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Thursday, 26 November 2009
Page: 13009


Mr TURNBULL (Leader of the Opposition) (11:02 AM) —Firstly, may I thank the Prime Minister for his very warm remarks. I certainly listened carefully and took detailed notes, and I could not find anything that I disagreed with—other than perhaps a few of the confessedly partisan comments. The rest of it was very generous. It has indeed been a remarkable year. The Prime Minister mentioned the inauguration of President Barack Obama at the beginning of the year, and that was certainly a watershed in history.

He went on to refer to the Black Saturday bushfires. That was a tragedy of what many would say were biblical proportions; it was almost beyond imagination. The horror that nature unleashed on the people of Victoria was truly horrendous. I will never forget, as long as I live, inspecting the aftermath with my colleagues Fran Bailey and Darren Chester in particular. We looked at burnt-out vehicles where everything except the steel had melted, where the heat had been so intense that the glass and the windscreen had flowed like liquid and coated the dashboard and the floor and then frozen, where the alloys, the wheels and the engines had melted and just flowed along the ground like water. Those were inconceivable temperatures. Fires moved at previously unheard of speeds. It was truly in the nature of an apocalypse. The Australian people did, as the Prime Minister said, come together in a way that brought out the best of us. Nature showed us her worst side and we responded by showing our best side—the comradeship, the generosity, the extraordinary heroism and the determination to set things right. That was an admirable and beautiful thing to behold.

In particular, our colleagues here—and I mentioned Fran and Darren Chester, but I also mention the member for McMillan, my very good friend Russell Broadbent; all of them suffered with their communities—represented their communities and spoke in this House, as they should have, with moving and powerful eloquence. I will never forget the heartfelt words in this House of those members about those fires. They summed up many of the things that we love so much about Australia. Indeed, as the poet Dorothea Mackellar wrote, ‘We love her beauty and her terror.’ It was a very terrible side of Australia that we saw then. In respect of the families who lost their loved ones and are still suffering with the consequences of those fires, we know this will be a difficult and often very sad Christmas, because there will be places at the Christmas dinner table that will not be filled. There will be loved ones not there. We wish all of them the very best, and our prayers are with them as they recover and rebuild with our support after these terrible experiences.

The Prime Minister reminded us, correctly, of the important work our troops are doing overseas—3,000 Australian troops serving our nation abroad, putting themselves in harm’s way to defend freedom. They do that wearing our uniform. They serve under our flag. We are enormously, unconditionally, proud of their skill, their professionalism and their great courage. I want to particularly note the House’s appreciation and admiration for Trooper Mark Donaldson, who this year was awarded the Victoria Cross. In the great tradition of Victoria Cross winners, he put his own life at enormous risk to save the life of another. It was a remarkable moment of bravery when he ran out, under fire, to collect a wounded Afghan interpreter and carry him back to safety and then, having done that, continued fighting. It is truly the stuff of legend. Trooper Donaldson personified the courage, the spirit, the commitment of the Australian defence forces.

This year we have seen, as the Prime Minister noted, the official end of Australia’s proud, valuable and constructive military engagement in Iraq. I would just note with appreciation that the Minister for Defence, Senator Faulkner, who had been a critic of our involvement in that war, himself acknowledged that our engagement had been a success. That has been noted.

There is, of course, no greater sacrifice than to lay down your life in defence of your country and to protect your comrades in arms. We have lost 11 soldiers in Afghanistan, and one can only imagine how hard it is at this time of year for the families of those brave Australians. We lost four this year and I just record them, brave men who died serving our nation in that very dangerous mission: Private Benjamin Ranaudo, Sergeant Brett Till, Corporal Mathew Hopkins and Private Gregory Sher. At this time of year, which is a special time of year for all the families, whether it is Christmas or Hanukkah, it is important to reflect on and remember the sacrifice that those young men made.

We have also seen a lot of combat here. The Prime Minister called it hand-to-hand combat. Thank heavens it does not ever quite come to that—although there was a moment when the Leader of the House suggested to the member for Sturt that they should step outside. But it was purely just for a chat, I am sure. We would all have followed if we had thought it was going to be more engaging! Nonetheless, there have been occasions of great bipartisanship this year. We have talked about the bushfires. That was one occasion where the House spoke as one in compassion and admiration for the courage of the people who were so cruelly affected by those fires. And we saw just last week the apology, on behalf of the government and supported by me as Leader of the Opposition, to the forgotten Australians and the lost innocents, the child migrants. That was a very moving moment, and I am sure the Prime Minister has received the same responses and correspondence that I have. It delivered a degree of healing and comfort, in some cases a sense of closure, for thousands of Australians who had been so cruelly neglected and ignored.

This is a time for families. I agree with the Prime Minister: when all is said and done, your family is what you have; that is what you are. Of course, this is one of the tragedies of the life experience of so many of those forgotten Australians: they were taken away from their families, and in some cases lied to about their families and their background. Happily, that is not the case for most of us here and we will spend this Christmas period with our families.

The Prime Minister spoke a little bit about love. I would like to say a bit more about that. One of the most remarkable things about the events of 9-11 was that when the passengers on those doomed planes realised their fate, so many of them got onto their mobile phones and called their families. And the one thing they all said, just three words, was: I love you. Facing death, that is what they said. The most important thing they could say was: ‘I love you.’ It is a reminder that love and family is all we have. It defines our humanity. Love is what makes us human. So often we do not love enough. So often we deny or suppress or set to one side our love for each other. Surely this is the time of year when we should be loving and generous to all people, but particularly to our families.

As everybody in this House knows, politics is a tough business. The Prime Minister talked about the press gallery giving us cruel and unusual punishment from time to time—occasionally deserved; probably sometimes not so deserved. But, nonetheless, the thing that we all know, that each and every one of us knows, is that it is our families—our spouses, our husbands and wives—who take it hardest. When the Prime Minister and I are attacked, we can stand up and defend ourselves, we can denounce our accusers and ridicule them and speak for ourselves, but Therese and Lucy just have to take it, and that goes for every spouse in this parliament. It is a tough life, politics, but it is so much tougher for our partners, for our spouses. Today is a day when we should, above all, thank them for the support they give us, because without that we could not do this important national service here.

I thank the Prime Minister for his kind conveyance of thanks and Christmas good wishes to Lucy and me. I reciprocate and wish him and Therese, and all their family, a very happy Christmas. In the Turnbull household it is a particularly happy time of year because our second child, Daisy, has announced her engagement to a young man who seems perfectly suitable. James, her fiance, is a prospective member of our family and we look forward to welcoming him.


Mr Rudd interjecting


Mr TURNBULL —He is actually a member of the Army so he shouldn’t be in any political party, Prime Minister—but if he was I am not sure that he would be in yours! Having said that, as you know, the ADF are completely above politics. James is a good young man, he and Daisy make a fine couple, and Lucy and I are very, very pleased.

The Prime Minister spoke about the House, and of course our first thanks should always be to the Speaker. We are told that with the Speaker, flattery gets you everywhere. We are very grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for your hard work and we are also grateful for the work of the Deputy Speaker and, from our side, the Second Deputy Speaker, Bruce Scott, and the coalition members on the Speaker’s Panel. All of you, on both sides of the House—the Speaker and all of his deputies and representatives—do an outstanding job.

The Clerk, Ian Harris, after your many years of service, we thank you. You and Bernard Wright make this place run. You give us the wisest advice one could possibly imagine and we congratulate you and thank you for your many years of service. And, Bernard, we congratulate you again on your elevation.

The Serjeant-at-Arms has not been obliged to throw anybody out this year, at least as far as I have noticed—but I am sure there is still the potential for some provocation.

The Parliamentary Library is more important to the opposition than to the government, as a rule, because governments have the massed ranks of the public service to give them advice. So I particularly thank Roxanne Missingham and the team at the Parliamentary Library. My colleagues have heard this before: I remember when I was inducted as a new member of parliament not so long ago, in 2004, Roxanne’s predecessor—a very distinguished woman—looked at us coldly and austerely and said, ‘Our job is to make you look intelligent.’ She said it in a tone of voice that implied that that was going to be very difficult. Tony Burke was there with me and can vouch for that.

I thank all the people who work in this great House. This parliament is an enormous engine. It is an extraordinary monument in every respect but nonetheless works as a very effective parliament. There are hundreds of people who enable it to work, from the attendants here in the House to the cleaners to the security guards. Every possible line of work here is done with good spirit, especially taking into account the very heavy demands we put on these people.

The Prime Minister mentioned the child-care centre and the pitter-patter of little feet. A number of members here are members of the legal profession who would have been admitted to practice in New South Wales when Sir Laurence Street was the Chief Justice. At every single admissions ceremony, a baby in the public gallery would start to cry. Sir Laurence would always say, as the mother got up to take the baby out, ‘No, no—let the little one stay.’ The Prime Minister’s remark reminded me of that, and I agree with him and I agreed with Sir Laurence that the more children we see in this place, the better. I say to every school group that I address—and I think many of you say the same thing—that this House belongs to them. There are some kids up there in the gallery now. Everything we do here, right or wrong and whether we agree or not, is done with their best interests at heart. That is what we are seeking to achieve.

The task of Leader of the Opposition is often said to be a tough job—I think all the jobs in this place are tough—and I could not do my job without the support of my team. I acknowledge, in particular, the support of my deputy, Julie Bishop, the member for Curtin, who has done an outstanding job both as Deputy Leader of the Opposition and in her two shadow ministerial roles—she has been shadow Treasurer and is now shadow minister for foreign affairs. Our leadership group, of course, includes the Senate, and I acknowledge the hard work of our Senate leader, Nick Minchin, and his deputy, Eric Abetz. We have a strong but frank coalition with the Nationals, and I acknowledge the support and friendship I have had from the Leader of the Nationals, Warren Truss.

The Prime Minister referred to Albo’s good humour. The good humour of Christopher Pyne, the Manager of Opposition Business, has been remarkable. When you do not have the numbers it is harder to remain good humoured, as Albo would recall from the days when he was on this side of the chamber. Christopher has really taken the fight up to the government in a way that combines an encyclopaedic knowledge of the standing orders and good humour.


Mr Albanese —104!


Mr TURNBULL —If it is a good one, keep using it. When he uses 104 as often as the Prime Minister and the Treasurer say ‘swift and decisive action’, then I will listen to him! The whole frontbench has performed very effectively and loyally throughout this year. I cannot acknowledge all of them here—it would take us all morning—but I want to acknowledge the hard work that Joe Hockey has done as shadow Treasurer. Of course, prior to that he was the Manager of Opposition Business and he did an outstanding job in that regard.

I also acknowledge the extraordinary work that Ian Macfarlane, the member for Groom, has done in those very arduous negotiations with Senator Wong that had the outcome of the agreement to amendments to the government’s emissions trading scheme. It was a remarkable negotiation and had many good results—the amendments were one, and there was also a particularly entertaining cartoon in the Age, which we have all found amusing.

I thank for their hard work our Chief Whip, Alex Somlyay, and whips Nola Marino and Michael Johnson. They have done a remarkable job. Again, whichever parliamentary job you speak of, it is harder in opposition than it is in government, and the members opposite understand that. The whips have done an outstanding job. I also thank every member and senator on our team—the Liberal and National members and senators. I acknowledge the hard work that they do in their own constituencies. Sometimes you read in the press that, when parliament rises, the parliamentarians go on holiday or take leave. The reality, as we all know, is that the work in one’s own electorate is often far more demanding, in terms of hours and the range of challenges that you face, than the work that we do here—although that is very challenging as well. The role of members and senator gets more challenging each day as the complexity of government increases and the number of people seeking assistance from their MPs becomes greater than ever. The internet has obviously made that work, that interaction, more intense, and MPs are routinely dealing with hundreds and hundreds of emails and other correspondence every week.

I thank all of our staff on the coalition side. I said that the Library’s job is to make us look good—to make us look intelligent, I should say!—and our staff have to do much the same thing. I thank all of our coalition staff—in particular, the staff who work in our electorates away from the limelight of Canberra. In terms of my own office, I recognise in particular the hard work of my Chief of Staff, Chris Kenny, and my Deputy Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin. I also thank Tony Parkinson, Sally Cray and our other advisers—including Stephen Ellis, who has worked so closely, so hard and for so long with Ian Macfarlane in the negotiations. Presenting the opposition’s case to the press gallery is often a challenge, and our media team has taken that on very well. Mark Westfield, Andrew Hirst and our whole press office have done a remarkable job. The Prime Minister said that, as a national leader, the range of inquiries you get in your electorate office goes well beyond local matters. With respect, I think that applies to just about every member of parliament—and obviously more so to the party leaders. I acknowledge the tireless work of the team in my electorate office—in particular, Nick Berry, Pat McGrath, Bruce Notley-Smith, Jacqui Kempler and Melissa Chan.

Can I conclude where I began and speak about our families. This is a very special time of year. Next year will be an election year. It will be a tough year for all of us. I thank once again the families of every member and senator in this place. Without their support and love, none of us could do our job. I especially thank my family. They often take it very tough when their husband and father is under attack—and that is the occupation of a member of parliament. They have stood by me during this tough year, as I know the families of every other member have done. As we go into this Christmas break, let us resolve to love our families more than ever. Let us to rest and reflect and return refreshed for a year of debate—no doubt there will be some strong disagreement, but all of it will be conducted passionately in the national interest.

Honourable members—Hear, hear!