Thursday, 5 December 2019
I think 2019 has been a big year. The last couple of weeks have been a big couple of weeks. I think all of us in this chamber, right across the chamber, are looking forward to a good and well-earned break. I haven't prepared any particular remarks, but this is always a good time to reflect on the year that has been and to say thank you to all the very many people who support and sustain us in this job.
On behalf of the government, I would like to thank the clerks and clerk assistants and all of their teams, the attendants in the chamber, the Hansard staff, Comcar, security, cleaners—all of the people who make this place tick all year round and help us do the job that we do on behalf of the Australian people. I'd also, of course, like to thank all our staff, right across the chamber. We are only able to do what we do because of the hard work of our staff. This is not always a very family friendly business; I think that everyone around the chamber knows that only too well. Our staff, very much, share that particular burden with us all year round. So to all of our staff—from all of us, all around the chamber—thank you very much for what you do to support us.
I guess that gets me to the broader point: a particular thank you on behalf of all of us to our families. We live in a big continent. Australia's a big country, and whether we come from North Queensland, from Adelaide, from Perth in Western Australia or from Victoria, which is a bit closer, wherever we come from we spend a lot of time away from our families, and our families are very, very important supporters.
Senator Gallagher interjecting—
Perhaps Senator Gallagher doesn't have quite those same challenges! I say that with great generosity!
It takes her seven minutes to get to work! But it has been a big year and, like every year, there have been matters that we've agreed on, there have been matters that we've disagreed on, there have been matters that we've disagreed on quietly and then there have been matters that we've disagreed on quite robustly. This is a chamber where we resolve the diversity of views around Australia in a democratic fashion. I have very much appreciated the way that all in this chamber have engaged with us over the last year. Perhaps at the beginning of this year not everyone would have expected I would still be making this speech from this particular location, but, obviously, we're very grateful to the Australian people that they've given us the opportunity to continue to serve them in this capacity, and we'll continue to do the best we can to keep faith—to deliver on the faith that they've put in us to continue to serve in this role. I would like to say a particular thank you to my good friend and valued colleague Penny Wong.
Senator Wong interjecting—
I'm trying to not go so far as to get Penny into trouble! I think Penny and I are known to engage robustly, when appropriate, in the battle of ideas and in the political battle, but I have always very much appreciated the friendship and the professionalism and, quite frankly, the really trusting relationship that we've been able to build, which does help to facilitate the 'managed conflict' that is required on occasions in this chamber. In the end, we do have to facilitate the resolution of issues that are sometimes difficult to resolve, and it does involve a lot of logistics along the way. I've had the privilege of working closely with Penny for many years now. Katie, it's good to have you back, if I may be so informal. You've picked up where you left off, and it's been really good working with you in your capacity as Manager of Opposition Business.
I should say a very big thank you to my own team, in particular my leadership team in Simon Birmingham, as the Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, and Anne Ruston, as the Manager of Government Business. Anne has had a great and stellar start in this job, since the election. I think we've had some great contested successes over this last couple of months. Dean Smith, as Chief Government Whip, together with his team of whips, Slade Brockman and James McGrath, have done an outstanding job for us. And a real sincere thankyou to our friends in the National Party—Bridget McKenzie, the deputy leader of the National Party and of course the leader of the Nationals here in the Senate. The Liberal and National parties are a proven, strong and united coalition. We have delivered for the Australian people in 2019, and I look forward to the work that we will do together next year.
To all of my colleagues all around the chamber—Liberals and Nationals, Labor, Greens and the crossbenchers—thank you so much to Senator Patrick, who has also put a lot of effort into finding ways to get consensus with us over the last few months, and before. To all of the crossbenchers, the Greens—I very sincerely wish you a good break, a good rest with your families. We can look forward to doing it all again when we return from holiday, back to boarding school, early next year.
I rise to respond to my friend and colleague Senator Cormann. I start by beginning with the observation that obviously we did hope that we might be giving these speeches from the other side of the chamber, and at the end of 2019 we reflect on the way things are somewhat different. This has been a long year and a challenging year, and I just want to place on record a few thanks to people in this place and also beyond.
I start with you, Mr President. I've appreciated the opportunity to work with you again this year. You are a man who combines discipline with a humorous touch, which often is the most effective way. I thank you on behalf of the Labor Party in the Senate for the approach you have to the job. We respect you and we are pleased to work with you.
I also thank the Deputy President, Senator Lines—although she's wearing something that makes it hard to talk about her seriously. I was going to say she brings diligence and thoughtfulness to her job, but perhaps not. She is fair and even-handed; she's diligent, and I do want to place on record my thanks for her not only as Deputy President but in the ex-officio roles she has as chair of the procedure committee and deputy chair of the appropriations committee.
To Senator Cormann, this is what my staff wrote for me: 'Senator Cormann and I may not have political principles in common, but we do share a hairstyle.' I'm thinking of sacking that staff member, because I don't think that's true. And the next line is, 'Although I'm pleased to say his has gone a little greyer than mine over the last couple of years'—I don't think that's true either, but it's very kind.
I read that and I just started laughing. I'm tired, and I thought, 'How am I actually going to say that?' I do want to reflect to the chamber that I regard him as a friend and someone whom I trust. I am grateful not only for his decency but also for the fact that we can have a ding-dong battle in here but leave it aside at the door. I appreciate that, and I wish him and Hayley all the very best for Christmas.
I also acknowledge Simon Birmingham. We do a lot of early morning flights together and Chinese lessons with our children, so we see each other a lot. I thank the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Keneally. I'm very grateful to her. She's a source of great energy and enthusiasm. She takes up the fight in her portfolios and she's a fantastic person to stand alongside.
We are very lucky in the opposition to have Katie back. Katie's one of my closest friends—full stop, not just in the parliament. She's talented, honourable, incredibly mischievous behind the smile. It's a good thing she trusts me because you wouldn't want to see the WhatsApp messages. Behind the smiles she's tough and courageous, and I'm very grateful to her for all that she does for us and the team.
I also acknowledge Don Farrell, a man of great conviction and purpose, someone who's dedicated to South Australia and whose counsel and wisdom I do appreciate. Thank you to all our whips, led by Senator Urquhart, Senator Ciccone and Senator McCarthy. I want to also acknowledge Senator Ketter, who wasn't returned, who did a great job earlier in the year. We're fortunate to have such a great team working with us. I hope that they get some different Christmas bells to the ones they're used to listening to in the weeks ahead.
Can I say something to my Senate team? You've put in an extraordinary effort. It was tough to come back in May. But this team with me on this side have united, come together, and worked with focus and discipline, and continued to advance Labor's agenda and to seek to hold the government to account. I hope that all of you have a great break and spend time with friends and family in the weeks ahead.
I also extend my Christmas greetings to all of those senators across the chamber. This is a contest of ideas. It's a political contest that can get very willing at times—Senator Rennick, it's great to have you here!—but I simply make two points. The first is that whatever our differences, I do believe we are all here because we want to do the best for our country and that is a high purpose to share. The second is that nothing in life is more important than the people we love, and I hope all of you have time in the weeks ahead to spend with them.
A brief thanks also to the Senate staff—Richard Pye, Maureen Weekes, Tim Bryant, Rachel Callinan, Jackie Morris, the usher and all the staff of the Department of the Senate. I say this every year and I mean it: you serve our democracy and you serve it so well. This institution is so critical to our democracy and, without you, it would not function. Thank you to John Brown and the team here. They always bring me water. I'm always thirsty because I've always been running around. Good on you, mate, thank you; it is much appreciated. And to all committee staff as well, thank you. To DPS, thank you for your work. Particular mention to the cleaners—hardworking people who come into this building early, keep our offices clean, our facilities clean. Thank you for the work you do. They are always friendly and cheerful, and we're very grateful for the work they do. To COMCAR drivers and others, the staff at the Department of Finance, the parliamentary security team, AFP members, whose vigilance is friendly and helpful, enjoy the festive season with your family and friends as well.
I want to make mention of all of our staff. I always say our staff make us better than we are. It is certainly true for me—my staff make me better than I am. So to all staff of Labor senators, you probably aren't listening but, if you are, on behalf of all of your senators, thank you for the work you do. We would not be able to do the jobs we do, and are asked to do, without you.
Finally to the Labor family more broadly—Labor members and supporters—we had a tough May. We know that. But we're still in the fight, and the reason we are is, ultimately, we understand it's not about us; it's about the people we represent. Merry Christmas to you all.
I'll be very brief. It has been an incredible year—a tough year. Personally, I feel like I'm limping towards the finish line, both literally and metaphorically. I want to thank, most importantly, all the people who make the building tick. They've all been mentioned, but we can't mention them enough: the cleaners, the security staff, the catering staff, the maintenance staff, the gardeners who make this place look incredible, the DPS staff who have helped us with all sorts of odd jobs—and thank you for the loan of the electric buggy—the committee staff and the procedures and drafting teams. We've pushed you hard, and I want to thank you so much for what you've done for us. The Parliamentary Budget Office, in a difficult year, were pushed hard. Their analysis and professionalism was greatly welcomed, and I think we've raised the standard of debate in this country. I thank the COMCAR drivers—some of them are of a certain age, and it's been good to get some advice on what to do with my knee replacement, many of them having gone through that themselves.
Obviously I thank the President of the Senate, Senator Cormann and Senator Wong, and both sides of the chamber. It's good to see some new faces, particularly in the Liberal Party, not the least of which because of some of the people they've actually replaced.
I think some people on your side would probably agree with that! I want to thank all MPs' staff on all sides. We've worked very well together. We work well behind the scenes to make sure that things work. Obviously I thank my team, my colleagues and all of my staff. Most importantly, I want to give a big shout-out to my family and the families of everybody here, who allow us to do this work. Buon natale.
On behalf of the Nationals, it gives me great pleasure at the end of this year to rise and just put a few remarks on the record. It has been a huge year, and I think the commentary from the leadership teams really sums it up. Any election year is tough, but I think, given how close it was running in, it really has been a huge year. Our chamber has passed some great legislation that benefits the Australian people—everything from income tax cuts to the farm household allowance and the Future Drought Fund. We've done some great work in this chamber, and there's more to do.
I'd like to thank my deputy leader, Matt Canavan, for his intellect, his policy insights, his frank and fearless advice and his friendship. We've got great team that we lead together, and it's a great joy to work with him. I know we're going to do more next year.
To the Clerk, Richard, and your team: thank you for the support that you give not only Matt and I but our brand-new Senate team. I know that everybody on your team and the entire Senate staff have been incredibly supportive and welcoming for our new senators, because we've had a complete turnover. I know the same is true of senators right around the chamber—they've been supporting our new team.
I just wanted to say: have yourself a very merry Christmas. On behalf of regional Australia, take the opportunity to buy something from the bush. Maybe spend some time out in the bush meeting our people and supporting their local economies. Enjoy as much sustainably produced and harvested Australian seafood and fresh produce—not just at Christmas time, but for the whole summer—and support our farmers. Rest and rejuvenate so that together we can continue to be ready to serve our country in this place in 2020.
Senators, if I could take the opportunity to make some comments from the chair at this time of year, I want to acknowledge a few people and thank them. I'd like to start by thanking my Deputy President, Sue Lines, who doesn't always wear the hat in the chamber, but maybe it'll start a tradition. As a Presiding Officer on this side of the building, one has to have a different relationship with all senators, but also with your deputy. So thank you for your support and working so constructively through the course of the year.
I want to particularly thank—and I think it's appropriate from the chair—the staff of the Senate. As Senator Wong outlined, they have a unique role because of the unique role of this place. I've referred to them before as the custodians of the tradition of the prime legislative chamber in this country, where everyone gets a voice, ideas are thrashed out and no result is certain, as we found out recently. It's always up for debate, and we could not do our jobs without them. We could not fight for the beliefs that we have without the support they provide us, often with extraordinarily short notice, and with a degree of expertise across a range of policy areas that is unprecedented across the Commonwealth. Richard, to you and all your team, my deepest appreciation. I know I speak on behalf of senators.
I want to specifically thank the committee staff, whose workload has really shot up in my decade here. They undertake an extraordinary amount of work, processing information, feeding it to senators and enabling those committee reports to be lucid, often under very short time frames. I think it is worth specially acknowledging them, because, again, the breadth of knowledge they have because of the way they work across so many policy areas is really unique in anywhere I've seen in the Commonwealth government. Their work is extraordinary and helps all of us.
To the chamber attendants, led by John, I've mentioned before that I have a special relationship because my mother-in-law worked in this building and the old building as a chamber attendant. You silently float around at all hours of the day and night cleaning up after us, making sure it's set up again in the morning and watering us on those long nights. Thank you for everything that you do.
I want to thank a few groups within DPS in particular. Firstly, the cleaners. They work the strangest hours. No matter how strange our hours are, they start earlier and finish later. They do those little things that we can sometimes take for granted that make our time away from home and long hours in this building that little bit more comfortable.
That leads me to people who I think I are never thanked and who have had a challenging year. I can't think of a time that anyone ever calls an IT helpdesk just to say everything's working. We only call them when we're in distress; when a printer might not work as we're running into the chamber for a speech. They do guard very sensitive and private information. We had a discussion about privilege earlier today. I would like to thank and acknowledge them for a very difficult year and doing a lot of work that respects both our privacy and privilege in what is a more challenging environment than existed a decade ago. My particular thanks to this group of people who don't get thanked, because we do tend to call them at stressful moments.
To Hansard, who have to suffer through listening to everything we say twice as they transcribe it, thank you for your work. And, of course, thanks to the library, the Parliamentary Budget Office and, again, all the unsung work that enables us to come in here.
I particularly want to thank everyone involved with parliamentary security. Again, this is an environment that has evolved quite rapidly. There has been the occasional incident this year that has been tougher than normal. It is a more difficult environment and job than it was when a lot of them started work here. I particularly want to acknowledge the work that the new commissioner of the AFP, Reece Kershaw, has undertaken with the Speaker and I over the last few weeks to make these last few weeks easier.
To all senators and staff, I'd like to personally thank you not only for placing your confidence in me and for the kind things you occasionally say about me, including today, but also because I don't rule with authority; I rule by consent—that is the difference between the House and the Senate. I know I have to earn and keep your trust, and I do appreciate the fact that you cut me some slack, because I'm human and I make a mistake, but also the dignity in which you all undertake your work and the fact that I can approach all of you, but particularly party leaders, about issues which I manage before they become bigger issues.
I want to particularly wish a merry Christmas to and thank the new senators who have come here for the first time. It has been a large intake; one of the largest we've ever had. It may seem like a long time ago to those of us who have been here one year, five years or 10 years, but the new blood that comes in with new ideas, passion and indeed the optimism of being here for the first time has changed the place on both sides across the chamber. I'd particularly like to wish all the best for Christmas to you and your families, who are embarking on this long journey.
To all other senators, this year didn't start that well. We had a few particularly troubling issues that did not do well for the dignity of the chamber. I would like to thank all the senators—particularly since the election—I think we have ensured that that has been elevated to its traditional place, occasionally in very tense moments. Finally, to our families—to my own specifically but particularly to all of our families—who basically deal with all the brickbats and bouquets in a much harder way than we do. They're the ones stuck at home, sometimes seeing things said about their loved ones without the opportunity to respond or the adrenaline rush that the response can allow in this place. To all of you, our families and staff, I thank everyone for their work and wish everyone a very merry Christmas.
With the indulgence of the chamber, may I also, on behalf of Liberal and Nationals senators, associate myself with the remarks by Senator Wong and congratulate you on another fantastic year and a stellar performance presiding over our meetings and get-togethers as we resolve issues—and sometimes very robustly. You have, as always, managed the affairs of this chamber with great aplomb, with a light touch when it is appropriate and a firm hand when that is required. Best wishes and a very merry Christmas to you and your family on behalf of all of us. We look forward to serving with you next year.