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Thursday, 7 December 2017
Page: 10163

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (19:16): At last, at the end of a very busy year and having just witnessed, as many of us have done, a most consequential event in the House of Representatives—initiated, I might say, in the Senate—it is time to reflect upon the season and to wish each other seasonal greetings. Of course, this is a chamber of debate, in which passions and feelings often run high, but it is on occasions like this that we do have the opportunity to put the politics and the bitterness that sometimes accompany intensely disputed political questions to one side and reflect upon the work that we do, that we do together, not as disputants but as colleagues. And so I rise to wish all honourable senators, whatever their faith or, if they profess no religious faith, whatever their belief, the compliments of the season.

It has obviously been a very big year in the Senate. We have passed this year, in the 56 days on which we have sat, some 140 bills. We have engaged in some hugely consequential debates. I mentioned a moment ago the debate that has just concluded in the House of Representatives, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, which was debated in this chamber with a great deal, if I may say so, of decency and mutual respect for intensely held and opposing views for some 26 hours and 34 minutes. Altogether, we have spent over 200 hours in these last 56 days debating legislation.

I want to acknowledge and thank the many people who have made the Senate work. And may I begin by acknowledging and thanking you, Mr President. You are new to the job. You came to your high office in very unexpected circumstances and very suddenly. It would be wrong, in that connection, not to reflect on your predecessor, former President Parry, who left the service of the Senate and the office of president suddenly, unexpectedly and in circumstances which, in my view, did not reflect in any way poorly upon him. We're very sad, and I am personally sad, for him. I want to acknowledge and include Senator Parry in these remarks tonight. Senator Ryan, you are, as you said yourself when you were installed, a servant of institutions. Already in your early days of office, you've shown that to be true. Already in your early days of office, you've shown yourself to be a President who is both fair and firm, and deeply immersed in the Senate standing orders and procedures, as one would expect of you. Can I extend my good wishes to your Deputy President, Senator Sue Lines.

Might I, as well, on behalf of the government, extend the wishes of the season to the officials and staff of the Senate: in particular, Clerk, Richard Pye, who just completes his first full year as Clerk of the Senate; Deputy Clerk, Maureen Weeks; clerk assistants Rachel Callinan, Jackie Morris and Tim Bryant; Black Rod, Brien Hallett; the clerks at the table; the table office; Senate PLO Debbie Arnold; the chamber attendants; and all of those who make the Senate work.

Can I extend my seasonal wishes to my opponent, Senator Wong. Senator Wong is waving at me. Senator Wong is happy tonight. She is smiling. She is smiling beatifically at me, which doesn't happen all that often. Senator Wong, may I genuinely and sincerely extend the good wishes of the season to you. I know this day is a very important day for you.

Can I also extend my good wishes to the leaders of other parties: Senator 'Di Na-ta-lay'; I'm sorry, 'Di Na-ta-lee'—I've eventually learned how to pronounce your name; Senator Hanson, Senator Griff; and other members of the crossbench, Senator Leyonhjelm, Senator Hinch, Senator Gichuhi and Senator Bernardi.

This has been a costly year in terms of attrition rate of senators. Eleven of our colleagues have left us who were among us at the beginning of 2015. Of those, nine left us because they fell foul of section 44 of the Constitution. As I said once not long ago, it seems the 45th Parliament is really the section 44 parliament, and we are yet to await the determination in relation to Senator Gallagher's position. As well, two other senators have gone: Senator Xenophon—whom we all remember with great fondness, or at least I do; hello, Nick, I'm sure you're listening tonight—and our colleague Senator Chris Back.

Those who left us, apart from Senator Parry, whom I mentioned before, are: Senator Nash, Senator Day, Senator Kakoschke-Moore, Senator Lambie, Senator Roberts, Senator Waters, Senator Ludlam and Senator Culleton. One only has to run through that list of names to appreciate what an enormous variety and diversity of the Australian people are represented in this chamber. It would be hard to imagine such a variety of humankind than the 11 names that I have mentioned. But all of them came to Canberra, all of them came to this place to serve the Australian people, according to their lights, guided by their philosophies and in good faith. And I'm sure, on behalf of all senators, we wish them well into the future.

We've also welcomed many new colleagues: Senator Brockman, Senator Patrick, Senator Gichuhi, Senator Anning, Senator Griff, Senator Georgiou, Senator Steele-John and a return to service for Senator Andrew Bartlett. Senator Steele-John is the youngest person ever to have served in this chamber, yet he's already made an enormous impact. He comes to this chamber, as we know, with a disability. He is a fine, fine example of the inconquerability of the human spirit. As is Senator Lucy Gichuhi, who, in her remarkable maiden speech, reminded us that she grew up in a hut in the Kenyan countryside with a dirt floor in a large family, and encouraged in particular by her father, who believed that girls can do anything, has risen to a position of respect and esteem in the Australian Senate.

I would like to pay tribute to my own team, if I may. I want to pay a particular tribute to my deputy, Senator Mathias Cormann. Senator Cormann is a force of nature. He is a highly competent individual and has been a most effective senator and a most effective Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate. I am immensely indebted to him for his spectacular contribution to the government. I am also indebted to Senator Fifield, the Manager of Government Business in the Senate, who has handled the dispatch of government business in the Senate with his usual calm and unflappable demeanour and, like Senator Cormann, with a very high level of competence.

I thank my dear friend, the Leader of the Nationals in the Senate, Senator Nigel Scullion. Senator Scullion, I hope you won't mind me saying this. A few weeks ago, Australia came within a very narrow margin—you would use a more colourful metaphor, I'm sure—of having the pleasure of you being the Acting Prime Minister of Australia. We don't know what we missed! Much as our friend Julie Bishop discharged that responsibility on this occasion, as she has done in the past, with elegance and enormous skill, I think you, Nigel, would've been a somewhat different Acting Prime Minister. It would've been a remarkable few days in our nation's history, and none of us would've forgotten it. And all of us would've enjoyed it. So, Nigel, thank you for being a very good friend. The coalition is occasionally fractious, I'll admit, but it's never fractious in the Senate while Nigel and I remain firm friends, as we've been for so many years.

Can I also recognise and congratulate Senator Bridget McKenzie, who, as recently as this morning, was elected as Deputy Leader of the National Party to take the place of our former colleague Fiona Nash. Bridget, it's a great achievement. We are sure that you will discharge the role with aplomb, and we want to warmly congratulate you on this achievement.

Can I thank the whips—David Bushby, the Chief Government Whip; John 'Wacka' Williams, the National Party whip; and Senator Dean Smith and Senator David Fawcett, the government whips. We all know how absolutely essential the whips are to the work we do here. We on the government side of the chamber couldn't have been better served by the team of whips we have.

Can I also thank some of the key staff members who have made it possible for us in the government leadership team to operate. In particular, I acknowledge Sarah Bridger from Senator Mitch Fifield's office and Brendan Blomeley from Senator David Bushby's office. I want to thank my own team, led by my new chief of staff, Liam Brennan, who has been a fixture in this place for many years. Liam was appointed chief of staff in my office after the retirement of the very fondly remembered James Lambie, who left my staff some months ago. I came into office as the Attorney-General with the oldest chief of staff in the government, Paul O'Sullivan, the former Director-General of Security, and now I have the youngest chief of staff in the government. They've all been terrific. I also thank the other members of my Senate team: Tom Fardoulys and Rohan Watt. As well, can I acknowledge Ben Bartlett from the Prime Minister's office, who is in charge of liaison between the PMO and the Senate leadership.

There are many other people who have made our lives easier than they would otherwise be. Can I acknowledge the chamber attendants, the COMCAR drivers, Parliament House security and the AFP, who look after us, and the cleaners. And we never forget to mention Dom and the staff at Aussies and all the others who make this remarkable building work so well.

We will now go back, colleagues, to the bosoms of our families. We will have several weeks of respite and reflection and perhaps an easing of the pace and the pressure. We can reflect on the work we have done this year—of the opportunities missed but also the opportunities seized. I hope we will all reflect on the fact that, through the fusion of ideas that is better represented in this chamber than any other chamber of any Australian parliament, in this, the Senate, the great deliberative chamber of Australian democracy, we have, by our own rights, worked to make Australia a better place. Happy Christmas.

Senator WONG: by leave—I'm glad for the opportunity to place some remarks on the record as we end the parliamentary year. It has been a pretty big year. I've been here since 2002, and there has never been a year like this one, certainly in terms of departures and arrivals and constitutional law and so forth.

It's a great privilege and honour to be a senator in this place. It's a great privilege and honour to lead the Labor team. I do appreciate the opportunity to express my gratitude, on behalf of the opposition, to a number of people. I will start with you, Mr President. You have filled your role since the somewhat unexpected—perhaps less expected for some than others, Mitch. It's Christmas! It was said with a smile, Hansard—she said it with a smile—you could interpolate that.

Senator Birmingham: Emoji!

Senator WONG: Emoji, that's right. You, as President, have filled your role with distinction, equanimity and impartiality. We thank you for your service to the Senate this year and in years to come. I acknowledge your calm demeanour in presiding, particularly over question time. I push on an expectation that one day you might uphold a point of order on direct relevance—that's a demonstration of the triumph of hope over experience. But we do thank you for the way in which you have taken to this role. We look forward to working with you. We hope not for too long; we hope for a shorter time than others might.

I also thank our Deputy President, Senator Lines, who brings a growing knowledge of procedure, a lively wit and a determination to her role. It's always a pleasure to contribute to the business of the Senate under her guidance. She has the best wishes and gratitude of the Labor team. I also thank her for her input and patience as chair of the Procedure Committee. To my counterpart, Senator Brandis: George and I, if I may, have a somewhat competitive relationship at times, but he is a worthy opponent. I do want to say that this year he has given two of the most moving and heartfelt speeches that I've had the privilege to hear. His contributions, in respect of the freedom of all Australians to practice the religion to which they adhere to and the right of people of the same sex to marry, speak to the kind of Australia we are. His contributions on these matters, I think, were an act of national leadership. I also acknowledge, before I get to my own team, his deputy, Senator Cormann. He's a man whom I have a very deep regard for. He's a man of great integrity.

I think he may not be here, but I want to acknowledge my deputy leader, Senator Farrell. He is a man of deep conviction and purpose. He brings to this Senate a strong dedication to our state and a strong commitment to improving the wellbeing of the people of South Australia. This really does guide Don in everything he does, so I thank him for his loyalty and for his work. I also particularly thank his staff, who are excellent to work with.

One of the sadder moments for me has been, this week, to refer Katy Gallagher, as we know occurred on Wednesday. Katy is the real deal: she's talented, she's is highly intelligent, she's decent, she's such a pleasure to work with and she's an outstanding Manager of Opposition Business. I'll look forward to her returning. Any leader's life is much easier when you have a manager like Katy.

I also thank Senator Chisholm for his work as deputy manager. He has been great. He brings a good Queensland perspective. I thank Senator Collins for stepping into the breach. We are very fortunate to have someone of the ability and experience of Senator Collins to fill the role of manager at this time, and I thank her for her willingness to do so. What did you say, Mr President—she's been gifted with a great voice?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: A loud voice.

Senator WONG: It is a great voice for the purposes of question time, Senator. My thanks to the opposition whips, Senators Urquhart, McAllister and Ketter—and, of course, until his resignation, Senator Dastyari. The whips really do keep this place running. They're critical to the discipline of the major parties and of all parties, and we're very fortunate to have such a great team. My thanks also to their staff. I'm sure they're looking forward to a 'no division bells' period of time. To my whole Labor team: a fantastic effort this year. We've advanced Labor's agenda and we've sought to hold the government to account. It's been a long year but one where we have contributed to the Labor cause.

In the spirit of the season, I extend my best wishes on behalf of my team to everyone—to members of the coalition, to the Greens and to Independent and not-so independent senators and others. Are you SA-BEST yet? Not quite?

Senator Griff: Good question!

Senator WONG: NXT/SA-BEST, Senator Hinch and to others, we thank you for your engagement with us. We don't always agree, but this chamber is unique, I think, for the level of engagement, discussion, respectful debate and, frankly, real legislating. As Labor's leader here, I want to thank all of you and wish all of you the very best for the year. Senator Di Natale said to me that it was really good working together, particularly on the marriage bill—and I want to echo that.

There are a few people here I would like to thank. To Richard Pye—great job; thank you. To Maureen Weeks, Tim Bryant, Rachel Callinan, Jackie Morris, Brien Hallett and all the staff of the Department of the Senate: you perform such a fantastic job, but you perform such an important job for the Australian democracy. I've said it before and I will say it again, this is the chamber, I think, that really matters.

Honourable senators interjecting

Senator WONG: I do; I really do, I'm not just saying it because I'm here. This is where I wanted to be, because I think this is the chamber that matters, and it matters for the country—and it would not function without you. So thank you very much for your work. I extend the compliments of the season to the secretaries of committee and all of the staff of committee secretariats—who I know have been working extremely hard, given we send them a lot of references. They have demonstrated commitment, patience and, at times, forbearance, and certainly consummate professionalism.

Thank you to the secretary and all the staff at DPS. Thank you to the Parliamentary Library, the Parliamentary Budget Office—we've given them a workout—Hansard, security, maintenance and ancillary staff and Comcar staff. I again make particular mention of Parliament House cleaners—hardworking people who come to this building in the early hours of the morning, keep our offices and our facilities clean and tidy. They are always friendly and cheerful, even at ridiculous hours. I hope that the pay issue is resolved and we see more decent pay for them.

I also wish to thank all our staff. At the risk of upsetting people, I'm not going to name people, because I always find we miss people out. I always say that, in this place and in our jobs, we are only as good as our staff. Our staff play a critical role. It's particularly tough and unrelenting work being in opposition—as you might remember—but it is really the contribution of staff that enable us to do it. The quality research and speech material and obviously a lot of procedural work are the things that enable us to do our work. I thank all Labor senators, but I particularly thank my staff for putting up with me and for their loyalty and extraordinary professionalism.

Finally, to all those Labor members and supporters throughout Australia: thank you very much for your continued support. We are grateful for the support of people across this country, and I extend our gratitude for your support. I hope that the coming holiday season is a happy and safe one, and we ask you to continue to keep the faith.

I want to end on this note: this is a momentous day, as Senator Brandis has said, and it is a day where we are reminded about what is the most important thing in our lives, and it is always the people that we love. And I, on a day where this parliament, I think, has really expressed its view about the importance of relationship and family and love, say to all of my fellow senators: I hope over this period you have time to spend with those who are special to you, those who are close to you, those who you love, because it is the most important thing in our lives. Thank you.

Honourable senators: Hear, hear!