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Thursday, 26 June 2008
Page: 3533

The PRESIDENT (3:04 PM) —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.