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Thursday, 29 November 2012
Page: 14020


Mr TRUSS (Wide BayLeader of The Nationals) (19:08): On indulgence, at the end of a long and trying parliamentary year I am pleased to join with others in extending seasons greetings to those who work in the parliament and those in the community whom we serve. I wish everyone the very best for the year ahead.

I thank the Leader of the House for his kind comments, and it would have to be said we do not get terribly many kindly comments on our side from the Leader of the House. But he plays a key role in the parliament and we acknowledge that.

I begin by making a couple of comments about the parliament and the way in which the public observe its functioning. I think the public have reason to be concerned about the way in which the parliament has functioned. By this time next year we will have a new parliament and whichever side is elected I think the public will not want it to be a hung parliament. They will want it to be a parliament where the government can pursue its agenda and deliver a positive plan for the future. I do not think the new paradigm has delivered too much for the parliament or, for that matter, for the Australian people.

We can do a lot more to build the respect the pubic has for this place and to help them to understand more about the way in which the parliament works. It is, of course, a robust place, and it should be. But the public do not see very much of the long hours of genuinely cooperative work that goes on in this place. I think the arrival of A-PAC, which has opened the doors to quite a bit more of the parliamentary debate to television viewers across the country, is making a difference and helps to show that a lot of the things we do in this parliament are, in fact, done in a very cooperative way. They have learnt something about the committee reports and the work that is done in that regard to help develop policy. They have listened to some of the members make passionate speeches on behalf of their electorate and stand up for things that really matter to their community, and we have seen an illustration of that again today. I think it reflects well on the parliament when that kind of debate can be distributed and broadcast more widely to the community.

The Leader of the House boasted a little while ago about the number of bills that had been passed in the year. Certainly, he can speak more lavishly about the quantity rather than the quality. The reality is that the vast majority of bills have received bipartisan support. Occasionally there have been amendments, which have improved them, but more often than not there is bipartisan support—I think there have been a lot of bills with little in them, and that has perhaps made that claim a little easier, as well. But the reality is that there is a much greater spirit of cooperation to achieve good things for our country than is sometimes apparent.

Whatever disagreements I might have with those who sit opposite me in the parliament, I have always acknowledged that I think every person who is elected to this parliament comes here because they want their country to be a better place. They want to implement policies that make it better. Our differences are not that we do not all want a better country but that we have a different route to it. There are different ways in which we think it can be achieved.

Having made those comments I thank in particular all of those who have helped make the parliament work. For you personally, Madam Speaker, and for the Speakers Panel, it has been a pretty tumultuous year. I know that you, Madam Speaker, were in a particularly difficult position for quite a long time and handled that with grace and dignity. We compliment you on your new role as Speaker. I also recognise the Deputy Speaker and other members of the Speakers Panel on the way in which they strove to maintain order in the place and deal with the issues as they arise.

I acknowledge the Clerks, the attendants and the parliamentary staff. We appreciate their cheery disposition and courteous attention and their patient advice, which is often required at very short notice, and sometimes from left field. But the way in which we are greeted when we arrive in the parliament and the way people are willing to look after us is greatly appreciated, even if, on occasions, being our own centre of attention we do not always acknowledge it as well as we should.

I also recognise the Serjeant-at-Arms and the staff, the library staff and the Hansard staff. I would like to particularly mention the IT staff. They must have a nightmare of a job. Nothing ever seems to work, if you ask me, but it might have a fair bit to do with me rather than the IT staff! But in reality they are often there to help out when we actually need it. I also thank the dining room staff, the cafeteria people and the COMCAR drivers. I particularly make mention tonight of the staff from HRG, who make all of our travel arrangements. I am not sure whether members are yet aware of the fact that they have lost the contract and they will only be here for another week or two. I do not know why they have lost the contract, but these sorts of things sadly happen. Some of the people who have been serving us in this parliament for a very long time are not going to be here any longer. It seems the new contractors are bringing in new people. In the past the same people have often stayed from one contract to another. I particularly acknowledge Joe Larter, Sarah Matruglio, Andrea Giampa and Kylie Salmon, who have been looking after all of the members of this place with a great degree of diligence. We often change our minds, the airlines often change their minds and there are often crises on a Sunday night, and they get about their work with a great deal of diligence. We wish them well for whatever their future may hold. I understand that they will still be employees of HRG, but not in this building. I send acknowledgements to the cleaners and the gardeners and others who work in this building. Thank you for your assistance over the year.

I also pay tribute to Tony Abbott as leader of the opposition. He shows extraordinary dedication, commitment and diligence. He never seems to tire. It has been a pleasure also to work with Julie Bishop and the shadow cabinet team. We really have a close working relationship, and that sometimes has been tried through the events of the day, but it has worked well, and it has been a pleasure to work in a coalition of this nature.

In my own party, I acknowledge Nigel Scullion as a very faithful and loyal deputy. He is the master of the mango daiquiri, but probably the hardest person to get hold of because he spends more time out in the desert and remote Aboriginal communities than anybody else in the parliament, and he does a terrific job. Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash—the leaders in the Senate—also do a great job for our party in their work in the Senate. My colleagues, many of whom are here tonight, the senators; their loyal support and cooperation is very much appreciated. It has been a great pleasure to work with them. Mark Coulton, our whip, does a great job. He is out whipping. For most of the year, he has had no clerical staff. I am pleased he has had a little bit over the last week or two. It really has been a challenge for Mark. He, and his wife Robyn, who is like a free volunteer, have managed to do the job and do it with a great deal of dignity and attention to detail.

I also acknowledge Paul Neville, who is sitting behind me. Paul has announced his retirement—indeed, his successor will be chosen this weekend. Paul has been an adornment to the parliament and I will say a lot more about that next year, but, unless something odd happens, this is likely to be the last time he is in the parliament for these acknowledgements, and I recognise his role as a National Party whip for a very long time, both in government and in opposition. He has worked really hard on that. His other particular interest has been in communications. He has taken a keen interest in regional areas and transport as well. Some of the Neville reports, when he was chairman of the committee, have helped to guide policy development over the years. Thank you to those people.

Thanks also to Scott Mitchell, our new federal director, and the Nationals secretariat. Thanks to John Tanner, who has retired as the president of our party, and Christine Ferguson, the new president. I also acknowledge the National's branch network across the country. We actually have the biggest branch network of any political party in the nation. That has its challenges, but it also is a great asset and one that we prize very much indeed. David Whitrow, and my office staff in Canberra, are very important to my capacity to do my job. I certainly appreciate that, along with the work that my electorate staff does, because I am not there nearly as often as I would like to be.

The leader of government business mentioned his spouse and family. I acknowledge not only Lyn—she has had a tough year—and the support that she gives to me but also the spouses of everyone. They are all absolutely key people. I do not particularly want to mention this too much, but I feel for Michael and Catherine at the present time. Catherine has had to go home to a house that has been smashed and burgled and belted up. Michael, we feel for you as you go back to help with the painting and whatever else is going to have to be done to make your house liveable again. This is a disgusting thing that happens from time to time, and you have carried on stoically these last 24 hours when things were not great at home. All of us go through these things from time to time, and that is what makes this job so tough.

Ladies and gentleman, Christmas is a special time of the year when families get together. Members are so often away and value that time, perhaps more than anyone else. During our own break we need to remember others: those who will be working this Christmas; those who will be on alert; the families that have lost a loved one—and we particularly think of the Prime Minister in this regard and of one of our own colleagues, Kay Hull, whose husband died just a couple of days ago. It will be particularly sad for those Christmas tables when there are empty chairs, when a loved one is not there this time.

It is Australia's disaster season, so let us pray for a safe season where there will be no floods, no fires, no cyclones and no other disasters. But we know that there will be people on call if, indeed, they have to act. Thank you also to the people who have to work over Christmas—carers in nursing homes and hospitals, the police, emergency services personnel and others.

May I as shadow minister join the minister in appealing to people to travel safely on the roads. Travel safely. There is nothing sadder than a Christmas having to be spent in a hospital or visiting relatives of people who have lost their lives. So let's make it a very safe Christmas.

In this regard, I also mention our troops in Afghanistan and other places overseas. It is hard to celebrate Christmas when you are away from your family, but I guess it is doubly hard when you are in a country where there is actually no particular recognition of Christmas or it has no meaning. And, of course, it is still very dangerous there. So we have a special prayer for our people in Afghanistan.

Next year will be a busy year—an election year. It will be a busy year for us all. I hope that we can go away and come back refreshed and willing to constructively build a better future for our country and work together. But then of course there will be a vigorous campaign at some stage. On our side, we hope that speeches on occasions like this will be done in an opposite order next time around.

Finally, let us not forget the true meaning of Christmas. The reason for the gift-giving, the lights and the wishes of goodwill is God's gift of his son Jesus to light the world. Spare some time this Christmas to also celebrate this very special event.