Thursday, 3 December 2015
I am pleased to be able to make a contribution to the valedictories of the 2015 sitting of the parliament. Of course, they are earlier and longer than the normal valedictories because this is a government that has literally run out of business—there is no legislation before this chamber. Today's speakers list is a one-pager—with a Christmas tree taking up half the page!
I will begin by thanking, firstly, my personal staff, led by my chief of staff, Damian O'Connor, and my electorate staff, led by Kris Cruden in the Marrickville office. Staff of parliamentarians work incredibly long hours, and for remuneration that is certainly not what they deserve. They—across the board, it must be said—do it out of commitment: a commitment to making a contribution to their nation. That is so, similarly, for the staff of the parliament: the Clerks; the library staff, who are particularly important when you are in opposition; the drivers; the cleaners; the attendants—the people who look after us on a day-to-day basis.
I thank the new Speaker of the parliament, who I must say has performed his job admirably and is lifting the standards of the parliament through his actions.
I thank my parliamentary colleagues, particularly the Leader of the Australian Labor Party, Bill Shorten, and his team, and my friend the Manager of Opposition Business, Tony Burke. He is, in my view, the second best Manager of Opposition Business there has been over recent years! He is certainly fulfilling his task with diligence and taking a strategic approach. The fact that we end 2015 with a different leader of the government than we began 2015 is, in my view, in no small part due to the fact that the parliamentary tactics of the opposition have put the government under extreme pressure by drawing out the unfairness of their approach and the fact that they really do not have a positive agenda for this nation.
It has indeed been a year of difficulty on the government side with its bruising change of leadership and the retirement of the former Treasurer, but I thank the former Prime Minister, the member for Warringah, for his service. I believe that the position of Prime Minister is one which must be respected. It brings with it onerous responsibilities and I pay tribute to his service and that of the former Treasurer, Mr Hockey, who I enjoyed a good relationship with over many years.
I thank my counterparts on the other side, particularly the Deputy Prime Minister, Warren Truss. I have a positive relationship with him and his office in particular. I have a view that, where we can get agreement, that should be done. Many issues, including the second Sydney airport and the Moorebank intermodal terminal, require bipartisan support and are particularly important to advance. I hope that extends to projects in the future like high-speed rail down the east coast of Australia, because I believe that is a very important component of Australia's economic future.
I thank the member for Sturt. I spend much more time than is comfortable with the member for Sturt. Indeed, we get to see each other very early every Friday morning. He undertakes his duty as Leader of the House with good spirit. I believe that he has developed a good relationship with the Manager of Opposition Business, and that is important to the functioning of this parliament, which we all have an interest in.
In my own portfolio area of infrastructure and transport it has been an interesting year, with Qantas returning to profit and a government-led recovery in the helicopter charter industry. We have also seen the retirement of Sydney Airport Corporation boss Max Moore-Wilton—good! We have seen the opening of the highly successful Regional Rail Link project in Melbourne—the single largest ever Commonwealth investment in public transport.
Tomorrow I will be inspecting the Moreton Bay Rail Link, which was funded by the Commonwealth Labor government, the Queensland Labor government and the Moreton Bay Regional Council. Of course, we know that on the day it was announced, as the Deputy Prime Minister can confirm, the then candidate for the seat of Petrie went on Brisbane radio and opposed the project. They later on changed their mind about that and announced that they would not oppose the project. But I think it is a tragedy that all funding for public transport projects that were not under construction had their funding withdrawn by the incoming government.
There is an element of concern for the Deputy Prime Minister, because he has shown a great deal of stamina in his magical infrastructure re-announcement tour, which has gone on from the beginning of the change of government. Right around the country, government ministers and local members have pretended that old projects were somehow newly funded. In some cases they have changed the names of projects in order to pretend that they were new—the F3 to M2 became the NorthConnex project in Sydney. I am expressing my concern that this magical infrastructure re-announcement tour is approaching Leonard Cohen tour lengths.
The government said there would be cranes in the sky and bulldozers on the ground. Instead, there are choppers in the sky and prime ministers in the ground. That is my concern—the only hole that was dug, of course, was the one that they placed their own former Prime Minister in. They did dig a hole in Palmerston for the hospital site but they filled it in the following day—the very next day. It was dug for a photo opportunity. I think it was a highlight for the government in terms of its approach to nation building.
I will conclude with a sad thought, which is that this year is the year that I lost my mentor and friend Tom Uren on Australia Day. Tom Uren taught me a lot about politics and a lot about parliament. Indeed, when I worked for Tom in the old parliament, he was in charge of the construction of this very building. I used to come to it when it was a building site. Tom Uren leaves an extraordinary legacy which my generation, and those to come, cannot even comprehend. They cannot comprehend the hardship of those people who went through the Depression and fought for their nation in the Second World War—in Tom's case, as a former Japanese prisoner of war for four years. Then, he went on to serve his nation in this parliament without any element of bitterness towards his fellow human beings, including being a promoter of reconciliation with the Japanese. I think it is a great example for all of us of the approach we should bring to public life. I pay tribute to Tom. Next Australia Day I will certainly be thinking of him.
We had a very successful launch here just weeks ago of the Tom Uren Foundation, which has been created to raise funds, essentially in his name, for the cause of ICAN, the international organisation that campaigns for nuclear disarmament. Tom witnessed the dropping of the second atomic bomb, the one on Nagasaki, and became a campaigner for nuclear disarmament for the whole of his parliamentary and post-parliamentary political career. I can think of nothing better than being here with his widow, Christine Logan, and his son, Michael Uren, who were able to be in attendance on that day.
I conclude by wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and, with my shadow transport hat on, I remind people that Christmas, unfortunately, every year sees a jump in the number of road fatalities and accidents on our roads. It is a time when we should take that into account and make sure that we get to our destination, even if it is a little bit slower than we would want. I certainly hope that everyone has a safe, peaceful and restful Christmas with their families and their friends.
It has been two years since I was able to present a valedictory speech on the last day of parliament. I was ill last year, so I begin with an expression of gratitude for a year of good health. I am pleased to make some remarks on this last day of parliamentary sittings. It is an opportunity to recognise and thank those who have supported me and other members of the parliament throughout the year.
The year 2015 has been a long and at times tumultuous one—a year of many highs and lows. We have seen a number of natural disasters, including bushfires, most recently in South Australia and Western Australia. There were cyclones, such as Cyclone Marcia, which hit parts of Queensland in February, and there has been the ongoing and heartbreaking effect of drought, which is continuing to plague many of our farmers and regional communities.
In January, Rosie Batty was announced as the Australian of the Year and has continued her courageous campaign against the national disgrace of domestic violence. Australia won the 2015 AFC Asian Cup, in January, defeating South Korea. In February, journalist Peter Greste was released from an Egyptian prison. In March, Australia claimed the 2015 Cricket World Cup and in August our amazing Australian netball team, the Diamonds, won the 2015 Netball World Cup. In November, Michelle Payne became the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup, taking the 2015 prize.
We said goodbye to a number of good friends, including former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, and the previous member for Canning, Don Randall. We have continued the search for flight MH370 in the waters off Western Australia. We have had two prime ministers. Let me acknowledge the cooperation, support and assistance that I have had with both of them. I pay tribute to the previous Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. I would like to thank him for his support and friendship. We will always cherish the relationship my wife, Lyn, and I have with Tony and Margie. They are good friends as well as colleagues. We recognise the enormous contribution they have made to our country. Over the past month or two I have been pleased to work with Malcolm Turnbull. I am sure that the good working relationship we have been able to enjoy with the previous Prime Minister will continue with Malcolm and Lucy. I certainly look forward to continuing the successful and constructive partnership between the Prime Minister and the Liberals and the Nationals over the year ahead.
Perhaps most significantly, 2015 saw us commemorate the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign. I believe it is therefore fitting that in my list of thankyous I particularly recognise the brave men and women who continue to sacrifice their lives for our country. Their bravery, professionalism and skill are a credit to them and a source of pride for all Australians. For many, deployment will mean that they are away from family and friends this Christmas, so I particularly want to recognise the many Australian families who are left behind as their loved ones serve overseas. We pray for their safety and we hope that they may have an opportunity to enjoy a Christmas respite.
Deputy Speaker Kelly, I would like to convey my thanks to you and to the entire Speaker's panel. Thank you for all the work that you and your staff do in managing the parliament and in making sure that the parliamentary process works well. In the same vein, I also thank the member for Mackellar for her service as Speaker for the first part of the year.
Furthermore, I would like to make special mention of the Deputy Speaker, my good friend and neighbour, the member for Maranoa, for his service to the parliament. The member for Maranoa will retire at the next election. He will not only be missed by his electorate but by the National Party room, and also, I am sure, for his work as Deputy Speaker. It is a position in which he served with great pride and also with integrity, dignity and devotion to duty.
I would like to express my gratitude for the services of the Clerk and the clerical team, including the attendants and the Serjeant-at-Arms. We certainly appreciate the role of the whole team and the way they serve the House, provide us with advice and help to ensure that the committees of the parliament work well. That is becoming an increasingly heavy load, and it is important that the committees, when asked to look at matters of particular significance, have the capabilities to present a quality and well-argued report to further the debate on key policy issues. I particularly appreciate their courteous attention, their patient advice and the cheerful way in which they go about their duties. We also particularly appreciate the work of the parliamentary attendants, who are always alert to assist members, whenever that might be required.
The Hansard staff, the 2020 staff, COMCAR drivers, Tim and the catering staff, and those in FCm Travel Solutions all deserve our utmost appreciation. Thank you for your hard work, often in difficult circumstances; it is greatly valued. To some of the unsung heroes of the building, the Limro cleaning staff, Maria, Lucia and Anna—who have, I guess, been serving, particularly in the ministerial wing, now for several generations of ministers—thank you very much for your service. We appreciate very much the work that you do.
To my colleagues on each side of the chamber: next year is another election year, which often means extra stress and spending more time away from families as we campaign. I hope you are all able to enjoy some relaxing and restful time with loved ones over this Christmas period. I particularly want to acknowledge my National Party colleagues and my deputy leader, Barnaby Joyce. As usual, Barnaby has been unwavering in his support, despite having to deal with two nuisance dogs through the year. I would back Barnaby in a fight with Mr Depp any day—and, for that matter, with almost anyone else. To the National Party leaders in the Senate, Nigel Scullion and Fiona Nash: thank you both for all your work and assistance over the past year. To our party whips—Mark Coulton, Senator Matt Canavan and Senator Barry O'Sullivan—and their staff: thank you for continuing to organise the affairs of the party for us. To the rest of my party colleagues: we are a team and I am proud of the way that we work together to achieve some amazing things for our electorates, for our country and, in particular, for those living in rural and regional Australia, who will always be the focus of the National Party's care and attention. I look forward to continuing this trend and this cooperation in the year ahead.
I would also like to acknowledge the role that my department plays in putting together the business agenda and helping to deliver on our policy platform. In particular, I acknowledge my departmental secretary, Mike Mrdak, who has been at the head of the department for a very long period of time and who provides so much leadership, guidance and corporate knowledge about transport and regional affairs, ensuring the smooth running and administration of the government's policy programs.
I thank Minister Fletcher and Assistant Minister McCormack for the work they have done across the portfolio in the past couple of months since coming into our team. I particularly also want to acknowledge my previous assistant minister, Mr Briggs, for his work. I acknowledge my ministerial colleagues and cabinet ministers and thank them all for their tireless and often difficult work in serving our country. I think we have an exceptionally talented cabinet—a cabinet that is capable of deliberating on the most difficult of issues in a constructive way, while being innovative but also realistic in what it is able to achieve.
We have had to face difficult times. There are challenges economically; there are challenges on the security front; there are challenges in delivering the quality of life and the care for disadvantaged people in our own country that are key priorities and essential responsibilities of government. Those tasks are difficult now, and I fear they are going to get more difficult in the future. So we need to be attracting people into this parliament with the capabilities and skills to deal with those issues and with the capacity to make decisions—good decisions—that are in the interests of our nation.
I also acknowledge the opposition spokesman, Anthony Albanese. He is right when he says that we work reasonably well together. We do not always agree, but he has been supportive in projects like the Western Sydney airport and many of the construction projects. We were not able to reach an agreement on shipping reform and so that is some space for next year where clearly something has to be done; otherwise the scope of our domestic shipping industry will continue to slide.
The reality is that the big projects that governments are taking on these days invariably cross governments and cross jurisdictions. I acknowledge that some of the projects that this government is building were ideas that we shared with the Labor Party when they were last in office. Some projects which were under construction were finished by this government, just as projects that this government starts will be finished by a future government. An example is the Western Sydney airport. I would love to be minister for transport when the first plane lands in 2025. That would be a wonderful objective, but I suspect that is not going to happen and, once more, I suspect the minister of the day will take the credit for the whole of the construction of Western Sydney airport and my role in getting it to this stage will probably have been well and truly forgotten. That is the nature of the processes of government.
I am very proud of some of the huge infrastructure projects we have in this country at the present time. The fact that, by the end of this decade, we will, for the first time as a nation, have a four-lane highway connecting our three east coast capital cities is, I think, an important national achievement. Perhaps five or seven years later we will have a direct railway line connecting Melbourne and Brisbane. We will be upgrading and flood-proofing the Bruce Highway. Work is being done in Perth and in northern Western Australia to better connect the roads and the regional communities in the west. These sorts of projects are nation building; they do genuinely make a difference to the efficiency of our country and our capabilities to deliver better opportunities for our people.
Finally, I would like to thank the people of our country, Australians who daily entrust us with the great responsibility of managing our nation as parliamentarians. I hope the coalition will continue to be a government that pursues its agenda, that keeps its promises and that continues to deliver a positive plan for the future. I have said many times in this place that when our regions are strong, so is our nation. As Leader of the Nationals, I will continue to resolutely ensure that our regions are not forgotten in decisions that are made for the future of our country.
In this regard also, I acknowledge my own staff: David Whitrow, my Chief of Staff, and the whole team, including my electorate staff, many of whom have been with me for a very long time—in one case, since I first was elected to parliament. Those people help make sure that we are able to achieve the objectives that are set out, arrange the affairs of the day and manage the administration and delivery of government policy and our agenda.
Especially, can I acknowledge my wife, Lyn, who works so hard to help me keep me going. I love her very dearly and greatly appreciate everything that she does for me and, of course, the party.
Christmas is a very special time of the year that presents an opportunity to put aside other commitments and spend time with family and friends. However, as we celebrate with families, friends and loved ones, it is important to remember, in the true spirit of Christmas, the people in our communities who are less fortunate: the homeless, the jobless, the sick and those people who are spending Christmas alone. The celebrations and the symbols that accompany Christmas remind us of the joyous reason for our festivity—the birth of Jesus Christ, who brought salvation and the message of peace and goodwill to us all. I hope that you all have a safe and happy Christmas break, and please stay safe on the roads if you are travelling over the holidays.
There is one thing I should say as transport minister before I conclude these remarks. With my authority in charge of air safety regulation, I have issued an instruction that air traffic controllers are to give priority to reindeer on 24 December to make sure that they get priority access to all of the airports in Australia. I am going to do something else very brave politically: I am going to suspend all curfews at airports so that the reindeer can operate all through the night on Christmas Eve!
At this time of year we often find ourselves remembering those who are no longer with us. As I look across the chamber, I remember, as his friends on both sides of the chamber do, Don Randall. When someone we see every day in this workplace is suddenly gone, I hope that it reminds us to be perhaps a little kinder to one another—not gentler, necessarily, because politics is about things that matter, and it is important to be fierce in our arguments, to debate fully and forcefully, but perhaps a little personally kinder, a little more conscious that those sitting opposite are, as Gough Whitlam used to insist, our opponents but not our enemies.
Last year we lost Gough. This year we lost his great opponent, Malcolm Fraser, a tireless and outspoken advocate for human rights, among his many other achievements. We also farewelled three of Gough's ministers. We lost my dear friend and very generous mentor, Tom Uren, and Kep Enderby, former Attorney-General, another friend of mine and a branch member of mine, as Tom was. Kep spent his later years working hard on a number of issues that were very important to him, including voluntary euthanasia, something that he was passionately committed to. And we lost Les Johnson, a former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and the local member in my seat when I was growing up—a wonderful man. All three of them were wonderful men and part of the great enterprise of the Whitlam government. All three of them left legacies that continue to shape Australia today.
Les, as I said, was my local member when I was growing up—the member for Hughes. It was a sign of just how much he was loved by the local community he represented that, when I went to his funeral earlier this year at the Sutherland Entertainment Centre, it was full of people whom he had represented—branch members, of course, and community members but also ordinary people who remembered him as a very hardworking, very dedicated local member. Despite the fact that he had left politics in 1983, the funeral, as I said, was very well attended by his former constituents.
1983 was also the year that the then member for my seat of Sydney, Les McMahon, left politics. This year Les also passed away, leaving a great record of devotion in the seat that I now represent—his home and his constituency. He stayed interested and involved in his local community, including in the Labor Party locally, throughout his life and long after he left parliament. This year too we lost Peter Walsh, the long-serving finance minister of the Hawke government—six years in that portfolio. It is a tough portfolio. Anyone who has done it knows how tough it is. And we lost Alby Schultz, who was elected to the federal parliament in the same year that I was, in 1998, and went on to serve his electorate of Hume until the last election. He gave 15 years of service in the federal parliament after 10 years serving his community in New South Wales Legislative Assembly.
We also lost Joan Kirner. This really was a deep sadness for many of us, men and women, on our side and I think more broadly across the Australian community. Joan was an inspiration. She was a mentor and an encouragement to so many on our side of politics, so many women in particular. She was a great role model for continued political engagement long after leaving parliament. Her work with EMILY's List and for affirmative action made it possible for many women who might not have otherwise got their foot in the door to represent their community. I think Joan's pushing for our affirmative action targets sees us now at about 45 per cent of Labor representatives being female
It is really, truly a remarkable life's work, aside from her many other great political achievements. I think all of us here, whether in the House of Representatives or in that other place, got involved in politics for a pretty simple reason: to make Australia a better place. And when I look around the benches on this side of the House and see a party that looks like the community I know that Joan is one person who could honestly say that she succeeded.
On the international stage, the founding father of independent Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, died this year too, and I was pleased to be able to offer my condolences in person on a visit to Singapore. His role in steering his nation and developing the institutional architecture of our region remade the Asia-Pacific. His achievements were extraordinary.
We saw two Labor senators leaving this year for very well earned retirement—Senators John Faulkner and Kate Lundy. Of course, we miss both John and Kate—very much. We miss them tremendously, and we sent them off with our very best wishes for a post-political life that is full, rich and enjoyable. These two much-loved senators have been replaced by two wonderful new additions to our senate team, Senators Katy Gallagher and Jenny McAllister, who bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to their positions. We know they will make an enormous contribution in coming years—indeed, they have already.
Three Labor MPs and one Labor senator have announced that they will not contest the next election: the member for Bruce, the member for Oxley, the member for Wills and Senator Jan McLucas. Each of them has made an enormous and important contribution not only to the Australian Labor Party and to the Australian parliament but, most importantly and most particularly, to their constituents, the people who put them into the House of Representatives or into the Senate in the first place. We look forward to working with their replacements after the next election.
On the other side, I want to make a particular mention of the member for Maranoa, a wonderful gentleman who I am sure will be missed not just by his own colleagues but indeed by many of us on this side too.
Excellent. In happier news, I think it is important to note that it has been a year not just of farewells but of welcomes, too. We are happy to congratulate the member for Watson on his upcoming wedding and the member for Adelaide, the member for Kingston, the member for Rankin, the member for Higgins and Senator Penny Wong on the new additions to their families. It is a great opportunity for us to remember our humanity when these beautiful new little babies come into the world and, when we are very lucky, come into the caucus room for a bit of a cuddle.
Internationally a number of incidents this year have been deeply troubling. We have seen terrorist attacks, including large-scale terrorist attacks, in places as far apart as Kenya, Paris, Ankara and Tunisia. In Australia, of course, we remember the Martin Place siege and the murder of Curtis Cheng. This will be the first Christmas that Curtis Cheng's family spends without him. We remember his family and the families of Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson particularly at this time of year. No doubt they carry a very heavy burden every day, but at this time of year in particular, when families are drawn together from all corners of the world, we miss the people who are missing.
Non-state actors continue to be a significant security challenge. We very much thank our security personnel, our intelligence agencies and our defence personnel overseas who are working so hard and so effectively to keep Australians safe. Our defence personnel, particularly those who are away at this time of year, will no doubt be missing their families very much, but they follow in a fine tradition of brave and effective personnel, and on this 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings we particularly remember that.
We continue to see the desperate plight of refugees from the Syrian conflict and from Iraq worsening. I talked about that at this time last year, and, sadly, we have made little real progress and in fact the humanitarian situation is even more acute now than it was then. We are seeing mass movements of people seeking safety and security that sometimes have the most tragic consequences. The photo of little Aylan Kurdi brought home those tragic consequences in such a direct and human way for so many people.
But it has also been a year of hope. It seems that discussions about a political solution in Syria are minutely closer than perhaps they were at this time last year. Peshmerga fighters have liberated Sinjar, which had been held by Daesh for more than a year. So, a little bit of good news there, and a little bit of good news in Myanmar: the first free and fair elections in many years. In fact, I talked about free and fair elections in Myanmar in my first speech, when I was elected to the parliament—about working for and wishing for that outcome. This is the first openly contested election since 1990 and the first to determine the government since 1960. I want to congratulate Australians who were involved in this, including our fantastic Australian Electoral Commission, which has provided training and support for many of the Burmese staff who were involved in the elections. The fact that the election went so smoothly is a credit to the locals who worked so hard in the first instance to argue for the election and to win the right to vote and who worked on the polling booths. But I think it is also a credit to the assistance that our Australian Electoral Commission and other Australians were able to provide. We all wish the people of Myanmar well in this transitional time. We join our hopes to theirs that this will be a government where the rights of all the people of Myanmar are respected and protected.
This year, globally, we saw the adoption of the new Global Goals for Sustainable Development, following on from the Millennium Development Goals. Guided by the Millennium Development Goals, more than a billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty. The number of children not in school has almost halved.
At times the scenes of conflict and suffering on the news can be overwhelming so it is important to remember that at the same time the work of digging latrines, teaching in schools and training in health care and agricultural techniques is going on every day and succeeding. Every day incremental advances are made that over years and decades add up to extraordinary results.
Domestically, we have seen some turbulence this year. We saw the election of a new Labor government in Queensland, after just one term in opposition. We congratulate and welcome the election of Annastacia Palaszczuk and her team. Federally, I know that events will have left some members opposite a little bruised. I remember what that feels like. We always say that politics is not personal, but politicians are people. When people go through a leadership change in the way that those opposite have it can leave them feeling a little dented, and certainly we think of the families of those who have lost their leadership roles. However hard we take it ourselves, I think our families really feel the slings and arrows of our profession more than we do. I hope everyone in the chamber on both sides, but especially those who have experienced setbacks this year, have the chance to rest and recuperate and heal over the summer.
Our jobs take a lot of our time and our attention, and we do not often have the chance to set them aside and spend time with our friends and our families. I like to think that our friends and families miss us a little bit—it could be that they are delighted we are not around so much! Our families make enormous sacrifices to allow us to do the work that we do. I feel particularly fortunate to have married a man who has never made it difficult for me to be away from home half the year and to pursue the career that I feel so passionately committed to. I feel so very lucky to have three healthy children who welcome me home with such enthusiasm when I get there.
I want to thank the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Maribyrnong, for his leadership and his vision this year. Being the Leader of the Opposition is probably the hardest job in federal politics, and this year we finish with a Leader of the Opposition who has brought down a Prime Minister, brought down a Treasurer and seen well over 40 new policies announced—more than during any other opposition at this stage of the electoral cycle that I can remember. It is down to our leader's focus on the future, his determination and his positivity. I thank Bill for the work that he has done in leading us this year. Our achievements are also down to the work of my colleagues on the front bench. We are very lucky to have one of our key frontbenchers here, our shadow Treasurer. To all of my colleagues on the front bench and also the back bench, I thank them for their extraordinarily hard work this year, for their camaraderie and their friendship. I also thank our staff, and my own, for the work that they do: Bronwyn, Dan, Ashley, Nina, Marty, Laura, Michael—who has left but we hope to lure him back one of these days—Ruth, Christine, Hannah and Rachael; all of the staff who have worked so hard to assist me this year. I know members on both sides feel the same way about their staff—we could not do what we do without the enormous support that we get.
That is true of all the people who look after us here in the parliament. They have been listed, and I have to add my own thanks to those of previous speakers. To the chamber attendants, whose jobs require them to be unobtrusive but who are always there when we need them, especially 'Luch'; the Hansard staff, who set down everything for posterity and make sure our constituents know how we represent them here in this chamber; the clerks; the Library staff; the staff at Aussies and the cafeteria, and of course the dining rooms, especially Tim; and the cleaners. I want to make particular mention of Joy, who is the cleaner who looks after us in our office and takes such good care of us every day. To Joy and the other cleaners, I want to say that we support you in your fight to get a decent day's pay for a decent day's work. I thank the serjeant's office, too, who do such a remarkable job particularly in the more demanding security environment that we have been operating in in more recent times. It is impossible to name all of the people who keep us going here in this building, from the basement to the flagpole—every one of them does valuable work and we thank them at this time of the year.
There are also the Comcar drivers—it is incredible, the friendships that develop over the years with the Comcar drivers, and I am sad that this year a number of them are retiring. We wish them all the very best in their retirement. We would not get anywhere without them and without our friends who do the travel bookings. We know there is a degree of focus that comes on us as the principals, but we could do nothing without this army of people who help us each day. Thank you to all of those in the building and in our electorate offices who help us each day. I wish them and my colleagues on both sides of the chamber a very happy Christmas.
Two thousand and fifteen has been a challenging year in Australia's foreign relations on the global stage. Tragically, the year ended as it began—with attacks in Paris by terrorists in January and then again in November. These attacks have left us shocked and remind us, again, that no nation is immune to the scourge of terrorism. This morning, in fact, I opened an exhibition of the best political cartoons of 2015. David Pope's cartoon, He drew first, brought it all back to me—the January assault on the French satirists Charlie Hebdo, and then last month's attacks in Paris horrified us all. Australia stands shoulder to shoulder with the people of all nations who are dealing with violent extremism and terrorism.
Two thousand and fifteen will be remembered as a year in which the world struggled to deal with the range of threats spreading out from the conflict in Syria and Iraq. The flight of so many Syrians—the largest group of displaced refugees in Europe since the Second World War—is a profound policy challenge that the international community will take into 2016 and beyond. Australia is committed to playing its part in helping address this refugee crisis, the humanitarian crisis, counter-terrorism and Islamic extremism and extremist violence. We announced we would permanently settle 12,000 refugees to Australia from Syria. The first of those arrived in Australia a week ago. We announced we would provide an additional $44 million in humanitarian assistance for those displaced by the conflict. Australia's humanitarian assistance to Syria and Iraq since 2011 is over $200 million, which has supported hundreds of thousands of people. Australia is a leading military contributor to the US-led coalition to counter ISIL, or Daesh—this violent, medieval terrorist organisation. We are contributing to air strikes against Daesh in Syria and Iraq, and we are helping build the capacity of the Iraqi security forces so that Iraq can take back control of the territory claimed by the terrorists and keep their people safe. We are also seeking to address terrorism by working with partners in Europe, the Middle East and in our region. Terrorism is a global threat that demands a global response.
In 2015, our economic diplomacy initiatives made some unprecedented gains. We secured some very significant wins on the economic front: our Minister for Trade and Investment finalised a free trade agreement with our biggest trading partner, China, and we began to see the benefits flow from our free trade agreements with Korea and Japan. Australia was one of 12 countries that concluded the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement—a historic free trade agreement that will set the platform for an Asia-Pacific free trade zone. These are 21st-century agreements that will help build prosperity and stability in our nation for decades to come. We also continued our strong push for more and greater global growth through the G20, through APEC and through other global and regional forums.
In 2015, Australia joined all other nations in making the most substantial advance in the international development agenda since the turn of the century. Agreements were reached on development finance in July and new sustainable development goals in September. The past 12 months have been particularly significant for Australia's international development agenda. In addition to helping reach a global consensus on the sustainable development goals, the Australian government continued to involve the private sector in our $4 billion aid program, with an increasing emphasis on the economic empowerment of women and empowering girls. We are on track against our performance targets. We are bringing new ideas and creativity into our aid program, with the unveiling of an exciting InnovationXchange within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The InnovationXchange is transforming our development assistance program with new strategies, the use of technologies, and private sector and NGO partnerships that will better enable us to help solve the development challenges of the future in our region. That is our focus—the Indian Ocean and the Asia-Pacific—and this is where we can make the biggest difference.
In 2015, we continued our focus on specifically helping the countries in our immediate neighbourhood, the Pacific, grow their economies and deal with the consequences of natural disasters—for the Pacific is one of the most disaster-prone regions in the world. We led international efforts to assist communities in Vanuatu following Cyclone Pam and we were a supporter to Nepal following its devastating earthquake.
Our commitment to multilateral engagement was reinforced when we announced Australia would seek a term on the Human Rights Council for 2018-2020 . Of course, the year is not over—I will be leaving Perth late Saturday night to attend the 2015 Climate Change Conference in Paris, following the Prime Minister's visit earlier this week and the current visit by the Minister for the Environment. Australia will play an appropriate role in helping secure a global agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
I want to place on record my thanks to the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Peter Varghese, for his leadership of our diplomatic service. And I thank the staff of the department, who have been tireless in their efforts, with absolutely outstanding performances during the course of this year. I also thank all of our staff in our overseas network of posts—far away from home but all of whom are doing an exceptional job, often in exceedingly trying circumstances. This year, Australians have made more than 9½ million trips overseas. In that context, I want to commend our consular services team, who have managed nearly 16,000 consular cases. They certainly deserve praise for their efforts in assisting Australians who get into some form of trouble or need assistance when they are overseas.
On the political front, I pay tribute to the Prime Minister and leader of our Liberal Party. I acknowledge the efforts of the Leader of the Nationals and the whole coalition team, including our members and senators, whose judgement, tenacity and desire for good policy and a strong, effective government are what brings us all together to serve the Australian people and ensure that we are uphold the values that underpin our nation. I acknowledge the enormous contribution that the member for Warringah made as Prime Minister. With the change of leadership, inevitably there are changes to the ministry, and I acknowledge the efforts of those who have held ministerial positions over the past 12 months.
I put on record my thanks to my Western Australian parliamentary colleagues, who share the challenge of commuting from our west coast. I pay tribute to my dear friend and colleague the late Don Randall. We are reminded of him every day with the white rose at his seat, and we certainly continue to miss Don.
I thank my staff in my ministerial and my electorate offices, who serve with loyalty, professionalism and dedication, and for that I am truly thankful. I thank my family, and David and my friends for continuing to be there for me, as my duties as foreign minister, deputy leader of our party and the member for Curtin regularly take me away from home for long periods of time.
I join my colleagues in recognising and thanking all who contribute to the running of Parliament House, the national parliament: the chamber attendants, the Hansard staff, the International and Parliamentary Relations Office, the switchboard operators, the Comcar drivers, the service providers, and all those in the chamber as I speak. You make this building and the business of the parliament operate in the most efficient and professional way.
I make special mention of the security guards and the Australian Federal Police. As we were reminded when Canada's parliament house was attacked, no-one anywhere is immune from terrorism. Those who serve us every day to protect this building, those who work here, those who visit here and the values that this building espouses deserve our recognition.
I acknowledge the role of the Speaker—he has been marvellous in maintaining a level of decorum in this House—and all those on the Speaker's panel. I wish the leader and members of the opposition well. I hope they have a very happy Christmas—and long may they stay in their current roles! I acknowledge the members of the press gallery and thank them for their continued work.
I wish everyone a happy and safe Christmas and festive season, and I hope that we return in 2016 with renewed enthusiasm for creating good policies as part of a great democracy with fine traditions. Our nation has an enviable reputation as an open, export-oriented market economy in its 24th consecutive year of economic growth. We are an open, liberal democracy committed to freedom, the rule of law, democratic institutions and an international rules based community. Let us hope that 2016 is a year of continued economic growth, greater prosperity, safety and security. I wish you all a happy Christmas.
At this time of year, let me share a few brief remarks. I begin by thanking those who make this place work, and foremost amongst those are the cleaners of Parliament House. We could not function without the cleaners of Parliament House. They do remarkable work in the middle of the night when we are all at home sleeping. We leave the building in a less than pristine condition every night; we return in the morning to see it looking wonderful. The cleaners do that. They are going through a tough period at the moment. They need to know that their work is appreciated, respected and supported, and their very legitimate claims are honoured by members of this House. So I begin my Christmas remarks today by prioritising the Parliament House cleaners, who really are the unsung workers of this building.
I also thank the other workers in Parliament House, including the chamber attendants who look after us and the Comcar drivers in Canberra and in our home towns. In my case, in Sydney, I thank John Stikovic, and John Chapman, who keeps threatening to retire but has not got around to it yet. He is also trying to convert me to the South Sydney Rabbitohs—and I will continue to confer with the member for Grayndler about these matters—but he has to date failed. I thank the security staff. As has been mentioned, events during the year in Canada showed just how much we take for granted here in Australia and, in some instances, our safety in this building. The security staff make sure that that is something we can continue to enjoy.
At this time of year, I give my best regards to the Treasurer. The Treasurer is absent today, dealing with family matters. We wish him the best with those. I personally also wish the Treasurer's family the best for the Christmas season—his wife, Jenny; and his children, Abbey and Lily. All of us are doing our best for Australia; we just have different perspectives as to how that should be done. But I know the Treasurer's children must miss him, with the amount of time he spends away, as all of us do. So I wish him and his family the best. I thank his office, led by Phil Gaetjens, for their interaction on matters of national interest. This time last year, I was giving my best wishes to Joe Hockey, the then Treasurer. I also note him and his family in these remarks today.
I thank the shadow Treasury team—Andrew Leigh; and Ed Husic, my parliamentary secretary—and I welcome this year two very fine additions to the shadow Treasury team, Dr Jim Chalmers and Michelle Rowland, who have joined us. They are fantastic additions to the shadow Treasury team. I also pay my best regards to the member for Oxley, who has announced his retirement from this House, who is a valued colleague and friend in the shadow Treasury team.
I thank the shadow minister for finance and Manager of Opposition Business. Obviously, the shadow Treasurer and the shadow minister for finance work very, very closely together. Tony and I both joined Young Labor 26 years ago; we were both Sydney activists in the Labor Party; and we have been members of parliament together for 11 years, and now as shadow minister for finance and shadow Treasurer respectively—and, should all go to plan, finance minister and Treasurer this time next year!
I thank members of the Treasury portfolio: the Treasury itself, led by Secretary Fraser; ASIC; APRA; the ACCC; the Australian Bureau of Statistics; the Royal Australian Mint; the Commonwealth Grants Commission—many, many fine Australian men and women who work tirelessly. They need to know that their work is respected by the opposition. Again, this time last year I noted the departure of Dr Parkinson from Treasury. It turns out a year is a long time not only in politics but in the Public Service, and I understand we are welcoming Dr Parkinson back. He also has my best wishes.
I thank my own staff, led by James Cullen, my chief of staff, who has worked with me now for 11 years continuously. I could not wish for a better friend, a more loyal staff member or a more competent chief of staff. To all the other members of my staff—Hugh Hartigan, Alistair Beasley and Clare Brosnan, and electorate staff Carole Field, Thomas McCrudden, Ninos Aaron, Theresa Alphonse and Josh Robertson: I wish you the best. We will be having a Christmas meal, and perhaps a little bit of a drink as well closer to Christmas, but I take this opportunity in the House to wish them well.
I wish all members well, including you, Mr Deputy Speaker Vasta, and the other members of the Speaker's panel. It has been a big year for this place, a particularly big year. There have been winners and losers, but all of us, winners and losers and those of us in between, can go home to the bosoms of our families for Christmas and return refreshed next year for a year of battle in which the Australian people will make a decision about our nation's future and in which we intend to be successful. But we wish the other side good luck and best wishes personally while we work towards the demise of the government! We wish them the best for their future as well.