Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the Opposition) (16:06): Last year I started with the observation that it had been a very eventful year, and it was, but it had nothing on 2020, it’s fair to say. The phrase ‘year from hell’ comes to mind: drought leading to bushfires leading into a pandemic—just extraordinary—with some floods thrown in between. It was quite a tough year for so many Australians.
Just as there have been many downsides, there has been an upside. We have been reminded of things about the Australian spirit. Neighbours have looked after each other. Essential workers have continued to turn up to work, whether it be nurses, aged-care workers, childcare workers, cleaners, truck drivers delivering food and essential services, or farmers continuing to produce product for us to get by. There’s been a sense of looking after each other in that great Australian spirit.
My local neighbourhood has now got a little app that people connect to so that the elderly who couldn’t go out and do their own shopping because of the threat of the virus were looked after by others—strangers, people helping each other out. That app led people to go and fix the garden for people, putting the garbage out and bringing it in. That spirit, I think, has been tremendous this year. It has reminded us that, when the going gets tough, Australians do look after each other.
Of course that followed extraordinary bravery, including the 33 lives lost during the bushfires. Those scenes from the beaches—apocalyptic, something out of a movie—didn’t look real. People have been dealing with trauma in the wake of that, and it has been a very tough year.
I think we end the year knowing that we can stand tall as a nation. We can look forward to 2021 with a sense of optimism. I think that we will move forward, as the Prime Minister said, and look forward to genuinely saying Happy New Year and hoping that indeed it is a happier and less difficult one than 2020. I want to thank the Prime Minister for his words. I wish him and his family all the best for Christmas, and likewise to the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the National Party. To others on the other side of this chamber: I wish you and your families all the best.
To my team: I thank my deputy, Richard Marles, and the leadership team. In the Senate I thank the leader, Penny Wong, and Kristina Keneally, who has had a particularly tough year in losing her dad, on the other side of the world just a couple of weeks ago. Having to say goodbye over a video link is just incredibly tough. Kristina Keneally has our thoughts; it will be a very difficult Christmas for her.
To our Senate Manager of Opposition Business and the person who has chaired the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19, Katy Gallagher: it’s been an amazing effort. She is part of the economic team, along with my shadow Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, who has done such a terrific job.
Our Manager of Opposition Business, Tony Burke, who will make a great Leader of the House, is also the leader of Labor’s musical division, the Left Right Out band. I say to those opposite who haven’t had the opportunity to hear this band: don’t feel bad about that! If ever you’re wondering what the noise is coming out of corridors on a Tuesday night, I recommend walking to the outer corridor rather than there. But Tony makes up for it with enthusiasm in the House, and he has an outstanding deputy in Mark Butler.
I would like to make a special mention of our Chief Opposition Whip, Chris Hayes. Last year I actually said that if he stayed off his motorbike he should be alright. Well, that was optimistic! He didn’t stay off the motorbike, but he also didn’t stay out of hospital. He had pretty significant surgery but he has come through it all the best. To him and Bernadette, we look forward to welcoming Chris back in this place. He plays a very important role.
To all of my Labor colleagues and my Labor team: I thank each and every one of you, and I look forward to working with you over the coming year and perhaps year and a bit—whenever the election is, anytime the Prime Minister chooses to have it from the end of next year through to early 2022. I thank all of your staff as well. They have had a particularly difficult year, as have the staff of all members of parliament, in looking after issues that are not the run-of-the-mill issues. There have been people who have required support and I really thank them.
I do want to say that it is just an incredible honour that I cherish and am humbled by to lead the Australian Labor Party. When I joined this party, when I was still at school, the idea that I could be Labor leader was certainly not something I had—you won’t find any school yearbooks from me saying that I’m going to be the leader of the Labor Party. I don’t take it for granted. We are the oldest party in Australia—indeed, one of the oldest political parties and movements in the world—and we are the largest party in this parliament. I’m very proud that you’ve given me the honour of leading you.
My own staff is ably led by Tim Gartrell, an experienced person and the last bloke to be campaign director when Labor went from opposition to government—a handy person to have as your chief of staff. And I thank Paul Erickson, our national secretary, who is aiming to duplicate that feat by Tim Gartrell, working with his team at the ALP national office. I thank the staff in my electorate office. As leader, you spend more time away than normal. It’s led by Sue Heath, who is an experienced electorate officer across three states. She brings that capacity to the office.
I do want to acknowledge the families of all the members as well. They give up a lot. I want to give a shout-out—he’ll be embarrassed by it—to my son, Nathan, who turned 20 on Tuesday. It’s one of the first times I haven’t been able to spend his birthday with him. I say to the Leader of the House, you’ve done a better job with the next sitting calendar, because next year we get up a little bit early. It would be good to not sit in December and cram it in a bit earlier so that we can go to school functions et cetera. To Nathan, it really hit home to me on Tuesday—I’ve got to say—that there are times in this job when you wake up in the morning and you think about your family and what you’re giving up, and that was one of those times. I’m very proud of him. He’s grown into a very fine young man. We had a lovely dinner with him and his girlfriend on Saturday night. I look forward to seeing him tomorrow, when I arrive home.
To the parliamentary staff, I thank the Speaker for the extraordinary job that he’s done. I think he is a very, very fine Speaker indeed. I thank the Clerk, Claressa; the Deputy Clerk, Catherine; the chamber attendants, including Luch; and the Hansard staff, who, for better or worse, immortalise every word in this place the moment it happens; the keepers of knowledge and history in the Parliamentary Library; the staff of the House and the Department of Parliamentary Services; Dom and his crew at Aussies; and everyone at the staff cafeteria. I have to make this point: if you want to define the public sector versus the private sector, this is one area where the public sector has excelled in since it was brought back into public hands. The truth is that it’s much better than it was. They do a great job; they always have a smile. They’ve, of course, had to deal with the difficulties of COVID. Keeping people safe has required extra work by all of the staff in this building.
To whoever made the decision to put a coffee cart near my office, thank you—that has been a particularly good initiative. To the hardworking cleaners, one of the things about this year that I hope is never forgotten is the role that cleaners play in our society. To Joy and Laa, who take care of my office, thank you. To the COMCAR drivers and staff, particularly my Sydney drivers, Greg and Susan, thank you. To everyone at FCM Travel Solutions, Parliament House security, the AFP and, indeed, all the staff at Parliament House, thank you.
To the press gallery, I thank most of you. I would like to make a special mention of everyone at AAP. Even by the standards of 2020, it’s been pretty tough for you, not knowing whether you would still have a job or continue to exist. I am confident—I hope—that when we get back in 2021 we’ll have a public gallery as well. I think that for all of those issues that we’ve had as challenges in 2020.
I say as well to the special workers, aged-care workers, nurses and teachers, who had to reinvent education this year, thank you for what you’ve done. I give a shout-out to year 12 students, who had it particularly difficult.
Victorians, of course, had a really tough year. It was very difficult for all those who had to isolate. I acknowledge everyone who’s lost a loved one in this pandemic, everyone who’s lost their job and is facing a lean Christmas and everyone still living in a caravan after losing their homes in the bushfires.
I do want to say that, for a community of a very different sort, a highlight of my year in 2020 was watching us put 60 points on the Sydney Roosters in the last round for South Sydney. I look forward to a more successful 2021 there. It might have been different had Adam Reynolds not worn yellow shoes and stepped on a line.
I thank the people from the electorate of Grayndler in the inner west of Sydney. Unless we are good local members, then nothing comes beyond that. All politics is local. I have a vibrant, fantastic community that I’m very proud to represent. It’s diverse. It has a lot of professionals. It also has more boarding houses than any electorate in the country. It has a lot of poverty. It is a multicultural electorate, with more than 40 per cent of people speaking a language other than English at home.
Lastly, I say to the Prime Minister that we will have a plan for the next election and I say to the Liberal Party that we have a plan for 18 years time as well. Because, when parliament resumes, there will be no fewer than six newborns on our side to five parents. I say that because Anika Wells, the member for Lilley, went beyond what is reasonable—
An opposition member: Queensland efficiency!
Mr ALBANESE: With Queensland efficiency, she had two at once. I got to hold the twins last Saturday in Brisbane. It’s quite remarkable—and it’s a good thing for the parliament—that we have had, literally, six newborns in the last month on our side of the parliament. The new parents are Anika Wells—times two—Alicia Payne, Marielle Smith, Pat Gorman and his partner, Jess, and I think Matt Keogh’s partner, Annabel, gave birth just yesterday. It is a good thing, and it says something about how this parliament is getting more representative for the people who vote for us. I wish everyone a merry Christmas and a great new year.