Bill's Speeches

Valedictory Speech


Mr SHORTEN (Maribyrnong—Leader of the Opposition) (16:46): Madam Speaker, I start my valedictory by wishing you, personally, a lovely Merry Christmas, and I wish the same to other members who share the chair. I acknowledge the Prime Minister and, in turn, wish him and his family, the Deputy Prime Minister and other members of the government a good break. I trust the government will return refreshed in the new year. I look forward to identifying areas of bipartisanship upon which we can work together.

As this very long year winds up we pause to reflect on the 12 months past and to look forward to the year ahead. I first speak to the thousands of Holden workers and their families and also to the 1,100 workers and their families at Gove, who have also had terrible news, so recently, about their jobs. The opposition understand the distress, particularly at this time of the year, that is caused by the uncertainty that they face. We will continue to stand up for their futures every day in this place.

In our wide brown land all too often we face drought, flood and bushfires. Amidst the devastation and despair I always feel a sense of pride when I have the opportunity to meet families who have stared these challenges in the face and pushed forward, just as I am thankful for the emergency services workers and volunteers who support them along the way. So it was this year. We began with the devastating fires in Tasmania, the worst in over 30 years, during one of the state's harshest heatwaves. The resilience of the township of Donnelly, which was one of the hardest hit, is testament to the Australian spirit that we have seen before in tough times. The Australian will was also tested in Queensland. Resilient people who too often feel the brunt of nature's ferocity once again faced serious floods. More recently I toured the devastation in the Blue Mountains after bushfires, which along with other fires in New South Wales took the homes of hundreds of families and tested the spirit of local communities. I take this moment to offer, on behalf of the opposition, our thoughts to those Australians facing these and similar challenges.

During this time of family and friends we should also pause to thank those Australians serving our nation overseas in our military forces. In late October along with the Prime Minister I had the opportunity to meet with Australians serving in Afghanistan. I wish them well this festive season; I also wish them a safe return. I thank all Australians serving overseas in our armed forces, in our diplomatic service and in our Public Service. We also thank their families for lending them to Australia in the service of our nation. As those families approach the festive season with an empty chair at the table we want you to know our gratitude for your sacrifice.

This year people were tested right around the world—from unrest in Egypt and Syria to the shock of the bombings at the Boston Marathon and the devastation across the Philippines and Vietnam caused by Typhoon Haiyan. The Prime Minister and I have recently returned from South Africa, where this week we attended the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. The world will continue to mourn the loss of this great leader, and each of us should seek inspiration from his words and actions about reconciliation and forgiveness, particularly at this time of year.

In 2013 we lost many great Australians: Chrissie Amphlett, an icon to Australian music lovers—men and women alike; Mr Yunupingu, 1992 Australian of the Year and a singer for Yothu Yindi, but more importantly a truly wonderful man who represented his people with passion and purpose. He will be a wonderful chapter in the Australian story for generations to come; Peter Harvey, a man with a four-decade-long commitment to Australian journalism; Rusty Priest, the indomitable former president of the RSL.

There were many Australians recognised at home and abroad. Del Kathryn Barton won her second Archibald Prize for her fantastic portrait of the Australian icon, Hugo Weaving. In literature Michelle de Kretser won the Miles Franklin Award for Questions of Travel. Melbourne's own Wally De Backer won three Grammy Awards including record of the year. The Socceroos qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Rio de Janeiro. Black Caviar was retired after an unprecedented run of 25 wins and no losses. We lost the Ashes, but now we are just one test win away from reclaiming them. I look forward to Mitchell Johnson continuing to tear through the English in Perth starting tomorrow and again in Melbourne on Boxing Day.

Election years are particularly demanding, and this year was no different. I personally thank, once again, the people of Maribyrnong for electing me to serve them in this place. We are a vibrant, strong, diverse and proud community. It is a privilege to represent each and every one of them. I want to acknowledge the Labor Party members and volunteers in Maribyrnong who supported me by giving their time so freely this year. Not one of us would be in this place without our members, neighbours, friends and volunteers helping with the doorknocking, the phoning, the putting up of posters and the spending of hours handing out pamphlets and promoting our case.

I thank the members of the great Australian Labor Party who not only embraced our democratic process for the election of leader but also actively engaged and participated in it. It is a testament to our party and our movement that, in a year of election defeat, more Australians now wish to join the Labor Party. There is clearly more work to do, but we are a stronger, more representative and larger party and movement because of our members, and I thank them.

I acknowledge the ongoing contribution of small and family enterprises to creating communities and strong businesses for all of the Australian economy. I also acknowledge Australia's trade unionists, who represent the wishes and hopes of millions of Australians who go to work every day. A special acknowledgement goes to Labor's national secretary, George Wright, and his hardworking team. They have had a big and challenging year. Similarly I acknowledge all state secretaries and branches across the nation. You should take the opportunity to have a break over coming weeks, for you will be straight back to work in the new year as we face elections around the nation in coming months.

To my remarkable deputy, Tanya Plibersek, member for Sydney: Merry Christmas to you, Michael and your family. Working with you over the last few weeks and months has been a pleasure. You are a light of the Labor Party, and I look forward to working with you as we hold the government to account between now and the next election. To senators Penny Wong and Stephen Conroy and the opposition Senate team: I thank you for the work you do in the other place, and I wish you and your families well over this festive season. To the remarkable members of the Labor caucus: thank you; I am grateful to be surrounded in our task by so many Labor talents and warriors. I particularly mention welcome new Labor members of the class of 2013. We have worked hard and have endeavoured to do our best to achieve good outcomes for the future of all Australians.

It was President Lincoln who she said, 'Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.' Labor must do the same. We deserve to be proud of our legacy. I will endeavour to fight for it every day in this parliament alongside my remarkable team. Speaking of Labor's legacy, I acknowledge the members of our movement who have left this place in the course of the year. In particular I acknowledge the achievements of former Prime Ministers Rudd and Gillard. Without you both Australia would not have said sorry, we would not have got through the global financial crisis in the manner we did, and we would not have achieved the educational reforms that we created or the National Disability Insurance Scheme. These are great reforms reflecting true Labor values. You have both left your mark in this parliament, and you deserve to be acknowledged for what you achieved for the Australian people.

To Labor staff both here in parliament and out serving in electorates around the country: thank you for your commitment and dedication. It is the hard work of each and every one of you that grows into the great Labor reforms and victories, and I—and we—thank you for it. I also thank the secretary and staff of the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and the secretary and staff of the Treasury, who worked closely and cooperatively with me as minister in the course of the year.

I take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of the press gallery. We on this side value the contributions and insights you bring to the Australian polity and its politics. You play an important role in our parliament. You never hesitate to point out when we are wrong and then challenge us when we claim to be right. We hope that the festive season treats you all well and that you return next year hungry for truth once again.

We know that if it was just politicians in this place then nothing would ever get done. As I said earlier—but I wish to say it again—I acknowledge the pivotal role played by the outgoing Clerk of the House of Representatives, Bernard Wright, by David Elder, the Deputy Clerk and incoming Clerk, and by all your teams. To everyone else who manages the operation of the House—the Serjeant-at-Arms, Robyn McClelland, and everyone in the Serjeant's office, the Table Office, the Parliamentary Library, Hansard as well as all the attendants in the chamber—I say thank you. I thank the Comcar drivers here and around Australia, who manage to get us from A to B, particularly when our schedules change, when we are running late and—sometimes—when we are not sure where we are going. I say a special thank you to Steve and Bill, my drivers in Melbourne, for their good driving and better humour. I must mention and wish a Merry Christmas to the Parliament House staff from the Department of Parliamentary Services, the gym, Aussies and the dining rooms as well as the security staff and the wonderful cleaning staff—including Olga, who greets our office every day with a smile and a joke at any hour of the day or night. Surely the hill would not be such a bright place without the contributions of all those who work here.

I acknowledge my personal electorate staff, including those staff members who have moved on to bigger and better things following the election. I thank in particular my former chief of staff, Mat Tinkler, and my current chief of staff, Ken Macpherson, for their dedication and leadership. This part of my notes, which was prepared for me by my staff, tell me that my staff are all too wonderful and that it would take too long to list their qualities individually! So instead I will say that it has been a long and tough year for each of you, whether you have been with me throughout the year or have only joined my office in recent weeks. I am impressed every day by the capacity of my staff for hard work and by their good humour, dedication, collegiality and their ability to go with me for runs at odd hours and at short notice! Your capacity to give each other special names—such as Fifi, Seamie, Paps, KBJ, Fossil and Monkey—is slightly strange. But they are certainly endearing to some! In all seriousness I take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank each member of my staff; well done, team.

Lastly and most importantly, I thank my family. Chloe, Georgette, Rupert and Clementine: I love you and I thank you for your love and support. You are the most important people in the world to me. I look forward to coming home tonight, as I do at the end of every sitting week, to spend time with you. I also thank my mother and my brother, Robert, and his family. All too often the sacrifices that our families make so we can follow our paths and vocations are forgotten. We in this place are volunteers: we choose to seek the privilege of representing our electorates and participating in the important debates about the direction and future of our nation. But none of us can perform without the support of our families. Our families often get much of the downside and little of the upside.

In conclusion I say that this really has been a long year, complete with many highs and lows. I trust that, once everyone has had their fill of presents, ham and festive cheer, we will all have the opportunity to sit down with loved ones and enjoy what is really important. This is a very special time of year, and I once again wish everyone a safe and happy festive season.