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Thursday, 4 June 1987
Page: 4042

Mr SINCLAIR (Leader of the National Party of Australia) —In this, the fading hours of the Thirty-fourth Parliament, I would like to join the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) in their valedictory remarks. This place is an extraordinary forum. I suspect that on occasions most of us are cynical about the attitudes and views not only of those on the opposite side of the House but also within our own ranks. But, above all, it is a place where we suffer a uniqueness which those who do not serve or have not served in the parliaments of the Commonwealth, either at a Federal or State level, really cannot quite comprehend. It is a separateness from the community which often worries me. It is a product of our isolation or semi-isolation in Canberra. Yet it is a necessary role which all those who serve this House and who have made this, the Thirty-fourth Parliament, work effectively, all appreciate.

I would like to join in referring, first, to those who are leaving this House voluntarily-Peter Drummond, Peter Coleman, and Paul Everingham from this side of the House; Ralph Jacobi and Len Keogh from the other side of the House- although Len Keogh with perhaps not quite the same measure of intentional direction as the others. I would like to say to them how in their several ways I have admired and respected their parliamentary contributions. Peter Drummond is one of those who, having originated in New South Wales, saw the light and went west as a young man. He and Lachie have made a significant contribution in their State as farmers. But Peter has been a tremendous contributor, particularly in the formulation of primary industry policy, on the coalition side of the House. To Peter, whom I have known very well for so many years, I would like to say: `Good luck to you and Lachie in your future life'. I say good luck to Peter Coleman, who is a great colleague and a great friend, and also to Paul Everingham who, as both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have said, made such a notable contribution as Chief Minister of the Northern Territory in those early days when the heady wine of self-government first gave to that part of Australia some of the opportunities that the rest of us have enjoyed for so long.

I would also like to make some reference to those who are leaving the Senate. Three who come particularly to my mind are Senator Sir John Carrick, of whom the Leader of the Opposition made mention, Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle and the Rt Hon. Reg Withers. I have worked with all three in successive governments. They are all persons of significant capability. While on occasions perhaps some may have achieved a certain amount of notoriety-I guess `the toecutter' more than others-each has been a very remarkable contributor in the Senate and to the processes of parliamentary democracy in Australia. I say to them and to the others who are also retiring from the Senate at this time that I wish them well on behalf of the members of the National Party.

To you, Madam Speaker, and to your deputies I, on behalf of the members of my Party, would like to extend our thanks and say to you, as did the Leader of the Opposition, that, while there have been occasions when we have not always agreed, it is an unenviable task that you, your deputies and those who assist you have to perform. I doubt that there is a more lonely place in the Parliament than sitting in that chair. I know that those of us who sit down here and who are the protagonists of this adversarial atmosphere certainly tend to make it very difficult at times for you to pass judgment in a dispassionate way.

I confess that on occasions I know that I have also tested the patience of the Clerks but I compliment them for the manner, expertise and professionalism with which they undertake their task. They, perhaps more than any of us, are the great inheritors of tradition. Madam Speaker, the one thing that I have regretted as far as you are concerned is that you do not wear a gown or show any signs of those traditions that are important and which, of course, the Clerks still affect. I regard that as an important part of Parliament and I am thankful that at least the Clerks retain it.

The Hansard writers add to both the elegance and the efficiency of this place and we are certainly extraordinarily fortunate that our Hansard maintains such a high standard of recording.

Within the Parliament there are a number of people who certainly make a greater contribution than others. On occasions the Leader of the House (Mr Young) has crossed swords with me. He has amazed me because he has been able to perform quite well for two parliaments. I rather thought that, with his Irish humour, he would have failed on more occasions than he has. He and Fred Daly have been unique in the way in which they have been able to respond in a light-hearted jocular manner but still have a barb hidden within the words they use, and be able to evoke peals of laughter so frequently. The Leader of the House has a touch of humour. I cannot say that I have always appreciated it, but I know that he will go back home and at times regret that he is not still practising that former art in the woolsheds around Australia. I think we would have had more fun with him there than here in the House. But I compliment him on the way in which he has performed his task and I wish him well.

The Parliamentary Liaison Officer, John Engledow, is another of those people whose task we all have to look at in a slightly different way. John has done his task well and efficiently and I compliment him for it.

The other parliamentary members whom we should not forget are the Whips on both sides. To the honourable member for Riverina-Darling (Mr Hicks), the National Party Whip in particular, but to all the Whips, I say thank you for the job that they each have done. Theirs is a strange role and I know that it is one which at times is difficult when their judgments do not necessarily meet with our behest, particularly when we seek leave from the House. But I compliment the five Whips from both the Government and the Opposition side for the way in which they have made sure that this place operates efficiently.

There are others who I would like to thank, all of whom have been mentioned, but I will briefly run through them. We all feel the same thanks to the parliamentary dining room staff, Carol and Jan and those who serve us at our tables, those who help in the bar and those who make the place tick, particularly the chefs. I thank the attendants who ensure that so many of our needs are attended to. I also thank the security staff and the police who I must confess, when I see them standing out there in the cold on these winter mornings, probably have the worst jobs in this place. I thank the cleaners, the Joint House Department staff and the staff of the Parliamentary Library. I think all of us, on both sides of the House, are extraordinarily fortunate to have the talent that is available in the Library. They serve us all with a remarkable amount of material. I guess it was not until I had been in opposition that I realised the extent to which those facilities are an essential back-up in the preparation of members' material, and I thank them for the way in which they have undertaken their task.

I thank the gardeners. One of the attractions of this Parliament House is the magnificant rose gardens around the building. I would like to say thanks, not only for the way they have maintained them but for the flowers that they give to so many of us. That is a very personal part of this place. It is a bit like home in some sense-although I must admit that there are elements of this place that most of us would want at home-but do make a great contribution. I also thank the the transport staff and John May and all of those who make our bookings and serve to ensure that the cars are nearly always available on time, and the drivers themselves. To all those within this place-the Australian Broadcasting Corporation team, the Parliamentary Press Gallery, the Serjeant-at-Arms, and all those others who have made this place so worth while-on behalf of the National Party I extend our particular thanks.

There are two other groups that I want to mention. The first is our loyal and dedicated personal staff. I think few of us would be able to function without the contribution that they make. They are a unique bunch of people. They work extraordinary hours and most pursue their lot in a way that is quite remarkable. Perhaps that part of their task that we, as parliamentarians, all too often forget is the number of calls they need to answer from distressed and sometimes quite emotional constituents. They on many occasions are perhaps more significant in our electorates than we are ourselves, and they are a very important part of parliamentary democracy. To them, on behalf of us all, I say: Thanks for the job you do.

The other group of people who have also been unsung but who certainly should never be forgotten are our families, our respective spouses and our children, who certainly suffer in so many ways more than most. One of the regrettable parts, to my mind, of the enormous exposure that the media gives us is that our children inevitably suffer from whatever publicity, good or bad, we might attract in our respective roles. I think many in the community, unfortunately, take advantage of that exposure. It is a fate that regrettably is a product of an open society. It is one which in some instances has led to essential protection having to be provided for them, as we learnt yesterday in regard to the motor vehicles of two members of this place. But it is sad because our children and our spouses certainly make an enormous contribution to the roles we play, and I would like to say thanks to them for the job they do.

After the end of this Parliament there will, of course, be only two more occasions when, in the Thirty-fifth Parliament, we would expect to meet in this forum. Both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have mentioned that fact. However, as one who has been here a little longer than them, although not quite as long as the father of the House, the Minister for Local Government and Administrative Services, Tom Uren, about whom I spoke earlier, I think it will be hard to regain quite the same debating atmosphere that we can achieve in this chamber. I say to those who are finishing off the new chamber that I hope to goodness they achieve the acoustics that I am afraid in some parts of this chamber are missing. It is extraordinarily difficult to hear in parts of this chamber, but speaking here from either side from the dispatch boxes at the table, it is an excellent debating chamber, and one that I hope can at least be repeated in the quality of that forum in the new place. It is essential that Parliament be a place where we speak to each other and a forum where we can speak not just to the community at large but, on occasions, even to persuade those on the other side of the House that perhaps there is another point of view that they need to register and at times, perhaps, even to accept. So in that change I trust that the new Parliament House will enjoy something of the quality of this place.

There are, of course, so many from the Government side who will not be returning after 11 July. I cannot say that I wish them well in the election, but whatever their future life might be, I trust that they at least are able to fulfil to the same measure the satisfaction that I think we all enjoy while we are members of the Parliament.

This is an interesting occasion-a premature election in this winter of discontent. I think we shall all find, at the end of the recognition by the community at large, that that discontent will transport the Prime Minister to this side of the House, and in that translation, I assure him, we shall enjoy that side of the House even more.

Madam SPEAKER —I would like to add a few words to the valedictories tonight. I thank the Prime Minister for his comments, and I thank the House for having conferred on me the great honour of being the Speaker of this House. I assure honourable members that I have enjoyed it enormously.

I would also like to thank the right honourable member for New England, Mr Sinclair, for his comments. I think he commented that the office of Speaker was a lonely one, and sometimes that is true. But I am always comforted by the thought that the umpire is always wrong when my team loses. I recognise that that is what happens here, so I do not take it to heart a great deal. To the Leader of the Opposition, John Howard, perhaps I should say that if he thinks he has tried my patience in the last 15 months, so has the honourable member for North Sydney, so has the Prime Minister and so has the Treasurer, so you have a lot of things in common there. I am always mindful of the fact that there are 147 of you and only one of me, so I have to look after myself as there is no one else to look after me.

In regard to the wearing of a gown, we had some discussion on this when I first became Speaker. Someone suggested that it would give me dignity. When I put my clothes on in the morning I do not put my dignity on with them; I always have it with me.

I would like to join also in thanking the Clerks and the staff in the Department of the House of Representatives. I think they serve us tremendously and with great professionalism. I would like also to thank Hansard and the Department of the Parliamentary Library and the Joint House Department. I would particularly like to thank the caterers, who work in the most appalling conditions preparing the food. How they get it to us the way they do and serve it as well as they do, I do not know. I think they need a medal for that. I also thank the printers downstairs, who I think are fantastic-a special `thank you' for everything that we take to them that we wanted yesterday. I thank the Deputy Speaker, the honourable member for Grayndler, Mr Leo McLeay. He has been a great stalwart in more ways than in the House. I thank the deputies for their loyalty and support, and I thank my own staff, without whom I would not manage.

Having said all that, I would now like to say something a bit more serious. It appears to me that there is a steadily declining level of public respect for Parliament and for parliamentarians. I think we should all be concerned at this trend. Anything that lowers respect for the democratic parliamentary system leaves that system more vulnerable. Members, by their behaviour this session, have not shown the level of respect for the institution of parliament and for the Standing Orders that the House should require of them. If members, by their attitude, appear to lack respect for the institution of parliament and the Standing Orders, their attitude will be reflected in the community; and members should not be surprised by that. Parliamentary democracy cannot be taken for granted. It needs to be nurtured and it requires constant attention. If honourable members want proof of that, just look at Fiji. I suggest that we all give this matter considerable attention while the House is not sitting. If the House manages its affairs with appropriate dignity, the public perception of the Parliament will be enhanced.