SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

SPEECH

8 December 2017

VALEDICTORY SPEECH – CANBERRA

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It has been a pretty big year. I’ve been here since 2002, and there has never been a year like this one, certainly in terms of departures and arrivals and constitutional law and so forth.

It’s a great privilege and honour to be a senator in this place. It’s a great privilege and honour to lead the Labor team. I do appreciate the opportunity to express my gratitude, on behalf of the opposition, to a number of people. I will start with you, Mr President. You have filled your role since the somewhat unexpected—perhaps less expected for some than others.

You, as President, have filled your role with distinction, equanimity and impartiality. We thank you for your service to the Senate this year and in years to come. I acknowledge your calm demeanour in presiding, particularly over question time. I push on an expectation that one day you might uphold a point of order on direct relevance—that’s a demonstration of the triumph of hope over experience. But we do thank you for the way in which you have taken to this role. We look forward to working with you. We hope not for too long; we hope for a shorter time than others might.

I also thank our Deputy President, Senator Lines, who brings a growing knowledge of procedure, a lively wit and a determination to her role. It’s always a pleasure to contribute to the business of the Senate under her guidance. She has the best wishes and gratitude of the Labor team. I also thank her for her input and patience as chair of the Procedure Committee.

To my counterpart, Senator Brandis: George and I, if I may, have a somewhat competitive relationship at times, but he is a worthy opponent. I do want to say that this year he has given two of the most moving and heartfelt speeches that I’ve had the privilege to hear. His contributions, in respect of the freedom of all Australians to practice the religion to which they adhere to and the right of people of the same sex to marry, speak to the kind of Australia we are. His contributions on these matters, I think, were an act of national leadership.

I also acknowledge, before I get to my own team, his deputy, Senator Cormann. He’s a man whom I have a very deep regard for. He’s a man of great integrity.

I think he may not be here, but I want to acknowledge my deputy leader, Senator Farrell. He is a man of deep conviction and purpose. He brings to this Senate a strong dedication to our state and a strong commitment to improving the wellbeing of the people of South Australia. This really does guide Don in everything he does, so I thank him for his loyalty and for his work. I also particularly thank his staff, who are excellent to work with.

One of the sadder moments for me has been, this week, to refer Katy Gallagher, as we know occurred on Wednesday. Katy is the real deal: she’s talented, she’s is highly intelligent, she’s decent, she’s such a pleasure to work with and she’s an outstanding Manager of Opposition Business. I’ll look forward to her returning. Any leader’s life is much easier when you have a manager like Katy.

I also thank Senator Chisholm for his work as deputy manager. He has been great. He brings a good Queensland perspective. I thank Senator Collins for stepping into the breach. We are very fortunate to have someone of the ability and experience of Senator Collins to fill the role of manager at this time, and I thank her for her willingness to do so. What did you say, Mr President—she’s been gifted with a great voice? it is a great voice for the purposes of question time, Senator.

My thanks to the opposition whips, Senators Urquhart, McAllister and Ketter—and, of course, until his resignation, Senator Dastyari. The whips really do keep this place running. They’re critical to the discipline of the major parties and of all parties, and we’re very fortunate to have such a great team. My thanks also to their staff. I’m sure they’re looking forward to a ‘no division bells’ period of time.

To my whole Labor team: a fantastic effort this year. We’ve advanced Labor’s agenda and we’ve sought to hold the government to account. It’s been a long year but one where we have contributed to the Labor cause.

In the spirit of the season, I extend my best wishes on behalf of my team to everyone—to members of the coalition, to the Greens and to Independent and not-so independent senators and others. Are you SA-BEST yet? Not quite? NXT/SA-BEST, Senator Hinch and to others, we thank you for your engagement with us. We don’t always agree, but this chamber is unique, I think, for the level of engagement, discussion, respectful debate and, frankly, real legislating. As Labor’s leader here, I want to thank all of you and wish all of you the very best for the year. Senator Di Natale said to me that it was really good working together, particularly on the marriage bill—and I want to echo that.

There are a few people here I would like to thank. To Richard Pye—great job; thank you. To Maureen Weeks, Tim Bryant, Rachel Callinan, Jackie Morris, Brien Hallett and all the staff of the Department of the Senate: you perform such a fantastic job, but you perform such an important job for the Australian democracy.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, this is the chamber, I think, that really matters. I do; I really do, I’m not just saying it because I’m here. This is where I wanted to be, because I think this is the chamber that matters, and it matters for the country—and it would not function without you. So thank you very much for your work.

I extend the compliments of the season to the secretaries of committee and all of the staff of committee secretariats—who I know have been working extremely hard, given we send them a lot of references. They have demonstrated commitment, patience and, at times, forbearance, and certainly consummate professionalism.

Thank you to the secretary and all the staff at DPS. Thank you to the Parliamentary Library, the Parliamentary Budget Office—we’ve given them a workout—Hansard, security, maintenance and ancillary staff and Comcar staff. I again make particular mention of Parliament House cleaners—hardworking people who come to this building in the early hours of the morning, keep our offices and our facilities clean and tidy. They are always friendly and cheerful, even at ridiculous hours. I hope that the pay issue is resolved and we see more decent pay for them.

I also wish to thank all our staff. At the risk of upsetting people, I’m not going to name people, because I always find we miss people out. I always say that, in this place and in our jobs, we are only as good as our staff. Our staff play a critical role. It’s particularly tough and unrelenting work being in opposition—as you might remember—but it is really the contribution of staff that enable us to do it. The quality research and speech material and obviously a lot of procedural work are the things that enable us to do our work. I thank all Labor senators, but I particularly thank my staff for putting up with me and for their loyalty and extraordinary professionalism.

Finally, to all those Labor members and supporters throughout Australia: thank you very much for your continued support. We are grateful for the support of people across this country, and I extend our gratitude for your support. I hope that the coming holiday season is a happy and safe one, and we ask you to continue to keep the faith.

I want to end on this note: this is a momentous day, as Senator Brandis has said, and it is a day where we are reminded about what is the most important thing in our lives, and it is always the people that we love. And I, on a day where this parliament, I think, has really expressed its view about the importance of relationship and family and love, say to all of my fellow senators: I hope over this period you have time to spend with those who are special to you, those who are close to you, those who you love, because it is the most important thing in our lives. Thank you.