Bill's Speeches

2016 VALEDICTORY SPEECH - CANBERRA - THURSDAY, 1 DECEMBER 2016

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Thank you, Prime Minister for that address. 

Mr Speaker 

Thank you for the service you and the others who occupy this chair give this Parliament, and I include in that list the redoubtable Member for McEwan. 

You've all well and truly earned a break. 

Perhaps only honourable members with experience as primary school teachers - or riot control - could understand what you go through every day between 2pm and 3.10pm.

I want to thank the Prime Minister for his well wishes and to extend the very best from Chloe and I to Lucy and your family this Christmas. 

And I actually wanted to take this opportunity to reveal a national secret. 

Behind closed doors, we actually get on quite well - at least I thought so until I saw the PM's outing this morning, but I'm sure that will resume felicitations as soon as Parliament stands adjourned. 

In fact, I recall one meeting where the Prime Minister actually asked me if there was some way we could be nicer about each other in public. I said we could swap jobs - I thought I was pretty agile, really. 

I did discover there is a limit to Malcolm's commitment to innovation. 

The Prime Minister and I actually have more in common than people realise. 

We're both married to brilliant women. 

We've both battled the Member for Warringah. 

We've both grown up wanting to help run the AWU and join the Labor Party. 

Mr Speaker 

In this place in the battle of ideas, even in the fiercest fighting, it is only ever words that are exchanged. 

So this summer, we will no doubt pause and think of those who face real dangers, who place themselves in harm's way in Australia's name.

Our troops serving in the Middle East and their families back here - who also serve. 

Our emergency services personnel fighting fires and floods and preventing crime and saving lives. 

For their sake - and ours - I hope they have a quiet Christmas. 

And then of course there are many who will serve us this Christmas who don't wear a uniform. 

I think of the Australians who will not spend Christmas at home, but will instead be up early or working through the night this holiday season, indeed relying upon penalty rates to provide for their family. 

Our nation runs on the efforts of all of these modest heroes. 

Now, Mr Speaker 

2016 brought us triumph and tragedy, joy and sadness, and the Prime Minister has spoken about some of these most movingly. 

I recall on the Great Ocean Road, the families and volunteer alike who had to leave their tables set with Christmas lunch to either flee the fires or fight them. 

In Western Australia, there were the children from Yarloop Primary who started their year with an evacuation when lightning strikes began a blaze that claimed two lives and many homes. 

And in the face of fire, or when the floodwaters hit the Hunter or the Territory, Australians responded with ‘kindness in other's trouble and courage in their own.’ 

On the world stage, we celebrated our Olympians and Paralympians in Rio. 

The record-setting Oscar success of the rebooted Mad Max. 

We mourned for the LGBTI people murdered in Orlando because of who they are and who they loved. 

We stood in solidarity with other nations that have felt the toll of terrorism, and we rededicated ourselves to meeting these challenges here at home. 

We farewelled irreplaceable characters - Max Walker from the very wide world of sport. 

And my very good friend Bob Ellis, whose words will live long after him who passed. 

Of course, from the beaches of the Shire to the streets of Footscray, we cheered the underdog and enjoyed the fairytale football stories. 

Mr Speaker 

Nobody in this chamber needs to be told how hard this job is on our families. 

Those Sunday night goodbyes, trying to help with the homework from the other side of the country, the netball games, the plays, the concerts you miss, the re-emergence you do when you return from these long parliamentary sittings, and the re-acquaintance with your family. 

None of our partners or our children asked for a parent in public life, but they live with it, they live with us, and we couldn't do it without them. 

To Chloe, Rupert, Georgette and Clementine, thank you for your love, your support and your patience. 

I cannot wait for our Christmas together. 

And from my family, to the Labor family, 

I am lucky and proud to serve in a Caucus of all the talents. 

I'm pleased that there are many more of you here to thank this year than last. 

In particular, I want to acknowledge my leadership group. 

My outstanding Deputy Leader. 

Tanya, you know how much I value your counsel, your support and your leadership - thank you. 

There is our leadership team in the Senate. 

The formidable Penny Wong, light-years ahead of her opposite number - and light-years of whoever replaces him, whenever that happens. 

There is the always-calm Don Farrell who has been such a welcome return to the Parliament. 

And I must acknowledge the one-of-a-kind Stephen Conroy who can be very proud of the 20 years he served our party, this Parliament and our country. 

I want to thank our Shadow Treasurer who has ensured that our party leads the policy debate and sets the agenda, particularly on housing affordability, but on many other fronts. 

Then there is the Member for Watson who carries the day for Labor in this chamber...whether or not the Government turn up or go home. 

There is the Member for Jagajaga, who knows more about social policy than any think-tank or Liberal frontbencher in this country. 

There is the Chief Whip, Chris Hayes and our Deputy Whips keeping order. 

For all of us, my talented shadow ministers and backbenchers, we are here in the service of a movement as well as a cause. 

To every member of our great party, from the National Secretary Noah Carroll - and his predecessor George Wright - to the tens of thousands of true believers who made calls and handed out on Election Day, I say thank you. 

In 2017, our people deserve a Parliament capable of rising above narrow self-seeking sectional interests. 

In 2017, Australians deserve a Parliament capable of raising the standard of living and opportunity for all Australians. 

For a country built on the ideal of a fair go, the stubborn persistent presence of inequality in our prosperous society is a national wrong. 

It is a challenge to us next year in this Parliament, a challenge to use our Parliament more intelligently to elevate politics. 

To make this a more pluralist, more democratic, more representative place, to include more people who are too often left out, ignore, dispossessed or forgotten. 

I speak of the First Australians and I speak of many more. 

-          I speak of the survivors of violence

-          I speak of farmers doing it hard on the land

-          I speak of people trapped by insecure work

-          I speak of women denied genuine equal treatment

-          I speak of Australians living with disability or Australians living in poverty not being able to have an equal share of the Australian dream. 

Marginalising our fellow Australians only weakens our society. 

We can never condone the complacency that another Australian's misfortune is someone else's responsibility. 

Our duty next year is to gather Australians in, to leave no-one behind. 

Because those who would make fairness too difficult make the splintering of our society too easy. 

And I say to our brothers and sisters in the trade union movement, on this side of the House we know the effort you make to improve the lives of working people. 

We know the battles you undertake to lift the living standards of ordinary Australians and we will never accept the calumny and the ignorance which says that somehow unions do not have a place in our society and their work is not important. 

Fringe groups and fads may come and go, but solidarity is forever. 

And speaking of unshakeable loyalty, I want to thank the press gallery. 

In our long travels together this year, I often missed the news and couldn't read the clips, and I discovered that the less I saw of your work, the more I enjoyed your company. 

I want to give a special shout out to the snappers and the camos who, while their colleagues snoozed and boozed, ran alongside me in the tropical Townsville heat and the chilly Canberra dawns. 

In fact, they often sprinted ahead of me and carrying cameras which was quite demoralising. 

Speaking of my running buddies, I want to thank all the members of the AFP who work to keep us safe, especially the detail who served with me on this year's campaign trail. 

Their professionalism is second only to their sense of humour. 

Can I also thank the members of 34 squadron who carried us around the country with such unfailing courtesy and kindness, particularly to my family. 

And on the ground, we count on our ComCar drivers. 

I want to thank the ComCar drivers across Australia but I would like to give a special shout-out to my drivers in Melbourne, Steve Smith and Peter Taylor who are so patient with all the jokes, questions and noise. 

They are also very good at putting up with my kids and more significantly, my staff. 

Mr Speaker 

On a sitting day, this building is crowded with visitors, from the tourists and schoolchildren in the galleries above, to all of us who crowd the coffee queue. 

But it is the permanent residents of this building who allow us to do this job. 

The clerks and chamber attendants - I acknowledge Luch amongst others - the Hansard reporters, the drafting and tabling officers whose quiet diligence ensures the only disruptions in this place are the ones we cause ourselves. 

And to Dom and the team at Aussies - the most powerful unsung monopoly in Australia - thank you for keeping us fed and fuelled.

To everyone in security, 2020, broadcast, catering and the gym, thank you for your service.

Of course I want to thank the Parliament House cleaners, particularly the cheerful souls Maria and Joy who give me that last bit of crucial insight before Question Time each day. 

Having thanked the people who clean up the mess, I want to turn to those who cause it - my staff. 

Mr Speaker 

None of us in this place could survive without the people who work for us, and in case any of us are in any doubt about that, they tell us every day. 

My electorate office and my personal staff work incredibly hard. They make a lot of sacrifices, almost always without recognition. 

I'm very grateful to work with so many people I can laugh with at the end of the day. 

One final reflection, though, Mr Speaker. 

On the 30th of October this year, in a moment of unthinkable horror, a Brisbane bus driver was set on fire and killed whilst still behind the wheel. 

As the flames spread, the fire trapped 11 of his passengers in the back of the bus, unable to access the front door. 

The smoke was getting thicker, panic was setting in - unimaginable, really.

But a Brisbane cab driver who just happened to pull over for a haircut, came to their aid. 

Selflessly, heroically, behaving in a manner which we all hope we would do but we wonder if we could. 

He ran towards the burning bus, kicking in the rear door, and helping 11 frightened people to safety. 

That cabbie's name was Aguek Nyok. 

Just over 10 years ago, he came to Australia as a refugee from South Sudan. 

When he saw the flames that afternoon, he ran towards the smoke and the screams. 

He didn't stop to ask where the people on the bus were born. 

He didn't pause to question the god that they were praying to for rescue. 

He saw his fellow human beings in mortal danger and he saved their lives. 

Aguek was born 13,000 km from where we sit, but on that day he showed us all the spirit of Australia. 

The spirit of courage, compassion, the sense of community we revere. 

How lucky were we that that refugee came to Australia? 

How lucky were those 11 people this Christmas and their families to have Christmas together because of that refugee? 

The ideals and qualities that inspire us in this place, he demonstrated in the service of the Australian people. 

In 2017, let us all be guided once again by those great Australian values. 

Let us strive to prove worthy of the people, to prove worthy of the country, to prove worthy of the privilege we have to serve. 

Let us strive to prove worthy of the people who call Australia home. 

Merry Christmas, everybody. 

I thank the House.


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