Stephen Smith MP
Minister for Defence
I will make some brief remarks, firstly in my capacity as Deputy Leader of the House.
Mr Deputy Speaker Georganas, I thank you and other members of the Speaker’s panel. If you could relay to the Speaker himself my thanks for that very good cooperation in the course of what has been a long parliamentary year.
Can I again congratulate the Clerk on his appointment this year and thank him and his officers and all of the members of the House of Representatives staff for the fine work that they do not just keeping the Chamber running but keeping the Parliament running in the course of the year.
As Deputy Leader of the House I am of course the deputy to ‘Albo’ as he is known with affection on our side and with affection on the other side. I cannot think of a better person, frankly, to be Leader of the House at a time when, for the first time since the 1940s, the Government is in minority. He has fashioned a very admirable and functioning Parliament, not just that which the public see - question time - but also in its general working, private Members’ business and the enactment of legislation. Indeed, as he has said, some 50 bills have already been passed by the House this year.
You could actually make the observation that, if you were looking at the Parliament itself from outside in its day-to-day functioning, its smoothness, its effectiveness, it is not all that dissimilar from the Parliaments that we have traditionally seen. It has of course, both in his case and in my case, required much more attention to that direction of the House where I see the member for Denison is now sitting. As the Leader of the House said, this is not a bad thing.
In my own case as Deputy Leader, both in the previous Parliament and in this one, my primary to-date responsibility or function has been to assist in question time tactics and the running of the House in question time. Of course, in this Parliament, as the Leader of the House’s role has been effectively extended, so has mine. Like the Leader of the House, I have enjoyed my additional contact with those members from the crossbenches.
One thing may come of this Parliament. We all arrive in this place as politicians. Some of us leave as Parliamentarians. This Parliament may actually see more of us leave as Parliamentarians because more attention has had to be paid to the functioning of the Parliament, the standing orders and the like. Indeed, I have been known to say to my Ministerial colleagues that when the Parliament sits we are Members of Parliament and when the Parliament does not sit we are Members of the Executive. So this exercise will see, hopefully, a greater appreciation of the traditional role of the Parliamentarian per se.
As I say, both in the previous Parliament and in this one, much of my role as Deputy Leader of the House is engaged in the day-to-day tactics and question time. Of course, it is not just the Leader of the House, me, the Deputy Prime Minister and other Parliamentary colleagues who sit around the table; we are also supported by loyal, long-suffering staff members.
In that context can I pay tribute and thanks to Courtney Hoogen, who has been on my staff both in Government and in Opposition. Indeed, she has travelled the road from Immigration, when I was Shadow Minister, to Defence, with me as Minister. As I have said to her, that has been a tough road - Immigration to Defence - over a number of years.
Between now and when the Parliament sits in February of next year, Courtney will leave my office and return to her home town of Brisbane. I place on record my appreciation for all of her efforts in the Parliamentary and media space, and also my affection for her. I will miss her. I am not quite sure how I will start each day without the very strong plunger coffee - deep, dark and black - provided with media clips and what is occurring in the course of the day. She is typical of a very large number of loyal and devoted Labor staffers who not just are here for ‘the good time of Government’ but have done the hard slog of Opposition. I am very appreciative of her efforts and we wish her well back in Brisbane.
I started my remarks as Deputy Leader of the House. I will now make some remarks as Minister for Defence and, firstly, say how privileged I am and how proud I am to be able to occupy that position. I was very pleased when the Prime Minister indicated to me after the election that she wanted me to serve in this role. The Minister for Defence is more than just being Minister for the war in Afghanistan - but that, of course, is our most difficult operation.
We always worry when our troops are serving overseas, whether it is in a conflict like Afghanistan or in a stabilisation or peacekeeping mission such as the Sudan, East Timor or the Solomons. But Afghanistan is where we focus most of our operational attention because of the nature of our mission there.
As we get close to Christmas, this will of course be a very difficult time for 21 families who will be reminded that their loved one - a son, father or husband - is not with them. For 10 families this will be a terrible time because it will be the first Christmas where their loved one will be missing. Our eternal gratitude continues and our thoughts will be with the families at this difficult time.
I pay my tribute to the Defence diarchy: the Chief of the Defence Force, Angus Houston, and the Secretary of the Department, Ian Watt. They have both been of invaluable assistance to me in my early days and weeks as Minister. Both are fine Australians and fine public servants. They work very well with me and they work very well together. My thanks go to them.
I make the point that generally when people observe the Parliament they see the conflict of ideas at question time. What is underappreciated is that very much of what we do is done by agreement, where commonsense decisions in the nation’s interest are made. This is particularly the case in what we describe as the national security space. Whether it is as Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister for Defence or Attorney-General, very often in that national security space, as a matter of course, Government Ministers will consult and brief their counterparts. I thank the Shadow Minister for Defence Personnel, the member for Fadden, in his capacity as representing the Shadow Minister for Defence, for the professional way in which he engages with me, with Mr Clare, the Minister for Defence Materiel, and with Mr Snowdon, the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel. In that context, I also thank the previous speaker, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, for that same approach when I was, earlier in the year, Minister for Foreign Affairs.
I take this opportunity, as I did not have the opportunity in the last Parliament, to thank the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Dennis Richardson - our former Ambassador to the United States, who commenced as Secretary of the Department in February of this year. He is a very fine diplomat, a very fine public servant and I enjoyed very much my time with him as Secretary of the Department. I thank him and all DFAT officers for the invaluable work that they do advancing our national interests in the international sphere.
We always acknowledge, understand and know of our troops serving overseas at a time such as this. Often, we forget that our Foreign Affairs officers are also operating overseas. From time to time, we very publicly see part of the fine work that they do, particularly in the consular space. I again place on record my thanks to the Department for its very fine efforts in the Sundance Resources case when tragically all of the Board of Sundance Resources was lost in a plane crash in the Congo. The efforts made by the Department in Africa, Canberra and Perth are very much appreciated by the company and by the families of the Board members lost in that terrible plane crash.
I take this opportunity, having thanked some of the senior officers in the Department, to also thank my Ministerial staff, both those people from DFAT and AusAID who served with me in Foreign Affairs and those people who came with me or joined with me as Minister for Defence. It is a tough, hard slog in a Ministerial office - I have done it myself in the office of former Prime Minister Keating: long hours, long suffering and generally underappreciated but invaluable and very important work. The efforts of those in both of my Ministerial offices are much and greatly appreciated.
I make special mention of my Chief of Staff for the last two years: Frances Adamson. Frances is a First Assistant Secretary in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, has previously been a Deputy High Commissioner in London and agreed to be my Chief of Staff for two years. Having refused all entreaties for an extension to her term, which is not normally the response of DFAT officer when an extension is offered, particularly if it is serving overseas, she will finish up by the end of the year. She is a consummate diplomat and a consummate professional, and we look forward to her return to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for what will continue to be a stellar career in the foreign affairs area for our nation. My thanks and my friendship go to her.
This was an election year, so I thank my electorate staff not just for all their efforts assisting me as the local member for Perth, but in the special year of an election for all the additional workload that that creates. I thank Fran, Laurence and David and make particular mention of Anne Keane, my senior electorate officer, who has been with me for all of my time as the member for Perth. She also served for the vast bulk of my predecessor’s, Ric Charlesworth, time as member for Perth. When you add those two terms together, Anne is far and away, from the Labor Party’s point of view, the person who has made the longest continuous contribution to the cause of federal Labor in Perth since Federation. Her efforts continue to be greatly appreciated by me and by my constituents.
Can I finish by making, as the member for Curtin did, special mention of my WA Parliamentary colleagues on all sides of the House. We make a long and arduous journey here and on occasions when we fly back we have been accompanied on a Thursday or Friday at the end of a Parliamentary week or fortnight, by a colleague - maybe a Minister or Shadow Minister or a colleague on a Parliamentary committee - making the flight from Canberra to Perth or Canberra-Melbourne-Perth.
Invariably at the end of the flight the person from the eastern states will stand up, shake his or her head to try to regain some dignity after a six- or seven-hour flight or a three- or four-hour direct flight, look around and say: ‘I don’t know how you do it,’ to which my answer is always: ‘Every week. That’s how we do it - every week.’ That does create the camaraderie of those who ply a particular craft and a particular journey. People would be surprised about the friendships that are forged in the course of those plane flights. So I wish all my WA Parliamentary colleagues the best for the Parliamentary break, and for the Christmas and New Year season.
I make particular mention of Sharryn Jackson, the former Member for Hasluck, who was defeated at the last election. She is a very fine individual and is a loss to this Parliament. She is a person of great integrity. She worked very hard in her two terms as the Member for Hasluck. She is a person who was very much in tune with the way in which Western Australians and Australians in her electorate were reacting to events and was very much attuned to their needs. She made a very fine contribution in Hasluck and I wish her well for the rest of her career. She is making currently a very important contribution in the office of the Leader of the Government in the Senate.
I wish all my colleagues well for the Christmas-New Year season.
I am joined at the table by the Manager of Opposition Business and the Deputy Manager of Opposition Business.
I wish them all the best and thank both of them for their cooperation in the course of this Parliamentary term.
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