Dec 5, 2019

Statements on Indulgence – Valedictory – Thursday, 5 December 2019

Mr ALBANESE (GrayndlerLeader of the Opposition) (17:11): I join with the Prime Minister in farewelling the parliamentary year in the usual fashion with a valedictory. It has indeed been a very eventful year. It’s been a very eventful year in my life, and certainly not one I saw coming as I was here last year, in a number of ways. I thank the Prime Minister for his speech, and I wish him and his family all the best for Christmas and, similarly to the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the National Party and, indeed, to everyone on the other side of this chamber.

I thank you, Mr Speaker, for your guidance, your wisdom and, it must be said, your patience throughout the year. I understand that that last quality is especially important for Carlton supporters! I also thank you for the times when you have communicated your thoughts to us with nothing more than a raised eyebrow. In this building, this is a superpower possessed only by yourself and Senator Penny Wong. I thank also your able supporting cast. This includes one of my tennis opponents, the member for Page—and I visited the fire-affected area in his electorate with him just in the last month—and he certainly is someone who’s very passionate about representing his community, as is the second Deputy Speaker, the member for McEwen, who represents our side on the Speaker’s panel. Thank you very much to all the whips and their teams, to Chris Hayes, Jo Ryan and Anne Stanley. As long as Christopher stays off the motorbike, he’ll continue to be able to do a fantastic job on behalf of the party, and the work with the whips on the other side is also important in keeping things going.

To my fantastic deputy and friend, Richard Marles: it has been a great privilege to work with you so closely and to really get to know each other on a much deeper level, and to have your loyal support and commitment has been quite extraordinary. I thank Penny Wong, the Senate leader, a formidable force of nature. It’s always easier, in shadow cabinet or in other processes that we’re not allowed to talk about, just to agree with Penny—because you will eventually, so you may as well. I thank Kristina Keneally, who has entered the leadership team and has brought her experience, her passion and her commitment—and every leadership team should have at least two South Sydney supporters on it, which is an important component! I thank my shadow minister assisting me as Leader of the Opposition, Don Farrell. Don plays one of those pastoral roles in our party. He is someone who has been incredibly supportive and a real source of advice. As the leader of the party, I’m very blessed to be able to have them.

I do want to single out the member for Maribyrnong, Bill Shorten. It is, as I’m finding out, an onerous task to be Leader of the Opposition. You don’t have that much staff and support—there’s no department to give you advice. It’s a tough job. Bill Shorten worked each and every day for six years with the commitment that he has to our party and, indeed, to our movement to make things different—not just to change the government but because he wanted to change things in favour of working people. He has our party’s respect. We respect our former leaders, and I thank him for his ongoing contribution.

I now go to his former deputy and my long-term friend Tanya Plibersek. We were talking the other evening about when we met. She was still at school. I was at uni, I think, by then. Tanya is a formidable representative. She’s my neighbour, as the member for Sydney. It was fantastic that she celebrated her 50th birthday on Monday.

Ms Plibersek: Rubbing it in!

The SPEAKER: Did I throw you out on Monday, Member for Sydney?

Mr ALBANESE: I’m now arguing we’re the same age, because when you get past 50 you can count in decades! I say to Tanya, on her passion for education, in particular, and for representing the rights of women, I think we are very lucky to have her in our team.

Likewise, I thank my entire parliamentary team. I think this is an outstanding team, particularly those people, if I can single them out, who have come in and instantly played a part in our movement—the class of 2016 and the class of 2019. You do have to renew yourself as a movement. From the front bench right through to the back bench, we’re united. After going through such a devastating defeat—call it what it is—in May, when we expected to win, if you look at the past, and I’ve been here for a bit, the truth is that, after 2001 and after 2004, we were nowhere near where we are now six months after that defeat—united, committed, determined and looking forward. We’ve had our review. It’s done and dusted. We are now looking forward. We’re determined to hold the government to account, but we’re also determined to put forward a positive vision.

I thank my fantastic staff. Tim Gartrell is my pretty experienced campaign director. He was campaign director in 2007, the last time we won, and the campaign director for the marriage equality ‘yes’ campaign just a short time ago. In between those times, he is someone who has worked for the private sector and someone who has worked to advance reconciliation. He is also someone who was my campaign director for Grayndler in 1996. It is fantastic to have someone in that role who is a dear friend. I thank him. I think his partner, Kerry, who also worked for me many years ago, for letting him come and work for me! I thank him for taking the pay cut, too, that that required. I thank Sabina Husic and Jeff Singleton, my deputies and my entire team, including my electorate office, led by the formidable Sue Heath. I thank, indeed, all the families of members and staff. They sign up in a different way. It’s not always an easy life. Our families carry the absences, the long hours and the pressures. Through their sacrifice and their generosity, they make so much of our democratic system possible.

I’d like to thank the former Clerk, David Elder. I wish him nothing but happiness in his retirement after years of service. I congratulate the new Clerk, Claressa Surtees, and the new Deputy Clerk, Catherine Cornish—an all-female team is an extraordinary thing. To the people who look after us in this place, Luch and the attendants team, thank you for your patience and for what you all do. Then there are the Hansard staff. They don’t miss a word in this place. Not only do we owe them our thanks; we owe them our sympathy as well because, from time to time, it must be quite difficult to decipher what is happening in this place.

I thank the keepers of knowledge in the Parliamentary Library; the staff of the Department of the House of Representatives; you can’t acknowledge the important personnel in this building without talking about Dom and the team at Aussies, who bring character to the place; as well as everyone who works at the coffee cart and the staff cafeteria—when people call it ‘the trough’, they do it with love; it’s a sign of affection. Can I say this: if you want an example of how the public sector often does it better than the private sector, just ask anyone who was here when it was privatised—it is much better now that the Speaker and the President of the Senate have brought it back into the department, and that is a good thing.

I thank all the staff in Parliament House. It is a big building and it takes a lot to run it. If you haven’t been down to Old Parliament House—I’ve been to two dinners there in the last fortnight—it still has all its charm. I worked in that building; it has its power and it has its ghosts, but, compared to this building, it does feel like one of the miniatures at Cockington Green, just down the road.

I want to say a big thankyou to the hardworking cleaners who look after us and are so much a part the soul of this place, and to the Comcar drivers who get us around on time, particularly my Sydney drivers, Greg and Suzanne. Thank you to FCM Travel Solutions, who help to keep us moving, and to the AFP and security staff, who keep us safe.

To the press gallery: I’m reliably informed that the last of the press gallery who was at our drinks on Tuesday night has now left the caucus room, which is good, because tonight we’ve got the caucus party. You play an absolutely critical role, and no democracy is worthy of the name without a robust, fair and free media. We will defend your right to report on what happens in this place. I do want to single out—she is going to be embarrassed here—Kym Smith. This is her last day. She has worked here for 15 years. She loves KFC, she’s got that killer smile and she’s one of the hardest working photographers in the building. Well done, Kym. She’s a passionate Bulldogs supporter, which is fine—as long as she’s not a Roosters supporter, that’s okay! Well done, and I think all of us wish you well in your future endeavours.

This place is the heart of democracy. It’s important we don’t take it for granted, and I will have more to say about that on Saturday.

We don’t have to look far beyond this place, to the pall of smoke in the sky, to be reminded of just whose debt we are in. To all of our firefighters, who have done such a remarkable job up to now, and will do over what has been a very early beginning to the summer: we thank you. You head into harm’s way to protect us and to protect property, and you do things that are beyond comprehension for those of us who have never done it. They have no illusions about what they’re up against, and yet they continue to go.

We think of those people who are facing this Christmas without their homes, which have recently been lost. We think of other people who are homeless, who are destitute and for whom Christmas is a really difficult time, and our heart goes out to them. This Christmas I will be helping Bill Crews at the Exodus Foundation in my electorate. He is a remarkable Christian leader who does great things at what he describes as the church for outsiders. The homeless, people with drug problems, people who are on the margins of society are all welcome at Ashfield.

It was my intention, it must be said, to spend Christmas Day with our defence forces overseas. We tried to put that together over the last couple of months, but it wasn’t possible. But I did want to go, and I think it is remarkable when our serving men and women give up their Christmas overseas, particularly at this time of the year. However, I hope to do that at some time in the future. There were practical reasons why that could not be arranged by the government.

We do think of those people who are working in our hospitals, our nurses and all the people in emergency services. We hope they’re getting their penalty rates as well, it must be said, because they give up an enormous amount during this Christmas period. We think at this time, too, of the people—and a shout-out to the people in the trade union movement—who work each and every day to make Australia a better place and ensure that their fellow workers get a fair go.

To my team, which combines with the Christmas colours, the South Sydney Rabbitohs: I am always hopeful at this time of the year—I’m very confident we’ll win in 2020. We’ll see how that goes. To my son Nathan, I say: every year is our year, and I look forward to spending more time with you over the summer period. You make me proud each and every day.

As we go from here and return to the very people we have the privilege to represent, let us go with a renewed sense of purpose. I thank my electorate of Grayndler once again for sending me here to represent you. I don’t take your support for granted, and I treat every voter and the electorate as a marginal seat each and every day. I think that we do our best in this place as individuals. We must remain worthy of the trust that our fellow Australians place in us. So, as Naomi Wolf would say: have a wonderful Christmas! I thank the House.