House debates

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Statements on Indulgence


4:47 pm

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party, Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

As we head into this Christmas period, it is a time to reflect on all that this parliament has achieved over the last 12 months—and there have been many achievements of this government, although it's not the purpose of my contribution this afternoon to recount and go into all of those achievements. But it's also a chance to look into the future and what this next period—what we might call the holiday season—holds. For our country communities, it holds concerns. We are very concerned about this ongoing drought that continues to creep across country Australia and strangle our country communities. Many of our communities have not had significant rain now for years. Many either have run out of water or are on the verge of running out of water. As we head into this Christmas season, we are met with a great deal of concern from people in country New South Wales and country Australia. It is shaping up to be a very long, hot, dry summer. We reflect on the strain that has already been put on our emergency services personnel. One of the great things that Australians do when times are tough and the chips are down is that we come together and support each other, and we're particularly good at that in country Australia.

So, as we head into this Christmas season, I would just like to wish all of our country communities, particularly our farmers and our farm related businesses, the best, and let them know that the thoughts of this House are with them.

I would particularly like to let all of our emergency services personnel know that they have the thanks and appreciation of our communities, because in New South Wales, I know, and all over Australia they have been contributing to the recent bushfire efforts. It has been inspirational. So I wish them a quiet Christmas, although with all fear that it may not be so. To all of those hardworking men and women out there, our first responders, can I just wish you all the best and pass on the heartfelt thanks of a grateful community and a grateful country.

4:50 pm

Photo of Scott MorrisonScott Morrison (Cook, Liberal Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

Between this time last year and this time this year, a lot's happened. Of course, we had the general election, and the people of Australia had their opportunity to make the most important decision they make every three years, in terms of who comes into this place and represents them and forms government. Once again, this year, they exercised their judgement. All of us who were returned to this place came back with a great sense of humility and gratefulness for the opportunity we have to serve in this place—first and foremost, as the member for our electorates. Whether in my own in Southern Sydney, the electorate of Cook—taking in the southern parts of St George and Sutherland shire—or elsewhere around this country, our first opportunity, our first privilege, our first duty is to all of those in our electorates, and we say a very grateful thanks to all of them for returning us to this place to represent them and do our very, very best. Since that general election, the government has been hard at work, as I've mentioned in various responses and statements in this place and others, and I don't intend to go over those matters, because this afternoon is about something very different.

I did, however, want to acknowledge the great challenges that Australians have faced, particularly natural disasters. The year began with the devastating bushfires in Tasmania and Victoria, and it went through to the unprecedented flooding in North Queensland. None of us can—and I certainly can't—get out of our heads the image that was displayed of that railway line up in North Queensland, where we saw the water, over a 48-hour period, deluge that part of our continent. But in what must have felt like a heartbeat, in the space of just 24 hours, those wonderful Australians went from the relief and joy of seeing rain fall to tears and devastation as they saw generations of their efforts literally washed away. Of all the things that have happened this year, and there have been so many—we've walked onto firegrounds and sat with those who have been affected by these terrible fires across the year—it is very hard for me to get out of my mind being up there in North Queensland with those families. We have them still in our thoughts and in our actions today, and we continue to stand with them as they rebuild. In the great natural disasters that we see in this country we always see the greatness of Australians—their resilience, their tenacity, their care and their love for each other. At the worst of times, we see the best of Australians, and we saw that in North Queensland.

We have seen one of the worst droughts on record, impacting some 40,000 farming families in rural districts across the country. This fire season alone, six Australians have already, tragically, lost their lives to fires that have torn through millions of hectares across four states and claimed hundreds of homes. These events remind us that, while 'the lucky country' remains the lucky country, it's no passive moniker. It is one that is built and earned by the strength, character and resilience of our fellow Australians. Our first defence in everything is the strength and character of our people, our brave and selfless firefighters, our emergency services personnel. Indeed, today is International Volunteer Day. We reflect on those and we thank them very much for their wonderful service to our country.

We think of our service men and women, who also turned up in support of their fellow Australians through all of these disasters, and our communities: the businesses who let their staff go and volunteer. For a business owner in a regional area of the country, in a rural area of the country, it's tough enough, but they're the ones also who have to carry the burden, carry the weight and enable their staff to go and be there for their community, and they are equal in their service for providing for that. We have seen neighbours coming together—strangers coming together and acting as neighbours—and now they count each other as friends, as they've come through fire and flood and drought. Everyone has played their part.

As well, with Christmas almost upon us, we remember those who, for whatever reason, are doing it tough. The Leader of the Opposition and I were at the Kmart Salvos event just outside my office recently, and the Leader of the Opposition, rightly, referred to those who are going through terribly difficult times for economic reasons, or those who are affected by homelessness, or those who are affected by domestic violence. Any number of reasons will mean that, as we go into this Christmas season, once again, there are many Australians for whom this will be a very difficult time. Again, it'll be those fellow Australians who reach out to them and seek to provide them with support as they work through their terrible difficulties.

There'll be those who'll be alone or will be bereaved. There'll be those for whom there will be a missing place at the table, and that will be tough. They will reflect on wonderful memories, hopefully, of those times that they were able to share together. That's what families and friends do: they help each other deal with the challenges of life. There will be those who will be confined to hospital, those struggling on farms, those who battle difficulties that are insurmountable, it would seem. I ask every one of us—and it's an appeal I make to all of us—to look out for those who are less fortunate and to look out for one another, particularly over this summer season, and to keep safe on the roads, to exercise patience and care. You don't need to get there as quickly as you often think you do. We can get very busy at these times, and we know what can occur on our roads and the terrible tragedies that can unfold.

So, I would ask everyone, as we go about what hopefully is a very happy time and one of reunion with many family and friends, that we all make sure that we turn up safely and enjoy that experience. To Lifeline and all our other great services and volunteers who know they'll be reaching out on Christmas Day, because they do it every year: thank you for serving up that Christmas cheer. Thank you also, from all Australians, to the surf lifesavers who'll be on our beaches—looking after not just Australians but also the many visitors who'll be here and are often put at so much risk, unaware and unfamiliar with the dangers that can be in our waters—and to doctors, nurses, the ambos and the emergency and essential services workers who will give up their family time on Christmas Day and beyond to ensure that the rest of us can have a happy and safe holiday period.

In particular, as we come together with family, let us also reflect with gratitude on the serving men and women of our defence forces—some 1,500—who are around the world serving in so many different capacities, separated from their loved ones by the call of duty and because of their passion and love for their nation, whether at sea, in the air or on land, in Afghanistan, the Middle East or the many missions in other parts of the world, or keeping our borders safe closer to home, and those serving in our diplomatic service. We thank them, and we wish them a very merry Christmas.

We stand by our veterans community, also, remembering the depth of their sacrifice and responding to it with respect and strong and ongoing support. It is also fitting at this time of year to extend to the Leader of the Opposition and his family my very best wishes for Christmas and the holiday season, whether he'll be watching re-runs of old footy games and things like that—who knows, but I do hope he has a wonderful Christmas and holiday period with his family and a bit of time of rest. We'll all be back here again next year and ready to serve our constituents and play and perform the important roles that we do in this place. So, I hope he has a great break. I also want to acknowledge his predecessor, the previous Leader of the Opposition, the member for Maribyrnong, who served in that role. I wish him, Chloe and all of their family a very happy Christmas and a safe and pleasant new year. Menzies would often say of Curtin and Chifley, 'opponents but not enemies', and I believe this is true. That is the spirit in which these messages are sent. To all the members of the opposition: I wish you all the best for a happy and successful break.

To my own team: when you leave this place and go home to your families, you can be immensely proud of everything that you've achieved this year. You have my grateful thanks. When I took on the role of leadership of the parliamentary Liberal Party and then, together with the Deputy Prime Minister, stood before you, I said, 'You've asked me to lead and I've asked you to follow,' and you've paid me the greatest honour in your decision to follow. Together we have been able to achieve something quite extraordinary, but, as I said on election night, the victory was not ours; the victory was of those Australians who put their great faith in us. My proudest moment, though, was the day after, because it meant we got to get on with the job, and that's what we'll continue to do.

I also particularly want to extend my best wishes and appreciation to my Deputy Prime Minister and my coalition partner, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, and his wife, Catherine. They are great friends, and he's not a bad cricketer either—based on his own report! It has been a true joy to be able to lead a government together with a man as decent as Michael, and I wish him and Catherine well. They have been together for such a long time and they're such an example to us all. Indeed, as I look forward to my 30th wedding anniversary in January, I think you and Catherine have been such a wonderful blessing. You are on 33 years, so I don't know if we'll ever catch you, but we'll get close every year!

To my tremendous deputy, Josh Frydenberg, deputy leader of the parliamentary Liberal Party and Treasurer: thank you very much, Josh. Bringing down a budget—your first budget—is a very significant thing to do. For all of those who have had the great privilege of standing at this dispatch box to set out the expenditures of the government, its fiscal settings and the things you're able to achieve through strong financial management, it is a great honour. For Josh—the member for Kooyong, I should say, but with some indulgence from you, Mr Speaker. For the Treasurer to be able to come and to do that this year and do it in such fine style, I know he is looking forward to the next one more, having achieved a first surplus and able to announce another one. I know you'll do a tremendous job.

To the deputy leader of the National Party, Senator Bridget McKenzie

Mr Frydenberg interjecting

There he is. His ears were burning!

To the deputy leader of the National Party, Senator McKenzie: I thank you also, Bridget, for the tremendous guidance and support you have given to our leadership team, your passionate support for regional Australia and for ensuring we are always very familiar with the challenges that are being faced in rural and regional Australia.

To our newly minted Leader of the House: thank you for saying yes when I asked you to take this job. There he is. We honoured the previous Leader of the House—largely at his own direction!—when we put his picture up on the wall. I haven't checked to see if he is still standing there in front of it admiring it, but he certainly did for some time the other night! And so he should, because he was an adornment to this House. For the new Leader of the House, I also want to thank Christian for the enormous workload he takes on as our Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations. That of itself is an extraordinarily large task and, for backing that up with the incredible work that is required to move the government's business through this place and to ensure we can continue to deliver for Australians, I thank him very much for his great service both to our government and to our parties.

I also thank, of course, our leadership team in the Senate, Senator Cormann and Senator Birmingham. Senator Cormann has got quite a high strike rate when it comes to ensuring the passage of the government's legislation, and I thank him for the way that he's engaged with crossbench members and wish all of them also the very best, as I do the crossbench members here, for the Christmas season. I thank them for their dedication.

To my own team: I thank my chief of staff, John Kunkel. Thank you for your support, John, and the great work that is done by you. Thank you for your leadership of all of my team, which is so important to the running of the government. I want to thank all the hardworking and committed staff of coalition members, and we had the opportunity to thank them all last night. But can I also say to the opposition members and all of their staff that I wish them, also, all the best for Christmas and the holiday period.

Can I thank the Chief Government Whip and the deputy whips for ensuring we stay on track, but not just for that. I'm sure the Leader of the Opposition would know, from the role of their own whip, that they play such an important part and work closely together between opposition and government to ensure not just the smooth running of this place but the pastoral care that is provided to members of this parliament on both sides of this House. I want to thank the whips and their deputies, both from the government side and from the opposition side, for the great work they do.

To the Clerk of the House: congratulations on your appointment. It's wonderful to see our first female clerk here—not just that, but someone of immense capability. We loved those earrings yesterday, and these ones are just as good; they're right in the Christmas spirit! We wish you, your family, the Deputy Clerk and all the clerks' assistants who support them well. To the Serjeant-at-Arms, James Catchpole, our thanks also go to you. From my own department, thank you to David Belgrove, Anne O'Connor and Sue Klammer who work in the legislative team and who have been a great help to me and my staff.

To the House Parliamentary Liaison Officer, Charlie Higgins, and the rest of the team in the Table Office and the First Parliamentary Counsel, Peter Quiggin PSM and his team, our deep thanks. I'd like to make special mention of Debbie Arnold, who is leaving us as the Senate Parliamentary Liaison Officer and has been instrumental in helping my staff and me to program the government's agenda in the other place.

Other long-serving staff who retired this year, as we noted, are: David Elder, the former Clerk here for 38 years; Trish Bicket from the Table Office, 34 years; Laura Gillies, 34 years; James Rees, 28 years; Onu Palm, 23 years; and Anthony, over 17 years. It is clearly a vocation, and one taken very seriously by those who serve this parliament, and we thank you.

Thanks also to all the attendants in this place. To Luch and the whole mob: thank you very, very much. You're always a great encouragement and have been over many years. Whichever side of the House you sit on, there's always the great warm smile and friendly attendance that we get from you. We also thank, of course, all the Federal Police, security, those in catering, Library, Hansard and support staff who make the institution run so smoothly. Mr Speaker, we thank them, through you, for their great work.

In last year's valedictory, I mentioned Luzia, Ana and Maria, who are the three cleaners from my own office who have been working in this building for a very long time. They really do have a way of just lighting us all up. Ana and Maria are sisters. At this time last year, it was very tough. They had just lost their mum. But recently we were able to share together a much brighter moment—a wonderful morning tea celebration for Luzia's 30th anniversary of service in this building to many Prime Ministers over a long period of time. I know she would have been held in as much affection by my predecessors as by me and my own team. It was lovely to meet Luzia's husband, Marcelo, their children, Marian, Lucia and Isobel, and their grandchildren as well. It was a wonderful day. Next year we will be celebrating Ana's 30th anniversary milestone as well. She's a wonderful personality. She's the only person in the world who I understand called Mr Howard 'Pumpkin'. I want to, again, congratulate all of them and thank them.

On a sadder note, this year was a year we lost two of our nation's finest leaders and statesmen. It was a privilege to join with the Monash Foundation in honouring the scholarships that were awarded in their honour. To the late Bob Hawke and to the late Tim Fischer, and to all of their families, we want to acknowledge your great service to our country. Our country is so much better for their extraordinary contribution that they were able to deliver in their service, and they have set a standard for us all to seek to attain. Their passing reminds us of what politics is truly all about—serving honourably and courageously the Australian people.

Finally to you, Mr Speaker, Pam and all the family, have a wonderful Christmas. You continue to serve us and keep this show on the road in this parliament with great dignity, and you do it with a wit and a candour and an affection for which I think people around the country have got to know you well over many years now in this role. There have been many great Speakers, Mr Speaker, and I have no doubt you are one of them. I think, over the course of your time as Speaker, you will certainly stand out amongst them, if not above them all. It's a great privilege every time I see you in that chair, because I was so pleased to support you going into that chair and you have not let this House down on one occasion—not on one occasion. We thank you very much for all the work you do to maintain the spirit of this House and its important work.

Along with all of those good wishes, Mr Speaker, of course, it has been an adventurous year, it has been a dramatic year, it has been a year of a general election, it has been a year of achievements, it has been a year of disappointments for some, but it has been a year in which the great Australian spirit has showcased itself again: to itself and to the world. This really is the greatest country in the world in which to live, and whatever difficulties are before us or whatever challenges are in front of us, the one thing we can always say with a full heart is: it's great to be an Australian. Merry Christmas, everyone.

5:11 pm

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

I join with the Prime Minister in farewelling the parliamentary year in the usual fashion with a valedictory. It has indeed been a very eventful year. It's been a very eventful year in my life, and certainly not one I saw coming as I was here last year, in a number of ways. I thank the Prime Minister for his speech, and I wish him and his family all the best for Christmas and, similarly to the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the National Party and, indeed, to everyone on the other side of this chamber.

I thank you, Mr Speaker, for your guidance, your wisdom and, it must be said, your patience throughout the year. I understand that that last quality is especially important for Carlton supporters! I also thank you for the times when you have communicated your thoughts to us with nothing more than a raised eyebrow. In this building, this is a superpower possessed only by yourself and Senator Penny Wong. I thank also your able supporting cast. This includes one of my tennis opponents, the member for Page—and I visited the fire-affected area in his electorate with him just in the last month—and he certainly is someone who's very passionate about representing his community, as is the second Deputy Speaker, the member for McEwen, who represents our side on the Speaker's panel. Thank you very much to all the whips and their teams, to Chris Hayes, Jo Ryan and Anne Stanley. As long as Christopher stays off the motorbike, he'll continue to be able to do a fantastic job on behalf of the party, and the work with the whips on the other side is also important in keeping things going.

To my fantastic deputy and friend, Richard Marles: it has been a great privilege to work with you so closely and to really get to know each other on a much deeper level, and to have your loyal support and commitment has been quite extraordinary. I thank Penny Wong, the Senate leader, a formidable force of nature. It's always easier, in shadow cabinet or in other processes that we're not allowed to talk about, just to agree with Penny—because you will eventually, so you may as well. I thank Kristina Keneally, who has entered the leadership team and has brought her experience, her passion and her commitment—and every leadership team should have at least two South Sydney supporters on it, which is an important component! I thank my shadow minister assisting me as Leader of the Opposition, Don Farrell. Don plays one of those pastoral roles in our party. He is someone who has been incredibly supportive and a real source of advice. As the leader of the party, I'm very blessed to be able to have them.

I do want to single out the member for Maribyrnong, Bill Shorten. It is, as I'm finding out, an onerous task to be Leader of the Opposition. You don't have that much staff and support—there's no department to give you advice. It's a tough job. Bill Shorten worked each and every day for six years with the commitment that he has to our party and, indeed, to our movement to make things different—not just to change the government but because he wanted to change things in favour of working people. He has our party's respect. We respect our former leaders, and I thank him for his ongoing contribution.

I now go to his former deputy and my long-term friend Tanya Plibersek. We were talking the other evening about when we met. She was still at school. I was at uni, I think, by then. Tanya is a formidable representative. She's my neighbour, as the member for Sydney. It was fantastic that she celebrated her 50th birthday on Monday.

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

Rubbing it in!

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

Did I throw you out on Monday, Member for Sydney?

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm now arguing we're the same age, because when you get past 50 you can count in decades! I say to Tanya, on her passion for education, in particular, and for representing the rights of women, I think we are very lucky to have her in our team.

Likewise, I thank my entire parliamentary team. I think this is an outstanding team, particularly those people, if I can single them out, who have come in and instantly played a part in our movement—the class of 2016 and the class of 2019. You do have to renew yourself as a movement. From the front bench right through to the back bench, we're united. After going through such a devastating defeat—call it what it is—in May, when we expected to win, if you look at the past, and I've been here for a bit, the truth is that, after 2001 and after 2004, we were nowhere near where we are now six months after that defeat—united, committed, determined and looking forward. We've had our review. It's done and dusted. We are now looking forward. We're determined to hold the government to account, but we're also determined to put forward a positive vision.

I thank my fantastic staff. Tim Gartrell is my pretty experienced campaign director. He was campaign director in 2007, the last time we won, and the campaign director for the marriage equality 'yes' campaign just a short time ago. In between those times, he is someone who has worked for the private sector and someone who has worked to advance reconciliation. He is also someone who was my campaign director for Grayndler in 1996. It is fantastic to have someone in that role who is a dear friend. I thank him. I think his partner, Kerry, who also worked for me many years ago, for letting him come and work for me! I thank him for taking the pay cut, too, that that required. I thank Sabina Husic and Jeff Singleton, my deputies and my entire team, including my electorate office, led by the formidable Sue Heath. I thank, indeed, all the families of members and staff. They sign up in a different way. It's not always an easy life. Our families carry the absences, the long hours and the pressures. Through their sacrifice and their generosity, they make so much of our democratic system possible.

I'd like to thank the former Clerk, David Elder. I wish him nothing but happiness in his retirement after years of service. I congratulate the new Clerk, Claressa Surtees, and the new Deputy Clerk, Catherine Cornish—an all-female team is an extraordinary thing. To the people who look after us in this place, Luch and the attendants team, thank you for your patience and for what you all do. Then there are the Hansard staff. They don't miss a word in this place. Not only do we owe them our thanks; we owe them our sympathy as well because, from time to time, it must be quite difficult to decipher what is happening in this place.

I thank the keepers of knowledge in the Parliamentary Library; the staff of the Department of the House of Representatives; you can't acknowledge the important personnel in this building without talking about Dom and the team at Aussies, who bring character to the place; as well as everyone who works at the coffee cart and the staff cafeteria—when people call it 'the trough', they do it with love; it's a sign of affection. Can I say this: if you want an example of how the public sector often does it better than the private sector, just ask anyone who was here when it was privatised—it is much better now that the Speaker and the President of the Senate have brought it back into the department, and that is a good thing.

I thank all the staff in Parliament House. It is a big building and it takes a lot to run it. If you haven't been down to Old Parliament House—I've been to two dinners there in the last fortnight—it still has all its charm. I worked in that building; it has its power and it has its ghosts, but, compared to this building, it does feel like one of the miniatures at Cockington Green, just down the road.

I want to say a big thankyou to the hardworking cleaners who look after us and are so much a part the soul of this place, and to the Comcar drivers who get us around on time, particularly my Sydney drivers, Greg and Suzanne. Thank you to FCM Travel Solutions, who help to keep us moving, and to the AFP and security staff, who keep us safe.

To the press gallery: I'm reliably informed that the last of the press gallery who was at our drinks on Tuesday night has now left the caucus room, which is good, because tonight we've got the caucus party. You play an absolutely critical role, and no democracy is worthy of the name without a robust, fair and free media. We will defend your right to report on what happens in this place. I do want to single out—she is going to be embarrassed here—Kym Smith. This is her last day. She has worked here for 15 years. She loves KFC, she's got that killer smile and she's one of the hardest working photographers in the building. Well done, Kym. She's a passionate Bulldogs supporter, which is fine—as long as she's not a Roosters supporter, that's okay! Well done, and I think all of us wish you well in your future endeavours.

This place is the heart of democracy. It's important we don't take it for granted, and I will have more to say about that on Saturday.

We don't have to look far beyond this place, to the pall of smoke in the sky, to be reminded of just whose debt we are in. To all of our firefighters, who have done such a remarkable job up to now, and will do over what has been a very early beginning to the summer: we thank you. You head into harm's way to protect us and to protect property, and you do things that are beyond comprehension for those of us who have never done it. They have no illusions about what they're up against, and yet they continue to go.

We think of those people who are facing this Christmas without their homes, which have recently been lost. We think of other people who are homeless, who are destitute and for whom Christmas is a really difficult time, and our heart goes out to them. This Christmas I will be helping Bill Crews at the Exodus Foundation in my electorate. He is a remarkable Christian leader who does great things at what he describes as the church for outsiders. The homeless, people with drug problems, people who are on the margins of society are all welcome at Ashfield.

It was my intention, it must be said, to spend Christmas Day with our defence forces overseas. We tried to put that together over the last couple of months, but it wasn't possible. But I did want to go, and I think it is remarkable when our serving men and women give up their Christmas overseas, particularly at this time of the year. However, I hope to do that at some time in the future. There were practical reasons why that could not be arranged by the government.

We do think of those people who are working in our hospitals, our nurses and all the people in emergency services. We hope they're getting their penalty rates as well, it must be said, because they give up an enormous amount during this Christmas period. We think at this time, too, of the people—and a shout-out to the people in the trade union movement—who work each and every day to make Australia a better place and ensure that their fellow workers get a fair go.

To my team, which combines with the Christmas colours, the South Sydney Rabbitohs: I am always hopeful at this time of the year—I'm very confident we'll win in 2020. We'll see how that goes. To my son Nathan, I say: every year is our year, and I look forward to spending more time with you over the summer period. You make me proud each and every day.

As we go from here and return to the very people we have the privilege to represent, let us go with a renewed sense of purpose. I thank my electorate of Grayndler once again for sending me here to represent you. I don't take your support for granted, and I treat every voter and the electorate as a marginal seat each and every day. I think that we do our best in this place as individuals. We must remain worthy of the trust that our fellow Australians place in us. So, as Naomi Wolf would say: have a wonderful Christmas! I thank the House.

5:27 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

As we draw to the end of this parliamentary year, we all look to those who continue to suffer hardship, including those affected by bushfire, drought and indeed floods across this sunburnt country.

Not that long ago when the Prime Minister was speaking, we had 14 members of the Tullamore Central School visiting Parliament House. I put to them: what would you like Santa Claus to bring you for Christmas? Each and every one of them said rain. Think of that—kids hopeful of a present under the Christmas tree, and you ask them: 'What do you want for Christmas?' Each and every one of them, straight back at me, said: 'Rain.' That's significant. That's powerful.

We are with them, as we are with everybody who is suffering from drought, who is suffering from bushfires, who is suffering generally. The government, and indeed the opposition and the parliament, are with those people whether they're homeless, whether they've lost their home through a fire or whether they've lost everything through no fault of their own—we're with them. We know that drought conditions may well worsen through the summer, especially in the west of New South Wales and through the Darling Downs in Queensland.

As bushfires also continue to rage throughout your country, spare a thought for the first responders, the volunteers—today being of course volunteer day. Many of them will give up their Christmas and do it free of charge. They won't ask for any recompense. They'll do it. They'll be there to save their neighbours. Sometimes they do it when their own house is in a fire-affected area. No words can truly convey our gratitude.

I say again: if you are in the path of fire, if you are at risk of ember attack, please listen to the authorities, follow their advice, respect their directions. We can always replace buildings. We can always replace belongings and homes. We cannot restore life, and we want everybody to be safe as this fire season continues.

A special thank you—I know the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader have also paid tribute—to our serving Australian Defence Force personnel here and abroad, and also, of course, our veterans. Speaking of the ADF, as the member for Grayndler has said, the service is about to be joined by popular press gallery photographer Kym Smith. We wish her well. We thank her for her 16 years. I'm not sure I thank her for the picture on the front page of The Australian yesterday—but, anyway, thank you for a job well done. Excellent work.

An honourable member: She was doing her job.

She was doing her job. I know, as a journalist, that's what you want—you want those images to capture the moment, and she has certainly always done that. The parliament's loss and the press gallery's loss is the ADF's gain. Thank you, Kym.

Christmas is a time for giving, and there can be no greater gift than supporting regional Australians, who can do little but wait for drought conditions to ease. I urge and encourage all Australians to back them in by supporting farmers through buying Australian food and fibre—put it on your Christmas luncheon menu on your table—and by supporting small businesses by visiting regional areas over the holidays. Consider a visit to Quilpie dinosaur museum or consider going to the member for Calare's electorate. They're in drought, and there are some great places in regional Australia to visit. Whilst they're doing it tough, many of those tourist destinations are open for business and they want to see your support. And buy regional. I encourage everyone to buy at least one Christmas gift from a regional business this year. The investment and the encouragement means a great deal. You just cannot imagine the great deal it means to the community you will be supporting. Consider the many initiatives to support regional businesses, such as Go Country for Christmas, established by colleague Hollie Hughes, which provides a directory of regional businesses and gift ideas. Go on the website; it's a great concept.

If you're near beaches or waterways cooling off in the great Aussie summer, make sure you slip, slop and slap, obviously, but don't drink and swim. Stay between the flags and watch out for others. Whether you're cooling off in the ocean or whether it's a dam, lake, lagoon, pool, river, creek or whatever the case might be, they can be very dangerous places, particularly in country areas; rivers and creeks change. Always check before you dive in. I say it every time we have a citizenship ceremony and we have new Australians; I always implore them in Wagga Wagga to check the conditions of the Murrumbidgee River. It's like any other river—it mightn't be as large as some of the other rivers in this great nation, but those underwater logs and submersible objects can and do claim lives. Please take care and caution.

As many of us set out on the road this holiday, I implore everyone behind the wheel to drive safely. If the driver's not driving safely and you're a passenger, tell them, 'Please, don't speed.' Drive to conditions and don't touch your mobile—it's just madness. Make alternative arrangements if you're drinking alcohol, and wear your seatbelt. They're pretty simple things, but they can save a life. Our emergency services personnel have already seen enough trauma this year. Don't be a danger to yourself or others on the road. Think about your family gathered around the Christmas table without you there, if you need a reminder of what's at stake.

This year, we established the Office of Road Safety. It's working to improve leadership and coordination across governments to reduce deaths and serious injuries on the nation's roads. I know this is a bipartisan thing. There's more work to do in this space next year, but we are, as a parliament, making good progress. Beyond important safety reminders, please take care over the Christmas season. Stay safe, relax and recharge, and enjoy the company of your family and friends. They mean the most to you.

On a quick indulgence, I want to thank the outstanding public service across the department, including the new secretary, Simon Atkinson, and Dr Stephen Kennedy, the outgoing secretary—the infrastructure department's loss is Treasury's gain—for their dedication, advice and support to my office and me, and their fine service to the Australian community. I wish them every success as we roll out our infrastructure blueprint for this nation.

I also want to thank my diligent staff in my ministerial office and my electorate offices in Wagga Wagga and Parkes, who always put people first, as they should. A special shout-out to my conscientious chief of staff, Damian Callachor, and my very organised diary manager, Amy Ladner. Amy needs to be organised. It's a big, big country and I get around all of it, and she organises and arranges my trips very well.

Thank you to my family: my wife of 33 years, Catherine, and my children, Georgina, Alexander and Nicholas and their partners, for their support and guidance this year.

I want to thank and pay special tribute to the leadership Scott Morrison has shown to this country, and to his wife, Jenny, and children, Abbey and Lily. I want to say well done. You have been a great example this year and a true friend and certainly somebody who's going to be one of the great modern-day prime ministers. I want to also thank my deputy leader, Bridget McKenzie, for the job that she's doing as Australia's first female agriculture minister. I thank all my Liberal and Nationals colleagues for their support. I want to pay tribute to the opposition as well, and to the crossbench. To the opposition, to Anthony Albanese and to his deputy, Richard Marles: enjoy a happy Christmas. And I wish Anthony Albanese a long, long time as opposition leader!

An opposition member interjecting

Even Joel Fitzgibbon—I wish he was here! He's a good bloke. We get on very well. I wish a happy Christmas to everybody in this chamber and in the other place, and to all who work to assist us in our parliamentary duties: our staff, our staff in the parliament: the catering teams, special constables, parliamentary clerks, cleaners—particularly Ana Jancevska and Luzia Borges, who clean my office. They're great ladies, always there with a smile, they never ever fail to say hello and they're always upbeat—no matter what state the offices might be left in! Thank you to both of them. I know the cleaners do a fantastic job, as do the many others who help keep this place running smoothly and efficiently.

I would also like to particularly thank our constituents for their support and trust and wish them a happy and holy Christmas. Remember the reason for the season. And let's look forward to an even better, brighter, and wetter 2020.

As a final note, I know the Labor Party are going to party tonight. As I understand it—if I have read The Australian correctly and it's true; that great column by the wonderful Alice Workman—they've got somebody from GANGgajang singing. Of course, that band has a special place in the National Party, too, because the song 'Sounds Of Then (This is Australia)' was written on the back porch—the patio—of none other than the late, great Paul Neville in Bundaberg. So it's got a special place in the heart of the National Party. It's going to have a special place in the heart of the Labor Party tonight, and I know all the Libs love GANGgajang as well. It truly is a great song, and truly has some great messages: 'This is Australia.'

5:37 pm

Photo of Richard MarlesRichard Marles (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

The last time Labor won government from opposition was 2007. It's a year that we remember very fondly. But it wasn't only memorable for the election that year. I'm a very big fan of sport. I follow Tiger Woods and, of course, I'm a fanatic of the Geelong Football Club. And 2007 was a year which was characterised by Tiger winning one of golf's four major championships and by Geelong ending a 44-year drought and taking out the AFL premiership. So this time last year—when the polling was strong for Labor and, after a finals campaign followed up by an active trade season, it looked like Geelong was going to make another tilt at the premiership, and Tiger had just won his first professional golf tournament in five years—I thought that maybe 2019 would be the year where the universe would come into harmony once more. And, as the year started, our polling was strong. We went through our very first month as the Geelong Football Club undefeated. And then, remarkably, in April of this year, Tiger—at the age of 43—won the US Masters. And that's pretty well where the year peaked.

This has been a very interesting, up-and-down year for all of us. No more so than for the member for Paterson, who I was talking to last night about her concern in relation to her own house being threatened by bushfire right now. It's a reminder that we are about to go into the most dangerous season of the year on this continent, a season characterised not just by bushfire but also by cyclones—and it's a season which, in an unprecedented way, is of course well under way.

Let me start by turning my thoughts and giving my thanks to all the firefighters and emergency service personnel and all the volunteers who have been fighting fires across the country already this season—and, in doing so, putting their own lives at risk and often their own properties at risk. They deserve our nation's thanks. In giving them that thanks can I, in advance, also give our thanks to all those who will be engaged in emergency work during the course of the summer. These are tragic moments, but the service that they provide has an inspiration about it which speaks to the character of our nation. This has been a year, of course, characterised by drought as well. All of our thoughts are with those who are suffering through one of the worst droughts on our record.

It was an election year, and that was a very significant moment—one which looms with a different character in the minds of those depending on what side of the House you are now sitting. But there was one other event this year that I would reflect upon, which was not in this country, but had a connection to us: the Christchurch massacre. It was an appalling moment, made more appalling from an Australian point of view by the fact that an Australian was the perpetrator. I mention it because, in the aftermath of that—in fact, the following Sunday, by chance—it was Open Mosque Day in Victoria, maybe around the country. I visited the Geelong mosque on that Sunday. It's an event I've been to previously where during the course of six or seven hours you might get a couple of hundred people going in, out of curiosity and to have a look at what the mosque looks like. On the Sunday this year, thousands came through in a way which was truly inspiring about the kind of nation that we are. It was multicultural Australia at its best. Whilst it was initiated by the most appalling set of events, one couldn't help but feel a sense of being heartwarmed by the response that Australians gave it. I think it says so much about the nation that we are all so proud to be a part of.

As we leave this place, I would like to acknowledge my leader, the member for Grayndler, Anthony Albanese. I've known Anthony for quite a while now but, in the last six months, in difficult circumstances, I've obviously gotten to know him a lot better. He's a fantastic person and, in what has in many ways been a very difficult year, one of the great joys for me has been to get to know Anthony better. I think his persistence, his staying the course, his patience, his humour and his goodwill in the midst of all of this has been an inspiration to all of us.

I acknowledge Senators Penny Wong, Kristina Keneally and Don Farrell, and thank them for the friendship and support that they have given me during the course of this year. It is greatly appreciated, and it is also a joy to work with them amongst the leadership of the Parliamentary Labor Party.

This time last year our parliamentary leaders were the member for Maribyrnong and the member for Sydney, and I would like to pay tribute to both of them, who have led our party for six years. I've known the member for Maribyrnong all of my adult life and, during that time, we have been very close. I know how difficult 18 May was for all of us, and was for him. The dignity with which he dealt with that and has carried himself since says everything about the person that he is. We owe Bill and Tanya a debt of gratitude.

I acknowledge the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and all the members of the government. For those of us who have participated in government, we're all busy in this building, but we particularly know how busy you are. We hold you to account in this place and in the public domain, but, as a citizen, I thank you for your service. I hope that all of you get an opportunity to spend a well-earned moment with your families over the course of Christmas and over the course of the summer. It was, of course, a very successful year for you and you deserve our congratulations.

I acknowledge you, Mr Speaker, and the member for Page, the member for McEwen and all those on the Speaker's panel. You and I have known each other for a very long time. As I said earlier this year, it genuinely is one of the joys for me of being in this place to watch you blossom in the role that you are performing in, in the most difficult of circumstances. Today, in fact, was probably as difficult as any of them. You do a wonderful job. The comment that the Prime Minister made earlier about your standing amongst the Speakers that this country has had is absolutely right.

I acknowledge the crossbenchers. Those of us in the major parties sometimes forget how hard it must be to represent the voices of thousands of Australians in this place without the backup of a party apparatus, and we certainly acknowledge what you do.

I acknowledge the Manager of Opposition Business and the member for Hindmarsh and all those on the tactics team. You certainly guide us in this place in a very professional way, and we are very grateful. I acknowledge the Chief Opposition Whip and the members for Lalor and Werriwa. You certainly keep us in line, and we thank you for everything that you do.

I acknowledge all of my caucus colleagues. I grew up in a boarding school, and this place has a certain boarding-school character to it. The friendships that we have in here are actually what sustain us through long hours and sometimes difficult hours. So, to everyone that I have had a coffee, a lunch, a dinner or a beer with, thank you for your friendship and your camaraderie. It has been a difficult time, but it is to the credit of, I think, both the member for Maribyrnong and the member for Grayndler that we have managed to get through this year and find ourselves at the end of it with just a bit of a spring in our step—and that is, I think, in the context of what happened on 18 May, a remarkable achievement.

I'd like to acknowledge the many people who keep us functioning here in this building, starting with Dom and those at Aussies, and all of the caffeine traffickers in this building. I'm certainly grateful for your product! I thank all the Comcare drivers. I thank the gardeners, Graham Gosling and his team, who do such an incredible job on the Reps side of this House; the rose gardens are something to behold. To the cleaners of my office, Chanmala, Joy and Rosalba: thank you for your work. I thank all the attendants, the clerks, Hansard, the security guards, the IT and communications staff, the librarians and researchers, the building and heritage staff, the tour guides, the parliamentary gift shop and others who interact with public, and those involved in catering.

I acknowledge the press gallery. The member for Grayndler made a very significant point: the press gallery play a critical role in our democracy, and it is so important that they are supported in what they do, going forward.

I thank my staff. I thank my chief of staff, Lidija Ivanovski and, through her, all those who work with me—and they won't mind me singling out one of them, Saverina Chirumbolo. Saverina is 50 per cent Sicilian, she's 50 per cent Calabrian and she's 100 per cent scary! Next year will be the 20th year that we have worked together, and my life doesn't work without Sav. Whenever Sav goes, that's when I go as well.

I thank those who work with me in the Labor team in Geelong: the new member for Corangamite—it's great to see you here—and, at a state level, Christine Couzens, Darren Cheeseman, John Eren, Lisa Neville and Gayle Tierney, who all represent Labor in the town of Geelong. I thank the constituents of Corio for returning me here at the last election. I certainly do not take that for granted.

As we head towards Christmas, I'd like to acknowledge all our serving men and women, particularly those on deployment around the world. They do an incredible job, and it is an enormous privilege for me as the shadow minister for defence to get a glimpse of the sacrifice and the service that they provide to our nation. They are our nation's finest. There is something about putting on the uniform and the sacrifice that goes on with it in that moment which is unlike any other job in the land. I thank them, as I thank all veterans who have served. In the same breath, let me also acknowledge the defence minister, who of course is a veteran herself. I thank her for her friendship as we now find ourselves working in the same space.

Finally, of course, I'd like to thank my family: my wife, Rachel; and my children, Sam, Bella, Harvey and Georgia. And, in thanking them, I acknowledge the families of everyone here. They are not volunteers; they are conscripts in what we do. The hardest part of this job is being away from them, and I don't get to do what I do but for their support. As much as I love doing what I do here, and I love this job, it is not the most important thing in my life; they are, and I love them very much.

This has been a rollercoaster year for everyone in this building. There have been more twists and turns, more ups and downs, than perhaps we would even normally have liked. But Kim Beazley once said, in a year when Labor had also lost, that to be returned to this parliament and to have an office in it in any capacity is of itself a success. It speaks to the fact that, for all of us here, just being here and being the voice of thousands of people in the way in which this country runs is an enormous privilege. We are lucky to do it, and being their voice in the most sincere way is indeed a noble pursuit. On that note, I wish every member of this House and every member of the Senate the very happiest of holidays and the very merriest of Christmases.