Thursday, 10 December 2020
Thank you. If I could make some observations myself, I will commence by associating myself with all the comments of the four party leaders.
I've got a lot of thankyous to acknowledge this year, and I'm going to start with the people I think are the real custodians of the Senate in many ways, and that is the team of staff led by the Clerk, Richard Pye; the Deputy Clerk; the assistant clerks; and all the staff at the Department of the Senate—in particular, the committee staff. We know that, in a year like this, a parliament sitting matters. The staff have had to do extraordinary things to enable us to go about our work and undertake extraordinary workloads, and this parliament has successfully sat. The committee that Senator Wong mentioned, chaired by Senator Gallagher, with Senator Paterson, and with all parties represented on it, has undertaken a very serious amount of work, and this parliament has functioned—I might say unlike those of some of our states, where they have not been able to continue in the same way. That is a shared commitment across all sides, despite the occasional difference, that I have experienced this year in both houses.
We farewelled John Brown during the year. It does feel odd in for the first time in my 14 years to not be thanking John and his team of attendants. But to Steve and the team of attendants: thank you for all the work that you do.
In a year like this, more than most, we are reminded that we often take a lot for granted—the basic things we do. But, in this building in particular, I'd like to give particular thanks to the Department of Parliamentary Services, who don't always get the plaudits they deserve. That is for the cleaning staff, who we previously did not depend on to the same degree for our safety; the IT staff, who had to ensure this parliament could keep functioning in a matter of weeks without people travelling; and Broadcasting, who have enabled a rapid transition to virtual participation so that our work could keep going—to name just a few. We have asked a lot from them this year, and they have delivered.
I want to have a few personal thanks for people the Speaker and I have worked with on your behalf in the health departments—to Professor Michael Kidd and Dr Catherine Kelaher from the Commonwealth Department of Health. We have had fortnightly conferences with them that have involved everything from wearing masks to the seats we put you in to when we can sit to when Aussie's can open or you can use the gym. They have been available and have answered the most detailed questions for this unique workplace, which, like nowhere else in the country, was bringing people from all around our nation when others were not able to travel.
The ACT Health Directorate were exceptionally helpful. Occasional disagreements might have happened, but the officials in the Health Directorate facilitated the travel of people across state and territory borders where travel restrictions were put in place. I'd like to thank in particular Vanessa Dal Molin, who I worked with and who I can imagine other Victorian senators worked very closely with over the last six to eight months.
To the leaders and whips: for the very kind words said by Senators Birmingham, Wong, Waters and McKenzie, thank you on a personal level. To the whips also: we have had to have challenging, difficult, under-pressure discussions at various points this year, and our shared commitment to this Senate working and your belief that we and the officials are working on your behalf and the Senate's behalf have made that possible.
To the Deputy President, Sue Lines: thank you very much for your support and all the work that you have done, particularly in very long committee stages, very late, when I can't even come in and relieve you. To the Speaker, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the other place: this has been a year where we've had to do a lot more in some ways together in the operation of the parliament, because we could not take for granted that we could be here. I'd like to thank them. I know that work has been done across parties to ensure that we could come together.
To all senators: you have been very understanding. Arrangements have constantly changed. You have had to travel at short notice, you have had to not travel at short notice and some of you have been turned around while travelling. For your understanding of these arrangements and your personal support for me and the work I do, I just want to say a very big thank you for your flexibility and understanding. To all our staff: it has been a challenging year. To my staff, in particular, who I hadn't seen for several months up until the borders opened, being here in Canberra: my deepest appreciation for you being able to work in very challenging circumstances—given they were based in Melbourne.
I want to particularly thank my Victorian colleagues. I'm not just being parochial. Most of you have had a tougher year than others because of your situation in Melbourne. Your staff have had to work from home. You haven't been able to travel. You have had limitations placed on you at home. I know that has made your job more challenging, so I want to thank you in particular.
Our families—all of our families—who, here in the toughest of all years, have felt our absence probably more than any other year have shown an enormous understanding of what we do. They've appreciated that we view our roles as important. And I know I speak on behalf of all senators when I say thank you for understanding our absence in this year in particular—although one whip did say to me that he wasn't sure whether his family wanted him as present as he had been this year either!
One thing that this year has done to me is to make me think we may never know what burdens, sadnesses or challenges other people have and, in a year like this in particular, we don't necessarily know which of our colleagues have had family losses, illnesses, job losses and all the challenges that all Australians have experienced this year. This year has been a time to remember that and to remember, heading into a season that may not be as joyous for all of us in this building, let alone across the community, empathy is something we can take away from this year, I hope.
Now, on a personal level, I want to thank my own family—Helen, Nick and Ben—and Helen's parents, John and Fran, who have carried a burden for us when we've come here on very short notice, and who even let us use their home to quarantine in so that we could stay together. I want to say particular thanks to my own mother, who has borne a very difficult year with stoicism I don't think I could muster.
But I just want to finish with this: merry Christmas to everyone. Normally, the focus is on the 'merry Christmas' bit, but let us just go away saying let us all not just have a very merry Christmas but a very happy new year, and hope for a very different 2021. Thank you, all.