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Wednesday, 26 June 2013
Page: 7218


Mr SNOWDON (LingiariMinister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, Minister for Indigenous Health and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Centenary of ANZAC) (12:04): Thank you for this opportunity. I was sitting down in my office and I glanced at this chamber and saw we were pursuing and continuing the discussion around the 25th anniversary of this Parliament House. I thought I should make a contribution for a number of reasons. I was born in Canberra, as was my mother. She was born here in 1927, the year of the birth of the interim Parliament House, as it then was, which lasted of course until 1988. I grew up in Canberra knowing this dome as basically a paddock, a bit of scrub with a lot of trees on it, around which we drove to get into the city. Never would I have though that at some future date it might be the home of our new parliament. Indeed, on my election in 1987 I had an office in Old Parliament House.

There are two members on this side of the chamber who have had the opportunity to serve in both places: the member for Scullin, who was here earlier, and me. I have to say there is a remarkable difference between the two places, for a range of reasons. Many people in Canberra came here to build Old Parliament House. My grandparents were here living in what was called the Causeway, which was basically a little settlement created for people working on the buildings of the new Canberra. I have a book at home which has the names and occupations of the people in every house in the Causeway during the 1920s. They were here as carpenters, bricklayers, painters—they were workers.

Not far from the Causeway, in fact very close to the railway station, was built the Government Printing Office. Of course the Government Printing Office was important in those days because Hansard was done manually. The manual transcription was put down a pipe and shot off to the printing office where it was painstakingly composed, put on a printing machine and published. That process involved a whole lot of people and whole a lot of trades which largely no longer exist. My mother was a reader in the old printing office. Her attachment to the parliament, although she had never been in the place, was that at some point she was a reader, as was her sister. Other members of her family worked in the building. My brother had an apprenticeship as a machine fitter in the old printing office, which is so closely identified with Old Parliament House.

When we moved up the hill of course things changed. I moved from a box of about nine square metres in Old Parliament House, where you literally could not swing a cat and where you had to walk outside up to the common-use facilities, the toilets. It has often been said that in Old Parliament House you struck up a conversation with the person next to you at the urinal. That is what used to happen. People passed each other in the corridors. It was a very intense place for personal communication. You could not avoid people; you had to interact with people. Indeed I recall my immediate neighbour when I first got into the parliament was the then newly elected John Hewson. Old Parliament House was a very dynamic building simply because it was too small. People had to spend a lot of time out of their offices. The dining room was a common meeting place. The bar was a centrepiece of activity. You would go down at five or six o'clock in the evening and see a few—politicians and media alike—who used to prop up the bar. The media cycle was very different in those days. But it was a meeting place, a meeting place that does not exist in this parliament. People interacted on a constant basis, and it was a very human thing. The dynamic was very positive. The old press gallery, poor buggers, sat in what was a rabbit warren—you had to walk over the roof at one point! They were close to one another, sitting virtually on each other's laps to do their work, but they were constantly interacting with the members of parliament, whether they were ministers or backbenchers, because that was the nature of the physical structure of the building. Ministers were not separated as they are here. There were meeting places, but they were rather small. So it was a very different place. Then we moved up here. I have had the privilege of serving in both that parliament and this parliament and they are so drastically different.

The first thing that struck me, after not too long, was the isolation of this building. I still think it is a negative attribute of the place. Because of the wonderful infrastructure that we have—and it is really world class, the office space for members of parliament and the office space for the press gallery—there is a great deal of separation. The ministers are in one wing. The senators and member are in other wings. To traverse from one point diagonally to the other takes fives minutes. If these bells rings, we are lucky to get to the chamber in four minutes. I have almost been caught out once or twice because of the distances in this building. So I found it a quite isolating place initially, and, although the facilities are wonderful, there was not that human interaction—and, in my view, there still is not that human interaction—that was so much part of the Old Parliament House.

This Parliament House was opened on 9 May. The first sitting day was 22 August, and I had the great privilege to give a speech on 23 August. I have seen this place develop. It can be a soul-destroying place if you do not get out of your office. That is clear. There are people who have really suffered as a result of isolation and loneliness in this building. That is something which, as members of parliament, we need to be very conscious of in making sure that we take care of our friends.

But the facilities are absolutely magnificent. The gym here is wonderful. I am a regular attender—I have been since the day it opened—and it is well used, not only by the members of parliament but by the staff. One of the great things about this building is that, despite the fact that there are isolated hours when only members of parliament can attend the gym, there are no airs and graces here. You are who you are, and that is it. It does not matter whether you are the Prime Minister or one of the cleaners; in this building, you are all equal in the sense of use of the building. That, to me, is a really wonderful thing.

The other obvious thing which is really magnificent about this building is the maintaining of the visual connection with the War Memorial down Anzac Parade and the way this city has been designed to show us our obligation to our past. When we walk out of the front of this building onto the Michael Nelson Jagamara dot painting forecourt and bead our eyes down Anzac Parade, we recall our obligations to those who have served. That, to me, is a wonderful thing.

Another point that I think is really very important—and this again symbolises the Australian nature of 'Don't get too highfalutin'—is that, regardless of who you are, the people of the country can walk over the top of you. That, to me, is really wonderful. The symbolism of being connected to the world community through the opportunity for people to use the outside of the building as their own—to walk over it, to be part of it, to feel it and to touch it—is a wonderful thing.

The other obvious thing to be said is that the craftsmanship in this building is world class. Whilst the architect has quite properly been given great recognition, the people who actually did the work on the building, the bricklayers, the plumbers, the painters, the electricians, the trades assistants—those people who have made this wonderful building what it is—deserve our highest praise. I know it was a boon to many in the building community in Canberra simply because of what it was: a huge multimillion dollar investment that provided opportunities for many both from Canberra and around Australia. I pay tribute to their work, because it will last for decades.

This building really is a monument to the architect, to the people who have done the work on it and to the people who work within it. I think we have currently in a sitting week around 3,000 people working in this building. That is the size of Tennant Creek. When you explain that to the people of Tennant Creek they look at you with amazement, but it is true. This is a small town and we have almost all the facilities of a small town. When we look at this place we need to look at it in that context. It has been a great privilege—it is a great privilege—to be a member of this great parliament. To be a member of parliament in the first place is a wonderful honour and privilege; to be able to serve in this beautiful building that has been designed for us is also a great privilege.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Hall ): Thank you, Minister, for your unique contribution to this debate and for your insight into both Old Parliament House and this Parliament House.