in this Parliament House. I know that Philip Ruddock, the member for Berowra, is one of them, and he is contesting this election. One of them who is retiring is Senator Ron Boswell, the great Queensland Nationals senator. He is from the Liberal National Party, but he is certainly very much a National Party senator—
He is very much a National Party senator, as the member for Higgins reminds me. 'Bossie' has given this place his life, and certainly he will be greatly missed. There are some characters in this place. If you look at the prime ministers that we have had and some of the great speeches that we have heard, it is a tremendous place.
The longest serving member for Riverina was Noel Hicks. He also was actually the National Party member for Riverina-Darling, because the electorate had a slight name change when they added the name Darling between 1984 and 1993. He came into this place when it opened in 1988. He had been serving in the old place. He said that the new Parliament House was well overdue at the time but that this place took some getting used to. He has very many fond memories of the traditions of the sitting nights in the old place. He said that the old parliament was perhaps a little bit more bipartisan. In 1988, 3,000 people were crammed into a building designed for just 300. There were shared offices, and the House of Representatives chamber was too small to fit the number of members elected to it. You could not help but get along with members on the other side, he told me. The parliamentary bar, Mr Hicks said, was where most of the governing actually happened. He said that there was a real sense of camaraderie and civility between members and senators and the parliamentary bar was where this conviviality was really on display in the old House. While the facilities that we have in this place are undoubtedly first class, it is the camaraderie Mr Hicks speaks of and which many retired members have lamented the gradual decline in that I think this place could do with perhaps a bit more of. We get to know the members well on committee work and delegations but perhaps it is a shame that we do not sometimes push the tables together more in the politicians' dining room and share a meal with our combatants on the other side.
Noel Hicks, however, does speak of how better equipped this place is compared with its predecessor. We even have terrific childcare facilities, which are very important. We are incredibly lucky to have such a functional, modern and symbolic building in which to debate the nation's future. This is a place steeped in the traditions of the Westminster system which also reflects the changing nature and aspirations of the modern Australian nation. There is no better reflection of what our nation is then the wonderful synergy this place has of the old and the new. I commend the motion.
I would like to commend the member for Riverina for his splendid speech and also for paying tribute to those who served in the Old Parliament House and also this wonderful new Parliament House. I am incredibly proud and tickled pink that this wonderful, iconic building that we are celebrating and talking about here today is in my electorate of Canberra because it truly is a most magnificent piece of modern architecture and craftsmanship. It is the centrepiece, as we heard from the Prime Minister on Tuesday, of our democracy. She quoted former Prime Minister Bob Hawke—and I think this is a beautiful quote—who said of his place that it is:
… the forum for our differences and the instrument of our unity.
I think that really does sum up what new Parliament House represents to us as politicians and as representatives of our communities and the Australian nation.
It is a symbol of nation building and forward thinking. This building was designed and built to last for 200 years. I cannot imagine what the electorate of Canberra will be like in another 175 years time, but I cherish the thought that this wonderful Parliament House, which will be a grand old dame by then, will still be standing tall at its centre. Parliament House is the realisation of a magnificent design, a magnificent philosophy and a modern notion of democracy. It has been made possible by Canberra's, Australia's and, indeed, the world's best tradespeople, labourers, managers, administrative staff and professional consultants.
Parliament House was built by a team of some 2,000 people here on site in Canberra, and as many as 8,000 around Australia were involved in the manufacturing of the materials and products. Some 24 nationalities were represented among those working on this project. Anyone who has been lucky enough to spend time in this building for an extended period will know that a full range of craft and trade skills are evident in its design and construction. It is right down to the fantastic carpentry work that is in our offices. It is in the tiny little drawers and shelves that have been developed. It is all high-quality craftsmanship made with great love and great respect for the Australian people and for the actual materials, such as the beautiful woods that have been used, and a great sense of this legacy and the fact that this beautiful craftsmanship and beautiful work is going to be here for a long time. It was built to be enduring. It was built with respect as a result of that.
One particular story that I love is that the building even called for the revival of some skills which at the time were considered quite rare, such as the mixing and application of stucco lustro, a polished plaster wall finish derived from the methods first used in Roman times. I like to think the building has therefore contributed to the preservation of these skills. I know that Aldo, when he was designing it, invoked many of those classic Romanesque architectural themes here, with the pillars and columns and the grandeur. It is just wonderful that not only is the design concept based on those principles and those philosophies but also the actual building and construction of it have drawn on those skills that date right back to Roman times.
I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the over 10,000 people who were involved in the construction of this project in some way or another. I hope and I know that they are proud of their contribution to this incredible, significant and historic building. I hope and I know that they take satisfaction in the fact that the results of their efforts are so spectacular, are so enduring, are so monumental and are so significant that they make us all proud as a nation. They inspire awe, as we have heard from presidents and other visitors from overseas, from right throughout the world. Most importantly, I hope and I know that they realise that the thousands of people who visit this building every day—from the politicians to the cleaners, from the schoolchildren to the lobbyists, the security guards, the police officers and the advisers—all feel a sense of pride and privilege that they are able to work in this great place. Many people who work in this building have aspired to work here since they were children—perhaps as a politician or an adviser. It is a focal point for the nation and, for many Australians and many who work here, a focal point of their aspirations. I feel that as I work here every day of the week.
I would also like to pay tribute to the people who work in this building today, particularly those who take such good care of it and of us—the cleaners, the gardeners, the tour guides, the library staff, the security guards, the police officers, the journalists, the barristers, the chefs, the waiters, the attendants, the educators, the post office staff, the bank and travel agent employees and the list goes on, including the advisers, of course. Perhaps the most special thing about this building is that it is not just a building; it is a community that it is a privilege to be a part of. It is a community. We spend an awful lot of time here together and we spend an awful lot of time in the wee small hours, when we are quite often very tired and cranky. It is a community where people provide support to one another from both sides of the political divide, and we also get support from the security guards and the other staff around here. We get that sense of support and a sense that we are all working together for the common good, we are all working together to make a difference and we are playing our role in many and varied ways. Even though we have differences in our methods of getting there, we are all here to serve the Australian people. I believe that that is the belief of everyone who works in this building. We want to serve the Australian people. We want to make this nation a better place for all Australians. We want to make a difference. It is an incredible privilege to be working in a community that aspires to that.
In my early years as a Canberran, I watched this building emerge out of what looked like a giant pit. It was a giant pit for what seemed a very long time, and now it has emerged into this thing of beauty. At the time, I could never have dreamed that, one day, I would not only work at New Parliament House—as we used to call it—but that I would be doing so as the person elected to represent the people of Canberra. It is fitting that by now, its 25th year, we have all but dropped the word 'New' when we refer to Parliament House, although we still abbreviate its name as NPH.
I remember working on the 20th anniversary of Parliament House. I was doing some consulting—I had my own communication business before coming here. I was doing some work with the CFMEU at the time, and they were working in conjunction with a number of the architects and the engineers who worked on the construction of the building, to celebrate the workers who built this Parliament House. That was very much the focal point for the 20th anniversary program. It was just wonderful to meet, and hear all the stories of, the people who came here from all over the world to build this. There were plenty of funny stories and there were plenty of sad stories. There was a reunion lunch for all the workers. There was a reunion event here at Parliament House for all the engineers and the architects and the builders, and it was a great celebration of their efforts.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary and to coincide with Canberra's centenary, we had the beautiful ballet that was performed recently by the Australian Ballet company, called 'Monument'. The building was celebrated through dance, and everyone who saw that, including me, was amazed at how the ABC managed to convert the built form into life, into dance, into movement. It was a challenging brief, but they did a fantastic job. I understand that Aldo Giurgola, the architect of Parliament House, attended that and was incredibly moved by what he saw.
Aldo is a very prominent figure in this building. He comes here every week to check up on his baby. He makes sure that everything is in its place. Whenever I see him wandering the corridors—he is 90-plus now—I reflect on a story that I was told when I was in Foreign Affairs and Trade about Harry Seidler, who designed the Australian Embassy in Paris. The story shows how protective architects are of their creations. It happened at the time when Gough Whitlam was ambassador. Harry was invited around to have a drink, or dinner, with Gough and Margaret. They were in the ambassador's residence, this beautiful Harry Seidler creation, and Harry spent most of the time arranging the furniture. Like all great architects, he had designed the furniture as well, and he was most unimpressed with the way Gough and Margaret had disrespected his vision for the furniture arrangements and other general arrangements—the ambience of the Australian ambassador's residence in Paris. Harry spent most of his time wandering around rearranging the furniture, literally, and chastising Gough and Margaret for not realising the true sense of the Harry Seidler vision. I do not know whether that is myth, but it is a good story. It does underscore the fact that architects are incredibly protective and possessive of their work, and we definitely have that with Aldo. I can see Aldo being carried out from here in a pine coffin. He is so attached to the place that it will probably be here where he will move on. He is a great inspiration.
Another thing I find inspiring in this wonderful building are the gardens. Even at the moment, when we are in the grip of winter, we still have beautiful azaleas and camellias. I wish my garden looked this good in winter, but unfortunately I do not have the fantastic team that they have here. In spring it comes into its own. There is a magical Japanese garden, a cherry blossom garden, which is just divine. I love wandering the gardens here every day and seeing the art and sculptures. It is not just the building that is so magnificent; it is also the gardens and the art that is in the gardens. It is wonderful seeing so many Canberrans and Australians come up during Floriade, in spring, to see the true joy of the beautiful design of these gardens.
As the member for Riverina has mentioned, the children who come here also get great joy not just from seeing the House of Representatives and the Senate and working out what is red and what is green, and from the hospitality, but also from doing the role-play in the education room and screaming at each other. They also get great joy from seeing this iconic building, which they watch on television during the week from far-flung parts of Australia. They all come here to celebrate democracy and their nation.
It is this purpose-built home of democracy which we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of this year. It is a symbol of freedom and hope. It is a symbol of democracy. It is a symbol of unity. It is a symbol of nationhood. It has served us well over the last 25 years and it will continue to serve us for the next 175 years. Happy birthday, Parliament House!
There is no need to apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. It was actually the member for Wide Bay at the time, Andrew Fisher, who laid the foundation stone for the first Parliament House 100 years ago. But we are here today primarily to celebrate the 25th anniversary of this great Parliament House. But, as the member for Canberra said, it is overlaid by the second great anniversary, the 100th anniversary of the naming of Canberra and the laying of the foundation stone for the first Parliament House. As I have said, it was Andrew Fisher who was the member for my area and who laid that foundation stone. Interestingly, you can go to Gympie—which is not in my electorate but is in the electorate of Wide Bay, adjoining mine—where there is a historical precinct and you can actually go to Andrew Fisher's house. For those of you going up the north coast anytime in the future, it is worth stopping in Gympie to get that lovely link between Wide Bay, one of the original seats, Andrew Fisher and indeed this place.
It is hard to encapsulate what this place means. Like all great public buildings, when it was being built it was roundly criticised: 'Why are they digging that big hole in the hill?' 'Couldn't they have built it on some flat land?' 'Why do they need a million dollars for a flagpole?' When you think about it, to the uninitiated, not seeing the architectural vision of Romaldo Giurgola at that time, you would have been taken aback before you saw that beautiful architectural shape of the flagpole and so the concept of someone spending a million dollars on a flagpole was probably a bit more than some people could bear. Then again all great buildings have been challenges, not least of which is the Opera House. There were people who thought the Opera House was a dreadful building but, of course, time has proven them quite wrong—as indeed it has with this building.
I like the line in Tony Abbott's address when they had the function, morning tea, in the Great Hall to celebrate this 25th anniversary. He offered an interesting line. He said it is a bit like a young person's first suit because you might look a bit awkward and gorky in it at first but eventually you grow into it. Indeed, we have grown into this and, as you have heard other speakers say today, Old Parliament House in many respects had become a bit of a shambles with people living on top of each other, cramped offices—
An honourable member interjectin g
I am sure you did. From a sense of sentimentality, I am sure you did. Indeed, all Australians would still take great pride in it as being our first Parliament House in Canberra. The other thing that Tony Abbott said—which others have said in other ways—was that a 'nation’s pride in itself should indeed be reflected in its public buildings'. Those of us who have had the good fortune to go to Rome, Paris or London and see the rich history that has built up there, or to stand on the Eiffel Tower and see the symmetry of Paris and Napoleon's vision for that, know it is inspiring. So a statement about our nationhood was really called for. After all, the first Parliament House was only ever called the temporary parliament house. As others have said, it opened on 9 May 1927, after a fairly elongated period in the Victorian parliament.
For this building I am in the imagery is very good. It is a bold statement in the sense of the grandeur of the place and the area it takes up, being 300 metres by 300 metres, cut into a hill, Capitol Hill. But then, at the same time, with the grass overlaying it, there is a sense that we have not got beyond ourselves—that, in the end, we serve this country from this place. So it is a mixture of a national statement on the one hand and national restraint on the other.
As the member for Riverina said, the American President, Barack Obama, was full of praise for this building. I can remember that not long after I came here we had a state visit from President von Weizsacker of West Germany, as it was then. President von Weizsacker said that he believed it was the greatest parliament house in the world. That is something we can take great pride in—that we had set a standard in our public building which reflected our confidence and reflected a national sentiment.
I think that this Parliament House has some quite exquisite features, one of which is the almost total use of Australian materials. To see the rich marbles, the rich timbers and the beautiful timber inlays in the Marble Foyer—you certainly come away with a sense of pride, not only in the architectural statement made by the building but in the workmanship and the arts and skills that went into creating this ambience. The two chambers are such that—the member for Lingiari probably craves the old building a little—they will serve us for 200 years even if the House of the Representatives and Senate were to increase again by, say, another 12 members. You virtually have to go up in multiples of 12—two for each state with six states—for the Senate and then you have to double that for the House of Representatives. It is interesting to know that that next step could be taken without substantially altering this building.
A few things troubled me this year. This is not said, by the way, with any sense of malice or as overt criticism, but I think it needs to be said. We developed, in this very chamber we are in today, something unique in the Westminster system—this idea of a second debating chamber for the lower house of the parliament. It was a very well-structured idea, which came out of the Keating government, to give us this. The thing that troubles me about it is that, after all these years, we have not developed it to the next stage. This 25-year anniversary of the new building, on the one hand, and the 100th anniversary of the naming of Canberra, on the other, is a marvellous opportunity for us to seize—to build the permanent Federation Chamber. The plans are there. Many of us in this room who are chairs of committees have sat in on consultations and have seen these plans. Having seen them, I think this would have been a great opportunity to initiate that.
Now I put to you another challenge. Before this year is out, a new parliament will assemble. To close off 2013, this year of silver jubilee and centenary, why not bookend it by at least laying the foundation stone for the federation chamber? In other words, if we cannot build the thing this year, at least make the commitment this year. We started something quite unique with a second debating chamber and it is something that has been taken up by the mother of parliaments, the UK parliament, whose second chamber is in Westminster Hall, with its rich history going back a thousand years.
Australians are great lovers of democracy and this is a significant year for us. When we reflect on our democracy we can go right back to the early concepts of democracy from Greece. In a more practical sense, we can go back 800 years to Magna Cartawhich is the lively document upon which most of the English-speaking parliaments of the world are based. We can go out into the tourist areas of this building and see one of the three original copies of Magna Carta—an 800-year-old document and the document upon which all our parliamentary business is ultimately based. The history of this parliament—a fairly short history in comparison with some of our European cousins—contains innovations like a second debating chamber, the Federation Chamber. That is an innovation that other parliaments have either adopted or are looking to adopt. I am told that even the House of Lords is looking to a second chamber. With that in mind I make this plea in my last week in this place: this year, 2013, let us make a commitment to a permanent Federation Chamber. I think that would be a great fulfilment.
Quite frankly, I think the people of Canberra and the ACT Legislative Council have done a marvellous job. They have really shown a pride in their city in this centenary. But my sense is that, on the functions I have been to here, we as the federal parliament have not pulled our weight, first, in the celebration of that 100 years and, secondly, to put a tangible overlay on the celebration of the silver jubilee of the building.
It has been a great privilege to serve in this building. As I said, it has been a great privilege to hear the leaders of the world laud it as one of the great gathering places of democracy. We should be proud of it. We should enhance it. We should make it the focal point of people who come to Canberra, particularly students, so that we build into them a sense of pride and national achievement.
I concur with the Speaker's remarks. I also place on the record my appreciation for the member for Hinkler. What a wonderful speech you have just delivered. I suspect it is your final speech in this place, if you are not delivering another speech in the other chamber. What a delight it has been to know you in the short time that I have been here. Thank you for the wonderful contribution you have made representing your constituents, like so many people before you and so many who will come after you. Congratulations for that.
I rise today to recognise one of the most, if not the most, recognisable landmarks in Australian politics—that is the Parliament House building itself. I am from the great state of Victoria where we may well mourn the loss of the nation's parliament from Victoria, whence it first came. But on this occasion let me say with great celebration and rejoicing that it has been 25 years since the Australian parliament relocated from Old Parliament House just down the road to what is now the not-so-new Parliament House. It was officially opened by her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 9 May 1988.
With its unique architecture, Australian art and iconic features, Capital Hill is a symbol of Australian democracy and governance. One needs to see only an outline of the famous spire and flag and the building is instantaneously recognisable. We should note that that stainless steel structure—the famous spire we see each day as we come and go from this beautiful building—is one of the largest stainless steel structures in the world, at 81 metres high.
However, the story of Parliament House extends far beyond its physical presence. It has become a symbol of the political and social narrative of this nation. Some of Australia's most controversial and defining moments have taken place in this building from the great battles between Treasurer Peter Costello and former Treasurer Paul Keating, then Prime Minister, to the national apology. This building has borne witness to some of the finest political moments. It has also witnessed the uglier side—the knifing of a first-term Prime Minister and corruption scandals involving members spring to mind. One thing is for sure, though: this place is never dull, it is never boring and there is very serious business that needs to be done here. That is, indeed, why we have a second chamber; the amount of work members need to do this place does require a second chamber in order that we are best able to represent the concerns and interests, big and small, of our constituents and the national interest.
I take the opportunity here today to pay tribute to all of those who were involved in the planning and design of this building. Everyone who was involved, from the original steering committee to the architect, Romaldo Giurgola, should be acknowledged and praised. It is fitting to also acknowledge that it was a very serious international competition to come up with this unique design. More than 329 entries were made before one was, fittingly, chosen, and that is what we have here today.
Finally, I recognise the immense work that the clerks, the cleaners, maintenance, IT, the support staff and the gardeners all undertake to keep this building and its grounds in the immaculate condition that we appreciate each day. The walls are pristine white, the floors are always polished and the gardens immaculately manicured. All of those who embark upon this great care for this wonderful building so richly deserve their credit and our appreciation. We wish the building a very happy quarter of a century. Who knows what the future holds for this place, but I look forward to hopefully being able to be back in this place to celebrate its 50th birthday in years to come.
Thank you for this opportunity. I was sitting down in my office and I glanced at this chamber and saw we were pursuing and continuing the discussion around the 25th anniversary of this Parliament House. I thought I should make a contribution for a number of reasons. I was born in Canberra, as was my mother. She was born here in 1927, the year of the birth of the interim Parliament House, as it then was, which lasted of course until 1988. I grew up in Canberra knowing this dome as basically a paddock, a bit of scrub with a lot of trees on it, around which we drove to get into the city. Never would I have though that at some future date it might be the home of our new parliament. Indeed, on my election in 1987 I had an office in Old Parliament House.
There are two members on this side of the chamber who have had the opportunity to serve in both places: the member for Scullin, who was here earlier, and me. I have to say there is a remarkable difference between the two places, for a range of reasons. Many people in Canberra came here to build Old Parliament House. My grandparents were here living in what was called the Causeway, which was basically a little settlement created for people working on the buildings of the new Canberra. I have a book at home which has the names and occupations of the people in every house in the Causeway during the 1920s. They were here as carpenters, bricklayers, painters—they were workers.
Not far from the Causeway, in fact very close to the railway station, was built the Government Printing Office. Of course the Government Printing Office was important in those days because Hansard was done manually. The manual transcription was put down a pipe and shot off to the printing office where it was painstakingly composed, put on a printing machine and published. That process involved a whole lot of people and whole a lot of trades which largely no longer exist. My mother was a reader in the old printing office. Her attachment to the parliament, although she had never been in the place, was that at some point she was a reader, as was her sister. Other members of her family worked in the building. My brother had an apprenticeship as a machine fitter in the old printing office, which is so closely identified with Old Parliament House.
When we moved up the hill of course things changed. I moved from a box of about nine square metres in Old Parliament House, where you literally could not swing a cat and where you had to walk outside up to the common-use facilities, the toilets. It has often been said that in Old Parliament House you struck up a conversation with the person next to you at the urinal. That is what used to happen. People passed each other in the corridors. It was a very intense place for personal communication. You could not avoid people; you had to interact with people. Indeed I recall my immediate neighbour when I first got into the parliament was the then newly elected John Hewson. Old Parliament House was a very dynamic building simply because it was too small. People had to spend a lot of time out of their offices. The dining room was a common meeting place. The bar was a centrepiece of activity. You would go down at five or six o'clock in the evening and see a few—politicians and media alike—who used to prop up the bar. The media cycle was very different in those days. But it was a meeting place, a meeting place that does not exist in this parliament. People interacted on a constant basis, and it was a very human thing. The dynamic was very positive. The old press gallery, poor buggers, sat in what was a rabbit warren—you had to walk over the roof at one point! They were close to one another, sitting virtually on each other's laps to do their work, but they were constantly interacting with the members of parliament, whether they were ministers or backbenchers, because that was the nature of the physical structure of the building. Ministers were not separated as they are here. There were meeting places, but they were rather small. So it was a very different place. Then we moved up here. I have had the privilege of serving in both that parliament and this parliament and they are so drastically different.
The first thing that struck me, after not too long, was the isolation of this building. I still think it is a negative attribute of the place. Because of the wonderful infrastructure that we have—and it is really world class, the office space for members of parliament and the office space for the press gallery—there is a great deal of separation. The ministers are in one wing. The senators and member are in other wings. To traverse from one point diagonally to the other takes fives minutes. If these bells rings, we are lucky to get to the chamber in four minutes. I have almost been caught out once or twice because of the distances in this building. So I found it a quite isolating place initially, and, although the facilities are wonderful, there was not that human interaction—and, in my view, there still is not that human interaction—that was so much part of the Old Parliament House.
This Parliament House was opened on 9 May. The first sitting day was 22 August, and I had the great privilege to give a speech on 23 August. I have seen this place develop. It can be a soul-destroying place if you do not get out of your office. That is clear. There are people who have really suffered as a result of isolation and loneliness in this building. That is something which, as members of parliament, we need to be very conscious of in making sure that we take care of our friends.
But the facilities are absolutely magnificent. The gym here is wonderful. I am a regular attender—I have been since the day it opened—and it is well used, not only by the members of parliament but by the staff. One of the great things about this building is that, despite the fact that there are isolated hours when only members of parliament can attend the gym, there are no airs and graces here. You are who you are, and that is it. It does not matter whether you are the Prime Minister or one of the cleaners; in this building, you are all equal in the sense of use of the building. That, to me, is a really wonderful thing.
The other obvious thing which is really magnificent about this building is the maintaining of the visual connection with the War Memorial down Anzac Parade and the way this city has been designed to show us our obligation to our past. When we walk out of the front of this building onto the Michael Nelson Jagamara dot painting forecourt and bead our eyes down Anzac Parade, we recall our obligations to those who have served. That, to me, is a wonderful thing.
Another point that I think is really very important—and this again symbolises the Australian nature of 'Don't get too highfalutin'—is that, regardless of who you are, the people of the country can walk over the top of you. That, to me, is really wonderful. The symbolism of being connected to the world community through the opportunity for people to use the outside of the building as their own—to walk over it, to be part of it, to feel it and to touch it—is a wonderful thing.
The other obvious thing to be said is that the craftsmanship in this building is world class. Whilst the architect has quite properly been given great recognition, the people who actually did the work on the building, the bricklayers, the plumbers, the painters, the electricians, the trades assistants—those people who have made this wonderful building what it is—deserve our highest praise. I know it was a boon to many in the building community in Canberra simply because of what it was: a huge multimillion dollar investment that provided opportunities for many both from Canberra and around Australia. I pay tribute to their work, because it will last for decades.
This building really is a monument to the architect, to the people who have done the work on it and to the people who work within it. I think we have currently in a sitting week around 3,000 people working in this building. That is the size of Tennant Creek. When you explain that to the people of Tennant Creek they look at you with amazement, but it is true. This is a small town and we have almost all the facilities of a small town. When we look at this place we need to look at it in that context. It has been a great privilege—it is a great privilege—to be a member of this great parliament. To be a member of parliament in the first place is a wonderful honour and privilege; to be able to serve in this beautiful building that has been designed for us is also a great privilege.
I am here as part of the museum piece of the 25th anniversary of new Parliament House, because I am amongst about 75 to 80 people who have been here since we shifted up the hill. Warren came up the hill with us. He went on to bigger and better things and then came back. He has been here a long time. I think for us this is really about the events of 25 years ago, when we made the move, because in a way the pioneers had to set the pace. They were two totally different working environments. We set out to try to make sure that it worked. There are things about the new Parliament House that changed the way we engage, the way in which we actually work with each other. Some of those things, I regret, are not totally positive, but this building is such a wonderful work space and has enabled the parliament to go into the 21st century. It enables parliament to have a modern outlook and to try to make sure that we can add that modernity to the base of our Westminster system so that we continue to remain relevant to those whom we represent.
There have been many occasions, and this is yet another one, to pay tribute to everybody—the craftsmen, the architects who had the vision—who was involved in putting this building in place. It is quite appropriate that people talk about this being a building for eons. We talk about the fact that it was built to last 200 years, but I suspect that it will be used long after that. I remember being in Westminster Hall in the Palace of Westminster in January 1988, when we were having our bicentenary celebrations. I looked at that space and thought: 'That's what we need. We need a space like that.' This week when we were down in the Great Hall with the magnificent tapestry from the Victorian tapestry workshop, which is based on the Arthur Boyd painting, I still get the sense that that is the space that will linger. Even if it is used as a reception hall and for things like that it is still a space that is Australian. It is a space that we can be very proud of. Being able to host presidents from China and the United States or the big gatherings during the end of the bicentenary in that hall, I think, was very important.
The main reason I wanted to intervene was that there are people who have been custodians of this place for the last 25 years and we should really congratulate those people. I remember that when we had the 20th anniversary people who had worked in building came back and were overawed at how good the building looked, and they paid great tribute to those that maintained it. Those are the people that I want to pay tribute to today, the people that ensure that this great Australian building, which is here for the Australian public in general, remains in the condition that it is. By doing that we honour the concepts that are involved in this building. All those who work in DPS in the maintenance of this building and the maintenance of the surrounds need to be congratulated.
The other thing that we do not discuss enough is that in doing that they continue to make it a functioning building for the times. They have attacked energy conservation and they have attacked the challenge of water recycling and they do it really well. I think that we do not praise the people that do that. In its ecological footprint this is a building that should be an exemplar to others. Of course, it has the fortune of being of a size where we can really do that. They harvest water from the cooling towers and things like that and use it for other uses. When I went down there and inspected it I was told this was technology that they had got off dairies. It is the same simple technology that is being used.
One thing that I have observed since I have got back into the nitty-gritty of committee work is the way in which this building allows us to use IT. Audioconferencing over telephone is passe. You can talk to people and have them on screen—and they are sitting in London or in their kitchen—over Skype and things like that. This is really enabling the parliament to be brought well and truly back to the community. I pay great homage today to all those that are involved in making this large space an operating and working environment. This is a terrific building.
In conclusion, because we have expectant associates and observers from parliamentary committees who want to listen to the responses to their committee work, I pay great respect to all those that work in the committee system in this place, from both houses. I give a plug again for my mantra that this is one parliament, two houses—or two houses, one parliament. Let us get over the hill of our rivalries between ourselves and the Senate and see that the outcomes that we have are those of the parliament. I am in a better position to do that these days because I seem to have attracted more joint committees over the last period, and I am finding them a really refreshing outlook.
I pay tribute from time to time to people that are associated with other government departments and government agencies that come across and help our committees to do their work. I hope that they leave with a great experience when they are associated with the parliament and can be ambassadors and people that can talk up our great work. I thank the Deputy Speaker for allowing me to have these short minutes to speak to this really worthwhile motion.