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Thursday, 29 November 2012
Page: 14035

The SPEAKER (20:04): I add to the debate by congratulating everybody who works in this building for the way they have ensured its smooth functioning this year. It has been a challenging year, as everyone has talked about. It has been characterised by significantly increased workloads and limited resources, but the parliament has functioned. We should be incredibly proud of the institution we have around us. The parliament has sat. It has worked. Regardless of what everybody has said about a hung parliament and all the rest of it, our institution does us proud. Our nation should realise that. If you go around the world to other parliaments—as Speakers get to do—you could not say that of every parliament across the globe. So, as a nation we should be incredibly proud of the institution we have.

I thank all the members who spoke today and all the others who have spoken on every bill throughout this year. We concentrate on question time and we look at that as the cut and thrust of parliament—it is not. It is all about those other speeches you give—constituent statements, adjournment debates and speeches in debates on legislation which might not mean anything to you but which may have an impact on one corner of your electorate or on one business, and you speak about it diligently. Those speeches do not get reported but they happen in this place.

It is because of the hard work of the members, their staff and the parliamentary staff that we have the amazing democracy that we have. Statistics give us a little of the picture. Up until yesterday morning, Hansard and broadcasting supported approximately 1,500 hours of parliamentary business—from Parliament House to hearings in remote communities. By the end of the year, it is expected that Parliament House will have hosted over 800,000 visitors and conducted over 1,500 tours. A lot of people come to visit this august institution and we should be proud of that.

The Parliamentary Library has been particularly busy. I suspect that is because the opposition is getting a lot of good work out of them. It has generated 359 new publications, completed over 14,000 individual client jobs and added nearly 4,000 new titles to the library collection this year alone. Some 190 bills have been introduced, 22 by private members—a record in the life of this parliament. There were 109 private members' motions debated and 45 of those were agreed to. Whatever people might say about the new paradigm, private members have had a greater say in this parliament than in any other parliament since Federation.

Members and staff have worked diligently to discharge their responsibilities on House and joint committees. There were 114 traditional reports presented and 46 advisory reports on bills—usually done on very tight turnarounds. Again, this represents an amazing amount of work that is never reported on and most people never know about—and most of that work was done in a bipartisan way.

All areas of the Department of the House of Representatives have worked solidly through the year. A new edition of House of Representatives Practice was published in August—my staff and I think of it as the Olympic edition. Members will not be surprised that it records many firsts. In addition, there has been a redoubling of efforts in relation to old favourites, such as the Speaker's casting vote. The Clerk has accused me of aspiring to set the record for its exercise. I am not trying to, but maybe by the end of next year I will hold the record for making a casting vote on the most occasions.

We have looked after visits by 32 parliamentary delegations this year alone. We have made arrangements for 21 outgoing parliamentary delegations or Presiding Officer visits. One of the two major highlights of our interparliamentary activities has been the growth of the Pacific Public Sector Linkage Program, which provides parliamentary assistance to help emerging parliaments in the Pacific—again, this is something most people do not know about but something of which we should be incredibly proud. We are assisting democracy in our very region and we are assisting it greatly. Of particular note has been the work with the parliament of Samoa in a range of activities, including assistance with developing a members handbook and providing support in developing a community encouragement strategy. In one country I visited this year, the clerk said to me that all she wanted was for her parliament to actually meet. For all our faults and failings, we are here.

The other major highlight was receiving AusAID support for the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Pacific initiative. The initiative will provide opportunities to build connections between Australian and Pacific women parliamentarians in support of capacity building. It targets not only women in parliament but also women in other sectors of the community. This year PNG had their elections. It was pretty historic. Three women were elected to their parliament. It does not sound like much, but it was a huge achievement. Again, Australia played a significant role in that.

The year 2012 has seen great changes in the Department of Parliamentary Services, who provide us with such great support. The building would cease to function without them. DPS commenced 2012 under the leadership of Mr Alan Thompson. Following Alan's retirement, Mr David Kenny, a deputy secretary, acted as secretary for a period, as did Mr Russell Grove, former Clerk of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. We thank them for help with the interim arrangements. Ms Carol Mills commenced as secretary of the department in May this year following a distinguished career in the New South Wales Public Service. The Parliamentary Librarian, Ms Roxanne Missingham, resigned in February to take up another challenging role and Dr Diane Heriot was formally appointed to the position in May of this year. In July, the secretary of the department, Ms Mills, announced her key priorities for strengthening DPS as a department with a reputation for customer focus.

There were many key developments for the department in 2012. The new Australian Parliament House website was launched this year. The Heritage Advisory Board held its inaugural meeting in May—long overdue.

DPS implemented the transfer of responsibility for electorate office IT from the Department of Finance and Deregulation—something most members will not know about, but they will be very happy when it finally comes to fruition and IT is much easier for everybody. The Presiding Officers also accepted in principle the recommendations of the review of ICT. So much has been going on behind the scenes again this year that most people do not know about, but it has been functioning incredibly well. Over this year the parliamentary departments have continued to find budget savings, and this has been difficult while trying to maintain core services and the incredibly high standards that they deliver to all of us.

On a personal level, I could not undertake all the duties of the House without the assistance of my colleagues who occupy the chair—in particular the two deputy speakers who have been recently been appointed and all the members of the Speaker's panel. It has been a trying year with the number of hours we have had to take on, the additional hours we get at short notice and the fact that most people do not realise we actually run two chambers and we staff them well. So I would like to say a very big thankyou, particularly to the member for Maranoa, who is in the chamber today, and his staff, who have taken up the difficult role of rostering.

I would like to also pay tribute to the guidance that the clerks have given me and their absolute patience with me, particularly over the last couple of months. Without the knowledge and guidance of the clerks—particularly Bernard Wright and David Elder, here with us today, but all the clerks—and their colleagues, this place does not function. The chair does not work and the House does not happen without them. Their knowledge, experience and commitment to this institution are invaluable.

All members will be aware of the critical role played by the Department of Parliamentary Services. I thank all the staff, led by Carol Mills, particularly security, cleaners, drivers, PLO, Hansard, Broadcasting and many, many more who I cannot even thank. I also thank the attendants and the Table Office. Behind the scenes there are something like 6,000 people who run this building, and without them, again, it does not function. We need to say a very big thankyou and wish them also a very happy and safe Christmas. The staff of the parliamentary departments have indeed provided us high-quality day-to-day service throughout the year, much of which goes unnoticed by even the occupants of this place, let alone the public.

I would like to especially thank the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the House, the Manager of Opposition Business and the whips. It might not seem as if I like them all the time! When I took on the role of Speaker, the member for Scullin advised me it would be 149 people versus me, and it does feel like that most days, but I really do admire and respect all those individuals who have taken on those incredible roles and do it to an incredible standard. So I wish to thank them all for their assistance over this year. All of their leadership and professionalism is essential to the successful functioning of this House.

The robust debate and passion that we see here in the chamber every day do often provide something of a spectacle, but they demonstrate the desire of all members to contribute and try to make our nation a better place. So, when we get the individuals coming in and complaining, I often say to them, 'You had to be there in the moment; you have to understand the passion and you have to see it from our side.' Sometimes you get that snippet on the news—even me telling everybody off. People here are dedicated to what they do, and I think the nation should be proud of and thankful for that.

I would like to thank all members and staff of the parliament for the cooperation, courtesy, civility and help that they have extended to me during this difficult year. I would particularly like to thank all my staff: the ever-present Chris Paterson for coming back, because without him I do not think any of this would happen; the effervescent Lindy Franklyn, in my office, who is a champion and the most organised person I know, even if she is tragically a supporter of Collingwood; Jason; Alastair; Rosemary, who has taken on the role of answering all those wonderful calls during question time and giving out the tickets; my electorate staff, who have been with me for a very long time—Janet, Rick, Liana and David, who have been there, and Emily, who is sadly off on sick leave at the moment. I am thinking of you and hoping all goes well. All of them make it happen for me. Without our staff—without the support of all around us—we cannot do this, so they are terrifically wonderful. Again, it has been a difficult year of juggling all the things I have had to do at very short notice, so they have been terrific.

To all my branch members and supporters, I say it is a very interesting role now as Speaker and also still running my electorate. As the member for North Sydney pointed out, I do have a very active candidate against me and I want to be out there as well, so I need to do both and do an interesting job of being non-political here and very political at home. So it is a great balancing act. I am incredibly proud of being the member for Chisholm. I have represented those people now for 14 years and I hope to get another chance to do so after the next election.

Finally, I give my sincere thanks to my incredible family. Maddie and John, like all of us, have put up with a lot. They have known nothing else because, of course, when I came here I did not have children and now I have two, so at one level they think my job is great and at another level they think it is bad. Maddie had her 13th birthday the day I became Speaker, which was quite terrible because everybody forgot about her 13th birthday—even if I had got her a really good present! They have put up with a lot and they are terrific. I say thank you to my husband, Steve, for his incredible, tireless support, to my mother, who does so much, and to my extended family, who are all around me—particularly Julian, who is going to score at the cricket tomorrow night for me; thanks for that. I am blessed like a lot of people to have an incredible support network and, again, we cannot do it without them. A thank you to them.

As we approach Christmas, I want to wish you all in this House and everyone listening a very happy, safe Christmas—a joyous time of the year. I think we should all be able to say, 'It's Christmas,' and to think about that tradition in the time we are all celebrating. As everybody else has said, be safe on the road and enjoy that time with one another. Think about what it means and the blessings that we all share. It is important for family and, I am sure, everybody else to enjoy a well-earned break. I know I have earned one and so over Christmas and January I am going to spend some time with my family. To everybody, a very large thank you.