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Wednesday, 26 June 2013
Page: 7207

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (11:17): Firstly, I commend the member for Capricornia for her fine speech and wish her well in her post-political life. As she mentioned, we have gone a long way together—around the world, indeed, to Canada and Mongolia and on our regional Australia trip. Certainly, her contribution to that fly-in fly-out inquiry was invaluable.

Speaking of invaluable, such has been the work of the former Attorney General, the member for Barton, whose seat is named after Edmund Barton, the first prime minister of this great country. Certainly, there is going to be a different political landscape in the building we are acknowledging today in this motion on the 25-year anniversary of this building. It is going to look totally different in the next parliament. We have the members for Capricornia and Barton both retiring. This morning we heard that the members for New England and Lyne are joining them in retirement. But while the faces will change, the building and its service to the nation will go on. Parliament House is a symbol of Australian democracy, home to the Australian parliament and the meeting place of the nation. It was originally the ground upon which the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people used to meet as well and we should acknowledge them in this motion.

On 9 May 1988, the building we are currently standing in—Australia's Parliament House—was officially opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, long may she reign, 10 years after the Fraser government decided a new building was required on Capital Hill. Old Parliament House, as it is now known, was opened in 1927 and was only ever intended to be a temporary building for the Australian parliament; however, the building was starting to become outgrown and by the 1980s there were 3,000 people working in a space originally designed for just 300. Old Parliament House served Australia well—for 61 long years. It is very much an iconic building.

The Fraser government announced a two-stage competition to become the designer of the new building, and the winner was New York based architectural firm Mitchell/Giurgola, with Italian architect Romaldo Giurgola on site for the construction process. Construction of this magnificent building began in 1981 and was intended to be completed by Australia Day 1988 to coincide with the 200th anniversary of European settlement in Australia. The construction was to cost Australia $220 million. However, neither the completion date nor the budgets were met. Her Majesty opened the building just over three months after the expected date—which is not too bad, given the size and scope of the building—and the building cost a total of A$1.1 billion, making it the most expensive building in the world at the time of its construction. But it is worth it. I think we would all agree that it has certainly been worth it. I know the member for Canberra agrees that it is worth it; it is probably in her electorate.

Ms Brodtmann: It is in my electorate.

Mr McCORMACK: It is in her electorate. Ten thousand people took part in the construction of Parliament House, and the building is constructed almost entirely of Australian materials. The building is one of the largest in the southern hemisphere, measuring 300 metres long and 300 metres wide and covering a floor area of more than 250,000 square metres. We heard the member for McPherson say before that there are 25 kilometres of corridors, and that is an amazing statistic. The official opening date of 9 May was chosen to align with the anniversary of the opening of both the first federal parliament in Melbourne on 9 May 1901 by the Duke of Cornwall and York, later King George V, and the provisional parliament house in Canberra on 9 May in 1927 by the Duke of York, later King George VI and father to Queen Elizabeth II.

The building was designed to blend in with the local environment, and one million cubic metres of earth were removed so that the centre zone of Parliament House could be built into Capital Hill. This was then replaced with two curved walls and covered with grass to recreate the shape of the hill. Aside from returning the earth back to the environment, the reconstruction of the hill was also of symbolic purpose—and this is what the Prime Minister talked about the other day in her fine speech—in that it was meant for the public to be able to walk over the building and serve as a reminder to those who serve as members of parliament and senators that they are not above the public but that indeed the public are above politicians and have the right to hold us accountable.

As times have changed, security measures have needed to be increased and people can no longer walk over the top of the building, but the sentiment is still there and it is something that I think every person who serves in this parliament should always remember. We should also remember that, as we look out the front doors of Parliament House, the Australian War Memorial is off in the distance. That building, which is a fine centrepiece of Australian democracy as well, serves to remind us that men and women died so that we could live in peace and have freedom, free speech and a free democracy—and that is so very important.

Whilst not being able to walk over the building, the public can still gain access to the top of the building where they not only are treated to amazing views across Canberra, the member for Canberra's electorate but also get to see firsthand the 81-metre flagpole from which an Australian flag measuring almost the size of half a tennis court is flown. The flag is the pinnacle of Parliament House, and the flag and the flagpole are just as iconic an image as the parliamentary complex itself. May we long retain the flag we have now, because it is a great symbol.

The forecourt is the primary entrance to Parliament House and was designed to invite people into the building. The two walls which frame the entrance almost appear as two outstretched arms to welcome people in. The complex is then divided into the ministerial wing, the House of Representatives, the Senate and the entrance, which includes the magnificent Great Hall. The public can view a large area at the front of Parliament House, but for security reasons and to ensure efficient day-to-day running most of the building has restricted access.

If you enter from the forecourt and walk through the Great Hall you arrive in the Members' Hall, which is located outside the House of Representatives chamber. There is a water feature placed there so that anyone on the upper level, whilst being able to look down into the hall, is unable to hear conversations which may be taking place. That is sometimes important because there are a few conversations meant for private ears in this place that should stay just that—such as on a day like today when we have only a couple of sitting days left in parliament.

Each wing of the complex has its own distinct colouring system. The ministerial wing has blue carpet, and the House of Representatives and Senate have adopted the Westminster colouring of green and red respectively, but with a distinct Australian feel. The green of the House of Representatives is muted to align with the colourings of the eucalyptus leaves, and the red of the Senate is a softer shade to represent the red of the outback. People who have visited the Senate may have noticed that the emergency exit signs are red. In Australia, it is compulsory to have green emergency exit signs, and an act of parliament needed to be passed to allow the Senate to have red exit signs. These are the only exit signs in Australia which are not green. Isn't that interesting?

Parliament House is not only a Canberra icon, but it is also an Australian icon, with many Australian tourists visiting every year in addition to the numerous international visitors who leave the tourist hot spots of the big cities to come and see Australian democracy at work. I was speaking to a lady from America yesterday at the post office here, and she admired the building. I said, 'Your President, Barack Obama, when he visited here not that long ago, was also in absolute admiration of the size, the scope and the magnificence of Australian Parliament House.' It truly is something to be proud of.

Another large contingent who visit this building every year are Australian school students. I would imagine that we get more students visiting from my Riverina electorate, which is not very far west of here, than from any other electorate in Australia. We have more than 120 schools in my electorate. The kids just love it. They love the certificates they get, which I personally sign and which the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives also have signed. The kids love coming here.

I remember coming to the Old Parliament House—I do go back that far—and getting off the bus and being marshalled into lines. On the steps, Malcolm Fraser—yes, it was that long ago—was being interviewed. I thought that it would be a really cool thing to be interviewed on the steps of Parliament House, but let me tell you—many, many years on and having come to this place as a parliamentarian—sometimes it is not that cool to be interviewed on the steps of Parliament House. We have all had those 'gotcha' moments, when the media have asked you a question and you have answered it and you think that it might not come out as well as was intended. But the school students love coming to this place. You can see the eagerness in their brisk walk and the enthusiasm in their eyes when they are all going into the hospitality area.

To that end, I commend the hospitality people, because they do a fine job with the school students, and the school students are always very respectful. I love being able to meet with the students from my electorate and relay to them the importance and significance of this building and, indeed, of Australian democracy. I always get them to look out of the window at the War Memorial, which, as I mentioned before, is a poignant reminder to us all that we only sit here today because of the brave men and women of our country who have gone and fought. Sadly, more than 105,000 of them have died in combat.

I feel honoured and humbled to serve as the 14th member for Riverina. It is a Federation seat, and may it long continue to be a seat recognised by this parliament and all that it represents. I trust that this building will continue to see many more years and many more parliaments. I believe it will continue to serve us as a symbol of Australian democracy and the meeting place for our great nation.

Before I conclude, I would also like to pay tribute to the member for Hinkler, who I know is going to follow me in speaking, for his fine service. I know how proud he is to come to this place. There are not too many members who actually served in the Old Parliament House and are now serving in this Parliament House. I know that Philip Ruddock, the member for Berowra, is one of them, and he is contesting this election. One of them who is retiring is Senator Ron Boswell, the great Queensland Nationals senator. He is from the Liberal National Party, but he is certainly very much a National Party senator—

Ms O'Dwyer: Very much a National.

Mr McCORMACK: He is very much a National Party senator, as the member for Higgins reminds me. 'Bossie' has given this place his life, and certainly he will be greatly missed. There are some characters in this place. If you look at the prime ministers that we have had and some of the great speeches that we have heard, it is a tremendous place.

The longest serving member for Riverina was Noel Hicks. He also was actually the National Party member for Riverina-Darling, because the electorate had a slight name change when they added the name Darling between 1984 and 1993. He came into this place when it opened in 1988. He had been serving in the old place. He said that the new Parliament House was well overdue at the time but that this place took some getting used to. He has very many fond memories of the traditions of the sitting nights in the old place. He said that the old parliament was perhaps a little bit more bipartisan. In 1988, 3,000 people were crammed into a building designed for just 300. There were shared offices, and the House of Representatives chamber was too small to fit the number of members elected to it. You could not help but get along with members on the other side, he told me. The parliamentary bar, Mr Hicks said, was where most of the governing actually happened. He said that there was a real sense of camaraderie and civility between members and senators and the parliamentary bar was where this conviviality was really on display in the old House. While the facilities that we have in this place are undoubtedly first class, it is the camaraderie Mr Hicks speaks of and which many retired members have lamented the gradual decline in that I think this place could do with perhaps a bit more of. We get to know the members well on committee work and delegations but perhaps it is a shame that we do not sometimes push the tables together more in the politicians' dining room and share a meal with our combatants on the other side.

Noel Hicks, however, does speak of how better equipped this place is compared with its predecessor. We even have terrific childcare facilities, which are very important. We are incredibly lucky to have such a functional, modern and symbolic building in which to debate the nation's future. This is a place steeped in the traditions of the Westminster system which also reflects the changing nature and aspirations of the modern Australian nation. There is no better reflection of what our nation is then the wonderful synergy this place has of the old and the new. I commend the motion.