Senate debates

Thursday, 10 December 2020



9:04 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

I thank the Senate for the opportunity to place some remarks on the record as we end the parliamentary year.

Much has been said about the challenges of 2020 and the impact of the pandemic on everyone's lives. Certainly the Senate has found some extraordinary ways to continue its work, but the adjustments all of us have made to our work have been trifling in comparison to the shock and challenges faced by so many of the people we serve: nearly a million Australians unemployed, 1½ million on JobKeeper and 1.8 million on JobSeeker by the end of the year; those lost to coronavirus and those who mourn their loss; the 685 Australians who died in residential aged care; and Australians who lost loved ones and homes in the bushfires of last summer. This has been a year that has been tough, a year defined by tragedy, loss and grief for too many of our fellow Australians.

Our job here is to do everything we can to help. Our positions carry great privilege, and, in return, they demand accountability. They demand responsibility to help and protect our fellow Australians. I'm very proud to lead the Labor team in this place, and I am grateful on their behalf to place some thanks and season's greetings on the record.

I'll start with you, Mr President. Can I say personally how much I've appreciated the opportunity to work with you again this year. This President is a principled, trusted custodian of the chamber. I'm grateful for your constructive and cooperative manner and your extraordinary efforts to maintain the operations of this place, including working with states to facilitate the movement of senators for parliamentary business. While occasionally we may not live up to the standards you set—only very occasionally!—your commitment to upholding them is to the benefit not just of this place but of the Australian democracy, and I know you understand that.

I want to thank the Deputy President and Chair of Committees, my dear friend Senator Lines, who does an enormous amount of work behind the scenes and also in the chamber as Deputy President and Chair of Committees. She brings a calm, practical and inclusive approach, and I think we saw that in a difficult debate last night. I thank her for that. I did tell her she wasn't allowed to leave! It is very important work, and I want to acknowledge her and thank her for her work.

To my counterpart, Senator Birmingham: obviously for Christmas we have a freshly minted Leader of the Government in the Senate. Senator Birmingham is the fourth leader I've faced—is that right? Somebody wrote that! Is that actually true? Can I wish him a successful and short stint as Leader of the Government in the Senate! It was a joke, Michaelia! She's looking so serious! I also acknowledge the Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Cash, and acknowledge her promotion to that role.

On my own side, can I first start with Senator Keneally. I am particularly grateful to my deputy, Senator Keneally, who is—and we saw it again this evening—a tireless, fierce advocate for the Labor cause. She is relentless in every aspect—in seeking to hold the government to account, for example, for its promise to have Australians who are stranded overseas home by Christmas. She knows personally the pain of being kept apart from family by the pandemic at the most difficult of times, and, through it, she has kept going. So, Kristina, I hope you have time with your family this Christmas and I hope you have the time and space to remember and celebrate your father.

I couldn't ask for better sisters to be in the trenches with than Senator Keneally and, of course, the Manager of Opposition Business, Senator Gallagher. Senator Gallagher has extraordinary skill, finesse and diplomacy in performing one of the most gruelling and complex jobs in the parliament. Her EQ is high; mine is not. She does her best to make up for it! Did you notice that my colleagues didn't laugh at that joke, by the way?


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