Thursday, 10 December 2020
It comes to this hour on this last day of the parliament sitting to offer some thanks to members of this place, to all of those who look after us and to the many Australians around the country. As we do this, I think it was apt that last weekend I had the opportunity to be out in south-western Sydney. I was at Buxton with the local member. We were there on what was both a happy but also a very sad occasion at the same time, because we were there to unveil, to open a memorial playground in honour of Geoff Keaton and Andrew O'Dwyer. We were joined there by their many friends from the Horsley Park Rural Fire Brigade, captained by Darren Nation, a great Australian, and, most importantly, by Melissa and Jess, their partners, and, of course, Andrew's daughter Charlotte and Geoff's son Harvey.
It reminded us of the journey we have been on. On 19 December it will be one year since we lost Geoff and Andrew, and we lost many more over the course of the year that followed, 2020. We have lost those to COVID; we have lost those in bushfires. It has been a year of great loss for Australians, terrible loss, loss that will leave deep scars on Australians and on our country. They are deep and they will take a long time to heal. That healing process will come and will flourish from the care and the compassion and the love and the affection that is provided by their fellow Australians. We will see the visible evidence, we will see the superficial evidence of things improving, but we know that 2020 will be something that will take Australians many years to get over—their mental health support in the years ahead; the regrowth of our economy, the restructuring of our economy so that it can grow again and realise the lives and livelihoods that Australians aspire to.
That is the year we have been through, so as we come to the end of this parliamentary year and look forward to the Christmas period and the new year period, we look forward with a sense of hope. We look forward with a sense of gratefulness, despite everything that has happened, despite everything that has been lost, and know that things will regrow, that things will rebuild and that lives will be restored. Our nation, particularly now as we come up to Christmas, has come together again as borders have come down and families will meet again right across the country—from coast to coast, from north to south, Australians will come together again over this Christmas period. This was an important goal, and I'm so pleased that it has been realised.
There are many people to thank as we come together. I particularly want to thank all the members of this place as I start. We have all, in our way, carried leadership responsibilities this year. In our local communities and the many other ways we serve—in our families, in our roles here as members of this parliament and those in the other place. We have been supported by so many in those jobs and we have sought to support so many in the great works that they have been doing in our community—the many that were referred to and thanked in question time today: our defence forces, our frontline health workers, our teachers, our businesses, our employees and those who have taken great risks, helped out and reached out to others in times of need; we need them all.
As we go into this holiday season, and let's hope it is a good one, there will be many who will continue that job over the break—Lifeline and other services and volunteers; those who will be preparing things for Christmas Day such as food, shelter, comfort, help and support or simply company; doctors, nurses and medical staff who will be on call; the police, the paramedics and the ambos; the surf lifesavers who will be on our beaches and the Rural Fire Service volunteers who will be ready to go again, on call—indeed, they have been called out in so many places already this season. Elderly Australians, many of whom are completely alone and isolated, will know the loving touch and care of those who work in our aged-care facilities. To our defence forces, who continue in Operation COVID-19 Assist, and the 1500 Defence Force personnel who continue on operations all around the world: we thank you for your service and we are proud of you and your service.
I also want to acknowledge the incredible support and actions, taking on the commendation of the member for Lingiari, of our Australian Public Service. They have had, I believe, their finest year during the course of this COVID-19 pandemic. Never before, certainly in my experience in this place and I think for many generations, have we called upon our Australian Public Service to do more in the interest of Australians than we have in this past year to work promptly, carefully and effectively, to advise, assist, support, implement, deliver and be candid and ensure that as a government we could stand with Australians at their time of greatest need and as a parliament we could do the same. The Australian Public Service have had their finest hour in so many that we can remember. I'm deeply grateful to them, and I don't want to single any of them out because it is a shared commendation for them. From the quietest service to those I would meet with on a regular basis in my office or the many ministers here, all of you in the Public Service, whether serving here in Canberra or elsewhere around the country: thank you, thank you, thank you, on behalf of a very grateful nation.
Mr Speaker, here in the parliament in particular, can I thank all of those who have worked so hard in what has been an extraordinarily strange year for us to gather. To you and the President of the Senate: I'm not sure there was a guidebook for you to deal with these things as we sought to work through this year and keep our parliament functioning in the way it has. I thank the opposition for their support in ensuring that was made possible. In particular, I thank the Clerk of the House, the Deputy Clerk and the clerk assistants. To Claressa, Catherine, Stuart Woodley, Jerome Brown and Peter Banson: thank you very much for your tremendous work this year. To James Catchpole, the Serjeant-at-Arms: thank you for the tremendous work you have done to ensure that we've been able to continue to function in a parliament over the course of this most difficult year in the way that we have, and to do it in as normal a way as we possibly could.
I thank all the attendants—Luce and the whole crew. We know Luce well and we know them all. We thank them all for the great job they've done looking after us in all sorts of ways this year. They have gone above and beyond the call of duty this year and looked after us tremendously well. A new innovation here is the video link, which I even got to appreciate looking over the chamber from back there and observing question time for the first time in a very long time rather than being here in the chamber to participate. Thank you to all the technicians and all those that made that possible this year—not just for how things worked in the chamber but in particular for our members and senators, in Victoria especially, who are unable to be here in this parliament. They were able to participate with questions and through other contributions and also through the committee work that is so important—and I want that committee work to continue during the course of COVID. So thank you to all of those who were involved in that.
I thank our own whips, led by the member for Forde. Bert has done a tremendous job under what are quite extraordinary arrangements. The Chief Opposition Whip sadly can't be with us. We understand why. Again, we wish him all the best. Having to arrange the changed seating arrangements and all those issues added additional challenge and complexity. I want to thank also the members for Boothby, Grey, Nicholls and Flynn for your great teamwork. Our whips, government or opposition, don't just ensure this parliament moves as smoothly as it possibly can; as I'm sure the Leader of the Opposition would agree, our whips provide great pastoral support to members in this place. The whip's office is a safe place where you can go and speak to colleagues. You can get the support you need. You can share things and stresses that may be pressing upon your service here in this place. It is as true on the opposition side as it is on the government side. We thank the whips, and the staff in the whips' offices as well, providing that support and comfort to all of us.
I wish the Leader of the Opposition and his family all the very best for the Christmas period. Whether either of us gets a break over the summer, we'll see; where we're needed to be, we'll be. But I do hope that you, Anthony, and your family will be able to enjoy some good time together and have a break, and we can return for what will be another very busy and very full year over the course of 2021. We are looking forward to a very happy 2021. When we say happy New Year to each other as we come to the close of this year, I think there's going to be a special meaning in it. We're going to really mean that we're wishing for a very happy new year in 2021—something very different from what we have experienced during this year.
I also need to acknowledge Stephen Boyd, who retired from the Department of the House of Representatives earlier this year after 26 years of service. I remember sitting on the House Economics Committee many, many years ago in opposition. He was the secretary to that committee at the time and he has served in many, many committees. I thank the Manager of Opposition Business and all opposition members and their staff. I thank my team. I have had the opportunity to get around this week and say thank you to you.
I particularly thank the Deputy Prime Minister. The Liberals and Nationals have been together for a very long time—75 years—and we always serve together and we always bring our perspectives to the table together. We're always strongest when we're together, and that has particularly been on display this year. I want to thank all of my Liberal team and, through the Deputy Prime Minister, all of the Nationals team for the way we have come together for the nation over the course of particularly this past year.
I thank the deputy leader of the Liberal Party and Treasurer. It's pretty tough coming into a job which your boss used to have. He's always got plenty of suggestions and always has a very unique perspective on it. But I really want to congratulate you, Treasurer, not just on the extraordinary work you did on the economic recovery plan this year; I particularly want to thank you because, as a Victorian member of this place—and I acknowledge the Minister for Health also in a similar way—you had to be so often away from Amie and the kids and had to be here well beyond parliamentary sittings, isolating on a couple of occasions I think it ultimately was. To be here in that way, I know how much that was impacting on you. But you kept your focus, you kept your commitment, you kept your discipline and you stayed on task. Amie and the kids, we thank you. We hope you'll enjoy some good weeks with them over the break.
I also want to acknowledge the Minister for Health very similarly. These were the portfolios that were really drawn upon this year. People had to stand up. He's not that tall a fellow, but he stood very tall this year. He was a giant—almost as tall as the member for Groom!
I thank the former Leader of the Government in the Senate, Mathias Cormann, for the great work he did this year. He's now engaged in another great enterprise. I heard from him this morning. I thank the new Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Birmingham. I thank also his new deputy leader, Senator Cash. They're getting off to such a great start, after a particularly busy night last night, in making sure the chambers are working effectively and working together with their team.
I want to thank all the coalition members' staff. I had the opportunity to do that this week in a special phone hook-up. It was a very large number. I'm so pleased we were able to do that. I hope they will get some peace and some downtime over the course of the break as well.
I also add my thanks to my own staff, led by Dr John Kunkel. I thank him for the tremendous work he does in driving our government, working with the secretary of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Phil Gaetjens, and all the team there. It's been an interesting year in our office. There have been many prodigious contributions. That has included seven children born to my staff over the course of this year. We've got baby girls Evelyn, Evie, Vera and Matilda, and we've got baby boys Xavier, Anthony and Hugo. I think Hugo might even be in the chamber. He was a little earlier. And we have two more arriving very, very soon. There he is! Hugo is up there with Sonia. That's tremendous.
I thank the Leader of the Government in the House, Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations. This is not a job, I can assure you, that he craves. It's not one that he seeks. But it is one that is purely done with a sense of duty, responding to the call for service. He does it in his absolutely impeccable way. I want to thank you, Christian, for the tremendous job which you continue to do even as we speak in making sure the parliament has worked so well this year.
To the Federal Police who look after me and my family, the Minister for Home Affairs and his family, and the Treasurer and his family, and others who look after us from time to time, thanks very much for your efforts this year. To all the security in this building, the caterers, the library, Hansard and support staff and even the media in the building—it has been a very strange year for you, too—we thank you for the jobs that you all do to make this place what it is.
I thank the cleaners around the building, particularly those in my office, Anna and Maria. They are sisters. And there's Lucia. All up they have clocked some 30 years in this building. They've been cleaning up a lot of mess for a long time, and I suspect they will continue to for some time still to come. We thank them for their great smiles which greet me every single day.
Let me conclude by saying there are a couple of things we missed in this building this year. One of them was the school groups, I'm sure. It was great to wave to them across the glass here today, but to see the schools coming back to our parliament is a bit like birds returning after a storm.
We're passing through that storm as a country. The signs are there. As we go into this time of Christmas, it gives us time to reflect on the renewal that will take place—and it will take place. It will give us encouragement as we go forward into the future. Australians, my prayers for you and your family this Christmas are that you will find peace in a year where there has been little. You will find hope, and you can cling to that hope as you go into 2021. God bless you, Australia, and thank you very much. Merry Christmas and a very happy 2021.