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Thursday, 3 December 2015
Page: 14742

Mr BURKE (WatsonManager of Opposition Business) (16:54): In participating in the valedictories, I begin by acknowledging that, for the balance of the year, a whole lot of different people were in a series of key roles—in particular, the former Prime Minister, former Treasurer and former Speaker. I want to wish all of those three people, regardless of arguments back and forth that have occurred during their time in office, all the very best. Certainly the former Speaker and I continue to see each other at many events in Sydney. We both have a passion for the arts, so we see each other at intervals at different things. We speak very strictly about the show! I do wish the former Speaker well, as I do the former Prime Minister and former Treasurer.

Mr Speaker, I join with the comments that have been made about the way you have fitted into your role. You said you wanted free-flowing debate. I think it is fair to say that the best example of how you have achieved that is that you let the government say more than we think you should let them say and you let us ask more than the government think we should be able to ask. In terms of that balance and keeping to the standing orders in that way, the parliament is no doubt better for it. I will say, Mr Speaker, that you have been a disaster for my profile—an absolute, abject disaster! I used to be able to get on the news all the time when parliament was sitting and you have wrecked that! I wish you well during this break. You and your staff have done an extraordinary job in the role.

I contrast this place with the other place. Whenever you flick over the channel in a moment of madness to the other place and watch what is happening in the red room, almost always there is a debate going on about the order of debate. That is almost without exception. The more we can be debating the issues rather than the procedures or rulings the more the parliament is doing its job. I think that has been the case in this place in your time, Mr Speaker. I wish you and your family all the very best for the sort of summer you spoke about hoping for earlier on.

I also acknowledge your team—the Deputy Speaker, Bruce Scott, who has been very well regarded around here for a long time, and our own Rob Mitchell, who is not our own when he is in the chair, and the other members of the Speakers panel. However, the utility that we have always had in telling people, 'If you get on the Speakers panel you might be a great Speaker one day,' is another thing that you are starting to wreck as an argument, Mr Speaker, given that you have not yourself served on it!

I want to acknowledge the whips and their teams on both sides. The whips have a similar circumstance as what happens between the Manager of Opposition Business and the Leader of the House, which is that, while they can have disagreements, they must absolutely trust each other and keep their word to each other. Otherwise, the parliament cannot operate effectively. I want to acknowledge them.

Leader of the House, you are on my list, but you are a long way down, so I am going to move you up! I want to acknowledge the Leader of the House. The Leader of the House has been fearless in his advocacy for his own side and for getting legislation through. He would probably see it as a great victory that the House has frequently run out of anything to do when the legislation before us has been sent across to the Senate early so that it can sit there until late! There have been many times when the Leader of the House and I have had to manage difficult procedures through the parliament, and there has never been a circumstance when the Leader of the House has done anything other than keep his word or follow through exactly on the procedures that he said would happen. That is appreciated and respected.

In return, I would remind people, as a gesture of goodwill, that A Letter to My Children is available as a Christmas gift for those who choose to contribute. In doing so, they would not just provide a wonderful gift to whoever they decide to put it under the tree for; they would also give the Leader of the House the opportunity to pursue another career at some point in time!

On my own side, I want to thank the Leader of the Opposition. It has been said for a long time that there is no harder job in politics. The Leader of the Opposition has seen off a number of people who he has been in fierce debate with during his time in opposition. There is one more who we are seeking to do that with! I certainly wish the Leader of the Opposition, as well as Chloe and the kids, all the very best, and I hope they have a good break over summer before what will be a relentless 2016.

Similarly in the leadership team, Tanya, her husband Michael and their kids are good friends of mine. I thank the Senate leadership, although members of the Reps, depending on the hour tonight, will have varying degrees of gratitude to those in the other place. I should also add the member for Grayndler, who, as my predecessor in this role for my party—for some time in between he held the position of Leader of the House—has always been available and contributed actively to providing guidance for tactics in the House and for the procedures of the House. I am grateful for both his counsel and his friendship.

To the rest of my parliamentary colleagues, I wish you well, my caucus colleagues and the family that you have within your own party. On that note, I would acknowledge that, when I talk about the family that you have within your own party, while we all shared in feeling the loss of Don Randall, I am very conscious that, for those who were in the same party, it is a very acute loss. There were staffers who had gone from office to office. There was very much a collegiate feeling among members of the Liberal Party and Labor continues to offer not only sympathy to Don's family but sympathy to all members of the Liberal Party, who have undergone a particular loss in the course of this year.

The Labor staffers do an extraordinary job at making all of us look significantly better than we would otherwise look and I want to extend my appreciation to them. There is an unfortunate claim that happens here, where people say someone has never had a real job when they work as a staffer, which is a terrible thing to say about people who devote their professional life to something they believe in passionately. I think it is important that we acknowledge that no-one should ever feel that it is not a real job to dedicate your professional life to your personal beliefs.

Thank you to those who work in the parliament itself: the Clerk, David Elder; Deputy Clerk, Claressa Surtees; the Serjeant-at-Arms and everyone in the clerk's, sergeant's and table offices, and parliamentary counsel as well. To the attendants, Luc and the team, I wish you all the very best for Christmas. It is not simply the work that the attendants do throughout the parliament but it is the smile, the friendship, the genuine concern, which means a lot when it is not always being shown by everyone else in the room at any particular time. To the Hansard staff, depending on who is on their feet, your challenge is greater from time to time, but I acknowledge your work as I acknowledge the work of the Parliamentary Library.

When I talk about our staff, allow me to acknowledge the Leader of the House's adviser, John Bathgate, who we worked with in the first half of the year, has moved on to bigger and better things in that office. I congratulate him on his escape from parliamentary procedure and welcome his replacement, Hannah March, who, I understand, has made a very good start in what is a challenging role.

I am grateful to my own staff, in particular Ewan Kelly. A lot of the administrative work in bringing everything together here is done by Michelle Melihar in my office and I also acknowledge my chief of staff, Alex Lim. Ron Mizen is in the office but he is off doing other things. He has not come into the chamber so I will acknowledge him next year. I thank everyone at Aussies, the coffee cart, the staff cafeteria, the staff in the dining room and the catering services. The cleaners of the parliament have frequently this year and last year found themselves the subject of parliamentary debate. They have kept their professionalism the whole way through and are an extraordinary group of individuals. Best wishes to the grounds people and maintenance staff, the drivers, the travel agency, FCM—who handle the bookings—the Federal Police and security staff.

We thank the Press Gallery on different levels on a day-to-day basis. I think we are all mindful that the Press Gallery contains fewer people than it used to and that is not a good thing. I certainly hope people in the gallery get through the different challenges that are happening at the moment. With changes in the media itself and how people get their news, I hope that we start to see over time a resurgence in the number of people who are able to dedicate their lives to reporting in this place.

There are a few people in the public gallery, but, because there will not be a photo, I will put on the Hansard that the public galleries are absolutely packed with people wanting to hear the valedictories tonight! The crowd is going wild! I want to thank those people who, during the course of the year, have given up a chunk of their day—which they may have regretted, depending on what they watched—and come in to watch the parliament directly in action.

A number of people have been lost in the course of the year, in addition to Don. I was close, even though he was on the other side of the House, to Alby Schultz. I am very conscious for two members of my own side that at the beginning of the year, the member for Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon, lost his father, a former member of this place as well, Eric Fitzgibbon, and, in the loss of Tom Uren the member for Grayndler lost someone who was like a father. I want to acknowledge that. In my own portfolio, I want to acknowledge the passing of Peter Walsh, who, from the Labor perspective, very much made and designed the Finance portfolio.

It has been a roller-coaster of a year. Given that next year is an election year, I suspect that we will see more of that. I would like to conclude with two thoughts. Sometimes people look at these speeches and say: 'Everyone is so civil. Why can't it always be like that?' Thank heavens it is not, because we come here on behalf of communities that want us to represent them and that means that we will argue for different things. Those arguments should be fierce; they should be passionate. That is what the parliament is about. It is a parliament not a club, and that is exactly what it should be. Finally, people would be aware that, depending on how you factor it in—and this is a constant argument between me and Chris Bowen, but I will argue it because I am the one before the microphone—my electorate is the most multicultural in the country. I am always glad that we have not gone the way of the United States where people just say, 'Happy holidays,' and are reluctant to wish people the best for individual feast days that mean the world to them. People will wish me the best for Hanukkah, they will wish me the best for Holi, they will wish me the best for Deepavali and they will wish me an Eid Mubarak. I appreciate it when they offer those from the bottom of their heart, because they are feasts and festivals that mean the world to them. For myself and my faith, we are about to enter what is, together with Easter, the most special time of the year. In the same spirit, I would like to wish each and every member of the parliament, the attendants and everyone who is here all the very best for a happy Christmas and a peaceful new year.