Nov 29, 2012

Statement on Indulgence – Christmas Valedictory

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (18:51):  As much as I would appreciate everyone waiting for my valedictory, there is no need.

The SPEAKER:  Order! If everyone could leave the chamber quickly and quietly!

Mr ALBANESE:  I rise to put on the record my appreciation for people who have made a contribution to the functioning of this parliament in the last year, but also to make some brief comments as the Leader of the House and as Minister for Infrastructure and Transport.

This has been, on any measure, a very successful parliament. We have carried 449 pieces of legislation through the House. And it is 449 not out, because not a single piece of legislation has been brought before this chamber and defeated—not a single bill. Indeed, not a single amendment has been carried to any legislation without the support of the government. Under Labor, since 2008 the House has been sitting for an average of 1,025 hours each year, compared with 771 during the Howard years. We are getting on with the work of government. We are still moving forward. We are passing important legislation. Indeed, in the last two days we have had the introduction of the NDIS legislation and the education reform legislation arising out of the Gonski review.

In my portfolio, this year we got the largest, most significant shipping reform done across the board. We had legislation relating to national regulators for heavy vehicles, maritime and rail. We have continued to roll out the largest Commonwealth investment in infrastructure in Australia’s history, with the doubling of the roads budget, the increase of the rail budget by more than 10 times and a commitment to urban public transport greater than all governments combined in the previous 107 years from Federation up to 2007. We have also had 65 Private Members’ Bills and motions voted on in this chamber.

I want to take the opportunity to thank the Speaker of the House and thank also the former Speaker of the House, the member for Fisher, for their cooperation and for the relationship I have enjoyed with them as Leader of the House.

Indeed, it is my view that the former Speaker was a very good chair of the Parliament, and that you, Speaker, have presided over—including this week—an extremely difficult period, with integrity and forthrightness in the way that you have chaired the chamber, and you have brought credit on the chamber. We members do not always do the best to do that, but you have brought to the position a great deal of authority in a very short period of time and I congratulate you on that.

To the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard—as she said, I do like fighting Tories. The Prime Minister and I have worked together on a basis of five or six meetings a day. I thank her for her trust in my judgement. From time to time, that has to happen as Leader of the House. In the effective running of this parliament, I know that I can make a call and be backed by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and senior members of the Executive. That is not to say that all the calls are always right. That is to say though that I use my best judgement not just for the interests of the government but for the interests of the nation.

To my mate, the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, we have a meal together every Sunday night, which probably means I have more dinners with Wayne than I have with my own family on Sunday nights. We have enjoyed a close relationship in portfolio also. I find it is always good to have the Treasurer on side when you are the Minister for Infrastructure. The Treasurer understands the nation-building agenda that comes through that long-term productivity investment. It is easy, when circumstances are difficult in terms of the fiscal environment, to say that we will make cuts to long-term investment programs, but in the long run that inhibits future economic growth. This government has ensured, whilst maintaining our commitment to return to surplus, that we have not put aside the long-term national interest in order to achieve short-term outcomes. I think it is very important that this government does understand that.

To my deputy, Stephen Smith, the Member for Perth, we enjoy our banter and chats each morning. I appreciate his ongoing advice and his commitment to our common objectives which we on this side of the chamber show. To other ministers, I thank them for their cooperation and, indeed, I thank the entire caucus for voting in ways that are appropriate when they come into the chamber, and backing and supporting my position as Leader of the House.

To the Chief Government Whip, the member for Hunter, we had a very enjoyable night at the end of the year when I attended the Souths versus Newcastle game with him. It was almost a good night until Greg Inglis took out Uate, and that made sure that the Newcastle home based crowd were disappointed that night; but, like good working people that the Hunter Valley produces, they took it in very good spirit. It was a most enjoyable evening.

To the new whips, Janelle Saffin and Ed Husic, I thank you for your work that you do. To Anna George in the office, who works so hard in her position, I thank her too. Jill Hall has moved on as the whip to greater things, as chair of the health policy committee, to pursue that long-term policy interest that she has had. Jill Hall has been a mate of mine since I supported her in a preselection for Swansea many years ago, just before I supported her in a preselection for Shortland many years ago. Jill Hall continues to make a great contribution.

To the crossbenchers I say that I spend perhaps more time with them than is healthy for any of us. But the fact is that we have a relationship in which we trust each other’s words. I know what they are going to do, because they keep their word, as I do with them in terms of the arrangements for and the functioning of this parliament—which, in spite of its minority government status, has functioned extremely effectively.

To my opposite number, the member for Sturt, I say that I got an email the other week—and I do not know if he got this—that showed us in a photograph being friendly towards each other in spite of the fact that it was taken on a particularly rancorous day in the parliament. The member for Sturt is someone who is of good spirit. In terms of the relationship that we have when negotiating the functioning of the parliament, he conducts himself in a professional manner. In spite of the fact that we have political differences, on a personal level we have respect for each other, which is probably the best circumstance that you could hope for, given the nature of this parliament. I thank him for that on the record.

I wish all the other members of the opposition a good and safe festive season, particularly the Leader of the Nationals, as he is the shadow minister for infrastructure and transport.

I also wish a good and safe festive season to the Clerk of the House, Bernard Wright; David Elder and the whole team; Henry Thomson and the team in the PLO, particularly Ebony, whose good spirit brings cheer during the most difficult of days; the Chamber Research Office and the Parliamentary Library; the House of Representatives staff, including the Table Office; the Office of Parliamentary Counsel, Peter Quiggin—I chair the parliamentary business committee and often place quite unreasonable demands on them, but they have managed to deliver on them; the Serjeant-at-Arms; the catering, security and ministerial support staff; the staff who help us in the chamber, particularly Lupco Jonceski, who is always of good spirit and is a very well-liked person in this building; and all the other people who do all the work on a day-to-day basis. I thank them all.

Then there is my team. I wish a good and safe festive season to Mike Mrdak and his team; the staff of the department; my chief of staff, Michael Choueifate; my personal assistant, Karen Bissaker; the Leader of the House staff, with Moksha Watts in charge, ably assisted by Linda Townrow; the electorate office manager, Kris Cruden; and all of my staff, who work so hard and such unreasonable hours under such extraordinary pressure. I thank each and every one of you.

I also thank my branch members, party officials and supporters—in an election year, which is coming up, it is always wise to remember your base. They work very hard in an electorate where the enemy is not always the conservatives but often the Greens political party, which in my area take a very opportunistic and unprincipled approach to politics.

In the coming year, or the next 10 months perhaps, that will certainly be a situation in which I look forward to them playing a role in the re-election of the Labor government.

In terms of my own family, to my wife, Carmel Tebbutt, and to my son, Nathan, the time we spend away from our family and loved ones is very difficult. We all feel that pressure. My son starts high school next year. He has had an experience whereby for a majority of his life he has had two parents who are ministers, one in state government and one in federal government. That is a particularly difficult situation; however, I am very proud of the way that he conducts himself. He is becoming a very fine young man. Carmel certainly has a great deal more political support both within and outside the Labor Party. I do not think she has an enemy in politics, which is something I am not in a position to claim. I am indeed a very lucky man to have Carmel as my life partner.

I conclude by thanking the House and everyone for their cooperation. It comes in unusual circumstances sometimes. Christopher Pyne’s staffer James Newbury is someone I talk to more than most Labor Party staffers, such is the nature of it. James is a good fellow. I think Christopher Pyne inherited him from Joe Hockey, when Joe was the Manager of Opposition Business. I look forward to serving as Leader of the House with many more future managers of opposition business in future parliaments when we return after the election next year.

In conclusion, as Transport Minister I say one thing: please, we all have a role in our newsletters and in the way we communicate with our electorates to remind people to drive safely over the Christmas and festive season. Every year there are too many tragedies on our roads. We can build the best roads and have the best technology in cars, but at the end of the day people drive vehicles, and they need to be encouraged to drive safely, particularly during periods such as Christmas, when there are more cars on the road than usual and where some people who would not normally be behind the wheel are driving. Evidence has shown that that is one of the things that can lead to additional fatalities.

I wish the House all the best.