Senate debates

Thursday, 10 December 2020



8:54 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Trade) Share this | Hansard source

It's that time of year, even if it doesn't always feel like it as we approach it. Across Australia this year it has been a time that, in some ways, brings to mind the Charles Dickens phrase from A Tale of Two Cities'the best and worst of times'. In Australia, as we approach the end of 2020 we can have enormous gratitude and thankfulness for the country in which we live and in which all Australians live. When compared to the rest of the world, our nation has come through what has been the most challenging period the world has faced since World War II far better than most others. We've done so with typical Australian resilience, capabilities and compassion.

It has been the worst of times for many around the world, including many in Australia. This year, as we pause, many of us will think of those who have lost loved ones as a result of COVID-19, those who have suffered loss—personal loss, financial loss, loss of job, loss of business—and the many challenges that many Australians have faced. Australians can look back, knowing that their resilience, their efforts and their coming together throughout this year have enabled many Australians to withstand the circumstances far better than the rest of the world, and that there is much to be thankful for but also much that we should be respectful of and mindful of as we pause and not only give thanks but also remind ourselves of the losses that have occurred.

In getting through this remarkable year, we in this place owe enormous gratitude to many. Whilst the world has faced a pandemic unlike any other for a century, this place has had to function in a way unlike at any other time in its history. We pay thanks first and foremost to all those who have enabled our parliamentary institutions that were never designed to face the type of environment we have—where travel became restricted, where ability for members to attend parliament became restricted—to function through it all. We have functioned as a result of the efforts of those who manage these places. We pay particular thanks to the parliamentary staff: to those in the Department of the Senate, led by our Clerk and all of the deputy clerks; and to the teams across the board and across the parliament who have enabled us to meet and to do what Australians have required in the most challenging of circumstances. They have adapted. We need only look around this chamber to see the large black screens staring back at us as a reminder that this is a very different image for the chamber than the one at the start of this year. In doing so, no doubt we have learnt much in terms of the way in which we can operate, particularly when it comes to the engagement of committees and other processes, to get the most efficient and effective use of our time.

I thank all the teams working across the parliament, not only the clerks and their assistants but all those across the parliamentary departments, and the attendants across the chamber, who have had to bear particular burdens of managing rearranged seating and restrictions in terms of access. We pay tribute to them, along with others who have had to do similar: the Comcar drivers, the security staff and the cleaners, who have all had to adapt to changed work patterns, regulations and restrictions in this building as a result of COVID-19. We acknowledge those in the background: the building maintenance, the Hansard staff and the various people working right across the building who make it all hum and tick, whether at a normal time or at an extraordinary time.

I want to place on record our thanks to, particularly, all staff of all senators. This has been a very challenging year for them. As Australians have been doing it tough, as measures and radical interventions have been put in place to keep people safe and to keep their economic position secure, our staff and the staff across many government departments and agencies have had to be on the front line responding to Australians in their hour of need, providing them with advice, with compassion and with assistance. I know that across all political offices and all political parties, our staff will have helped many constituents navigate the support that was available to them to get them through their toughest hours and times. I thank all of them as I thank all those in our Public Service for their work in stepping up, responding and often performing duties well outside of what they were employed or expected to do.

I acknowledge, particularly with nearly all of the state leaders in Canberra tonight, the fact that this year we've also had to call upon much cooperation between the states and the Commonwealth. The advent of the national cabinet, which has allowed for a faster, more responsive approach to Commonwealth-state cooperation than old COAG mechanisms did, has been a good thing. It is hopefully one of the lasting positive changes to come out of this terrible time. It's not perfect and, of course, the Federation still has its battles, but I do acknowledge that the states and their cooperation have been very important to all of the efforts across the board.

Returning to the Senate, of course, I have taken on the role as leader during the course of this year. I want to acknowledge, firstly, my predecessor, Mathias Cormann, and thank him for his leadership and service over many years, as we did at the time of his departure. I particularly also want to thank the current leadership team, Senator Cash and Senator Ruston. I thank the whips, led by Senator Dean Smith, and his team: Senator McGrath, Senator Brockman, Senator Perrin from the National Party, who have all done an outstanding job during the course of this year. Ours is a coalition, as we all know, and I particularly thank Senator McKenzie and our National Party friends for their partnership. I thank Bridget for her work alongside me in leading and working with the coalition and for all that you did in working with Mathias during a year that has been tough at times. To all of my Liberal colleagues, I thank you very much for the support that you have provided to Michaelia and me as we have stepped up into the leadership ranks. Across the board, I acknowledge the hard work in the Senate committees with the committee staff that all senators have performed in a range of different ways. I thank each and every one of you for that.

Looking around the chamber, I acknowledge that we have disagreements and they can be fierce disagreements at times. We've witnessed some of that even tonight, but it is also the case that in this chamber of this parliament ultimately nothing is achieved without cooperation. As fierce as the disagreements get at times, we all need to keep in mind that we need to find ways to work together to get things done for the betterment of our country. Our country can stand tall in the world as an influential nation, but one that faces very challenging times right now. Yes, we've stood up to the threats of COVID better than most, but we also find new strategic challenges in our region that will be present for some time to come. I congratulate Australians on the resilience they've shown this year. All members of the government, I'm sure all members of the Senate, are proud of the way in which Australians have adapted, responded and survived. We want to see them thrive and succeed in the years to come, and our cooperation in this place will be important to getting them through those years.

To those who will, as most Australians will, celebrate Christmas and the Christian Christmas, we wish you all every success, every happiness, every blessing in your celebrations. To those who will celebrate other festivities through this time, we wish you every happiness through your celebrations. To all Australians, we hope this is a time that people can give thanks for the presence of their loved ones, remember those who they have lost whether from COVID or other causes, throughout the course of the year, and come together to be grateful for being Australians, for being in our great country, and all commit to making sure that 2021 is a year in which the recovery that is underway helps us all on the journey to further success and prosperity. Mr President, thank you for your leadership through this great but challenging year, and we wish you, your loved ones and all senators a merry Christmas and a happy new year.


No comments