Senate debates

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Statement by the President

Brown, Mr John, OAM

3:03 pm

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senators, as some of you may be aware, today marks the last occasion on which the Senate attendants team will be led by chief Senate attendant John Brown. John joined the Senate department in 2005, after working as a parliamentary security guard from 2001. Prior to working for the parliament, John served in the Royal Navy and then in the Royal Australian Navy. In 2001, John received a Medal of the Order of Australia in the Queen's Birthday honours list for his meritorious service to the Australian Defence Force.

Since 2005, John has served five Senate presidents—Paul Calvert, Alan Ferguson, John Hogg, Stephen Parry and me—and three clerks of the Senate, in Harry Evans, Rosemary Laing and Richard Pye, as well as five ushers of the Black Rod. John has also been present for five openings of the parliament and the initial swearing in of three governors-general and 112 senators.

All of us have firsthand experience of John's enthusiasm and dedication to his role and his leadership of the attendants team. Whether being especially welcoming to new senators, preparing the chamber flags, ringing the bells to commence the day, locking the doors for divisions or launching chamber documents through the pneumatic tubes, John has performed his role with pride and to the highest possible standards. I am sure that all senators will join me in thanking John for his outstanding service to the Senate and wishing him a long and leisurely retirement.

Honourable senators: Hear, hear!

3:05 pm

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—It's not often that we're able to pause and reflect. When we do, we remind ourselves what an amazing privilege it is for us to be able to serve the Australian people here and to serve our country on their behalf. It's our great honour as elected representatives, but that honour is not just ours. There are many people in this place who serve the Australian people, perhaps in a way that is less public and generally less noticed by the broader public. John Brown is one of those very important, key people who have made such an amazing contribution in this place for such a long time. For almost two decades, John has worked tirelessly in this place, giving outstanding service to the Australian parliament. So, as he prepares to leave this place and begin a well-earned retirement, far from any ringing bells, let us acknowledge John and his service.

Nineteen years ago, John came here to work as a parliamentary security guard, as the President just mentioned. He walked these hallways from 2001 before joining the Department of the Senate in 2005. It is in this capacity, as a chamber supervisor, that John has provided diligent, efficient, and unfailingly courteous service to everyone in this place—so much so that he once played a starring role, as I understand from some of his colleagues, in an ABC documentary about his team's role in the operation of this chamber. Some of us are still trying to work it all out!

He has served five presidents, three clerks of the Senate and five ushers of the Black Rod, and I don't know how many leaders of the opposition and leaders of the government were here during that period—probably too many to mention. John has seen five openings of parliament and the swearing in of three governors-general and 112 senators, and these numbers clearly speak for themselves. John is a pillar of the Senate, and all of us have greatly benefited from his support. Be it directly or indirectly, he has helped make the work we do here possible, and for that we owe him a great deal. We could all pause more often to acknowledge people like John, because people like him make this place tick and enable us to do the job we do on behalf of the Australian people.

While many of us may be familiar with John's work in this place, his service to Australia began long before he arrived here. John spent many years in the Royal Navy and then the Royal Australian Navy, serving with such distinction that he received an Order of Australia Medal in 2001 for his meritorious service to the Australian Defence Force. So, on behalf of the government, I would like to express our gratitude for John's dedication and service to the Senate and to our country. He's an unsung hero of this chamber who leaves an indelible mark. We wish him a happy and healthy retirement, much of which, I'm reliably informed, he will spend at the wheel of his beloved MX-5.

3:09 pm

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

by leave—I rise on behalf of opposition senators to speak on the occasion of John Brown's last day in the Senate. John has served us here for many years—he didn't quite make 20—all but 13 months of that time as supervisor. He has led the team of chamber attendants superbly, and he has served this extraordinary institution with great distinction. We do rely on chamber attendants. From circulation of amendments to guarding the doors, and all the many tasks behind the scenes that many do not appreciate, they ensure this place actually runs. They walk that tightrope between providing us with assistance and not straying into the spotlight. On a sitting day, they're here well before most others arrive and they are packing up after most have left.

John, you've brought great discipline and unity to the team of chamber attendants; I think that is reflected in the pride with which they do their work. You've led by example—unfailingly courteous, respectful and cheerful—and you have demonstrated a great ability to have the attendants working as a team. They do us, the Senate and you proud.

As Senator Cormann said, John's abilities were recognised well beyond the walls of the chamber. He had more than a little role—a starring role—in Annabel Crabb's documentary about the operation of Parliament House. John's is a life of service to the nation: some 30 years of service in the Royal Australian Navy and nearly 20 years in this place. We thank him for that.

John is a man who, I'm told, likes his machines, especially his cars. I'm reliably advised that he owns one of the best sets of wheels in the Senate car park. When we had a chat about his retirement plans, he told me one of his plans for the future was to drive across the Nullarbor. I thought that might be a little monotonous but I figured, 'You've sat through 20 years of the Senate, so you'll be fine!'

John has been the captain of the Senate ship for nearly two decades—certainly the entirety of my period in the Senate to date. I say on a personal note: we will miss you. Your great pride in serving serves as an example to all of us. Walking onto the floor of the Senate is a privilege. It is one you have always honoured. We thank you and we wish you well.

Honourable senators: Hear, hear!

3:12 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I'd like to associate the Greens with the comments of the President, the Leader of the Government in the Senate and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, and add ours.

John, thank you for your years of dedicated service. You have been here longer than most of the senators in this chamber right now. You've seen a lot go on in this place. Those of us who have had to sign documents remember your gold pen. I think we're about to see it—the famous gold pen with which we always sign our bills and anything else that we have to sign, when you require us to sign something. It takes a particular kind of dedication to continue to work in this place for so long. In this place you have mentored many attendants who follow your dedication, support and guidance. We wish you the best. I understand you are going to be spending a lot more time with your grandchildren—something that I can deeply understand. I would like to add, though: drive across the Nullarbor. I have done it many times. Ignore Senator Wong's comments about it being boring; it is glorious, particularly as it leads to my home state. We all wish you well into the future.

Honourable senators: Hear, hear!

3:13 pm

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—On behalf of National Party senators past and present—Bozzie, Barnaby, Nigel and all their teams—thank you, John, for your and your team's support of us. Your warm, genuine service has reminded us of home; we're often far from home. Thank you for the patriot that you are. You served our country in the Defence Force, and here in a very different type of service. You lived that every day. There is your ability to decipher weird hand gestures—for the Hansard, I'm miming lowering the lectern—such as 'I need the EM for the bills'. Thank you for sharing that capacity. On behalf of all National Party senators past and present, John, have an awesome time. Spend lots of time out in the regions, and you will always be welcomed with open arms for a quiet sherbet and a chat.

Honourable senators: Hear, hear!

3:14 pm

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I won't say too much. I think it's all been said. I concur with my colleagues in what they've said with regard to John. I was very saddened when I heard of his retirement today, because every day that I walk in here I see his face and the smile on his face, and I think it's just a pleasant attitude that someone has in doing their work, as if they're really happy to come to work. I don't necessarily have that every day! But it's nice to see it in someone else's face.

John mentioned he wants to get over to Margaret River. He hasn't been there. I hope he gets there and to other beautiful places in the country. You've got to come up to Queensland. There are some fantastic places there as well. I just hope you have a very healthy, happy, long retirement with your grandchildren, with your wife and with your family. I'm just terribly jealous because, after so many years working in this chamber, you probably know a hell of a lot more than I do, and more than most of us in this chamber do, about procedure. So I wish you could transfer that to me! I think you've enjoyed your time here, watching the politics of it and seeing what's happened. I think you're going to take a lot of wisdom with you, and it's been an absolute honour being here to be served by you and your staff. So thank you very much.

3:16 pm

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—John, on a personal note and on behalf of my husband, John Wells, under whom you served when he was commanding officer of HMAS Tobruk, can I just place on record our congratulations to you and our thanks for your service not just in this place but in the Royal Australian Navy. You were a loyal servant in Her Majesty's Navy, and I know that you took great pride in that service. On behalf of my husband, John, and me, thank you and best wishes for the future.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank senators for their contributions and observations.