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Thursday, 10 December 1998
Page: 1937

Mr McMULLAN (9:43 PM) —I recall my colleague and predecessor in this role, the member for Hotham, saying when he first spoke in these circumstances that being manager of opposition business was what he called `an interesting new role'. I have to say that I wish I had recalled that a little more starkly before I accepted it when the Leader of the Opposition offered it to me, because it is one of those things that you call interesting because it means it is going to give you a very hard time. But it is an important part of the function, and I am enjoying doing it.

We in the opposition thought that the experience of losing all those seats would have been a chastening one and that we would have seen the government come back with a new resolve to be cooperative and to make the parliament work smoothly and harmoniously. It does not seem to have worked that way. Why am I not surprised? I have the vague feeling that a few people might say that when we used to be the government it was not very different. I am shocked that anybody would even contemplate that it could have been like that under the leadership of the House of the now member for Brand. It is just beyond belief that he would have behaved in such a manner. My only excuse and plea in mitigation is that, all the time we were the government, I was in the Senate. I was not responsible for any of those prior outrages, so I can take a suitably sanctimonious attitude towards them when they are perpetrated upon me.

We never had the opportunity to do it when I was manager of government business in the Senate. The laws of arithmetic run very strongly in the Senate. There is a phrase about people having greatness thrust upon them, but in the Senate you have cooperativeness thrust upon you by the proliferation of minor parties with whom you have to deal. We see this place operating slightly differently. I cannot pretend to be amazed, but next year we are determined that we will make our impact upon this place and the way it works. We will seek to be as cooperative as possible, but we will not be cooperative in a way that sees our rights trammelled. It is our ambition to be an effective and cooperative opposition because the higher standing the parliament is held in, the better it is for our democracy and for all of us who work in it, but there is only so much that we are prepared to pay for it.

I want to respond to this extraordinarily generous contribution to my art collection by the Leader of the House. I have not quite worked out in which room to hang it—or which way.

Mr Reith —A cupboard will do.

Mr McMULLAN —There would not be room in my cupboard—and I know that Tim Fischer shares this experience—as, having been the Minister for Trade, it is absolutely full of things that you would never want to display but you cannot throw away because somebody who thought it was very important and valuable gave it to you somewhere and you cannot afford to have it turn up on the rubbish tip, so I have cupboards full of them. I do not know where I am going to put this, but I am, I suppose I should say, duly grateful.

The Leader of the House is a very interesting person to work with. As he says, correctly, I was shadow minister for industrial relations from March 1996 until the last election, so we worked not exactly closely together, but on intersecting orbits. We therefore met often and it was, I have to say, on all of those occasions as fruitless as it has been in my time doing it as the Manager of Opposition Business. He is the only person I have ever known who found being described as `amiably useless' a compliment, but this is the way in which our negotiations go, and I suppose it is better than being antagonistically useless!

It is that impervious part of his nature that I assume allowed him to survive the year that he has had and that will help him survive the year we have in mind for him. Nevertheless, I thank him for the fact that he and his office ring us and keep us informed. We do not very often agree about the things we are asked to do, but I appreciate him and Kate having that discourse with Bob Harlow from my office and with me, and we will continue to do that.

I also want to thank the PLO. A lot has been said about him, and these are not occasions when the House wishes everybody—that is five in a row now—to say the same things about everybody, although each of the individuals probably do not mind, but the PLO does a good job in helping us all and he is a vital linchpin in the operation of the parliamentary process.

As a new manager of opposition business, I particularly want to thank the clerks and their staff. I know that everybody has thanked them. We are all dependent on them in different ways. Leaders of the House are dependent upon them, Speakers are dependent upon them, leaders of the opposition and others are dependent upon them, but new managers of opposition business are very dependent on Ian, of course, but particularly on Bernard, who is of greater value to us. I thank him and all the people who work with him for making us look relatively sensible most of the time, and for making sure that the outrages we perform at least bear some tangential relationship to the standing orders. I am suitably grateful for that. Thank you very much—the quality of the advice is unfailingly high.

All the other staff have been thanked by everybody else. I endorse the remarks that they have made about them all. I want to join everyone in talking about the attendants in general—about whom I want to say something in a moment—and about Brian in particular. His office was right next to mine for the period from March 1996 until the election, and they are close together now. He always seemed to be able to get a cup of tea out of my office more quickly and more often than I could. I never quite worked out how this happened, but it was unfailing. I think in everybody else's office it was the same. I do not quite know how this operates, but he is a very charming man who gives great service and great friendship. He has a great smile, and those who are interested in such things say that he also gives great racing tips, but this is a failing from which I have emerged unscathed—I do not intend to take even his good advice in that particular matter.

I also want to thank the other attendants. They do a great job. They had a lot of extra work imposed upon them for a reason which we really enjoyed, which was that there were so many new people to bring into offices, and it caused a lot of work for the attendants. Those on the opposition side enjoyed it because so many of those new people were on our side. Like the Leader of the Opposition, I thank those new members for the injection of new ideas, enthusiasm and commitment which they have brought, which has been invigorating to us all.

I thank all the other parliamentary departments that were listed by you, Mr Speaker. It was such a copious list that I simply endorse your remarks and thank them all. I particularly thank the volunteers who work in this building and the other people who tend to go unsung—and I am pleased you mentioned them—such as the cleaners, maintenance staff and others. I have to do this very carefully because, like the member for Canberra and, to a lesser extent, the member for Eden Monaro, a large number of these people are my constituents, so we need to be very careful and doubly on our best behaviour. I thank them all. If I could get a list of their names and read it into the Hansard it might put my margin up, but I am grateful to them all. From time to time they raise the odd constituency matter with me, and I am sure that the member for Canberra and the member for Eden Monaro have the same experiences. It is a pleasure to be able to return a small part of the service to them that they give to us.

I hope the parliamentary staff will allow me to be as general as that. Everybody else has thanked them in detail, and I simply endorse that. I want in particular to thank two lots of people who have not had the recognition that they deserve. One group is the continuing and new opposition staff members. I endorse what the Leader of the Opposition said: we are enormously well served in the opposition by what is a very small staff relative to that supplied to the government. The ratio as it stands has not changed—and this is not a grievance, it is simply a fact of life—and we have a very small staff compared with the government. That staff performed herculean tasks during the election, for which I was duly grateful. Given that I was to some extent driving that bus, I suppose they blamed me for the herculean task which was imposed upon them, but I thank them for the way they discharged that—and I thank my own staff in particular.

I want to thank our former members. I do not want to go through them individually, but I thank them all. Many of the people who retired were people who had made a tremendous contribution to the parliament, the party and the nation. A large number of them were former ministers. Others served for a long time on the backbench. Several of my colleagues asked me to particularly make reference to our national president, Barry Jones, a great servant of our party, who left the parliament after a distinguished parliamentary career. I am happy to do that. I think everyone in the House would accept that he made a singular contribution to our political life. He lifted the standing and the reputation of the political process, and that is something I hope we will all be able to say when we leave.

On behalf of my colleagues I would like to thank one person whom the Leader of the Opposition failed to mention, and that is the Leader of the Opposition. I thank Kim for his fantastic leadership of the party in the last 12 months. Every member of the Labor Party and every supporter was proud of the role he played in the election campaign, of the principled leadership he provided during the year in some very difficult times and of the effective leadership he provided, particularly during the election. I suspect that the new members—those who won seats as a result of that leadership—are particularly grateful, but all of us are grateful not only because our margins are significantly larger but also for the morale and leadership which he gave.

Mr Bevis —Not as large as Kim's.

Mr McMULLAN —Mine is larger than Kim's, I am happy to tell you. But I did not get as big a swing. Leo and the staff in his office do a great job. All the members of the parliamentary Labor Party depend upon Leo's office—Joan and all the people who work there. We are enormously grateful for the good work that they do.

To Rod Sawford, Bob Sercombe, all my colleagues—particularly the new ones—and all the government members: I join with everybody else in wishing you a very enjoyable Christmas and a recuperative new year so that we can come back in February armed to perform the functions for which the electors send us here with all the energy we can muster—so that we can try to leave them with a better impression of the parliament than they started with.