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Thursday, 2 December 2021
Page: 11406

Mr MORRISON (CookPrime Minister) (15:35): It is that time of the year, as we close the parliamentary proceedings for this year and before returning next year, when it is customary for us to express our thanks to all of those who've supported us in our work over the course of this year. It has been an extraordinary year. I hope we never see another one like it. It has been an extraordinary year, but, when Australians are challenged in great ways, Australians always rise to the challenge.

We said at the start of this pandemic that we've always considered ourselves to be a strong people and we were about to find out how strong were. And, indeed, Australians have proven to be incredibly strong, resilient, caring and compassionate as they've sought to navigate their own way through, with great support from government, to ensure that they can be where they are today—in a situation where, all around the world, Australia's record of coming through this pandemic has been incredibly strong. There is no country anywhere in the world that can claim a perfect record in dealing with a one-in-100-year pandemic. But, when it comes to Australia's performance and, more significantly, the performance of Australians, it has been extraordinary. We have one of the lowest fatality rates in the world. There are 30,000 Australians here in this country at the moment who wouldn't otherwise be here were it not for the fact that our response has ensured that more Australians have been able to survive this terrible pandemic—which, in so many other countries, has not been the case.

As we move into next year, we're in a position where the economy is strengthening once again, as the lockdowns are in the rear vision mirror, and the economic impacts of those are in the rear vision mirror, and we look through that front windscreen together as a country, and we move into 2022 with confidence. We're a confident people. We're an optimistic people. We always look to see the opportunity and we always back ourselves in as a confident nation, confident in our abilities and each other to achieve what we know we can achieve.

It has been a year not only tested by the pandemic but where the situation globally has been extraordinarily challenging and will continue to be so. It is a time, as I've reflected and as other ministers have highlighted—in particular, the Minister for Defence—that we have not seen in the Indo-Pacific since the 1930s. That has required significant responses from the government, and I want to thank the allies and partners who we work with in the Indo-Pacific, our great comprehensive strategic partners in ASEAN. They are our great friends, our neighbours, with whom we share this region. It was an honour this year that Australia was able to achieve the first ever comprehensive strategic partnership with ASEAN. It speaks to Australia's place in the Indo-Pacific region as a trusted partner, as a trusted neighbour. Even now, throughout the Pacific, we think of our Pacific family, and we think of all those in the Solomon Islands especially. We think of those AFP, ADF and DFAT officers who are up there right now, seeking to secure the peace, stability and calm of one of our Pacific family of nations, as our responsibility is to them in our own region. I want to thank all of those and their families who are on service right now in the Solomon Islands for what they're doing for our Pacific family and indeed expressing the values of our nation, our care and concern for our Pacific family.

The conclusion of AUKUS has been a milestone event in Australia's national security. We enjoy an extraordinary relationship with the United States. We enjoy an extraordinary relationship with the United Kingdom. We continue to work together with them and all of our like-minded partners, because we cannot assume in this world that an international order that favours freedom will always endure. That is why we together, here in Australia, Australians all, one and free, are standing up for the important issues of liberal democracy in our part of the world. If we don't, who will? We have, and we will continue to do that.

I speak of our partners and allies in the United States and the United Kingdom. We worked so closely with them, as the Minister for Defence mentioned, in what was the largest single air evacuation by Australia in Afghanistan, with 4,100 people lifted out of that awful situation. So many of them—those who have not gone to other countries—are here in Australia and becoming Australians. I am truly grateful for the extraordinary work and support that was done in those days of extreme pressure in the Department of Home Affairs, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian Defence Force. I was so privileged, when I went through AMAB on the way back from overseas just a few months ago, to go there and say thank you to all those who were serving during that time. To see the pictures that were drawn by the young children who had been evacuated to freedom was truly moving. They were indeed truly grateful to Australia, and now those children are here in Australia, going to Australian schools and growing up Australian. That says a lot about us.

After 20 years in Afghanistan, there are disappointments. But, at the same time, what our forces did in Afghanistan—and in particular the 41 Australians who were lost there. We think of them and their families at this time, and the service of them and all of those who went with them. This year, they won't be there. For many, the memories of their time in Afghanistan will stay with them forever. For many veterans, it will haunt them. For all those veterans who are thinking of that time, and indeed those who continue to serve, it is our duty in this place to reach out to them and to continue to support them in every way we possibly can and thank them for their service.

It's been a year where we have dealt with many other challenges, such as the challenges of how we address the future energy economy, how we deal with the online world and how we make that safer for Australians, and how we strengthen the opportunities in regional Australia. I think it has been a strong year for regional Australia, and I'm sure the Deputy Prime Minister would agree. But it's a constant reminder: where once drought and bushfires have impacted regional Australia, even as we stand here today, there are floods and the ruination of crops which were the next payment for those coming out of those earlier challenges. Hope is disappointed once again. But regional Australians are resilient people, and rural Australians are resilient people. They are the heart of Australia, and I want to thank all of them for their endurance, their resilience and their care and compassion for one another.

Disaster resilience, response and recovery capabilities have been at the heart of the response to the aged-care royal commission and addressing the very serious needs there, continuing the record financial support for those in this country who, through no fault of their own, have grown up with disabilities that in decades past meant that they could not even hope to have the same opportunities as other Australians. The National Disability Insurance Scheme seeks to put that right and to give them as much opportunity as we possibly can to enable them.

For supporting the mental health of Australians, again I thank the minister for health. I also thank Pat McGorry, who has been a constant source of advice and counsel to me and the minister for health and many here. I want to thank my colleagues for their encouragement and support on those issues.

Addressing the safety of women here in this building has been an important issue, and I want to thank all of our staff who work here with us. It is our commitment to ensure we will work together to secure a safer workplace for them.

I look to the Minister for Indigenous Australians and I'm reminded of the great, true heart of this country. I want to thank those Indigenous leaders and elders and Indigenous Australians around the country who keep their culture alive—the oldest living culture in the world. It is something this country can be truly proud of and truly grateful for. May we continue to seek to understand their insights as we seek to take this country forward.

They are extraordinary times. They are not times for confusion. They are a time for clarity, which we are seeking to provide. Decent, hardworking Australians, generous and fair, love their country. They wish to simply move forward, and we want to move forward with them into 2022.

I was very proud of the members of this House particularly in the most recent debate, which the minister for health has spoken of, on Maeve's Law. It is always—and I'm sure the Leader of the Opposition agrees—when we come together on matters like this that the parliament is at its best. I appreciate the work that has been done to bring that to a conclusion.

A sense of gratitude should pervade this place at this time of year. I want to thank the premiers and chief ministers with whom I have worked over the course of this pandemic this year. We will meet again at the end of next week and then continue the important work of the National Federation Reform Council.

I want to thank all the members of our Defence Force not just serving in the Solomons but elsewhere around the world and those otherwise who are in those places.

I want to thank all of those members who are retiring from this place at the next election and who have indicated that to this House. We have just heard from the minister for health, but there are many others. They will have their opportunities, as some have. I'll also extend personally my best wishes to the member for Fowler, with whom I've shared a good friendship over many, many years. But there are many others. I won't list them all. We know who they are and we thank them for their great service to this House.

I want to thank the Chief Government Whip, the member for Forde, who does a terrific job. As we reflected in our party room recently, for those members who joined the House in 2019, this has not been a usual term. This has been an extraordinary term in terms of what members have had to endure—long separations from family and long times in isolation because of the various rules that have been put in place. There haven't been the same opportunities to have that camaraderie and that direct support for each other which is very customary in this House and that those of us who entered this House in earlier times benefited from. I do feel for the class of 2019, on all sides of the House, who have had to seek to navigate their service in this place in a different way to those who came before them. That has been very difficult for them. I think they have felt, at times, quite vulnerable. I want to thank the whips, certainly our whips, with Nic and Rowan as well, and the opposition whips, for the pastoral care and support that they have provided to the members here in this place. The job of the whip is not just to get us all in here to vote; the job of the whips is also to provide care, counsel and pastoral support to members. They do a terrific job. I can think of none better than the member for Forde, who has one of the kindest hearts in this place.

I also thank the Clerk of the House, the deputy clerks and assistants. Claressa, thank you very much for the responsibilities that you have taken on. To the Serjeant-at-Arms, thank you for your work over the course of this year. It has been an interesting year for the parliament. To all of those who serve our parliament here—the attendants and so many others—thank you for the way you have worked both with the new Speaker and the former Speaker, the member for Casey. My thanks go to the PM&C legislative team, the House and Senate parliamentary liaison officers and the First Parliamentary Counsel.

Then there are all of those staff who are retiring this year. Deputy Clerk Catherine Cornish is retiring this year after 27 years of service. Department of Parliamentary Services staff member David Watt retired after 28 years at the Parliamentary Library. Carla Turcic retired after 25 years at parliamentary broadcasting. Michael Shield retired after 26 years also at parliamentary broadcasting. They will both be leaving quite a vacant space there to be filled by newcomers. And there are other retirees: Philip McAppion; Eric Horwood in Visitor Services; and Barry Smith, who was 14 years in Hansard. He'd have quite a book if he chose to write one.

Can I extend to the Leader of the Opposition and his family, to the Manager of Opposition Business, to all the opposition members and to all their staff all the very best for the Christmas and holiday season. I hope they have a very safe and refreshing season. It will be a very busy year next year, as we all know.

To my team: to the Deputy Prime Minister and his predecessor I say, 'Thank you very much,' for your friendship and your support. It's the great strength of the coalition of the Liberals and the Nationals. That's a coalition we want. The other coalition that could occur on the other side—Labor and the Greens—is not such a great coalition, but the coalition here is a great coalition and has been in place for many, many years.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr MORRISON: I thought that'd get a reaction. I'll return to the true tone of this.

Thank you to the Deputy Prime Minister. To the Treasurer I say, 'Thank you very much.' He is a dear friend. We shared a house for a few weeks, and I didn't see a tape measure going anywhere near the curtains during that time at the Lodge, not once.

Ms Catherine King: Not that you saw!

Mr MORRISON: Not that I saw. That's true, Member for Ballarat. I thank the Treasurer. He's a dear friend, as are my colleagues I serve with. You rely heavily on the deputy leader of your party, and this deputy leader has been such a great and loyal deputy leader. I know he has worked closely with all of our colleagues in the Liberal parliamentary party and sought to support them and ensure that their interests and issues have been raised and well understood within our leadership. He is a dear friend, and I wish him a happy Hanukkah. I know he celebrates Christmas as well. He gets the best of both worlds there, or at least the kids do, anyway. I wish him all the best.

To the Deputy Leader of the National Party and to the Leader of House, two great Queenslanders: I wish them well over the break and thank them for stepping up into their roles, particularly the Leader of the House and the service that he is providing us here. I also thank the Leader of the House for the outstanding work that he's done since he became Minister for Defence. He is a very long serving Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Immigration and Border Protection. That is a series of lessons that we share, but as Minister for Defence he has been a tower of strength.

To the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Birmingham, and the deputy leader, Senator Cash: thank you for your support in the other place. Can I also add a very personal thanks to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister for Women and co-chair of the cabinet task force on women, my dear friend Marise Payne, for the tremendous work and support that she's provided to me and also to Jenny as a close friend. Thank you very much.

To all the coalition members and their staff: rest up, because next year we go forward together as always, making that boat go faster, as we've always said. I wish them and their families well and thank their families for all their many sacrifices over the course of this year. Those sacrifices: we will show next year as a team how we come together to ensure that Australia continues to have the strong government and the good government that Australians deserve and need.

I thank my chief of staff, Dr John Kunkel, and all of those who work in my great team for their hard work and effort. I know they're looking forward to a break. I thank particularly, back there in the shire, Julie and all the team in my electorate office—thank you.

There are many thankyous. Thank you to the attendants and to the Federal Police who look after us, particularly my own detail and those who provide support to, sadly, too many of the members of this place. We saw in the United Kingdom this year the death, the murder, of a member of parliament. I know that reminded us all that in our service of our nation there are some risks that we perhaps underestimate. In that case we were reminded of those who keep us members of parliament safe in this building and when we're out and about doing our duty. Thank you to the catering teams, the Library, Hansard and the support staff. Of course, the cleaners assist us, particularly Anna, Maria and Zia: thank you very much. They've been there a very long time. I'll continue to seek to be as tidy as I can.

This has been a challenging and difficult year for our country. Mr Speaker, I wish you all the best, as I do to all of the Speaker's panel for the work they have done here in this place. To the crossbenchers and their families I similarly extend my best wishes.

The House is rising, but elsewhere in our country Australians are facing down those floods, and our gratitude continues to be with those who are serving them. We might have been separated by borders for the last few years, but those border closures are certainly lifting. As our vaccination rates are at world-high levels, we look forward to those being lifted and we look forward to Australia continuing to open safely so we remain safely open. Our hope and our prayer is for a quiet summer where there are neither fires nor floods, but, if there are, Australians know that those who work across our government will be there to support them in their time of need. May it be a time of great peace, renewal and refreshment, and may 2022 be a better year than that which preceded it. 2021 is in the rear-vision mirror; 2022 is the way forward. God bless and merry Christmas to all.

The SPEAKER: The Leader of the Opposition on indulgence.