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Thursday, 26 November 2009
Page: 13002

Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) (10:34 AM) —I thank all members who are present in the chamber and everyone who is listening to today’s debate. As the parliamentary year draws to a close, it is a time for us all to reflect on the year that has passed, the year that lies ahead and the season of rest and restoration which lies ahead for us over this coming summer. Also, in discussion and in reflections like this it is a time to rise above the hand-to-hand combat of the chamber and perhaps in recent days, in the case of the opposition, the hand-to-hand combat within the party room. It is a time also to reflect upon the period of rest and restoration ahead. It is a time to extend good wishes to all those in this chamber and beyond who contribute to the great institutions of our democracy and to wish them well for Christmas and the holiday season.

This has in many senses been a very long year—a historic year. Remember, at the beginning of this year we saw the inauguration of President Obama. That now seems such a long time ago, but what an extraordinary change in American political history did the election of President Obama bring about. The 44th President of the United States, the election of the first president of African-American origin was an event of significance not just to Americans but to America’s friends right around the world.

It was only a few short weeks later, on 7 February, that we experienced the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria—the worst bushfires of any time in our nation’s settled history. A total of 173 lives were lost in the firestorm that swept through towns like Callignee, Flowerdale, Humevale, Kinglake, Koornalla, Marysville, Narbethong, Strathewen, St Andrews, Steels Creek, Taggerty and Wandong. I know the Leader of the Opposition, other opposition members, including the honourable member for McMillan, who has just entered the chamber, and members on this side of the House have spent time with some of those communities during the course of 2009 seeking to do what practically can be done to support a very long process of recovery for them.

The nation came together in remarkable fashion in the days that followed Black Saturday with support services, welfare agencies, public servants, volunteers and donations pouring in from right across Australia, and right across the world. On behalf of the government, I would simply say to all those who rose to the occasion of responding to those in need in the Victorian bushfires how grateful I am for Australia having shown itself to be at its absolute best—at its absolute best. It made you proud to be an Australian, seeing the level of physical, practical and emotional support being delivered to people whose lives had literally been destroyed. I would also commend those honourable members who have been working hard to support fire affected communities within their constituencies. I know that has been a very long and arduous process, and a continuing process into the new year.

As Christmas approaches we reach out to all of those who have suffered the loss of family and friends at homes in those fires. We know that this will be a difficult, lonely and sorrowful time for many people. Our thoughts are with you at this time. It is worthy always of a moment’s reflection as we sit down around Christmas trees on Christmas Day on those for whom Christmas is a very sad occasion as they reflect on the recent absence of loved ones and particularly loved ones who have been taken from us in the most tragic and violent of circumstances.

I want to acknowledge the approximately 3,000 troops who are currently serving our nation abroad in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Sudan, the Middle East, the Solomons, Timor Leste and elsewhere. They do Australia proud. They are doing a remarkable job in our collective name. Just last weekend we formally welcomed back those 18,000 troops who have served during the six-year long Operation Catalyst in Iraq. We thank them and honour them for their service to the nation in response to the decision of the democratically elected government of Australia. There is no higher service to our country than that of our men and women of our armed forces. Many of those in our armed forces will be serving during the Christmas and holiday season and will not be spending Christmas and the new year with their families. They are making great sacrifices on behalf of us all and we remember them especially today. We also remember at this Christmas time those families who have lost loved ones serving in our armed forces during the past year. This again is a difficult season for them.

Christmas is a time of celebration and a time when we all reflect on the absolute importance of families. I would encourage all members of this place and members of the wider Australian family to take this opportunity to spend as much time as they can with their families and their loved ones. As we often reflect in this place during times of great difficulty, at the end of all things in this life our families remain the most important. Often it is only when we are confronted with the physicality of separation from families that we see in full stark reality their absolute importance to our everyday lives. I am sure that I speak on behalf of all members here as we affirm to our families, who endure our presence in this place, how much we love them and how much we value their continued support for our service in this parliament.

To the members and senators on the government and opposition benches and also on the cross-benches who engage in the great democratic debates and other parliamentary work that occurs in the House and the Senate, my best wishes for the time that you have for your families and loved ones this Christmas. The media may not always be sympathetic to politicians, but the truth is that political office comes at a great cost to personal and family lives, and of course our friends in the media also have to endure some of those pressures as well and the impact on their families. Being associated with national and political life is a tough and arduous business with very considerable personal impacts, and that extends to families. We bear all our families in mind as this season of Christmas reflection approaches.

I say to the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Turnbull, and his wife, Lucy, and their family, that I wish them a very restful Christmas and a proper restoration for the holiday season. I also say to those other office bearers of the opposition—the deputy leader who is not here, the Leader of the National Party, and to other members of the frontbench of both the Liberal and the National parties and to all Liberal and National party members and Independent members, that they should receive from me and Therese the genuine compliments of the season and a hope and expectation that they find rest and restoration with their families and loved ones as well.

I want to acknowledge especially Harry Jenkins, who serves in the role of Speaker—and my notes here say—with ‘composure, good humour and even-handedness’. I am sure that all members would reflect here on a day such as this that being the Speaker of the House of Representatives, effectively since the days of the ‘long parliament’, has not been an entirely, shall we say, satisfactory career experience. But since the days of the long parliament and the short parliament, the business of being Speaker has been arduous—in days past it was more than arduous; it was physically challenging. Speaker Jenkins, we thank you for the work that you have done, occupying the position of Speaker in this parliament and seeking to bring order to what otherwise would be the chaos of our parliamentary deliberations.

Our thanks also to the Deputy Speaker, Anna Burke—where is Anna? I would invite Anna to come into the chamber. She also assists in keeping this House in order when the television cameras from time to time have lost interest and the parliament is going through the grinding hard work of its legislative program. I thank all other members of the Speaker’s panel including the member for Braddon, who was here just a minute ago and who was unceremoniously turfed from the chair.

Mr Sidebottom —Dumped!

Mr RUDD —Not through any lack of confidence on the part of honourable members in the way in which he would discharge his functions in the chair, because we know he is a very decent bloke. I also extend my thanks to the Parliamentary Liaison Office for their first-class work. Parliament House, when it is in session, is something like a small town with 3,000 or so people looking after the smooth running of everything. Mind you, in the place I grew up in in Queensland that would count as being a very large town. On the surface it always looks calm and organised but underneath that calm exterior we know that people are toiling night and day to make this place function. Indeed, they are literally toiling away in the corridors underneath the building where much of the real work essential for the parliament takes place.

I pass on my thanks to the Clerk and the Deputy Clerk of the House of Representatives, who represent our best parliamentary traditions of integrity, independence and excellence. In particular, I would like to acknowledge the exceptional service of Ian Harris, who has served as the Clerk of this House since 1997 and is finishing up at the end of this session. We wish him all the very best in his retirement. In fact, Ian has been Clerk of this House ever since I was elected in 1998. I remember Ian attending our first briefing session, as rookie members of parliament, as we gathered here in the House of Representatives, when I asked several questions about how the standing orders actually operated and which, 11 years later, still remain, for me, a deep mystery.

I also pass on my thanks to the Serjeant-at-Arms and to all the attendants who are here, whose job it is to make the work in the chamber possible for us all. Also, to our security staff who, from time to time, are faced with some challenges in making sure that this House is able to conduct itself in a peaceful and orderly fashion, my thanks. The Parliamentary Library provides possibly the best research function of any place in Australia—always prompt, always reliable and a much-valued resource for all members and senators. To the Hansard staff, who create elegance from inelegance and who create poetry from prose—

Honourable member interjecting—Who wrote that?

Mr RUDD —I thought that was quite nice, actually. It wasn’t me—it was far too prosaic for me. We all appreciate your work, recording for the media and for posterity all the goings-on in this House. We do not altogether understand how you manage to do it, but we thank you for your excellent work in rendering sensible that which, occasionally, is less than that.

To the Table Office, we thank them for their excellent work and for, again, facilitating the practical work of this great institution. To the Parliamentary Relations Office, I make mention of their work which is important in terms of the relationship between this parliament and other parliaments around the world. That work is often, again, unseen in terms of the formal procedures of this place but very important in building a fabric of friendship between members of parliament here, members of parliament in other democracies and in other national political institutions around the world. I commend their work and thank them for it.

To everyone else who keeps this building in running order—those who care for the lawns, the gardens, cook the meals, operate the switchboard, service computers, manage security, work in the myriad other jobs in this place, we also thank you for your excellent work in making this building function.

Ms King —The childcare centre.

Mr RUDD —I am coming to that! Can I say to the staff who work in the childcare centre that it is a very important part of the institutional and family life of this building. And to those honourable members who have little ones, whether they are members or senators, or are members of the media or other members of staff in this place, I believe the fact that we have now been able to provide for some time child care within the building makes this a much more family-friendly environment. Frankly, the pitter-patter of little feet around this place is a wonderful thing. There should be more of it. It actually humanises a lot of us.

Our travel agents, HRG, have done a great job as well. Also, the Broadcasting staff for making sure the broadcaster works effectively and to those Australians who choose to tune in each day, by either radio or television, to observe the deliberations of this place, my commiserations to you. Despite objections on the part of one of my predecessors to having this place televised, it is actually a good exercise in transparency of our parliamentary and political life. For those Australians who cheerfully endure the proceedings of this chamber each day on radio and television, we thank you for your virtual participation in our democratic processes.

To the IT support; to our security guards, whom I have mentioned before; to the maintenance staff; the gardeners; the switchboard; the catering staff; and the Comcare drivers, my thanks. Where would we be without our Comcare drivers? They perform a very important function. For those of us who are less familiar with Canberra than others, negotiating our way around this city in the absence of a Comcare driver would cause us all to be more than half an hour late for any occasion. We thank them.

To our friend in the press gallery at the moment—and to other members of the press gallery—thank you for keeping those on both sides of the House on our toes this year. The pace of a journalist’s life has accelerated dramatically in recent years, as media organisations embrace a range of new technologies. At the same time, many of the bureaus are coping with fewer staff and tighter financial constraints than in previous years and all have to now compete against Joe Hockey’s role in twittering against them. Therefore, as they confront the challenges of new technology and the vast changes that are occurring in the media around the world at present, this is creating stresses and strains within that profession which we should also acknowledge. We recognise that our journalistic colleagues are now working longer hours and are under greater pressure. It is not an easy career now and never has been, but their work is an integral part of our Australian democracy. I believe that it is important that the parliament recognises that fact, however vexatious we may find it from time to time. With an election year next year I am sure that everyone is looking forward to 2010, but may we all be properly repaired through a proper break over this Christmas.

I turn now to members of the government. Where is Julia? Is she here?

Mr Baldwin —She’s at a photo shoot!

Mr RUDD —I think it is a great photo—a fantastic photo. The one of Joe and his new bub is good, too. The Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has done an extraordinary job for the government. This is not the time to engage in any partisan observations of her achievements—but let me just engage in a few! I speak on behalf of government members here when I say that I believe that her extraordinary work and great achievements in relation to Work Choices, the Fair Work Act and so many aspects of Building the Education Revolution have earned her not only the respect of all members on the government side but also wider respect in the general community.

As Deputy Prime Minister and as the Minister for Education, the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and the Minister for Social Inclusion can I just say that her contribution to the work of this government is simply outstanding. Also behind the scenes, in cabinet and through the various streams of government work, Julia makes an extraordinary contribution to the work of the government. I thank her for that.

To the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, my friend and colleague from the great state of Queensland: it has been an extraordinarily tough year for those charged with the tasks of economic management. I think if you were to get the treasurers or the finance ministers of the world into a room it would rapidly become a global therapy session as they all exchanged stories about how many near-run things there were during the last 12 months since the global financial crisis hit.

To the Treasurer, who now enters the chamber, I thank him for his stewardship over the Australian economy during the year which has been exceptionally difficult. Measured against all previous challenges of previous treasurers of the Commonwealth, dealing with our national economic circumstances in the last 12 months has been right out there in terms of what his predecessors have had to deal with, whether it was under previous Liberal governments or previous Labor governments. Well done, Treasurer.

Government members interjecting—Hear, hear.

Mr RUDD —I also want to thank the cabinet, the ministry and the parliamentary secretaries. I am proud to lead a united and disciplined and diligent team that has worked with a singular focus to implement a challenging and wide-ranging reform program. I am fortunate to work with such a strong team with such extraordinary depth of talent—talent that is evident when you work with the team every day. I am very proud of their contribution to the cabinet, as a ministry, as an executive. The Leader of the House, Albo—where is Albo?—for me is absolutely indispensable, not least because of his sense of humour when things are going right and things are going wrong. He brings also a sense of order to the House and manages to do so notwithstanding the fact that he has a daily collaboration with the member for Sturt. I thank him for his work. He brings a great sense of parliamentary humour to this place, I believe in the great traditions of former parliamentarians such as Fred Daly and Jim Killen. This is good for the overall operation of this place.

The government’s Senate team leadership, Chris Evans and Steve Conroy, have the enormous challenge of getting every piece of legislation through a sometimes unruly and sometimes unpredictable Senate chamber and we appreciate their terrific work. I turn to the Chief Government Whip, Roger Price. Where is Roger? He is absent as well. He is obviously out whipping somebody! He is very much pastor-in-chief when it comes to individual members of parliament who may for one reason or other be going through a difficult time, or who are dealing with challenging circumstances, and his role is also to make sure that the part relates to the whole in the operations of a governing party. Roger, I just place on record my great appreciation for your great work as Chief Government Whip. It is hard to accurately reflect on Roger’s precise role in this place but I suppose he would be a combination of sage, a sensitive source of wisdom, advice and support for so many, and a very, very good cook at a barbecue.

To each of the government’s members of parliament and each senator serving in the government go my thanks. To all those who are members of parliament and who work as backbenchers, can I say how much I appreciate what you do in your constituencies and what you do in the day-to-day work of this place. The member for Lilley and I were elected 10 years or so ago and we know full well the challenges from our own experience of working hard as a constituency member of parliament. We honour the work that each of you do in your communities. This is really important ground-level pastoral work in dealing with community life and the challenges that are faced by our local communities—often by people in acute individual need. For the day-to-day work that you have done—each of you in ways which will never ever be known on the national stage or covered in any reporting in the newspaper—in trying to make individual lives better, I really do thank you and salute the work that you have done. Your work in parliamentary committees, I also acknowledge, is very important in keeping this great institution of the parliament working.

I also acknowledge the work of opposition members as they seek to service the needs of their constituents as well. Most of this occurs invisibly but it is a very important function that we perform. So many people in the community have no idea about how to work their way through the myriad confusion that represents the system of government for them and they need help in negotiating their way through it. I salute the valuable role that all members of parliament play in helping meet the very practical needs of individual members of the community who would otherwise be friendless in getting the help that they need.

I also thank the Australian Labor Party national organisation. To the whole team at the ALP national secretariat—and the secretariat faces a very busy year ahead with the federal election—we wish them a very good break over Christmas; may they enjoy their three days off. To the staff of each of the members and senators in the Labor Party, whether they are our electorate staff, staff who act as ministerial advisers or others, I thank them for their extraordinary work. Our staff in this place, and I am sure I also reflect the view of other members from other parties, become very much part of our official family. They become more than that; they become part of our wider family and without their work and support, frankly it would not be possible for us to act effectively in this place.

Can I especially thank our electorate officers on all sides of politics for the very difficult job that they do in dealing with people in distress. This is really important. I know full well from my own electoral staff in Brisbane the range of tasks that they are asked to perform. I also say to the public service, which services diligently and faithfully the democratically elected government of the day, how much I appreciate their work in the year that has just passed. My own department, Prime Minister and Cabinet, in particular to the secretary of the department, Terry Moran, and the entire Australian Public Service, you have handled an enormous workload during the course of the last year. Public servants in departments and agencies have done an exceptional job managing challenges such as bushfires, the global recession, the Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan, the response to the challenges of the G20, the substantial reform programs that the government is implementing in education, infrastructure, financial services, health and hospitals, and partnership with the Council of Australian Governments.

The government has been implementing a formidable legislative and reform program. The Australian Public Service from time to time has been straining under the weight of it but I would use this opportunity to reflect again how much we appreciate the work that they have done diligently, independently, in working for the government of the day.

To my own staff: I thank them for the extraordinary work that they put in working for an exceptionally demanding boss—that is, yours truly. Without fail, my own staff rise to the occasion. I thank them for it. My Chief of Staff, Alister Jordan, who has now been with me for a long, long time—

Honourable members interjecting—

Mr RUDD —Appropriately, he is not in the advisers box! He is off doing something much more important. I thank him and all members of my personal staff in the Prime Minister’s office. This is a very tight-knit unit. There are a lot of challenges and a lot of pressures, and there is a lot of hard work. Can I say how much I appreciate what they have done to support the government’s program this year and to support me personally as Prime Minister. I really do appreciate it. That goes to you, Alister, as well, for having put up with me for so many years. A special thanks also to the close personal protection team, the AFP officers, who have put their own security on the line in their work protecting officeholders and dignitaries. Could I also thank personally my own electorate staff, the dedicated team in Brisbane, who deal with an extraordinarily large range of challenges. These come not just from within the electorate but, as you would expect when an individual member of parliament becomes a national political leader, from well beyond those areas a local electorate office would normally have to deal with. Also, I thank party members and volunteers in my own area in Brisbane’s Southside who dedicate many hours each week, week after week and month after month, to assist in the services of my electorate office.

To my own family: to my life partner, Therese, and our kids, Jessica, Nicholas and Marcus, I would place again on the record my appreciation for all that they do for me. I look forward very much to spending Christmas with them, along with Therese’s mum.

We look forward to the year 2010. It will be a big year. It is an election year. The great thing about elections in Australia is that we, unlike most countries in the world, conduct our national political life in a fair and proper manner, supervised by an independent institution otherwise called the Australian Electoral Commission and anchored in the laws of this great institution of the Parliament of Australia. With those remarks, I wish all members the very best for the Christmas season. May we all return to this place refreshed and rejuvenated from having spent time with our families and our loved ones.

Honourable members—Hear, hear!