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Thursday, 26 November 2009
Page: 13014

Mr SWAN (Treasurer) (11:26 AM) —What a year it has been! It has been a year in our national economic life the likes of which we have not seen for something like 75 years—and I will talk a bit about that in a moment. But this parliamentary year has been particularly important and, I believe, particularly effective. From time to time this place gets an undeserved reputation, I think, for the willingness of some of our debates. But the one thing that we can say as we move forward to Christmas is that this year the parliament has been a very important clearing house in the battle of ideas. And whatever may occur in this House from time to time—the willing clashes at question time or in other debates—I think that this year all members have demonstrated what an important institution the parliament is for our public life and for all people, irrespective of their particular view, to contribute to important national debates. At this time of year we celebrate and remember all of those ideals that bring us here—because everybody comes here to serve the national interest. From time to time we will vehemently disagree about the ideas that we take forward. But what is so important, and what should be treasured, is that this House is the clearing house for those ideas, and I believe in the past year it has served that function very, very well.

This is a year which not just my Treasury colleagues but, I believe, everybody in this House will tell our kids and our grandkids about. We will talk about it and we will debate what occurred and what policy solutions were put in place. It will be talked about for many years to come.

I could go through all the facts and figures of what has happened in the economy and what lies ahead. But I think what is worth reflecting on, particularly at this time of year, is the success that we as a nation have had in cushioning the impact of this global recession on our communities, on our families, on our breadwinners, and I think all of us, irrespective of our different perspectives in this debate, would say how important it is to have had policies in place which have protected, to the maximum extent possible, our families from the scourge of higher and prolonged unemployment. That is something that is worth celebrating. And it is not something that is owned by a particular government policy; it is something that has come out of the community itself—Australians working together to make sure that we can do our best in the face of these external events that have threatened our community.

The consequence of that, as we go forward to Christmas, is that we do not have the high levels of unemployment that we had forecast at the beginning of the year as the unfortunate consequences of this global recession. That means that fewer families have been dramatically affected. Fewer families have lost breadwinners. More small businesses have managed to keep their doors open. That all means that unemployment has not torn up the fabric of our society in the way in which it could have, and that is something worth reflecting on as we move forward. Fewer people have been thrown on the scrap heap. Less damage has been done to communities and less damage has been done to individuals.

That is very much worth reflecting on, because, going back to where I started, all of us come to this House with the view that we must do our best to protect people. We may disagree about the means of doing that, but we all come here with the objective and public policy purpose of ensuring that we do the best that we can by our communities. I think in the past year we have demonstrated as a community and as a nation that by pulling together in the face of these external global events we can make a difference.

The year ahead is one that is going to bring great challenges. Despite the success of the last year, we do know that there are big challenges ahead. Meeting those challenges is going to take every ounce of commitment and courage and unity if we are going to keep Australia ahead of the pack—and not just in the year ahead but in the decades ahead, and none of that is going to be easy. To paraphrase JFK, we are here to meet these challenges because they are the hard challenges, not the easy challenges—because if we are going to protect the national interest we have to take the hard decisions for the future.

I thank all of my colleagues in the cabinet and in the ministry, and of course in the caucus. Sitting around our cabinet table there are some very, very dedicated ministers. It is a real privilege to work with such big-hearted and smart people as those who sit around our cabinet table, with the exceptional leadership of the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, with all of my colleagues, including the Leader of the House, who is in the chamber, working together in a way which is quite extraordinary. I suppose, given the amount of time that we spend together, it is even more extraordinary that we all remain on such good terms! There is a camaraderie in this cabinet and in this ministry which has been very, very important in government decision-making. The capacity to work together, to do the long hours, and the good spirit that comes forward even when colleagues may, from time to time, have a difference of opinion: that degree of unity in our cabinet says something very special about each and every one of my colleagues. To my Treasury colleagues, Chris and Craig and Nick—it is a great team—I say thanks very much for all of your effort and I can promise you a harder year ahead!

There is also so much talent not just in the cabinet and the ministry but also on our backbench. Many speakers this morning have reflected on the important role of a backbench member of parliament. All of us who have the privilege of serving in the executive know that you cannot serve there effectively unless you have worked effectively in an electorate, unless you have actually connected with a community and understand how national policies translate to local communities, to individuals and to families. That is just an important part of political life.

This is an opportunity to say something nice about our political opponents! I am pleased the member for North Sydney is here, because I have not had the opportunity to publicly congratulate him on the birth of his baby boy. I wish the family all the best for the future. I had planned to say this publicly to the member for North Sydney earlier, but I have been waiting a long time for a question, Joe! So I have had to say it this morning, because I thought I might miss out if I waited until this afternoon. But seriously, as I said earlier, this parliament, particularly this year, has been a very important institution. Whilst we have had our disagreements over economic policy with the opposition—some fundamental disagreements—I do accept that these disagreements are part and parcel of the role of this parliament, and there has been vigorous debate about economic policy in this parliament, which is as it should be, and the opposition have played their role in that debate, and that is very important. I would like to mention a few of my sparring partners from the other side, although there do not seem to be many of them in the House. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has also been a very important part of that debate. I wish all of my colleagues in the opposition a festive season. I hope you do not come back too refreshed! Nevertheless, take the opportunity to spend some time with your families.

I also thank all of the Parliament House staff, from the security guards, whom I generally see when I come in very early in the morning, and all those who clean the offices and look after us in the corridors, to the Serjeant-at-Arms, Hansard, Anna in the whip’s office, all of the attendants who help us on a daily basis, Ian and Bernie, the press gallery and of course our party office. I thank all of them for the very important role that they play.

I would like to say something about family, and both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have highlighted the importance of family. Those of us who have the privilege of serving in this House can only do so with the permission of family, and we can only continue to serve, particularly for any extended period of time, with family. Of course, they sacrifice so much for us in terms of the time that we spend away from home and, if you like, coming to the fore of the media debate. They are in this as much as we are, but they do not necessarily get all of the benefits that we receive. So they do pay a very big price. I would particularly like to acknowledge my wife, Kim. This year we celebrated 25 years of marriage. She thought that was a bit of a miracle!

Ms Roxon —She is very tolerant!

Mr SWAN —Yes.

Mr Lindsay —You have done well.

Mr SWAN —Yes, I think I have done extremely well; I am not so sure about the other side of the ledger! But she is very patient and we even managed to find time to have a party, which was even better.

My children, Erinn, Libbi and Matt, always bring me back down to earth when I go home. If there is an issue around that has escaped my attention, they will make sure that it does not escape my attention. They are very good at bringing me back down to earth and at bringing me up to date with what is happening in their communities. I want to thank all of the families who support members of the parliament. We all have our battles but, when it comes to family, I think we would all agree on the important and critical role they play in supporting us in our national political life.

I also thank in particular the Treasury, because it has been a very big year for them. Each and every one of our Treasury officers has made a very substantial sacrifice for our country in what has been an extraordinarily busy year in our national economic life. Of course, they have frequently been in the firing line as well. This country would be a lot poorer without their quality advice, dedication and long hours of work. They have put in a magnificent effort this year. They are highly regarded not just domestically but internationally, as they should be. I thank every Treasury officer for the very hard work that they have put in, particularly in the last year.

I thank all of my staff here in the ministerial office. Each and every one of them has put in an extraordinary effort over the past 12 months. They are a dedicated group of staff and they show no respect for sleep. They have the capacity to work around the clock—and they frequently have been working around the clock. I thank them from the bottom of my heart for their dedication and service over the last 12 months, and I also thank their families. For their hard work over the past year I also thank the staff in my electorate office in Brisbane—Lisa, Carla, Finn, David, Jess, Angela and now George—and the staff in all of my branches.

Could I just give a special thanks to Treasury head Ken Henry. It is true to say that he has been a dedicated and extraordinary public servant, and he has put in an extraordinary effort over the last couple of years. I am certainly proud to be a Treasury minister, and I am proud to have worked with Ken and his team at the Treasury because they have certainly delivered so much for our country in the last 12 months.

Finally, could I wish everyone here all the best for Christmas. Have a break. We will see you in the New Year.