Senate debates

Thursday, 26 June 2008

President of the Senate

3:04 pm

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Although I will continue to be President until the new Senate elects my successor, today marks my last sitting day and last question time in this position. I believe that it is appropriate, and it is a convention that should be maintained, that the government of the day has the opportunity to nominate a senator of their choice for the position of President at that time, and I intend to fully support that nominee. Senators will understand my disappointment that my time in this office is not to be a little longer, but that is the way of politics. In any case, I have always taken the view in parliamentary life, as well as in life in general, that there is little point in looking back at what might have been. It has, however, been a lengthy period between the result of the election being known and the new Senate coming together later this year—I think one of the longest periods in history. I thank senators from the government, ministers, the opposition and other parties for their cooperation and consideration during that time.

It goes without saying that, apart from today when a certain calm seems to have descended on the place, it is possibly the quietest week I have had in all my time as President, since both Senators Carr and Conroy were away! It has been a special honour to have served as President of the Senate. I am proud to have been the sixth senator from South Australia to have occupied the President’s chair, starting with the very first President, Sir Richard Chaffey Baker. I might remind the clerks that among Sir Richard’s many achievements was his defence of Senate officers from a suggestion that they should be paid at a lower rate than their counterparts in the House of Representatives. While that was a victory for the President of the day, it is a little unfortunate that I do not have the same sort of influence over the rate of pay for senators.

One of the things about being a Presiding Officer is that probably 80 per cent of the work is in fact not in the chamber but involves a range of administrative tasks and a significant number of formal meetings with ambassadors from other nations and with parliamentarians from both interstate and overseas. The Europeans call it ‘parliamentary diplomacy’, and I think in this country its value and the international links that it fosters is underestimated. I was fortunate to have been involved as Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade before being elected president, and that experience was invaluable in tackling some of the tasks that fall the President’s way.

I would like to thank my party colleagues who nominated me for this position last year. I record my appreciation of the officers of the Senate, particularly the Clerk, the Deputy Clerk, the Black Rod and the Deputy Black Rod, for their wonderful assistance and advice relating to the operations of the chamber. I would also like to acknowledge the work of the Department of Parliamentary Services. They provide a wonderful service in this place in the important work they do in keeping the buildings and the grounds such good order. A particular highlight in my time as President was being involved in the ceremonies for the 20th anniversary of Parliament House. I think we should all remember the significance to Australia of this great building in which we work. I would also offer my thanks to the staff of my office, particularly my Canberra office—to Gerard Martin, my senior adviser, to Di Goodman, and to Margaret Pearson who will be finishing this week after a long period of service in this place and elsewhere. I thank them for their work during my time as President.

I have very much appreciated the support of all of my colleagues in this place, in particular Senator John Hogg, the Deputy President, and the panel of temporary chairmen, during the year. I will leave this office with gratitude for having held it and with the knowledge that I will continue to have the privilege of representing the state of South Australia in this place. I thank the Senate.

3:08 pm

Photo of John HoggJohn Hogg (Queensland, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—Mr President,  your statement was very generous indeed, given the fine service that you have delivered to this parliament in your role as the President of the Senate. I have now had the fortune to work with two presidents—President Calvert and then you—and on both occasions I have found that I have developed very quickly with both of you—and in particular with you, given the short period that you have been in the President’s chair—a very good working relationship, which is essential for the good conduct of this parliament. Even though our political differences are there, our view of the running and the operation of this parliament have been very similar indeed and we have shared it on many occasions. I think the leadership that you have given since your time in the presidency has led to the good conduct of the business in this place and of course the respect that you have had from all your colleagues.

I would also say, Mr President, that this has been reflected not only in my dealings with you but with your staff as well in the interaction between the staff of your office and the staff of my office. Again, if there is not that rapport—putting political differences to one side—then the transaction of the business in this place becomes very difficult indeed. The bonus for me personally, of course, has been that I have formed a good personal friendship with you and with your good wife, Anne, and I am sure that as a result it will be an enduring friendship. My wife, Sue, has enjoyed the friendship that has blossomed as a result of our need to get on well in the positions that we occupy within this chamber. I congratulate you on your term as the President. I wish you all the best in the future and I wish those members of your staff who are retiring all the best as well.

3:11 pm

Photo of Chris EvansChris Evans (WA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Government in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I just want to express on behalf of the government our appreciation of the job you have done as President. You are not retiring and you are not leaving, so I will not go on at length. In fact, I understand that you and Senator Hogg are going to wax the job.

You have brought a great touch to the job. You were obviously respected and well-liked before you took up the job, but I think that the light touch, the cooperative approach, the calm and the sense of humour you have brought to the role have allowed for the good management of the chamber. I tell people that one of the best chairs of the place I knew was Noel Crichton-Brown. I do not actually say very pleasant things about Noel Crichton-Brown very often but, because he had that light touch and the capacity to deal with people, I think he brought the same sort of touch to the role, and I think that that has been part of the success you have had. We do appreciate the role you have played. I appreciate, as Leader of the Government in the Senate, the cooperation that we have had behind the scenes as well as in the chamber. We think that you deserve great credit for the role that you have taken. I think that you are one of the people in politics who manages to do what I think we all should do, which is take the job seriously but not take yourself too seriously. We wish you the best of luck in what I understand will be your new role, maybe, in the new parliament.

I would also like to indicate that Senator Hogg will be the Labor nominee for President in the new parliament, and I am sure that he will do an equally good job. It is important, I think, to reflect that the cooperation that the two of you have had has really assisted the success of the management of this chamber and the carrying out of your important duties. That is probably enough from me, Senator Ferguson. There has been a lot of love in the air in the Senate in the last few days—the place has been unrecognisable. We do congratulate you on a job well done.

3:13 pm

Photo of Nick MinchinNick Minchin (SA, Liberal Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—Mr President, on behalf of all coalition senators, I do warmly congratulate you on your term as President of the Senate. In my view, you have presided with great authority and with great objectivity, wisdom and knowledge and, I think, an appropriate degree of fairness. I do regret very much that your term as President has been so relatively short. I am prepared to accept my part of the blame for that. Our complete inadequacy in ensuring the return of our government has meant that your time as Senate President has therefore been somewhat cut short. I did look forward to you having at least another three years as Senate President. But that was not to be and we defer to the great wisdom of the Australian people in making that decision.

In the short time you have had I think that you have been an outstanding holder of one of the most significant offices that this Australian nation can bestow on anyone. I think that you have made, as you mentioned, all those in our state of South Australia, such a relatively small state, very proud that one of its senators—now the sixth—has served in such a high office. It just shows the quality of the senators that South Australia produces, and I say that around the chamber.

You mentioned that you have had superb training for this role—you are one of the most experienced committee chairmen this Senate has ever seen. You had, I think, eight years as chairman of one of the parliament’s most prestigious committees, the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, which I think gave you that great training. That has been evident in the way in which you have conducted yourself in the chair. I think that you are widely regarded as one of the best chairmen that the Senate has had in its time. It has certainly been a privilege for me to speak under the same roof as such a distinguished holder of such a high office for the last 10 months. Indeed, it was a privilege for me to be the state director of the South Australian Liberal Party when you were the president of the South Australian Liberal Party. It was also a privilege to have been the leader of the coalition in the Senate while you have occupied the high office of President of the Senate.

In your remarks, you indicated your view that a government senator should occupy the chair. I formally indicate that is also the longstanding view of coalition senators, and the coalition will be voting for the government nominee for President. May I express my delight at the Leader of the Government in the Senate’s confirmation that Senator Hogg will be that nominee. I also want to congratulate you, Mr President, on being elected unopposed as the opposition’s nominee for the office of Deputy President in the new Senate, and I look forward in anticipation to the new Senate electing you to the office of Deputy President. Congratulations on a wonderful service.

3:16 pm

Photo of Lyn AllisonLyn Allison (Victoria, Australian Democrats) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—On behalf of my Democrat colleagues I wish you well as you join senators on the bench in August and thank you for a job very well done. You have commanded great respect, not just on both sides but right around the chamber, at this end as well. You have done better than most, in my experience, at seeing those of us on our feet in the cross benches. Thank you for your generous hospitality, which those of us who are leaving this place enjoyed just a week ago—that was a most enjoyable night. It was one of many social functions which you have held here, which I have enjoyed enormously.

I wish you well and thank you again for your great fairness and integrity in the role you have played. I also congratulate Senator Hogg on being the new President. We will not be here to see how fair you are but, judging by your performance as Deputy President, I am sure you will do a fantastic job.

3:18 pm

Photo of Nigel ScullionNigel Scullion (NT, Country Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—On behalf of the National Party, I would also like to extend our best wishes and thank you for the pivotal role you have played in your position as President. I think it is most important that both sides have absolute confidence in the complete impartiality of the President, and I know that this would be a much more difficult place to work in if the whole place did not have that confidence. Certainly, both sides have had that, and you have played an excellent role in that regard.

What is perhaps not well known—either inside or outside the Senate—is the role you have played in hosting many people from many different countries and organisations. I know that your good humour and your moderation in all things have made you an absolutely exceptional ambassador, not only for this place but for Australia, and the Nationals thank you.

3:19 pm

Photo of Steve FieldingSteve Fielding (Victoria, Family First Party) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—On behalf of Family First, I want to thank you for your impartiality and fairness in the way that you have presided over this chamber without fear or favour. You have always been helpful when I have approached you. I want to wish you well in your new role and also want to thank your staff for their help in providing assistance whenever it was asked for. Thank you.