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Wednesday, 26 June 2013
Page: 7198

Mr RUDDOCK (Berowra) (10:34): Given the matters that we have just been discussing it seems very mundane to be talking about our own accommodation, but I intend to do that in relation to the 25th anniversary of the new Parliament House, which was opened in 1988.

This House ought to be seen as an appropriate venue for the purpose of legislating. I often greet school parties visiting Canberra and I ask them about why we have a Parliament House. I ask them whether they have rules at their school and tell them that this is the place—it does not matter whether you call them pieces of legislation, statutes or bills—where the rules for Australia are made. I ask them: do you think it is an important place?

I remind them that in 1994 I attended the first democratic elections in South Africa. I had the opportunity of witnessing people who had been deprived of the opportunity to vote. When they had that first opportunity in 1994 I saw the queues. I visited Annangrove Public School the other day and asked the children whether their parents would stand in a queue all the way from Annangrove Road up to Old Northern Road and down to Rouse Hill. They look at me with surprise and said that they did not think their parents would wait in a queue all day.

Nevertheless, it seems to me a place that is fundamental to our democracy ought to be an appropriate place. More than 25 years ago I sat in the old chamber. I think it was recorded in the debate the other day that I am one of four who remain here who were familiar with the Old Parliament House. I always like to give Malcolm Fraser a bit of a clip. Malcolm Fraser never wanted the new Parliament House. One of the most fascinating party room discussions—there may be more fascinating party room discussions in this place today!—a long time ago was when Malcolm Fraser brought the parliamentary coalition together down in Old Parliament House to tell us of his plans for developing on the Senate and House of Representatives lawns two additional sets of offices on either side to accommodate the needs of members of parliament. It was a relatively short meeting because he got short shrift from the parliamentary party, which told him, even though he showed us some rather exotic plans, that they were not suitable. I think only two people spoke, and I was one of them. He then decided he was not on the winning side.

A competition was held. It was very interesting. A great deal of interest was taken in the fact that the principal architect, Giurgola, could not be here the other day. He is now an Australian citizen. At the time he belonged to an American architecture firm that tendered. I think he was Italian. They added a man by the name of the Thorp to the list of partners so that they would have an Australian connection. I do not care who came up with the design, quite frankly. I do not care whether it was an Australian or not. I think the design of this building is particularly unique.

I reminded the school children when they visit that this building on Capital Hill—and there was the argument about whether it should be on Capital Hill or down on the lake—was built with the hill removed so that the lawns could be grown over the top of the building and the people would be on top of the legislators. When you look at the plans—and I am sure they are somewhere; David Elder will be able to tell me who has them—of the other participants in the competition, some of them were like the buildings in Malaysia. They envisaged multistorey towers on Capital Hill. There was only one, in my view, that reflected something of the design of the Old Parliament House with two chambers on either side and the major facilities that we will all share in the middle. Down there it was King's Hall and up here it is the Great Hall and the Members' Hall. But, if you actually look at the old design that served us from 1927, I think it was, it was suitable for the purposes and for the time. The design was appropriate and has been reflected in the design of this parliament. But, if you ask me whether I would rather sit in the old house or this house, there is no question—I would rather sit in this house.

I will say a few things about the old place, because it puts things into perspective. There was a lot more camaraderie than is enjoyed here—because you were in closer proximity. There is perhaps a gender issue in this, but there was one place where people frequently saw each other—because there were no loos in the rooms—and that was the loo between the cabinet room and the back of the chamber, adjacent to the Speaker's office. People frequently saw each other at the urinal. The nature of the conversations which took place there was surprising. I do not think there would ever be a conversation like that up here.

My colleague in the chamber here was just bending his elbow—I am not sure why, but perhaps what he was referring to was that the Old Parliament House had a members bar. It did. I do not often disclose the fact that I am teetotal, but I can remember when Jim Killen saw me in there on one occasion. He asked, 'What is parliament's most famous Rechabite doing in here?' The bar was a very important place. The non-members bar was equally important. Here they constructed bars, but—if you are new and you do not know—they have been boarded up. They are now the bakery and the florist's room, I think. The bars are behind the boards on either side—the Senate bar and the House of Representatives bar were closed. There was a non-members bar. What is it now? It is now the childcare centre.

The way Parliament House works has changed. We have offices which are sufficiently commodious for people to work in. They are larger than members need for their staff, because they usually only have one staffer with them. Members' rooms are amazing. They have a waiting room, with a place for a staff member, and then three other desks for staff members. I think the accommodation for members is generous. In comparison to what existed in the old chamber, the accommodation is appropriate—but not necessary. In my judgement, the accommodation in this place which is woefully inadequate is the accommodation for ministers. I make that point very strongly.

It is occasionally commented that members are seen to be dozing in the chambers. I think someone even took a photograph of a member who may have put his head back momentarily. In Old Parliament House, nobody had a couch in their room to which they could go and quietly rest. The parliament would often sit until the early hours of the morning. I think the parliamentary catering staff have forgotten how to put on sausages for breakfast after the House has gone through until six or seven o'clock in the morning. That would test them up here. But, in the old chamber, if people needed to take a quiet moment, the only place they could go was, I think, the Parliamentary Library. I can remember seeing Billy Wentworth in there quite frequently.

I make these observations not in jest but because I believe this parliament building is appropriate for the democracy we all enjoy. I think it is important from that point of view. It enables people to do their job far more effectively than they were able to in the old chambers. There are other factors. Ministers now work from this place rather than offices elsewhere in Canberra; that has been a significant change.

For my own part, I was glad to be able to sit on the Joint Standing Committee on the New Parliament House for a time. I sat, interestingly enough, with the fathers of two present members of the House of Representatives, Harry Jenkins and Robert McClelland. Doug McClelland, who was President of the Senate, was a joint chairman, as was Dr Harry Jenkins Senior as Speaker of the House of Representatives. Tom Uren was a member. Labor may not want to remember Mal Colston and Georgie Georges, who was the only person I can remember who crossed the floor and never got held to account for it. I do not know what they do these days. There was Kathy Martin—later Kathy Sullivan—who was a senator at that time. Margaret Reid, latterly President, was a member, as was Kerry Sibraa, another President of the Senate. Other members besides me were the late Don Dobie; Ros Kelly; Bruce Lloyd, a National Party member from Victoria; Helen Mayer; and Leo McLeay, who also became Speaker. We took an interest in the future of this building. We saw it as being important and were committed to it. I can say from personal experience that it is appropriate that the parliament be accommodated in the way in which it is. I think the building is suitable for the purpose, and I think it is appropriate on its 25th anniversary that we commend those who brought it to fruition.