Thursday, 7 December 2017
At last, at the end of a very busy year and having just witnessed, as many of us have done, a most consequential event in the House of Representatives—initiated, I might say, in the Senate—it is time to reflect upon the season and to wish each other seasonal greetings. Of course, this is a chamber of debate, in which passions and feelings often run high, but it is on occasions like this that we do have the opportunity to put the politics and the bitterness that sometimes accompany intensely disputed political questions to one side and reflect upon the work that we do, that we do together, not as disputants but as colleagues. And so I rise to wish all honourable senators, whatever their faith or, if they profess no religious faith, whatever their belief, the compliments of the season.
It has obviously been a very big year in the Senate. We have passed this year, in the 56 days on which we have sat, some 140 bills. We have engaged in some hugely consequential debates. I mentioned a moment ago the debate that has just concluded in the House of Representatives, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, which was debated in this chamber with a great deal, if I may say so, of decency and mutual respect for intensely held and opposing views for some 26 hours and 34 minutes. Altogether, we have spent over 200 hours in these last 56 days debating legislation.
I want to acknowledge and thank the many people who have made the Senate work. And may I begin by acknowledging and thanking you, Mr President. You are new to the job. You came to your high office in very unexpected circumstances and very suddenly. It would be wrong, in that connection, not to reflect on your predecessor, former President Parry, who left the service of the Senate and the office of president suddenly, unexpectedly and in circumstances which, in my view, did not reflect in any way poorly upon him. We're very sad, and I am personally sad, for him. I want to acknowledge and include Senator Parry in these remarks tonight. Senator Ryan, you are, as you said yourself when you were installed, a servant of institutions. Already in your early days of office, you've shown that to be true. Already in your early days of office, you've shown yourself to be a President who is both fair and firm, and deeply immersed in the Senate standing orders and procedures, as one would expect of you. Can I extend my good wishes to your Deputy President, Senator Sue Lines.
Might I, as well, on behalf of the government, extend the wishes of the season to the officials and staff of the Senate: in particular, Clerk, Richard Pye, who just completes his first full year as Clerk of the Senate; Deputy Clerk, Maureen Weeks; clerk assistants Rachel Callinan, Jackie Morris and Tim Bryant; Black Rod, Brien Hallett; the clerks at the table; the table office; Senate PLO Debbie Arnold; the chamber attendants; and all of those who make the Senate work.
Can I extend my seasonal wishes to my opponent, Senator Wong. Senator Wong is waving at me. Senator Wong is happy tonight. She is smiling. She is smiling beatifically at me, which doesn't happen all that often. Senator Wong, may I genuinely and sincerely extend the good wishes of the season to you. I know this day is a very important day for you.
Can I also extend my good wishes to the leaders of other parties: Senator 'Di Na-ta-lay'; I'm sorry, 'Di Na-ta-lee'—I've eventually learned how to pronounce your name; Senator Hanson, Senator Griff; and other members of the crossbench, Senator Leyonhjelm, Senator Hinch, Senator Gichuhi and Senator Bernardi.
This has been a costly year in terms of attrition rate of senators. Eleven of our colleagues have left us who were among us at the beginning of 2015. Of those, nine left us because they fell foul of section 44 of the Constitution. As I said once not long ago, it seems the 45th Parliament is really the section 44 parliament, and we are yet to await the determination in relation to Senator Gallagher's position. As well, two other senators have gone: Senator Xenophon—whom we all remember with great fondness, or at least I do; hello, Nick, I'm sure you're listening tonight—and our colleague Senator Chris Back.
Those who left us, apart from Senator Parry, whom I mentioned before, are: Senator Nash, Senator Day, Senator Kakoschke-Moore, Senator Lambie, Senator Roberts, Senator Waters, Senator Ludlam and Senator Culleton. One only has to run through that list of names to appreciate what an enormous variety and diversity of the Australian people are represented in this chamber. It would be hard to imagine such a variety of humankind than the 11 names that I have mentioned. But all of them came to Canberra, all of them came to this place to serve the Australian people, according to their lights, guided by their philosophies and in good faith. And I'm sure, on behalf of all senators, we wish them well into the future.
We've also welcomed many new colleagues: Senator Brockman, Senator Patrick, Senator Gichuhi, Senator Anning, Senator Griff, Senator Georgiou, Senator Steele-John and a return to service for Senator Andrew Bartlett. Senator Steele-John is the youngest person ever to have served in this chamber, yet he's already made an enormous impact. He comes to this chamber, as we know, with a disability. He is a fine, fine example of the inconquerability of the human spirit. As is Senator Lucy Gichuhi, who, in her remarkable maiden speech, reminded us that she grew up in a hut in the Kenyan countryside with a dirt floor in a large family, and encouraged in particular by her father, who believed that girls can do anything, has risen to a position of respect and esteem in the Australian Senate.
I would like to pay tribute to my own team, if I may. I want to pay a particular tribute to my deputy, Senator Mathias Cormann. Senator Cormann is a force of nature. He is a highly competent individual and has been a most effective senator and a most effective Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate. I am immensely indebted to him for his spectacular contribution to the government. I am also indebted to Senator Fifield, the Manager of Government Business in the Senate, who has handled the dispatch of government business in the Senate with his usual calm and unflappable demeanour and, like Senator Cormann, with a very high level of competence.
I thank my dear friend, the Leader of the Nationals in the Senate, Senator Nigel Scullion. Senator Scullion, I hope you won't mind me saying this. A few weeks ago, Australia came within a very narrow margin—you would use a more colourful metaphor, I'm sure—of having the pleasure of you being the Acting Prime Minister of Australia. We don't know what we missed! Much as our friend Julie Bishop discharged that responsibility on this occasion, as she has done in the past, with elegance and enormous skill, I think you, Nigel, would've been a somewhat different Acting Prime Minister. It would've been a remarkable few days in our nation's history, and none of us would've forgotten it. And all of us would've enjoyed it. So, Nigel, thank you for being a very good friend. The coalition is occasionally fractious, I'll admit, but it's never fractious in the Senate while Nigel and I remain firm friends, as we've been for so many years.
Can I also recognise and congratulate Senator Bridget McKenzie, who, as recently as this morning, was elected as Deputy Leader of the National Party to take the place of our former colleague Fiona Nash. Bridget, it's a great achievement. We are sure that you will discharge the role with aplomb, and we want to warmly congratulate you on this achievement.
Can I thank the whips—David Bushby, the Chief Government Whip; John 'Wacka' Williams, the National Party whip; and Senator Dean Smith and Senator David Fawcett, the government whips. We all know how absolutely essential the whips are to the work we do here. We on the government side of the chamber couldn't have been better served by the team of whips we have.
Can I also thank some of the key staff members who have made it possible for us in the government leadership team to operate. In particular, I acknowledge Sarah Bridger from Senator Mitch Fifield's office and Brendan Blomeley from Senator David Bushby's office. I want to thank my own team, led by my new chief of staff, Liam Brennan, who has been a fixture in this place for many years. Liam was appointed chief of staff in my office after the retirement of the very fondly remembered James Lambie, who left my staff some months ago. I came into office as the Attorney-General with the oldest chief of staff in the government, Paul O'Sullivan, the former Director-General of Security, and now I have the youngest chief of staff in the government. They've all been terrific. I also thank the other members of my Senate team: Tom Fardoulys and Rohan Watt. As well, can I acknowledge Ben Bartlett from the Prime Minister's office, who is in charge of liaison between the PMO and the Senate leadership.
There are many other people who have made our lives easier than they would otherwise be. Can I acknowledge the chamber attendants, the COMCAR drivers, Parliament House security and the AFP, who look after us, and the cleaners. And we never forget to mention Dom and the staff at Aussies and all the others who make this remarkable building work so well.
We will now go back, colleagues, to the bosoms of our families. We will have several weeks of respite and reflection and perhaps an easing of the pace and the pressure. We can reflect on the work we have done this year—of the opportunities missed but also the opportunities seized. I hope we will all reflect on the fact that, through the fusion of ideas that is better represented in this chamber than any other chamber of any Australian parliament, in this, the Senate, the great deliberative chamber of Australian democracy, we have, by our own rights, worked to make Australia a better place. Happy Christmas.