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Wednesday, 26 June 2013
Page: 7214

Mr NEVILLE (HinklerThe Nationals Deputy Whip) (11:43): Deputy Speaker, it is interesting that you mention Wide Bay instead of Hinkler. I am going to draw an analogy between the two seats in my speech.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I apologise, member for Hinkler.

Mr NEVILLE: There is no need to apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. It was actually the member for Wide Bay at the time, Andrew Fisher, who laid the foundation stone for the first Parliament House 100 years ago. But we are here today primarily to celebrate the 25th anniversary of this great Parliament House. But, as the member for Canberra said, it is overlaid by the second great anniversary, the 100th anniversary of the naming of Canberra and the laying of the foundation stone for the first Parliament House. As I have said, it was Andrew Fisher who was the member for my area and who laid that foundation stone. Interestingly, you can go to Gympie—which is not in my electorate but is in the electorate of Wide Bay, adjoining mine—where there is a historical precinct and you can actually go to Andrew Fisher's house. For those of you going up the north coast anytime in the future, it is worth stopping in Gympie to get that lovely link between Wide Bay, one of the original seats, Andrew Fisher and indeed this place.

It is hard to encapsulate what this place means. Like all great public buildings, when it was being built it was roundly criticised: 'Why are they digging that big hole in the hill?' 'Couldn't they have built it on some flat land?' 'Why do they need a million dollars for a flagpole?' When you think about it, to the uninitiated, not seeing the architectural vision of Romaldo Giurgola at that time, you would have been taken aback before you saw that beautiful architectural shape of the flagpole and so the concept of someone spending a million dollars on a flagpole was probably a bit more than some people could bear. Then again all great buildings have been challenges, not least of which is the Opera House. There were people who thought the Opera House was a dreadful building but, of course, time has proven them quite wrong—as indeed it has with this building.

I like the line in Tony Abbott's address when they had the function, morning tea, in the Great Hall to celebrate this 25th anniversary. He offered an interesting line. He said it is a bit like a young person's first suit because you might look a bit awkward and gorky in it at first but eventually you grow into it. Indeed, we have grown into this and, as you have heard other speakers say today, Old Parliament House in many respects had become a bit of a shambles with people living on top of each other, cramped offices—

An honourable member interjectin g

Mr NEVILLE: I am sure you did. From a sense of sentimentality, I am sure you did. Indeed, all Australians would still take great pride in it as being our first Parliament House in Canberra. The other thing that Tony Abbott said—which others have said in other ways—was that a 'nation’s pride in itself should indeed be reflected in its public buildings'. Those of us who have had the good fortune to go to Rome, Paris or London and see the rich history that has built up there, or to stand on the Eiffel Tower and see the symmetry of Paris and Napoleon's vision for that, know it is inspiring. So a statement about our nationhood was really called for. After all, the first Parliament House was only ever called the temporary parliament house. As others have said, it opened on 9 May 1927, after a fairly elongated period in the Victorian parliament.

For this building I am in the imagery is very good. It is a bold statement in the sense of the grandeur of the place and the area it takes up, being 300 metres by 300 metres, cut into a hill, Capitol Hill. But then, at the same time, with the grass overlaying it, there is a sense that we have not got beyond ourselves—that, in the end, we serve this country from this place. So it is a mixture of a national statement on the one hand and national restraint on the other.

As the member for Riverina said, the American President, Barack Obama, was full of praise for this building. I can remember that not long after I came here we had a state visit from President von Weizsacker of West Germany, as it was then. President von Weizsacker said that he believed it was the greatest parliament house in the world. That is something we can take great pride in—that we had set a standard in our public building which reflected our confidence and reflected a national sentiment.

I think that this Parliament House has some quite exquisite features, one of which is the almost total use of Australian materials. To see the rich marbles, the rich timbers and the beautiful timber inlays in the Marble Foyer—you certainly come away with a sense of pride, not only in the architectural statement made by the building but in the workmanship and the arts and skills that went into creating this ambience. The two chambers are such that—the member for Lingiari probably craves the old building a little—they will serve us for 200 years even if the House of the Representatives and Senate were to increase again by, say, another 12 members. You virtually have to go up in multiples of 12—two for each state with six states—for the Senate and then you have to double that for the House of Representatives. It is interesting to know that that next step could be taken without substantially altering this building.

A few things troubled me this year. This is not said, by the way, with any sense of malice or as overt criticism, but I think it needs to be said. We developed, in this very chamber we are in today, something unique in the Westminster system—this idea of a second debating chamber for the lower house of the parliament. It was a very well-structured idea, which came out of the Keating government, to give us this. The thing that troubles me about it is that, after all these years, we have not developed it to the next stage. This 25-year anniversary of the new building, on the one hand, and the 100th anniversary of the naming of Canberra, on the other, is a marvellous opportunity for us to seize—to build the permanent Federation Chamber. The plans are there. Many of us in this room who are chairs of committees have sat in on consultations and have seen these plans. Having seen them, I think this would have been a great opportunity to initiate that.

Now I put to you another challenge. Before this year is out, a new parliament will assemble. To close off 2013, this year of silver jubilee and centenary, why not bookend it by at least laying the foundation stone for the federation chamber? In other words, if we cannot build the thing this year, at least make the commitment this year. We started something quite unique with a second debating chamber and it is something that has been taken up by the mother of parliaments, the UK parliament, whose second chamber is in Westminster Hall, with its rich history going back a thousand years.

Australians are great lovers of democracy and this is a significant year for us. When we reflect on our democracy we can go right back to the early concepts of democracy from Greece. In a more practical sense, we can go back 800 years to Magna Cartawhich is the lively document upon which most of the English-speaking parliaments of the world are based. We can go out into the tourist areas of this building and see one of the three original copies of Magna Carta—an 800-year-old document and the document upon which all our parliamentary business is ultimately based. The history of this parliament—a fairly short history in comparison with some of our European cousins—contains innovations like a second debating chamber, the Federation Chamber. That is an innovation that other parliaments have either adopted or are looking to adopt. I am told that even the House of Lords is looking to a second chamber. With that in mind I make this plea in my last week in this place: this year, 2013, let us make a commitment to a permanent Federation Chamber. I think that would be a great fulfilment.

Quite frankly, I think the people of Canberra and the ACT Legislative Council have done a marvellous job. They have really shown a pride in their city in this centenary. But my sense is that, on the functions I have been to here, we as the federal parliament have not pulled our weight, first, in the celebration of that 100 years and, secondly, to put a tangible overlay on the celebration of the silver jubilee of the building.

It has been a great privilege to serve in this building. As I said, it has been a great privilege to hear the leaders of the world laud it as one of the great gathering places of democracy. We should be proud of it. We should enhance it. We should make it the focal point of people who come to Canberra, particularly students, so that we build into them a sense of pride and national achievement.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Hall ): Thank you, Member for Hinkler. Thank you also, if I can put on the record, for the enormous service that you have given to this parliament. I have to say that you will be missed.