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Thursday, 24 November 2011
Page: 13848

Ms JULIE BISHOP (CurtinDeputy Leader of the Opposition) (17:08): This year will go down as one of the most tumultuous in federal parliamentary history, and the unprecedented events of today are no exception. Mr Speaker, I congratulate you on your elevation to the high office of Speaker of the House of Representatives. I also pay tribute to the previous Speaker, Harry Jenkins. He did develop quite a cult following. There were a number of people out there in question time viewing-land who were just wild about Harry and he will most certainly be missed.

This chamber has been the setting for robust debates over competing policy decisions this year. It is the battlefield in the war of words as we fight for the principles and ideas that each side of politics believes are in the national interest. We have seen some of the most intriguing backroom deals this year—a level of Machiavellian conduct that would make the master proud. But tradition, convention and precedent underpin the Westminster system of government upon which our democracy rests. Ours is one of the oldest continuous democracies in the world, and while question time might often descend into disorder—all Australians know why it is called question time; it is certainly not called answer time!—we should never apologise for robust political debate. For however passionately we hold our views, argue our case, advocate our cause, in the end we must never lose sight of the fact that people are entitled to a different viewpoint, and in a free society should be free to express that view, however much we may disagree.

Over the century of this parliament we as a nation have upheld the fundamental freedoms. We have fought to retain those freedoms and I want to mention our armed forces representing our country overseas. Our defence personnel are defending those freedoms and fighting for the universal ideals of freedom and choice. I particularly want to mention our troops in Afghanistan and the troops and families of the Special Air Service Regiment based in Swanbourne in my electorate of Curtin. People all over the world aspire to live a life free from the threat of violence, wherever they are, and they aspire to live in a peaceful environment. Recently, I attended the funeral of Lance Corporal Luke Gavin, one of the 32 soldiers who have been killed in Afghanistan. It was heartbreaking to reflect on the human cost of conflict. As a nation we must never forget those who have given their lives on our behalf and we must always support those who have been wounded.

Turning to home, I pay tribute to the Leader of the Liberal Party, the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott. His inexhaustible energy is much admired. He is a strong, courageous and committed leader. Last year he forever changed the political landscape in this country and achieved what no other Leader of the Opposition has achieved—seeing off a first-term Prime Minister, although the faceless men certainly finished that Prime Minister off. When a first-term government lost its majority for the first time in 80 years Tony Abbott made political history. He will make a fine leader of our nation. I have worked closely with Tony for many years now and we have a mutually respectful relationship. I enjoy his company and I look forward to continue working with him.

To Warren Truss, the Leader of the Nationals, and the whole coalition team—the members and senators—I pay tribute to your extraordinary efforts. We have a close-knit leadership team. I value the professional relationship I have with Tony and Warren and my other colleagues Eric Abetz, George Brandis, Barnaby Joyce and Nigel Scullion as well as Joe Hockey and Chris Pyne. We are a team. We spend a lot of time together and it is always positive, good humoured and quality time. My fellow shadow ministry colleagues have worked well together this year. Our policy development committee is well advanced. Our work on identifying wasteful spending in the budget is ongoing. I thank not only our colleagues but also our policy committee chairs, our whips, those who serve on the Speaker's panel and all those who take part in the everyday ongoing parliamentary process in this place.

I place on record my thanks to my Western Australian parliamentary colleagues for their support and their company on those long trips across the Nullarbor. To the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Leader of the House and the cabinet ministers, the Labor Party and the crossbenchers, I wish you the very best for the Christmas break, hopefully with your families and friends.

I want to take this opportunity to thank my staff—a competent, loyal and dedicated band, who work very hard for the cause that they believe in. In the Canberra office there is Murray, my chief of staff, Peter and Sam; in the electorate office, the indispensible Kirsten, Sue, Georgina, Judy and Mandy. I acknowledge and thank all of the staff who work here at Parliament House, all who work in this great public institution—who get up every morning, come into this place, hoping to make a difference, hoping to ensure that this parliament functions as the Australian people expect and deserve.

Finally, I acknowledge the members of the press gallery and thank them for their reporting. 'Fair and balanced' is the phrase, I believe. I wish everyone a safe and happy Christmas and hope that we all return refreshed and reinvigorated as we strive to provide better public policy outcomes for all Australians. I wish all Australians a safe and happy Christmas.