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Thursday, 26 November 2009
Page: 13017

Mr TRUSS (Leader of the Nationals) (11:40 AM) —May I join with the others in extending to all of those who work in this place, those who support us and the people of Australia, my very best wishes for the Christmas season. It has been another eventful year—the year of Black Saturday; the year when the drought has continued for many, although in some instances it has eased and in other cases it has got worse; the year when our involvement in Iraq formally ended, although the war in Afghanistan became more intense. It has been a year when we have apologised to forgotten people and when the government has been able to advance quite a deal of its agenda. It has been a year when people have lived through a lot of uncertainty with the recession we did not have. All of these things have made this an eventful year. The parliament has had, as it always does, a particular responsibility to take a leadership role, to respond to the issues and to do what we can to help build a better nation.

I thank all of those who have been a part of ensuring that the parliament has worked so smoothly this year. Firstly, I thank you, Mr Speaker, and the members of your panel. Thank you for the good natured way in which you undertake your responsibilities. From time to time, I know people on all sides of the House test your patience, but you have undertaken your work with great dignity and goodwill, and certainly you have earned the respect of every member of the parliament. We thank you very much for the work that you do and the support that you get from the other members of your panel.

I want to also make some comments about the Clerk. I guess this will be the last time we have an opportunity to say thank you to Ian as he retires very shortly, after 12½ years as the Clerk of the House and after 37 years of service to this House. Ian has made an extraordinary contribution, and that is beyond question. He came from a coalmining family in the Newcastle area, and he went to school and university there. He worked as a teacher and then as a public servant, but most of his working life has been in this place.

Ian has served as the Clerk for 12½ years. There have only been 14 clerks in 108 years of our federal parliament, so clerks manage to survive much better than prime ministers, opposition leaders and most of the people who have the privilege to serve as members. Perhaps it is because of the important administrative role that the clerks play as well as the great diplomatic skills that they bring to their task. Fairly early in my parliamentary career I had the opportunity to travel with Ian overseas. I got to know him well. I admired and appreciated him, and I saw a side of him that you never get to see with the formality of this place.

The Clerk, more than anyone, is entrusted with a fair degree of the traditions and forms of this place, and with the administration, to make sure that we are able to undertake our work seamlessly and effectively. It does not mean that things do not change. Indeed, there has been a lot of change in the parliament over the last 20 years with the establishment of the second chamber and a whole lot of other things that have made a real difference. Some of the formality has gone; there is no doubt about that. As one who has been around for a while, I regret some of that. But on the other hand we do need to be relevant to the times and to make sure that the things we preserve and protect are those things that actually matter to our democratic institutions.

So, Ian, thank you for all you have done. As I mentioned, you have come from humble beginnings. You served for three years as president of the Association of Secretary-Generals of Parliament, the first person in the southern hemisphere to have that honour. That demonstrates the respect with which you are held around the nation and beyond. I read somewhere in a newspaper report that you actually had to learn French do that job. That is a clear demonstration of dedication, that one would go to that length. But the fact that you have held those offices is a further commendation of your career. Ian Harris, AO, we wish you good health and every happiness in your retirement. I know that Erika will be very pleased to be able to spend more time with you as well. You leave with enduring friends in this place and much respect for everything you have done.

In that context I welcome Ian’s replacement Bernard Wright, also a man steeped in the traditions of the parliament. Bernard, I am sure that it will not be long before we will be saying equally favourable things about your contribution to this place and your support for the parliament and the way in which it operates.

I will mention the staff, about 250 staff, I understand, that serve the parliament. That is just those directly associated with the office of the Clerk. They have certainly, as always, served us well. They help us in undertaking our responsibilities on a day-to-day basis. We do not very often get the chance to say thank you to them. Sometimes we walk past in a flurry with our minds on other things. But let me say that there is a deep and abiding affection for the work that you do and appreciation for your service to the parliament and to us as members. I mention the Serjeant-at-Arms and his staff, the attendants, the security people, the Comcar drivers, the dining-room staff, the nurses, the cleaners, the Library staff, the Hansard people, who translate what we say into English, and those who look after our travel arrangements and everything else that we do. We thank you very much and wish you the compliments of the season.

I also acknowledge the press gallery, who give us a tough time. I acknowledge what has happened in their lives over the last year or two as their numbers have been reduced. They work long hours. We all often do interviews at 10 or 11 o’clock at night, and we know they are presenting programs at five or six in the morning—incredible hours. I will mention one other development in the last 12 months that I think is a very significant advance, and that is the opening of the APAC television channel. That has opened up the workings of the parliament so that people at home can actually see more of what the parliament does and in particular the way it works. So much television time of the parliament, what there is of it, surrounds question time, which is a very small part of what occupies our day. It is the theatrics, I guess, it is where the one-liners come from. But when people can actually see their local member, who may not be in the headlines of the capital city newspapers every day, when they can see them on APAC actually at work, I think that is a very substantial advance. I commend those who have taken the initiative to establish that channel. It is a pity it is not available free to all. Nonetheless, it is available to those who keenly follow the public events of our nation.

I would like to thank the Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, and Julie Bishop and all of my colleagues in the coalition front bench for the privilege of working with them. I acknowledge Nigel Scullion, my deputy, and Senators Joyce and Nash, the leaders of my party in the Senate. They have been good colleagues to work with and I very much appreciated that privilege. I want to join in thanking the whips, and I mention in particular Alex Somlyay, my electorate neighbour and good friend. I extend particular wishes to Alex in the period ahead. He has got some medical issues to address. We hope that those issues will go well for him, and we look forward to seeing him back next year bright and well and happy. Kay Hull is a tower of strength for us. She is little but big. She is a little person but, my word, she does a tower of work and is an enormous strength. She is there when we have got problems. Sometimes when I think of Kay I remember her past as a tow truck operator taking on the big guys with the big trucks battling over a wreck. Frankly, I think she would be more than a match for any of them. Kay, you do a wonderful job and I very much appreciate the contribution you make to our party organisation.

Our party secretariat, Brad and his team, work with a very thin budget to be able to ensure that our party operates as effectively as we can. Can I join also in thanking our staff, my Canberra office staff and my electorate staff. David Whitrow has been with me for many years and, indeed, most of my staff have been with me since our days in government. I appreciate their loyalty and their support and the hack work that we expect them all to do. Some of my electorate staff have been with me for as long as I have been in the parliament. In fact, some of them worked for my predecessor. The loyalty and support of all of them is very much appreciated.

Sometimes people think the parliament is out of touch, that we are not doing the things that they want us to do. But we can capture the mood of the people, and that has been evident on many occasions this year. As others have said, we have disagreements across the table and some of those disagreements are intense, strong and deeply held. But I think we all need to acknowledge that everyone comes into this place with a determination to make our country a better place in which to live. Our disagreement is about how we should achieve those objectives. It is appropriate in a democracy that there be robust and well-considered debate about those issues so that we can deal with policy issues with the depth that is needed to ensure that we have a much stronger future for our nation and to ensure that those we love and those we respect can grow up in a country that has the sort of environment in which we want them to live.

Christmas is a very special time of the year. Families can get together and enjoy one another’s company. The people we love are the people we want around us during that time. But Christmas is more than just decorations and gifts and parties; the celebrations and the symbols of Christmas highlight the joyous reason for our festivities, the birth of Jesus Christ. Those who seek to take the Christmas out of the holidays or Christ out of Christmas certainly lose the central reason for our celebrations and their meaning and their purpose. The true spirit of Christmas means we should think of those less fortunate—the homeless, the jobless, those who are sick, those who are spending Christmas alone this year.

The Leader of the Opposition mentioned especially the families of the 11 Australian soldiers lost in Afghanistan. We think of those people, we think of those enduring drought for the 10th year and we think of those who have been through pain and suffering or whose families are not with them because they are spread around the world or in other parts of the country.

At an electorate level, I particularly acknowledge the celebrations there will be in the Mary Valley this Christmas. For 3½ years the residents have been living in uncertainty since the Queensland government announced the decision that their homes were to be taken from them to build the Traveston Crossing dam. I acknowledge with gratitude the decision of Peter Garrett, Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, to put an end to this woeful project. It was really a tragedy that these people have had to live through these 3½ years of uncertainty. Now they can get on with building their lives. For them this is going to be a particularly happy Christmas. While lungfish, Mary River turtles and Mary River cod probably do not celebrate Christmas, it will be a good New Year for them as well.

Finally I particularly appeal to Australians travelling this Christmas to be safe on the road. We committed ourselves as a nation a few years ago to reducing the road toll by 40 per cent. We have been making good progress but, for some reason or other, the road toll has kicked up a bit this year, even though the roads are safer than they have been, the cars are safer, and there have been more regulations, more rules and more policing. For some reason or other the road toll has risen. We do not want that toll to grow over Christmas. Please, everyone, drive carefully. I know there are a lot of temptations at Christmas time. Lots of us think we are good drivers, but sometimes there are other people on the road who are not. Be patient and do what you can in these festive times to make sure that we all drive safely on our crowded roads.

There will also be, over the Christmas period, those who will have to confront the disasters that often come to our continent such as flooding and bushfires. We think of those people during the Christmas time. When others are enjoying their celebrations, our emergency services and so many others are often called on for special duty. We think of the armed forces, the police and ambulance and hospital staff and others who keep us safe as well as those who are looking after the aged-care homes and the child-care facilities. These sorts of people deserve particular recognition over the Christmas period because we expect them to maintain the services that are so essential in our community, so that we can enjoy these very special times.

Thank you to all of those who have contributed to the past year of the parliament. I join in extending best wishes to them and to their families. We look forward to the year ahead with hope and the expectation that we come back refreshed following the holiday season to again confront the issues that are important to our nation and to make sure that we continue the work entrusted to us as representatives of the people to build a country which they can all enjoy.